8th November 2008

Why is "Why?" still the most under appreciated question?

Questions, in life or in business, fall into the following buckets:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

I’ve spent a great deal of time defining my own as well as evaluating and using other methodologies for strategic planning.  For the record, I’m a fan of scenario planning.  If interested, here’s a pretty good read:  Profiting from Uncertainty.  Having said that, strategic planning methodology can be a lot like ice cream…some people just like different flavors and at times a different flavor is just a better choice.  If you’d like to explore methods, there’s another pretty good reference book called Strategy Safari.

Most of work I do today involves strategic planning around Customer Experience, Social Media, Communities, Influencer Programs and Voice of the Customer initiatives.  When it comes to social I often use the following planning framework to help structure a project:


And in case it’s not obvious, if you use this framework, start with Purpose.  I’m in the process of documenting a playbook based on this approach which hopefully I can share at a later date as the above really isn’t as detailed as it needs to be, but perhaps a reasonable starting point. 

Methodology forces you to ask and answer a lot of questions, but throwing all thoughts of methodology to the side, it has struck me in my last 6 months of consulting projects the imbalance in basic questions. 

Most of the focus on questions are the following:  What, When and How?

  • What are we going to do? 
  • What technologies are we going to use?
  • When are we going to launch?
  • When is it going to be done? 
  • How are we going to measure it? 

And far too little time focused on these questions:  Why, Who and Where?  (Especially Why!!)

  • Why are we doing this? 
  • What problem are we trying to solve (ok, ok, that’s a "what" - but it is really a why!)
  • Who is our audience?
  • Who are the internal stakeholders?
  • Where are we going to focus our efforts?

So, maybe the old questions we learned in grade school could be a pretty good v1 planning template.  The irony is that the biggest question I get asked is always around metrics and ROI.  They are critical points, but until you answer the question of why (and gain organizational agreement to that answer!!) you can’t answer the ROI question with any specifics.  I can give you a list of metrics to attach to a social site or community, but I can’t tell you if those metrics matter unless I know what the business objective is.

So, maybe some primer questions to start the list, I’m sure you can think of more to add.

  • Why:  Define you purpose
  • What:  What are the business objectives
  • Who:  Define your audience and/or segmentation
  • How:  How do our users do it today (whatever you define it is in the why question)
  • Where:  Inventory where users are going today
  • What:  What are the interactions we need to enable to improve the experience
  • What:  What systems and processes do we need to integrate with
  • What:  What technology and tools are necessary to support this effort
  • How:  How will we know it’s succeeding
  • What:  What are the success measures
  • Who:  Who are the internal stakeholders
  • Who:  Who are the key people and organizations we need to get engaged / participating?
  • What:  What are our policies and/or guidelines to govern internal participation?
  • When:  Define the project timeline
  • How:  How much is it going to cost (to execute AND sustain)

And maybe two last points.  You’ve got to re-validate that why question again and again and ensure you are continuously educating everyone involved on the answer - otherwise you’ll stray.  And lastly, friends don’t let friends plan without execution or execute without plans:) 


Popularity: 36% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, General Community Discussion | 6 Comments

31st December 2007

Satisfaction, Loyalty and Affinity…

I had the good fortune to eat Sushi, have some 1:1 discussion and participate in a short video for Jeremiah this past month while he was in Seattle attending the Web Community Forum.  The video gave me a chance to talk a bit more about finding, thanking and engaging influential’s as part of developing a more effective advocacy and user listening strategy.  Ultimately, I like to think of engagement in the following lifecycle:


  • Satisfaction is really just "brushing your teeth" - basic hygiene.  You have users who believe what you provide meets their needs.  Nothing more or less.  The barrier to be replaced here is pretty low.  And realistically, few mature companies have large scale customer dissatisfaction issues - they more likely have large scale customer apathy issues.
  • Loyalty is obviously a higher achievement.  At this point, you’ve earned users who show up in your Net Promoter scores and exhibit behaviors of likelihood to recommend. 

In my experience, this is where a lot of the measurement ends.  However, this is short of the destination that brands we envy elicit from their customers.  Does loyalty really capture the essence of the Harley Davidson or Four Seasons customers?  It doesn’t capture how I feel about Cookshack! The word "customer" is probably not even the right word in these cases!

  • Affinity is an even stronger measure of alignment with a brand, product or service.  What does it look like?  The behavior I look for is "likelihood to defend."  If someone "attacks" your product, service or brand, does someone show up to defend it?  We all know the credibility that the brand itself has in defending its products or services - pretty limited.  I’m not advocating the brand doesn’t participate here, I’m merely making the point that other users are generally more credible advocates. 

Note:  Overly supportive/pushy/argumentative "fanboys" can be counterproductive in this, so take care with the extremes.

A few questions for brand/product managers are:

  • What are the drivers that move users across this continuum?
  • What is the cost model for the drivers?
  • What is a healthy distribution in my relative industry and competitive market?  If I was Marriott, would the same distribution goal make sense as the Four Seasons?  Probably not. 
  • What is the my current vs desired state distribution?

Thanks again Jeremiah for taking the time for the video and here’s a link to watch.


Popularity: 89% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Influencers, Social Media, Voice of Customer, Word of Mouth, web 2.0 | 4 Comments

28th December 2007

User Generated Help and How-to Content Model

Occasionally it feels like those of us focused on the social media phenomena live a little bit in a vacuum.  While the circle seems to be growing, there are times where it feels like we are all preaching to the choir - to the already converted.  We read each others blogs, follow each other on , friend each other in , attend many of the same conferences, etc.  Most of this is great!  Heck, it is a bit of the theme of how I named this blog - "group therapy."  There’s a lot of value in those of us with common interests and challenges getting together and sharing experiences, ideas and new learning.  I do wonder how we all measure whether we are broadening the circle of those embracing social media.  It struck me at a recent conference (that was great by the way) that everyone in the room was essentially bought in on the topic in a significant way.  This is good in that it gathered really amazing people and inspired focused conversations, and we need that.  It was bad in that it didn’t feel like the circle really grew that day.  Out of that conference, I committed that in 2008, I will focus more of my conference time on industry events where social media is a track, vs THE TRACK - for example, I just committed to speak at SSPA in May. 

What gets missed sometimes in our swarming with each other is capturing the simple examples that help illustrate how the business and user engagement model changes in a web 2.0 world.  Content is one of my favorite illustrations of this.  Many companies spend extraordinary amounts of money on content for their users - for this post, let’s focus on help and support content.  Here are a few examples:

Once the investment is made in an authoring model (in house or vendor), more money is spent to localize the content - all of which, at best, serves the fat part of the long tail of help and support content needed to really assist the breadth and depth of users.  There’s nothing unique about this model, this has been in place for many years and as we know, changing the model is not simple.  This is obvious ground for community models (Q&A support forums and wikis).  Most are doing this, though in very few cases are these different models integrated - look at the sites and it’s clear these are silo’d efforts.  If your users can draw your org chart just by navigating your web pages - you have an integration problem…ok, opportunity:)  Does a single search crawl both in-house and user generated content?  What about user generated content beyond the bounds of yourcompany.com.  For example, look at this 6 minute video on Youtube of   Note the # of views, stars, favorites and the two most recent comments!


How should Microsoft (Disclosure - I work at Microsoft right now) treat this content on Youtube?  What are the processes to discover content like this?  How do you decide what to include or not?  How much risk do you take with dead links to external content that can vanish?  What should be done about the video creator - this is an influencer - probably should thank him at a minimum - but much more should be done (another day, other posts on influencer program development). 

A more radical view of this would be the following question:  When do you stop authoring content in house? (and re-deploy that investment to drive a user generated content model?)

Before I go further, let’s be realistic. You probably can’t just stop authoring content.  There will be some content you may always need to author.  Security content for example - where many users will expect vendor created (and legally indemnified content).  You may also find that this enables a shift in which content you write - more pre-release and deployment/training content and less help and how-to content.  Likewise, there is a business scorecard problem.  Businesses measure results on a monthly/quarterly/annual basis - particularly when we are talking about investments like content.  So, how can you achieve a breakthrough in results from a new, user driven model, when your scorecard is assuming continuous quarter over quarter improvement.  This conflict quickly converts companies from being risk takers to risk averse. 

What would happen if you stopped writing content and converted your entire KB/FAQ process to a wiki?  In the near term?  There’s a high probability the quality of your content would initially go down (at least that is the right expectation to set).  User generated content is not the holy grail, it won’t solve world peace.  This is where the scorecard conflict is key - you need executive patience in longer term goals than quarterly results.  Look at Wikipedia…a few years ago there was plenty of debate about its accuracy - now it is generally accepted (and research has supported) to be as accurate, or more than, commercially published encyclopedias.  In fact, a simple example is to look at how current it is.  When will that old school publishing model be updated with yesterdays assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  Wikipedia took less than 24 hrs and it’s not just in English, but here in French, Spanish, Dutch…and many more. 

The real answer is more about percentage of content authored in-house vs via community - move from 80-90% internal to 80-90% user generated.  While the quality might initially go down, there is little question that ultimately a user generated content model will be more complete (topic and language) and at least  as good (likely far better) than anything that can be done in house.  Depending on your business, you need to forecast how long this transition might take - will it exceed the old model in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years?  What’s the bet?  What’s the tolerance for the duration?  How do you risk mitigate the potential quality dip?  You know you will have resisters who on day 1 will email around links to some user submitted piece that is terrible - are you prepared - is the corporate culture ready to withstand these bumps?

By now you should also be thinking about the revised scorecard.  Why are you doing all this?  To save cost on content?  Deflect calls from your call center?  Reach more users?  Increase satisfaction (users find what they want)?  All valid goals, but with only these elements, it’s likely a richer scorecard than what most organizations have today around help and how-to content.

Practical social media for business.  I like it, wonder what you think?


Popularity: 86% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Examples, Influencers, Microsoft, Social Media, Why Community Matters, online communities | 4 Comments

18th November 2007

Influencer Marketing: An Oxymoron?

I recently found myself in a roomful of Brand marketers, Agencies and Boutique consultancies discussing the growing authority of influencers.  As social media has amped and marketing eyes a mixshift of investments to new media and Word of Mouth, the importance and debate around the role of Influencers has exploded. 

Just last week, Ad Age reported on research by PQ media that Word of Mouth Marketing crossed $1B in 2006…up from $76M 5 years earlier, in route to $3.7B by 2011. 

…in 2006, according to an independent research report on the field that will be unveiled during a session at the annual Word Of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas today. The analysis, believed to be first in-depth look at word of mouth, reports that spending on the emerging discipline has increased from $76 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011.

These influencer conversations generally fall into a couple of buckets:

  • Data and examples designed to convince you that Influencers matter
  • How to find and "activate" them in the brand conversation
  • How to measure

I find myself invited to participate in a lot of these discussions as I have pretty strong views on the topic after 5 years of building one of the largest Influencer programs (www.microsoft.com/mvp).  Probably more important than the strong views, is the practical lessons learned from operationalizing a global program designed to find, thank and engage influencers both online and offline.  Like most things, the best way to learn about something is to go and personally engage in it.  I estimate that I’ve talked to over 3000 influencers of our brands from over 50 countries during the past few years. 

So, back to the conversation at the conference…As we sat in the room having the discussion, several people used the term "Influencer Marketing."  Each time I heard it, I cringed.  Something about this phrase seemed wrong.  In the moment, I couldn’t articulate why this phrase dug so deep, but by my afternoon presentation I had to discuss this topic.  I like to keep the following core assumption in mind:  Influencers don’t do what they do in order to help you (the brand)…they do what they do to help other users.  Forgetting this core point is probably the fastest path to a failed influencer initiative.  The term "Influencer Marketing" to me feels like it is attempting to get a direct response from an influencer.  Find the right people, tell them about "A" and they will go tell everyone about "A."  In my experience, it just doesn’t work this way.  There are a few "influencers" with whom this works - but they rarely influence much or sustain over the long term - they may just be loud.  Perhaps my issue with this is that most marketing feels very one way.  If you really want to get influencers talking, it’s about a two way, trust based conversation. 

Wrong model (marketing dream):  I tell you about "A," you tell everyone you know about "A"

Right model:  I tell you about "A," you tell me about "A1, B and C."  I listen, I make some changes or I don’t make changes but I tell you why.  This creates outbound conversation - but it’s a by-product of a relationship, not a channel for push communications.

In truth there probably isn’t anything wrong with the term itself.  There are influencers and brands will invariably market to them - and that’s not evil.  What might be "evil" is thinking there is a shortcut here - forgetting that this really only works when social media is creating a conversation between a brand and the users…and remember, "listening is not just waiting for your turn to talk!"

And finally, the right model makes another strong point - that the conversation isn’t just between your influencers and the marketing department - it’s the influencers and your company - cross functions.


Popularity: 100% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Influencers, MVP, Microsoft, Social Media, Voice of Customer, web 2.0 | 7 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

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: 18% [?]

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

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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1st July 2007

Your Community Strategy: "Checkin’ the Box" or Business Transformation?


First steps first, how am I defining Business transformation?  Wikipedia defines business transformation as:

"an executive management initiative that attempts to align People, Process and Technology initiatives  with the company’s business strategy and vision to support and help innovate new business strategies."

This definition works reasonably well for me, though I would add that the impact of business transformations are typically measured in cost savings, revenue growth and/or customer satisfaction (ie business results…not just completed activities or initiatives).

So, the question at hand was…"Checkin’ the box?"      þ …or business transformation?

þ Blog Policy

þ Discussion Forums

þ Product feedback/suggestion system

þ RSS feeds

o Brand monitoring

o Influencer program

o Viral marketing campaign (as if it is that easy…)

o Product Wiki and/or podcasting

Well, I think the answer in most cases is "checkin’ the box."  In fairness, it’s a reasonable and even responsible place to start as community can manifest itself in very different ways across industries and between companies - starting small just makes good sense and can be helpful in determining next steps (and I’m not claiming any higher starting point as part of the work we’ve done).  Hot topics at conferences are around ROI and organization alignment (where should the community team sit) - both indicators that the pressure is mounting to defend the business value of web 2.0.  As you probe for the business case, you are still likely to find yourself in a conversation about the technologies rather than top level business challenges.  There is a sense of "me too," and even an obligation to do "something" to be a part of the buzz around transparency.  As you look at web 2.0 projects in organizations, they are still largely in pilot form and or sit within their own silos.  Depending on the size of the organization, you may have multiple projects underway with limited to no relationship between them.  In fact, it is interesting (at least to me) that when you attend conferences in this space, it is not immediately obvious the functional responsibilities of everyone else in the room…you are as likely to have someone from a product development role as a marketing role as a support role in the same sessions.

Here’s a simple test for checking the box: 

  • Could you pick up your web 2.0 project/initiative and re-plant it in another group/division in your company (with the same resources) and continue along largely unaffected? (Hint, a yes answer to this is not good.) 
  • Is Finance attending the meeting or did your project get funded without a finance scrub? (Hint, no finance presence feels good, but isn’t in the long run.)
  • Is the funding for this incremental or a mix shift from other priorities? (more on this in moment)
  • Is success measured in project status or scorecard metrics?

It’s not that any of these things are inherently bad, but adding community/interactivity to your online properties isn’t the goal.  Odds are, you are not in the community business.  Now’s a good time for a refresher on that previous post regarding community ROI and its division into the following 3 categories:  Support, Sales & Marketing, and Product & program development.

Odds are, you are not investing in web 2.0 to do something your company doesn’t do already.  You do market research, you do marketing/PR, you do recruiting, you respond to support and how to questions, you do customer service, you gather feedback, you develop content, etc.  I assume your web 2.0 projects are designed to do one of these things - aren’t they?  These are all functions in support of either growing revenue, lowering costs and/or increasing customer satisfaction. This takes us back to the question of whether the funding for this is incremental or mix shift?  It’s a critical question (I think).  It’s likely you have to sink some cost up front to get this up and running, but the question should be:  When will this project result in reducing spend in other areas designed to deliver against the same objectives.    

So, now that we are all checking the box, how are we articulating and integrating our Web 2.0 projects as part of core business functions designed to "align people, process and technology with business strategy to drive innovation resulting in lower operating costs, increased revenue opportunity, improved customer satisfaction or all three?"

For me, this started with re-positioning what business I’m in.  As a repeat from that earlier ROI post, it was a recognition that I’m not in the community business, I’m in the answers (online) and product feedback business - web 2.0 provides new, high value venues in which to deliver these fundamental business results, but web 2.0 isn’t a goal in and of itself.


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