About Me

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Len focuses on helping small and new businesses succeed through developing appropriate marketing and sales strategies. Len enjoys mentoring, relishes in getting both arms and feet wet in addressing technology, marketing and sales issues. He understands the drivers impacting business results for today and tomorrow including time-to-market, time-to-revenue, marketing, sales channels and social media.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crystal Ball Gazing About Technology and Its Impact in 2010

I had the opportunity to read a column called 5 Technologies that Could Change Your Life in 2010, written by R. Colin Johnson. I couldn't help myself but had to respond and wanted to share with you both a link to the original very thoughtful article and my own prognostications that appear somewhat critique-like. Of course I had to make my own 5 technology forecast.

It's always fascinating to crystal ball about technology and its impact. I would argue that many of the items described in the original article, which you can read by clicking on the link above, will not have a significant impact in 2010 but should become part of our everyday use within 3 to 5 years.

The first one mentioned is the Kindle and its competitors. I call these early stage technologies. In "Second Foundation," Isaac Asimov described a scene with youngsters at the beach reading from an electronic book. I think Asimov probably had the sand, water and electronics mix problem pretty much licked in his mind but I highly doubt that these current technologies have the ability to replace a paper book form factor when on vacation and going to the beach. Ever tried to read an electronic screen outside on a sunny day? Kindle and its ilk have a long way to go to displace paper.

The second innovation Johnson mentions is touch screen. We have had a run of touch screen technology generational PC tools over the years and have yet to see the technology become ubiquitous. Touch screens are a highly desirable concept but it is interesting to watch them in use. The iPhone and its imitators have got a pretty good handle on the use of this type of technology in a small form factor. Where touch can replace a mouse or other pointing device we have yet to see a product become a must have platform. I think we will see touch panels on electronic devices like thermostats, LCD-specialty displays on appliances but in 2010 beyond mobile phones I don't suspect this technology will have a big impact in the short term.

Johnson talks about the growth in LED usage. I am in total agreement. LED should arrive in 2010 in a big way, from TVs to lighting fixtures, driven by demand for lower energy cost and the pollution issues associated with disposal of fluorescent fixtures.

Johnson talks about 3D printing technology entering wide usage. 3D printing needs to get down to a very economical unit cost before it will become ubiquitous. Currently 3D inkjet technologies are not priced for home users (around $5K at my last look). I see this as a 2 to 5 year item.

Finally, Johnson talks about pico-projection, a technology that remains very early stage in commercial application. I don't see it having a huge impact in 2010.

So here are my choices for 2010 in terms of technology that will impact us in business and in our personal use.

1. Ever cheaper notebook technology will make computing more and more affordable for all. We will see notebook computer pricing drop dramatically in 2010 with pricing approaching $150 to $200 on entry level systems (not netbooks but notebooks). By 2012 I expect we will see the $100 to sub-$100 notebook. See the article that recently appeared in Forbes.

2. WiFi / MiFi will be huge in 2010, almost ubiquitous. Not as sexy to talk about as the stuff in Johnson's article but definitely the phenomenon we will all benefit from globally in the coming year.

3. 3D will enter the living and rec rooms of homes through gaming devices and TV in 2010. In addition we will see, as in the popularity of Wii games, significant growth in interactive gaming that includes full body movement integration. See the article in PhysOrg.

4. In-the-cloud computing applications with HTML5 will bring a significant change to the applications we use on computers in 2010. I am convinced that Office 2010 may be Microsoft's last kick at the can in creating a desktop office tool. The Chrome Operating System will have a significant impact on computing platforms as we strive to see the OS on our PCs become as simple to use as dial-tone is on telephones. Apps running in the cloud will run on our desktops whether we are Internet-connected or not.

5. GoogleWave is a big question mark for me in 2010. I want to see this type of tool begin to create a homogeneous communication environment that replaces our present silos of communication like email, video conferencing, chat and instant messaging. Wave has the potential to do this. I'm not sure if the general public is ready however. We do get used to our tools and forget that computers are all about facilitating work and our lives, not about dictating to us the way we have to work.

If you are not familiar with my other blog postings I invite you to visit my WordPress blog focused on the impact of technology in the 21st century. Although my prognostications are far more futuristic than the year 2010 I invite you to visit that site from time to time as I try to describe the overall advances we will make in the 21st century as technology and humanity become forever entwined.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If Governments are Going Web 2.0 Then Why Aren't You?

Yesterday I attended a webinar on how government, banks and health care are moving to Web 2.0 applications to deliver services, retain customers and reach out to new audiences.

U.S. Government Adopts Web 2.0 Tools

The presenters talked about how the Obama White House has from almost the day after the President was elected pushed an agenda to make the U.S. government more open and accessible. Government departments were tasked with looking at how they could publish information that could be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched using common web search applications. In the last week the U.S. government announced its Open Government Initiative, a further expression of the goal of the Obama administration to change the relationship of government and its citizenry.

Similar action is being taken by Australia where the federal government and many state governments have taken on the task of introducing Web 2.0 capability to make government information more accessible and usable. The Australian government has stated as one of its many goals to make public-sector information free, accessible using open standards, easily discoverable, machine-readable and freely reusable. Although the government of Australia intends to maintain copyright of all materials, it intends to license its content freely for reuse with no fees and no need to ask for permission on the part of the users.

In the UK the government has made similar moves implmenting openness through the sharinig of government data freely.

The federal government in Canada back in 2008 made many announcements about open initiatives and the adoption of Web 2.0 applications to make information more accessible. Unfortunately little has been done to turn those announcements into reality. At the provincial level there is a greater degree of accessibility but very little in the way of interactivity with the use of social media. This country lags behind.

For governments who adopt Web 2.0 as a standard it represents a new paradigm, creating a dialog among government and its citizens.

What are the implications for you in your business? If you deal with government you should have greater accessibility. But that is really not the point of this blog. Government communicates with citizens. You communicate with customers and prospects. If you are reading this blog you probably have an email address, likely a website, and maybe are already on Facebook or LinkedIn. So my question to you is are you using Web 2.0 to change the nature of your online communications? Is your current website interactive? Do you create incentives for customers and prospects to interact with your business in new and meaningful ways?

Whether you create events, contests, blogs, invite comments, or devise other virtual and physical activities you owe it to your business to rethink your Web strategy to take advantage of what Web 2.0 has to offer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In 2010 Your Small Business Should Look at SaaS Again

With Microsoft gearing up for another kick at the can in office suites, Office 2010, it is time to take a look at SaaS applications again. Why? Here are five reasons:

1. SaaS office tools stay current all the time. If you, like me, have gone through multiple Microsoft Office iterations then you know what it is like to pay over and over again for what turns out to be the same common functionality. SaaS applications, however, evolve with new functionality appearing from time to time.

2. The development of HTML 5 means that SaaS applications can run on your computer even when you are not connected to the Internet.

3. The new Chrome Operating System that Google recently made available to the software development community and that will become available in 2010 is a browser that is designed to support SaaS applications.

4. SaaS applications are better at securing your computer from malware because the documents, spreadsheets and slide shows you create are built in the cloud and not residing on your desktop.

5. SaaS email systems like Gmail are great spam filters saving you from having to invest in extra hardware to manage and block emails biggest pain.

So think about SaaS as a solution worth exploring and working with in 2010. Just yesterday I used Google Docs with a client to collaborate on a business plan. They were impressed at how easy it was to use, and how we could edit the document on the fly and see the results immediately with a simple screen refresh.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Companies are Marketing Focused These Days - the Internet

For 2010 it appears that business leaders are focusing on three marketing tactics that are all Internet based. Although traditional advertising is still something business is prepared to invest in, the hottest areas of growth are being devoted to email, social media and search.

Many companies are integrating their email and social media efforts but many others are still trying to figure out just how to make tweets and social network fan pages turn into new customers and more revenue.

In this study done by StrongMail, 42% of business leaders reported a lift in their marketing campaign performances after integrating social networking and email, but almost a quarter admitted that they had no clue as to how to measure the results of their integration efforts.

Only 5% of companies saw no value in integrating email and social networking. This research report supports the growing trend of companies to rethink the way they promote brands, whether through the Internet or through other more traditional advertising and marketing venues. Very few are ignoring social networking and micro-blogging because if they cannot see and measure the results, they certainly sense that there is something to this social media revolution.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Reason to Use Social Media to Create Visibility for Your Business on the Web

In my past blogs I have talked about creating Facebook presence for your business as a way to attract new customers, build a fan base, support causes and create increasing social awareness of your brand. But now there is another compelling reason to include Facebook in your online strategy.

Following on Bing and Yahoo's ability to create Facebook, MySpace and Twitter results, Google has announced a series of new features for its industry leading search engine. These features include the ability to get search results from popular public social networks and micro blogging sites.

Google has also added a really cool capability to its search engine, the ability to make searches sensitive to geography. This means if you are located in a particular city and making search queries, first page results will provide local sources of information. For retailers this has powerful implications.

This geographic search sensitivity reflects the growing use of smart phones for doing Internet search. Google has even created a Google window decal with a unique bar code known as a QR code which can be read by smart phones. The QR code is designed to have the same type of impact as a Michelin or Zagat sticker. When a phone scans the QR code, it displays important information about the retail site in Google search format results. That information could highlight specific merchandise, sales, services, menus, reviews and comments, and social media coverage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

BtoB Magazine Says Thought Leadership is the Number One Reason Why Companies Use Social Media

In business-to-business relationship management, or B2B as it is commonly known, U.S. companies are recognizing the power of social media strategies. Of 397 companies surveyed in the study done by BtoB Magazine, 60% indicated they were using social networks and other social media to establish thought leadership in their industry.

Thought leadership is all about establishing an organization's credentials through published articles, news, speeches, Webcasts, podcasts, videos, trade show and conference presence, and involvement in industry oversight or standards committees. The goal in the end is to establish trust and credibility with existing customers and prospects.

The tactics in building thought leadership include creating and maintaining company profiles on social media sites, doing micro-blogging (Twitter) and responding to customer comments on these sites, creating multiple blogs, monitoring when your company and competition are mentioned in social networks, contributing to discussions on non-company sites that have an industry focus, participating in social networking forums, creating company-associated causes and posting these within social networks, and creating company-sponsored social networking events.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Google Gives the Gears to Google Gears

Back in March 2008 I wrote an article about online Office tools. One of them was Google Gears. With the progression of cloud computing, the Google Chrome browser, and the emergence of a new HTML standard, Gears appears to no longer have a shelf life.

HTML5 is the new standard. It has been designed to solve the same problems that Gears was designed to fix. HTML5 has become a Web standard. Even Microsoft with its penchant for proprietary solutions has jumped on this bandwagon.

Linus Upson, Google's engineering director for the Chrome browser and Chrome OS, states, "This isn't an area we've been investing a lot in the last year since we launched Chrome. We're very focused on making HTML5 as successful a standard as possible."

Google intends to continue to support Gears for existing customers. What made Gears so attractive was its ability to allow users to operate Web applications and store the data from them when not connected to the Internet. Gmail and Google Docs were two Google applications that I tested and used this way. But lately Google has been demonstrating offline Gmail using HTML5. And now Google is building this functionality into its Chrome browser. Safari is using HTML5 to create similar functionality. Earlier versions of Internet Explorer, such as IE6 cannot support HTML5 so users of that browser will find themselves out of luck.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Social Media Marketing Central to Fastest Growing Companies - Isn't it About Time Your Small Business Invested in this Medium?

Over 90% of the 100 fastest growing companies in the U.S. are using social media in their marketing strategies according to the Center for Marketing Research, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. More than half of the companies surveyed were tweeting. This is a remarkable uptake and reflects a significant change in behaviour as the companies surveyed recognize the power of social media to reach customers.

The change over the last two years has been remarkable. In 2007, 43% of the 500 companies surveyed were not invested in social media as a marketing strategy. Today only 9% have not at least adopted one social media strategy.

The study which included 148 of Inc. 500’s fastest growing companies was conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes, Director of the Center, and researcher Eric Mattson. The chart to the left illustrates the growth in use of social networking, blogging, and Twitter with a decline in podcasting, bulletin boards and online video. When those surveyed were asked to gauge the success rate of their investment in social media, they reported an 82% success rate for Twitter and 87% using other social networking tools.

Nora Barnes states, “While so many things are leveling off, social networking and blogging remain strong, showing businesses are continuing to immerse themselves in social media and blogging even while others are getting cut back.” Barnes believes companies recognize the low to no-cost of using social media to promote products and services, often requiring no more than a small group from various departments within the organization to interact with customers. “Social media is the only thing I know that you can talk to a customer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, a portal created between a consumer and a provider that allows constant and open discussion....If there is a problem, it can be immediately taken care of, making it easier to to address issues. Consumers like it and businesses like it because things don’t fester. Social media allows things to be handled quickly,” Barnes states.

The study reports that 68% of the companies interviewed are listening to hear what people in social networks are saying about their brands and business. That represents a significant increase from 2007 when only 50% were paying attention to what people were saying. Barnes remarks, “you shouldn’t only be talking on social media, you should be listening as well.”

The types of social media activities that these up and coming companies have engaged in over the last two years are listed below in order of use.
  • Wikis - 92%
  • Message & Bulletin Boards - 91%
  • Podcasts - 89%B
  • Blogs - 88%
  • Social Networks - 87%
  • Online Videos - 87%
  • Twitter - 82%

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Adding Web Video to Your Marketing Efforts Pays Off

Putting a video on your website can be a powerful tool to engage customers and prospects. A recent Eyeblaster Research study shed insight on website visitor behaviour with and without video. Videos make customers stick longer.

Dwell rates with video on a website are significantly higher. Video increases the likelihood that a site visitor will hang around longer by as much as 20 to 50%. See the table below:

So looking a video as a strategy in populating your web content makes a lot of sense. Short videos are far more effective than long ones. A summary of the study's findings include:

  • Video growth has outpaced Rich Media growth by 60% in the last three and a half years.
  • Video increases Dwell Rate by 20% and doubles Dwell Time.
  • The ROI on video ads is double that of non-video Rich Media ads.
  • Video outperforms in the news, sports, music and finance sections and lags in social networks and games environments.
  • Rollover user-initiated video performs best, followed by auto-initiated video
  • Click user-initiated performs worst
  • Weekdays from 9am to 5pm is the users’ preferred time to watch
  • An increase of video length by five seconds reduces video fully played rates by 2.8%, on average.
In the study Eyeblaster forecasts video web advertising to grow from $1.1 billion in 2009 to more than $4 billion by 2013.

A recent survey done by Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic found that only 21% of the people watching DVR
playback and 30% of people watching TV airtime pay attention to commercials, compared to 46% of people watching in-stream video ads online.

So what conclusions can you draw from these research results?

1. Videos on your website work.
2. The shorter they are the more likely they will be watched from beginning to end.
3. People will pay attention to a video ad on a website far more than one on television.
4. Videos on social media sites are less effective than on your company website.
5. Videos are far more effective than static ads or display banners on websites.
6. Autoplay beats click to watch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I have just joined Google Wave

If you haven't heard about Wave then hold on because I'll be writing about it in the coming months as I use it.

I have often stated that we use computer applications in silos because that's the way they were designed, as stand alone applications. When these applications are grouped into office suites we gain some benefit of interoperability. But for the most part the applications remain entities unto themselves.

Wave is the antithesis of this silo approach. A Wave is a continuous conversation in which you can continuously interact using multimedia, email, chat, video and voice seamlessly. Instead of working the way the computer dictates, with Wave we can begin to see an approaching model that is more like regular interaction whether in an office or among friends.

So watch for my Wave prognostications and observations in the coming weeks.

Creating a Plan for Implementing Social Media in your Marketing Strategy

From time to time I have the opportunity to read other bloggers columns and share them with you here. The following excerpts come from Taylor Ellwood, a social media coach and writer who resides in Portland, Oregon. Her recent posting on BizNik is entitled, The Five Elements of Basic Social Media Strategy.

Taylor's 5 elements include:

1. Define Your audience. She points out that audience is more than just existing clients. It includes prospects and partners. Your target audience may be a subset of your total audience because not all of your clients, prospects and partners may embrace social media. Consider age and other demographics in determining your social media audience.

2. Define your business model. Is your business model B2B or B2C? For example, B2C is a determining factor when considering Facebook whereas B2B may be LinkedIn, Biznik, Partnerpedia or similar social networking site.

3. Pick out your key words and phrases that define what you do. Match your key words and phrases with those that make your clients and prospects pay attention to you. These are the words and phrases clients use to describe what you do for them. This is a magnet to attract other members of a social network with similar needs, members that you have never met.

4. Define your goals for using social media, but keep them realistic. Taylor advocates that you need to go into the social media space with very specific goals. I'm a great believer that any action plan should have distinct and measurable goals and a social media strategy is no different.

In her article on this point Taylor states "It's important to define realistic goals for using social media. A realistic goal is publishing an article to be more visible to your social network. An unrealistic goal is expecting that the article will automatically help you convert readers into clients. It's unrealistic because it's not something you have much control over, and you will get frustrated if it doesn't happen. Recognize the technology for what it is and what it can do and plan accordingly with your goals."

5. Assess how much time and effort you will need to spend learning how to use social media sites, as well as what social media sites you need to be on. Also be mindful of using blogs, e-newsletters, internet radio, video, and other forms of social media and factor those into your assessment.

The last point stated above are Taylor's words not mine. It is very important that you recognize the time commitment you need to make in a social media strategy. Unlike investing dollars in advertising on web pages, or in a magazine, the cost of social media marketing is more a measure of the time you need to spend to create a successful, measurable outcome.

Finally, my additional two cents....it is important to continually test to see what works and what doesn't in social media. This is a brave new world for business to venture into. But as I have stated previously it is hard to ignore the number of people that are on social media sites. The Facebook nation is the fourth largest community in the world, almost equal in population to the United States. LinkedIn is better than one-and-a-half the size of Canada in population. To ignore these numbers in your business strategy is to miss a golden opportunity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friending a Brand on Facebook

In my previous article I talked about how your business can use Facebook. In the November 18 ezine, "eMarketer - Digital Intelligence" comes the following interesting statistics from a study done by Razorfish, the global digital marketing firm.

The company's “2009 FEED” survey studied US users who had high-speed Internet access and had spent at least $150 online in the previous six months. These consumers demonstrated strong brand connections. Almost 25% participated in brand-hosted contests. About the same percentage followed brands on Twitter. And more than 40% had "friended" a brand on Facebook or MySpace.

Why "friend" a brand? Because in do
ing it these consumers were being offered special discounts and deals that made the effort worthwhile. Most as well reported enjoying the brand website, and deriving entertainment value from their online experience.

Digital consumers who visit your website today are not looking for information alone. They want much more - a memorable experience. In your web marketing strategy it is important to keep that in mind.

Use polls, create multimedia, invite them to participate in questionnaires, hold contests, create discussion forums, and encourage comments. It's about engagement, entertainment, connecting emotionally.

It is a proven fact that most of us make our purchasing decisions because of the emotions we derive from the buying experience. Think of just how important colour was in your car buying decision. Yes, the fuel economy was important, but more often than not you were ultimately sold on appearance and how it made you feel.

Engage your digital customers and prospects to heighten their emotional connection with your brand. It works. To get more statistical results from this study you should visit Razorfish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Can Facebook and Other Public Social Networks do for Your Business

I have a Facebook page. I have a Facebook corporate page. You may ask why? One reason is Facebook pages come up in Google search results. That means one more search hit for me when someone is seeking a company that provides marketing and business development consulting services like mine.

The other reason I am both personally and corporately on Facebook is the size of the community. Today Facebook has over 300,000,000 members. If it were a country it would be the fourth largest in population, just behind the United States. That's a lot of potential customers.

Here are the top five reasons for you and your business to be on Facebook.

1. Facebook Company Pages

If you are already on Facebook then you have created a personal profile. Did you know that you can create a public company profile with the similar functionality and design? Unlike your personal page there is no limit to the number of fans you can have on your publicly viewable company page so take advantage of this feature to create a fan base and stay in touch with them.

2. Facebook Events

Facebook offers the ability to announce events. Events are a great way to create visibility for your brand and business. A Facebook event can be a cause. A Facebook event can be a webinar or online workshop, a physical meetup, even a discussion activity. Events are great ways to attract and retain customers.

3. Facebook Groups

With Facebook you can join groups. Groups can be thematically or geographically organized. Participating in a group is a great way to find new customers and tell your story even if just in passing. Remember your 20-second elevator pitch. You may get many opportunities to tell it when you join groups.

4.Facebook Share

Share provides the ability for you to hyperlink your Facebook page to your website so visitors can share your web content with their Facebook friends. Share requires a little bit of HTML know how but is easy to install. It's just another tool for spreading the word.

5. Facebook Connect

Through Connect you can use your Facebook account to populate other social networking sites without ever having to fill in the information for these sites. It's almost like having a portable phone number that you can take with you if you leave your cell provider. Now your Facebook profile can go anywhere. Considering the fact that I am a participant on many social networking sites, the connect feature in Facebook means I can publish once and automatically populate numerous sites.

Finally I would like to talk briefly about Facebook Ads.

You may have tried Google Ads as a marketing investment, purchasing sponsored sites to gain search engine positioning on the top or right-hand side of Google search results. Or you may have enrolled with Google AdSense to earn click through revenue from visitors to your company web site.

Facebook Ads resemble both of these types of ads. They are primarily text with the opportunity to include an icon or small image. Unlike Google Ads, however, Facebook ads can include a friend's endorsement in which an action and picture appear.

Is Facebook a good place to advertise. It really depends on your target demographic. Genreally speaking Facebook ads are not very effective. Generation Y and Z Facebook users do not click through. Whereas older Facebook users, people my age, or more inclined to click on ads. But the average click-through rate for Facebook Ads is very low, in fact less than 1/100th of 1 percent. So unless you are targeting the 50s plus Facebook audience I do not recommend purchasing Facebook ads.


So what can you conclude from this article?

1. Facebook is a big community, the largest online community in the world. Where there is a big community there is a big opportunity.

2. Facebook has lots of tools that can create greater visibility for your business, whether large or small.

3. Facebook can be a great way to connect to other social networking communities without having to input all of your company information over and over again.

4. Facebook is a poor place to buy advertising space unless you are selling to a specific demographic within the community. But Facebook is a great place to create events and activities and attract fans and new customers.

5. Facebook is free. That's hard not to like.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Five Reasons Corporations Are Failing at Social Media

I have just read a blog from a young woman, Amy Mengel, whose musings on social networking are very much akin with mine. I share with you extracts from her most recent article bearing the above title.

Social media isn’t complicated. When you boil it down it’s about listening to your customers, being helpful by offering your knowledge and giving them interesting content to share and thereby advocate for you.

So why is it so difficult for so many companies to successfully integrate social media?

1. They can’t talk about anything broader than their own products

Citrix Online created the Workshifting community to address the rise of telecommuting and remote work. Sure, it ties in with Citrix’s GoToMeeting/Webinar/PC product line, but the blog isn’t a commercial for its products. The same holds true for Kodak’s photography blog. It’s about photography and creativity in general, not about Kodak cameras. Humana developed Freewheelin bicycle sharing communities with plenty of online and “real life” components to the program. Bicycles don’t have much to do with health insurance specifically, but they are about being healthy. If a company is only talking online about its specific products and not looking for ways to connect to the bigger picture, it’s pretty difficult for people to be engaged.

2. They listen to customers but don’t take any action

If you’re going to listen to your customers, you’d better be ready to do something about what you hear. If a company creates an online presence that’s open and allows customer feedback, it creates the expectation that the company is going to do something with that feedback. Worse than not being heard is being heard and then ignored. Southwest Airlines shared how a simple blog post stating the airline was considering assigned seating amassed tons of customer comments showing a lack of support for the idea. This feedback changed the direction of their internal debate and led to a new boarding procedure that maintained the open seating arrangement.

3. They aren’t calibrated internally with the technology

Many corporate Web sites are little more than online brochures. Customers expect interaction. Content creation is key to social media success, and every company should have a Web site with a content management system that allows for quick, easy content creation without the IT department needing to recode a Web site. Anyone in the organization should be able to publish via a CMS. And companies can’t expect to have a strong social media presence when social sites are blocked internally to employees.

4. They’re not framing risk accurately

A corporate blog has never been fatal to an organization. Often a company’s entry into social media is a clumsy, shotgun blast and that there’s an equal chance of looking foolish by having a ham-fisted marketing department launch a social media presence as there is if a rogue employee “goes off” on Twitter. The risk of social media is not abated by not participating. And really, while there have certainly been some hiccups and miscues along the way, social media has yet to be the undoing of any company.

5. Their internal culture isn’t aligned for social media success

The customer should be at the core of the brand. When policies, procedures, products and processes become more important than the customer, there’s no way social media efforts can be effective. When your employees are more concerned with what’s in or out of their job description than doing the right thing to help the customer, that’s not a culture that’s likely to build trust and advocacy for your brand. Zappos is cited time and again as a case study, but largely because it has a culture that makes social media work. All of its employees are focused on customer service at the core. The same holds true for Southwest Airlines.

These are great examples of simple, effective social media strategies that have humanized organizations and allowed them to build better relationships with customers. But time and again companies are either rejecting social media or participating in a way that defeats the purpose.

I encourage you to read more from Amy Mengel by visiting her blog or following her on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Social Marketing: Tying Social Networking to Personal and Business Goals

Public social networks are by their nature very poor marketing venues in the traditional sense. Click through rates on advertisements on sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are very low. So many small businesses see public social networks as too difficult and too time consuming to master. They are partially right in their conclusions.

Figuring out the "business angles" in social networking takes considerable time and practice. That's because public social networks are primarily "social." The business that works best on them is "social." The younger audiences that use them find traditional advertising hype to be intrusive and inappropriate. To them it's not cool to be on a social site and be thinking business.

Social marketing is not a new concept. According to Phil Kotler, who along with Gerald Zaltman, coined the expression in the 1970s, social marketing is defined as marketing that seeks to influence social behaviour, not for the benefit of the marketer, but to benefit a target audience or society in general. Since social networks are virtual societies it would seem that social marketing would be a good strategic approach for small business and individuals to engage these online communities.

There is nothing like a good cause or social purpose to find a community of common ground. How to do this effectively is a skill set worth acquiring. Nedra Weinreich, of
Weinreich Communications, offers courses including webinars on the subject of social marketing. Although Nedra's focus is on using social marketing to advance such health and social causes the principles and strategies she describes in her book, Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide and blog articles are applicable to any organization and any cause.

Here are some ideas to consider when addressing the social marketing potential of social networks:

1. If you currently have a social cause that you are drawn to and that you want to share with others in your business community, then make it part of your web presence and feature it on your business website. For example, I have a link to Kiva on my blog site and you will find it on my Facebook page as well. I don't do in-your-face promotion of Kiva on either site but I can come up with strategies that can make Kiva a shared conversation with prospective clients and existing customers.

2. Create an event around your cause. That event can be an activity that invites prospects and customers to an actual physical location with the purpose of raising awareness, and money, in support of the cause. If your cause is "cancer awareness," or another high-profile medical issue, plan to include other interested parties that can give your efforts further legitimacy. For example, you can consider affiliating your event with a larger campaign.

3. Build a cause site on your social network and link it to your website and your social network profile account. Make it graphic. If you are committed to raising money in your social cause put a graph on your site to show how well you are doing.

Large organizations have been doing this sort of community service for years. Having just called on Accenture, the management consulting firm in the last week, while waiting for my meeting, I picked up a glossy, four-colour 50 plus page publication focused on the company's social marketing.

And don't forget Guy Laliberte's recent International Space Station trip where he created a show from space involving actors and performers from all over the planet to promote his cause, clean water for all. Although that gambit cost him $35 million, one should recognize the essential strategy that Mr. Laliberte deployed, social marketing with a very specific social goal.

On a more modest level and as a method for getting exposure for you and your business, social marketing is the right strategy to engage the social networking community.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is Appropriate Social Network Behaviour

In this latest article posted on Kiwi Commons I talk about the lure of posting information about you on social networking sites. What is appropriate? What is inappropriate?

If the axiom, "social media is all about communication with low expectation," then it is important for you to understand the audience that connects to you and your social networking profiles. Although your connections are referred to as "friends" on places like Facebook and MySpace, these are not friends in the conventional sense. In fact, if you invited them to a night out on the town, most would never show up even if they accepted your invitation. So that is one meaning of low expectation....l0w results.

But low expectation can mean something entirely different. It could reflect the fact that when you post you have low expectations about readership. Is anyone really looking at what you write? Does anyone look at the pictures you post?

Another meaning of low expectation.....is what you say about yourself evoking low expectation on the part of your readers? When they read your profile are they drawing a negative conclusion? If you are applying for an important job, or trying to make a good impression on someone important in your life, then what you say in about you on your profile may evoke much higher expectation in those who view it.

So please connect to the Kiwi Commons link and let me know your thoughts about appropriate social network behaviour.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Internet Addiction: There are Cures and there are Cures!

In my latest KiwiCommons article I talk about a treatment program for Internet and gaming addiction. Getting young people to adopt good online habits is an important parenting and teaching responsibility. Like any activity that becomes an obsession, being online can become addictive.

Although this review deals with a program that has the feel of a de-programming experience, in this article I also talk about things that parents can do to inculcate appropriate Internet usage in children.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Latest Kiwi Commons Article Talks About Cookie Monsters

Cookies are ubiquitous in the world of the Internet. They connect computers together, making information more accessible. But they can have a dark side as well. See my article in Kiwi Commons.

My Latest CMS Wire Article Compares Public and Private Social Networking

The social networking world is starting to mature as more and more business organizations see the value proposition that is social networking. In my latest CMSWire posting I position public and private social networks and talk about how they can be used.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Check out my latest article on CMS Wire About Google's New Foray into Operating Systems and What it Means

We have all become victims of a microcomputer paradigm these days, bloated operating systems that make our computing commute each morning an exercise in patience. For a minute think about a device you use each day whose operating system doesn't make you wait and wait until you can get started. I'm talking about the telephone and dial tone. If computers were as accessible to applications as the telephone is to dial tone, then that would be a major improvement.

With Google announcing its new Chrome Operating System aimed at cloud computing application users, we may be seeing the evolution of a much simpler and faster computer interface. Let's hope so.

In any event, check out my article on CMSWire and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making the Social Media Investment: the Future of Marketing and Advertising - Check out my latest article on CMSWire

I'm now writing for CMSWire on social media and other interesting subjects. If you want to understand how social media is perceived by different age groups and how your marketing and advertising has to adjust to this phenomenon of the Internet then read my latest article posted on CMSWire.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Each Generation from Young to Old Uses Social Networks

Whether old or young, social networks are predominantly used for socializing. In this timely article from EMarketer, the author of the study not only breaks down which generations use popular sites but also how they use these sites.

One thing for sure, business is not paramount on social network users' minds.

To learn more click on the link,
Internet, Business & Ecommerce Statistics: Email Marketing & Online Market Research.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Twitter Safe? - Go to Kiwi Commons to Read My Latest Posting

The latest Twitter hack teaches us lessons about password security. Please go to Kiwi Commons to learn more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guest Submission: Social Networking's Place in Lead Generation

Jeremy Miller is a Partner with LEAPJob, a sales and marketing recruiting firm here in Toronto. His recent post is one I want to share with my readers.

Twitter is all the rage, but can you actually use it to drive sales? What about Facebook, LinkedIn or blogging? Social networking seems like the right place to build a lead generation program right now. These sites offer up huge audiences of engaged users, and make it relatively easy to setup targeted groups and encourage participation. It seems like a no brainer, but it's not. Many business-to-business lead gen campaigns based on social networking are failing.

Here's the secret, age matters. Your audience just might not be ready to be marketed to via social networking. They could simply be too old.

Take a moment and profile your customers. On a piece of paper identify the key decision makers you target in the sales cycle. This could be CEO, President, CFO or VP of HR. Beside each of the titles, write down their average age of the people in these positions. Next, profile the users of your products and services by writing down their titles and average age.

Depending on what you sell, I suspect you will see a gap. For example in the software industry the decision makers, the senior people inside organizations, tend to be 35 to 50. While the users, which could be administrative staff or mid-level managers, are typically 22 to 35. These groups are at least a generation apart, which has a direct impact on the types of technology they use in their day-to-day lives.

The Age Gap: Digital Immigrants versus Digital Natives

The plus 35 crowd, people born before 1974, are Digital Immigrants. They didn't grow up interacting with friends and family through the internet. Rather, they connected on the phone, in person or maybe by letter. If they wanted to plan a Friday night out, everyone called each other to coordinate plans.

As technology exploded in the late 90's and 2000's, the Digital Immigrants embraced the new tools. Email replaced the fax. Blackberries gave access to email and the internet anywhere, anytime. Google made it easy to find information in a matter of seconds. With each breakthrough, Digital Immigrants figured out how they could use the technology to make their lives more efficient.

The under 35 crowd, Digital Natives, have approached technology from a totally different perspective. Digital Immigrants may look at Facebook, Google and email like tools, but not Digital Natives. I asked my associate Fawzia, who is 26 and definitely a Digital Native, how she would describe her use of social media. She said, "It's a necessity. It's what you do. You might use the phone, but we text and social network. That's how we talk to each other. It's like breathing!" The Digital Natives can't imagine communicating without these tools. They are completely ingrained into their social connections, their community and how they learn.

When to use social networking for lead generation

The differing approach to technology between the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives has a direct impact on your lead generation strategy. It is crucial to profile the demographics of your users and decision makers so that you know which media platforms to use in marketing.

When targeting the Digital Immigrants, social media is not the best approach for lead generation. Sure you may get a few leads from social networking, but not nearly as much as you could through traditional media. Digital Immigrants use technology as a tool to support their buying decisions. As a result, they use Google to find vendors, websites to evaluate companies and human interaction to make buying decisions. Social networking is not used in the buying decision, because it is not a tool for evaluating products or services.

As you understand the habits of the Digital Immigrants, you can tune your marketing programs to fit their needs. Some of the obvious programs are search engine optimization, because they use Google to discover their options. Public relations are effective, because they use newspapers and magazines as a primary source of information. Public events are also powerful, because Digital Immigrants truly value being able to see the white's of their vendor's eyes.

If your audience is Digital Natives, you have a lot more marketing options. In a business-to-business environment there are not many Digital Natives in the decision making roles, they tend to be users. Users are still important to the overall marketing strategy, because having access to them provides an influential group for up-selling and cross-selling.

For example Salesforce.com created IdeaExchange to engage the Digital Natives, and capture their input for product innovation. The IdeaExchange is an interactive, social networking site where users can post ideas and comments to help Salesforce.com get better. The platform builds on the habits of the Digital Natives, and offers incredible market intelligence for Salesforce.com to plan future versions and products.

Beyond product development, building an engaged user community offers tangible benefits for sales. The ongoing interactions the users have in the online community help to build a relationship with the company, and reinforce its brand. More importantly, the interactions keep the users in the know. They have a better understanding of the company, its products and its upcoming products and innovations. This knowledge helps them to advocate on behalf of the product inside the company, and even drive additional purchases. Essentially, the users start the sales process from the inside out.

Driving Leads Today

By profiling your customers, and understanding their technology habits, you can tune your marketing programs. Social media is definitely the way of the future, but it still may be too early for your customers. If you find your decision makers and users are Digital Immigrants, then focus your marketing on traditional media. Social networking may generate some traffic, but not as much as you could through public relations, search engine optimization and email marketing.

Social media is definitely the way of the future. The Digital Natives may not be sitting in the key decision making roles yet, but they will be in the next five years. As they move up the ladder they will pull their technology habits with them, and the use of social media in business decisions will become far more prevalent.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Check out the articles I am writing at Kiwi Commons

The latest one looks at what is happening with browsers. We now have many more choices.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Just When You Have Finally Mastered Google Search, Along Comes New Search Tools to Wow You or Not: Part 2 of 2

If you are a Googler like I am, and that probably means almost all of you, then you have to try Microsoft's latest attempt to grab market share away from the preeminent search tool on the web. Microsoft Bing was launched just a few weeks ago and I have been playing with of late as have so many others.

I am a huge fan of so many of the applications that Google has created. So in approaching Bing I almost wanted to experience something negative, another chance to put Microsoft down. But I can't. From the moment you start using Bing you notice how clean the interface is (those mountains sure look appealing) and how many interesting features it provides.

Like Google, Bing lets you enter a word or phrase, group words together in quotes and use '+' signs and other mathematical symbols to co
nstruct your search query.

The search results pages are clean, uncluttered and look familiar to Google users but at the same time include some pretty neat features. One is the highlight feature. Drag a mouse over a search result and a box appears to the right with the first few
sentences and information from the referenced page.

n addition, your accumulated search history appears on the left-hand side of the page. You can click on any item in the list to see the results of these previous searches.

If you click to see all of your searches to date Bing opens a search history screen that gives you a time and date stamp view of the search queries you have made and the sites you visited during each search. This is pretty cool stuff.

The image search appears similar to Google with two notable exceptions. The anecdotal clutter that accompanies each image is not on display. Instead use your mouse to scroll over an image and the image enlarges along with more information about the image and a link to similar images.

The image search results are all contained on one scrollable page as opposed to Google image results which require you to go from page to page.

Check your video search results without having to preview the entire video. Playback video image segments in Bing just by placing your mouse pointer on the image. No extra clicks required. Another neat video feature allows you to display video results in standard or wide screen formats, sort search results by video length to eliminate undesired results, and even search by source and image resolution.

The map search results are clean and easy to understand because they emulate what Google has already perfected in its search engine.

Bing includes settings for safe search but lacks the sophistication of Google's advanced search capabilities. All in all, Bing is a very satisfying search engine. Only time will tell whether it has the legs to take on Google and make a dent in its search engine dominance.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Check out my postings on Kiwi Commons

If reading my thoughts on this site aren't enough, you can also check out other articles I write. The latest can be found on Kiwi Commons.

In this article I write about the importance that President Obama places in the Internet as a communication medium and his appointment of a cyber czar to oversee policy related to securing and enhancing the web.

Look for more postings on Kiwi Commons in coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Social Media Marketing Playbook is Worth a Read if You Want to Facebook and Twitter with the Best

In testing the theory that participating in public social networks can assist you in business I am amazed to find pearls that get dropped on my plate. I am a member of Xing, a social network that on a scale of 1-10, where Facebook is a 10, Xing is a 0.5. But Xing attracts a business audience from all over the world whereas Facebook attracts everybody. One of the groups I belong to on Xing focuses on entrepreneurship. This contribution was sent to me by Dean Hua, a member of that group.

The Social Marketing Playbook is 56 pages long and packed with interesting ideas on how to use social media to help you differentiate your brand and sell to customers. I couldn't agree more with the author's opening comments, "Social marketing eliminates the middlemen, providing brands with the unique opportunity to have a direct relationship with their customers."

Enough said. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Just When You Have Finally Mastered Google Search, Along Comes New Search Tools to Wow You or Not: Part 1 of 2

Google Search has changed the way most of us do research. We put in a word or phrase and instantaneously receive a response that can contain 100s to millions of references with those words. What a challenge this has proven to be for the traditional search technologies of the past, the library, encyclopedias, and newspaper and newswire services. Even the online search subscription services from West Publishing and Lexis-Nexis have felt the impact of Google's ubiquitous research application. Other search engines like Yahoo and Ask Jeeves have found themselves playing second fiddle to Google.

As powerful a tool as Google Search is, it is also a source of great confusion and an eater of time. Unless you use the Advanced Search capability, simple search results may require you to wade through hundreds of documents of little value to your query. There is also no way to know whether the quality of the information you find represents facts or fancy. Hence the evolution of new search utilities is inevitable.

This article is part one of a two part discussion on the most recent newcomers to the Internet search scene. In this article we take a quick look at Wolfram|Alpha. In part two we will explore Microsoft Bing.

Stephen Wolfram is the mind behind Wolfram|Alpha. A scientist and mathematician, Wolfram has made the long-term goal of this venture to make knowledge accessible to anyone using state-of-the-art and science, computing models, methods and algorithms. With Wolfram|Alpha you enter a question in natural language and receive an answer.

You can try it out to see the results. I give you some examples of queries I have made:

I asked Wolfram|Alpha to "compare Canada and Australia population." It came back with results in report format that compared total population, history, value comparisons and demographics.

You can ask Wolfram|Alpha to give you information about a historical event. I asked "fall of Constantinople," (If you want to know why I picked that subject, I studied Medieval History, Islamic and Byzantine Studies in university). Here was the result:

It was nice to see that it knew what I knew and even gave me other phrases or words to look up to obtain even more background information.

This is pretty powerful stuff. But what Wolfram|Alpha appears to be very good at is solving mathematical equations and problems. Its algorithms and computing methods lend themselves to that type of query.

Here is another example. I asked Wolfram|Alpha to give answer the following problem "1283 times 56." It came back with the following:

Wolfram|Alpha describes itself as a work in progress. On its site it claims to contain 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for over 1,000 domains.

As Wolfram|Alpha develops it is attempting to systematically cover the content available from the world's reference libraries. Future plans involve expanding coverage in science, technology, economics and popular culture.

Wolfram|Alpha has attempted to create a way to enter questions in a more natural language than Google Search or other search engines. I found, however, that it was easy to confuse Wolfram|Alpha when stating a query in natural language and often had it come back with an answer that required me to rethink the way I posed the question. This left me a bit frustrated. But the more I play with this tool the more impressed I am by its potential to provide a new means of doing meaningful online research.

There's lots of online help at the Wolfram|Alpha site and I encourage you to see how you can utilize this new research tool in your businness and lives. If anything it should help your children with their math homework.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"In These Tough Economic Times" - Words that are starting to grind on my nerves

I don't know about you but it seems almost every advertisement has picked up on the tag line in the title of this article. Yes the economy has been hit by the collapse of a financial bubble built on worthless paper. Yes our governments in Canada and the United States have selectively decided to bail out some car manufacturers to save jobs while allowing jobs at dealers to disappear with little thought of a bail out for them. We have seen a contraction in trade, a drop in the value of homes, foreclosure crises for thousands of families, and many other business failures. All of this is a reflection of our capitalist system where risk is rewarded and failure is not.

So having described the "tough economic times" for the last time in this article, I would like to talk about new business models that can push us in a different direction. North America is going through a revolution. Manufacturing used to account for a large number of jobs on this continent. Not so much anymore. I remember a very wise boss of mine, Dave Ungerer, back in the late 1970s who told me that the information economy is North America's future. He was right, just a little prescient. At the time the Internet didn't exist. Computer networks were mainframe and midrange computer systems costing millions of dollars. The home computer was an Apple II, a Sinclair, or a TRS-80. If you had 64 kilobytes of RAM you were state of the art.

Today we look back at these technologies from a Mount Everest of technical advances, atop a worldwide, ubiquitous network we call the web, tying together billions of computers together with collective computing power that would have boggled the minds of those of us in the 1970s. Our way of doing business has been altered dramatically. We rely on email, probably the killer computing application of all time. We Google rather than go to the library. We more and more watch TV online. Wireline phone calls have been replaced by wireless cell technology. We chat. We twitter.

Has our collective business mindset altered with the onset of a worldwide communication network? Have we changed our business behaviours to match the collaborative power of all of this technology? The tools are in place for collective solutions, mining individuality, sharing expertise, and building the new economy. This is the silver lining of these times.

Collective Solutions

By collective don't think communism, collective farms and that ilk. Collective solutions are best represented today by natural collaboration in the form of wikis and other web tools. Collective solutions refers to collective wisdom. Google Search is a collective solution. Wolfram Alpha is the latest new knowledge answering tool to arrive on the web.

Collective wisdom can be captured in a social network designed with that purpose. Public social network sites like LinkedIn, Xing, BizNik and Partnerpedia are designed to foster networking and collaboration. Behind the firewall private social networks such as those created by Enable Consultants, a client of mine, are ideal collective knowledge gathering and sharing tools. For example, Recess, an academic social network encourages students to interact on homework assignments, teachers to meet in virtual lounges to blog, comment and discuss best practices, and mentors to share their knowledge and provide coaching to students.

Mining Individuality

What CEOs and Presidents of corporations don't know about the people they have hired to make their businesses successful is legion. People are more than their job titles. They bring hidden skills to work each day, skills that can be used to improve the business, foster camaraderie among employees, and extend the business into new areas that can lead to revenue growth. But if CEOs cannot mine the skills of their workers then their will be no gold to share.

Some companies are using public social networks to foster better understanding of their staff. Others are building private social networks with employee pages that let them share their interests outside of work including hobbies, photos, music they like and so on. I remember when I got out of school, the first company I worked for had annual meetings in Florida. In the first few years, there was always a talent show night where employees did skits, standup comedy, played instruments, jammed together and shared a bit of who they were beyond their workselves. After a few years the company stopped sponsoring these evenings. What a loss that was.

Deploying private social networks can do much more than those singular talent show nights that I experienced back then. Individual skills and interests can become valuable corporate assets.

Sharing Expertise

In the past few weeks I have been approached by an entrepreneur who has been a consultant for many years, just like me. His skills are complimentary. His skills combined with my skills creates a higher value proposition when I go calling on a prospective client. I am sure these types of meetings are happening everywhere these days. In marketing we always talk about the importance of networking. We network with former business associates over lunch. We go to association talks and meetings a few times a year. We join organizations and clubs.

The web, however, is the ultimate virtual network and sharing expertise is as simple as creating collaborative social networks where consultants can share their knowledge, both free and fee for service, and individuals and businesses seeking answers can find the experts they seek. Such collaborative social networks represent a new paradigm, a guerilla marketing challenge for traditional management consulting firms, and the coming wave.

I state this with absolute certainty because a lot of very bright people in the last few months have watched their gold-watch careers vanish as businesses have layed off them by the thousands. Many of these individuals are turning to self employment because they are finding job prospects to be slim. These individuals have thousands of years of collective expertise to share. The web medium is there for them to seize the opportunity and create a new expertise sharing model that generates revenue individually and collectively.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Twittering and Change: Harnessing New Online Technologies

I was having an interesting discussion around the Passover Seder table a few weeks ago. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are both retired teachers. They were espousing their views on the future of newspapers, Twitter, FaceBook, short messaging, and chat and trying to get their heads around today's youth. My daughter who is 24 was at the table. She is an inveterate user of the Internet, FaceBook, short messaging and chat through Windows Messenger. But to her Twitter was something she didn't get.

It is interesting how the fast pace of Internet evolution with its many communication widgets and gadgets is altering how people seek, share and express information. The future of the traditional print newspaper is being challenged. I still read two every day but I also read newspapers online and subscribe to The Huffington Post. I'm on Twitter now to see what it is all about. I have embraced social networks in the last two years after being a skeptic about their worth.

We are in a whirlwind of constant change today and keeping up with that change is not easy but understanding how young people embrace change and make it part of their lives is an important thing to realize. Youth has embraced social networking, chat, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, online information, search engines. This is how they learn and communicate. Harnessing the tools they use is a key element in any strategy to engage them. That's why I believe in the use of social networking and other Internet widgets and gadgets to reach the virtual online audience.

If you do not embrace these new applications and understand them then all you can do is express mystification when suddenly they become disruptive. I'm a great advocate of turning over rocks to see what's under them. So use your curiosity when online because the Internet world is evolving rapidly.

Today if you are not "facebooking" or "googling" or "twittering" then you are missing potential marketing opportunities.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Knowledge Sharing: How Social Networking is Changing the Face of Business

Here's an interesting quote. Author Paul Gillin states in an article that appeared in the April 6, 2009 edition of eWeek,

"Formerly, people were forced to give up their knowledge, but with social networks, people willingly give up their knowledge. the great business opportunity is behind the firewall because simple tools can be used to replace more complicated collaboration tools."

Wow! The implications in these two sentences are enormous. It represents a paradigm shift for business people. Instead of an individual employee keeping information and knowledge close to the vest, for purposes of leaping over fellow employees in the race to the top, that employee is now rewarded for spreading the knowledge wealth.

What's causing the shift? Social networking has moved from being a public forum to a private business forum, a behind the firewall phenomenon that encourages new business behaviours among employees, between employees and customers, and between employees and suppliers. Behind the firewall social networking is seen as an effective way of improving overall performance. Gartner sees the growth of this market reaching over $1 billion by 2012. Forrester predicts $1.5 billion in the same time period compared to $384 million in 2008. I think they are underestimating the market growth because Microsoft and IBM, with their SharePoint and QuickR platforms are not only building internal social networks to link their employees, they are also selling these solutions to customers around the world. And when these two giants of the industry are involved it is a pretty good indicator of where the market is going.

They are not the only ones playing in this new space. Google has created Open Social, a set of programming standards that lets any developer create applications to run on a wide range of social networking platforms.

Sabre (the travel reservation system that came out of American Airlines) has developed Cubeless, a private business network that connects its telecommuting employees around the world. Pose a question on this site and a relevance engine makes a decision on who should see it within the social network. The right answer usually comes back within an hour. That's knowledge sharing at its best.

Enable Consultants, a small Ontario company, has created 3 flavors of private social networks, a school centred application, called Recess, a not-for-profit application called Communitirooms, and a private business network called Workingrooms. Recess has been deployed in primary and middle schools as a safe social networking site for young people to use as an extension of their "bricks & mortar" classrooms.

Some vendors like Worklight are creating applications that overlay public social networks such as Facebook. WorkBook is the application and it allows an employee to pull other Facebook members behind the firewall for collaboration. Authentication is handled by the existing business security setup.

Think about the impact on sales teams as knowledge sharing and problem solving become paradigms for measuring performance success. Will companies start providing bonuses and compensation to reflect this new behaviour? I remember when I was working for a large software developer some years ago that as part of a widely distributed sales team focused on a telecommunications client, I decided to publish a newsletter. That monthly newsletter shared knowledge internally within my company and also went out to thousands of employees of my client. The knowledge sharing led to sales group collaboration, joint strategies in penetrating the account, and finally to the biggest one time sale in the history of the company. That was before behind the firewall social networking.

Imagine what we can do today. Imagine what we will be able to do tomorrow. In 2009, the year of "Yes we can," expect social networks to be instruments of change in the way business operates.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Utility of Private Social Networks – Building Better Organizations and Saving Money Too

At a company I worked with last year I was asked to look at the documenting of all of its processes. The exercise was about creating collective awareness of best practices throughout the organization. Through documentation, we would discover redundancies, modify processes and create new efficiencies.

Everyone was invited to contribute their part of the process in a collective blogging exercise. What quickly became apparent was there was “tech speak” that often caused one part of the company not to understand what the other part was talking about. I was referee while at the same time I had to cut through the jargon and create something that everyone could understand.

As bloggers made their contributions and jargon got sorted out it became apparent that a common knowledge repository was needed and an internal Wiki that had lain dormant for some time was revived and populated. Employees were encouraged to contribute to the company Wiki. The beginnings of a enterprise social network were underway.

Blogs, wikis, chat and document sharing are just a few of the tools available within the category of web software applications that we call social networking today. In an article written by Andrew Conry-Murray, entitled “Can Enterprise Social Networking Pay Off?,” he describes a number of high technology company projects where enterprise social networking is in play.

Companies like Dell have yet to try to measure the dollars and cents impact of their investments in enterprise social networking. Says Bob Pearson, a Dell VP, “It’s not like you’re creating revenue.” But Pearson is convinced that social networking will alter the way Dell works.

Another article penned by Chris Murphy describes quotes John Parkinson, CTO of TransUnion, a credit rating company, who estimates that the company has saved $2.5 million in the first five months while spending $50,000 on a social networking platform called Socialtext.
Parkinson derived the dollar savings by counting things that the company deferred from buying. He observed that brainstorming ideas across departments and groups had significantly reduced demand for new technology and outside consulting services. The need for new software tools, processing capacity and hardware dropped dramatically.

Parkinson made the decision to introduce an enterprise social network because of internal demand. TransUnion employees were requesting a Facebook site for the company. His surveys showed that more than 2/3s of TransUnion’s 2,700 employees were already on sites like Facebook and MySpace. Parkinson was concerned that sensitive data such as highly confidential credit reports might end up on these sites where it could easily be compromised. An inside-the-firewall solution seemed like the best way to go. He launched Socialtext, a platform with personal profiles, a wiki, instant messaging, a forum for posting questions and answers with ratings and polling by employees on which answers were the best.

As employees started using the network, Parkinson studied usage and soon discovered who among the employees were best at problem solving. The result - the company is experimenting by creating new roles for forum experts. “It was never very clear to us, looking in, who the authoritative sources were, who was good at solving problems,” Parkinson states. Now it is. The benefits are incalculable and Parkinson forecasts that the investment in enterprise social networking will yield between $5 and $8 million in savings in 2009.
TransUnion has just started down the path of enterprise social networking and they are realizing a significant ROI. Other companies like Dell are also just getting started. More and more businesses, not-for-profit organizations, educators and charities are realizing that private social networking brings the potential of so many benefits. Here are just a few.

1. Private social networks give organizations a ROI in all their people. Every organization has people that do not talk in meetings. They may feel intimidated or defer to more forceful personalities within the company. These are people who never put up their hand in school. But these people can be hidden gems, and although they lack the “chutzpa” to talk aloud, they have ideas and expertise. In a private social network that encourages and rewards online contributions these people can feel liberated and make contributions. Once out they can begin to be appreciated on a whole new level as they contribute their “two cents,” helping the organization to achieve its goals.

2. Many large organizations develop silos, departments that are self contained. Organizations that suffer from silos lose so much. Connections across the organziation don't happen. With private social networks organizations can break down silos. They can let interaction, knowledge sharing, and collective problem solving become the normal communication pattern throughout the organization.

3. Sales is such a competitive occupation. Traditionally compensation plans reward individual sales achievement. Cross fertilization of successful strategies through the deployment of CRM tools runs counter to this “all-for-one” sales reality. A private social network that encourages mentorship and rewards such behaviour can create winning sales teams where sales strategies are shared, and top salespeople are compensated for helping the “newbies.” This represents a significant cultural shift for the normal sales organization. It means new compensation plans that reward both individual sales achievement and collective knowledge sharing contributions to develop overall team success.

4. It is clear that with the advent of Web 2.0 applications, the relationship between customers and suppliers is changing. One can describe the new model as being “customer web-centered.” It has always been true that it is easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to recruit a new one. Hence the relationship with existing customers is something that private social networking can address. Through a private social network, customers can be invited into online communities. These communities may include other customers with similar challenges. Communities can become great listening posts for organizations to learn about common customer problems. They can be great places to do collective sales pitches.

5. Private social networks begin with individuals creating profiles. Profiles are great ways to discover hidden talents. We tend to pigeonhole people by job title but most of us are much more than our jobs. For example I write music and do orchestration when I am not working with clients. People in the accounting department or in shipping may also enjoy music or play instruments. This type of discovery can pay huge dividends in improving morale within an organization. It can even impact the bottom line when you find out that someone is experimenting with open source software application development at home and has come up with a new widget or gadget that can be shared with others in the organization with similar interests, leading to who knows what.

Collaboration, discovery, knowledge sharing, collective success, communication, fun and individual recognition are what social networking is all about. Whether for profit or not, private social networks can give an organization a distinct competitive advantage in both bad and good economic times.

A pilot project is an inexpensive way to test the waters. As John Parkinson noted in his implementation at TransUnion, $50,000 spent on a social networking platform, yielded a $2.5 million saving in less than 5 months and an estimated $5 to $8 million in total savings just in the first year. That’s a lot of savings for such a small investment.