Friday, December 18, 2009

How to find a white blackbird. Business luck, sales lead management and hard work? Success starts with vision.

Have you ever seen a white blackbird? Of course not, you weren’t looking for one. It’s not going to fly in with a label like it flew out of the local natural history museum. So you gotta know what you are looking for first.

Do you know what your ideal customer is for your business? If you don’t know, you won’t find them. And technology, marketing charts, business accounting, and 75 social networks won’t help.

Know your customer

We attention deficit media overloaded people are waiting for the next best thing also called the bright shiny object (BSO). We should be asking ourselves if the bird that is in front of us is what we are really looking for without giving it our own label.  But in order to do that we have to know what that one bird will look like before we see it.

If we too narrowly define our scope by our optimism (one will fly by our house today, I know it) or our pessimism (they don’t really exist), we won’t see it. We have to be the realist as William Arthur Ward says in his famous quote “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Are you willing to be lucky?

Entrepreneurs with the determination to know that one perfect customer persona bird will be rewarded after years of hard work when they finally cash in. And the public will be saying “How lucky they were to have finally caught up with that rare bird.” As Seth Godin recently said using a phrase originally from E. B. White, “How willing is your organization to be lucky? What about you in your career and your marketing efforts? Or in the people you meet or the places you go or the movies you see or the books you read?”

Seth also finds a similar stream of thought in another post that propelled Thomas Alva Edison into success.  The light bulb genius who said that genius is 99% perspiration (you know the rest) said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Seth rails against those people who are too lazy to make it happen for themselves by turning down opportunity in his post Different Kinds Of Work .

I believe luck is about knowing your target and then moving towards it relentlessly. The person that spends their life researching that white blackbird and really knowing every last detail about them will have the greatest potential to find one. But they will never find one except on the web if they never leave their computer. That’s why it’s so important for entrepreneurs or marketing people to get up from their Aerons and go meet their customer.

Don't limit yourself

Bill Rice recently posted a follow-up blog to his Don’t Buy Lead Management Software post about why small organizations don't need to use sales lead management systems called Why Sales Organizations Rarely Grow. Bill sells lead management systems so I appreciate his honesty in letting us know that he knows who his customer really is and not convincing people who aren't his customer that they are. His customer is a company who has not self-limited themselves. A typical small company, he says, is not going to be his customer. The symptoms of a self-limiting sales group are lack of faith, a rigid process, lack of knowledge and fear of the new.

It’s good to ask another why question at this point and see if you can dive deeper into the root causes of the symptoms of the self-limiting sales group. What allows those five problems to surface? For most of them, I think that’s it a lack of sales leadership. But you can still have a limited sales group if you don’t address the target market and put some elbow grease into it.

The think-out-of-the-box type of brainstorming works to generate new ideas. They can address the rigid process and fear of the new. People can get trained. But without some success they will always distrust a new process. That’s one good reason why it’s so important to not do a full roll out before you’ve tested a little bit in a target market.

Back to work

But even with all that inspiration, it still takes Edison’s perspiration to make it work. And the work has to be directed to a goal that is dead on with the payload of the reason for doing it. The white blackbird is just a very small niche market that may look like another useless bird to many of the larger companies who will ignore it. But knowing that it’s the one thing that will make your fortune is the very first step to your success.

First define your goal. Then, you work. The web makes for a great research tool but any successful entrepreneur will tell you that it’s the point at which you talk to your first venture capitalist or the understand the customer by asking them why you are important in their lives that will bring you closer to your mark.

Harvesting olives

I was amazed that a small company like Argentine MaqTec with no customers but a solid vision of what was necessary to harvest olives did. They built a half-million dollar olive harvester in the middle of nowhere with no customers and persisted until they got customers. They sold one in Argentina and then three more in Australia and now have a great business. But imagine you are in the middle of nowhere, say a small farm community in north-east Iowa. What would you do if no one bought your product? It took leadership, a vision and hard work to get that company profitable.

Picture your white blackbird. You might want to check in with people who have seem them before and make sure that’s what you want. Then get working and start planning your trip so you will get lucky.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Golden Ponies, the Peter Principle and AOL. Don’t let a successful blog lead to failure due to poor goal setting.

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Are you having success in your business because of social media? You may be riding a Golden Pony and your success may not last. You may scale up your usage and start to find out that your performance is faltering as you try to juggle all the types of tasks from your new focus on social media.

Business problems are not technology problems and can't be solved with the right algorithm. Business problems sometimes resist improvement. After a business problem is thought out in analysis, detailed out in design and then put to the test in implementation (or transition if you're an ITIL imam), the results may provide side effects and unintended results that mingle with the expected results.

The Golden Pony and the Peter Principle

Failure can find you in the midst of an IT project from the large to the small, after the initial success leads to increasing the scope of the project. This is dubbed The Golden Pony and attributed to Nelson P. Repenning of the MIT Sloan School of Management in the ITIL Service Strategy volume.

This is more than just a scope creep effect during the implementation of a project or a capacity planning issue. This is a management effect that removes the captain of the ship and replaces him with a robotic system as the need to carry more cargo increases. The one that knows the ship the best should be continuing to sail the ship. But instead of building a new ship with a new captain to carry the extra load, the Peter Principle is invoked once again only to see that the project, and not the manager as in the Principle, is the one to take on new responsibilities until it reaches the level of incompetency.

America Online case study

America Online (AOL) certainly qualifies as a project that increased in size until it became a walled garden within the web itself. In the 80’s and 90’s, AOL was an entertainment service with email games, D&D games, chat room games, chat environments, interactive fiction, and more. Steve Case set the course of a business goal as internet entertainment leader for the common folk since most web sites were by geeks about geek stuff. That goal paid off well.

Then in 2001, Case invoked the Peter Principle. He merged AOL with Time Warner and the focus changed as well as the value and subscribers. The business goals changed to be a content provider similar to the fading Yahoo! The focus on hooking up the common man to the internet was discarded. Subscribers peaked in 2002 at around 27 million and are currently diving down into the five million can’t-figure-out-how-to-unsubscribe zone. Price went up, competitive pricing forced free access to email, and operations took a massive cut.

Steve Case stayed on until 2003 as CEO after being a part of AOL since 1985 and several other CEOs have followed from the Time Warner pack. Was it the dot-com bust that did him in? In 2005 he remarked that AOL should not have merged with Time Warner. Steve didn’t know about his Golden Pony. Now AOL has gone public, created a new look, and so is again separate from Time Warner. Stock analysts for AOL are once again optimistic.

America Online rides off on a Golden Pony

In the Golden Pony scenario a project increases scope to keep innovations coming. Without a clear vision, the project starts to do things it wasn't designed to do and effectiveness declines. The more AOL tried to become the content rich web site for everyone, the more resources it took to manage. As these ponies grow, their visibility grows and the need grows for a more senior manager or VP to take charge of the project. The quality of the decision making starts to dwindle as the people become more and more removed from the original idea. The pony gets more stuff to carry weighing it down, the rider doesn't know where to go, and they both wander off until they die according to Repenning.

In AOL’s situation, management sold out to higher management. But in a smaller business, investment capital can be acquired to "go to the next level" which also means adding another layer of ownership/management on top in most cases. That is why many venture capitalists who really want a company to succeed want the startup to be operating on a shoestring budget. The Y Combinator software boot camp for startups led by Paul Graham have a geek culture around headache inducing work schedules and cheap family style dinners.  They train them to stay focused on profitability without too much interference.

You can find your own Golden Pony

You can scale down the Golden Pony effect to an individual level with you as the only employee or maybe including a marketing assistant/office manager or two. Your customers are the readers of your blog and are the consumers of your knowledge service. Because of an initial success, adding new tasks to your personal social media effort may mean such things as
  • writing that extra blog post a week
  • sending a few extra tweets every day by learning how to use your new iPhone
  • reading twenty or thirty new blogs or news feeds by RSS
  • staying on top of the latest viral videos
The results of your new management initiative due to an increase in scope can turn your business in the same direction as AOL especially if they aren’t focused on your initial goals of why you started blogging or being an entrepreneur of any kind in the first place. The symptoms of adding more activities with new goals can be:
  • You find yourself having less time for the things you used to have. Quality of your normal work falls. You lose more sleep.
  • Budget cuts pressure your extra efforts to gain social media ground. Less money means less demand for what you produce. Less demand means more budget cuts.
  • More demand means you have to hire someone else or even outsource. Poorly trained staff increases. Experienced staff stays the same. Less time is available to help mentor new staff, quality suffers, demand slows, morale tanks, ROI dives, and new staff is laid off bringing stasis back.

Set and follow clear business goals

What can you do to keep the Golden Pony from taking you on a ride? Step back from your activities and make sure they all map to business goals. This is what businesses do with process reengineering when they model their activities and clarify which ones support which corporate goals. Make clear decisions about what business goals you have and then make sure that the large activities that you take on support that business goal.

Since all of the social media activities are supported by an IT infrastructure of the web and other web sites, you can also say that you have to align your IT activities with your business. You are the CIO of your organization if you choose to start a Twitter account or if you choose to start an SAP environment. And it’s the CIO’s responsibility to take the power of technology to fully unleash the power of the business. You will find that ITIL will be a source of guidance for you and your knowledge service if you want to understand the relationship between you, IT, and your business.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Social media burdens your business short term. Stay the course to achieve Twitter success.

Extreme danger: Burning oil/fat in deep pan fr...
Do you expect social media to improve your business results? It won’t. At least not right away according to the ITIL framework. If you are personally just trying out the new kids on the block like LinkedIn or Twitter, then the danger is that you might discard it thinking that it doesn’t work.

If you are trying social media in the business environment, the pressure from executives who expect immediate financial or sales results might scuttle the whole effort and tarnish your image. How do you keep that from happening?

Maybe you decided to improve the marketing effort with public relations automation through the use of Twitter. But it’s not doing much. Short term results in an improvement program are much different than long term results. Could the problem be not having the right quality processes in place? Could you be measuring the wrong metrics and ignoring the ones that would keep the system well tuned?

After trying to stall the decrease in work productivity because people started using social networking sites and did less work, you threw your best managerial tactic at it and they just got more frustrated causing a morale decline. All of a sudden, social media looks like a big, fat, frozen Thanksgiving turkey spitting grease and catching on fire in the deep fat fryer all around the organization because you always solved the turkey  problem by deep frying it. The holiday dinner turns from expecting a delicious juicy centerpiece to expecting a fast ambulance driver and fire department.

Business problems don’t always come in the same shape and sizes so you can throw your tried and true methods at it and expect the same result. If you’ve put together a quality improvement program such as a social wiki to help people discuss work issues and found that people just didn’t find it useful, it was probably because those people have already labeled it a bad idea for your company and decided to move on.

Quality programs don’t help you grow?

Why is it, according to business school professors Pinanelli and Csillag in São Paulo, that firms with a high effectiveness in the implementation of quality management principles and techniques don't do any more than just average in growth? The quality pioneers of Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum and Crosby all told us that our bottom line would be so much better if we just did a little Total Quality Management (TQM). Are these Brazilians a wet blanket on using Twitter to improve our customer reach?

The answer according to the Brazilian professors is that quality implementations and growth rate are not related by much. That means that there must be much more to growth than just a quality program.

Deliver improvements with better management

Elizabeth K. Keating and others published a journal article entitled "Overcoming the Improvement Paradox" which talks about the failures of TQM both in delivering improvements and in keeping themselves alive. The findings of that article were that it wasn't the program at fault. It was the ability to manage the program that led to the failure and demoralization of the employees.

ITIL can help you be a better manager. The ITIL framework is a business management guidebook. It’s like getting Peter Drucker’s full set of writings instead of the anthology of excerpts. And it’s focused on business using IT. Not only does it have the advice about how to structure your business but it will show you where you can improve your management and what’s really important today with so much technology improving traditional work processes.

Adding new tasks to increase your results

You may have experienced the improvement paradox in your personal use of social media. The scale is smaller but the principles for a large business are the same. You start out blogging and develop a sizable following. You find your voice and then get stalled out at a level which leads you to try to find an improvement in your process. A quality improvement plan can help your knowledge service move to the next level.

Your first step is to add other applications and interact with other web sites besides what's been giving you the good results over the last year. You may decide to start tracking some of your activity to see where if you are improving or not and exactly what’s making the difference. But you devote valuable time to the plan and have less time to blog. Less time to blog or tweet now equates to less satisfied people who were used to your frequency that now is lagging.

The new tracking that you are doing shows that the extra time spent going to new sites and tracking is slowing down your publishing schedule and affecting your rankings. Your family sees less and less of you, the dog seems unhappy, and the pressure to get things back on track will push you to abandon the extra monitoring and visits to new sites. This is the short term effect of a quality program.

Plant a garden

Or maybe you’ve implemented a new social media plan for yourself by learning Twitter, LinkedIn, and a little about RSS feeds. But you noticed that it takes quite a bit of your daily time to administer those accounts and you had to delay the plan some. You may start justifying the return back to the old ways saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and that these time wasters can slowly become an addiction which won’t deliver results.

That's not really wasting time as much as they are getting planted and starting to grow. Impatient people rarely plant gardens and like to visit grocery stores much more. The hunters of the old sales 1.0 world don't see the benefits of the initial decline of the benefits curve. That decline signals that time is being invested for a much better future return.

It does take time to get the results that an improvement plan will eventually deliver. DuPont, according to Keating, had to develop a training plan that discussed the worse-before-better tradeoff so people weren't disappointed at the initial poor results to get ahead of the curve and achieve better future results. For some people, that might mean that you initially replace that old laptop of yours and get not only the current model but finally get the real software that makes a difference instead of hobbling by with some free or cheap substitutes.

Push (bad) vs. pull (good)

You know the difference between a person who beats you over the head with a message and someone who tells you just enough to pull you to the edge of your seat. One is pushing as hard as they can to get you to listen and the other knows how to instill the behavior of listening. The division that is commonly contrasted between Sales 1.0 and Sales 2.0 is really just a shift in business from a pushed message to a pulled message.

Keating said that pushing the right thing to your employees is not going to drive your ROI up. On a personal level where you hand out advice over a social channel, a common push technique looks like “Amazing new secret social techniques to become a millionaire discovered in Mayan tombs.” Or it could be the current social media author promoting their ten-point plan for SEO success with an inspirational speech about the importance of any of their detailed processes and tools suspiciously only available from them.

Instead, people should pull from you when they realize the benefits of your improvement and commit to doing what really works despite all the four-hour work week ads they see. The pull from employees that you want to see is the influence that Dale Carnegie recommends in How To Win Friends And Influence People. In social media, the readers pull from each other through a soft humanized side of marketing that Chris Brogan and Julien Smith describe in Trust Agents.

Unachievable sales goals

The idea of setting unachievable sales goals is behind the fact that managerial push is always going lose effectiveness over time with people. In my opinion, management does not favor pull style sales programs because it seems like the wrong type of sales culture. These Big Hairy Aggressive Goals (BHAGs) or "stretch objectives" do help people get further along than if they were using realistic goals though.

But people's commitment rises in relationship to the amount of success a worker achieves towards their expectations. The bigger the BHAG, the more likely a better motivation turns to disappointment. Even W. Edwards Deming, a pull-style innovator, saw this and tried to eliminate the carriers of the push disease in his 14 points. He wanted to eliminate slogans, exhortations, work quotas, management by numbers, and zero level targets entirely.

Expect long term growth

Goals must be set realistically so that staff and resources are used wisely. Employees can be included in the planning process to keep it real but a real commitment  comes from a desire to do better instead of a numeric goal. With enough pull from the employees, the need for managerial push is almost eliminated.

A social media program should be implemented with a long-term goal in mind. The staff must know that it will mean extra work for a little while. But after a year of effort, the results can be measured and seen as a successful venture. Expectations have to be set for short-term loss and long-term gain. Set your business goals with the knowledge that the social networking “fad” will strengthen future business relationships and the wise will make that adaptation while the foolish will not think it’s worth it.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Visualizing a social media strategy aligned with your business. How to use ITIL even if you're a blogger.

lottonumbers: Data Visualization of winning nu...
As the world of IT and social media marketing encroaches more on the executive suites, the plan of action is turning from a plan and deploy model of strategy to one of engage and collaborate. Before the world of social media, technology that upset business processes forced the leaders of the company to take in consultants, experts, and create their own executive role called the CIO. These IT leaders are on the edge of decision making which shapes the way a service strategy is formed. Companies not using a CIO are either trying to understand the information glut or looking to an expert to help them out with a strategy.

These new services employed in the realm of a social media strategy are ways that the corporation has a conversation with the market and can include
  • Twitter,
  • LinkedIn,
  • Facebook,
  • forums,
  • online PR releases,
  • games,
  • mobile apps,
  • and more.
Even if executives don't understand the right ways to implement their strategies, it's still up to the executives to make the right strategic decisions to increase the profitability of the company or improve the ability of the non-profit to deliver the right service to the public.Then it's up to management to implement them in the newest technology they can find.

If the executives are now working more in a team environment, then the information is not all going to flow in the down direction. According to Carly Fiorina, a past CEO of HP, listening has become a crucial executive capability. Communications are going to be scattered about going to where the message should best flow with some people listening and others talking. The methods of communication are also shaped by the needs of the moment and range from the momentary IM to the more archival e-mail. Communication by team is more like being a part of a large family rather than following the traditional military model of order transmittal. The end result of rethinking a traditional tree organizational chart is that it takes ten times as long to keep the new chart updated with dotted lines going everywhere matching how people communicate.

Success by influence

The success of the strategy in social media, which by nature is a service management strategy, is not going to be measured by profitability alone. The more significant measurement of this conversation that social media is having with the market is going to be based on the strength of the relationship that is built between the service provider, the company, and the customer. That strength is what social media public relations people are measuring as influence.

If you are a blogger, you are also a service provider, one that provides a knowledge service. So the closer you bind with your customers, or those people who read your blog, the better success you have. That is why so many people on Twitter are saying that your success is not about the numbers of followers you have, but with the influence that you have with them. If you would like to know the kind of influence you have with your followers, a good site that uses business metrics focused on public relations is Klout. There you'll find that people can be labeled as a kind of spammer even though they have thousands of followers.

Using ITIL

The guidance of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) usually overwhelms people when they see it. And the introduction people generally have with ITIL is a very sanitized version pieced together for Six Sigma geeks or process wonks. Most people are never aware that the publication is about current IT situations such as social media and so much more than just a business view of service oriented architecture (SOA). That's because people had used it to manage traditional IT problems such as a help desk, or a service desk as it is now called, in a less expanded version several years ago. They never get that it has been expanded into a full MBA business model for how we deal with any business that is taking on its fair share of technology including an individual blogger.

The blogger not only can't afford the five publications priced out at over $100 per book, but probably couldn't make heads or tails about how the recommended practices should be applied. Each paragraph is a distillation of a Drucker book or a timeless business concept put into context for IT folks. In that respect, the guidance is as bloated as the software development methodology called the Unified Process (UP) which spawned a great many tools and programs but eventually flew off like a gigantic albatross into the sunset a few years ago.

I really liked the UP and how it thought out what was important. It still works very well but people have been burned by trying to implement the entire thing when it's not supposed to be implemented. If you start off on the wrong foot carrying a really large load, you eventually fall down and hurt yourself. And the people that the UP targeted and hurt got angry and tore all of its specs into smaller pieces that they could deal with. But we won't go into the lightweight UP knockoffs, XP or Agile here.

So my main goal, is to tear up the ITIL guidance into little pieces that have some ability to be implemented. ITIL is just a set of business practices that other people thought were better than most. The implementation is just not there by design. And it's not all meant to be implemented at once which would crush any less than super powered company.

As I ramble through the various volumes of
  • Service Design,
  • Service Strategy,
  • Service Transition,
  • Service Operation, and
  • Continual Service Improvement
I'll spotlight social marketing in general but look at the expanding social category from the eyes of the service provider which I'm calling the knowledge service (KS). The sales, social marketing, and SEO activities that the KS performs are all appropriately talked about in all five volumes of ITIL. But not in those terms.
To me it's a suitable match because the reason that ITIL was formed was to have business manage the increasing unmanageability of the IT services necessary to maintain an edge in the marketplace. In a scaled-down way the individual also uses these same technologies and therefore is bound by the same good practices that ITIL describes. But without a prescription, people look elsewhere for advice.

Aligning the business

A professionally run business whether it's managing a blog service, a news service, a small marketing department going social, a message service like Twitter, or a social network service all are constrained to using the same business practices that work. That's because business doesn't change for a new crop of technology. And the web is now becoming less of a playground of web developers and more about creating a business. Technology people are faced with the business problem of aligning IT with the business which they never had to deal with before.

IT had been ruled only by the form of the technology that they worked with. If the technology permitted it, it was a good business decision in their minds. The business strategy was not much of a consideration. But now it's the business function that is ruling over the form. In business, distinct from art and architecure, function will always rule over form. Form dictated that we get the most work done with a command line but function said we want a GUI to make it easier. It's an artist's luxury to create a form predominant web site that doesn't really do much functionally for the user except entertain them like a Twitter data visualizations like Twistori or a Digg swarm visualization. These sites merely merge art principles with data and call it useful.

Maybe the data visualizations mimic the type of confusion we feel when we realize that we are in a very asynchronous communication world. I suppose that people think that if we are doing something useful when we talk a lot about business without a coordinating strategy then an artistic view of that same mesh of connections must have some useful value. What really has value is the strategy itself that drives the communication and the methods. The business strategy is what determines the conversation and its success is measured by the strength of the bond you have with your customers. Follow your customer and your business strategy, whether running a micro enterprise blog or a mega service Bloomberg, and you will be successful.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The three spheres of marketing influence teaches you how to blog as a business

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Sophie Ouellet was born with cerebral palsy but wants to blog. Her tremors kept her from writing by hand so about two years ago, she got an iPod touch and then an iPhone. Her new ability allowed her to write down appointments at a doctor's office and other reminders. When she got too tired, she typed emails in bed. Meanwhile she's become practically an expert on productivity related apps to for the iPhone and wants to blog about it. She also manages a word search puzzle company and wonders if she can make the two work together. This is my advice for her.

Three spheres of marketing influence

Marketing campaigns must deliver on three different levels to optimal. They are the personal, the professional, and the corporate. This is true whether you are online or not. People need to trust you, understand your product, and think that you are green all at the same time to get that perfect storm that leads to the sale.

Once you take your business online, you are but a shadow of your real self and the methods by which you express your ethical, business, and civic values become subservient to the web. Your business may still have personal contact by voice or in person but that's when the online rules don't apply anymore. The online and the offline personas do have to match up or an inconsistent value system will lead a person to distrust you and go somewhere else.

So to summarize a little here, the three spheres of influence in marketing are

  1. personal - influenced by trust - generated by ethical behavior
  2. professional - influenced by products/services - generated by business behavior
  3. corporate - influenced by social responsibility - generated by civic behavior

Sphere predominance

A business is focused on business goals. Marketing will highlight one of the spheres as being the dominant sphere because it drives the business goal the best way. Most companies prefer that the marketing campaigns are of a corporate focus so that the corporate values with the slogan attached are supported through the research and development down into the products even affecting the employee belief system if possible. This is the whole package of a traditional marketing campaign.

In other companies, such as Google, it's the employee and their expertise that then generates the corporate agendas and encourages personal excellence through playful design, omnipresent white boards, open meeting areas, and great food. Personal ethics are that of being the best geek that you can be. And another type of enterprise based on the person is just that of a person who has values that you want to follow. They don't have any real expertise nor do they have a corporate agenda usually. We usually call these people movie stars. Some have talent and some even manufacture salad dressing for charitable causes.

You might be a charismatic leader that a person would follow anywhere in business such as a Bill Gates whose personal sphere of influence is strong. But all it takes is a smile and a firm handshake in many places to strike that friendly chord without any other talent. If you only have a can of WD-40 but don't have a corporate story or anything except engineer chops like Norm Larsen, then it can still work. But you have to keep coming up with great products and not lose them somehow. If you only have a great public image without the best products or the best people, sometimes that works as in the cases of keeping GM and many investment banking firms afloat.

But each company, based on their business goals, focuses on one sphere more than others and the marketing campaign becomes even more powerful when all three come together. A firm grows and becomes  more competitive when they start increasing the strengths of those other spheres.

Keyword alignment

When designing a marketing strategy that spans all three of these spheres, it's essential to coordinate the brand and image. Media campaigns must be embargoed so that the press reinforces the release of a product. Logos must be redesigned. People have to use a different vocabulary. Ads release an onslaught of new imagery and ideas.

Online, the brand is reduced down to a set of keywords that are seen to the online eyes of the search engines. This set of keywords must match up to what people are asking for or the demand for those keywords needs to be created. It's the same as a lucrative market that's tapped because you've found what kind of persimmon peeler a person really wants. Or you've told people that peeled persimmons are the next big food fad and they believed you.

Personal sphere activities
Dale Carnegie

What we need now are the types of activities that express the spheres of marketing. The personal is most easily summed up as the wisdom of Dale Carnegie in his classic How To Win Friends and Influence People that was first published in 1937. The reason it has been so successful is because people found the substrate of sales activities in it. The bedrock of the close is supported with all of the other business and corporate principles, but without personal values, you'll just get people upset.

Dale wrote the text for his courses that he titled Public Speaking and Human Relations. He realized that people needed to not focus on the business principles entirely and start paying attention to their soft skills which would make them more happy and more prosperous.

This same problem has been countered in the digital age in 2009 by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Their Trust Agents reads like a modern day Dale Carnegie in telling people how to be a real person online. The chapter on the Human Artist could have been written by Carnegie himself had he been publishing on the web. Carnegie's first few principles of:
  1. Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
make you wonder if he was talking to a group of rogue online marketers and grumpy social networkers. Instead these were just the immigrants and farmers of the day learning how to do business much like we are today online.

So, if you want to find out how to do the right personal things online because you're a little rusty with the ability to friend a tweeter on a blog, then pick up Brogan and Smith's book  It will humanize your experience and make you realize why people enjoy social media so much. The  book also covers topics on marketing niches, transparency, and building on your strengths. And pick up a copy of Carnegie's book as well to humanize your business. It will amuse you to know that they both start out by talking about major crime lords in the first chapters.

Professional and corporate sphere activities

In the professional sphere there are the business principles at work. We follow the functional distinctions of sales, marketing, public relations, executive management, product development, etc. On the web, we have tried to mimic the same core areas and don't understand always why they don't work For instance, sales, a very non-computer personal sphere centric discipline, when transferred over to the web, loses almost all of its power because the human element is not in play. Marketing, on the other hand, is enhanced because of the ability to collect and track information.

Knowledge and expertise is what makes a person stand out in the work force or in education so that they become a thought leader. This was dominated by the professor type before the digital age so schools became leaders in business thought. Now online, anyone can become an expert with influence through the writing of a blog. The use of keywords helps define the types of people that find you and is the essence of the field called search engine optimization.

The corporate sphere is active with good will projects, corporate charitable events, environmental reformulations and helping communities get back on their feet. This type of web activity can be found in charitable alliances from Drew Carey paying $1 million for the @drew name and donating it to LiveStrong to Google's Data Liberation Front to Ford donating cash to a Mashable charitable cause.

Sophie Ouellet's advice

Wonderword Special Project Coordinator and digital photographer Sophie Ouellet was born with cerebral palsy. She currently manages the company that publishes word search puzzles in over 225 newspaper worldwide and sells related books and calendars. Her posting on LinkedIn requested help for monetizing her product website which is where I started commenting but the comment got way too big.

Here's my advice. Her market is made up of fans that come to the site for puzzles and those that are searching for free puzzles. Her professional site is characterized by a keyword set such as "free word search puzzles online." The way to monetize the puzzle site is to improve all three spheres of marketing. The professional sphere will include things like improving the design, the navigation, the shopping experience, the SEO of the pages, the copy of the pages, and the amount of information about her word puzzles. The personal sphere will include things like customer comments, emailed responses, customer requests, stories about people solving the puzzles, etc. And the corporate sphere can be improved by sponsoring contests, offering discounts on products to organizations putting on puzzle events, and possibly having her husband who writes the puzzles offer to speak at appropriate events.

She does want to blog but not about the puzzles. A blog is a way to improve the professional sphere of a site but the blog keyword set must be aligned with the rest of the site or it will misfire in the market. Since she enjoys photography and practices yoga which improves her health, she prefers to write about that which she knows won't interest her puzzle hunters except tangentially.

That means that she needs a separate blog focusing on her determination and spirit to turn her life into an inspiration to others. She can review the best iPhone apps for business productivity and talk about how nothing stops her from enjoying life with her word obsessed husband. She can post photos that show her creative side and encourage others to get stronger through yoga. That sounds like a winner.

As an online knowledge service she has three spheres to her business. I suggest a regular blog and photos for the professional sphere. She should find other inspirational sites and let them know about her blog postings to promote it. The personal sphere will include comments, and common social networks links for reposting and tweeting. And the corporate side of things might be speaking engagements or doing fund raising for cerebral palsy once she gets well established.

The connection between the two however is a weak link. I would make sure to put a Wonderword link on her personal blog and vice versa by adding a link on the Wonderword site. But other than that, there is no real reason to connect the two.

Sophie has real value to a market she hasn't even begun to tap yet. I encourage everyone to check out her sites and see what she does with her blogs in the future. Good luck to you, Sophie!

Image by Captain Billy Guns via Flickr

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nobody wants to be optional. Design a social strategy based on competition to be the not optional choice.

Secret Society album cover
Nobody on the web wants to be optional. Everybody wants some attention. A social media strategy has to meet that demand so the competition doesn’t drown you out.

To clarify your strategy for social media, you have to start with competition. Everybody in business at some point will face the enemy and you must be trained and fit to head into battle. Sometimes you might have met the enemy and the enemy was us. Not specifically you as in the Pogo enemy meaning, but it happens when you have a captive market because you are an internal organization.

Information technology groups traditionally have been designed to serve the enterprise and don’t do much, if any, marketing and sales. It’s usually done at the managers’ meetings through trust and promises. But these owner-customers are not committed to use the only game in town because they don’t have to. LinkedIn can give you a trusted network to find solutions from multiple clandestine meetings in technology groups.

Another place social networks have influenced traditional internal service providers is through the freelancing sites that bring together bidders on projects and sometimes help you manage them with necessary transparency. The top freelance sites these days are (in order of Alexa ranking):
Small and mid-sized companies have the greatest benefits in using these outsourced web development and graphics services but even government and non-profit organizations are feeling the competition.

Value niches

What makes an internal technology group compelling is the value that they bring to the table. The strategy behind not losing your customers is to know how you provide a different and unique value to your customers.

Customers usually want value in economic terms, but with public services, such as government agencies, it can also come in the form of social welfare. What customers can perceive is your giant web site filled with a tremendous stock of knowledge and thought leadership. What they can perceive is your great reputation through superior customer service. They also look at the price tag and match you up with your competitors’ products to see if they want the dependable Blackberry, the innovative iPhone, or the uber-innovative Droid.

Strategic assets

Another way that you look at competition is in what kinds of assets you have versus what your competitor has. Assets aren’t always physical and if we consider the typical knowledge service, or blogger / tweeter / social networker, we find that the assets are mostly intangible. We all have the same computer and the same internet. It makes you ask the question why, when I tweet my pithy aphorisms, I don’t get offered book deals and television show contracts too just like Justin Halpern did this week.

The strategic asset here, the grumpy dad, provided Halpern with his crusty core competence in the tradition of Will Rogers and Archie Bunker. He also has a distinctive performance for keeping up the dialog and an ability to participate in the market that appreciates it. I’m hoping that he has a chip off the old block enough to keep up his durability for the hungry media.

Thinking about these assets is the same way that an investment in production systems or research and development labs is made. There’s considerable value in people, processes, knowledge and infrastructure as well as intellectual property like brands and patents.

It’s thinking about these assets and competition through a structured approach such as ITIL that allows you to create real social networks that work. Your ability to be a knowledge service will depend on how you compete.

More than money

Just having a cost advantage over your competitors isn’t enough. Efficiency isn’t enough because the price isn’t that high whether I follow Justin or I follow Roland Hedley. Lowering your cost anymore would mean that you pay people to follow you. And there are strategic businesses even based on that if all you want is followers but I wouldn’t call it doing social networking. It’s scummy old Public Relations 1.0.

Other strengths can be vital assets. We can earn more respect by helping others learn a new way to leverage social networks or take on a new scale because of the amount of attention we’ve drawn on the web. As a knowledge service, you can better serve your viewing public by understanding the uncertainties, compromises and questions that your viewers have.

The key to the strategy is to decide on the business goal you have that makes you different from the rest of the marketing bots. You have to be perceived as the better value. You have to be the not optional choice.

Image via Wikipedia

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is your social strategy lost in translation? Find out what the real needs are to get to the gold.

Lost in Translation
You’ve just been told that you are the new blogger for your company. We need a blog. And it has to be good. What strategy do you choose to serve your customers? For most people who are struck by lightning in business, they move through phases of shock, lesser shock, adaptation, and finally the ability to hide any problems that may arise because nobody else knows what blogging is about.

How about going out and reading all of ProBlogger blogs? Then you’ll be a good blogger. Darren Rowse must know what he’s doing because that’s what he talks about and makes a living with. We’ll follow whatever he says. Maybe you’ll ask what people are talking about from the customers that you hear about and write about what they talk about. Keep the customer happy, right? But what about those SEO folks who keep pestering me with all of the keyword research stuff. Maybe I should just focus on the top keywords that bring in the dough. That will keep the operation efficient.

Well, although all of these arguments have their good points, there’s quite a bit of complexity in the problem and it doesn’t always give up a simple answer. Being in a blog for the long run is going to give you a different result than if you just blog a few times to see how it feels.

What we need in a strategy for blogging or any other type of social networking activity is a strategy that will focus on goals and tell us when we’re not meeting those goals and why. When we make a mistake, it should become evident and the numbers that we collect will tell us what to fix and how to get those numbers back on track.

Just talking to customers is a fulfilling activity, but people aren’t always clear, certain about what they want, or correct about the real needs that they have. The ability of a person to take what is needed and translate that to what is required is a skill that takes years of practice to master and lots of humble pie to eat. It takes work to do the job and if you assume that your customers should know the right stuff, you will be losing the battle to those people who stop and think about it.

It’s the end result that the customer sees that seals the deal. It’s not the Excel spreadsheet that has the list of items the customer said they wanted to put in the final product. This is what you can call a real fulfillment of a service provider. The most subtle part of this thinking thing is to really understand what needs to happen. Plans are good, but results are gold.

Image by nicolacassa via Flickr

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Twitter is still retro and needs these feature improvements. When will the real TwitterScript and TwitterAds appear?

I thought Twitter was feeling retro recently and it hit me that it looked like DOS and early operating system GUIs did. I started thinking about the kinds of enhancements that worked with DOS commands and enhanced the early Windows before they knew what was really useful and what wasn’t. The current Twitter app wars are showing lots of similarities.

You’ll have to adjust a little to the shift in technological culture as we’re moving from a fixed file system to a dynamic information channel system. But the ideas I think still work for both.

Back then, it was fun to see what kinds of small applications coders built to work with files because DOS wasn’t all that powerful. As some other guys from another OS improved DOS on their past experience, DOS developed a very Unix-like behavior. Actually any new code to try whether useful or not caused a little thrill for someone who had more than a handful of stored files.

Popular Twitter sites and apps

Many of the Twitter apps out there today don’t do much but are still popular just because they are interesting and do one thing fairly well. Let’s call those Twitter utilities. Something like Friend or Follow can be done easily on your own but it takes time. Better to just click a tab and see your friends, fans, and followers.

Then there’s a category of the better Twitter GUI. I remember using terribly functional programs that super-powered your file management system past the point of what a very indecisive admin would even want. Twitter has been slow to give us the features we need so others came to the rescue like
Others types of applications did a new kind of useful task and extended the current ability of the OS to manage files by creating shortcuts or scheduled tasks or something unique. Often Windows would add that to the next release. These are the Twitter improvements that you see being added slowly like lists which were implemented as groups, searching which so many sites have tried to do hoping that the Twitter API would not cause it to completely collapse, and trending topics. Check out some of these searching sites and trend watchers (number indicates Alexa ranking – lower is better):
  • Surchur – trending on Google, Yahoo! and Twitter (22,511)
  • Trendistic –  trending with charts (39,314)
  • Monitter – trends and monitoring (52,687)
  • Twazzup – better than Twitter search (44,541)
  • Trendistic search - better than Twitter search (39,314)
  • Collecta -  much better than Twitter search (64,456)
  • TwitterSearch – find birds. Really. Not up yet.  (268,779)
Some cool improvements that Twitter could stand to add are the mute button in Brizzly to temporarily turn off seeing noisy tweets from one person you follow because they are attending a conference and you don’t want to read about their travel experience.
Just got into Tampa. Wow, it’s hot.
Just got to the hotel. Wow, it’s big.
Another Brizzly feature I like is the automatic viewing of the real URL instead of the version. And it also shows the real picture or video instead of the TwitPic link version of it. I like the New Followers pane in TweetDeck and somebody should add a People I Don’t Have in a Group group or private list because I lose people amongst all those grouping things.

There’s a set of administrative tools that you find on a app with a large menu or targeting that special niche to do better than what the status quo can do. DOS told you the basic count of files while other programs gave you numbers that sliced and diced everything it could find. Twitter tells you basic followers, following and now lists and listed. But now
all want a part of that business.

And finally there’s the games and entertainment that everyone eventually loses valuable work time with enjoyably. You couldn’t have technology like an operating system without a game like Star Trek or solitaire to relax with. Twitter provides endless amusements as well such as account based tweeting games for trivia or skills at the accounts of @playtwivia, @twitbrain, @tweetbomb, or @beatmytweet. Much like the files of ASCII art, the content of tweets provide amusement for all at sites like:
I’m not really loyal to the current batch of applications because five years from now, they won’t be around. Most of the utilities and other programs that supported the old DOS and Windows have left the scene also. One or two of the companies are still around like Symantec or Norton but there isn’t room for many. You still have quite a few utilities out there but they aren’t as popular as when it was fun to find a new command to show off to your friends.

What Twitter is missing

What is interesting is the part where Twitter isn’t following the general functions of the older OS functions. The current API, or programming interface, that programmers use to access and sometimes crash Twitter is like the set of DOS commands. In DOS you could write a batch file of commands and in Twitter you can write a program with a list of commands.

But there’s one thing missing: the command prompt. I’d like to do more than send a direct message, reply or follow someone with a click. I want a flashing cursor with the power to mute, direct to a list, delay a tweet, transfer followers to my other account, send to multiple accounts, etc. That can all be handled with a command line.

Files are like Twitter accounts and the directories for organizing files are like lists. We also need better transparency on the account information and the lists. How long has this person been on Twitter? What’s the average length of time this person follows someone? How long does it take this person to follow back after being followed? Give me a command line to query that kind of data. Then I can get the numbers of my friends, my fans, and my followers without a web site. I could also get all the folks who aren’t on any of my lists easily without resorting to endless dialog boxes and keeping track of them on paper. And maybe even pipe them into a new list.

I am asking for a scripting language here that hasn’t been invented yet, yes. Let’s call it TwitterScript even though there’s an ActionScript code library by that name. That’s because I program and I know the ease of use and power that it provides. It could open up self-managed tweets, accounts, and lists so much that many of the sites would fade away. But other sites would be able to provide a GUI more powerful than before based on it. How about using variables in the script so it can grab your account name or statistics and make the command easily reusable by anyone?

Twitter is still in its infancy and is growing. One impediment is that there is no cash flow from using the service so they’re getting off to a rocky start. But when they implement more data capturing by introducing more data to be used like geocoding and maybe even some demographic information, then they’ll be able to sell that info much like Google is selling their data on search queries.

But Google makes most of its money on ads. I expect Twitter also will start to use sponsored tweets that get pushed out every hour or so to appropriate accounts. Let’s call this one TwitterAds. It’s AdSense all over again as Twitter will auction off your ad for the most tweets per day to the accounts that mention your keyword. That’s what people who have valued Twitter at about $1 billion recently probably are thinking.

I’m a big supporter of keeping the noise down on my accounts. I don’t like commercials and I won’t like it when they start collecting their due from us who use the service but don’t pay. So I hope that they just keep it subtle as much as AdSense ads aren’t banner ads.

Twitter will have to grow up soon. Business demands it. It’s a great information channel for us as knowledge providers. I look forward to all the powerful features that they will be implementing and know that I’ll be paying for it somehow. And then, in a few years, you’ll be able to say “Back in the days of Twitter 1.0 I used to have to go to another site to search…”
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Use business strategy to be a better blogger

Are you a blogger? You’re more than that. Just as a journalist is someone who used to ask questions and write down the answers, you have more going on that just the bytes that are published. With all of the relaxing of the physical constraints that kept independent writers from expressing their views, most of which was money, the ability of information to be produced and consumed for almost free is creating a boom of blogger opining. Business is experiencing the same change and has come up with strategies that help them manage the more powerful technology better.

I’ve been a knowledge service off and on for most of my life. In college, I started with a low cost manual typewriter as an arts and entertainment reviewer and columnist, and then became a zine aficionado and editor for a local science fiction periodical where I moved up to an electric typewriter. I kept personal journals with pen and paper which I enjoy reviewing from time to time to see how my thinking has changed. But nothing quite like the immediate indexed and published architecture of the web puts you on the professional map quite as quickly and thoroughly as a writer.

This web architecture has increased the value of us personal publishers that I call knowledge services because they help encourage networking of those ideas more than the "Letters To The Editor" column ever did. All the extra widgets that technology adds to your blog to help readers respond, relate, comment, learn and understand are the basis for how value is being created.

The more you use these extra features to bring that communication of your message to your blog, the more you define yourself as a distinctive blogger with a market edge that others will take notice of. You push out of the pack and run ahead with qualities that others will copy. You are competing in a business that is full of other knowledge services and the strategy is not just to write but to write and become a market leader.

Well, you can become a market leader if you are focused on being a business. Otherwise, you just have a nice personal journal that your Aunt Tillie is proud of you for. But some of us want to have our opinions heard and are using the technology for a goal and not just for entertainment.

Being in business as a knowledge service also applies to any other activity that you may involve yourself in on the web, including your Twitter account, photo management accounts, forums, groups, and all sorts of social networks. Any activity that processes information for consumption on the web as a distribution channel is a knowledge service. It is always a part of a product that is being offered and people know it as the identity of that online person or product which they learn to trust.

In 2005, Hugh MacLeod, in his Gaping Void blog, called this digital shadow a global microbrand which he attributed to business writer Tom Peters’ idea of the personal brand or “Brand You.” Robert Scoble developed the idea of a personal brand also. Hugh said that the global microbrand has existed for a while, long before the internet was invented. It was the well-known author or painter, selling his work all over the world or a small whiskey distillery in Scotland. It could have been a small cheese maker in rural France, whose produce is exported to Paris, London, Tokyo etc. or a violin maker in Italy or a classical guitar maker in Spain or even a small English firm like Holland & Holland making $50,000 shotguns. The common factor here is that they are a new kind of flexible, smart small business and serve a relatively small number of people. Big businesses drool over their profit margins and adaptability. Their customers are knocked out by what they do and how they do it.

IT organizations are experiencing the same issues but at a different scale. But the key processes by which they deliver that value to the customer are the same. Both the individual blogger and the large IT organizations are finding growth and prosperity in using the new tools of the trade. It’s this growth that is creating the challenges for service management to understand and allowing them to take advantage of new opportunities.

The management of the knowledge service is what I want to keep a conversation going about here. The discussion will initially be on just strategy but will progress into all phases of service management and use concepts from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to understand what the best business solution is. ITIL is a great collection of modern business techniques for folks encountering technology and wanting to get it under control.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Transactions define social networking, not SEO

Me and My Shadows album cover

Understanding who we really are online is difficult. The more involved we become with social networks the more we become a digital shadow. But the shadow we are should be the same as the shadow we want to be. Our reputation is based on how we are perceived.

We should look at ourselves by the boundaries of what kinds of activity we conduct and create three basic identities of individual, professional and corporate to best manage our online lives. Individual identity is about friends and family. Professional identity is about the knowledge service we are offering people online. And corporate identity is about the company image we work for but do not have executive control over. We understand that each identity has a different business goal and is represented by a different set of keywords if we distill down our presence using SEO tactics. That’s relevant but not complete.

Most people are online to conduct a type of business that gives them value. It’s the context of those transactional events that give us a view of who we are and the meaning behind the activity we conduct. Just looking at a set of SEO keywords is as good as reading about the ingredients in a dinner on the best date of your life. They accurately convey data but lose the context. Business is conducted because of value and not because of raw data. People want the data to sizzle and not just become processed steak in a tube.

For the most part, the boundaries of ourselves online are determined by the cost of the transactions that we do. It’s not just a PayPal payment or a vote on Digg which is an individual type of transaction cost. But it’s the total cost of value exchange between you and another party that involves costs of finding content to post, the account setup and maintenance, the cost of another reading and clicking through to your content, and managing the content sources so you always get the best information the soonest to make sure that you are putting out what your social subscribers expect from you.

If you are using another knowledge service (person, web site, news feed, etc.)  to deliver content either to you or to the social marketplace so that you can become a better knowledge service, you will have costs associated with making sure that your content stays online and taking action when things don’t always go the expected way, say like when servers die or networks get overloaded.

Sometimes the cost is worth owning the hardware yourself so you have in-house control over the assets that your information service depends on. Sometimes, it’s more sensible to place the risk in the cloud and have a web site manage the service. These boundaries that govern the choice of whether to “build or buy” or sometimes rent, and are likely to expand or contract with the current infrastructure and technology advancements. It was Ronald Coase that won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this idea. He would probably say that the increase in the number of independent self-employed people who are contracting with one another over the web today is a result of the lowering of transaction costs of marketing.

The ability of an owner of a computer and a web browser to access free software has increased to where doing basic business on the web has no cost at all. Free Google office software, web sites services, blogs, graphic manipulation, access to audio, photo and video files, and much more are all at the end of a URL typed into a simple browser.

But the transaction costs of a social relationship are not just financial. It is in the other types of assets that the value of your knowledge service also increases. It’s in the ability to compete, the sharing of your content, and in the quality that you provide that gives you the best customer service for a common commodity like Zappo’s shoes. The more we understand all of the values of these types of transactions, the more we will understand ourselves online.

This is part of a series on an ITIL view of social networks covering business functions such as marketing, sales and PR using technology down to the individual knowledge service, a person who is using social networking to provide value to others.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Economics Nobel prize supports social networking

Elinor Ostrom

Social network people should applaud a few dismal academics for appreciating their importance in participating in decision making. A surprising choice in Nobel prize winners was made this year (no, not Obama) that you may not have heard much about but was most certainly earned. Social scientists Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson won the economics prize for work that advanced the cause of economic governance by saying that voluntary associations work well to solve real problems. A social network is a voluntary association.

Typical topics of economic discussion are vertical integration and horizontal mergers. Let’s take Facebook’s recent acquisition of Friendfeed as an example of a horizontal merger. It doesn’t look like it makes sense since Facebook could just build the same thing instead of buying and merging the odd culture of those lifestreaming folks. The traditional view would be to assume that Facebook was increasing their market power even if the customer was forced to support the purchase by viewing more ads. But Mr. Williamson would call it a move to greater efficiency since the merger would reduce costs and create more value in the overall economy than what the increase of price would cause the consumers.

One of the more important themes in Mr. Williamson’s work is trust. Social networks, as well as Williamson’s coal purchasing networks, are underpinned by these types of relationship specific contracts.  I’m sure that Chris Brogan would agree.

Then there is the overwhelming dominance of Twitter in the social world even though Compete stats seem to show it peaking right now. It’s more of a vertical integration as it adds functionality it needs control over instead of working with the smaller sites that have developed piecemeal solutions. Traditional economists would have a problem with the free service, citing the late Garrett Hardin’s work on “the commons” or a collaborative owned goods, saying that it will become overused since everybody wants to get in before others do. This usually leads to recommendations to put more controls on the resource or let the government manage it.

But Ms. Ostrom, the first woman to receive a Nobel prize in economics, would say that this collaborative sharing of the resource, in this case the microblogging conversation, has worked and will work. The success of the platform depends on several high-level governance decisions. She recommends that the resource must have a policy of who gets to do what, how to resolve problems, administrative rights privileges based on the benefits they get, peer users administration or using staff that listens closely to users, and peer users who participate in the governance process.

Twitter isn’t in danger of running out of goods but it is in danger of being diluted in value as a service which in my mind is the same as having an attribute of easy exclusion. To combat this, Twitter needs more governance to keep it a common-pool type resource instead of a private good that no one wants or can control.

Ms. Ostrom doesn’t like top-down control and that has been obvious as the corporate world flails around when they try to push a message down through traditional PR channels when the social world has been confirming Ms. Ostrom’s theories about collaborative control. Her message is that privatization and over-regulation work to decrease value in the economic system. If ownership of a valuable public resource like the elephants in Namibia that are now seeing a reduction in poaching because the local residents share in the financial benefits, I think that the  decision making efforts of Twitter, Facebook and the like should look more to their users for how to manage their valuable services.

Business has been hearing this message over and over in the form of listening to your customer. But now the message is more than just paying lip service. It means letting the control of the resource be in the hands of the collective. But Mr. Williamson’s research makes sure to not let this dissolve into a complete bland democracy as he supports the secrecy of the board room decisions as a governance necessity in some cases as well. This surprising choice for Nobel economics is a welcome move from the mathematical into the real world which is where we are using our social networks.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Governing twoubled tweets

hey Zeus! album cover
Governance, not even including social media governance, is a dismal topic usually reserved for executive meetings late in the day and people who read Greek mythology for fun. But it’s a crucial word that helps clarify why you use Facebook or Twitter even if you are the only person running the entire business. It involves setting policies and making decisions about who makes the decisions. There’s also that sticky part about having a mean auditor rap you on the knuckles when you don’t follow the course.

If you are working in sales or marketing or any other business function, it involves the knowledge of business world-order and what kinds of decisions each manager should be able to make individually or in agreement as a management team. Another valid organizational form of governance is just telling them what to do because “I said so.” As you can guess, the business value doesn’t work out as well in the dictatorial model.

Since the web world has infiltrated the marketing world and handed the reins over to sales people to do their own marketing, it seems that there is contention for the decision rights of just who gets to decide what. Sales can go find a new social news site to post product announcements on. Marketing can sell direct from their web site. The ability of everyone to do their own intertwined marketing and sales has opened the flood gates of unaccountability due to the lack of social media governance.

If a sales person releases information about a new product before a launch because they’re excited about it, does that make it a policy violation? If the competition finds out, it is. If they tell the newspapers on the phone, it likely is, especially if they print it before the embargo date. But if they tweet it and no one finds out, then what? No one has a tweeter policy to figure it out until it damages the impact of the Twitter marketing campaign and somebody’s twiddling head has to roll.

Social media has been putting pressure on the C-level offices to think about how they manage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other types of uncontrollable web accounts. But they are only out of control because the policy is not clear on how they are used. Back in the good old days, it used to be good enough to distribute an email policy and not show up after work wearing a corporate logoed shirt in places of ill repute. Then it was a web site policy that wasn’t followed unless you enforced it with an annoying firewall which blocked more than you wanted. But now people carry your brand around with them on the web as email addresses and enter strange web sites that their less web-savvy bosses would cringe at.

So what’s the answer? It’s basic business governance. If the policy makers understand what business is doing and why, then it’s easy to understand what role the tools play in the processes of the business. The most likely culprit today is not understanding the tools.

I really don’t blame business people for not understanding what the business value of these tools are. The social media experts are just building their personal brand. But it’s also clouding the waters with new terms for their interpretation of the old terms. Chris Brogan, a great promoter of social media and author of Trust Agents, calls the six characteristics of trust agents Make Your Own Game, One of Us, The Archimedes (another old Greek!) Effect, Agent Zero, Human Artist, and Build an Army. Actually, I think the one social media characteristic that business people want to hear about is Stronger Customer Relationships. Do we have to wade through all the Archimedian Artistic Army Agent lingo? It’s attention getting for sure.

Let’s take Twitter as an example. Many old school people think that twittaholics just like to talk about themselves and the whole thing is like high school kids texting each other. It’s not. The types of business processes that can be done with Twitter just by following twitterers and searching the twittersphere are:

  1. Monitoring trends
  2. Monitoring buzz on your company
  3. Monitoring buzz on competitors
  4. Monitoring significant events to sales accounts
  5. Measuring influence of thought leaders by retweets and followers
  6. Finding people to sell direct to
  7. Increasing network of contacts to use for later promotion activities

… and lots of others. The business goals in line with these twactivities (I’m really getting tired of the pun now) as I see it are to

  1. Manage a product portfolio
  2. Increase brand reach and improve sentiment
  3. Position products in market optimally
  4. Maintain strong customer relationship
  5. Increase brand influence
  6. Increase revenue
  7. Increase market share

Each of the business goals are a reason why the activities are to be done. Each business activity should be mapped to a specific business function and the management responsibilities assigned accordingly. Some are the better in sales or marketing, and some are more appropriate for product development or public relations. Wherever the people exist for those functions is where the Twitter activity should be accomplished and also where the auditor goes to rap a few knuckles if they are following Oprah instead.

OK, so who of you Greek mythology perusers knew that Zeus was a symbol of intelligent governance of the world-order? Instead of Hymn to Zeus, a Hymn to Social Media Policy Makers doesn’t have quite the same zing. Still, a little praise and encouragement to follow social media governance is never going to go out of style.

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