Monday, September 29, 2008

Think Social Media isn't applicable within your Organisation? MI6 disagrees

I frequently hear those within bureaucratic, often governmental organisations saying that social media holds no value to them. My response; wrong. No successful organisation can exist in the absence of strong customer relationships. The benefits afforded by social media stem precisely from its ability to create two-way dialogue. Organisations must create an on-going conversation with the customer in order to ensure that their product or service offerings remain relevant. That is not to say that social media is only applicable to commercial organisations. Even non-commercial organisations are turning to social media to reach their 'customers', the results of which may be surprising to some.

Still not convinced? MI6 and the Foreign Office seem to be. The Guardian recently reported that MI6 has begun to use Facebook advertising to promote positions as International Information Officers. Clearly, this governmental branch has recognised the position of the social media as the environment most familiar to its target 'market'. Having traditionally employed its operatives from the best British universities, Facebook advertising is a logical first step towards conversing with its target audience. Similarly, the Foreign Office has encouraged blogging as a means of reaching out to their target audience, whilst presumably implementing the technologies as a means of appearing less mechanistic.

Social media can be successfully implemented in most organisations. In order to do so however, these organisations must reject the unsubstantiated notion that social media can only be effectively implemented within commercial ventures. This assumption is false. The last few years have seen the creation of the 'net generation'; a social group more at home with technology than at any other point in time. These individuals will demand greater accessibility to the organisations which affect our every day lives. Herein lies the beauty of the social media; whilst your organisation may not effectively implement each of the platforms generally grouped under the umbrella term Web 2.0, certain systems will invariably add value to your operations. For example, blogging as demonstrated by the FCO blogs illustrates a degree of interest in conversing with your target audience. These small steps each constitute an attempt to get closer to the end user. As traditional marketing platforms such as print and televisual advertising become incerasingly less effective whilst simultaneously becoming more expensive, the social media clearly represents the most viable option for conversing efficiently with the target audience.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Should Facebook fear the backlash against its latest Incarnation?

I found this article today, and although I agree with some of Qualman's arguments, there are several facts that I would dispute. Firstly, the article mentions that the majority of the criticism is raised within Facebook itself. Although this is a strategy which I have frequently encouraged, the article seems to assume the position that these individuals are simply venting their frustrations in Facebook groups because there is nowhere else for them to do so. This is incorrect. These individuals could instead vent their thoughts about the new Facebook on a third party website. Clearly, as a greater number of comments are made outside of the organisation's domain, the likelihood of the organisation gleaning an insight into the consumer perspective diminishes. Conversely, I would suggest that these users are instead giving the organisation a chance to redeem themselves; an opportunity to tap a free reservoir of consumer opinion stemming from user loyalty towards the organisation. Facebook must recognise that power now lies with the consumer; the likelihood of consumers simply 'making do' with a platform that fails to meet their needs is incredibly low. Although the factor of 'lock-in' will invariably influence consumer action (consider the prerequisite information requirements, and the time taken to suitably construct the profile page), social network turnover levels appear to be reasonably high. As such, assuming that loyal users will simply endure facilities that do not meet their needs seems an unviable organisational strategy.

Qualman relates the Facebook update to changes in supermarket layout, however I would suggest one major difference. Supermarkets generally use statistical data to deliver a shopping experience designed to maximise efficiency. This is not the case with Facebook. Users will invariably differ in terms of preferred page design, content and theme, and as such none of these factors should be forced upon the consumer. Clearly, innovation is an absolute imperative; sites such as MySpace have learned to their detriment that failing to innovate will see their market share diminish. It is however my opinion that these updates should be voluntary, and not an obligatory update over which the user has no say whatsoever.

The backlash against Facebook is understandable, yet the response from the organisation frustrates me. Clearly, the update has caused significant distaste, yet the organisation is not listening to the 'market research' which has been produced by this user movement. The organisation must recognise that as consumer perceptions of successful outcomes diminish, the likelihood of these individuals offering their opinions to the organisation similarly diminishes. These users will post their comments elsewhere if they think that a third party will more adequately address their needs. My personal opinion is that if the formula works, don't break it. As previously mentioned, whilst innovation is absolutely critical, these should be developed and voluntarily offered through the organisation. It should definately not be forced upon those that define the brand.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can Consumer Patriotism exist in the Current Financial Climate?

I read the following post earlier this afternoon after hearing that the FCO are actively employing blogging as a means of reaching out to the general public. I thought the article was interesting; traditionally people are happy to pay a premium price for domestic products based on the assumption that it helps protect the local economy. As people become ever more cautious about how their money is spent however, I imagine that the majority of purchase decisions will instead be influenced, in the main, by price. It is becoming less likely that consumers will pay a premium for these products simply because they are locally sourced.

As consumers buy fewer domestically produced products, I imagine that domestic organisations will be increasingly required to truly warrant the reason for their being. It will become increasingly imperative for organisations to offering real added value, or face a mass exodus from the business towards foreign firms. For a number of years, I have been convinced that both Britain and the US are quickly losing ground to foreign organisations. As we progress ever further into the 21st Century, both British and American organisations seem to have forgotten that the key to success is to truly realise the customer's needs. Conversely, foreign firms appear to have become significantly better at recognising precisely what the customer demands at a price significantly lower than that offered by domestic firms.

As production and innovation are increasingly undertaken by foreign organisations, it is becoming increasingly important that domestic firms take a long hard look at their current position. Are they really as innovative, efficient and cost effective as foreign firms? It is incredibly naive to assume that domestic consumers will continue to buy locally simply to protect local jobs. Organisations must recognise that the current financial crisis will challenge this traditional assumption. In order to remain competitive, the organisation must ensure that it continues to offer real innovation, that recognises the true needs and wants of the customer.

read more digg story

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Marketing Mashup

I have a suggestion for a service which I believe could be quite profitably. The service should be run in collaboration with a map application service. My suggestion is that every time a user searches for a particular location; e.g. a club, bar, or restaurant, a panel alongside the search results should indicate the number of patrons intending to visit the establishment on a particular day. For example, if I were to decide to attend a particular nightclub on a given evening, I would go onto the service, search for the venue's name, and click something that indicates that I intend to be there on that particular evening.
As the number of service users increases, the application has the potential to offer each user the opportunity to gauge how many other people are intending to visit a particular establishment on a particular evening. With clubs for example, an empty establishment can ruin an evening, whereas an overly full one can have similar effects. It may also provide an indication of whether a restaurant is likely to be full on a given evening. Conversely, it could simultaneously be used by businesses to gauge the number of people that may attend their business on a particular evening, thus helping them with staffing level issues etc.

From a revenue perspective, advertisements could be sold alongside these search results, working in a similar manner to how sponsored links currently offer companies marketing opportunities. I would suggest that the advertisements in this case would be more establishment specific. This may afford a greater ability to generate more focused revenue. I would recommend monitoring IP addresses to ensure that the same individual is not clicking constantly, as might be the case with competitors etc, simply to alter either their own, or their competitions attendance levels.

What would be important in this particular instance would be the creation of critical mass. Once that is achieved, despite possible service replicability, users would invariably flock to the platform with the highest number of unique users. I would be interested in hearing any thoughts concerning the above.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Should Organisations encourage Negative User Generated Content?

Organisations should consider negative content as a valuable asset. These comments represent the raw emotions of customers clearly aggrieved by the practices or products of the organisation. Whilst such content clearly has the ability to damage organisational brand equity, if suitable action to address the grievance is made then negative feelings towards the brand may be converted into positivity; most notably through organisational actions which are perceived to be more acceptable. Such content must be located in order to allow the organisation to benefit from the information contained therein.
Whilst it is imperative that organisations monitor what is said about it online, clearly it is impossible to locate each and every negative comment made on the internet. This should not be used as an excuse for failing to try. The use of reputation aggregators, such as Google, alongside more specialised platform specific search facilities, such as Technorati, provide an insight into organisational brand perceptions on the internet. Conversely, a number of organisations offer proprietary technology capability of identifying online brand image. Both strategies have their pros and cons; organisations must consider their specific needs in order to identify the strategy most applicable to them.
Conversely, the organisation can offer these platforms themselves. Clearly, by offering connectivity enhancing services such as blogs, forums, and discussion groups themselves, the organisation increases the likelihood that the customer will create negative content within a forum easily accessible to the organisation. The more visible the complaint is to the organisation, the greater the opportunity to address the issue. Although this does not negate the need for organisations to continue monitoring the environment, by offering these facilities the customer has a point of contact through which to raise their issues with the organisation. Such actions are only likely where the perceived likelihood of success is high. If customers consider the likelihood of successful redress to be low, then it is unlikely that they will use these systems. Herein lies the importance of transparency.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Web 2.0 Exposition, New York City

On Thursday, 18th September 2008, I was fortunate enough to gain entrance to the first Web 2.0 exposition to be held in New York City. The event, which has been held for a number of years in California, was my first experience of a trade fair. Although the event was clearly targetted at those involved in the trade, I was intrigued by the number of organisations present whose sole business was the provision of web 2.0 technology. The experience allowed me to gauge the acceptability of new media technologies in current business. Although I missed several of the key note speeches held, I was able to experience several presentations conducted by organisations in attendance.

One of the event's most intriguing presentations was held by Microsoft. The booth introduced Microsoft's Surface device; a computer resembling a coffee table. The device, a touch screen personal computer that emphasises community, fascinated me. I was particularly interested in the potential for the device. I observed the machine's ability to 'read' objects placed upon the screen. Examples included the ability to read bank cards, pre-programmed objects, and doctor's registration cards. A particular example involved a shopping cart application. Users could shop at a given outlet, and place their card on the table top to have the sum deducted from their account.
With a price tag of around $12,500 I was a little confused about who the device was targetted at. Although the product was clearly concerned with community creation, the majority of the functions explored offered little functionality beyond what users are currently capable of achieving through more traditional technologies. To suggest that there is not a market for the device is invariably naive. The success of the Wii clearly illustrates the potential profitability of community, however the current price tag for the product will limit the number of individuals able to purchase a unit. Microsoft must ensure that the product offers sufficient innovation to warrant the expense incurred to purchase such a device.

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The Position of the Conversation

The importance of conversing with one's customers is unignorable. As the ability for consumers to create becomes ever easier through the social media, the importance of 'listening' increases similarly. Failure to recognise the electronic contributions of customers can result in negative repercussions; for example, discussions identifying product deficiencies can result in increased levels of negative electronic word of mouth. Failure to identify these discussions will reduce the likelihood that deficiencies will be adequately resolved by the organisation.

Effectively recognising user generated content will allow the organisation to offer suitable redress following a perceived service failing. Whilst negative word of mouth will more often than not result following service failings, appropriately resolving the customer's grievance may conversely result in positive word of mouth. Further, such recognition affords the organisation the opportunity to more successfully satisfy broader customer needs. In more extreme circumstances, such conversations may even assume the role of the organisation's Research and Development department. Conversations between end users may offer product suggestions which the organisation had not previously considered. Clearly, such benefits are only available to the proactive organisation; i.e. the organisation that recognises the customer's position. By recognising the position of the conversation in service provision, the organisation is significantly more suited to exploit an enhanced relationship with the consumer.

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The Future of Marketing

For the past four months, I have been preparing a dissertation to conclude my 2007 MSc in Marketing Management. The dissertation, which examines the effects of the social media on an organisation's brand equity, was completed and submitted on the 5th September, 2008. Since early 2008, I have undertaken extensive research in examination of the effects of the social media, focusing my investigations upon four main platforms; blogs, reputation aggregators, e-communities and social networks. In order to develop an appropriate understanding of each of the social media platforms named above, I have decided to create a presence in each. Having never blogged before, this is new territory for me!

Over the next few months, I will be looking for a job within an organisation that encourages and facilitates new media marketing. In my opinion, traditional media is quickly becoming obsolete. It is no longer effective to 'shout' at huge audiences through televisual or print advertisements. As the cost of such advertising channels increases, the reach thereof is simultaneously decreasing. New technologies allow consumers to skip advertisements in their entirety, further reducing the effectiveness of such channels. This model is unviable for long term success. New media, such as blogs, reputation aggregators, e-communities and social networks represent new business thinking.
For several years, the social media has eroded information asymmetries. As the consumer's ability to create information increases, power shifts away from the organisation. Connected consumers are in effect empowering one another. The content created as a corollary has the power to influence social action. By participating in these conversations candidly and transparently, the organisation can gain unprecedented access to the thoughts and opinions of the end user. Clearly, recognition of the social media as a viable marketing channel is imperative. Organisations that neglect these channels risk jeopardising a valuable resource that has the potential to enhance product offerings by giving the customer exactly what they want. I see this as the future of marketing.

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