Business Strategy

Social Media Analytics: Interview With Author And Analyst Marshall Sponder

Posted on September 25, 2011. Filed under: Business Strategy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Do you want to know the business value all of the effort you put into social media? Is it important for you to figure out how facebooking, tweeting, youtubing, blogging and other social activities affect your bottom line?

To figure this out you must go deeper than just looking at what’s happening on your own social media turf. You need to analyze data from the larger social media ecosystem.

But try to sort out the various social media analytics offerings on the market today and you’ll find each platform is so distinct you can’t make an apples to apples comparison. Certain tools are fine for basic PR analysis but they may not do much in terms of in-depth market research.

One way to help decide which tool best suits your needs is to read Marshall Sponder’s Social Media Analytics. It goes under the hoods of major platforms as well as offers insights about challenges within the industry.

Marshall and I recently had a long conversation, and clearly, this man has a passion for his subject matter. We discussed a range of issues that affect social media analytics. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Interview with Marshall Sponder: Web Metrics Guru

There are numerous books and blog posts about social media analytics; how is your book different from what’s already out there?

Marshall: It’s not a how-to book. It’s more a book about the industry, and then it’s a book by someone inside the industry who’s talking about the problems the industry has.

Also it’s a book about making choices, which are difficult for people to make if they don’t have the information to make it. The other books out there don’t really do that.

Of course, the social media analytics industry is evolving.  Even if you decide on a tool today, you have to keep on top of what’s new, because things change pretty fast. Correct?

Marshall: The tools are changing. They are getting a lot better. But one thing I was thinking about today is there’s a big disconnect about what these tools provide, the nature of the data, and the willingness of people to pay for it. Because other types of business intelligence data are usually really expensive… With social data it’s a little harder for people to understand what the value of it is.

It’s difficult for people to rationalize large investments in IT infrastructure and training and dashboard development when they don’t understand number one, why they need it and number two, they haven’t figured out a version of social success that makes sense. So they wouldn’t want to invest money into something that is so dynamic and changing.

With social data it’s impossible to capture everything. It’s a moving target… and it does take a lot of money to take this river of data and turn it into something that is useful to people.

I think we’re sort of getting past the question, is it worth it and getting to what do I need to do now to know how to choose and who do I hire? Do I hire myself or do I look for someone else to do it for me?

To someone who’s not in this business it’s hard to determine authentic points of differentiation between the platforms. There’s no consistency in terminology and it’s hard to know if the data that they can give you is going to be meaningful.

Marshall: What my book does, it blows open the whole question of do you even know which one to choose? … The [systems] are misrepresented by the vendors, and the agencies are out there trying to cost it out, and the client doesn’t know how to make a decision because they didn’t have the right information. Your ability to use this data has a lot to do with your sophistication to value and pay for it. That is something people haven’t considered in the social space.

In many instances social media falls under the purview of marketing. There may be other departments that are also involved, but marketing and PR are often the primary owners. But you argue that they’re not the right people to handle social media analytics.  

Marshall: The right people, in this environment, today, tend to be pure analysts with the platform. They’re often familiar names, and they often have the higher price tag, because they’re also the ones who can eliminate a lot of uncertainty: Nielson, Buzzmetrics, Brandtology, Synthesio, and Integrasco in the European market.

The reason they can do a lot better is they control their own data culling. They also have customized platforms. I’m not saying that’s the total answer but for a discriminating sophisticated client they’re often cheaper in the long run. They’re cheaper because what you’re getting is clean data, a trained analyst and a customized dashboard… The communications people should really focus on communications and let the market research be done by somebody else. That’s my fundamental belief.

It can be tough to a parse it out, so much depends on your specific business use case.

Marshall: That’s why you need someone like me. If you think about, let’s say you have a legal case, well then you hire a lawyer. If you have a database implementation, you hire a data architect team.

Do you think you want to start making these kinds of decisions off the cuff, or do you want to have someone that really understands and can figure out and can work through what you really want to know and can tell you how to do it?

In the book you talk about ultraviolet data and ultraviolet activity. Can you explain what you mean by those terms?

Marshall: There’s a ton of information out there but we may not be able to gather it. There can be 500 people at a conference and a lot of them may have Twitter handles, but if you didn’t collect that information you might not know everybody there who’s tweeting.

A restaurant have a lot of people checking in [with a location-based app] but it would be hard to qualify the value of that, because unless you’re tracking all those people and their friends and how much they buy on a tab, and unless you incentivize people who work at the restaurant to reach out to people who check in and open up a tab; in other words you have a business process, which is linked to the measurement process; if you don’t have those two linked, you can’t really measure what’s happening.

The ultraviolet means that data was there. The people came in and they checked in and they spent $50 or $100 and some of their friends came in, but you don’t have any way of tracking it, because you have no business process or collection methodology to get the data into something you can perform discreet metrics on.

How is that different from me seeing an ad and my buying a car based on the ad. You can’t track that, either.

Marshall: But people were willing to accept that. You can have an ad in a magazine and the magazine will say I’ve got 3 million people reading my magazine, Here’s my rates. You’ve accepted that, there’s no way to know who saw your ad. But with digital media, one was always told everything is measureable.

I think the difference is because it’s digital, because it’s online, someone should be tracking that…The assumption always was the web created a closed feedback loop so that you could measure it. So the thing is, there are massive reams of data out there, but the devices to capture it and assemble it and then use it as a marketing formula haven’t really been assembled.

And the people who are doing it right probably aren’t talking about it. The people in Las Vegas know. From the minute you land, they’re tracking everything. There are businesses out there that have probably figured out the ROI riddle, but they’re the last people in the world who want to talk about it.

Another thing you talk about is the integration of social media analytics with other types of business analytics, including search engine optimization and web analytics. You feel that’s the next wave.

Marshall: That’s beginning to happen, but even beyond that you need to have a measurement strategy. When you figure out what your business goals are, you then need to go back into your business processes. You may have to change something on the business side in order to get the measurement right. A lot of people have lost sight of that. They think you can just graft measurement on top of business, but in a lot of ways, just making subtle changes in the way people do something, or how they store their data, or some middleware they use to communicate with each other when some event needs to be tracked… in other words there has to be business tactics to support the measurement strategy.  You may have data gaps, and you may have a lot of data, but you can’t do anything about it unless you do additional operations on it.

This is an emerging field that requires research and knowledge. A lot of companies don’t realize all that’s involved.

Marshall: That’s why I say the full service platforms, that do the crawling, analyzing, the specialized dashboards, usually give you a better result because they’re limiting the amount of uncertainty involved and they have more control over the process. There are so many things out there that can make this process noisy and distracting. At this stage that we are today, when you use a do it yourself tool it’s kind of like you’re going out into the ocean without having a compass or know where you are going.

More from Marshall

Many thanks for Marshall for sharing his time and thoughts. If you’d like to stay current with what he’s up to, visit his blog WebMetricsGuru, follow him on Twitter.

So what do you think of Marshall’s views on social media analytics? Do you have your own insights on this topic? Please share your comments.

– Deni Kasrel

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How Social Networks Are Changing How We Do Business

Posted on September 28, 2010. Filed under: Business Strategy, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era

When Clara Shih set out to write a second edition of her bestselling book, The Facebook Era, she had her hands full trying to keep up with all the changes happening in the social media sphere, especially among the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. So much so, Clara had to change the publish date of the new book just to keep current.

The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell, and Innovate (2nd Edition) is finally here, and it’s well worth the wait.

Clara did more than just touch-up the first edition: She added case studies, new chapters and a bunch of guest-written expert opinion sidebars.

All About Using Social Networks for Business

It’s all geared to helping businesses and entrepreneurs learn how to tap into social networks to market, sell and innovate.

Clara has plenty of first-hand knowledge in this regard — she created the first business application on Facebook (Faceconnector), which integrates Facebook with Salesforce.com.  More recently, Clara started Hearsay Labs, a provider of social customer relationship management software.

I enjoyed both Facebook Era editions (yes, I read the second one cover to cover, too). And so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with Clara, to talk about her new book as well as the social media landscape in general.

Interview with Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era: Part 1

We had a nice long conversation, enough that it makes for a nice two-parter on this blog.

Here in Part 1 we discuss how Facebook and other networks are altering fundamental social norms.

You used social media to help determine some of the content of the book. Can you elaborate on how that process worked out?

Clara: The innovation in social media is happening from the bottom up. It’s happening in the groundswell from these grassroots initiatives that people are taking for their organization and their companies and in their personal lives. I really wanted to source these ideas and these best practices directly from the innovators in the space. And so I used my Twitter handle and my Facebook page as well as my personal Facebook profile to ask people what their ideas were. What were the things they were living and experiencing themselves? And I had a phenomenal response. A lot of the best material in the book came from people that I interacted with on Facebook and Twitter.

Are these people you knew?

Clara: What does it mean to know someone these days? I mean, many of them I’ve never met — they’ve connected with me and they’re following me on Twitter and vice versa and now I feel like I do have a relationship.

The idea of what is a “friend” changes a lot in these contemporary times.

Clara: That’s really at the heart of everything that I write about. I mean, yes, there are a lot of business implications, but at the heart of it is human relationships and how we interact with each other and connect with each other. How we connect with our customers. And that drives all the business use cases and opportunities.

One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about your first edition is that you really delved into a human part, the sociology, the social ethos — whatever you want to call it — and then applying that to social networks and the new social norms, as you refer to them in your second edition. You explain it so clearly. So how important is it understand these social norms when, as a business, you’re engaging in this context?

Clara: I think it’s the most important thing you can do.  Understanding human behavior and how your customers and clients think. What makes them happy? That’s really the key to success for any business. Regardless of what product or service you may have.

In the last 13 years the internet gave us tremendous efficiency between buyers and sellers and giving everyone access to information. But as Jim McCann [founder of 1-800-Flowers.com] writes about in the forward to this book, the efficiency came at a great price. Oftentimes what we sacrificed was human connection. The feeling that customers had that they were actually special and valued by your company.

The great thing about social networks is the idea that we can regain some of that connection, without losing any of the efficiency. We can still connect to large groups of people. We can still market to and prospect to large group of people. But because there’s more information about people and relationships and connections we can still have that bond and invest in that customer loyalty.

Right, and on the flip side, it humanizes a business, too. Companies can seem like monoliths, even if they’re small, if you don’t have any communication with what appears to be a real person.

Clara: Exactly. And there’s nothing like putting a human face around a big company. Especially if it’s one that people don’t traditionally find very sexy. That just changes the whole set of interactions. We’ve seen great examples like Frank [Eliason] at Comcast, to show someone who really cares and be the face of a large institutional brand.

So whether you’re working externally with your customers, or internally with your employees, it’s human nature to want to connect with people and facilitating that process makes way for better business.

In your book you talk about how seemingly non-important details —  for instance someone says they play soccer — can end up making a difference between how people interact with one another and possibly be a factor in how a business deal happens.

Clara: People are always looking for common ground. Especially when you meet someone new. You’re trying to figure out if this person is trustworthy and whether you want to do business with them. Whatever business you’re in, people always prefer to do business with people they know and like. And they refuse to do business with people they don’t trust. And so to the extent that Facebook can help you see similar interests, hobbies, and friends. That carries a lot of weight in being able to establish trust.

Right, but five years ago people didn’t have that ability and yet business still occurred. Do you think that it will change, such that it will be incumbent on someone to be participating in this way, even with business people, on this level? How do you see it evolving?

Clara: I think we’re seeing it already. Because before five years ago, it was 15 years ago where we didn’t have the internet. And certainly before there was online a lot of business got done for a long time… and we see these technology cycles: first the mainframe, then the personal computer, then the internet and now the social web, where it doesn’t happen all at once, but certainly for many industries, it can give you a huge leg up to understand this new communication and technology paradigm and use it as an additional way to get customer connection and loyalty.

Stay tuned for Part 2

There’s more, folks: My next post will be Part 2 of our conversation about The Facebook Era.

Meanwhile, if you want to social network with Clara, why not visit the Facebook Era’s Facebook page, or  follow her on Twitter at @clarashih

Related posts on this blog

Recommended Reading: The Facebook Era

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Inbound Marketing: How To Get Found On The Web

Posted on February 16, 2010. Filed under: Books, Business Strategy, Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Here’s a tip to ensure you rank high on search engine results for a particular concept: make it up yourself.

Start a company, write a bunch of blog posts and offer webinars — all based on the concept. Once the idea gets some traction, write a book about it.

Do this and you own the keywords for that concept.

That’s the deal with inbound marketing, a term popularized by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah — the founders of Hubspot, an internet marketing company, and co- authors of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media).

Present your message when people want to receive it

What is inbound marketing? Well, it’s the opposite of outbound marketing, a.k.a. traditional marketing, a.k.a. interruption marketing. Which is to say, the opposite of print, TV and radio ads, direct mail, telemarketing and any other way companies push a message in front of consumers.

All this is becoming less effective because we tune it out, either psychologically, or for real — via DVR, satellite radio, spam filters and do-not-call lists.

Meanwhile, we’re ever more inclined to shop, and do research on what we want to buy, through search engines, and by reading information and recommendations posted on social media sites.

Enter inbound marketing, where you create ways for people find your message when they’re amenable to receiving it.

How do I find thee? Let me count the ways.

It’s things like RSS feeds, opt-in email newsletters, blogs that are not simply about your product or service but are more broadly informative about the industry in which you operate, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising and having a presence on social media outlets.

All of which is addressed in Inbound Marketing, a guide for success with this 21st century marketing method.

Smart strategic advice

The book presents step-by-step plans plus strategies and tactics.  It explains the fundamentals; RSS, blogs, SEO, Twitter, etc. — to include how to track your progress. Halligan and Shah are data guys — hey, they’re MIT grads — sticklers for measuring results.

Smart advice supplements copious how-to material. For instance, a “Getting Found on Google” chapter notes the importance keywords play in search engine optimization while cautioning that choosing only the most popular relevant terms is not necessarily the way to go — because the most popular keywords are also the most competitive, making it harder to achieve high rank.

For sites just starting out the authors advise choosing keywords with low competition: “Then, as you build authority for your web pages, and start ranking for these keywords, you can move up to higher volume keywords that have more competition.”

If you’re hedging between several keywords, the suggestion is to “consider launching a small PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign to determine what your best keywords might be.”

A practical primer

Advice on how to drive traffic to a website is all well and good, however, Halligan and Shah realize the ultimate goal of all that effort is to drum up business. Once you figure how to get found, Inbound Marketing provides tips for turning interest into sales, with landing pages and calls to action.

Each chapter concludes with a case study plus handy to-do list for implementing an action plan.

Concise and straightforward, there’s no fancy theories or eloquent prose. This is a practical primer. Read it and learn how to be found on the inbound.

– Deni Kasrel

What are  your thoughts on Inbound Marketing? Do you think Halligan and Shah are onto something?

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The Real Job Of A Manager? Waiting For Something To Happen.

Posted on February 4, 2010. Filed under: Business Strategy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This is a guest post by one of my social media friends, Jarie Bolander, who recently published a book: FRUSTRATION FREE TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT: Proven Techniques to Thrive as a Manager. This tidy tome offers techniques using the POEMS (Personal, Organizational, Emotional, Managerial and Sustaining) process.  Jarie’s advice is applicable to communications managers—including the following intriguing thought…

Waiting for something to happen does not mean doing nothing

Most managers fill their day with productive work. They usually don’t connect the dots that their real job is to wait for something to happen. That’s right. Wait for something to happen. This is a foreign concept to most managers since they got to where they are by doing something. Waiting around for something to happen does not mean you are doing nothing. Quite the contrary. While you wait, you think about what could go wrong, monitor your environment and think about your strategy. You do tasks that need to get done but that can be dropped quickly. Monitoring your surroundings will allow you to anticipate the barriers your group will face and eliminate them. Monitoring also prepares you for the inventable crisis. This is particularly important in our hyper-connected word where communications travel as fast as electrons, bad and good news can’t be controlled and trends are created and destroyed within days.

Be Ready To Jump In

A crisis is unplanned and random. You will never know when a crisis will strike so you must be prepared to drop everything and jump in to help solve it. If your day is booked solid, then how can you deal with these random crises? This can be a major challenge for managers since waiting is not something they easily do. They got to where they are by doing. In some respects, managers tend to think that the only valuable work is something that produces a tangible result. This is true for their team but not necessarily for them. As a manager, your other job is to think about your strategy and how to deploy your resources, crisis or not.

Practical Advice

So I know this sounds like a hard thing to do but if you manage people, your best bet is to wait around for the next crisis while you think about your groups overall strategy. Doing that takes discipline and some planning. In reality, it’s about being available for your people so that you can assist them when things go wrong and thinking more longer term so you can guide your groups overall strategy. In order to achieve this, consider doing the following:

  • Take Yourself Out of the Critical Path: If you are tempted to do actual work, then at least do work that’s not in the critical path. If you are in the critical path, then when a crisis hits, it becomes a double crisis since your critical path tasks slip as well. Doing work in the critical path also dulls your forward thinking mind because you are solely focused on getting the task done and not on thinking about the longer view.
  • Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: One way to have more free time is to delegate to your staff. This is a great way to not only free yourself up but also allows you to stay about the fray so you can have some perspective. Staying above the fray will allow you to think more about how your strategies are taking shape. This is critical to a well-formed, overall strategic plan.
  • Schedule Thinking Time: On your calendar, create pockets of time to think. Preferably, hour or so chunks of time with no interruptions. These blocks of time will allow you to have a consistent time for reflection and to ponder longer-term strategies. With reflection, you will be able to handle the inventible crisis while still keeping your strategic vision in focus.
  • Train Others: The best way to free up your time is to train others to do tasks you need done. Of course, there are some tasks that you should only do but the more mundane or repetitive tasks, train someone else to do. Mangers should be involved in doing some things but in general, it’s best to have plenty of free time to ponder the deluge of data that is flung your way.
  • Ask What’s Going On: Don’t just bury your head in your own work. Ask your team what’s going on. Doing this will connect you with the action and make it easier for you to ponder what challenges your team might face. The people on the front line also see what is really happening. This data is invaluable to collect and filter because it shows whether or not your strategic vision is taking shape.

It’s About Your Staff, Not You

Having your day mostly free also allows you to be available for your staff when they need you. Since the performance of your staff is how you are judged, you need to ensure their success by always being available to them. Having a jam-packed schedule does not say you are busy but rather it says you are unavailable. This seems trivial but is a powerful tool to effectively manage people. Being free to help shows that you know what is important – your staff’s success. The other part of your job is to set your group or companies strategic focus. Being too busy to think about how best to implement your strategy will prevent it from happening. This gets compounded when a crisis hits. Your team’s ability to react to a crisis will be directly proportional to the amount of time you have spent thinking and communicating your group’s strategy for success.

Jarie’s Bio

Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is currently VP of R&D at Tagent, a company working on breakthrough technology that will help reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, FRUSTRATION FREE TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT: Proven Techniques to Thrive as a Manager.

Thanks to Jarie for sharing his ideas with us. If you want to know more about how he thinks, buy Jarie’s book or follow him on Twitter @thedailymba.

It it really a good idea for managers to wait for something to happen? Do you have a story to share that applies here? Comments welcome?

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Free E-Book Of Social Media Insights for 2010

Posted on December 22, 2009. Filed under: Business Strategy, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You know the adage “it’s the thought that counts” when it comes to giving?

Well, ’tis especially true in the blogopshere, where valued free gifts abound — in the form of useful content — on a regular basis.

This time of year, certain bloggers are extra generous; as is the case with one of my faves, Valeria Maltoni, who created a free e-book that’s one of those “gifts that keeps on giving.”

How can social media work for your brand in 2010?

Maltoni is the astute mind behind the popular blog, Conversation Agent. An expert in marketing communications, customer dialogue and brand management, she has lots of friends in the biz, 10 of whom contributed to Marketing in 2010: social media becomes operational (a link to download the e-book is at the end of this post).

As Maltoni explains, her e-book is predicated on the notion that:

“Execution in social media enriches brands and the people or tribes that make them work. It means you are changing the world and allowing the world to change you as a business in commensurate parts, while you interact with it.”

Maltoni is a deep thinker, and so are the pals she asked to ponder variables and propose directions that make social media marketing operational; such as objectives, strategies, tools/tactics, people, and measurable goals. The result is a revealing collection of well-considered insights from individuals who are all actively engaged and practice what they preach.

Contributors and articles are:

These assorted articles explain how, in the coming year, companies must be savvier, more serious and more strategic in how they plan and execute social media programs. They assert social media marketing is no longer optional, but a must-have, to be integrated and aligned with overall business goals and objectives.

2010 is the year a clearer picture develops, such that experimental theory settles down into best practice. Along with prognostications, there are directions for how to execute best practices to ensure your social media marketing success.

Each author is a prominent blogger in his/her own right and the e-book provides valuable perceptions — you’ll want to keep it on hand for reference throughout 2010.

And again, to download the e-book, click on the link at the end of this post on Maltoni’s blog, Conversation Agent.

-Deni Kasrel

Why not check out this valuable free e-book and then share your thoughts on its content? Comments welcome.

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Recommended Reading: Six Pixels of Separation

Posted on November 7, 2009. Filed under: Books, Business Strategy, Communications Strategy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Six Pixels of Separation (book cover) In Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone. Mitch Joel recounts the tale of how in the 1500s the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez captained 11 ships carrying more than 500 soldiers to Mexico on a mission to conquer the Aztecs. Many fell ill along the way and others were intimidated while in foreign surroundings. When worried soldiers asked their leader about his plan for returning home Cortez responded by burning the ships. There was no going back.

New channels, new ways

Today, entrepreneurs and business marketers must contend with foreign territory, in the form of new channels, new platforms and new audiences that are upending old ways. Mitch Joel believes you can either cling to the past (a surefire route to eventual failure) or you can burn the ships and learn how survive in the new world.

There is no going back

YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, user reviews and other online options enable anyone to create content that can be seen by everyone.

The challenge is for marketers to connect with consumers in these channels in ways that are honest and meaningful and that enable businesses to monetize their efforts.

Losing control is a good thing

Change occurs so rapidly in the digital era we can’t know where it’s all headed.

While uncertainty unnerves some, Joel adopts a seize-the-day attitude.

He believes a world where anyone can say whatever they want about your brand or business is a good thing. After all, he declares, “You will see and hear the types of insights and comments you never normally have access to.”

Convert consumers into marketers (for your brand)

Brands have many options for building communities and Joel stresses that in the end it’s the quality not the quantity of the relationships that matter. Focus on creating an engaged community rather than simply going for heavy traffic.

Successful communities instigate word-of-mouth that builds exponentially through the power of networks. This scares executives who are afraid of losing control of their brand.

Joel argues that while you can’t control the conversation “You can control whether or not you take part. You can control whether you will encourage your consumers to be so passionate they actually start marketing your company for you.”

Dare to be bold: Open up your brand assets

One of Joel’s suggestions for how to instill passion in consumers is sure to raise eyebrows from old-school brand managers — he advises to openly provide “the tools they need to change your brand.” This includes access to logos, text, audio and video.

The old way is to control all those assets. It’s dangerous to let consumers have at your brand willy-nilly. Joel reckons consumers are going to do whatever they want with your brand anyway, so you might as well be a part of the process. By freely giving your assets you send a message that you stand behind your brand.

Mitch Joel walks the talk

New market dynamics shift communications from mass media to mass content. Joel’s view on how to create effective content that clicks with consumers is spot on.

That’s no surprise considering he writes a successful blog and has a popular podcast series, both of which are also titled Six Pixels of Separation (and of which I am a fan).

With those digital avenues, and with this book, Joel is an astute observer of human behavior. He understands how people think and react and knows how you can connect and contribute in order to get people to care about the same things you do.

Joel also runs a marketing agency called Twist Image. He’s an enterprising entrepreneur and a fair portion of his book offers insights into how self-starters can become their own media channel; and not just in the obvious ways, like starting a blog (though he does cover that). He explains how to create a credible personal brand, and how you can make that brand come alive in the real world by leading offline activities, like a PodCamp, a kind of self-organizing “unconference.”

Engage with a spirit of adventure

Six Pixels of Separation helps you recognize how moving from mass media to mass content is like exploring a new world rife with opportunity. It helps you gain the confidence to evolve with a spirit of adventure.

It’s inspiring, and yes, contagious.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think of the ideas presented in Six Pixels of Separation? Do you agree with Joel’s burn the ships attitude? Maybe you have your own example of how you created a successful community and/or a personal brand. Please share. Comments welcome.

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How To Fire Up Your New Product Launch

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Business Strategy, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

match on fire (bigstockphoto)How do you ensure a product still in development catches fire come launch-time?

Keep things largely under wraps, while simultaneously spilling a bunch of the beans.

A neat trick that takes finesse to pull off; one recent example is the rollout of Google Wave.

Limiting who gets to test drive

Not quite ready for prime time, there’s already gobs of chatter about the Wave, which is in limited preview. You must be asked to give it a test drive.

Invitees include developers and influentials — tech writers and bloggers being a big block here — who are in turn allowed to ask 20 additional individuals to join the fold.

Google’s tactic of limiting who gets a preliminary trial ensures invitees are quick to spread the word. To clue people in on the Wave, of course, but also, it’s an opportunity to infer, without really saying so, “I’m one of the chosen people.”  It’s a status symbol.

Anyone can peek under the hood

You can get a gander of the product by visiting the About Google Wave web site.

Google Wave logoThe site includes a long (80 minute) video presentation, originally given to developers, about this new collaborative communications platform that appears to be a souped-up combination of email, chat, photo sharing and other social media tools, with considerable real-time capability.

FYI, you don’t need to watch the video all the way through. The first part has demos and explanations in plain English. The rest is for developers who may want to build apps and other tools to work with the Wave.

If you’re not into tech talk stop after the first segment: You’ll still see what the ruckus is about.

Buzz builds

Meanwhile, buzz about Google Wave continues to build.

Mashable and TechCrunch have guides to the product. Lots of journalists and bloggers, including Mr. Web 2.0 himself, Tim O’Reilly, are getting the word out.

Computerworld claims the Wave is indeed innovative, but wonders if it’s truly useful in the real world.

As yet another tantalizer, you can request an invitation to Google Wave.

Follow the leader

Few businesses have a footprint as big a Google, where this kind of rollout has such immense impact.

No matter, you can still follow the leader. Here are the basic steps.

  • Unveil your upcoming product to select influentials. This group includes members of the media (both traditional and social media), prominent existing and/or potential customers, people who will eventually market your product, and others who communicate to audiences that can derive benefit from your product.
  • Inform invitees of their exclusive status.
  • Tell the general public you are giving pre-launch test drives to invited individuals (to elevate the status factor even more).
  • Post limited information about your new product, that anyone can view, showing how it works. The “you can look but not touch” approach creates anticipation and desire.
  • Tell invited influentials you are not simply looking for free PR, but want authentic feedback on how they perceive the product.
  • Listen to and absorb the feedback, both positive and negative.
  • Dangle a carrot to the uninvited indicating that you might let them take the product for a spin.
  • Gradually increase the number of invitees.
  • Launch product and watch the sparks fly.

Time will tell if Google Wave is a tsunami (or not).

Until then, the fire lighting up public interest continues to burn.

– Deni Kasrel

Have you heard about Google Wave? Are you one of the chosen few who gets to test the Wave? What do you think about Goggle’s limited preview? Can you see it working for other products? Please offer your thoughts. Comments welcome.

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Why Failure Is Good For You

Posted on October 12, 2009. Filed under: Business Strategy, Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Scared man standing in deep water (Big Stock Photo)Would you attend a talk titled How and Why I Failed?

Many of us are programmed to shirk that one off without a thought.

We want to learn how to succeed.

What about a panel on failure?

A person on a panel I attended at the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009 suggested the event should sponsor a panel on failure.

He noted there is as much, if not more, to be learned in knowing why a project didn’t work out as there is in hearing why one succeeded.

It’s a great point — especially if your aim is to innovate.

Most attempts at innovation fail. If it were easy everyone could do it.

Experimentation is essential to innovation

Experimentation is fundamental to innovation. Testing to see what does or does not work is an ongoing part of the research and development process. There’s an implicit hope that an experiment may uncover heretofore-unknown knowledge that may lead to a new discovery. If not then testing continues.

We should all thank scientists for having this attitude; otherwise we’d suffer from a multitude of ailments that have been eradicated due to dogged trial and error research.

No one bats 1000

In business the fear of failure leads to paralysis and a play it safe mentality, where no one wants to stick his/her neck out and propose something new. You don’t want to be the one who came up with a faulty idea.

Unless your goal is innovate. Then you’re not afraid of failure because you know that’s part of the deal.

No person, or enterprise, bats 1000.

Failure can lead to smashing success

In the late ‘80s early ’90s Apple introduced its infamous Newton.  The device was a PDA (personal digital assistant) before anyone knew what these were or what to do with them. A product ahead of its time, it was also buggy and the Newton failed in the market; big-time.

Two developers of the Newton went on to create the operating system for the first iPods.

The iPhone includes certain elements of the Newton and the rumored Apple tablet, if it is indeed coming to market, will (reputedly) incorporate concepts first introduced via the Newton.

Famous people’s thoughts on failure

Woody Allen, a man whose broken cinematic conventions (and social ones too, but we won’t get into that) said:

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

If Allen isn’t lofty enough for you, then how’s about this one from the great inventor Thomas Edison, who was awarded in excess of 1000 patents:

“I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

And for good measure I’ll include a quote by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. It’s from a commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford University where he spoke about his ability to learn and move on from failure:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

The secret to success is to learn from failure

I soaked up a lot of information at the Creative Economy Summit, from people who talked about how to succeed through business strategies, social media and new technologies.

But I think that comment about needing to acknowledge and learn from failure may be the most useful insight of all.

– Deni Kasrel

Do YOU think failure is a critical factor to achieve innovation? Is it a secret to success? Comments welcome.

Related posts

Who And What Drives Innovation and Creativity

Creative Economy Summit Converges In Philadelphia

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How To (Legally) Spy On Your Competition And Get Away With It

Posted on September 13, 2009. Filed under: Business Strategy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Business man as spy (image by Big Stock Photo)In business, you want to stay ahead of the competition. One of the best ways to do that is to know what the competition is up to in the first place.

You need to be aware of what innovations they’ve got in the pipeline. What big deals are in the works? Are there any weaknesses you can exploit?

Ah, but how to find all that out?

You must snoop around.

Corporate espionage is illegal, yet you can still learn the inside story.

Short of coaxing information out of someone who works for a competitor, the best tool for sleuthing is right at your fingertips. Akin to a search engine, you can spider around the web to uncover competitive intelligence.

Here are three ways to go about it:

Stay on alert

People are likely talking and writing about the competition online. But how do you know where and when it’s happening?

Set up alerts. All major search engines enable you to set up free news alerts from their news sites. For an extra edge Google alerts not only sorts through news, but also blogs, video, discussion groups and the web in general. Socialmention.com works in a similar way, though its focus is social media. Another means to monitor blogs is to use a blog search engine, such as Technorati, Blog Search EngineGoogle Blog Search and Bloglines, where you can search for terms and then set up RSS alerts to keep up with online conversations.

There are also for-pay tools for online watchdogging (some also provide analytics) such as The Search MonitorPR Newswire eWatch, Trackur, CyberAlert, and Radian6.

Scour your competitor’s web site

Plenty of great information is right there for all to see. Yet you’d be surprised how often this most basic investigative tool is overlooked.

Thoroughly scour a competitor’s web site.

Analyze press releases and news announcements. Sometimes a company’s plans are out in the open, but you also need to read between the lines. Certain key new hires can indicate an intended but as yet unannounced entry into a new area of business. Reductions in workforce can be early sign of trouble, or perhaps the company is looking to get out of one area and move into another.

Check out the careers section. Note what job categories have the most openings. Are they doing a lot of executive hiring? Read the job descriptions, especially if the position is new to the company. Here again you may be able to tell if a company is looking to ramp up existing areas of business or enter new ones.

Review product, service and landing pages. Note what features and benefits are highlighted. What’s the gist of the sale pitch? This is all great fodder for knowing how you can counter with even better promotional efforts.

Visit discussion groups, forums and corporate blogs. These can be goldmines for finding out what’s up with a company beyond its marketing and public relations schemes. Notice what’s being hyped. What are customers complaining about? The latter can help you identify potential weaknesses to pounce on.

Read annual reports and financial statements. If it’s a publicly traded company these documents are available. They’re another great source of information where you can glean insight into what’s really going on deep inside an enterprise. For instance, if you see a sizable rise or drop in R&D that gives you some idea of how much innovation is in the works. Financial breakdowns can provide clues about how specific divisions are performing.

Social media. A company’s online presence is more than its main web site. Be sure to pay attention to what competitor’s are doing, and to what customers are saying, on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Let them tell you what’s new

To get the latest news and special offers straight from a competitor’s mouth sign up for its RSS feeds, email newsletters and other promotions.

Note: Some businesses comb through these lists and weed out email addresses that belong to members of the competition. The workaround here is to go undercover: Set up a free email account with Goggle, Yahoo, or Hotmail.

– Deni Kasrel

What to YOU think of these three ways to spy on the competition? Do you know of other (legal) methods to gather competitive intelligence? Comments welcome.

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