29th July 2007

Citizen Marketer on "Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message"

When People are the MessageMy book pile has grown faster than I can deplete it.  I’ve done what I rarely do…started reading multiple books at the same time.  Some people can do that, it’s not for me.

While traveling this week, I finish Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba of Church of the Customer.

It’s one of the better books on the changing face of marketing and influence in the post read/write web world and I certainly recommend adding it to your pile.  If you are already in a web 2.0 role, Citizen Marketers is a warm blank of reassurance and if you are just considering the implications, it’s an excellent primer for pulling together your business case.

Here’s what I liked:

  • Good story telling - it’s just a good, entertaining, well written book - notable in that so many business audience books simply are not.
  • Examples galore - I wouldn’t necessarily call them best practices, but a range of examples that span industries and company sizes.  Selling the benefits of community in a company is in part good story telling with examples.
  • Approachability - If you are "web 2.0 literate" already, this is one of the books to drop on the desk of your boss. 
  • Structures:
    • Personas: The Four F’s:  Filters, Fanatics, Facilitators, and Firecrackers
    • Programs: Contests, Co-creation, and Communities

Enjoy the book…next up, finishing The Influentials.


Popularity: 16% [?]

posted in Book Reviews, Influencers, Social Media | 0 Comments

27th July 2007

"To Blog or not to Blog" Part II

A few months ago I blogged about Blog policy in "Does your company support employee blogging" - for some reason that post struck a cord and was picked up quite a bit by others.  As one of 3-4K Microsoft employee bloggers, I’m often asked about our blog policy and the road we’ve been on to transparency.  How’d we get management support?  How did we get employee interest?  How would I do it if I was trying to repeat the success in other companies?  This last question got me thinking, how would I implement a blog strategy in a company that didn’t have one in place already?

First off, let me say that individual blogs are GREAT and should be broadly supported for anyone who wants to go down that path - I’m an example and advocate for that as core to a blog policy/strategy.  Frankly, I think not embracing employee blogging in today’s world would make you an unattractive employer for anyone entering the workforce from Gen Y.

Having said that, what I haven’t seen as widely spread is a formal commitment to group blogs.  Individual blogs are often challenged by loss of interest by the blogger, change in role at a company, change of place of employment.  These churn issues clearly create risk in continuity.  There are plenty of group blog examples out there, but let me take this one level deeper.  What I’d really LOVE to see is group blogs where the bloggers crossed functional roles in their companies - someone from product, from marketing, from support, from sales, from professional services… This is the type of blog I’d like to read as a user.  Southwest Airlines does this where you see posts from a wide range of contributors in very different jobs at Southwest (Communications, Captains, Executives, flight attendants and mechanics).  It makes for a much more interesting read and as a non-tech company, creates a much easier model for participation for employees.  This approach mitigates the risks associated with churn, drives internal cross group communication and collaboration and better represents your customers end to end experience.

Of course, I still say it is critical to keep continuity in a few of your core bloggers on the site and allow their personalities to come through very clearly - this, after all, is part of what actually makes it a blog!

Am I the only one who loves this idea?  What do you think?


Popularity: 21% [?]

posted in Blogging, web 2.0 | 6 Comments

25th July 2007

What’s the most important web 2.0 feature to implement next?

Feeling overwhelmed?

Unless social computing is your full time day job (and night job too) it’s virtually impossible to keep up with (and make sense of) all the new developments around web 2.0.  I regularly get links to interesting implementations that other companies have done as ideas we should consider … or more directly questioning when we are going to do that!  On a recent best practices sharing tour to large companies implementing web 2.0 services I ended the day getting this question:  "What is the most important web 2.0 feature we should be implementing next?"

What a great question.  It got me thinking about all the people I had talked to in recent months and the common challenges, regardless of industry, that I heard at conferences, in peer discussions and within my own company.  I’ll follow up this post soon with some summary points on what the biggest pain points seem to be, but my answer to this question will give you a pretty good idea.

So, what’s the answer?  Simple (simple to say, not do).  The answer is none of the above.  The most important feature to implement in your web 2.0 strategy is integration with existing systems and processes.  Sad, this isn’t the funnest answer.  It’s not roll out a blogging strategy or a product wiki or an influencer program or a feedback management system or forums or …

It turns out that Web 2.0 projects are really not that hard to implement - getting to market quickly with a new service isn’t all that difficult and in many organizations there is a premium placed on shipping things that are very visible.  What I’ve seen is that the premium on speed and visibility drives most companies to leverage vendor / outsourced solutions for deployment.  It’s faster and easier than working with IT.  There’s also a budget issue here, vendor dollars are easier in most places than incremental IT expense.  This means you quickly end up with multiple suppliers and multiple platforms for your web 2.0 projects - all of which are sitting both organizationally and operationally outside your existing systems, processes and infrastructure.  This is a problem in user experience, in driving organizational culture change, and in measuring business impact.  Community works because you get critical mass, it’s easy to use and there is social proof or evidence of shared value in participation.  Do you have multiple points of authentication as your users move across your communities?  Does your reputation/recognition model transfer across properties?  Do you capture differing depth of profile data?  Is it evident why?  Is the user experience jarring from one venue to the next?  Is there a clear workflow for how the various touch points integrate? How discoverable are the assets?  How obvious is your org chart based on your online experience (this would be a bad sign, not good)?  On and on.

Now, let’s say you have all the web experiences integrated.  If you have, send me the url!!! I’d love to see the best practice at scale - please don’t send me threadless.  I love them, they are doing cool stuff, but let’s see a fortune 1000 company example - who should be the envy of the market?  If you have the web experiences integrated, I’m impressed and I’d love to come visit!  The next question is have you integrated these systems with traditional systems and processes (Call management, market research, product quality systems, customer service, CRM, brand monitoring, etc.)?  If you’ve done this, I’m not impressed, I’m blown away! 

Earlier I blogged about ROI and Web 2.0 as Business transformation.  I’m more convinced than ever that these are the critical issues to be addressed.  I’m curious what you think and hungry for great examples.

Reality check.  Utilizing 3rd party solutions, despite none of them having the full solution is still the right way to go.  Addressing process and systems integration issues is easier once you have data flowing - so I’d still advocate some deployment first (if you haven’t yet).  But, choose your vendors carefully.  Best in class silo solutions may not be as good as pretty good breadth of functionality solutions.  Professional services capacity is critical.

Love to know what you think.


Popularity: 20% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Social Media, web 2.0 | 1 Comment

20th July 2007

Netflix: Good example of transparency on development…

Take a look at this post on the Netflix blog.  It’s a great example of transparency and direct conversation from the developers/product planners for the Netflix site to their users.  I don’t regularly follow the blog, but I take this as a response to some criticism they were taking on the Netflixspeed of innovation/change on the site.  Makes for a good read - also read the comments in response which lean fairly strongly positive.

Thanks to Bokardo blogger Josh for getting me to take a regular look at what Netflix is doing.

Well done.


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Popularity: 15% [?]

posted in Examples, web 2.0 | 0 Comments

18th July 2007

Influencing Influencers: Is online influence real?

I’m too slow getting back to this…

In May, Bill Johnston blogged a response to an article in Information week and suggested they should have talked to me as well - thanks for the compliment Bill.  I put this on my "to-blog" list and just didn’t get back to it.  Here’s the original article in IW, titled "Online Influencers: How The New Opinion Leaders Drive Buzz On The Web." 

I had forgotten about the article.  The irony is when I did go back to it, I re-discovered that the story quoted (among others), Dave Balter, Ed Keller, and Ben McConnell - all of whom I’ve had the chance to talk to and learn from the past month.  It also brings in some research by Duncan Watts, published in HBR, that concludes:

Understanding that trends in public opinion are driven not by a few influentials influencing everyone else but by many easily influenced people influencing one another should change how companies incorporate social influence into their marketing campaigns. Because the ultimate impact of any individual–highly influential or not–depends on decisions made by people one, two, or more steps away from her or him, word-of-mouth marketing strategies shouldn’t focus on finding supposed influentials. Rather, marketing dollars might better be directed toward helping large numbers of ordinary people–possibly with Web-based social networking tools–to reach and influence others just like them.

The article introduces debate on the true influence of influencers or opinion leaders in the blogosphere.  I think this is actually quite a good article that gets at some of the real issues underlying successful influencer program development.  Way to much thought leadership on the topic of online influencers is focused on the value proposition of marketing and/or buzz generation.  As I introduced in my post about community ROI, companies should invest in community and influentials not just for marketing benefit, but because it can change how you support and how you build products and services.  In fact, I believe it can be detrimental to a brand to overly focus on just the marketing/viral side of the story.  These initiatives need to work in concert as part of a business transformation, not stand on their own. 

There are two generic methods of generating positive buzz / Word of Mouth.  First off is a combination of serendipity and trial & error.  The second is as a by-product of systematically supporting, listening to and engaging with your users through communities.  Both are valid strategies I would endorse, but #1 takes some patience and an acceptance that batting averages are never 1.000.  The second method takes a more persistent, long term view of transforming how you connect and engage with your users.  It requires changes in business processes.  It may require changes in policies.  That said, done in a consistent, systematic and long term fashion it is a near guarantee.  Where you may be disappointed is that all your competitors are either doing this already or will do it as well.  You may have some advantage to be a first / fast mover, but in the end, I’d argue not doing this is a going-out-of-business model in the new media era. 

oh…and obviously, if you can hit on both #1 and #2, they are catalysts for each other.

Had I responded to this article a few months ago, I think my view would be different than it is today as I was rigid (and too simplistic) in my support of the two-step flow of communicationThe reality today is that those who are raving fans of the influencer effect and those that are dissenters of the model, are both wrong (and both right).  Taken in one dimension (marketing), the evidence of the revenue effect of influencer driven models is easier to disprove than prove (I’m with Duncan).  It’s only in taking a more holistic view of the influencer effect on a company (across support, product feedback/research, and marketing/buzz) can you truly evaluate the impacts of the influencer model.  I haven’t seen that study done yet, but my own experience running an influencer program that impacts all 3 pillars suggests that this is a very different way to evaluate the model.  None of this runs counter to the wisdom of Word of Mouth, it just means that in practice, things get a little more complex if you want to think about the opportunity end to end.

Interesting how research is often confined in the same ways that organizational structures are - hey marketing, go talk to support! (vice verse - and while your at it, invite product planning!)


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Popularity: 19% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Influencers, web 2.0 | 2 Comments

14th July 2007

I thought that statement in-and-of-itself worthy of a blog post…I played quite a lot with today (adding friends, trying out apps, joining groups, etc).  I have to say, I’m impressed.  Opening up FB to developers has created a wealth of apps (a few quality issues not withstanding) that are interesting from a social connections and commerce standpoint.  My favorite of the day:  .  There also seems to be a huge # of what look like pretty useless apps, but the long tail is emerging and it’s fairly easy to let democracy (and your friends) before you help you find the better apps.

Get with it…if you aren’t using it already, now’s a good time to give it a try.


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Popularity: 14% [?]

posted in General Community Discussion, web 2.0 |

13th July 2007

Re-Org news….Marketing Department to report into Customer Service organization

I attended a talk this morning by Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing.  Lot’s of good points from Andy, but two things in particular stood out for me - both coming from the Q&A.


Question (paraphrased):  "Andy, you made a strong case for how customer service/support functions should not be separate strategies from marketing.  The challenge is call centers are cost centers and it’s difficult to change the investment model.  Would you say that customer service should report into the marketing organization?

Answer (also paraphrased): "No, the marketing organization should report into the customer service department."

In the room of 80+ people, there were maybe 5-6 people I recognized from the support business and I’d guess the rest of the room from marketing functions.  My colleagues and I got a great chuckle from that…while watching the rest of rooms heads snap back in some amount of bewilderment - great moment- thank you Andy.  In all seriousness, changing organizational lines in very large corporations often just creates new problems, but I think the overall point is very valid.  I think the question to ask is whether 1:1 discussion and joint planning occur between your call center business and your central marketing organizations?  I know this will be an item for me to follow up on in my own world.


Question (paraphrased):  "This word of mouth stuff makes sense, but how would work in a B2B context vs B2C."

Answer (also paraphrased):  "Ahh, this is the 1st or 2nd question at every speech.  Why would it be different?  Yes, the messages might be different, but the motivation and influence issues are exactly the same as in B2C."

This question (and answer) reminded me of an issue I’ve long been passionate about.  Many B2B companies struggle accepting the validity of the evidence of the methods of B2C companies (and vice verse) as there is a fundamental assumption that the marketing rules are different.  Even in companies that are both B2B and B2C, these two marketing functions sit in different places organizationally and really don’t typically interact with one another:  co-existence vs co-learning.  Ok, some things are different; the messages and the delivery vehicles would be good examples.  But what influences buying or trust or referral behavior aren’t different, are they?  Businesses don’t buy products, people inside businesses buy products.  I work in a large corporation and I approve many large POs on a regular basis to buy good and/or services.  When you sell to me, you are not selling to a business, you are selling to a consumer who represents a business and your track-record for success (ie references or past experiences) is still the #1 deciding factor in who gets the business.

So, while there are some functional differences between B2B and B2C, I’d offer the following:  Every business is simply a collection of individual consumers.  Buying is a emotional decision in either case (you are taking a risk - perhaps a bigger risk when it’s your job).  This is especially true if you represent a business that sells to both businesses and consumers.  If you don’t think your users experience with your consumer products will impact how they talk about your business products, you are making a huge mistake.



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Popularity: 30% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Voice of Customer, Word of Mouth | 1 Comment

10th July 2007

Interesting interview in CNET with Larry Rosen: "Net Gen comes of age"

In an earlier post on Corporate Transparency, I talked about 3 drivers of the push for transparency.  The first I highlighted was "Gen Y" (there is debate about the naming…but generally it is those born from 1981-1999).  In a later post I talked about Gen Y, Social Media and the workforce of the future and how this generation’s work style will alter the face of the workforce as evidenced by a number of reported examples.  At one point, I questioned whether I, at 37 and part of Gen X, was more rapidly becoming a dinosaur than those that proceeded me and that the burden is really on me as a leader to understand and embrace this emerging work style rather than hopelessly try to "covert" it to "old school."

One of my readers forwarded to me an interview in cnet with Cal State psychology professor Larry Rosen called:  Net Generation comes of age.  I thought it a very worthwhile and supporting bit of evidence of some of the same points regarding this emerging generation entering the workforce.  I’ll let you read the interview for Larry’s insights, but I particularly appreciated his input to these questions:

Will they (net gen) take those experiences to the "real world" and use them?

Baby boomers seem to have problems managing the Net generation, but they were in fact the ones who brought them up. How does that connect?

How do you keep the Net generation youngsters in a company?

Are companies aware of the needs of the Net generation?

How can employers benefit from different generations?

Larry is working on a book called "Me, MySpace and I" - I look forward to reading it.


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Popularity: 19% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Generations, web 2.0 | 0 Comments

9th July 2007

Reputation Management - more on social networking WMDs…

This came back to me today with an article from the Washington Post (reprinted in the Seattle Times):  Defending Virtual Reputations. 

A few months ago I blogged about a local Seattle company called Visible Technologies (Online Brand Management:  Good, Bad or it depends).  In my post, I made a comparison to a weapons manufacturer where the weapons were neither good or bad, it depended on how they were used.  I’ve since had the opportunity to spend some time with Visible and owed a follow up.  First off, I was pretty impressed by what I saw…in particular the work they are doing around a product/service they call Trucast.  To be fair, I’ve not been a customer of this service, so this is not an endorsement, but the concept is right up my alley.  Here’s a run down on key capabilities for Trucast:

  • Monitor for new, relevant content and sort it into specific topics so you can make intelligent and timely business decisions.
  • Generate in-depth analytic reports via easy-to-use, web-based charts and graphs. Dashboards help identify influencers, interpret positive and negative conversations, and track the impact of key issues and trends.
  • Participate in online conversations and understand the impact of ongoing online discussions–a unique feature of our system.
  • Receive alert notifications when important new content is posted online.

So, they have created and automated technology for use as a listening system. To me, this sort of business intelligence is a must have on the roadmap for developing an effective community engagement model.

They also have a product called TruView. Here’s a except from my earlier post regarding TruView:

TruView:  Reputation management service for organizations, brands, companies and/or people designed to “ensure that fair and accurate information is correctly ranked among the top 20 results on each site when people search for your company, products and services, or executive management team.”

hmmm.  Well, I can’t help but think that “fair and accurate” is often NOT aligned with what an org, brand, company or people want discovered first.  Who decides what is “fair and accurate?” - the users or the company?  And what steps does the service take to deliver on this product promise?  Dangerous but interesting ground.  I could sure see politicians and celebrities using a service like this and potentially with fair intent.  I could also see this used to the extreme in ways that really damage the utility of independent user communities - critical voices marginalized.

In Defending virtual reputations, the Wash Post reports on a growing trend to utilize 3rd party firms to "help improve clients’ Google results by creating links and burying negative ones." The story shares some painful, real world examples, of individuals who as victims of blog attacks saw very negative content dominate the search results associated with their names.  This is very interesting ground the plow.  Michael Fertick of ReputationDefender comments that "Google’s not in the business to give you the truth, it’s in business to give what you think is relevant."

I wonder, had all this social media been in place when I was in high school or college, how might search impact my resume (or perceptions of potential employers)?  Or is Search now my resume - for good or for bad.  I’m glad these companies/services exist as I think this is an important service when warranted and used with good intent (particularly when that involves protecting children)…I guess the philosophical question is how do you define "warranted" or "good intent?" 

It won’t be long (I think) before we hear stories of people/organizations using these sorts of services in disruptive/dishonest ways.  It’s hard to blame the manufacturer/service provider in this as they are providing the tools, but they are also profit motivated.  To me, this will be an exciting space to watch and I’m glad I’m getting to know some of the players in this space.  Love to hear your thoughts on this.


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Popularity: 27% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Examples, Social Media | 2 Comments

8th July 2007

Microsoft MVP names daughter "Vista Avalon"

As I came home from vacation and found this in my inbox I was once again surprised by the passion within the community for the products, brands and/or companies they follow.  Information Week reported that MVP Bil Simser (and spouse) named their newborn daughter "Vista Avalon."  Here you can read Bil’s account of the thought process including the first naming idea where the initials spelled "DOS."

Showing his good nature, Bil leads off the inevitable jokes with a few of his own thoughts:

  • Her blog will contain the largest number of search hits with people looking for information about Vista
  • She has her very own carrying case (a laptop bag) and other personalized "logoware", most of which I can buy from the Microsoft store or any geek conference for the next 10 years
  • She’ll be the only one at her school with a service pack (or two, or three, …) named after her
  • If she’s hot (and she will be) boys will make many crazy jokes about "starting her up" and "rebooting her" to which I will pummel them upside the head with an XPS laptop that I’ll carry around to "interview" any potential suitors.

Well Bil, here’s the bottom line.  Beautiful baby!  Congratulations and glad everyone is home and doing well.


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Popularity: 45% [?]

posted in Examples, Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 1 Comment

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