Samu: Have you been Swayed yet? The lessons gained after being duped by Microsoft’s Octopus
At first this blog was going to be about the message; the good use of appropriate images to convey your mission, but now I can’t do that as intended without writing about the medium.
The first time I became aware of the potential of Sway was from a Microsoft blog by Athima Chansanchai. It didn’t get too much attention at the time, not considering its inferred promise – to relieve us all of the tedium of PowerPoint. So I didn’t give the content of the message enough attention. Consequently, I got duped.
The promotional video embedded in the Blog conveys the touching story of a young girl’s love for ‘Squishy’’ an Octopus that resides in an aquarium and her efforts in putting together a presentation to her class. So if this young girl can achieve so much so effectively it should be simple for even the most time-frazzled Director to do the same, right?
Well, sort of. I’ll come to the problems of the technical, User Interface aspects of Sway in a bit, first I want to tell you more about Squishy. I like Octopodes, they are truly remarkable creatures. They have three hearts, 10,000 more genes than humans, and are incredibly intelligent, leading some to pronounce they are ‘aliens‘. It was with such stories lingering in my shallow subconscious that must have prompted me to open the North West Aquarium 2014 Annual Report, as seen on Sway.com.
Here was an opportunity to see if Sway was up to the task of handling a complex document such as an annual report. The start was promising, opening with a strong image; a young child looking with wonder at an aquarium, he is finely backlit and your eyes follow his gaze. The Sway user scrolls down (better for mobile use, rather than swiping to the side) and there follows a short note to the board from the Executive Director and Facilities Director.
The next section of the report then goes into some details in the ‘Animal Highlights’ section, making use of illustrative photos and maps of where they come from. The first of these creatures is a Giant Pacific Octopus ‘Squishy’. The report on Squishy comments on how the Aquarium’s marketing efforts have been centered around the cellapod enabling a 5% increase in visitors and a 10% increase in new membership sales. OK, now I was hooked into this Sway. An Octopus being used to generate such an increase in marketing, and being used for further promotion right at the front of the report.
I skipped the few other ‘Animal Highlights’ and went into the Environmental Stewardship’ section, in which it made great claims of volunteer action. This was good reporting too, showing the positive impact the organisation makes in the community. I then skipped to the financial information, normally the first thing I look for in an annual report. It was at this stage it all began to seem a bit fishy.
So I did a search or two, first on the Executive Director
Nothing. So I scanned through the bit about the marketing where they mentioned that Squishy had 7,000 followers using the handle @SquishyNorthWest.
So I had been duped by Microsoft’s marketing department. Which is a shame really. Not my being so easily gullible, when I should have known better, but by the wasted opportunities for Microsoft. When I saw the Sway of this fictitious organisation, I had briefly imagined that Microsoft had worked with a company and helped them utilise their new product, in exchange for product feedback, and perhaps as part of its CSR. After all, it’s hard not to support the Mission of Northwest Aquarium: ‘to promote understanding of the importance of marine life to all life on Earth’. But I suppose fictional support is easier than real engagement.
Obviously, in this case, that hadn’t happened. If it had Microsoft may have had their attention drawn to some glaring deficiencies in their product, such as the poor control of text positioning, not being able to download files, or track image user rights sufficiently, or displaying the output consistently across platforms. We at Samu tried making a Sway presentation, but the reality was it was quicker to get better results using Canva.
What Microsoft did get right though, well, a team within its marketing department, was in recognising the value of an annual reports role in promoting an organisation. They did this right from the start, with their careful choice of photograph to illustrate the company’s mission. By reporting on the positive impact the organisation makes within its communities, by giving illustrated educational examples of its work. So it ticks off some of the important elements within Samu’s quick list for good annual reporting:
- Keep it short
- Be open and transparent
- Don’t forget your value chain
- Use pullouts and other graphical interventions in the text, like maps, where they add extra value
- Think digital, not print as
- Mobile enables wider distribution
- Enables hyperlinking to sources
- Enables linking to live data
- Report on the impact your organisation is making, (don’t just do this annually)
- Focus on outcomes not outputs
- Keep the financial narrative readable, illustrate with graphs if it helps
- Don’t forget your stakeholders voice
- Write for all, don’t keep it niche
- Ensure consistency
The Squishy 7000 Campaign
The last point about consistency is important in any communications. It is also vital to value driven organisations, such as Samu. Why, I wondered, hadn’t Microsoft created a Squishy Twitter account when they had gone to so much effort to write up this backstory? Could they not see the promotional opportunities? Or would it just have ultimately revealed that more time seems to have gone into producing the supporting marketing materials than has gone into the UX of the product?
So we at Samu stepped in. I encourage you all to follow @SquishyNorthWest on Twitter. The aim is to reach the 7,000 followers that Squishy was supposed to have had, with the promise that every follower gained will translate into one minute of free consulting time from Samu to one of the account’s followers (picked at random at the end of the year), if they are a charity, social enterprise or start-up. So please RT, share and support values driven organisations.