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The new Amazon Echo is straight out of Y2K

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon’s latest version of the Echo boasts a new feature that is sure t bring up flashbacks to the early 2000s.

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New old tech

The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.

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And… this thing, apparently.

Echo

That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.

Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.

As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.

I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.

Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.

Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.

I know I did.

That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.

Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.

It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.

What about redundancy?

By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?

My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?

The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.

But look at this guy

It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.

It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.

#Echo

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

How to get chatbots to actually boost conversion rates

(TECH NEWS) Understanding your customers’ expectations and beliefs about chatbots can help boost your business AND save you time.

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Chatbots can save you time and money with the right set up, but first you have to get your customer on board with this relatively recent channel of customer support. A 2017 study conducted by Audience, Drift, myclever, SalesForce, and SurveyMonkey assessed consumer perception of chatbots.

Of the 1,051 adults aged 18-64 who participated in the study, only 15 percent had previously used a chatbot. So the results are a bit limited, but provide insight into how to draw in those who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with chatbots.

If you want to have a successful chatbot, aim for the lowest denominator of familiarity to ensure the overall experience is not frustrating. The goal is to reduce other forms of communication, like calls and emails to save your company time.

About two-thirds of respondents said they would value the 24-hour availability of a chatbot. Receiving assistance at any given time is a huge plus.

When you break that response into Millennials versus Baby Boomers, 66 percent of the younger generation like the round-the-clock availability while 58 percent of Boomers valued 24-hour service.

Over sixty percent of Baby Boomers see instant responses to simple questions as chatbots primary benefit. However, they have slightly less confidence than Millennials that chatbots will be friendly an approachable.

Overall, way less than half of those surveyed had faith in a chatbot’s ability to answer complex questions, or provide detailed, expert responses. There seems to be a general understanding that while chatbots offer help for easy questions, they’re not a catch-all for every use-case or advanced scenarios.

In fact, 43 percent stated they would prefer contacting a human for assistance, and a third cited fears that the chatbot would make a mistake.

Chatbots available 24/7 that aren’t able to sufficiently answer customer’s questions can lead to frustration by the time they end up speaking to an actual person if incorrect info is provided.

Not naming names, but I’ve personally experienced the nightmare of asking a chatbot a question only for it to repeatedly provide irrelevant solutions and ask, “did we get that right?” all the while continuing to not answer my question.

I understand a chatbot won’t always have the answers, but it’s still an aggravating experience to deal with a product that doesn’t seem to work in you or the company’s favor.

Other potential barriers to embracing chatbot use included respondents preferring to “use a normal website,” or if they couldn’t interact with the bot in a friendly manner. Some also reported they would not use a chatbot if it was accessible only through Facebook.

Brave souls reporting “nothing would stop me from using a chatbot” only made up 15 percent of respondents.

When setting up your chatbot, make sure you include as many potential questions and answers as possible.

However, there should also be a clear channel to communicate with a real person should the bot provide unsatisfactory or limited help.

Brokerages are using chatbots on their sites already and annoying users, converting nothing. Heed the advice above, understand your consumer and the limitations of chatbots, and your conversion rates are set up for success.

There are plenty of services out there to help you get started with setting up a chatbot, and some even offer free trial periods. Customers may not be totally sold on chatbots over real people, but if you set yours up in a user-friendly way, you could boost your support levels and customer satisfaction, thereby improving conversion rates.

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Real Estate Technology

How click-to-call tech can skyrocket your sales

(TECH) While click-to-call tech isn’t the newest kid on the block, it could be one of the best conversion tools at your disposal.

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Like most digital marketing, the only constant in paid search advertising is change and an increasingly competitive landscape. Identifying trends and opportunities before others is so crucial to maximizing marketing spend, especially in a lean business environment. Today, we’re here to give you one such nugget of wisdom.

Research on the value of click-to-call for your business indicates that click-to-call will grow to $13.7 billion in the next two years; it currently sits at $7.41 billion.

Why the bullish outlook? For one, click-to-call leads are more valuable. In one case study discussed in Search Engine Watch, a click-to-call campaign conversion rate hit 24.6 percent; for context, a paid search campaign conversion rate usually hovers in the single digits. Additionally, the cost per conversion in that campaign was 61 percent lower than a traditional paid search campaign.

You might now be wondering, “why isn’t this a bigger deal?”

There’s a fun paradox in most search marketing; when conversion and customer value are good, the volume is usually much lower. In the case of this study, the click-to-call campaign received a tenth of the impressions of a standard paid search ad. As user behavior tends to move further towards mobile search, it seems like this gap will close.

Click-to-call data is also an amazing tool for improving your web experience. According to the survey, “51% say they ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ need to call a business from a mobile search ad. 59 percent of those surveyed said the main reason they call is to get a question answered. Not only can giving that answer improve that person’s likelihood of becoming a customer, but it also provides valuable feedback on your web experience.

For example, if you keep getting a similar question on calls, and all those customers with that question come from your home page, you can use that feedback to modify your website experience. Because click-to-call campaigns are easy to track, you can gather that data to make important web marketing decisions.

All this to say, if you haven’t considered this web conversion option yet, you should. Particular business types, like auto, tech and travel, may benefit the most, according to the study. Make sure you check out the rest of the research to get more information on how to plan your call strategy.

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Real Estate Technology

These popular Facebook videos should inspire your own

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Learn from the best performing Facebook videos of 2017 to improve your company’s 2018 social media content strategy.

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In the fast-paced digital space, a well-made video can grab consumer’s attention, spark engagement and even encourage sales, if produced effectively.

And if you want to be the best, why not learn from the best?

As videos continue to reign as the standout content form on Facebook, it’s worth reviewing the best performing Facebook videos of 2017 when perfecting your company’s social media strategy this year. Videos are a significant advertising medium, so do what you can to make your own videos more captivating and look outside of the industry for inspiration so you’re not mimicking your competitors.

To get a feel for what videos enchanted audiences and why, Socialbaker analyzed the top performing Facebook native, live and 360 videos from the fashion, retail and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries last year.

Here are the key takeaways from the analysis, broken down by category:

1. Fashion

The quality of your Facebook videos matters, as demonstrated by the top performing native video published by American Jewelry manufacturer, Effy Jewelry. This video has an engaging storyline, soft music and beautiful visuals, all of which come together to reflect the luxurious nature of Effy Jewelry products. Consumers responded to this work of art, too, as it garnered more than 11,000 organic interactions in 2017. To engage your desired audience, design videos down to the smallest detail:

How-to videos also work well, especially if they show consumers how to actually use the products you’re selling. Fashion accessory company Stella & Dot used Facebook Live to demonstrate how to best wear their accessories. It’s simple and showcases the products, which more than 209,000 viewers appreciated. As consumers become increasingly conscious about their purchases, why not use video to demonstrate what your products can actually do for average consumers?

Lastly, videos can also be experiences. Patagonia took their Facebook 360 video audience on a rock climbing adventure that not only showcased products, but was gorgeous to watch. The video theme tied well to the outdoorsy brand but also kept consumers watching for the pure enjoyment of it. Keep your own audience engaged by taking them to different travel destinations, events, or even your office.

2. Retail

Featuring influencers in your videos can expand your reach and following. John Stamos starred in a Michaels art supplies store video as he decorated a Christmas stocking last fall. This video received more than 12,000 interactions and a whopping 2.5 million views:

People also like watching others unbox new products, so consider using Facebook Live streams in this way. Lamborghini Newport Beach capitalized on these popular types of high-engagement videos and recorded the unloading of a new car. It was a real-time way to spotlight the assortment of cars they had on the lot, too. If you have a brand new product to unveil, try a live unboxing video to capture joyous reactions, hold viewer interest and drive sales:

And as online-exclusive retailers consume the market (cough Amazon cough), videos can be used to give at-home consumers an appealing look at your brick-and-mortar store. Seasonal decoration retailer Spirit Halloween recorded a quick tour of one of its retail locations before opening to tease their items and encourage people to stop in – and it worked! The Facebook 360 video accumulated 20,000 interactions and more than 1 million views:

3. Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)

Cooking videos are king. You’ve probably been mesmerized by a Buzzfeed Tasty video once or twice, right? Well, if you are a food or household products brand, spend time creating cooking videos. Philadelphia Cream Cheese made a short video showing Facebook users how to make creative mini cheesecakes and it was viewed more than 3.8 million times. Such videos are easily digested (pun definitely intended) and have longevity for views and interactions, so don’t ignore this theme:

Use the distinctive capabilities of Facebook Live video to build immediate connections with your audience, too. Yankee Candle used Facebook Live to unveil new products in real-time and asked questions throughout the video, encouraging viewers to stick around and respond, rewarding correct answers with branded goodies. Clear call-to-actions in your videos will strengthen consumer engagement with your brand.

Last but not least, use Facebook videos to evoke feelings or emotions. Wright Brand Bacon made viewer’s drool and crave the salty breakfast meat with a Facebook 360 video shot of bacon sizzling away inside a toaster oven, sounds and all. Use the visual tools at your disposal to drive consumers to your product as a result of cravings. Bonus points if your video is so sensory satisfying it goes viral.

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