Restaurant Technology: Intro to Geofencing

Geofencing, or the ability to closely target particular computer users based on their current location, is still a relatively new field when it comes to restaurant marketing and branding. There are dozens of vendors in this space (this is a long list of who exhibited at last year’s Local Advertising Conference), but very few of the ones we contacted have actually had any restaurant customers yet. The tools span several different kinds of products, too.

You can view my article here in the premiere issue of Restaurant Technology Magazine that provides a primer for those interested in getting started in this space.

Light my bonfire

It is almost a cliche: put a bunch of 20-somethings together and the first business they want to start is building their own iPhone app. The second kind of business is something involving social media. And the third is something with sharing photos.

Yet if you look beyond these broad strokes there is something to be said with what a group of young entrepreneurs are doing in St. Louis with an app called It could be something that will change that social/mobile/photo space in spite of being part of that triple trendy collection of categories.

I have to say I was very unimpressed when I first heard about it, and was shown the app by one of its founders. Ho hum. Yet Another Social Mobile App. I showed it to my 20-something daughter, who also pointedly yawned. “Dad, I already spend enough time on Facebook and don’t need another network,” she told me.

But the audience for Bonfyre isn’t necessarily another medium for posting pix of people holding red cups filled with intoxicants. It is designed for brand owners to build engaging meetings and to tell their stories. When you pitch their idea that way, it begins to make sense.

When you go to a conference,assuming the conference is any good, you want to bottle some of that good feeling you get from the time spent and preserve those memories. Yeah, and you get the tote bag or backpack too. Maybe you want to capture a few scenes from the speaker’s presentations, or remember some of the folks that you met. Or whatever. So how do you do it now? Rather crudely, with a combination of Facebook photos, LinkedIn groups, email and texts. Links to Instagram or Pinterest photo collections. And a batch of business cards that if you were lucky you either scanned or annotated so you remember who that person was that you met.

The problem is that your stored common memory of the event is all over the place. None of the above mechanisms really work well. Facebook is too public, and navigating its sharing and privacy controls are like trying to set up the next NASA launch (or whomever is launching rockets these days). Texting is great if you want to share one or two photos with one or two people, but breaks down in the many-to-many context rather quickly. The LinkedIn group with its triple opt-in takes months to actually create and get going, by which time the group has moved on to other matters (and doesn’t really work anyway for sharing photos). And the stack of business cards gathers dust quickly as the memory of each individual fades.

That is the space where Bonfyre is trying to enter. The idea is that anyone can download the app to their phone and create these quick discussion groups and invite anyone else to them. There is a Web app for monitoring your discussions. You can be up and sharing content with specific people within minutes. No one else can view the content, unless they are invited in. Once the discussion is created, everyone in the group sees everything. It is mainly for sharing and commenting on photos, but you can also share messages too.Think of it as the virtual tote bag that can preserve your memories of the event.

I began to see the light when I was going to a party a few months ago, a party put on by the Bonfyre PR firm. That day I happened to be having lunch with one of Bonfyre’s founders. He showed me the discussion that was started by the PR firm’s owner, who was trying to figure out what shoes she should wear that night and had photographed several choices. Suddenly we were photographing our own sneakers and putting them online. Soon other attendee’s shoe pictures followed.

Now, granted this was our interpretation of the infamous red cup pix of so many 20-somethings’ nights out, but that is partly my point: no one else was going to see these pictures, unless you were going to the party. And we all had a good laugh when we finally got to the party and looked at each other’s feet.

But now let’s take this silly moment and move into what is actually happening with the Bonfyre app by meeting and event planners. At one conference of 500 people, 60% of the attendees were running the app, and 60% of them were sharing content with each other. At a Rams football game, they had 2000 people at the stadium using the app, and these people uploaded almost as many photos as the entire half million Facebook fans of the Rams. Think about that for a moment: you have all these folks in the stadium sharing their memories of the game with each other, interacting with each other and with folks watching the game around the world. If you were the marketing director of the Rams, wouldn’t you want to reach those folks and leverage this interest? If you were a Rams advertiser, wouldn’t you want to connect with these people, perhaps offer them something? Now you begin to see the power of what Bonfyre can do.

They haven’t gotten everything worked out yet: how they charge businesses, getting their analytics act together, and hiring a real sales team to promote their own brand still remain on the to do list. But this is one mobile, social, photo sharing app that you should take a closer look at. No matter how old you are. Try it at your next meeting or corporate event, and see if you can light your own bonfire.

Network World: When you need to measure your Tweets and Facebook presence

As businesses make more use of social networks, the number of engagement, analysis and monitoring tools has exploded. Enterprises are trying to understand their return on social media investments, to find out if their Twitter and Facebook marketing campaigns are actually delivering customers. They want to track social mentions across multiple networks and be responsive to both kudos and complaints. We found nearly 100 products that fall into this emerging product category, which goes by a wide variety of names including social media monitoring, social CRM, social intelligence, enterprise listening platforms and media engagement.

You can read my review in Network World here, where I tested Expion, Gremln, SimplyMeasured, SproutSocial, Sysomos Heartbeat, Ubervu, Viralheat, and Visible Technologies’ Intelligence.

Some other resources:

Solution Providers for Retail: Consider Demand Chain Management

While supply chain management gets a lot of attention, what should drive a company, especially retailers, is how demand for its products is tracked. Let’s look at a case study from Macy’s, which grew sales and reduced its inventories considerably, thanks to careful management of its demand chain.

This was posted today on the blog Solution Providers for Retail.

Poll Time

The hardest part about doing an online poll isn’t the poll itself, but figuring out what you want to really find out. And these days there are more choices than ever for low-cost surveying sources that make the process of polling pretty easy.

Since taking a class in user experience design last year, I have been experimenting with a few different kinds of polls to collect information for my articles. It has been a mixed bag. I tried out LinkedIn Polls and used Google Forms, and both were less than satisfying for different reasons.

pollAnd I am not even concerned about valid or representative sampling techniques, even though I do have a dim memory of my earlier statistics classes when I was in graduate school and we had to do things the old fashioned pencil-and-paper Chi Squared ways.

A good place to start with surveys is go to review the suggestions for survey design from Caroline Jarrett. She has written books on the topic and speaks extensively at various user design conferences. She has some great examples of the more common errors in creating surveys and tips on what you should do too. I linked to her in a story that I wrote for Dr. Dobbs last year.

In the piece I also mention some other tips for doing online surveys, and include links to five survey service providers. They vary in cost from free to $200 a month; depending on which service provider you choose and how many responses you plan on receiving.

In addition to the providers I mention, several years ago LinkedIn added the ability to create polls ( You can send out free polls to your entire network, but if you want to target them to a specific group it will cost you at least $50 per poll. You can use the service if you have a free LinkedIn account too. They haven’t done a very good job of publicizing the polls feature, which is too bad because it is dirt simple to use.

I tried it out and didn’t exactly get much in the way of responses, but the reporting is nice: you get age, gender and job title breakdown, should your respondents choose to allow this information to be reported to you. (You can see the results above.)

LinkedIn Polls isn’t as sophisticated as some of the ones mentioned in my article, but is a great place to start if you are trying to get some quick research done. Another free service that has more flexibility is Google Forms. You assemble your poll questions into a template document, and you can send out the link to your peeps. When they reply their answers are recorded in a Google Spreadsheet, at least in theory. Mine didn’t quite work, and I am not sure why. You get a link to the results and there are some nice graphs that are produced automatically. It is a bit more complex to use than LinkedIn, but still you don’t need a course in statistics to figure it out (and maybe that is what tripped me up).

Any poll that you create you’ll probably want to use some kind of scheduling program such as Hootsuite or something similar to periodically remind your peeps about your poll, or otherwise to advertise its existence among your social networks. LinkedIn makes it easy by have its own URL shortener, along with handy buttons to repost the poll to your Facebook and Twitter streams too. Google creates a special link to the poll that you can send out via email.

Support your St. Louis entrepreneurs this week!

In the next week there are three different events that involve local startups: one at Washington University, one at St. Louis University, and one downtown. All are open to the public.

Tonight is the wrap up pitches for the Olin Cup at Wash U., a year-long competition that has been going on for several years now and involves both students and locals with the best startup idea.

This weekend is StartupWeekend in downtown St. Louis, with events beginning tomorrow night. I will be one of the mentors, coaching the ad hoc teams that form to create something out of just an idea within 48 hours. This is our second such weekend, the last one was a lot of fun!

And finally, I will be judging the annual Idea to Product competition, which involves the region’s college students, at SLU on Friday 11/16.

Here is a great infographic from ITEN that summarizes the recent developments:


20 years of thanks

It has been 20 years since I set out to start my own business, and this column is a combination of a look back and a way of saying thanks to all of you that are still reading my work.

I thought about this milestone when I had a chance to meet one of my readers this past month that I had never met, an IT manager with a large non-profit organization. He was excited to finally meet me. We reminisced about one of my reviews of a now-defunct product that he ended up purchasing and using for many years. That interaction brought home to me the kind of influence that I have had over time, and made me feel proud of the body of work that I have created. So for all of you that I have met, and those that I haven’t, I just wanted to say thanks for your attention all these years. My work product is a partnership among readers and vendors who keep innovation alive in the world of IT. It has been a terrific run.

In 1992, I was just coming off a very successful launch of Network Computing magazine for CMP (now United Business Media). I had hired the staff, worked with our designers, and built one of the first digital content management systems that ran on desktop Apple computers. In the first year of publication we had turned a profit. The publication still exists today and many of the folks that I had hired are still working journalists. Back then we had PCs that ran megahertz clock speeds with megabytes of RAM and disk storage: even our phones today have dual core processors and gigabytes now of stuff. Speaking of cell phones, they were anything but smart: the first Blackberry precursor was still on the drawing boards. Wifi hadn’t yet happened, let alone wired networking; the Internet was still the province of academics and the military; and IBM still thought its minicomputer line was part of the picture for most businesses. Microsoft Windows was at version 3.1, and just beginning to catch on. Computer CD drives were still new and were read-only.

Back in 1992, many of today’s tech influencers had yet to hit their marks. Sergey and Larry were still undergrads that hadn’t yet even met each other at Stanford, let alone come up with the idea of Google. Zuck was barely out of kindergarten. Steve was still fooling around with Next and Pixar and hadn’t yet come back to guide Apple. Chambers was still running Cisco’s sales and not yet the entire company, and Linus’ doctoral dissertation was known to just a few tech-heads.

They were certainly different times.

In the 20 years I have written thousands of magazine articles. I wrote my second book on computer networking which came out the week after 9/11, much to my disadvantage. I have had the opportunity and honor to work with some of the most exceptional people in our industry. I have enjoyed staying in touch with many IT managers as they have grown their careers and continue to correspond with many entrepreneurs as they have moved from one startup to another.

Yes, those publications at the dawn of the PC era are mere shadows of themselves today: PC Week (now eWeek), Infoworld (where I wrote a weekly column in the mid-1990s), Datamation, Computerworld, and even my baby Network Computing. Print has been replaced by the Web, and tech advertising has migrated elsewhere. The stack of paper on my desk on Monday afternoons is now replaced by the initials http.

Will I still be at my computer 20 years from now? I have no idea. But I hope you continue to read what I compose each week, and I am proud to have you as my loyal readers. Thanks for a great first 20 years together. And as Natalie Merchant has written,

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know why you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness–my admiration
For everything you’ve done
You know I’m bound–I’m bound to thank you for it.

Charting the underground Twitterverse

How bad is the underground Twitter economy? According to Barracuda Labs, pretty bad.

They looked at dealers who sell the fake accounts and the various people who have stuffed their Twitter followers with fake users, including one guy running for president. Most of these fakes are easy to spot: the abuser (the person paying for the fakers) has a big jump in their followers, and they are mostly comprised of users who have recently joined Twitter. On top of this, the newbies are following no one else and have never Tweeted themselves. Twitter of course isn’t just sitting around: they have their algorithms to try to catch and terminate these fakes, but like email spammers, it is a tough war to fight.

Where do you go to buy your fake followers? On eBay, of course. Right now you can find 20 different sellers, and if you Google the term you can find plenty more people that are willing to take your money and set you up with a long list of phonies. The going rate is $18 per a thousand, which is probably why the average abuser has more than 48,000 fake followers.

That is pretty depressing. I guess I just don’t look for the dark side, and tend to think that people are using technology for good rather than evil. Silly me. But I guess it was bound to happen.

It is hard to tell the fakes from the real people sometimes, especially if you aren’t looking carefully at what is going on. That is my problem with Twitter in general: it is hard to parse your Tweet stream as the number of abbreviations and leet-like speak is quite dense. I sometimes feel like I need my secret decoder ring. But maybe that is just me.

This whole fake follower issue brings up the subject of Twitter analytic tools, something that I wrote about for ReadWriteWeb last winter here.

There are probably dozens of different tools that you can use to analyze suspect accounts. If you haven’t used any of these before it is worth taking a closer look at a couple of them, they can provide some interesting stats for both your own Twitter usage and to see if your potential followers (and people to follow) are legit.

So, other than careful screening, what else should you do if you want to build up your following?

First off, build them slowly. Don’t try to add batches of them all at once.  The slower your numbers rise, the slower they will decline.

Second, try to remember that Twitter it isn’t just about me (or you). You should retweet and link to other things besides your own content. (I should do this more, I know.)

Next, try to follow more people.  Otherwise, you look like a dilettante. (ditto)

Reuse your tweets. Nothing wrong with sending out the same tweet a few different times over the course of a day or a week. Not everyone is paying attention when you want to inform the world about your latest brain storm.

Finally, if you are looking for a great Twitter marketing book to get more of these practical suggestions, I would recommend The Idiots Guide to Twitter Marketing that is co-written by my colleague Esther Schindler.

How is your customer support doing?

According to BlueWolf, not so hot. More than half of businesses still have never responded when customers tweet about a bad experience. What are you waiting for?

The information they collected for their infographic shows how unforgiving we have become as a group of customers. When things go awry, 17% of customers bail on the first mistake, and 40% will leave after two strikes. Wow.

It seems these days almost everyone is using social media for customer support. The newspapers are filled with stories. My daughter’s GenY is getting hired (when they can find a job) doing such work for a wide variety of companies: clothing stores, restaurants, and other retailers. It wasn’t too long ago when just getting a website up and running was a challenge for many of these businesses. Now the bar has been raised, and they have to do better at engaging and keeping their customers.

We have come to expect more from our suppliers. We want things fixed. Here is one example. I have been a Vonage customer for seven years. But lately, I am not really using the service. I find myself going between Skype and my cell, and I long ago stopped having an actual physical desk phone in my office. So I went to try to terminate the service. It took three phone calls to their call center: the first was dropped (perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally). The second I was tricked into keeping the service. I lucked out on the third call and got a supervisor who was able to do the deed.

Now, I liked my Vonage line when I used it: it gave me a freedom from Ma Bell and I had few problems over the number of problems that I had their service. I liked that I could move my 310 phone number from California to St. Louis. I liked that I could resolve most issues on my own with their Web portal and self-service controls. But the termination experience left a bad taste in my mouth. They shouldn’t have to make it so hard to say goodbye. I wasn’t trying to get a better deal: I just wanted to end our relationship.

The warning signs are clear: if you don’t keep your customers happy, someone else will.