iQ Blog / we write about design and business (and sometimes we make puns)

Speaking the Queen’s Irish with Twitter #Diplomacy


This week, the British Monarchy gave marketers and public relations officers a textbook lesson in real-time social audience targeting. And showed that in the social media age, diplomacy isn’t just for governments.

The Queen's cupla focal

“Mr President, the goal of modern British-Irish relations can be simply stated. It is that we, who inhabit these islands, should live together as neighbours and friends. Respectful of each other’s nationhood, sovereignty and traditions. Cooperating to our mutual benefit. At ease in each other’s company.”

Platitudinal diplomacy or heartfelt pleasantry – either way the British monarch’s comment during the first ever official state visit of an Irish president to the UK, marks a watershed in Ireland and England’s shared history.

But there’s a second diplomatic front opening on this #IrishStateVisit, and it’s on Twitter.

Early on Tuesday morning, the first day of President Higgins’ three day jaunt, the Queen’s official account (@britishmonarchy) posted two tweets.

The first read:

The President of Ireland and Mrs Higgins have arrived in London and were greeted by The Queen's representative #Welcome #IrishStateVisit

@Britishmonarchy's English tweet about the Irish State Visit

And this was the second:

Tá Londain bainte amach ag Uachtarán na hÉireann agus ag Bean Uí Uiginn, agus chuir ionadaí na Banríona fáilte rompu #Fáilte #CuairtStáit

Britishmonarchy Irish tweet about the Irish State Visit

Both tweets contain the same message, but it is the Irish one which received the greatest response.

Let’s look at the numbers; both messages were published at 9:45am, both contained the same content (in different languages), and both were posted on the same Twitter account.

Yet, the message posted in Irish has been retweeted over 1,000 times, with over 500 favourites. The English version has been retweeted 82 times, with 61 favourites.

Replies to the Irish message have also been overwhelmingly positive, with many Irish Twitter users saying go raibh maith agat in reply to @britishmonarchy.

Now, most Irish people will admit that their command of the national tongue is ufásach, and even the reasonably straightforward language in the Tweet would be impenetrable to most. However, the message the tweet sent went far beyond the cúpla focal – it was a warm gesture of friendship from “the old enemy”, and it told readers in Ireland that the account was talking directly to them.

This message appealed directly to a specific, and profitable, audience at a time when they were most receptive to it. Some 2.6 million Irish tourists visit the UK each year; Ireland is the fourth largest tourist market for the UK (just after the US, which sends 2.7 million tourists across the pond).

Irish tourists to the UK spend £797 million (€964 million, $1.3 billion) each year, with the majority of trips from the Republic to the UK taking place between April and September. On top of that, the British royal sites are some of the main attractions.  According to some data, the monarchy alone is reportedly responsible for bringing in half a billion pounds of tourist revenue each year.

These tweets form only a small part of a larger charm offensive; British authorities no doubt aware that newsreel of the Irish President visiting historic London landmarks and chatting with Her Madge would work well to entice tourists across the Irish Sea.

So, what did Brand Monarchy do right?

Speaking at last October’s Web Summit, Stephen McIntyre, Managing Director at Twitter Ireland, had this advice for marketers, “push while the door is open.”  According to McIntyre brands get the most from social media when the target a specific audience at a specific time.

A well-timed tweet (even one that had been prepared in advance) works best to improve brand awareness, or increase audience sentiment. McIntyre points to large public affairs, such as state visits, and sporting events which provide brands with powerful opportunities to reach larger audiences.

He argues that since these events are usually planned far in advance, and have a set number of predictable outcomes, they give brands time to craft tweets that will resonate with their target market.

McIntyre points to this message from Visit England’s Twitter account. They posted this tweet just moments after the England lost on penalties (again) to Italy during Euro 2012.

England lose on penalties. For more on our culture and traditions go to  ;)

Visit England's Euro 2012 tweet

That well timed, but obviously planned message, was retweeted over 9,000 times (no doubt helped by the touch of humour)

The @britishmonarchy’s Twitter diplomacy is an interesting and successful application of this rule. The Irish tweet, and a few more that followed after, have been so successful they’ve even received news coverage over here.

Knowing your audience, and knowing how your audience can change, can help brands create digital content that delivers results.

OFFSET 2014 – interacting with creativity


Offset 2014 Title

We’re a small country. And Ireland probably isn’t the first place that jumps to mind when you think about international creativity hubs. That’s why OFFSET, the annual creative industry festival held in Dublin’s Docklands, is all the more remarkable.

It’s an event that punches above its weight on the international scene, to the point where it was recently ranked as one of the most significant milestones in modern design by Computer Arts Magazine (just beside the iPad). And over the years has attracted luminaries and legends of design, illustration and photography including Paula Scher, George Lois, Bob Gill and Oliviero Toscani.

These heavy hitters speak alongside an amazing pedigree of Irish talent; this year alone featured Maser (street art), Richard Moss (photography), Brown Bag Films (animation) and Chris Judge (illustration). There is world class work being done in this little country.

The fifth annual festival, which finished up just over a week ago, attracted over 2,200 delegates, including many from the IQ team. And we’re proud to support OFFSET in our own little way as a member ‘Friends of OFFSET’ programme.

Brian at Offset

Brian at Offset. Photo via Cian Brennan/Offset

IQ Content’s very own Lead Content strategist, Brian Herron has been a member of the OFFSET production team on and off since the festival began in 2009  in his own words, “writing things that needed writing and lifting things that needed lifting.” Last year he was full time on digital promotions and wrote much of the OFFSET book – the bible for delegates.

I spoke to Brian to get his take on what OFFSET means for the creative industries in Ireland.

Sheena Bouchier: What do you love about offset?

Brian Herron: Wooofph – all of it?

The event itself is incredibly inspiring, but I’m always surprised by how much of what happens during the OFFSET weekend gains more relevance over time, and often drives my thinking for the rest of the year. Even though what I do day-to-day doesn’t make me one of the core profiles of attendees at the festival (being a writer rather than a designer) I find that OFFSET influences both how I approach work and the way that I respond to other pieces of work that I see. I often find myself referring back to something a speaker said or to a design process I’ve learned about.

It’s a credit to Bren and Richard and the rest of the team for consistently putting together a line up of speakers over that years that has been truly inspirational.

It’s a rallying call to never produce anything less than something great, no matter what restrictions there are.

SB: Give us an example of a specific inspiration …

One of the cool thing about the conference is that accidentally, because the guys don’t plan it this way, certain themes seem to emerge naturally. So in 2013 this theme of hackiness seemed to emerge. Iain Tate and Ji Lee both hit on it, as well as several others on the second stage. Ji Lee had his Bubble Project, which is where you stick speech bubbles on advertising and you can write whatever you want; and Taite helped build Poke London, who are experts in digital and real-world hackiness.

It’s the idea of using and manipulating the world and the environment around you to create something. Not waiting for the perfect scenario for a huge idea to be possible, just use what you have available to you.

Touchpoint concept for DART of PHYSICS

Touchpoint concept for DART of PHYSICS

That idea – using what is to hand in unusual and interesting ways – went into some of the projects we worked on at IQ Content like DART of PHYSICS. We tried to combine that spirit of hackiness with our own ethnographic research process to come up new experiences that could be integrated into people’s daily lives.

In some of our initial pitches for DART of PHYSICS, we were using coffee cups in the train stations to interrupt the commute and transparent stickers explaining scientific experiments stuck onto glass for people day dreaming out windows. It’s about looking at the world around you as an opportunity to start a conversation – I guess we’d call that a touchpoint.

I don’t want to sound highfaluting about it, but OFFSET has given me new perspectives and helped me think more creatively.

SB: What theme came out of this year?

BH: If hackiness was all about using what was around you, this year there was a lot of talk about restrictions – and how not being able to do something can be a creative driver. Jessica Walsh focused on this, Mother London spent a while talking about it and someone else …

SB: Richard Turley?

BH: Yeah, and it came up a couple of times on the second stage. Thinking of restrictions as creatively positive is really healthy for our industry. We’re usually really aware that we’re working within restrictions in terms of the digital projects we produce – platform limitations, development budgets, whatever.

iQ Content is on an continuum of a communications industry that stretches from programming and development all the way to advertising, marketing and PR. It’s a healthy reminder for us to know that those sort of restrictions are in-built across the entire scope of the industry, and that we should strive towards creative solutions to get the best results. It’s a rallying call to never produce anything less than something great, no matter what restrictions there are.

Maybe it’s like Judo – using the force of something that’s trying to stop you completing the job to your advantage.

SB: We work in web and digital design, but focused primarily on improving UX, whereas OFFSET seems like it’s all about the visual commercial arts. Is it beneficial for people in UX to expose themselves to a broader creative industry in this manner?

BH: We work at a point that intersects science and art and even though a lot of the people up there on the Offset stage weren’t necessarily talking about our kind of work, I think that’s a huge positive. I think there’s a temptation for us as UX designers, working in web, to go to UX conferences and go to development conferences and we sit there and we listen to each other and we end up in this closed box ghetto where all we’re thinking about is a neat, little slip of interaction we can use, or a new methodology to understand what the user wants.

Those practical things are obviously critical to what we do but there’s a whole lot of other things that we should think about – what are people responding to, what’s making them excited, what is inspiring them, are there better ways to think about problems in the context of a wider, non-digital world. It would be remiss of us not to try to engage with thinking from other disciplines.

A lot of what the speakers at OFFSET are talking about is about trying to discover a sense of joy and play in work (which is actually another theme that came up). We as UX designers often play as we try to figure out good interaction design. Who better to learn how to play from from than a bunch of lay-about, do-nothing creatives.

Getting back to touch points though, OFFSET has also provided a good context for interacting with the city. This year they ran the Transform the City Project in partnership with Absolut. They partnered with leCool to put a vending machine on Camden street that was filled with gifts from one of the businesses on the street, and you didn’t know what you were going to get.

Disco ball street sign

Disco ball street sign on Capel Street

And then there was also this thing that Pony did with Panti on capel street, where they put neon pink disco ball warning triangles attached to all the lamp post.

We may not think of these things as being UX ideas, but I think they can be viewed that way. There’s a signal now on Capel street that lends tacit support to gay culture in Dublin and more particularly, expands Panti Bar‘s [a popular Dublin gay bar] integration with on old Dublin street, steeped in history.

It’s minor element of branding that helps to build an identity in a section of the city, but it also lends a little bit of affordance as to what the ‘purpose’ of this street is.

That little bit of signalling that translates an incredibly powerful idea in a creative and immediately understandable way.

There are great ideas that are not directly tied to what we do but they are tangential. And if we listen carefully we can take a lot from them and hopefully translate some of this thinking into our own work.

SB: Do you feel that digital, UX, and even interactive art are largely excluded from Offset?

BH: OFFSET is focused on the creative commercial arts – professionals working within certain industries; illustrators, designers, animators. It does touch on interactive art when appropriate, like you saw Jeff Greenspan talking on Friday discussing how the internet was used to disseminate the hipster bear traps, which was designed as a project that would spread online. And The World’s Most Exclusive Website, equally, is a digital art project.

It’s not a core focus of OFFSET, but there’s always been people represented who’ve used the internet cleverly, but it tends to be with a slant towards visual design. The second room is the place where ideas on new media have been explored more fully over the years. It is an area that is ripe for further discussion.

SB: Did anything exciting happen behind the scenes?

BH: No – or at least I’m not spilling any secrets. Yet.

Designing for users’ expectations across multiple devices


“Almost everything that users can do on desktop or laptop, they expect to be able to on a mobile” – Lar Veale, Head of UX

With consumers buying more tablets and smartphones, fewer PCs, how do you deliver the depth of service and usability that customers want, on smaller and more varied screens? You mix strong design principles, in-depth user research, and a lot of hard work.

With this in mind we worked with CitiBank to deliver the bank’s Direct BE Mobile app, which now processes over $31 billion across 90 countries.

Vodafone asked us to design and build an app they could use both in their retail stores and in the call centres – and it had to work on multiple platforms: tablet, large touchscreens, online and mobile. The end result as the Vodafone MyWay app, which has been rolled out to 200 tablets across 37 stores in Ireland alone.

Find out more about how iQ Content can help you design for your customers (PDF | 2.1MB).

What a digital strategy can do for your business


“The unsophisticated messenger draws a straight line between what they want to say and how they say it. The sophisticated one knows that the line is more of a web.” – Randall Snare, Head of Content Strategy

We all need a roadmap to help us get to where we want to go, but often it’s difficult to know which direction to take. It may sound like a buzzword (and sometimes it is), but a proper digital strategy can be invaluable to businesses that are looking streamline their operations, or find new opportunities in the market.

We’ve helped develop long and short term digital strategies for Irish and international brands. Working with Airtricity we have delivered several transformative projects across digital touchpoints. Our latest, strategy includes a range of tactics to boost retention and accelerate the company’s move into e-commerce.

We can help you define your digital strategy with,

  • Business and Industry Analysis,
  • Customer Research
  • Competitor Benchmarking
  • Opportunity Assessment
  • Strategy Definition
  • Roadmap
  • Progress Review

Find out more about what a digital strategy can do for your business (PDF | 2.1MB).

Customer journey mapping for success


“Companies that perfect customer journeys reap enormous rewards, including enhanced customer and employee satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenues, lowered costs, and improved collaboration across the organization”Harvard Business Review.

Customer experience is oft discussed but rarely understood. Since no two customers are the same, translating their experiences of your brand into insights and actions can seem like a gargantuan task. The challenge for brands is to separate signal from noise to understand how customers interact with their service. Here’s how we do it,

  • Capture insight through research by talking to customers and stakeholders, and mining data from multiple sources
  • Collaborate with clients and customers to understand the entire user experience
  • Map customers’ experiences and identify opportunities
  • Turn insights into actions, to help you and your customers

Find out more about how iQ Content can help you capture customer insights to create a leading customer experience (PDF | 3MB).

iQ Content overview

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“Relationships are vital to our business… relationships based on trust, mutual respect and shared goals” – Paul Fitzsimons – Managing Director

Over the past decade we’ve grown to become one of the largest independent UX companies in Europe, and it’s the relationships we build with our clients that have been the key to our growth.

We’ve worked with some of the world’s leading organisations to help them provide better services to their customers and staff; and to uncover new opportunities that drive innovation. To do this our strategy team delves deep into our clients’ organisations, to understand the needs of their customers, and the competitive environment. We provide specialist expertise in,

  • Team building
  • Customer experience
  • e-commerce
  • Online self service
  • Channel integration
  • Digital marketing
  • Operations & digital governance
  • Platform and technology selection
  • Business case development

Find out more about how iQ Content can help your business (PDF | 11.2MB).

We need to Talk about Google. Or Chat. Or Hangout. Or whatever.

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Google Hangouts

This is a rough transcript of a conversation from the other day:

Him: Did you not get my text earlier?

Me: No.

Him: Oh. Maybe I sent it through Google hangouts.

Me: Would I not have seen it on my phone? Or am I supposed to download a GChat app for iPhone?

Him: There’s no such thing as GChat anymore, it’s hangouts now.

Me: Did it not used to be called ‘Talk’? I’m sure I remember having a ‘Talk’ app on my Android phone.

Him: No, it’s hangouts now.

Me: Well it should have arrived in my inbox if I wasn’t logged into chat. Or Hangouts. Or whatever it’s called now.

Him: No it won’t go to your inbox, Hangouts is different to your email inbox.

Me: It should. Is that not usually what happens when you’re sent a Hangout message while not online?

Him: Maybe I sent it as a text message, they’re the same thing now … but then why didn’t you get my text message?

And so on.

My friend had just got a brand new Nexus 5, complete with KitKat 4.4 and we’ve been having communications difficulties since then.

Google’s amalgamation of SMS, MMS, video call and IM into one app is a nice idea, but the user experience is poorly thought through; it’s just too complicated to be usable.

Knowledge of Hangouts is low

The first problem is that it’s presumed that users know what Hangouts is (or are?). They don’t. As illustrated from our conversation above. Google’s IM service has been renamed so many times in the past decade that the service proposition is not generally understood. Mixing it in with SMS is a recipe for confusion.

Research from Deloitte shows that more messages were sent via IM than SMS last year, and the gap is widening as the influence of apps such as WhatsApp and Viber grow. But SMS is still an integral part of the phone experience and particular popular among less techie users. SMS is simple. It’s easy to understand. Virtually everyone can send a text message. Do we really want it replaced with something that not everyone gets?

Lets not forget, SMS was once a very big deal.

Poor facilitation of multiple digital identities

The second problem with the Hangouts/SMS integration is that it presumes that everyone has, or even wants to have, one identity across different communications channels. They don’t. People have multi-faceted lives, and multiple digital identities. I have two email accounts (work, personal) and use a pseudonym for my Facebook account. This is pretty typical behaviour. Different identities allow people to keep different parts of their lives in different places.

Mixing the identities and places that users have up until now kept separate – can have deleterious consequences

Combining Google+ contacts with the phone’s contacts – mixing the identities and places that users have up until now kept separate – can have deleterious consequences. A few months ago, when the new Hangouts was first launched, a transgender woman was outed at work when she inadvertently sent a hangout message to a colleague instead of a text message. When a message is sent via SMS on KitKat, the recipient only sees the sender’s phone number. When it’s sent as a hangout message, the sender’s entire Google+ profile is viewable. In this case, the woman was still using her male name at work but sent a message to a colleague using the female name on her Google+ account. The combination of phone contacts and Google+ contacts in the messaging app makes this surprisingly easy to do.

This is how the iPhone iMessage app succeeds where Hangouts fails. iMessage sends either an SMS or IM, but uses one identity; the phone number. There’s nothing to mix up.

The image below shows what happened when my friend tried to search his Hangouts/SMS app for my name. Only my Google+ contact details appeared. I eventually figured out that in his Google contacts, my primary phone number was an old UK one (I lived in London when we first met), and because my Google+ account is linked to my current Irish number, the two contacts didn’t recognise each other.

Are you confused? You should be.

Google Hangout app

A contact’s phone number and Google Hangouts identity don’t always sync

Texts and Hangouts messages are for different things

The third problem is that Google presumes that users want all their communications to happen through one channel. They don’t. So yeah, sometimes it’s annoying to bounce between Hangouts, SMS and email to talk to the same person, but different forms of communication have different characteristics that define how people want to use them. For me, Google Chat/Talk/Hangouts is often for medium length conversations about non-urgent topics. Video chats are for in-dept conversations, often with friends living abroad. Facebook Messenger is good for group conversations because so many people are on Facebook.

A quick survey around the IQ Content studio revealed similar multi-channel communication preferences. One person I spoke to said he used SMS for friends and an app called IMO for all his IMs, which were usually work related. Another person said she mostly uses IM, except when she’s not sure if the person has an IM account or will be online, in which case it’s safer to send a text. A third person reported always using SMS, because it’s standard and she only uses IM in work because she has to. To her, SMS is always personal, IM is always work. All members of my extensive sample of three, expressed consternation at the gall of Google forcing them to marry their multiple modes of communication.

Which is why the Hangouts/SMS thing fails. Text messages are for when you need the recipient to get a short message immediately, or tell them about something important. They’re ideal for time sensitive messages because network coverage is virtually ubiquitous, internet coverage not so. In our conversation above, my friend had been trying to tell me that he was unexpectedly free that day – time sensitive information. By the time I eventually found his message, it was too late for us to hang out. Ironic.

So what have we learnt?

Forcing user behaviour doesn’t work.

Forcing [the user] to use one channel, and one identity, can lead to error and frustration

What does work, is observing existing behaviour and using technology to enhance it. That’s the basis of user experience design. People choose to communicate through different identities across different channels. Forcing them to use one channel, and one identity, can lead to error and frustration.

iMessage does it perfectly. You write a message to your friend’s phone number and if you’re both online (and have iPhones), it sends as an iMessage. If you’re not both online, it sends an SMS. Either way, a message is delivered immediately. This functionality supports and enhances our observed user behaviour. People send text messages instead of IMs because it’s important to them that their message is received, and quickly.

Apple iMessage

iPhone’s iMessage sends a message whether the user is online (blue) or not (green).

Don’t make me think!

It’s the basic rule of usability. The user should be able to ‘get’ what a thing is and how to use it without too much effort. Again, iMessage does this perfectly. You don’t have to think about which communication channel you’re using, because it will be received immediately either way. You don’t have to think about which personality you’re contacting, or which of your personalities you’re contacting from, because it’s based on the phone number. There’s no opportunity for error. Simple.

Poor user experience will cause a service to lose users

When I told him about the transgender woman story, my friend became worried about his personal Google account being tied to his phone number. His Google name is ‘Shane Assman’ (in reference to the Seinfeld episode where Kramer get’s the wrong plates from the DNV).  Shane is a teacher and immediately saw the risk of inadvertently sending a message via his Google identity and having a classroom full of teenagers calling him ‘Mr. Assman’. He has now uninstalled KitKat and replaced it with a custom ROM so that he can personalise his messaging experience.