Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gift yourself awesome coffee this New Year!

People invite their friends over for a home cooked meal, or for a drink. I invite friends over for a cup of coffee.

Anyone who has visited my house will vouch for it that my coffee is special. It has very little to do with me. It has a lot to do with the inputs (and investments) that make a good cup, and these are things I have acquired through the years. 

Visit a coffee site like coffeegeek and they will tell you that the freshness and the quality of the grind are the two most important factors that elevate a cup of coffee from average to sublime. Most people assume that you need an expensive espresso machine to make good coffee. Actually, you need to make two decisions 1) How much you want to spend 2) How you want to brew your coffee. The two are inter-related issues! 

And irrespective of how much you want to spend, the grinder will constitute at least 60% of your budget, going upto 90%. The more proportion of your budget you spend on the grinder, the better your coffee will be.

If you want to use a Nespresso or any other machine with coffee pods, my request is to look at the options given below, and then decide. There is better coffee available, at a lower fixed cost, and lower running cost! 

You will find lots of similar guides online, but this one is written specifically for India, keeping in mind what you can buy/ship locally, and how much it will cost.

1) Budget of less than Rs. 2000

If you are using a South Indian coffee filter, you will need to spend big bucks to get a grinder that grinds fine enough for it. Instead, I recommend that you invest in good fresh ground coffee, from your local grinder or from online retailers like Blue TokaiLeo Coffee and The Indian Bean. Which coffees do I love? That's a subject for a separate post :)

I also still love a good cup of filter coffee, it's cheap to make, takes just a little effort and it's fully worth it. Use freshly boiled milk each time you brew it to ensure that it tastes at its best.

You can also buy a decent pour over or French Press at this price point, but I find the coffee too mild for my taste.

1) Budget of Rs.5000-8000

This is the lowest amount that you need to spend, if you are serious about coffee. At this budget, you are looking at a basic burr grinder or a manual grinder, and a manual brewing method.

I would recommend the Hario Ceramic Grinder, it's twin the Hario Skerton, or a Porlex mini mill grinder which are all fabulous hand grinders - but this is only if you are making coffee just for yourself. Or unless every individual in your family will grind for themselves :) 

Porlex Mini Mill

Hario Hand Grinders

As a basic burr grinder the Capresso Infinity served me very well for a couple of years. It's not good enough for Espresso, it's perfectly OK for all other methods. Capresso will not support the grinder in India, and you need to invest in a step-down transformer (around Rs.1500), as it uses American power supply of 110V.

Capresso Infinity
As a brewing method, you can look at the Aeropress which is to my mind the best thing invented after filter coffee. French Press and pour over coffee are both a little too mild for my taste, and I prefer a stovetop percolator. Cafe Coffee Day sells a very pretty percolator at a reasonable price of Rs.499. 


2) Budget of Rs.10,000-20,000

At this range, we can begin to look at electric brewing and grinding methods. Espresso is still not a reality at this budget, but a great cup of coffee is!

I recommend the Baratza Encore which is available from Blue Tokai at 230V (so you don't need to invest in the transformer) and Rs. 12,000 approximately. It is one of the best machines at this price point, and its backed by reliable service from them and support from the manufacturer. I cannot say the same for Capresso in India.

Baratza Encore

You can pair this with any of the brewing methods mentioned above. If your preference is for drip coffee (which is not one of my favorites) then you need to do a bit of research. Two machines you should definitely look at are the Zojirushi Fresh Brew and the Melitta 46894A 10 cup brewer. Machines with a thermal carafe, like these two models, are preferred to those with a conventional glass carafe and hot plate, as they will keep the coffee warm without burning it. These can be shipped from Amazon USA, and you will need a transformer.

Zojirushi Fresh Brew

Melitta 10 cup Coffee Maker

3) Budget of Rs.30,000-45,000

At this price point, a lot of subjectivity, and differing opinions come into the picture. It's worthwhile to do your research. 

The grinder I absolutely recommend at this price point is the Baratza Preciso, a grinder which I own and am absolutely happy with. It has elevated my coffee from good to really good. It's easy to repair or fix (unlike the Capresso) and it's consistently been giving me good coffee.

Baratza Preciso

There is suddenly an explosion of coffee machines in India, which is a nice thing. Coffee machines, like speakers, and even MP3 players, constitute a category where Old is still Gold. I recommend the Gaggia Espresso and Gaggia Classic from Gaggia's Indian distributor. They come with 230V power, and almost instant at-your-doorstep service. I have been a very happy customer since nearly 3 years.

Gaggia Classic

There are lots of models available on Amazon, but coffee machines are delicate and temperamental, so I recommend finding a brand which offers local service. 

This is not a comprehensive guide - I do not do French Press, and I do not understand much about more eclectic brewing methods like pour over or vaccuum pot. The options I have suggested are all mainstream, popular - but you will still brew up something better than your local coffee shop.

Pair your gear with coffee from one of the retailers I mentioned and you are in for Coffee Nirvana. I wish you a New Year filled with great coffee :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Top 5 Android Phones in the Rs.30,000 range

I have done a lot of posts in the past on the best budget Android handsets. With a growing number of first-time smartphone users, budget smartphones (which I define as sub Rs.15000) will always enjoy a huge demand in India. So do mid-range Androids, which I define as being in the Rs.15,000-25,000 range. The Samsung Galaxy Grand is one of the best examples of a mid-range phone which does fantastic business.

But there are a growing number who, without spending on top end flagships, still want to push their budget to get a better phone. Sometimes they are looking at a specific aspect, like a better camera or a better display. Sometimes a specific phone in this price band catches their fancy, like the Nexus 5 or the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Flagships start at Rs.40,000 and upwards and not everyone is ready to push their budget so far. But many people rightly believe that you can get a good phone if you spend a little extra.

Here are the top 5 phones that you cannot afford to ignore in this category

1. HTC One E8

Available for Rs. 32,000 online, the HTC One E8, which I blogged extensively about recently, is a great value for money phone. You sacrifice the metal finish and a few bells and whistles (Barometer, IR Blaster, Dual LED Flash, anyone?) while retaining the heart of the flagship HTC One M8. I'm referring to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC) chipset (2.5 GHz, Krait 400, Adreno 330 GPU), the 5 inch LCD Panel topped with Gorilla Glass, and the Boom Sound delivered through dual front speakers. And you also get a much higher resolution 13 MP primary camera and a 5 MP front shooter. 

2. Motorola X (2nd Generation)

Motorola has been a much-admired brand for people of my generation who remember them for their design panache as well as their solid build quality. The Razr was an iconic phone, and the once-popular clamshell design was pioneered by Motorola. 

The Motoroloa X 2nd Gen is one of the most exciting phones that the company has produced in recent times. With its distinctive looks and choice of finishes (bamboo, leather), the Moto X makes a strong design statement in a staid market. But what attracts geeks like me is the almost vanilla Android experience. Simplicity is  the hallmark of a great UI and both HTC and Motorola are experts in offering this minimalistic, clean interface that makes a phone a joy to use. The Moto X is not lagging in the specs department either, it sports the same processor as the HTC One E8, gives the additional advantage of a larger and brighter 5.2 inch AMOLED screen and offers a dual LED flash. I have been told that the camera is not the best in class, and the battery life is average which is why it's No.2 behind the HTC One E8. 

The Moto X starts at Rs.32,000, and is a Flipkart exclusive in India.

3. Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro

Lenovo is one of the few laptop makers who have achieved some measure of success with their foray into phones (Sorry Apple - almost forgot you - but yes, you're up there too). Lenovo recently powered their way to one of the top smartphone brands in China and must be looking for a similar success story in India and other Asian markets.

The Vibe Z2 Pro has a lot of things going for it - a 6 inch QHD IPS LCD, a Sony-made 16 MP Camera with the much prized Optical Image Stabilisation and 4k video recording. However, with the same processor as the two phones listed above, The Vibe Z2 is underpowered considering its giant high resolution display. Therefore, it manages only an an average performance compared to other phablets like the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus. That's also the reason why it drops to No. 3 on my list. 

A nice thing is that Lenovo has stayed close to stock Android in terms of keyboard, major apps and overall UI, which keeps the interface simple and clean. And the giant size 4000 mAh battery with tons of power management settings helps to squeeze out more productive hours from the device.

The only things you really lose out on here is the slight performance lag and the lack of expandable memory. At Rs.33,000, this is one phablet that fully deserves to feature on my list. 

4. Google Nexus 5

I don't feel good that the Nexus is at the bottom of this list, but the Nexus 5, like the Nexus 4 has failed to live up to the expectations that I had from it. It was launched a year ago and obviously the hardware is outdated compared to newer smartphones but what keeps the Nexus range ever fresh is the first access to the latest Android updates. And they are always fabulous value for money.The only strike against the Nexus 5 is its average camera and less than average battery life. You will hear mixed reports around, but the consistent factor is that no one says the battery life is stellar. You will be pulling out your charger in the course of the day, more often than not.

If you want to pick up the Nexus 5, you need to act fast, because Google will pull it out of the market soon. You can still get it on most online sites for Rs. 25,000.

5. Sony Xperia Z1

I am completely confused by Sony's smartphone nomenclature - as badly mixed up as I used to be figuring out the Galaxy line up some time ago.But I have managed to figure out that the Sony phones you are looking at in this price range are the Sony Z1 range. They are already more than a year old, and the newer Z2 and Z3 range are already in the market, but they are at price points that put them outside this review.

The Z1 sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Chipset (MSM8974) which is fast enough, and has a beautiful 5 inch hi-res display. Perhaps the most striking feature - it boasts a whopping 20.7 MP shooter and has a large 3000 mAh battery. It's also waterproof and dust resistant, if these features matter to you.

Sony offers this phone in two sizes - a Z1 Compact with 4.3 inch display and a Z1 with 5 inch display. All other specs are identical, and the Z1 will come in at approximately Rs.30,000 with the Z2 Compact a little cheaper.

This phone figures in the list because it brings in Sony's heritage to offer an awesome camera and music player. The camera is the same one as the later Z2 model and it's pretty much one of the best that you will find in a smartphone. Definitely nothing else at this price point can match it, unless you consider the now defunct Lumia range. The battery life is decent too.

If you are ready to put up with a slightly older model and mobile photography is your passion, then at Rs. 30,000 on Flipkart, this is the phone for you and you can happily ignore my other recommendations.

There are a few phones that have not made it to this list, that I would like to mention. One is the iPhone 5 C. The 8 GB and 16 GB variants both fall within this price range and I cannot figure why they are not more popular!  The Oppo Find 7a and Oppo N1 are both good phones though for me they did not make it to top 5. Oddly enough, Samsung has nothing in this segment, though you can pick up old handsets like the Galaxy S4 and Note 2 for around 30k or less.I wonder why the market leader has left this gap? But if there is a demand, there won't be a gap for long. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

HTC One M8 vs. HTC Eye vs. HTC E8 - digging for the real differences

If you are like me, you might have gotten fairly confused between the HTC One (M8), the HTC One M8 Eye and the HTC One (E8). Of course, it's easy to figure out the obvious differences. This post is intended to bring out the more subtle differences in processor speed, features which are omitted or modified and believe me, you will have to hunt to find all this information in one place. That's why I am creating this post.

The obvious facts:

The HTC One (M8) is the oldest of the trio, it is still the flagship phone and it sports the highest price tag (approximately Rs. 42,000 INR). 
The HTC One M8 Eye is the most recently launched. At Rs. 38,000, it replaces the M8's low-pixel (sic. Ultrapixel) camera with a regular 13 MP shooter.
The HTC E8 is the cheapest of the three at Rs.34,000. It has literally all the features of the M8, with a 13 MP camera, and has a plastic body vs. the metal body of the other two phones. As such, it is  the value offering in the HTC One stable.

Here is the other stuff that I have dug up from manufacturer specs, reviews and comparisons posted on sites like Phone Arena to bring out the differences between the three:

1) Processor Speed
The HTC One M8 and HTC E8 sport identical, top of the line Qualcomm 2.5 GHz processor Snapdragon 801 2.5 GHz chipsets (MSM8974AC). This appears to be the case only in Asia - internationally, the M8 uses the 801 2.3 GHz chipset . The HTC One M8 Eye has the older Snapdragon 800 2.3 GHz Chipset (MSM8974AB). Jury's out on whether the 200 MHz difference in processor speed gives the Asian version a huge edge, but probably it does make at least a slight difference in daily use.

Basically both the older M8 and the E8 have a faster and newer processor than the latest HTC Eye Model. In layperson's language, this should translate into faster data transfer, browsing speeds, image processing and gaming. Does this mean that the HTC Eye is slow? No, thanks to HTCs Sense UI, any HTC phone feels smooth, fast and light to navigate. 

2) Cameras
Both the HTC E8 and the HTC One M8 Eye feature 13 MP primary camera paired with 5 MP front camera, which gives them a respectable point of comparison with other top end smartphones.  The HTC One M8 on the other hand, continues to sport HTCs UltraPixel technology powered camera on the rear, with a higher-res 5MP front camera for selfies.

Reviews which compare the phones will tell you that the E8 and M8 Eye will smoke the older flagship in image quality, but this is not the full story. The 13 MP snappers, with triple the pixel count, obviously offer brighter and sharper images in daylight. 

When I look at image comparisons, I find that the M8 ultrapixel camera still does a better job in low light. It also has a wide angle lens in the front that somehow makes it a better selfie camera.

The M8 Eye has better camera functionality than the E8 and pulls in some of the best features of the original M8 too. It shares the dual LED Flash, duo camera and HDR recording features of the M8. The dual LED flash allows a more natural illumination in photos, the Duo Camera on the rear of the phone allows a better sensing and rendering of depth in images.

In a nutshell, the E8 is the worst of the bunch.

3) Connectivity
HTC One M8 offers USB OTG/USB Host connectivity, NFC with Android Beam, and supports the new 802.11 ac wireless standard. If you still care about it, it also has an FM Radio.

All these are absent in the HTC One Eye.The E8 does offer NFC and is also the only one of the three to pack a dual SIM.

All three allow expansion of memory by adding a Micro SD Card.

In practice, the USB OTG connectivity is what you would miss the most. NFC based payments have not taken off in India the way they have abroad. Here, we use this feature mainly to make two phones talk to each other (by placing them back to back) and this is more of a gimmicky feature than a real one. Of course, with Apple Pay being launched and more pressure put on local retailers to inaugurate mobile PoS systems, the scenario can change. But I don't see it changing soon.

4) Sensors 
HTC One M8 includes a barometer and an IR Blaster; both of these are absent in the One M8 Eye and the E8. I have both and I still have not figured what the barometer does. And I do not find that the phone is a better way to control my TV than the regular remote.

4) Finish
It should be noted that all three models sport Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to ensure better screen protection. The E8 has a plastic body compared to the premium metal finishes that make the HTC One phones such a joy to hold, use and flaunt. Yet, in your hand, the E8 feels solid and not cheap. If you are not enamoured of the metal finish (seriously, who isn't?) then the E8 is actually the pragmatic buy. 

5) Battery Life
Both the E8 (27 Hours talktime on 3G) and the M8 Eye (24 hours talktime on 3G) promise more than the 20 hours touted by the original M8. These figures are lifted from HTC's website and real-world usage may tell a different tale. What is curious is that despite identical innards, the HTC E8 can offer such a bump in battery life over the M8. Maybe the metal case vs. plastic plays a role here?

So after this intense sum up, which one do I recommend? Each of them has its merits.

M8 Original - the geeks who want the absolute top of the line. And people for whom photography is not a core purpose of using a phone.

M8 (Eye) - photographers who are keen to use an HTC phone. This may not be the best phone for photography, but it's the best one in the HTC stable. Your need for photography should outweigh your need for speed.

E8 - pragmatists on a budget. You really get most of the best features of the M8 at a price tag that's nearly Rs.10,000 cheaper. Nor is the phone cheap looking in its design. It's a great value for money. For people with a 30k budget range, this stacks up very well against rival offerings from Samsung or Sony.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A tale of a broken HTC handset and Customer Service

This story starts nearly three months ago, when I had the misfortune to drop my HTC One handset on the tarmac at a wrong angle. Even as it fell, I had a premonition that this was not going to be good. Somewhat like I had  when I twisted my ankle a few years ago and knew, as I was falling that it was a fracture.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the screen cracked in one corner. I was too traumatised to take a photo (and anyway I had no phone camera) so here's a picture off the net which shows approximately what happened to my phone. 

It was still working but it was a little sluggish and responsive. As there was no update on the HTC website, and no one answered the call centre number, I had to call Ask 8 to get the nearest customer service centre. And I trudged to Thakker Mall, Borivali (West) with my shattered handset and a low end Sony smartphone replacement that I already disliked. 

The service centre accepted my handset, telling me the repair estimate was Rs.10,000 at maximum. I already knew this, from Googling screen replacement for HTC One M7. The ever helpful IFixit told me that the phone is built upon the screen assembly so you have to dismantle the whole phone to replace it. It has a repairability score of 1/10 and the message is clear - try to not break it, or repent forever. 

I received an online estimate for repair after two weeks. I clicked on the link and I fainted. It was Rs.21,000. At one glance, it appeared that they proposed to replace everything except the phone itself:
The screen
The body
The battery
The camera
The speaker

HTC has a helpline which no one answers, but in any case, mail is the best medium for the exchanges that I needed to have with customer support. I put down a request for the repair amount to be contained within Rs.10,000. I was out of warranty and I could not even find the bill. This would have to be about goodwill.

The exchange with customer support lasted for two more months. I have written them at least 15 times and been on 4-5 calls with customer support without getting my request answered. I mainly wanted to know why so many parts needed to be replaced. Finally, they agreed to send me a partial repair estimate.

I asked a friend to give me the CEOs email address and wrote to him. I did not receive a reply but two days later, I got a call confirming that my handset would be repaired - at Rs. 10,249. I again received an online estimate and after approving it, my handset was ready within 2 days. I went to collect it and was mildly shocked. Unless I am wrong, this is a new phone that I have got. I could be wrong. In any case, if they replaced all the things they said they would, it would virtually be a new phone. 

The point I want to make is, it was a long wait, but I did get what I want. I am happy to have my M7 back and I intend to look after it carefully henceforth. And the customer service was patient and responded to me (slowly but steadily) till the issue got sorted. From what I read, HTC is not really doing well in terms of sales at this point - but that did not stop them from doing the right thing. And this post is to say thanks. I am happy that I bought an HTC phone and my next purchase will be from them too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to run your own Facebook Page - an entrepreneur's perspective : Part 3

This is the last post in my three-part series on How to run your own Facebook Page. In Part 1, I discussed the basic thinking and objective-setting that you need to do before you start. In Part 2, I discussed the nuts and bolts of execution and daily posts. The current post will discuss how to manage your page, monitor, and course correct.

1. Keep a reasonable response time and stick to it

It's obvious that you need to respond to all comments or questions within a reasonable time frame and I am sure that you will.  But take a call, depending on the nature of your business. what that time frame is. As a consultant, I do not want to give the impression I am on Facebook all the time. I do respond to business queries on LinkedIn instantly. However, if you are selling products or services then it does make sense to address queries immediately because customers have a deadline to buy or order, and may go elsewhere if you do not meet it. Whatever it is, figure out a time frame and stick to it - response within 1 hour, within a business day. It will become a ritual for you, and customers' expectations will get set.

2. Observe page etiquette

As a page owner, you need to be careful about etiquette - avoid tagging people on posts unless they are really your close friends. Avoid tagging people as a page admin, switch to your own (personal) ID and then tag your friends on a post. Aggressive tagging may at worst lead people to  boycott your page - at best, it may lead them to think you are pushy and desperate for business. Facebook offers enough advertising methods which are reasonably priced and if you really need to promote an event or product, use this route rather than riding on friends to get publicity. If you do not want to spend on advertising, then don't focus on numbers, instead focus on the quality of content. Your best content WILL get shared, and appreciated. 

3. Monitor your statistics

If you are serious about using Facebook to promote your business, then you must check your page statistics regularly. Even if you do not run paid campaigns on your page, you must still stay on top of your page performance and ideas to improve it.

This comes from personal experience. I have had a blog page for a long time - but until I started looking at the statistics, I was not motivated to publish regularly, or try out what worked. I am a data driven person, and one of the reasons that Facebook is so popular with marketers is that it offers best-in-class analytics to business users, free of cost.

While there are many different statistics that you can monitor, at different levels of sophistication, here are some simple measures that anyone can look at:

a. At an overall level, you need to measure reach (how many people your page is reaching daily and weekly). This is dependant to a large extent on how many people are liking, sharing or commenting on your posts. 

b. From a long term perspective, you need to be aware of how many 'likes' or fans your page has and whether this figure is increasing or no.

c. At a post level, you need to form an idea of what types of posts work better than others and why this happens, so you can create more of the same type of content. Let me give a simple example. I noticed on my Facebook Blog page that technology specific posts (eg. phone reviews) get lesser hits than those that talk about technology and its impact on people, behaviour and pop culture. I fine tuned my content curation, gathering interesting posts on Social Art, how parents are using technology to monitor kids activities, the newest fads of coffee preparation etc. And I saw that this helped increase my reach hugely. So much so that I modified my page description to read 'Curated content at the interface of people, culture and technology.' 

If all of this seems too much to do, at least keep track of reach at a macro level, and the posts that work best at a micro-level. It's hard to go wrong if your content is good.

Here is a tip to increase your reach. Whatever you post to your page, share it again from your personal ID. It will increase your reach hugely because  Facebook treats posts from individuals more generously than it does posts from pages.

This concludes my three part series on managing your own Facebook page. There is plenty more material on the net, from people with more expertise and experience. Reading has helped me hugely. I continue to learn a lot by what others share, which has prompted me to also put up my own experience.

In case you have any questions, shoot them and I will be happy to answer!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to run your own Facebook Page : An entrepreneur's perspective - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I listed out the spadework that should be done before you launch your Facebook page - basic things like defining your objective, your target audience and your brand. Once this is done, the strategic foundation is laid for your FB page. It's not cast in stone and you can always go back and review it. The next step is to put the strategy into practice. This is where there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip. There is only one solution. Plan. Plan. And plan :) Every successful long term strategy, be it for weight loss or a Facebook page, requires long-range planning. So let me tell you, based on my own multiple slip ups, what exactly you need to plan.

1) Make a content strategy

This is the first step to translate your social media objective towards execution. Content strategy is a buzz word these days but it's not some black box. Practically, it can be as simple as a google doc where you expand on each objective you set initially - adding content ideas and making a calendar of posts accordingly.

For example, if you sell confectionery/bakery items one key objective is to announce new mouthwatering goodies each week, to keep interest levels high. You need to plan your calendar around specific times of year (festivals, seasons) when the offerings may vary. And you need to keep announcing your regular offerings like birthday cakes, cookies etc.

So you create a content strategy saying that you will do 1 post a day, and every week you need to cover 1)  2-3 cakes 2) chocolates 3) 1-2 healthy goodies 4) cookies 5) 1-2 breads 6) 1-2 eggless dishes.  Notice that the number of ideas are more than the number of posts you will put up in a week and that's a good thing. You need to put down an exhaustive list of all the types of posts that you would make in a week and then decide the post mix. You should not be featuring only cakes and neglecting breads. But maybe during Christmas, you make a conscious decision to only cover cakes, and feature 1-2 types of cake - like plum pudding. 

At the end of this exercise, your excel sheet should have three columns - date, rough content idea for that day's post and rough draft of the post. You can also keep a column for the visual. It's extremely important to maintain this record and keep checking it, so that you know that you are not being repetitive. The daily nature of the medium makes memory an unreliable guide. You have done so much each month, you will forget what you did last month. 

Initially, do this planning for one week. As you get better organised, start doing it for a month at a stretch.

2) Create post and image banks

If you think that Facebooking absorbs a lot of time, maintaining a page requires even more! You need to think through your posts, check grammar and facts (especially prices!) and most importantly, have great visuals.

So this is a continuation of the planning point I made earlier - plan visuals properly in advance. To continue the cake example, shoot your creations regularly. Build the time for this into your routine. As a strategy consultant and blogger, I mostly share interesting links that I know my clients would like to read. And I add my own perspective (which is sometimes at variance from the writer of the article). So I need to keep 1 hour of pure reading time and I use both Pocket and Evernote to save anything interesting I read, at a click, on any device. My point is that you may not need original content or creatives - but you should do your content creation in advance.

I am going to stick my neck out and say one thing. Even if you do not create original content, start doing it. Or at least start thinking about it. This applies more to people in consulting/ marketing/ media business. We are often diffident about our writing skills and as a rule we do not get the time or bandwidth to sit and write. But in the long run, people remember you for your original content. If you want to write posts, that's good. If you want to create a blog and post from there, it's even better. Remember that original content can be disseminated from a variety of platforms beyond Facebook including LinkedIn, Google + and Twitter. 

3) Be consistent and keep to a schedule

Entrepreneurs are busy people and often do everything themselves. In case you have a busy day, a breakfast meeting or a presentation deadline, the first thing that gets dropped from your job list will be the Facebook page. But consistency is key to sustaining your page. Decide a frequency - initially it can be as low as once a week, or as high as 1-2 times a day. This decision depends on how much time you are willing to invest. It also depends on your category. If you are in the garment business, then you are also in the fashion business, and you may have daily tips to share on global trends, make-up and fitness tips. But if you are in the tax consulting business, you may not need to post everyday. Laws do not change everyday. However, a tax consultant might want to increase the frequency of posting around the times tax returns get filed.

It's also important to know what time of day to post. Facebook insights will tell you at what time your fans are online. Keep posting time aligned broadly to this. In case you will be busy, you can use the scheduling feature on FB to schedule and line up multiple posts at a time. They will get automatically published at the time you specify.

In the next post, I will share some basic pointers on managing your page, monitoring results and course correction.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How to run your own Facebook page - an entrepreneur's perspective : Part 1

As I posted on tumblr some time ago, entrepreneurship brings its own benefits. One of them is learning to do new things everyday. And one of my favorite new things is assuming the role of a page admin. I have been doing this job for our own Facebook company page and my blog page, and recently for a few others as well. In this series of posts,  I will share how to create, streamline and run a self administered Facebook page efficiently. And I have learnt from my mistakes, as well as from projects where I have been fortunate enough to work shoulder to shoulder with seasoned professionals. I will keep updating this series, as I learn more. 

Part 1 deals with the thinking that you need to do before you start a Facebook page.

1) Define your objective

This is an obvious one - but whether you run a blog page, company page or brand page, it's important to define why you are there and what you want to accomplish. The more specific you can be, the better.

My Facebook blog page exists not to drive traffic to my blog, but to share my passion for technology. I blog just once a week but I read lots of more interesting stuff which I have a perspective about. 

Our company page exists to keep us salient in the eyes of our ex-colleagues and potential clients. We aim to keep ourselves and clients updated on the latest developments in digital marketing.

An NGO I work with uses Facebook in a very interesting way - to showcase and acknowledge their growing volunteer network.

Notice that all of these are 'soft' objectives. It is tempting to use social media to drive conversions and sales but the fact is that it is not a decision making medium. It can aid decision making - at either an early or later stage, depending on your product category. But it is ideally suited for 'sharing' - information, news, well written articles - and then leaving people to decide. 

2) Define your target audience

Again its an obvious one - but it's worthwhile to spend a few minutes doing this exercise simply because it will help you to decide what you write and why. Don't arrive at a simplistic decision in a hurry (the big temptation is to define your user base as current and potential customers - and then you may end up becoming a customer service page - unless that is what you want.)

Think tangentially when you define your TG. In social media, you must think in terms of multiple target audiences. the Geek Afterglow Facebook page does not target people who read my blog. It reaches out to my larger circle of friends who are not interested in hard core tech stories but still appreciate interesting updates eg. technology that ensures safety of kids. Smart helmets. A new way of making coffee. 

The target audience of my friend's NGO is volunteers and their social networks. Volunteers are key influencers to bring new people into the fold, and they are bound to share updates which recognise what they do. This in turn facilitates them to introduce their work to interested friends and recruit them for the cause.

3) Define your brand 

This is a luxury that entrepreneurs often do not have time for. We spend time working, re-working and tailoring our credentials deck for each prospective client. We agonise over defining the perfect elevator pitch. In the case of my own company, my partner and I have created dozens of brand positioning statements and run Vision and Mission workshops for clients regularly. But we never got round to doing the same for ourselves.

If you are not going to be on mass media, it's still important to define your brand. And if you are going to be on social media, then it becomes necessary. At Bright Angles, we hold the view that a brand on social media needs to be three dimensional, like a human being, because people want to connect with other people, not brands. We have a digital branding template which we use to bring a brand to life. Even if you choose not to use this, you should answer some basic questions about your values, personality and tone of voice. It will help you to develop a consistent brand identity. It will guide the way you write (formal or casual? Funny or serious?) It will also help you to take decisions like which pages to follow.

The next post will be about the mechanics of running a Facebook page. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do Facebook Likes still mean anything?

Everyone is human and everyone loves to be liked. Even in social media, whether we admit it or not, we enjoy it when people like our posts. At the highest level, we equate it with being liked or popular in real life. At the most basic level it seems to show that people appreciate what we write or share. Some of us keep a count, some of us seem to be naturally more likeable and we classify some people as being all out to get likes. 

Since the early days of social media, the number of likes has also been the Holy Grail for brands and companies looking to build a fan following on Facebook. A power brand has to have millions of fans, and if it sees fit, it even spends to woo or buy them.

But is it really a big deal whether you have a ton of likes? Has the meaning of a Facebook like gotten devalued over time? I have been pondering these questions from my personal experience as a Facebook user and a Page Manager for five very diverse pages. And I think that perhaps likes mean less than we like to imagine! Here's why:

1) Likes are becoming lazy expressions of communication 
Blame it on Facebook, really. The ubiquitous thumbs-up button has become a perfect way of non-verbal communication. Putting a 'like' (akin to a pug mark) shows that you have noted what's going on even if you have no time to think about it or don't quite know what to say. I have observed people liking obituaries, announcements of laptops crashing or houses being burgled. I am intrigued to see this. I would think that it takes two minutes to type "Sorry to hear that". And I think it's impolite to 'like' such happenings! But people still do it. Is it becoming a thoughtless way to mark attendance?

2) Likes are contributing less to page reach
As page managers, we will not be doing justice to our jobs if we sit back and say we got a lot of likes. As Facebook keeps tweaking their algorithms, I can see that even likes do not contribute substantially to reach any more. What we are after now is users sharing the updates on their timelines. Shares, even in smaller number than likes, can substantially improve reach. Unfortunately they are not easy to achieve either!

3) Likes are passive, in an increasingly engaged internet
Engagement is a much abused term in the digital world. At a simple level, for me engagement is real people having real conversations. A fan tweeting to his favorite star that he loves his latest movie is not engagement to me - but SRK and Salman fans having a twitter fight a few days ago certainly was. Seriously, there were real abuses being hurled, and my curiosity was aroused even though I am a fan of neither superstar. You can say that as an outsider, I got engaged. Anyway, what is worrisome for Facebook is that a lot of real people seem to be having real conversations elsewhere these days. On Twitter, on WhatsApp, even on Instagram. This is not to devalue the role of Facebook with its gigantic user base. It's just that its role is changing, as conversations move to other mediums. Facebook is trying to re-define itself and it may well succeed. 

Of course, as a metric of measurement, we will not discard Facebook likes tomorrow. The important question, as my business partner Oindrila raised in a recent blog post, is this : Are we measuring what matters? Does it mean the same thing that it did earlier? And if not, what are the other measures we should start looking at?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Internet of the here and now

There is a new trend that's growing in the digital world. I like to call it 'the internet of the here and now'. It's not a new concept. The philosophy of 'carpe diem' (Seize the day) dates back to pre-Christian times in the Western world, and is equally well accepted in the Eastern philosophical systems. To cast off the past and stop worrying about the future, because only the present minute is given to us. Different ways to say the same thing. Live in the here and the now

Yet, as the internet grows, it has become a repository of things from our past. We are constantly adding our personal scrapbooks of memories, ideas and opinions to blogs, social networks and forums, stuff from the past is getting digitized, and the sheer amount of data we generate is growing at an unimaginable pace. Coming from a legacy of PCs and hard drives, we are concerned about how much we can store, in the cloud, in our accounts, in digital lockers like Dropbox and Google Drive. We still feel in control if we can search and retrieve some email from ages ago which helps us to answer an important question today.

But we are human, and the appeal of the transient and the impermanent continues to be strong. As the internet matures, the 'here and the now' is featuring more and more prominently on the digital landscape, in the form of apps, services and even social media, that try to persuade us to live in the present moment, not in the past. 

Here are some of the top indicators of this trend:

1) Snapchat grows beyond its teen appeal

Until recently most adults knew Snapchat as a messaging app used by young people to send self-destructing photos and videos with a caption - a concept that amused them and presumably triggered a lot of plain foolish, and some risque content to be passed around. But Snapchat has grown out of this mode. The mobile app made headlines for its unique coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. Snapchat sent all its users a set of curated photos from users who were live at the event, offering a very different and candid perspective of what it felt like to be in the stadium during the match. There is an even more interesting feature that Snapchat has added, currently available only in New York and L.A. Called geofilters, it is a functionality that allows users to add context-sensitive labels and drawings to their Snaps based on the location. For example, if you are at Disneyland, you can add a Disney logo to your Snap. As if this were not enough, there are now even rumors that Snapchat will start a mobile payment system. Which has given rise to many jokes about your money disappearing. But still, the once-infantile app is using some pretty creative ways to lure users into its ephemeral world.

2) Sobrr, the 24 hour social network

Snapchat came before Sobrr, but it was reading about Sobrr that actually inspired me to write this post. It is a social network that erases everything after 24 hours - photos, posts, even friends (unless you choose to keep them). Founder Bruce Yang says "Sobrr encourages people to go out and live in the moment. The fact that everything will disappear keeps the user engaged with things in the present."

You can see how true this perspective is, if you take a typical Facebook scenario. Several people (some of them strangers) have met up for a party that gets progressively more boozy and stupid (or wild). Next morning, you receive several friend requests on Facebook from people you chatted with for hours and you are not sure if you want them to be permanent contacts on Facebook who know everything about your life. Meanwhile some other enthusiastic people have tagged you in some photos that you'd rather not be tagged in. Get the difference? Facebook is about our past, it's about our relationships and how we manage our image. Sobrr is the network of short time friends - the area of socialising, rather than building and sustaining relationships.

3) Facilitators of spontaneity - Vayable and RoadTrip

Geolocation is the hottest technology powering apps today. Knowing exactly where people are helps companies to personalise and localise offerings. Google has a head start, but more and more interesting offerings are entering the market place.

Vayable is a travel app designed to defy the common wisdom that people like to plan every detail of their foreign vacation in advance. Targeted at a young demographic that wants to infuse the free-spiritedness and spontaneity of their youth into their travel experience, Vayable lets users book spontaneous experiences from local guides, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes in advance. Incidentally, the local guides are all handpicked by the company as experts and insiders who can offer their own unique and colorful perspective, ensuring that as a user, you get an offbeat experience compared to a regular tour.

Roadtrip Mixtape is a simple and charming app that ties up the music playing on your phone or tablet with the place you are visiting - for example, musicians who hail from the places that you are passing through. Since the recommendations are location-based rather than genre based, you will hear an interesting and whimsical mix of music depending on the route you are travelling.

Pinterest has launched a similar location-based feature on their mobile app. If you are near a location that you have pinned earlier, the app will notify you, and even give you step by step instructions on how to get there. Obviously such a feature also triggers discovery, which is another big theme of the modern internet.

On a lighter note, living in the here and now can also have its weird side. General Motors in China recently demonstrated a prototype app called DiDi Plate which lets Android users text car owners simply by scanning their license plates. Want to flag down a taxi driver? Want to send an abusive message to a lousy driver who nearly banged into you? Or want to ask the cute guy you noticed in the traffic jam out on a date? It's all possible in the internet of the here and the now. Ask and you shall receive :)

Sources : TechRadarMashableVenture Beat, Fast CompanyEngadget

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Re-writing the rules of the game - making low cost handsets exclusive

The paradigm of 'low cost' smartphones is quietly being re-written, with the recent online launches of the Moto E and Xiaomi M3 exclusively through Indian e-tailer Flipkart. Low cost handsets with decent specs have been around for sometime but have never enjoyed a great brand image or buzz. This is even truer of the many Chinese brands that have flooded the Indian market in the last two years. Many people on a low budget play safe and buy established brands like Samsung and Nokia.
Micromax broke the paradigm of cheap Indian phones when they launched the Canvas range in India - decently powered phones with a flagship that has always delivered specs equivalent to Rs.30,000+ handsets at sub Rs.20,000 prices. Combined with their foray into international markets, and their use of Hugh Jackman as brand ambassador, Micromax spiffed up their brand image and garnered serious interest from mid-range smartphone buyers. Earlier known for offering entry level handsets for the masses, it was a huge jump for Micromax to be even considered in the Rs. 10,000 + range.
Brand Motorola has been languishing since Google bought it out. With the launch of the Moto E and Moto G they came back with a bang. A recent article reported that Motorola sold 1 million handsets in India since their relaunch - even more impressive when you consider that the re-launch was done exclusively on Flipkart. Who thought that a low-cost product could be sold with such fanfare, exclusivity, pre-booking - all the trappings of premium and high end launches from Apple and Samsung. Yet, it totally worked. It's true that the handsets are fabulous value for money, but the retail strategy also helped to give the image of exclusivity.
And to prove that it was not a fluke, the same thing happened with Xiaom Mi3. The Mi3 is not just a great piece of hardware at an unbelievable cost (Rs.13,999). It also taps into the techie/geeky/ youth crowd by using a 'custom ROM' - an alternative flavor of Android developed and used by the enthusiast community who root and modify their phones. It is also a Flipkart exclusive in India, and to buy it, you have to register on Flipkart, and then hope you are lucky enough to garner one when the sale period opens for 24 hours. One round is over, and the Mi3 sold out in just 40 minutes. The second round will be on July 29th, so you should head to Flipkart now if you are keen to snag one.
And this new retail strategy is not unique to India. OnePlus, another Chinese company, has designed an incredible phone called One. The handset has specs equivalent to the Samsung Galaxy S5, and retails at sub Rs.20,000. OnePlus has also chosen to sell through an exclusive invite-only route, probably to save on margins that must be passed on to retailers. And the hype around the One has been quite incredible.
Will the trend last? We need to wait and watch? But for end consumers, its a sweet deal to get high powered handsets at a fraction of the cost of competition. And combined with exclusive retail strategies, it seems to be working well for companies too!