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.

Image by seanomatopoeia via Flickr

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

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

find the wordsss
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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