Six Tips to Starting Your Social Media Project

At the Beacon Marketing Group blog, they’ve recently posted six ways to start your new project. Change is not something that is always well received even if mandated, so when many corporations begin to think of a new media strategy, often discontent and disruption can occur. Therefore, if you’re tasked to create a social media strategy that will work for your organization, you may face more obstacles then you expect. These six steps offered by the Beacon Marketing Group seem intuitive:

1) Start With a vision
2) Improvise
3) Craft your message carefully
4) Embrace radical thinking
5) Be consistent
6) Be driven by the people

Each step is what you would expect, and what any innovator must do to move a strategy forward. But step 6 stands out to me. The very nature of social media is using technology to reach a wide breadth of people. But in a company when you have such diverse individuals its important to first gauge if and how people use social media already. I think it’s important that you spend time across the organization one on one showing folks the different technology, how they can use it personally and then professionally. It’s necessary for folks to see first hand how it works and how to use it before they’ll willingly support a strategy that brings the entire organization onto the social media world stage. Focus on the people just as much as the technology and chances are they’ll help you move your plans forward.

The Power of Twitter

We’ve often posted about the reach of Twitter. Often as a business user we might wonder how effective we can actually communicate with our audience using Twitter. While for each company, a unique vision and strategy is important, we can’t lose sight of the fact that there is value having a direct line to an audience that Twitter can offer. Here’s an extreme example:

James Karl Buck was arrested last week in Egypt for taking photos at a demonstration. He set a message via his mobile phone to Twitter with the word ‘arrested.’ Within 24 hours, UC Berkley, where he is a graduate student, hired an attorney and he walked out of jail.

During the time he was in jail, his Egyptian friends new what was going on because of their connection to the service. His American friends took no time at all to notify his school and call the American Embassy. Read the news article here at the Contra Costa Times.

There’s no doubt how using Twitter, within the matter of hours, helped this man gain his release from an Egyption jail. While the direct community he had established through Twitter was tied directly to him, the power of the tool, Twitter, made it easier and faster for him to reach out to them when he needed to the most.

We can’t expect that for a business, as you build a community, we might have such extreme moments, but there are times when immediate communication can be important. With each new tool, you have consider how it can be most effective. Twitter certainly requires a definite finesse, but this is one powerful tool to have.

Facebook’s New Blog Post Application


One of the downsides to Facebook was that you would have to exit the site in order to write a post on your favorite blog site. Six Apart has launched BlogIt today, which will allow users to update their blogs within the Facebook environment. This particular application is free, and it will allow you to post on the following compatible web services, TypePad, Twitter, Blogger, Livejournal, Movable Type, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org.

What’s also interesting is that users will be able to view the latest blog posts on their newsfeeds. This will definitely increase the time users spend on the social networking site, since they will now be able to blog on their favorite platform and view updates on their favorite bloggers as well. More time on Facebook leads to an increased chance of users clicking on an ad, which will directly benefit Facebook as well as publishers who post their ads on the social media giant.
Six Apart is only one of the many programmers who have jumped on the opportunity to use Facebook to leverage their exposure. What other apps will companies have in store for us in this new year?

AP Joins Online Video Distribution

In a recent article at CNet, they reveal that the AP News Network has been working with Microsoft to create an online advertising system that allows videos to run as advertisements on all AP associated sites. Publishers can now show these video ads online.
The subscriber would join the network and then upload its videos online and describe the geographical regions it wishes its video advertisements to be ran. AP has over 1,800 affiliates. Contrary to other popular video services like YouTube, the AP guarantees that compensation will always be given for ever video streamed, as they can track when videos are watched.
With YouTube being a key part of the publics experience when watching advertisements, I think AP has done something really smart by creating a platform like this for its wide ranges of sites that are archived every day. I personally watch so many commercial free television shows thanks to my Tivo, a really catchy advertisement on the side of a news article would catch my attention. AP is taking a step in the right direction here, realizing that advertisements online in the right places are going to be a huge part of our future.

To Each Their Own

Here’s a great graphic I found on Tim O’Reilly’s blog. Le Monde displayed this graphic in August of 2007, detailing by continent which social networks were most popular. Do any of the graphics surprise you? It’s no real surprise to me that My Space is most popular in the United States. Facebook was and still is gaining ground on the first giant social networking site. It also surprised me that Facebook was the number one site used in the UK. LiveJournal, the only blog to make this list, is the dominant form of social networking in Russia. However in the Pacific, Friendster is still the major site for social networking. In this article at CNet Asia, they are still growing. They are the third largest social network on the planet, and keeps growing (4.4 million unique hits in January of 2008 alone).

Facebook: To Ban or Not to Ban?

There is an ever-growing debate on whether employees should have access to Facebook in the work environment. This presentation on eWeek highlights the recent debate from Gartner’s Ray Valdes and Nikos Drakos on the controversial social networking. Ray Valdes defended use of Facebook in an organization while Nikos Drakos condemned it.
Many topics were discussed including security, employee code of conduct, liability, and intellectual property. While all of these issues remain a concern, ultimately 81% of people who attended the debate sided with Ray Valdes and the use of Facebook.
Although not discussed in the presentation, here’s an additional reason why Facebook should not be banned.
The way that we, the consumers, buy our products are constantly evolving. The way we reach consumers have shifted from traditional media to user generated content. Today’s marketplace does not want to be marketed directly to; instead it relies on recommendations from friends through social networking sites, forums, and blogs, or what we characterize today as Web 2.0. This article on PR Newswire shows us how companies like Blockbuster and Coca-Cola have taken advantage of social ads to enhance it’s presence in the marketplace. Blockbuster has launched an application users can create a list of movies that they want to see, and post ratings and reviews so that their friends can see. Jim Keyes, CEO and chairman of Blockbuster mentions:
“We view this as an innovative way to cultivate relationships with millions of Facebook users by enabling them to interact with Blockbuster in convenient, relevant and entertaining ways,”
Viral marketing is the new wave of the future. By participating in communities, consumers feel motivated to share benefits of different brands with their friends. There are over 65 million Facebook users and roughly 15 million of those use Facebook applications. Clearly, businesses are missing out if they are not already involved in social networking practices. Should we ban Facebook? I say nay…

Community Connect bought by Radio 1

Community Connect was bought by Radio 1 for a price of $38 million. Fox Business reported this Thursday, April 10. Community Connect is known for sites that are ethnographically niche as blackplanet.com, migente.com, and asianave.com. These sites have over 20 million members. Radio One believes that they can combine these already existing communities with their existing platforms on radio and the television.
Radio 1 bought an online community that meshes well with its current existing markets. I believe that these two businesses can come together and work on the same platform to influence the markets the have in common. Radio 1 primarily reaches out towards urban/hip hop audiences, and with the ethnographic niches that Community Connect represents, Radio 1 is taking a huge step towards connecting with the emerging online communities.

Understanding the power of communities – even when you do not have a critical mass of users…

[cross-posted from emergence marketing]

Based on research in the field of virtual communities, most business thinkers will agree that there are 4 fundamental pillars to successful communities – content, members, member profiles and transactions. If managed properly, these 4 dynamics can lead to economics of increasing returns that characterize most successful communities. The more members you have, the more content they will create. That in turn will increase the value to the community members and attract more members. If you capture information about your members and you make it easier for them to find stuff in the community based on their profile, the higher the value of the community to the members and the more members you will attract. It’s easy to understand the workings and to get the benefits of the dynamics of increasing returns that happen in successful virtual communities. Many of those were first described by business thinker and management consultant John Hagel in Net Gain more than a decade ago.There are other aspects that drive and define communities, such as the social and technology infrastructures of communities as well as the business processes that they support. But none of those characteristics have the power to create the positive value creation loops that the original four can.

While most successful communities will have a mix of all of the ingredients – we can characterize communities by their dominant dynamic.

First there are content-based communities, where members interact with one another primarily in the context of content – either consumer generated or licensed/acquired. News sites or blogs are communities that would fall in this category.

Then there are communities that are primarily member-based. Member-driven communities can take on many different forms. Brand communities like the Harley or the Ducati communities are clearly member-centric communities, even though some companies mistakenly think that the brand is at the center of those communities, and not the members. Networking communities like LinkedIn and Facebook are clearly communities that have members at their core. Many developer communities in the tech world also fall within this category.

Lastly there are transaction-centric communities. eBay and Amazon.com come to mind when talking about those communities.

Of course, all of those communities have content, and all have members, and most have transactions – it’s just that they are more heavily tilted towards one of the community ingredients than another. And in some cases communities with the same end-goal can take on very different forms. Brand communities could also be set up as content-centric communities or as transaction-centric communities. Customer support communities or developer communities could also be started as content-centric communities – and perhaps evolve into transaction-centric communities.

The reason it’s important to understand the different types of communities is because of the requirements to get them started. You cannot start a member-centric or a transaction-based community without a critical mass of members or offerings – something most companies do not have. Without a critical mass of members or offerings, there will not be enough content generated (i.e., customer reviews, etc.) in order to make the interaction for the community members valuable. So if you have a total potential number of users ranging in the hundreds, you will never be able to set up a vibrant customer support community as Intuit. Microsoft or Apple can. That does not mean that you cannot leverage customer support communities, it means that you have to start them up as content-driven communities. Instead of relying on the community members to re-write your manuals and to create meaningful FAQs, you may have to hire a few people to kick-start the process on a for-hire basis.

While the economics of increasing returns may be somewhat diminished with a smaller number of members and some hired guns, they are still very much present. Most likely they will handily beat the economics of diminishing returns that most business practitioners face when trying to interact with customers and prospects in the old-fashioned interrupt-driven way.
Some of these thoughts have been triggered by the many conversations I have had the pleasure to have as part of the Community Effectiveness Study that we are conducting with Deloitte and the Society of New Communications Research. Some of the preliminary results of this study will be discussed at the Society for New Communications Research Forum in two weeks and more detailed results will be unveiled at the Community 2.0 Conference in May.

Answers from: WE’ Company: The New Competitive Edge Webinar

On Wednesday, author, Barry Libert and I did a webinar leading up to the Community 2.0 event. The theme was “Building a ‘WE’ Company: The New Competitive Advantage” and our focus was on how businesses are using social media to fundamentally change the way they do business. If you registered for the event, you should have received an e-mail with a direct link to the archive. For those who didn’t see the webinar, you can go here to register and view.

During the webinar, we promised that we would blog answers to questions that we didn’t get to during the session. Well, we actually managed to get to all the questions but just in case, we didn’t see any harm in posting them here — some of which we augmented a bit.

If you don’t feel like we provided an accurate or detailed enough answer, feel free to reach out to leave a note in the comments, reach out to me on Twitter or e-mail me at aaron AT mzinga.com. If you have additional questions, reach out to us through the blog, Twitter or e-mail.

Answers:

So far the examples deal with B2C companies. What about B2B?

I’m going to start by saying I think B-to-B companies are just starting to get into the realm because they’re realizing the power of communityh. We (Mzinga) have two clients I’ll mention that are doing a nice job with this. One is WebEx — We’re using WebEx-like technology here for you guys to be able to see this Webinar — they’ve built a community both for developers, and a user community. They’re doing two things with it; one, they are letting it serve as customer service. So let your customers talk to one another and answer each others’ questions.

They also have a tool like this Idea Share tool that we talked about, or this IdeaStorm that Dell is using, where they are allowing people to submit ideas and then rate those ideas and push them up or down based on the popularity.

The other client is a company called iRise – they specialize in software for business analysts and user-interface professionals – and they are running a very cool contest. They’re giving away $15,000 to whomever creates the best user-generated commercial. They actually have done a sort of non-company community; it’s really an industry community. And they’re using it to collect best practices, to have dialogues with other people in the space that don’t necessarily work for iRise. If you want to take a look at that, it is an open community as well; it’s under mycatalyze.org.

One other example of a traditional B-to-B company that’s doing this is EDR. EDR stands for Environmental Data Resources. They are the largest provider of environmental research in real estate. So if there’s a hazardous waste site and there’s some sort of impairment to that site, very traditional real estate activities for people to understand what the hazards under real estate property before they make a loan.

They built out a community called Common Ground, a very cool community for 7,000 real estate lenders and consultants to talk about every single property in America. New environmental hazards crop up all the time, so they’re using the community to fundamentally keep track of the ups and downs of community hazards, environmental assessments, environmental improvements, or degradations.

Do you have any specific examples of the stock market rewarding “WE” companies?

[Barry's answer to the question] I’ve been doing this since 1995, tracking ‘Me’ and ‘We’ stuff and trying to understand what’s called the network effect of companies and to see which ones are more valuable than not. When it’s all said and done boards run businesses for the purposes of shareholder value, not necessarily for customers or employees. Not to suggest customers are not important. Let’s just say they’re more important to some boards than others, and I’m not too sure that employees are as important to as many companies as they’d like to admit or think they admit.

So from a shareholder perspective what we’re able to show increasingly is that open environments where there’s a lot of people interacting have a network effect. Most of us know what a network effect is, and remember the old analogy, if you put one fax to the end of a network it’s only worth so little, put two faxes it’s worth more, four faxes, eight faxes, 16 faxes, a million faxes, it’s worth a lot.

What these new business models are proving is that the more people at the end of the network, the more value they create together. Just look at a simple example of Visa and MasterCard, which are network-based business models, both of them are stellar, stellar public market companies, as they basically rely on the network effect and the B-to-B world. And the same thing even within stock exchanges, which the New York Stock Exchange is now a publicly traded company, NASDAQ the same thing. Same thing on the B-to-C side; I can give you plenty of examples, where businesses are realizing they are nothing other than a large community interacting around products, services, and information.

Did Starbucks try to close-the-loop with contributors? Respond in anyway to the suggestions? (I’ve answered this question with the related Starbucks question below).

With 100,000 entries, I had read there were a lot of redudancy in the ideas. Granted, it’s great interactive research tool. What’s the most effective way to sort the good ideas from the bad, given the volume, and also manage the expectations of the customers who have joined the conversation — especially if their ideas aren’t adopted?

The question of “how to organize all the crowd’s suggestions” is one that many companies who are using community face. We mentioned a tool before that Dell uses called IdeaStorm (we have a version ourselves called IdeaShare on the We Are Smarter site). This is mainly a discussion forum where people can submit ideas, two or three sentences while allowing others to comment on those same ideas. What makes this tool really powerful is its digg or American Idol-style voting, where you can actually let the community tell you what the good ideas are and what they aren’t.

In Dell’s case, like Starbucks, they got hundreds of thousands of suggestions. The public actually got to vote on them, and one of the things they found out was, for instance, that people wanted Linux on their desktops. They didn’t necessarily want Microsoft. I’m not sure how prepared Dell was to do anything with some of these tricky requests but in the end, it’s hard to ignore, 100,000 plus-plus peoples’ voices. As a result, they moved forward with offering Linux as an option on their consumer desktops.

Also, according to my friend Warren Sukernek who was kind enough to chime in during the webinar, “The Seattle Times wrote that Starbucks has 48 people dedicated to moderating their community site.” Based on this information, it sounds like Starbucks is taking their suggestions seriously. Hopefully they’ll put a tool in place like IdeaStorm that allows for Starbucks’ customers to help them separate the good ideas from the not so good.

How does “crowdsource” pricing work?
This is an activity focused on moving from relying on internal experts (product, sales and marketing people) to set the price of a company’s products and services to including the “crowd” or customers to set the price. Now I believe in the Brewtopia case (case study mentioned during the webinar and in the We Are Smarter book) they did that. Another example of a company does this is eBay. An eBay user sets their own price of whatever product they want to sell. Priceline is yet another example where based on availability and ask/bid prices, customers help set the price of airline, hotel and rental cars.

Is there a segment of the market that you are aware of that is more willing and able to adopt a “we” environment? Ex) younger / more IT savvy, etc?
So I think the two easiest places that people see, let’s start with the B-to-B space, is dealing with developers and technologists, especially in the open source environment, where those people are already used to participating and being compensated for their participation. And there’s some really cool examples of companies like that, including Top Coder, or MySQL, which was just sold to Sun. Just great companies where communities are core to the company and to the enterprise, as well as to the constituents

On the B-to-C side I think you absolutely see it already on the fan-based business models, the media-based business models, where they know that their fans are critical to the success. One of our clients is American Idol, and what I love about their story is very simple, that ultimately American Idol only had ten shows ‘ I think it’s approximately ten shows a year. But American Idol fans, and I’m sure some of you are American Idol fans out there, would like to see more than ten shows a year. So they need to keep that community and that fan group alive and interacting year-round. So for them community is 365 by 24/7.

So I think the media markets are the early adopters on the B-to-C side, and I think the technology market are the B-to-B early adopters.

Do you have time to address what Netflix is doing, with its public contest to improve its recommendation match by 10 percent, and also its friends/community area that shows what others are viewing/liking? The more we participate in rating movies, the more targeted their Netflix recommendations are …
You can actually find out more if you go to Netflixprize.com. I also did a podcast a few months ago with the gentleman named Steve Swasey that runs MarCom for Netflix on the We are Smarter site. We talked a bit about the prize during our interview.

To give a little more background here, Netflix has what’s called a Cinematch tool. It’s their recommendation engine. The more people that recommend movies, the more you recommend movies, or rate movies, the better the engine becomes. Netflix didn’t feel it was like necessarily the best tool on Earth, so they’re running a contest, and by 2001, they want someone to come in and improve the tool’s effectiveness by 10% – not a high bar ‘ and they will give that person/company $1 million.

So here’s an example of a company using their crowd, it’s really a community-based company if you think about it, because of the fact that they do a lot of word-of-mouth recommendation, a lot of the actual product itself gets powered by people reviewing these movies and recommending these movies, and then they’re putting their money where their mouth is by saying, ‘We really would like to have you guys participate in this particular contest.’

With social media, how do you create a network effect between B2B relationships in an environment when many of the users sometimes are more senior and have less of an understanding of technology?
Don’t be afraid to leverage online and offline tools to create a network effect, especially when it comes to a more senior audience. Very often, a bi-weekly conference call, a local breakfast or monthy webinar can be a great way to get participation from folks that aren’t necessarily comfortable in the online space. For those that are, you can record and transcribe these alternative events and incorporate that content back into the online community/social media environment.

What “WE” type features would be helpful in an internal Website aside from a group Forum (like your Best Buy example)?
I would argue everything from discussion forums to blogs and wikis, anything, prediction tools, things that like there’s American Idol, which is betting tools, any sort of tool that encourages the engagement of audiences, which could be employees, how about alumni networks, to participate.

Thanks again for all the great questions. If you have more, Barry and I will do our best to answer them in a timely fashion!

Record Companies feeling Push to Adapt Online Communities

In a recent post on CNet, they shed light on EMI‘s attempt to adapt the ever-growing digital world into a system that has had trouble adjusting to this new phenomenon. As one of the four largest record labels in the world, EMI has been a front runner in adapting online communities and digital media into their promotion and distribution strategies.
Caroline Records is spending less money with traditional promotions, such as CD distributions, ads in music magazines such as Rolling Stone and Spin, but instead turning to music communities online to promote records. Some of these include MySpace, Facebook (Check out the pages: Facebook Page and MySpace page) and Pitchfork, a popular music blog, and also widgets. The current artist they are trying to use a digital release strategy only on is Yelle, a French artist whose music is commonly played at night clubs. Her musical distribution in this country is only by digital means. Not only does this distribute the music at a low cost, the music company also saves money by not overproducing physical products that won’t be sold.
If labels in the music industry begin to embrace digital media and communities, they could find a new source of revenue. I think that music companies should turn away from trying to destroy fans and users from downloading free music, and turn it into something that benefits them. If Caroline Records is seeing success from purely digital promotion, imagine the possibilities. Not only will the online communities focus on specific markets, but the bands they sign can be marketed directly to the fans who will listen to them. Major labels will continue to be in trouble if they chase music ‘stealers,’ but if they choose to turn their power to promoting online content and media, they could find more fans of music than they imagined.