Friday, December 4, 2009

Social Media Infatuation

I've always been fascinated by comments in the social media; in particular, those comments which thank the author for sharing their insight with the community at large. The language used within many of these 'thank you' comments often takes me aback, with the author frequently praising the writer of the blog for their intelligence and insight. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with thanking someone for sharing their expert thoughts and opinions in the public domain, it is the manner in which this is so often carried out that I find interesting.

I believe that it was in Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody where the idea of technological infactuation was first introduced to me. Shirky chronicles the rise of ICQ; the instant messaging tool which later became AOL Instant Messenger. The developers of the tool, which achieved massive levels of interest from an early stage despite minimal investment in marketing, quickly saw a number of its users become obsessed. A number of these individuals even went so far as to openly declare their love of the platform in letters sent to the founders. Technological infactuation is an interesting premise; one that I feel is, in a roundabout way, applicable to the social media.

When I read a comment on a blogpost which thanks the author for their insight in a manner similar to that described above, I am often left with the feeling that the comment's publisher is suffering from Social Media Infatuation. What is Social Media Infatuation (SMI)? SMI in my eyes represents a user's apparent fixation with the content offered to the online community by participants in the social media; a particularly common occurrence amongst the writings of the more prominent social commentators. This is often evident through the manner in which the recipient engages with the information received. Frequently, the comments offered up by SMI sufferers fail to advance the conversation in any meaningful way. Whether these comments unnecessarily bloat the social content is arguably a matter of opinion, however I would suggest that SMI does have the capacity to devalue the contributions of sufferers. In particular, users which claim that a single post has changed their lives are surely overexagerating. Oftentimes though, the content produced in entirely genuine.

Praise is great, but remember that the social media is about the sharing of thoughts and the subsequent development of knowledge. If you want to really show the blog's author your appreciation, then why not enhance the conversation by delivering your own insights. This seems a far more appropriate means of thanking a social media enthusiast in my opinion. Maybe I'm being slightly cynical, but hey, should be a good way to incite debate following an extended absence from TLR blog!

What are your thoughts on Social Media Infatuation? Is it warranted? Love to get your thoughts on this.


P.S. It's good to be back!

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Six: Small Business SEO

Whilst not directly relevant to the social media, a strong understanding of SEO can, when implemented alongside a well thought out online presence, help to enhance the overall visibility of the organisation. Still considered by many to be a form of 'black magic', SEO has the capacity to significantly raise the number of leads obtained through a website by helping to ensure that the site in question places highly in the organic search results returned by the major search engines. Whilst appropriate development of an SEO strategy is an ongoing process, there are a handful of simple techniques which, if approached thoughtfully, can significantly raise the visibility of your site.

Be Content in your Content
Intelligent implementation of SEO knowledge can give a site a much needed boost in overall search engine visibility. Careful consideration of the site's composition; both in terms of content and design, can help search engines to more appropriately categorise the site. By ensuring that themes and subjects are clearly conveyed, the likelihood of the site appearing for relevant search queries increases significantly.

When developing content, it is important to understand those keywords that are most relevant to the business. Keywords are the basis for sound SEO, and without an understanding of how these words and phrases influence the business, it becomes near impossible to develop appropriate content. When developing a list of business relevant keywords, be aware of customer perceptions of both the organisation and the brand. Ask yourself whether internal and external brand perceptions match up. If not, then arguably the organisation should use external brand perceptions as the basis for its keyword selection; after all, it is almost certainly these keywords that will enable the customer to actually locate the business.

The Power of Keywords
Tools such as the Keyword Tool from Google AdWords enable search volumes for user defined words and phrases to be established whilst returning a list of additional keywords that may be relevant to the business. As an aside, I would recommend installing Google Analytics; a useful website reporting tool which can help to esablish how users have located the site. This tool can provide a number of useful insights into the site's performance, at no additional cost to the organisation. Each of these tools will empower the organisation to locate the keywords that are both relevant to the business, and likely to draw attention from the customer. These insights will also help in the subsequent development of a PPC campaign, should the organisation choose to engage in search engine marketing in the future.

Optimising the Site
By establishing a number of business relevant keywords, the organisation can begin to optimise the site. Through appropriate incorporation of keywords in both the content and the page's construction, the website's author can help the search engine spidering software to categorize the content of the page. Keywords should appear naturally in the text. As these keywords should naturally represent the business in which the organisation is involved, content should be developed to honestly and openly inform the user. Whilst this process will almost certainly occur organically, inserting the most relevant keywords into the page's composition is likely to prove more mechanical. Despite many of the major search engines attributing less significance now to page elements such as the meta description than was once the case, it is still advisable to include the keywords in the URL and the meta tags; including the meta description, the page titles and the meta keywords. Whilst these elements will not guarantee front page performance for the site, they will almost certainly facilitate the categorisation thereof.

SEO and the Social Media
The development of a social media presence is without doubt one of the more advisable methods for drawing attention to the organisation, though as we have seen over the course of the past week, resource constraints can impede an organisation's capacity to fully realise this goal. As social media best practice dictates that content should remain fresh, relevant and informative, producing social content is actually one of the more obvious means of improving site performance. Each of the major search engines associates regular content creation with site quality, thus the more regularly a page is updated, the greater the quality attributed by the search engines. As I suggested in opening, when employed alongside an ongoing social media strategy, intelligent SEO can help the organisation to achieve significant search visibility.

Is SEO unethical? That's clearly a subject for debate; a post for another day perhaps. What I would suggest though is that SEO is, by design, a means of drawing attention to information of relevance. Each of the major search engines has evolved to counter those more questionable SEO tactics, penalising the websites of those deemed to be 'gaming the system'. Whatever your stance on SEO, a simple awareness of how your site is composed can significantly increase the visibility of your site.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Five; Online Awareness

When initiating a social presence, it is important that the organisation posesses a degree of knowledge about online perceptions of both the brand and the industry. The development of an uninformed strategy may result in the inappropriate allocation of resources, which in turn will almost certainly result in social media failure. This is true of both large and small organisations, and online research should comprise one of the core elements of any ongoing social media strategy. Whilst the task may appear daunting at first glance, many tools exist which have been designed to facilitate social awareness, allowing social media strategists to draw value from the 'cesspool of misinformation' that is the Internet.

Navigating the Maze
When looking to draw an understanding from the content available online, it is first necessary to recognize where references to both the brand and the industry are appearing. As user generated content causes the Internet to expand, the capacity of an individual or team to manually monitor this information would appear to be greatly impeded. In order to successfully navigate this content, references to specific terms need to be identified in the online sphere. As with traditional content, the easiest way to do this is to initiate a search. Whilst the prospect of monitoring each of the terms relevant to the business may seem like a significant undertaking, the ease with which specific phrases and keywords can be identified is surprisingly easy.

Whilst many of the generic search tools such as Google and MSN Live Search establishing the mood of relevant online conversations, their scope is often too broad. More specialised social media specific tools will almost certainly enable the organisation to glean a more accurate, and digestable, insight into the online conversation. Many of the more commonly used social search tools offer an insight into blogged and microblogged conversations.

Searching the Sphere
Google Blog Search and Technorati are two of the more commonly used blog searching facilities. Enabling users to search the blogosphere for terms relevant to both the organisation and the industry, these tools represent an efficient means of trawling user generated content for information of interest; whether this interest be positive or negative. The incorporation of RSS functionality means that users can have search results automatically delivered to their browsers. Whilst this functionality does not exclude the need to digest the content, it is often a good indication of online opinions at a given point in time. For those that continue to monitor the results obtained on an ongoing basis, these tools can also help to highlight blogs with a particular interest in either the organisation or their products, thereby illustrating social commentators of organisational significance; a useful insight in anyone's eyes. For those looking to obtain an insight into microblog conversations, Twitter Search offers similar functionality for obtaining an insight into the Twitter platform.

The Power of Insight
Whilst search tools such as those described above do not replace the need to manually scan the content for material that may damage the organisation, they can provide a number of useful insights into important brand perception considerations; including level of brand visibility, degree of brand relevancy, and the context in which the organisation's name is appearing. Used in conjunction with tools such as Google Alerts, a service which delivers an alert to the recipient's email to advise of new content containing a set word or keyphrase, the organisation is far better prepared to proactively develop an appropriate social media strategy.

There will invariaby be those who question the need for the small organisation to monitor the social media. This attitude is naive. Attempts to enter the social media will almost certainly draw comments from the community. Unfortunately for the organisation, the opposite is not true; an organisational absence from the social media does not necessarily mean that conversations concerning the brand will not apper online. Assume the worst. Monitor the social media and shape your strategy accordingly.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Four; Bringing Attention to the Presence

Whilst social bookmarking and micro blogging are two of the more practical community enhancing tools available to small businesses facing resource constraints, these efforts will prove meaningless if the organisation is not brought to the attention of consumers. As these businesses will, more often than not, lack a strong recognizable brand, the onus is upon the organisation to direct attention towards themselves. This is often easier said than done, and with ever increasing numbers of organisations vying for the attention of the consumer, the process quickly becomes resource intensive; if carried out ineffectively.

The New Media
One of the greatest assets of the social media lies within the very communities that comprise its number. As a relatively young media, knowledge surrounding this area is still very much the subject of debate. Community based knowledge development is common, and even the most prolific of social commentators are willing to both educate and be educated on the societal implications of the platforms unfolding before our very eyes. Relevant, informative contributions are actively encouraged, and many of the most popular social tools have incorporated comprehensive feedback systems so that two way conversation is facilitated.

Developing Together
How do user generated contributions help to drive awareness; by enabling users to demonstrate their insight into a given subject. As many articles within the social media actively promote community based knowledge development through comment, retweet and reply functionality, the introduction of useful insights help to enhance the debate instigated by the original post. As these social contributions routinely encourage content ownership, replying to the posts of others can represent one of the more viable methods of establishing oneself, or one's organisation, as a field expert.

Promoting the Presence
Admittedly, resource constraints can restrict an organisation's capacity to actively go out into the community and to establish itself as an expert. As such, the need to efficiently monitor the online environment is of paramount importance; a theme which I will be examining later this week. Whilst these constraints may prevent the organisation from establishing a presence to the extent which they might otherwise achieve, we should remember that strategic, well thought out efforts to engage the community will be acknowledged. Tools such as Twitter have, as previously discussed, enabled the community to draw value from the tweets contained therein. Retweets and other methods of echoing sentiment have enabled the community to decide where value does and doesn't lie. By ensuring the creation and distribution of relevant content, these tools have effectively enabled the organisation to employ the community as an extension of their own promotional strategy. Not bad given that all parties have gained from the exchange.

As awareness builds, the community may begin to enhance the organisation's own promotional efforts. As such, the importance of directing attention quickly becomes obvious. Thing is, this can only be carried out effectively if the organisation is aware of what's actually going on out there... Thanks for reading.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Three; Microblogging

Blogs are a fantastic means of engaging the community. Enabling the author to regularly convey messages to an audience of interested recipients, the blog has quickly become one of the tools most readily associated with the social media. As most bloggers will tell you, whilst the blog has the capacity to help you achieve significant levels of recognition in your chosen field, the time and effort required to generate attention is a significant obligation. In order to gain and retain the attention of the online community, the blog must become a living breathing entity that develops progressively. As we discussed earlier in the week, our worsening economy has ensured that the importance of efficient resource allocation is paramount. As resources are increasingly diverted towards ensuring the simple day to day survival of the business, can the creation and maintenance of a blog really be justified? Perhaps not in the traditional sense…

Interest in micro blogging has grown significantly since the development of Twitter in 2006. The premise is simple; users post microblogs of 140 characters in length in response to the question 'What are you doing?'. As interest in Twitter has grown, the community has taken the development thereof upon themselves, shifting the focus of the posts from 'What are you doing?' to 'What will benefit the Community?'. This subtle shift is most notably visible through the number of tweets highlighting external articles of interest for the perusal of the community.

Headlining the Social Media
Though seemingly less immersive at first glance, micro blog posts have proven their value time and again in the few years since the introduction of the format. Intelligent use of the 140 character limit has led to the service adopting a ‘headline’ type appearance, whereby users post a miniature URL alongside a post designed to draw the attention of users. Used in collaboration with more standardized 140 character ‘tweets’; the Twitter term for a post, headlines have facilitated the sharing of knowledge throughout the community. Through this format, micro blogging has quickly enabled the proactive organization to establish itself as an authority within a given field.

Micro Blogging for the Business
How can small businesses adopt these practices? Simple. Small businesses can use micro blogging to highlight areas of both organisational and industry level interest. The number of these tweets needn't be excessive, perhaps ten to twenty in volume per day, and can simply draw attention to both internal and external sources of information; whether these be blog posts, articles or industry reports. The beauty of the tweet is that the organisation needn't feel obliged to produce significant volumes of new content on a regular basis. Whilst the production of new content should always be encouraged, for those organisations with limited resources, micro blogging can represent a more viable means of regularly engaging the community. Alongside these headlines, the organisation can insert tweets relevant to the business, thereby enhancing business familiarity whilst firmly associating the organisation with a specific product category.

Whilst social bookmarking and microblogging have the capacity to enhance feelings of community surrounding the organisation, before any of this is possible attention must be drawn to the existence of the organisation, and that's the theme for tomorrow's post.

Thanks for reading.


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The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Two; Social Bookmarking

Yesterday, I discussed the small organisation and the social media, explaining that many proactive entrepreneurs may actually be causing greater harm than good to their organisation by devoting too many of their resources towards engaging the conversation. Though admirable, the development of an emersive social media presence can require a significant investment of both time and resources; both of which have become scarce as the economy has worsened. Should smaller businesses be discouraged from engaging the social media in favour of more business crucial functions, such as production and distribution? Again, this is likely to be debatable. As the ease with which a social presence can be created increases though, the opportunity for even the smallest of organisations to engage their customers through these tools and platforms rises similarly. They just need to plan their presence strategically.

Forget the Social Media Checklist!
As I discussed several months back, there is no such thing as a social media checklist; organisations should simply adopt those tools and platforms most appropriate to their individual needs. Blogs, microblogs and fan pages are only worth the investment if your customers are actively engaging these tools themselves, or if it is probable that they will adopt them at some stage in the future. Those that advise that a blog is imperative, or that a Facebook fanpage cannot be ignored are unrealistic; and given the current importance of resource allocation in the workplace, these suggestions can in fact result in negative repercussions. Is there a place for these tools in small businesses? Without question. What i'm trying to emphasise here though, is that these tools are never obligatory. Small businesses need to be intelligent about the tools which they select.

Community Development and Social Bookmarking
There are several simple steps which the smaller organisation can take in order to establish a sense of community around their products and brands; a number of which will be examined over the coming days here at the Lovable Rogue blog. The most obvious first step for community development involves implementing tagging buttons at the bottom of webpages of interest. Pages that provide an insight into either the organisation's products or industry may prove interesting to the customer base, some of whom may wish to share the content with their friends and acquaintances.

Sharing is Caring
The simple inclusion of a StumbleUpon, Digg or button can quickly introduce an element of interactivity to even the most basic of webpages. With tools such as the fantastic AddThis from Clearspring, the introduction of comprehensive social bookmarking functionality has never been easier. Whilst platforms such as these facilitate the development of community around the organisation, the resources required to maintain these functions are comparatively low. In fact, the organisation's sole obligation is to ensure that content on the site remains informative and relevant to the user. With all things considered though, this is a goal towards which the organisation should already be working.

Social Bookmarking is but one of the methods for establishing an online community around a small business. Tomorrow's post will examine microblogging, highlighting that whilst your small organisation may not have time to actively engage in the creation of a comprehensive blog, the introduction of microblogging platforms such as Twitter may offer an alternative solution. Thanks for reading.


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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media

We are all aware of the critical importance of creating an active presence in the conversation. As our society becomes increasingly interconnected; a result of ever more engaging communications technologies, the need for organisations to create a presence within the resultant conversation has quickly emerged as a vital prerequisite for contemporary business success. Discussions concerning the social media presence have, to date, examined the issue primarily from the perspective of the large organisation. Whilst these online discussions provide a fantastic resource from which to craft an organisational social media strategy for the larger firm, time and resource constraints will almost certainly prevent the smaller organisation from adopting such an immersive strategy. It's time to consider the little guy.

The Social Obligation
Anyone who has developed an active presence within the social media will recognise the significant investment of time and effort required to succeed within the field. Efforts to remain relevant are ongoing, and those that fail to constantly engage their audience can find their subsequent efforts significantly affected. Such efforts often represent a full time commitment, particularly where brand monitoring efforts are concerned, and many social media commentators suggest that creating a presence is more an obligation than an option for those looking to protect their brand online. In the past, noteworthy bloggers such as Jacob Morgan have made the assessment that organisations need to consider employing their own Social Media Department in order to appropriately address the issue; a sentiment mirrored by many others in the field. The difficulties associated with creating an organisational presence raises the obvious concern; what happens to those organisations that hardly have the resources to spare?

Allocating Success
As the economy continues to worsen, owners of small businesses are increasingly having to make life altering decisions concerning the allocation of resources, both human and material. Many such organisations scarcely have the resources available to continue operating efficiently, let alone to engage the customer in conversation. With the introduction of the conversation as a crucial element for business success, I fear that many proactive entrepreneurs will engage the social media in an attempt to remain relevant within the minds of their customers. In the absense of suitably available resources, such an approach, whilst admirable, may prove catastrophic to the business, causing attention to be diverted away from the core actions required to continue driving the business forward.

It's Social Media; Only Smaller...!
Can smaller organisations afford to ignore the social media in favour of more specific action? Well, that's an interesting topic for debate. We should remember though that the social media has enabled organisations to engage the customer like never before. As these tools becoming ever more user friendly, the ease of establishing a degree of community based presence rises proportionately. Over the coming days, I will be examining a number of the solutions available to smaller businesses, emphasising that the social media need not detract from the day to day running of the business. The first of these will examine Social Bookmarking.

In the mean time, I would love to hear of your experiences of small businesses employing the social media, and how these have affected their operations; whether these experiences were positive or negative. For now, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back here later in the week.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Inefficient Technology and its Impacts

One of the things that annoys me more than anything is inefficiency. Both human and mechanical, inefficiencies at any stage along a process can prove devasting, restricting the ability of others to successfully complete their own tasks either partially or entirely. As competition for business becomes increasingly demanding, minor inefficiencies can represent the difference between success and failure; hardly encouraging given the current state of the economy. Admittedly, both human and mechanical inefficiencies will on occasions present themselves along the production line. This is undeniable. The issue becomes more problematic though when our dependency upon technologies increases; and let's face it, increase our dependency we have.

A Fatal Error has Occurred...
As society becomes increasingly interconnected, our reliance upon technology increases disproportionately. With every passing day, more and more of us come to depend upon these technologies; both socially and as tools of our trade. As such, the potential impact of technology induced downtime becomes a terrifying prospect. Efficiency quickly becomes a corollary of whether or not these tools decide to behave. Unfortunately, many of us are only too aware of the frequent limitations imposed by technologies in the workplace. 'Unexpected' and even 'Fatal' errors are becoming seemingly more common, and whilst these, often minor issues, are easily resolved by those of us with a degree of technical knowledge, for others, such errors can present a far more damaging threat. Time is quickly eroded, either through diminished technological performance or failed attempts to resolve the issue, and the repercussions to the team's subsequent performance is often dramatically affected. Somewhat disconcerting given the importance of maintaining a high level of performance.

Winning back Efficiency
As humans, we are fallible enough. I fear that as our focus turns increasingly towards technology, the inevitable outcome is ever diminishing levels of efficiency. Sure, many of these technologies are directly responsible for gains in efficiency made in recent years, but as our reliance upon technology causes manufacturers to automate an ever greater proportion of the business process, our ability to remain efficient in the event of system errors is dramatically affected.

What are the implications for the social media? Debatable. Clearly though, as these tools become ever more ingrained into our society, possible repercussions become potentially more devastating; as it stands, downtime on platforms such as Twitter is widely reported. Whilst the negative impacts of Twitter downtime are arguably less damaging than those resulting from downtime to productivity based tools, our dependence upon many social media tools as network facilitators raises an interesting concern. If we lose our access to these instruments, even for a brief time, we effectively become detached from our contacts. Arguably, the impact of such an occurence will depend upon the strength of your social network, but again, as technology advances to cater ever more involving demands, the level of risk will inevitably rise similarly.

What's your take on technology induced inefficiencies? We all love technology, but are we becoming overly reliant upon these tools? Have you ever been affected by social media related downtime, either in a social or professional context? As always, I would love to get your take on the above.


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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Media; It's just a Conversation!

Conversation has been a staple of society since the dawn of civilization. Whilst the manner in which conversations have been conducted within this time has been both diverse and varied; from hieroglyphics and smoke signals, to text messages and emails, the purpose remains constant; to advance the interaction between the sender and the recipient of the information. Through both verbal and written engagements, the conversation is the result of thousands of years of human interaction; a skill which some of us have become all too efficient at in recent years! Social media is simply the latest iteration of the conversation; there's nothing more to it.

Remembering the Revolution
Whilst we marketers and social media enthusiasts are quick to give deep and meaningful reasons for these engagements, the real logic for many a presence within the social media is simply to enhance the reach of the traditional conversation. This is hardly surprising, particularly when we consider that the term 'Web 2.0' is more often associated with a social revolution than it is with a technological one. Although the technologies which have been developed as a result of this revolution have the capacity to facilitate communications, it is important to remember that these developments are a result of societal demands, and not vice versa. Sure, these tools have enabled users to converse with a far wider audience, but at the end of the day, the power of the conversation rules. The social media just happens to move with it.

Joining the Conversation
So, if the social media is a conversation, then why are so many organisations still so reluctant to participate therein? Imagine how the customer would react if she entered a store looking for information, only to be turned away as a result of company policy preventing staff to customer interaction. This is a good way to quickly alienate the customer. Fortunately, such a situation is absurd, and hopefully these occurences are rare in the real world. It does surprise me though that many organisations are still determined to detach themselves from the online conversation. When conversations concerning brands and services will almost certainly exist online, absence from the online sphere will merely ensure that these organisations lack the capacity to engage therein. Such a strategy will not simply prevent the organisation from interacting with the cutomer; it will potential allow the competition to define the brand as they see fit. This is clearly a potentially damaging prospect.

So, to all those people who say that the social media is some complex organisational tool demonstrative of a firm's capacity to operate in a technology driven market, it's not. The truth is that it's actually a lot more simple than that. The social media is a conversation, and that's why, whether you are a business or an individual, you need to be involved. Thanks for reading.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Collaboration is Good! Right...?!

Collaboration is good, right? Absolutely. Developments in Internet technologies instigated by shifting demands at the societal level, have facilitated the sharing of knowledge and resources. 'Peer production'; a corollary of said explosion of participation, has quickly led to a notable power shift; one in which the incumbent organisation is quickly losing ground to the more nimble 'Every Man'. With an enhanced capacity to innovate and to create value, the consumer has gradually become a source of potential threat. Indeed, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams advise that these market fluctuations have quickly rewritten the laws of business. The new rules of engagement? Quite simple really; organisations need to harness the new collaborative capabilities of the Web 2.0 era; or face ruin as a result of their ignorance.

Sorry, We are Closed
As discussed in Wednesday's post, most organisations are closed in nature. As such, they are often reluctant to share the information which they believe allows them to remain competitive. Often, the benefits of encouraging an open culture are not immediate obvious; on the contrary, such a stance is more likely to be perceived as detrimental. This is a naive attitude given the enabling capacities afforded by the Internet. As the Internet is increasingly adopted as a mechanism for the realisation of creative output, the opportunity for organisations to benefit from the collective intelligence pool is oft overlooked.

This attitude is almost certainly a corollary of overreliance upon outdated organisational structures. Stagnant heirarchies, a staple of traditional business, have been found time and again to reduce organisational efficiency. Power increases from rung to rung, with members of the hierarchy often reluctant to bestow the resultant authority onto others. Unfortunately, the knowledge base from which a solution can be crafted under such a system is minimal in comparison to that which would otherwise be available were the obstacle under consideration opened up to the online community. This is a classic limitation of the hierarchical structure.

Power to the Masses
Collaboration facilitating tools available online have given rise to a potentially more appropriate organisational structure; that of 'peering'. Realised in a manner similar to that in which average Internet users currently share knowledge and resources, peering has the capacity to facilitate business development through the creation of fluid collaboration networks. With Internet usage growing exponentially through the emergence of new consumer bases in countries such as China and India, the talent pool from which expertise can be drawn is expanding. Solutions devised through the engagement of such groups are far more likely to adequately resolve an issue than that provided by a small team of product developers limited by time and resource constraints established by the organisation.

Radical thinking? Hardly. In fact several organisations are already employing such tactics; the first of which that springs to mind being Dell's Ideastorm project. Why are people willing to contribute to projects such as these? For fun or perceived personal value perhaps. Reasons invariably differ. One thing is for certain though; the capacity for the organisation to benefit from these vast knowledge pools is very real. They just need to realise that small internal teams are perhaps unlikely to match the collective intelligence of billions... It's a case of simple maths.

By simply opening up projects to group participation, the pool from which additional knowledge can be drawn increases exponentially. Sure, this often means the sharing of proprietary data within the network and a minimal loss of power, but in an era of interconnectivity where a transparent approach to business is somewhat of a competitive advantage, is that really such an issue? As with Wednesday article, this post has drawn heavily on knowledge gleaned from my reading of Don Tapscott and Anthony William's fantastic book 'Wikinomics'. I would most definitely recommend this book to all fans of the enabling capacities of the Internet Thanks for reading.


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Sharing Your Secrets; Is That So Wrong?

So, last month I posed the suggestion that despite ever increasing levels of societal transparency, many organisations will understandably show a reluctance to divulge those trade secrets that make them competitive. Whilst this assertion may seem obvious, even as I was writing this I began to recall the fantastic 'Wikinomics' by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. Tapscott and Williams' insightful book encourages the sharing of knowledge, suggesting that instead of debilitating competition, collaborative efforts actually facilitate the advancement of the industry as a whole. Is the idea really that far fetched? As 'Weapons of Mass Collaboration' increasingly enhance our ability to create content collectively, I would suggest that, on the contrary, the idea begins to sound increasingly feasible.

Pssst; Wanna Hear a Secret?
Whilst the sharing of information that was traditionally kept secret is a dramatic shift from historical business practices, we are living in an era of significant business innovation. Collaboration is fast becoming the norm. The social media, itself often meaningless without the content produced by the communities contained therein, is perhaps the most obvious example of our collaborative culture. Whilst these vast repositories of information are quickly gaining the attention of organisations keen to target us ever more selectively, the question of where the power really lies is quickly raised. Is it within the platforms themselves, hollow without the contributions of members, or is it those communities that come together on a daily basis to build these ever more voluminous databases, that control the situation? The answer seems obvious. Ironically enough, it is perhaps least obvious to those comprising the community, for whilst this power shift is well under well at a societal level, it has yet to truly catch on at the organisational level. Fortunately for us, the community is becoming ever more intelligent. It's only a matter of time before organisations are forced to collaborate.

Bringing Innovation to the Table
Many a post has been written on the absolute necessity for organisations to act transparently in today's era of interconnectivity. This is unlikely to change. Instead of fearing demands for honesty and transparency though, organisations should embrace the possibilities afforded thereby. Were information sharing between organisations to become increasingly commonplace, then success would quickly become a corollary of something other than secrecy; it would become the product of true innovation. Loosely coupled networks, similar to those exemplified by social platforms such as Twitter, would be able to come together as necessary for the purpose of value creation, drifting apart once the task is complete. Recognising this goal is the challenge though, and despite the recognizable benefits highlighted by the authors of Wikinomics, the concept will invariably prove a challenging sell; for now at least.

Tomorrow, I will be looking more closely at how both collaboration and transparency can actually lead to increased levels of competition. Wikinomics, from which I have drawn the inspiration for these posts, is a fantastic book, and I would recommend it to anyone keen to explore the collaborative opportunities afforded by the Internet.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Power to Enable

The enabling capacity of the social media; good or bad thing? This might sound like a ridiculous question, but as with any good conversation, there are invariably opinions from both sides to consider. As we are all well aware, the social media has afforded each and every one of us an electronic voice of our very own. Whilst the early days of the Internet prevented the majority of users from actively engaging in content creation and distribution, the advent of 'Web 2.0' and the technologies associated there with have enabled each of us to convey our innermost thoughts on pretty much everything; from the tools and technologies themselves, to politics and personal reflections. The ease with which platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Blogger allow us to convey ourselves online is incredible; no wonder there are in excess of 175,000 new blogs created on a near daily basis. The question is though, does this mountain of information benefit the society into which it is received, or is it simply impeding our ability to develop our understanding?

Amateur vs. Expert
One of the most vocal opponents of the present era of expression is one Andrew Keen. Keen's book 'The Cult of the Amateur' highlights his concern that expert opinion is slowly being overwhelmed by the ever more voluminous content produced by the 'noble amateur'. As our capacity to locate and consume professionally produced information is increasingly 'undermined' by ever larger mountains of amateur content, there is invariably a threat posed against our ability to adequately and accurately understand a subject; a concern mirrored by Google's own Eric Schmidt back in 2008. Can 1000 passionate amateurs really offer a level of subject insight equal to or even greater than that offered by a single seasoned expert? Debatable, however I can see the point which Keen is attempting to convey.

A Time of Empowerment
The ease with which such content can be produced does indeed mean that the amount of information available to us will increase. The volume of 'misinformation' contained therein will similarly rise. The importance of approaching this information with an objective mindset is, however, nothing new. Whilst the accuracy of the content will at times be questionable, it is our responsibility as intelligent beings to gauge the reliability thereof and to draw our own conclusions appropriately. Can a near universal capacity to create content ever be perceived negatively? I think that's a matter of personal opinion. What is undeniable though is that an ability to express one self to a broad audience is no longer exclusively the domain of the rich.

What do you think? Should Internet users ever be restricted from creating content to prevent the spread of misinformation, or is any such discussion a breach of our human right to freely express ourselves? As always, thoughts, criciticms and complaints are welcome!


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You Statue Worthy?

In his latest book 'Tribes', Seth Godin asks the question 'are you statue worthy'? Let me explain. In describing leaders, Godin emphasises that these individuals should be so empassioned for and driven by their movement that they become almost symbolic thereof; their focus firmly set upon the value which they deliver to their tribe. As Godin suggests, statues are built for those who get out front, make a point, challenge conventions, and speak up. This message resonates strongly with contemporary discussion concerning the development of personal communities.

Creation a Community
It has never been easier to create our own personal 'tribe' of sorts. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed all actively encourage the creation of personal communities through the friending and following of those with similar interests to our own. Unfortunately, as the importance of community increases, the proliferation of 'auto follow' tools designed to quickly and effortlessly expand one's following has risen dramatically. Naturally, the use of such tools has instigated significant discussion about whether or not automating the conversation detracts from the experience. Although I have my own strong views on the subject, that is a post for another day. The point that I am trying to raise here though is that despite the empowering capacities of the social media enabling each and every one of us to create tribes of our own, the creation of a tribe and the appearance of a leader are not synonymous.

Leading your way to Success
Whatever your opinion on auto follow software, the importance of 'leading' your tribe is paramount. In building a community, you have the opportunity to create something remarkable; a movement. This is simply a case of ensuring that you too are 'statue worthy'; stand out, challenge conventions, bring something to the table; trust me, the community will thank you for it. If on the other hand your community is established simply with the intention of broadcasting a message to a broader audience, then it is highly unlikely that your community will be building you a statue any time soon...

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Directing the Conversation

Several months ago I wrote an article on directing attention after reading a fascinating piece by Josh Klein. Whilst the capacity to direct attention will remain critical for achieving success in an increasingly interconnected society, an ability to influence the direction of the conversation is of similar importance. The advent of communication facilitating tools, such as blogs and social networks, has meant that the ability to create content has been afforded anyone with an opinion and an Internet connection. As a result, the volume of misinformation has risen exponentially. Whilst it would be incredibly foolish for me to condemn the use of the social media for such purposes; after all we must remember who the social media 'belongs' to, from a business' perspective ever more voluminous mountains of user generated content make it even more difficult to leave a mark. Suddenly an ability to direct the conversation becomes incredibly valuable.

Directing the Masses
What exactly do I mean by an ability to direct the conversation? Simply put, directing the conversation involves instigating conversation around a particular subject matter; a topic which I touched upon briefly in yesterday's discussion. Whilst certain authors have a certain talent for developing the conversation such, others find that their efforts realize little recognition. How do the results differ? Influential authors can create a notable buzz within the social media, therefore drawing significant attention to a topic, product or organisation. The lesser known author is likely to find that her work has a diminished impact on the overall conversation, perhaps even exhibiting signs of 'being under the influence' of the former within her own content. From an organizational perspective, reaching these influencers is an attractive solution for inciting relevant conversation. It is herein where the challenge lies.

Forgetting to Delight...
Unfortunately for organisations, the only proven route for achieving positive social media recognition is to place the customer at the centre of everything. Ongoing efforts to delight the customer will invariably result in measurable recognition in the social media, as those with an active presence preach their positive experiences of the organisation. Whilst reaching bloggers with significant influence may dramatically expedite conversational directing, over reliance upon such a strategy is, in my opinion, unlikely to be sustainable in the long run. It may even prove detrimental as general ignorance causes the ordinary customer to become overlooked, thus jeopardizing the overall experience.

Recognizing the Little Guy
Do conversation directors exist? Absolutely. You only have to look at the more prominent figures within the social media to see the cascading effects caused for almost each and every subject which they touch upon. The thing is though, influencing these influencer is a significant challenge in itself. By focusing all of your efforts on reaching social media 'celebrities' rather than focusing on delighting the customer in general, it is likely that the resultant negative publicity will far exceed the benefits reaped from the conversations that have been established. As such there is no quick fix for creating a positive buzz in the social media. Then again though that's the point. These platforms are specifically designed to facilitate two way communication flows, not to facilitate the violation of an inherently social arena through the broadcasting of unwanted messages. Democracy rules within the social media, and if your organisation is really that good then it is almost certain that these conversations will occur naturally. It's just a matter of time.

Perhaps the little guy isn't so powerless after all.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Impact of Social Media Fame

Clay Shirky makes an interesting point in his book 'Here Comes Every Body'. Applying the concept of fame to the communication facilitating tools of the social media, Shirky highlights an aspect of the online conversation which I personally had overlooked. Whilst Shirky's application of the fame concept differs slightly from conventional interpretations thereof, once acknowledged the resultant impacts are clearly visible throughout the world of social media.

The Direction of the Conversation
Despite minor differences between traditional and social interpretations of fame, a number of similarities also exist. Mirroring fame in it's traditional sense, social media fame comprises arrows of attention. When a blog, profile or account has more inward pointing attention arrows than outward pointing attention arrows, the greater the level of fame. This is a simple concept. What is perhaps more interesting is the potential effect that this has on the conversation. Consider the case of influential bloggers. As the perceived value of the content produced is increasingly recognized within the community, the number of individuals engaging with said content is likely to rise proportionately. The act of content engagement is most likely to take the form of a comment. As the number of interactions with the content increase, the ability of the author to adequately address each comment diminishes. In effect, these authors are becoming increasingly detached from those conversations which they are creating.

Developing Together
Whilst this view is somewhat simplistic, failing to take into account a number of important considerations, the logic behind these assertions is, in one sense, undeniable. Admittedly, as the number of inward facing arrows increases, the capacity of the author to personally address each comment becomes increasingly difficult. Were this the end of it, the social media would comprise a horrible muddle where significantly more questions are asked of the author than answers provided. The development of community has of course enabled the avoidance of such a muddle. Despite the impossibility of personlised two way communications beyond a point, building a community encourages conversational development amongst its parts. Authors such as Chris Brogan and Danny Brown have established significant communities in which conversations are enhanced through group discussion. This is reminiscent of the social media adage 'We' are more intelligent than 'I'.

Developing Knowledge Together
According to Shirky, social media allows us to experience the downsides of fame, notably these being the inability to reciprocate in the way the community would like us to. Whilst I recognize the logic in these assertions, I think that the enabling capacity of the social media has been overlooked. It is undeniable that these authors are unable to individually address each comment directed at them, however I truly do not believe that this is the intention of authors such as Brogan and Brown. Rather the goal for these individuals is to encourage the development of knowledge collectively. Whilst the two authors referenced herein are clearly experts in their fields, we must remember that interest in the social media is still in its relative infancy. It is only through such collective knowledge development that genuine insight will be gleaned. True social media gurus such as those referenced herein realise this and, instead of broadcasting a lesson, will subtely encourage conversational development over time.

Fame is overrated. It is an ability to truly influence the conversation that impresses.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Punishing Employee Engagement

The issue of organisational action taken against employees deemed to have abused customer engagement guidelines is an interesting dilemma which I thought I would post my thoughts on, rather than attempt to provide a solution to. Similar to the guidelines themselves, differences in interpretation will almost certainly influence the eventual action taken; with variances therein dependent upon the organisation in which the breach has occurred. As our society becomes increasingly interconnected, transparency and conversation become the norm. The question is though, what happens when these societal standards clash with the culture of the organisation?

Guiding Engagement
Many would suggest that the dilemma itself exemplifies the obsolesence of the traditional business model concept, highlighting a need for further developments in organisational culture. Unfortunately this is not always practical. For example, whilst organisations may applaud the increasing societal presence of transparency, they will almost certainly display reluctance to divulge the trade secrets that make them competitive. This is understandable, and is a theme which I shall be exploring later in the week. For those organisations which are keen to encourage customer engagement, guidelines similar to those published by organisations such as IBM represent a safety net designed to minimise employee generated damage to the brand equity. Actions taken when these lines are crossed will depend upon both the reasons for and the severity of the breach.

Influencing Action
The nature of business is such that variations in practice between organisations will occur as standard; this is what allows for competition. Action taken following a breach can have a profound effect on the organisation's social media presence; with the potential to either destroy or discredit the organisational offering in the process. Clearly the resultant action is dependent upon both the extent of and perceived motive for the breach. For example, organisational action following an unintentional breach may differ significantly from that following a malicious planned attack. Admittedly the resultant action will be significantly influenced by the severity of the incident, with breaches resulting in serious damage to the brand equity almost certainly resulting in dismissal. What constitutes serious damage to the brand equity? Again, this is something which will depend upon the individual organization.

Striking a Balance
Whatever action the organisation decides to enforce following a breach, it is imperative that the repercussions are considered carefully; too lenient an outcome may fail to prevent future recurrences, whilst too strict a punishment may deter customer engagement all together. As an organisation it is your responsibility to ensure that an appropriate stance is taken. Recognize the impact of the social media on your business and consider what might happen were it to disappear, or worse still, appear manufactured. On the other hand, consider the potential ramifications that the actions of a negligent employee can cause through their electronic voice.

What action would you consider appropriate for social media guideline breaches? Is employee dismissal justifiable, or is this simply transparent behaviour in a society that condones honesty?

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Danger of Implementing 'Smart Blogging' Regulations

I'm all for organisational implementation of intelligent social media regulations. By establishing groundrules for employee-public engagement, the organisation can ensure that basic restrictions are in place to avoid potentially negative repercussions resulting from a very public lapse in judgement from the workforce. Simple restrictions concerning language and content are not designed to stifle employee creativity, but rather to ensure that brand equity is not damaged as a result of either intentional or unintentional employee negligence. Last week, my thoughts on the subject were challenged though whilst reading Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's 'Naked Conversations'.

A Question of Interpretation
According to Scoble and Israel, the problem with smart blogging practices revolves around interpretation. Unless clearly defined, a regulation intepreted by one employee will almost certainly be interpreted somewhat differently by another. Similarly, differences in interpretation can make it difficult for regulations to be adequately enforced. The resultant confusion may deter a proportion of the workforce from representing the brand online; particularly when coupled with fear of organisational reprisal. For those employees still enthused about engaging with the customer online, confusion of what constitutes acceptable online practices may cause the resultant content to develop a manufactured feel. This content is hardly beneficial for the organisation.

Encouraging Employee Participation
Herein lies the difficulty for many an organisation. Whilst strict social media engagement regulations are likely to deter employee participation, as identified above ambiguous regulations are likely to result in an equivalent outcome. It is the responsibility of the organisation to identify appropriate middle ground for employee participation in the social media. Although decisions concerning certain regulations will be obvious, for example with regards to language allowances and trade secrets, other areas will be significantly more up for discussion. For example, to what extent will the organisation empower the workforce to challenge the thoughts and opinions of customers online? It is only through careful consideration of each of these areas that an appropriate strategy will be crafted.

One Step at a Time
Unfortunately there is no single standardised social media strategy. As such, organisations really need to employ common sense when establishing their guidelines for employee engagement. Clearly it would be impossible for each and every engagement to be monitored; highlighting the need for appropriate guidance from the outset. The best advice that I can give would be to examine the workforce and to develop a strategy both with and around them. By working together with the workforce closely, potential areas of difficulty can be preemptively identified and addressed. Whilst this cannot guarantee the avoidance of every challenge to the brand equity, it will almost certainly cause the number of occurences thereof to diminish.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Putting the Customer at the Centre of Everything

Earlier this week I discussed organisational fear, highlighting the reasons why concerns of what could happen when engaging with the customer should not dictate the organisation's social media engagement strategy. Unfortunately, many organisation's continue to fall into this trap, citing unpredictability as the central logic behind removing the customer's capacity to talk back. Interestingly, these organisations continue to believe that they are in control of their own destiny; they don't seem to realise that power rests firmly in the hands of their customer.

I Have the Power!
As has oft been cited in the blogosphere, the online community has the capacity to make or break a brand; a power which they are often all too happy to call upon should it be deemed that the company is not acting in the best interests of its customers. The organisation on the other hand has little to no direct control over the online customer perceptions of the brand; particularly when concerns such as those described above deter the recognition of a social media engagement strategy in its entirety. Whilst careful efforts to influence these perceptions can be made, opinions stemming from the blogosphere are likely to be more readily recieved by the online community.

Customer Action and the Social Media
The best strategy for minimising the wrath of the online community is to ensure that your organisation places the customer at the centre of everything. Every decision that the business makes should only be implemented following consideration of the potential implications of the resultant actions upon the customer. Hardly surprising really. By ensuring that every action is specifically designed to satisfy the needs of the customer, the likelihood of the negative content appearing online is reduced. Whilst the facilitating capacities afforded by the social media have undeniably enhanced the likelihood of negative content appearing on line, appropriately engaging with the customer will almost certainly cause the consumer's propensity to engage in negative content generation to diminish. And hey, by having a social media, the customer may feel more inclined to address their concerns directly with you before taking these qualms elsewhere.

The Customer Revolution
Is this revolutionary thinking within your organisation? I certainly hope not. Although business practices have become somewhat distracted in recent years, the importance of placing the customer at the centre of everything is nothing new. Whilst said practices have traditionally favoured the position of the organisation over that of the customer, the abilities afforded to the consumer by the Internet have resulted in a radical power shift. Now the actions of a single consumer can dramatically effect the successes of organisations of all sizes.

Make sure that your organisation recognises the importance of putting the customer at the centre of everything. If you continue to rely on outdated business practices, the community will react. This reaction will almost certainly be negative. Help to avoid the creation of negative content by engaging with your customer.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Curious Case of the Blog

Whilst watching television earlier this week, I saw an advertisement for Sky News' political correspondent Adam Boulton's blog. Whilst this event was nothing remarkable in itself, it did get me thinking about the position of the blog in our society. Whilst references to blogging are becoming increasingly prevalent in both the online and offline media, I am dubious as to whether this represents an actual increase in societal uptake thereof. I am convinced that despite an undeniable increase in the platform's visibility, the degree of blogging adoption by the general public is still comparatively low.

What's in a Tweet?
Those actively engaged in the creation of online content seem significantly more likely to author a blog. Notably, many of those on Twitter seem to have a blog. Admittedly I am basing this supposition on the number of tweets I see advising other users to check out a recent post, however that may simply indicate that those I choose to follow have a greater propensity to blogging than others. This suggestion is hardly surprising; the majority of 'Creator' type Internet users are likely to engage in the creation of content across platforms. Blog visibility is therefore likely to prove somewhat deceptive, as those platform users highlighting posts of interest are likely to be responsible for creating blogs of their own elsewhere. Duplicate references to content across platforms may have resulted in blogging appearing more mainstream than is actually the case.

Blogging; the Realm of the Geek?
In spite of blog related references being on the rise, I remain sceptical as to whether we have truly seen the platform go mainstream. In the UK, the number of people actually professing to running a blog is still relatively low. General consensus continues to categorize blogging as the hobby of the 'geek'; a shame given the platform's capacity to advance the conversation. It should be noted that in spite of the comparatively small number of users actively engaging in creating blog content; the Forrester Social Technographics Profile tool suggests that only 15% of UK Internet users fall into the 'Creator' bracket, significantly more users are likely to interact with said material, perhaps even unknowingly. Whilst the number of those engaging in blog authoring is still relatively low, the number of 'Spectators' interacting with this content emphasises the ongoing significance thereof. Clearly it would be naive for organisations to avoid engaging with these users.

Social Media in Society
Whilst certain social platforms have unquestionably achieved mainstream status, most notably Facebook and increasingly Twitter, serious blog creation remains somewhat specialised. That is not to say that this is justification to avoid establishing an organisational presence therein. As the quality of blogged material continues to increase, the number of Internet users interacting with this material is likely to continue to rise. By appropriately targeting and engaging relevant bloggers, organisations can help to ensure that their content reaches interested parties. Has the blog achieved mainstream status? That is clearly debatable. The value of the content created by these Internet users is however undeniable; particularly as the number of spectators remains high. This is undoubtedly an opportunity not to be missed.

What are your thoughts? Has blogging gone mainstream, or does it remain a product of the 'geek'? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fear of 'What Could Happen'

One of the main reasons why organisations choose not to create an active social media presence stems from fears about what 'could' happen as a result. Concerns regarding potentially damaging customer backlash often deter the organisation from effectively engaging with them; which is unfortunate given that these fears are often unsubstantiated. Admittedly, allowing the customer to record their unfiltered thoughts on the organisation goes against traditional business practice, but then isn't that the point? As the state of the global economy continues to worsen, surely businesses realise the need to step back and to reevaluate the processes and practices that have led us to where we are today?

A Lesson from the Banks
The most obvious example of the need to reject these aging business models is provided by the banks. These institutions typically exemplify the outdated practices discussed above; hardly encouraging considering the number of banks in the UK, and indeed globally, requesting government aid in recent months. Whilst this business model has historically proven successful, recent consumer demands for transparency have slowly caused these practices to become obsolete. As consumer trust in organisations continues to drop, the importance of business transparency becomes increasingly obvious.

Transparency and Trust
Transparent practices are fast becoming integral to business success. As our society becomes increasingly comfortable with 'sharing' the details of our everyday lives, these expectations are transferred to the organisations with which we engage on a daily basis. For those organisations that fail to meet the expectations, suspicions are immediately aroused. Organisations that offer their customers only a limited capacity to question the business will invariably incur diminished levels of trust. Let's face it; for those organisations that have nothing to hide, allowing the customer to voice their thoughts on your policies and practices is unlikely to damage the brand.

What does your Business say about You?
At the end of the day, the opinions voiced are likely to reflect how you conduct your business. If your business discourages input, consumers are likely to question the reasons for this level of perceived secrecy. At the same time, negative comments concerning your business are still likely to appear elsewhere. Alternately, if your business chooses to act transparently, your customers are significantly more likely to respond positively. Who knows, you may even by benefit from the additional insight provided.

As society becomes increasingly open towards sharing, the importance of organisational transparency has become paramount. Don't worry about what 'could' happen by allowing customer feedback. Instead, make sure that you don't neglect your responsibility to your customer.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pour your Heart into It

Last week I examined the dreaded social media checklist, noting that overreliance upon a set of supposedy universally applicable instruments can lead your organisation astray. Despite the obvious limitations of adopting a 'standardized' social media strategy, many organisations continue to fall into this trap; a pity considering that this display of interest alone demonstrates a clear commitment to engaging the customer. That is, it can represent commitment. Whilst a social media presence has gradually become somewhat of a minimal requirement for market entry, it is invariably the quality of the content that dictates the success thereof.

The Music of Social Media
It should be noted that alone, instruments count for very little; it is the passion behind these tools that will result in ultimate success or failure. To use a musical analogy, an instrument is only as good as the musician playing it; and in both music and social media, success is a product of time and devotion. The instrument itself certainly plays a role in the eventual outcome by facilitating our capacity to produce the content, however it is important that we do not develop a mentality in which the tool itself is perceived as the outcome. This is incredibly shortsighted and can result in attention being inappropriately directed at the platform level, rather than at the content production level.

'Passion' Packaged
An initial demonstration of commitment will prove fruitless should the organisation engage in subsequent 'passion packaging'. Content whose production is manufactured by an overabundance of rules, regulations and timeframes will be perceived as stale, and the attention received will as a result diminish. Whilst the presence of a handful of logical limitations will help to ensure maintained relevancy, bureaucratic attempts to control the message will often deter natural employee passion, which in turn is likely to detract customers from engaging. Stale undeveloped content which fails to achieve customer engagement offers little benefit to any of the parties involved. As such, the value offered by such a social media presence should be carefully scrutinized.

Passion Rediscovered
Passion is without doubt the most crucial components for success in any social media implementation strategy. It is imperative that the importance thereof is recognised above that of any individual platform. Passion facilitates the development of the organisational message, enhancing the organisation's ability to engage with the customer. It is precisely this passion that will help to depict the organisation as human, allowing for more developed connections to be made.

When developing your social media strategy, ensure that your focus is not inappropriately directed at the platform level; this is of secondary importance. Instead, focus your efforts on locating pockets of passion within the workforce. I guarantee that by empowering your most passionate employees to openly and honestly engage with the customer, the likelihood of conversations forming will increase exponentially. Remember, the social media is a conversation. Whilst the means of communicating will invariably differ, the value of the content therein is constant. Let your presence be driven by the passion contained within your organisation and success will be recognised, regardless of the platform.

Am I right or wrong? Is the message more important than the way in which it is conveyed? Should organisations decide on the most appropriate social platforms, and then look for the most employees most suited to engaging them? As always, would love to get your opinion.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Comments in the Social Media; are we being ignored?

You and I both know that the social media gravitates around the conversation. The many new social instruments that appear on a near daily basis are specifically designed to ensure that the Internet is more conducive to interactions. Many have designated the social shift attributed to these two way information flows 'Web 2.0'; a term coined by Tim O'Reilly. The advent of Web 2.0 technologies saw a departure from the generally static web offerings of the mid to late 90's, offering the user an electronic voice with which to respond to web content. This dynamic capacity to react is most obvious in blog comments. Unfortunately, whilst the various Web 2.0 technologies have proven their worth as communications facilitators time and again, I can't help but feel that sometimes we are still being ignored.

Developing Together
Blog comments are integral for developing conversations. Whilst the opening post provides the conversational foundations, by itself it represents little more than an opinion. The result of such a strategy would invariably be a one way broadcast more reminiscent of the traditional media. By encouraging comments however, opinion is replaced by debate, discussion is facilitated, and community based knowledge is collectively enhanced. 'We' are responsible for developing 'Our' intelligence. It is for this reason that I get frustrated when blog authors close their comments sections for contributions by registered users only. The debate which such pages instigate is, as a corollary of registration requirements, diminished, and these authors are almost certainly guilty of detracting from the conversation that might otherwise take place.

Killing the Conversation
Despite the capacity for the social media to establish a direct link with the customer, many organisations implement the various Web 2.0 technologies with a retained traditional marketing perspective. Technologies adopted with the intention of reaching out to the customer often become stale; this being a corollary of contribution neglect. Despite actively inciting discussion through blog postings, many an organisation is still failing to recognize the additional benefits of engaging within the resultant conversations. Unfortunately for the organisation, stagnant conversations are unlikely to draw further commentary. Those companies that are guilty of allowing the conversation to stagnate must realise that in so doing they are killing the conversation; for who is going to use their digital voice if they feel that they aren't being heard?

Enhancing the Conversation
Comments have the capacity to truly develop the conversation, however this is reliant upon two factors. Firstly, your customers must be enabled to contribute; closed systems invariably deter engagement, and secondly, the conversation must not be permitted to become stagnant through contribution neglect. If your customers have felt sufficiently moved to engage with your organization, don’t waste this opportunity for relationship development. In choosing to implement social media based applications, your organization has opted into the conversation described above. In order to reap the benefits, you need to demonstrate a capacity to ‘listen’ in addition to your capacity to ‘talk’.

Let's not revert back to the static, one directional 'conversations' of the 90's. Let's stay social by both encouraging and engaging with the comments we receive.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Dreaded Social Media Checklist

There have been many great articles recently discussing social media implementation within the organisation; two of the more recent being Danny Brown's 'It's Not All About The Blog', and Chris Brogan's 'Social Media is not a Life Raft'. Both articles provide fantastic insight into organizational social media strategies, emphasizing that it is often not necessary to create a presence using each of the social instruments. In creating a social media presence with many points of contact, the organisation faces the challenge of ensuring that the message which they convey doesn't become diluted. Unfortunately, when it comes to identifying appropriate social platforms, many organisations continue to place their faith in the dreaded social media checklist.

Remain Focused
I should note that whilst the passion for engaging the customer demonstrated by these organisations is laudable, maintained focus is essential. Careful selection and implementation of appropriate channels is critical for success. No single social media strategy is universally applicable. Indeed, to suggest that there are instruments which must be present within every organisation is naive, as each of the social media platforms has their own strengths and weaknesses. The capacity for these to influence successful customer engagement will depend entirely upon the organisation's devotion to the project, and the social media based proclivities of the customers themselves.

Fish where the Fish are
This is a phrase which I have often seen used by Jeremiah Owyang, and it's simple enough. Fish where the fish are; or in social media terms, only target those platforms in which your customers have an active presence. When developing a customer engagement strategy for the social media, the importance of monitoring cannot be understated. It is imperative that a thorough analysis of the media is undertaken with the intention of identifying those platforms in which your customers are already established. In so doing, your organisation can ensure that the customer is offered an additional point of contact through which to connect with the organisation. By creating your own active presence, the organisation is invariably depicted as more human, which in turn enhances the likelihood that interactions will occur.

Of course, that is not to say that your organisation should lack an insight into developments within the social media. Even the greatest fishing grounds will become depleted eventually. An awareness into platform developments will allow your organisation to estimate future potential usage habits of your customers. Ongoing monitoring of the platform will allow the organisation to verify their expectations.

Checklist Schmecklist
Checklists would suggest that the social media is easily quantifiable; it's not. Don't get caught in the trap of perceiving the social media as comprising a set of standardized tools which must be employed by each and every organisation. This is naive, and will almost certainly result in your efforts being misdirected. It should be noted that your interest in engaging the customer through the social media alone will almost certainly have placed you ahead of a great many of your competitors. Ensure that your efforts to engage therein are not wasted through resources being inappropriately sourced.

Above all, you need to ensure that you ask the right questions. It's not a case of asking which tools should be employed by your organisation as standard, but rather in which platforms do you customers demand a presence? Answer this and you will be on your way to social media success.

Over to you now. Do you believe there are standardized social media platforms in which organisations must have a presence? Conversely, do you think there still exist occasions in which social media is entirely inappropriate? As always, your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Directing Attention

I read a fantastic article by Josh Klein earlier this week. The post in question emphasized that quality has become a commodity, and that in order to adequately differentiate one's product offerings it has become necessary to win attention. Klein's comments concerning the commoditization of quality were fascinating, and I would recommend the article to those keen to glean an insight into how quality is slowly becoming a minimal entry requirement. Whilst the comments concerning attention are somewhat less revolutionary, they highlight an important consideration which must not be overlooked. As the online environment becomes increasingly conducive to content creation, achieving recognition becomes a significant organisational challenge. How it is achieved will invariably depend upon the source from which it is sought.

Attention Please
As suggested by Klein, demand for attention has increased as the content available online has become ever more voluminous. As this demand rises, those able to direct attention have become 'gatekeepers' of sorts, able to drive traffic to those sites deemed most valuable. Admittedly, financial incentives represent one of the more common factors influencing the direction of attention; indeed, trade in attention is nothing new. Google has offered advertisers attention through the sale of sponsored links for years, and affiliate marketing has essentially grown from a desire to draw the attention of highly targeted traffic. Whilst financial gain represents but one incentive for directing attention, recent digital developments are redefining how and why attention is directed.

Developing Insight
Earlier this week, I made the suggestion on Robert Scoble's FriendFeed feed that the social media platform Twitter has slowly become little more than a service for directing attention. Whilst the platform may originally have been positioned as conversation facilitator, this has arguably been superseded as the platform's users have taken advantage of it's capacity to direct attention. The headline based nature of the Twitter service has resulted in a significant proportion of the messages conveyed directing attention to third party sites and services; the motivation behind which being arguably the development of community level insight.

Louis Gray recently wrote a piece detailing Robert Scoble's recent attempts to incorporate Amazon affiliate links into his FF feed. He probably would have gotten away with it to, if it wasn't for that pesky Gray! Link monetization along the lines demonstrated here is likely to represent one of the more viable methods for introducing revenue from one's social media efforts. Whilst the event did incur mild debate concerning transparency, the results are invariably win-win from both the retailer and the affiliate's perspectives. Whether this will damage the individual's integrity however is another matter; but that is a conversation for another day.

Achieving Attention
As I see it, there are two main reasons for directing attention. Firstly, attention may be directed for reasons of personal financial gain. Secondly, attention may be directed for the overall benefit of the 'conversation'. Whilst both strategies are likely to achieve results, the obvious costs incurred through Strategy A should be carefully scrutinized prior to any significant action being taken. On the other hand, Strategy B requires a more long term approach to content generation. By ensuring that your content remains interesting, informative and relevant, the chances of the community naturally linking to the content increase dramatically. As I see it, this is precisely the goal organisations should be reaching for.

What are your thoughts on directing attention? How should organisations ensure that links to their content are achieved, and what strategies do you feel are likely to represent the most viable means of achieving said links? As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Perhaps Numbers do have Some Influence after All

Last week I wrote a post highlighting that our slowly developing obsession with figures was beginning to detract from the value of the overall conversation. My principle concern is that as our attention is increasingly drawn to the aggregation of followers, the purpose of the social media moves away from the qualitative aspects of the conversation towards the quantitative aspects of a broadcast. The conversation discussing such contemporary topics as the position of auto follow software and authority is abundant, and only fuels the debate by encouraging such aggregation. Yet despite my strong views on the subject, I think that it would be naive for me to dismiss the benefits of follower numbers out right.

Talking about Tribes
Over the past few days, I have been reading Seth Godin's fantastic 'Tribes', and whilst I am far from finishing it, the points raised thus far do resonate with the above discussion. Essentially, Godin posits that tribes exist all around us; whether these comprise colleagues in an office, customers connected through a shared passion for a particular product, or sports fans united around a sporting team. Although some tribes are in effect 'stuck' through a lack of direction, other's combine under a leader's influence to become a movement; whilst the actual number of followers is important to a degree, it is the capacity of the leader to incite action that will influence the overall success thereof. It is the presence of transformational leadership that dictates the extent to which the tribe is able to unite under a common goal.

Whilst I remain dubious of those who suggest that numbers alone illustrate authority, it is undeniable that the scope of incited action will rise as these figures increase; in other words, action incited within a group of 50,000 will almost certainly exceed the action incited within a group of 50. Whilst this statement is a considerable generalization which will depend largely upon the composition of the group, it is arguable that the size of the group will directly influence the significance of the outcome produced. Needless to say, this action will invariably prove inconsequential if the presence of a transformational leader is found to be lacking.

Leading the Pack
Although figures have the capacity to influence the eventual outcome, alone they count for very little. It is arguable that the presence of a strong leader will determine the success of a particular objective; if she is able to both energise and motivate the tribe. The leader’s capacity to direct will almost certainly dictate the group’s propensity towards successful goal recognition, and I would suggest to you that smaller groups can achieve aims equal to and even greater than those accomplished by tribes twice their size; given the appropriate motivation.

Whilst I would never discourage the building of a community, I would offer a brief warning. The capacity of your community to create a given outcome will depend largely upon your ability to direct them. Be inspirational, energise the group, and turn your tribe into a movement.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Admitting You were Wrong: Thoughts on Apologies and Resolutions

I've had this post title sat in the draft email folder of my iPhone's email box for about two months now. What better time to use it than in the light of Chris Brogan's recent article on saying sorry. In the article 'We're Not Always Superheroes', Brogan highlights the critical importance of apologizing following a service failure. Whilst the arguments raised in Brogan's article are of undeniable significance, I would approach the issue from a somewhat different angle. You see, whilst saying that you are sorry is important, it's only half of the story.

The Position of the Apology
Despite inescapable fallibilities stemming from our being human, within organisations we remain incredibly reluctant to accept responsibility and apologize for service failings experienced by the customer. The fear of negative repercussions is often a significant influencing factor on our likelihood to engage in the admission of guilt (as an aside, Seth Godin covers fear and repercussions fantastically in his his book Tribes; definitely worth a read). Yet despite the potential dent that such an admission may or may not cause to our ego, failure to address the customer's concerns will invariably result in negative word of mouth.

The social media instruments available make ignoring vocalised service failings absolutely inexcusable, and in spite of personal concerns regarding thepotential outcome of the event, it is far better to address the issue at fault and to offer to offer a solution than to ignore it. It is better to give an apology. But whilst the provision of such an apology is the beginning of resolution process for concerns expressed by the customer, saying sorry does not represent resolution in itself. The apology is only half the story.

Actions Speak Louder than Words
If you have absolutely no intention of following up on the actions conveyed to a customer during an apology, my advice will be to avoid the apology all together. If the customer realises that their concerns remain unanswered following the specific identification thereof, then I guarantee that their distaste for your organisation will have been multiplied. Customers convey their concerns for two reasons; to have them addressed or to deter others from future interactions with the organisation. If you fail to address the concern despite having claimed that you would, then your actions will without doubt incur the wrath of the customer; and at a time in which the creation and dissemination of content has never been easier, the repercussions can be catastrophic.

Seeking Resolutions Together
Whilst content creation has never been easier, neither has your organisation's access to market research. Your customers are 'telling' you what they think of your brand through the content which they create online. It is your responsibility to locate these thoughts. This is particularly pertinent when the content created identifies service failings. It is imperative that once such content is located an apology is given, and efforts are subsequently made to craft a resolution with that adequately meets the customer's expectations. If your organisation demonstrates a clear interest in resolving a problem caused by flaws in your operation, then the customer will be significantly more forgiving. Whilst this is not an excuse to allow initial mistakes to flourish, an appropriate resolution system will help to ensure that your organisation's brand equity is not utterly destroyed by mistakes attributable to human error.

Let me be clear; whilst an apology is imperative, it is the subsequent action that will truly influence perceptions of your brand. Make sure that the steps which you take to resolve an issue leave the customer feeling delighted. Otherwise your efforts will backfire, and the results are likely to be ugly...

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