How NOT to Twitter if you are a corporation

A little while back I praised Vodafone New Zealand for their excellent Twittering, inside an article on How to Twitter if you are a Corporation. They reached out to customers, solved problems, gently nudged opinion their way and generally were liked by everybody.

The account was run by Paul Brislen – who let his own account lie idle while he put himself into the Twittersphere.

And then something happened.

Vodafone decided to launch a campaign where “3G Guy” tours New Zealand giving away new net books. A great idea.

Unfortunately rather than using @3Gguy or similar to promote the tour, Vodafone instead passed the respected @vodafoneNZ account over to a pimply youth – 3Gguy.

The results are a fascinating case study.


The audience split into three – those that liked the competition (including new followers), those who saw a corporate PR account turn into a spamming machine, and the silent.

Unfortunately the second category contains many opinion leaders, journalists, web industry stalwarts and telco industry commentators.


While Paul Brislen re-opened his own account, and many people went off to follow him, many more have decided to unfollow @vodafonenz. The net goodwill is negative, and it now leaves @vodafonenz well behind the previously slightly less respected but still very well run @telecomnz team. As Twitter goes, so to the brands and companies.


So what are the lessons here?

Lesson one:

Twittering is better done by individuals, but when those individuals leave and are replaced by folks that don’t get it, their followers may leave with them. If they are disgruntled then the damage could be severe. (So be nice to Paul)

Lesson two:

Keep the promotion and PR accounts separate from each other. The PR account should point to promotions, but not run them. People will find the account that helps them get free stuff very quickly.

Lesson three:

When your audience reacts negatively – do something. The most frustrating thing about this promotion is the feeling that our Twitter friend, Paul Brislen, has been taken over against his will (my theory, not at all backed up by any fact) by out of control cluless marketing lunatics. It’s as if we now see the real Vodafone coming through – a Vodafone that doesn’t listen, that steamrolls over opposition and that has lost all the goodwill that Paul built up. It’s sad.


What Vodafone should do is simple – accept and acknowledge the error, move the 3Gguy twitter stream to his own account and put Paul back on (exclusively) the @vodafonenz account. Vodafone also need to learn from Paul, and take his guidance on how to run his account going forward.

So let’s have a look at the Twitter stream damage. It’s pretty fun actually, like watching a slow motion train wreck* in action.  *one where nobody is on the train

Here’s a recent page of @vodafonenz mentions from my Tweekdeck. I’ve helpfully colour-coded the tweets. Orange refers to the competition website being broken, Green is a customer service request, and Red are negative comments about the campaign and Vodafone. I’ve named the boxes for the colour blind and those that don’t read this bit and just want the pictures:

But wait – there is more – a lot more, under the fold I have pulled out some of the latest (mostly) negative twitters about Vodafone.

<update – But first – an ad break!


There’s also @vfNZno3Gguy, which retweets all the @vodafoneNZ and @paulBrislen tweets that are not about the promotion. If that isn’t a cluestick enough then there is no hope.

Continue reading

Posted in media, telecom | Tagged , , , | 45 Comments

Brass Monkey Time

I’m off tomorrow (Wednesday) on the Brass Monkey – an annual event where… well damn it – let me bow tothe description writen by Mod from the incomparable Mod’s Motors:

This weekend some of the more fanatical of New Zealand’s motoring aficionados will begin their annual pilgrimage to Central Otago’s stunning Maniototo plain. Like Saul on the Road to Damascus, Oturehua is a site of many an epiphany for those motorcycle enthusiasts who ride the icy roads of cold clarity to the infamous Brass Monkey Rally. This year is the 29th running of the Brass Monkey, a gathering of maladjusted motorcyclists from all over the country.
It’s held just down the road from Ophir, which holds the record for the coldest still air temperature ever recorded in New Zealand: a brain-numbing 23 below zero, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, hence the name. This is my 15th Brass Monkey, but there are plenty of attendees who have attended all of them, sleeping out under the Southern Skies. The question most often asked is, “Why?” Everyone has their own answer, but for me it’s the opportunity to reconnect with my regular Monkey crew along with the religious atmosphere of midwinter Oturehua. You feel like a royal in exile.

It’s fair to say that not everyone who attends the Brass Monkey is in the middle of the bell curve, but that has to be a good thing. It’s the looneys and the mavericks that have contributed so much to the world of motoring, from John Britten to Boyd Coddington and the mad doctor, Dr Roger Freeth.
This month in MOD’s Motors, I step outside the mass produced world of mainstream vehicles to look at some of the truly mad and eccentric vehicles we have on the site. Vehicles that have no rational explanation but 100% emotional connection.
Plus the normal assortment of anarchy from the faithful, a superb Reader’s Ride and a competition for those who know their balls from their monkeys. Time to fire it up..

If you don’t subscribe the Mod’s Motors – then I strongly suggest you do so, if not for the writing or the vehicles then at for the best example that I know of a monthly newsletter. Happily I understand that Mod will continue to write these missives after he departs from Trade Me in a month or two.

Meanwhile I’ll try to blog or at least twitter some of the journey. Follow it here or @lancewiggs on Twitter.

Posted in Life, wellington | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Let’s make it happen

On Tuesday last week I was lucky enough to listen to an interesting range of cool people give 5 minute talks on the topics of their choice. (ok – only one person hit the 5 minute market exactly, and he had a giant clock on his chest) It was Webstock‘s 3rd birthday and exit from rehab.

There is a great summary of everyone over on Shadowfoot’s blog.

Unfortunately (for me and for the audience) I was also asked to give a 5 minute talk, and as I was placed last I had to follow in some big footprints. I was filled with confidence after there was a cheer as I was introduced, before I realised that it was because I was introduced as “the last speaker before the drinks”.

I’m re-writing what I spoke about at Webstock from an early version of my notes. Sadly I don’t have the annotated notes from the event, so I am missing some of the extra pieces that I had gleaned from previous speakers.

Choosing your own topic is a peculiar type of torture – so I asked organiser all round good person Natasha for advice, and she informed me, and I quote verbatim, that she was expecting:

“a ballet recital followed by your rendition of Broadway show tunes followed by your 5 min talk on why Tash is awesome”

I’d left my tutu behind, so instead I chose instead to to add a bit of context to the last time I was up in front of a similar audience – when I affirmed with two sturdy comrades in arms at Foo Camp that “The Future of New Zealand is Fucked”. It was a convincing display by our team, but sadly the audience voted with their hearts – indicating that they preferred to believe the opposition.

So I decided to join the crowd, and spoke this time about “Why are we here?”.

Not “why are we here?” in the Dalai Lama, Catholic Church or Douglas Adams sense, but “Why are we here in New Zealand, in Wellington and at the Webstock event (or even reading this blog)”

I believe that we have a choice in all of these matters (except you Mum – you have to read my blog, even if you don’t actually do so)

By definition, anyone that has the get up and go to attend Westock, to read blogs and twitter about what is going on, also has the get up and go to do so – to leave New Zealand and head for the gold paved roads of the UK, USA, Europe and Kathmandu.

Indeed many of us do, including myself. I’ve been offshore several times now, the first time lasting about 10 years, and the last few times a year or two each.

So why do we come back, why do we stay?

After all in New Zealand, and in Wellington in particular there are three compelling reasons not to be here:

The weather sucks. It really does. As I draft this on Saturday morning the rain is lashing against the house, Cook Strait is closed to the Ferrys and the latest flight from Sydney was diverted to Auckland. Meanwhile in Perth it’s sunny and warm, in Europe summer is nigh and we are consigned to short days, rain and cold.

We are miles away from anywhere
– we were the last decent place to be permanently colonized by humans (discarding Pitcairn Island and Antarctica), 4 hours away from Australia and 10 hours way from anywhere interesting (11 from Wellington).

And we have a crappy Internet connection to the rest of the world, a connection seemingly controlled by rent maximising companies (shame on you Telecom) rather than stakeholders determined to open up access to the rest of the world.

It means I’m cold, days and too many dollars away from the great friends I have around the world and my broadband sucks.

And yet, and yet – I am still here – we all are. Why is that?

Again, I believe there are three answers: The weather really sucks, we are miles away from anywhere and we are connected to the rest of the world through a crappy internet line.

In New Zealand, and in Wellington more than anywhere, we expect the unexpected. This Saturday morning the weather forecast was all doom and gales, but some friends and I grabbed and hour of relative stillness to go for a quick bike ride. Meanwhile the day before the Webstock bash, the weather was shake your house from the foundations wash the green off the leaves horrible, and yet canny Wellingtonians knew to put suntan lotion on, for lo and behold it was crisply perfect that afternoon.

It means that when Vaughan Rowsell decided to go for a bike ride back in January, he didn’t wait until next summer, but took off for an April to June journey- knowing it was going to be cold, wet and miserable at times. He’s (almost there) succeeded. It’s the same urge that will guide hundreds of motorcyclists (myself included) to ride to the Brass Monkey this weekend, which is in freezing central Otago and deliberately held at around about the time of the year when the first big dumps of snow come through.

All this adds up to a people that are ready for anything, that accept no excuses and just get stuff done, regardless of what else is going on.

You can see it when we Kiwis land work in London, study in the USA, crew boats in the Med and work in charitable organisations in Africa. Kiwis arrive and depart with a deserved reputation for being able to handle anything and everything with no fuss.

Our society helps create these people with an excellent education system, a great social welfare system that means we are kept healthy, off the streets and trained, and political parties and a system that generally allows logic and fairness to guide decisions rather than a hackneyed partisanship system. Generally.

A word on education. Not only do we have places like Wellington’s Massey Design School, which is a truly great place, but more importantly we have a very high average level of education, and a very high 10th percentile level of education. That is – the least educated amongst us are far better off than their equivalents in other countries.

I’m not trusting comparative statistics for this – I’m trusting the excellent service levels across all sorts of organisations, from airlines to banks, rental car companies to restaurants and lunch bars that we receive relative to other countries. While the systems may sometimes (often) be less than stellar, invariably the people are polite, smart and able to deal with a variety of situations.

And finally that lousy wet weather means that we live in a beautiful place, one that encourages us to get out and enjoy it, and that attracts others from around the world to do the same.

So we are resourceful and smart, a fair people, have a decent corruption free society and we can do anything.

And yet we live miles away from anywhere

Not for us the intense deal making and energy of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, where anything is possible and nothing is too expensive.

However that vast distance also means that we avoid the Wall Street of today, the excesses that crushed an economy and the deal making and loans to business and individuals that abruptly halted.

And while we do leave New Zealand by the thousands to take advantage of London and New York, we gain valuable experience overseas and then we bring it back – either on loan when kiwi stars appear at conferences and on boards, or more permanently when we return home.

We come back because it is home, but also because it is easy to live and do business here. It’s trivially easy to start a business, to open bank accounts and to pay tax here.

We have thriving local competition, even amongst start-ups. We have DonateNZ and Givealittle, Thinksmall, MadefromNZ and Bizchat, Fishpond and Mightyape, Phil & Teds and Mountain Design Buggies, and the Jobs Summit, Foo Camp and Entrepreneurs Summit.

We all want to give it a go, and that competition means that the winners (be they a single winner or, often, a merged entity) combine to be a great, and hopefully, export led company.

To be sure we also have our problems, stuck here at the end of the world, but we are pretty good at identifying them, and we are pretty good at marshaling attention and energy on them until they are fixed. The number of pre-emptive summits for the economic crisis, the reports and government moves on the lousy broadband, the likes of Cactus Kate railing against the NZX governance and the rise of the NZ Institute all give hope.

But it is that crappy internet that is the final advantage we have. Not the lousiness of it, but the fact that it is there. (And yes – please please improve it with urgency)

Decent internet reduces costs, reduces pain and reduces cycle time. It means that we can build businesses in the cloud (basing them offshore to avoid the thin pipe) and address the world.

It lowers the trade barriers between us and our customers and suppliers, and it makes the world our market.

Our Government is helping as well.

We have signed Free Trade Agreements with China, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam. That’s an astonishing 1.9 billion people – or 25% of the world’s population.

We are also in negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and South Korea. That moves it to a free trade addressable market of 2 billion people – a market of about 480 people per New Zealander, or 4 million people per reader of this blog today. Who cares about the anti-free trade USA subsidies when we have this market?

That’s plenty enough to share.

Finally, why were people at the Webstock event, and why are you (still) reading this?

When I returned to New Zealand in 2003, I’d realised that my ideal job was to
help find and found start-ups, to help growing businesses grow faster and to help their owners and employees perform better. It’s fun.

I met the then existing VC and private equity firms, but they seemed to be on the slow train, and many were mired in government hand-out bureaucracy. The tiny average investment size, the small size of the funds and the slow velocity of transactions all counted against the industry and their funded companies. I wanted better.

I was lucky enough to land at Trade Me, just before they hit the mainstream, and the energy was there. Now, six years later, and after stints overseas and here in New Zealand, I realise that times have changed across the board.

Trade Me, Xero, Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor, amongst many others, have all demonstrated that you can be good guys and start, run and make money from (the jury is waiting a verdict on Xero) excellent and cool companies.

Meanwhile the internet generation is hitting their stride. The 22 year olds of today have always been online, and they intrinsically get the space.

There are older returnees that are bringing energy, experience and cash back to our shores, and, most of all, there is a sense of opportunity.

The opportunities and energy is real. After landing back here in March, after selling up in Fremantle, it took only two weeks before I had over 20 opportunities of one description or another, and I am now part of two new companies.

Almost at the same time I received a call from Equip Design – who consult as part of the Better By Design program. I’m now on the team, and have visited the first of a series of clients that will build off a rich NZ history of successful transformation into design-led export-driven companies. I’ve toured Formway Design (unbelievable) and looked at from afar at the success of Obo, Phil and Teds and other successful graduates of the program.

We are good at this stuff – product design, anything internet based, branding, lean and flexible manufacturing – indeed the entire product development process.

Our local economy is strong, our addressable economies of the world are in varying degrees of trouble, but our export volumes are trivial to them, and our products are often clever and cheaper solutions to problems that they are just starting to look at.

So we have the people, the experience, economy and education. People are giving start-ups a go, and we have a huge market to address.

There are plenty of roadblocks on the way, but we Kiwis can do anything, regardless of the weather outside.

Let’s make it happen.

Posted in Internet Business, Life, New Zealand Institute, NZ Business, Trade Me | 5 Comments

Tuesday Three: 3 ways to improve your business

Introducing a series of posts where I’ll be suggesting three simple (or not so simple) ways to improve your business. Here’s the first installment:

Reduce the big costs – and the little ones

  1. List your major suppliers in descending order of spend, then figure out ways to reduce price and quantity for each of them. Renegotiate everything.  On the way you should understand their own costs and price pressures, so you can give them a fair margin but no more.
  2. Clean your own kitchens – and drop the frequency of vacuuming by half.
  3. Move to smaller offices – things are much more productive when you sit near other people anyway.
Posted in NZ Business | Tagged ,

Well done Trade Me, but the threat remains

There’s an interesting article over at eBay strategies, which talks about how eBay lost the market for classifieds and mentions that Amazon is taking out the top end. (If you work at Trade Me then you should have eBay Strategies in your RSS reader)

I’ve mentioned it here before, and it bears repeating: Trade Me is different.

Trade Me has captured the Motors market, is well ahead of the incumbent in Property traffic and just behind the incumbent in Jobs. They are also in flats ( and have been for years) and rental property.

Meanwhile Trade Me’s free listings and simple localization meant that they have always been in the local classifieds game – things like sofas and so forth that require a face to face transaction.

The overall effect was a business that left no space for the well executed Zillion and Finda to get traction.

So well done Trade Me, but the threat will always be there – screw up and someone will take big chunks of the business. This will happen, for example, if Trade Me attempts to increase fees too much or if usability is lost in a host of features. If so then Craigslist, Gumtree or say Zillion will be right there to pick up the volume.

Sadly for the competitive threat Trade Me is still following the path to usability, and while I’d like to see lower fees in tough times they are probably at the right level for now.

It’s the same at the top end for eBay with higher quality product sellers moving across to Amazon.

Indeed while a substantial percentage (say 40%) of Trade Me’s listings are new, there does remain a bit of a gap in the market for direct selling of quality new products. It’s the one Ferrit was so hapless at finding, and I’ve mentioned how you can take advantage before. The gap is pretty tiny, but between New Zealand and Australia (where eBay is also screwing up) there is plenty of scope.

I’m saddened at just how eBay have managed to lose the plot, but respect Trade Me and how they are still showing the way after 10 years.

Posted in auctions, Business, Internet Business, Trade Me | Tagged | 6 Comments

I’ve joined Equip – a Better by Design consultancy

Better By Design is a NZ Government sponsored program that seeks to help high growth companies become design-led – and thus turn into great companies.

The end goal of Better by Design is for New Zealand companies to generate more export sales by selling better-designed products and services.

It all came out of a 2003 paper and kicked off at a 2005 conference, and it’s part of NZTE.

There’s an impressive advisory board, led by Jeremy Moon (Icebreaker) and assisted by Rick Wells (Formway). Those are two great design led companies – and another one is Apple. It’s no coincidence that I’m typing on an Apple computer, sitting on a Formway Life Chair and wearing 3 separate pieces of Icebreaker clothing. These are companies that understand what I need before I need it and make beautiful products that fit those needs – products that are more addictive than caffeine.

Better by Design’s primary vehicle is the Design Integration Program – a six stage process that identifies high growth export led companies that would benefit from the program, audits them to assess their gaps to being design-led, writes a plan and then helps the company get the plan done.

BBD uses three external consultancies to perform the audits and write, with the client company, the plan to become design led. BBD’s own internal consultants, who each boast an impressive private sector CV, identify and bring companies aboard, guide them through the process and then help companies get the plans done.

Oh – and the audit and plan are free to the participating companies.

It is, however, really rather difficult to get into the program.

Well over 100 companies have been or are going through the process, and there have been some notable successes. Check out the case studies for OBO and Bendon, each of whom has transformed their business in recent years. There are other case studies as well.

The primary measure is dollars earned from exports, and I am told that the results are well above expectations.

I recently joined the team at Equip Design, one of the three external firms that companies can choose to perform the Design Audit and Plan (called a Design360). I’m joining Equip founders Ray Labone and Peter Haythornwaite along with Andrew Jones.

Ray has been in this program from the very beginning, and is a (or the) leading branding consultant. He co-founded Designworks and he chaired the Design Taskforce that created the work that ended up as Better By Design.

Peter has a similarly stellar career in the Industrial Design field – running his own design company for many years and, well if you are in the field you know who he is.

Interestingly one of my cousins (Mikkel Johannessen) worked for Ray years ago, and another (Nils Johannessen) for a design company that Peter founded. They both went through what was then the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design, and I remember Nils’ class designed MP3 players – in about 1990.

Andrew is an engineer and has far too much production process consulting experience.

So I’ve joined a very strong team – and I’m there not because I love caressing gorgeous  Apple products, agonizing over website design, or because I derive a perverse pleasure from helping production processes get better. Instead I am there to provide a business perspective to the team, as the audits and plans tend to go to the very core of what a company does and how it does it.

I bring with me a pretty ruthless approach to the process of growing and improving businesses, one that has always stayed clear of chasing government money just because it is there. I believe in the BBD program as the participating companies are very well screened, it’s free, the BBD team and external consultants have great CVs, and the track record is peerless.

I’m really looking forward to this work – it’s only a handful of days a month, but it means I get to see and help some great companies all over New Zealand. The BBD team has not focussed on web-based businesses, and so I will extend my reach and hope to be able to do some cross-pollination between the two worlds.

I will also learn a lot – from Ray, Peter and Andrew and from the companies that I get to see, and get to apply that to other things that I am involved with.

There is a chance that things will change a bit after the forthcoming budget, but I sense a confident mood given the track record of the program.

Hopefully you will read here about the great companies in the program, but only  if all parties (BBD, Equip and hte company itself) are comfortable.

Posted in Business, NZ Business | 2 Comments

Red Bull is a tobacco company

A scary article in the NZHerald on how a Brooke Robertson lost 55 Kg of weight by abandoning foods and solely drinking Red Bull.

“I managed to wean myself off it by being in hospital for that long but I had severe withdrawals – sweating, nausea, shaking. It was an addiction. The doctors stated that.”

We get the occasional odd story here in New Zealand, but I want to concentrate on the quote from a Red Bull spokesperson who

denied the drink was addictive and said there was “scientific evidence that caffeine is not addictive”.

That’s exactly the sort of disingenuous statement that the tobacco companies made for years about nicotine. There may be scientific evidence for one side and the other of an issue, but the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is that caffeine is addictive.

I don’t know whether this was a misguided spokesperson, an external lawyer or whether the Red Bull organization truly believes there is a chance that caffeine is not addictive. The fact is they are selling stuff which contains an addictive ingredient, and they should have acknowledged that, say that they recommend one can a day as part of a balanced diet and move on.

They didn’t – instead they tried to infer imply  that caffeine is not addictive – according to ‘scientists’.

But even without the scientific evidence we all know that Caffeine is addictive – it’s not even a debate in society. The world consumes about 120,000 tonnes each year of caffeine, and it’s consumed in the full knowledge that it is a stimulant and it is addictive. It’s like alcohol and tobacco – a legal way to send a mind altering substance to your brain.

So I’ve purchased my last drink of Red Bull, will not support their crazy sports events (which are brilliant way to do marketing) and will sneer at the Red Bull and Toro Rosso Formula 1 teams.

I also recommend that Red Bull spokespeople read Wikipedia – the Caffeine article is excellent – well written and with plenty of footnotes for those in denial to follow.

Withdrawal symptoms—possibly including headache, irritability, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, insomnia and pain in the stomach, upper body, and joints[71]—may appear within 12 to 24 hours after discontinuation of caffeine intake, peak at roughly 48 hours, and usually last from one to five days, representing the time required for the number of adenosine receptors in the brain to revert to “normal” levels, uninfluenced by caffeine consumption.

And now I’ll go make myself a coffee. I forgot to this morning and I can sense a headache coming on.

Posted in Business, media, NZ Business | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments