August 2007 Archives

SMAttering, 31 August 2007

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News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

People
  • Jeremiah Owyang announced that he will join Forrester Research as a Senior Analyst focused on social computing and interactive marketing October 1st. Have any of the other tier-one analyst firms noticed that Forrester is cornering the market for social media?

  • Update: Here's a list of analysts covering social media and their (public) blogs.
I've run across several open positions at social media analysis companies and clients this week. It's making me wonder about adding a jobs section on the blog. What do you think?

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Another reason to move

I've had a MindSpring address since 1997, when I first left the non-profit world. It was the first time I needed to separate my personal and professional Internet use, and MindSpring was a good, "real" ISP (i.e., not AOL). It's served me well, and with over 10 years of use, a lot of people (and systems) know that address. I also have some web pages with decent PageRank on that domain (especially my international affairs pages). But yesterday's announcement from EarthLink (NASDAQ: ELNK) reinforces the need to migrate my email and web presence to my own domain.

The ISP business has gotten tough since the cable/telco duopoly offered high-speed Internet to their customers. The economics are tough for ISPs who resell broadband access, but they don't have much in the way of alternatives. Customers want broadband, so ISPs have to partner with the pipe operators or lose their customer base.

Some of the comments in the EarthLink statement suggest that the economics are beyond painful, at least for new customers who take advantage of teaser rates and leave before paying the higher rates of long-term customers. The irony is that everyone wants long-term customers, but their collective pricing strategies encourage exactly the opposite behavior.

Sticky services
Internet access—the actual network connection—is almost a pure commodity. A fast, reliable connection is all you really want. The stickiness—the part that makes it hard to change providers—comes from the other services, such as email and personal web sites. Service providers love sticky services, because they lead customers to Recurring Revenue Land. Free, web-based services have gone a long way toward unsticking ISP services, except for those of us who've been using the same ISP-provided addresses and URLs for years.

The new plan
Because of the pricing incentives, personal branding considerations and other benefits, I decided a few years ago to move everything to my own domain(s). My ISP will be for access, not hosting. If I want—or need—to change ISPs, it won't affect my address or availability, just the access.

I've been moving to my domain for a little over a year, starting with moving the blogs from blogspot. I've changed email subscriptions, and new contacts always get the new address, but I haven't felt the urgency to move everyone else. EarthLink's announcement reminds me that I need to keep making progress on the move.

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Planning an unpresentation

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Since my experience at BarCamp RDU earlier this month, I've become a fan of the unconference approach: the spontaneous presentations, the fluid agenda, and—most of all—the conversational tone of the sessions. I plan to use that conversational style in a client meeting this week, and rather than create a set of slides to support it, I'm using something different. I'm calling it an unpresentation.

The unpresentation is a conversation, supported by live demos of relevant web sites. The subject for this one is Social Media 101, with a hefty dose of social media marketing strategy. Rather than show slides with screen shots of relevant sites, we're going to look at the sites live. That way, we can explore more fully when the audience—the client—wants to know more.

I have a basic outline, but most of the time we're going to do something like a user-generated presentation, letting audience interest determine where we spend our time. Once we cover the basics, the stuff they find fascinating or troubling will get the most airtime.

What's different about that?
OK, live demos are riskier than slides, but otherwise, all I've described is a demo. Here's what's different: in place of the usual PowerPoint deck, I've put together a web page with all of the links I need for the session. It's organized in sections that map to the agenda, and the links include sources of the specific cases we'll talk about. My logo is at the top, my contact information is at the bottom, and the internal style sheet makes it look like my web site.

When the meeting is over, I'll leave the HTML file as the handout. Many of the links are specific to this client, and a reference section at the end gives more useful sources to explore.

Benefits for the client:

  • Detailed list of references for later exploration
  • No writing down URLs or typing them later—especially good with long URLs
  • Easy sharing of the HTML document via email or other channels
Benefits for me:
  • Reduce typing and prevent typos during the meeting.
  • Avoid wait for pages to load during the meeting by opening multiple links in tabs.
  • Pass-along copies carry branding with internal style sheet and external link to logo.
  • Links to relevant blog posts leverage prior work.
I've half-slept through too many boring meetings where presenters read their slides. The unpresentation carries the risk of live demos, but the flexibility and richer experience of visiting the real sites is worth it. With the links lined up and ready to go, I can focus on the conversation, rather than on URLs and typing.

This should be fun.

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SMAttering, 24 August 2007

News from the companies of social media analysis.

People

  • Former Brandimensions SVP Dan Kidd has joined Biz360 as VP of sales.

New research and papers

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Social media was (almost) deleted

Did you hear? Social media almost went away. From Wikipedia, that is. The entry for social media was nominated for deletion for being "a marketing buzzword of limited currency." I found a few sources to contribute to the discussion, and the entry survived the process, but only by default. It still needs a solid definition that's based on more than a blog post.

The basic problem is that social media is so often described by example or anecdote (see Lee White's new presentation for a good example). A list of technologies and venues and talk about how people use them are helpful for communicating the challenge and opportunity, but they don't lead to a rigorous definition.

It doesn't help that we have social media, social computing, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and who knows how many other variations, all with similar meanings. Yeah, I know they're not exactly the same, but there's a lot of overlap and hand waving going on.

I know it when I see it
We tend to get close to a definition, assume the rest and move on to the fun part. Take the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. The definitions of social media and social media analysis are implicit in the papers presented, but where's the definition? (However, the existence of peer-reviewed technical papers from ICWSM with social media in the title did help support the argument in favor of keeping the Wikipedia entry.)

Do you know of a good discussion of the term? I'd like to improve the Wikipedia entry, but I'll need more sources first. Published sources are best. Marketing materials are mostly worthless, and blogs aren't much better. As usual with Wikipedia, association with an interested party diminishes the value of a source.

The perception of social media as a term—at least by some Wikipedians—is that it's a marketing buzzword coined by companies who want to sell social media services. The right sources will put that concern to rest and shift the discussion to the parts that we all find more interesting.

So, who has sources?

Oh, yeah
A word on transparency: You probably know that the Wikipedia community can be sensitive about who edits entries. I joined in the discussion of social media using my real name, and my profile page describes my business interests. That's why I'm not just writing my own definition to incorporate into the entry.

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Tone deaf tips

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As gaffes go, this one doesn't rate. It's not going to the front page of the Wall Street Journal, it's not going to move stock prices, and nobody's going to lose their jobs over it. But still, my first reaction when I saw it was "haven't they heard?"

This morning's email included the new Home Depot Garden Club newsletter. When I'm not in the office, I occasionally play outside, and they sometimes have good articles. So I gave it a quick look and came to a complete stop when I saw the lead article: "Start Your Fall Garden Now."

OK, it's just a newsletter, and maybe there's somewhere in North America where mid-August makes people think of fall (it must be a long way from here—it was 101° here yesterday). So they have an editorial calendar that says that August is the time to get customers thinking of planting. Typical retail calendar stuff—start selling before customers want it.

Haven't they heard?
The problem is, planting anything around here now is a really bad idea. We're having a drought. Crops are failing, farmers are selling cattle they can't feed, and homeowners are draining municipal water supplies in an attempt to keep their grass green. The news gives us regular updates on water usage restrictions and efforts to set up emergency water supplies. Putting new plants in the ground is not the recommended action in this situation.

I know, the drought isn't national. Texas has all too much water this summer, and the Northeast has had some big storms (a tornado in Vermont??). But the Southeast and the West are dry this summer.

The people at Home Depot probably know this, too. The company is based in Atlanta, and the entire state of Georgia has worse drought problems than ours:

Of Georgia's 159 counties, 104 are now classified as being in extreme drought, 38 in severe drought, 15 in moderate drought and two in mild drought.
Adjusting the message for weather
Gardening is tricky to do nationally. By the time the South is definitively finished with summer, the North is started to contemplate first frost. You could adjust schedules or content by region based on climate data, such as the USDA hardiness zones, but that might cause more trouble than it's worth. So you end up sending out a fall newsletter in the hottest part of the summer.

But exceptional drought—the most severe category— in a multi-state region makes a "plant now" message not just early but wrong. When it's this dry, something about HD's recommendations for water conservation would have been a better choice. It would have been relevant, potentially useful, and more likely to get me into the store.

A little situational awareness
There's only so much you can do about the weather, and it's approximately nothing. But you can use available information to tailor your marketing plans to your customers' situation. Stores liike HD do this when they put chainsaws and generators at the front of the store when a hurricane is expected. One indoor recreation company I talked to wanted to track forecasts so they could run radio ads in cities where rain was forecast.

The newsletter equivalent is to know where your customers are (you have ZIP codes, right?) and be aware of major trends or events that make your planned message inappropriate for part of your audience. The information is easily available online; the question is, will you use it to tailor your message to segments of your market with very different needs? Or would you rather try to sell sprinkler systems and car wash tools in cities that ban watering and car washing?

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SMAttering, 10 August 2007

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 9 August - BuzzLogic rolled out a new release that adds blogger relationship management features and a tone rating widget for customer rating of posts (file under sofware-assisted human analysis). A new Blogger Profile view includes watch/engagement status, customer-entered engagement notes, tone rating and a list of other conversations the blogger has influenced.
People

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Forecast: 103 and no AC

I think it's the fifth law of thermodynamics that says that the air conditioning always fails on the hottest day of the year. Today we're expecting 103° heat, so of course the AC failed during the night. Fortunately, we're in the age of the Internet café, so if anyone needs me, I'll be at the other office, or maybe the library.

Update: Thanks to the folks at Holly Springs Heating & Air, we're back in business. It wasn't even an expensive repair. Looks like we won't have to evacuate, after all.

I spent Saturday at BarCampRDU. It was a nice change of pace to do something here, since I usually just read about interesting-sounding events a long way away. If it's your first BarCamp, you must present, so I ad-libbed a session on social media measurement. It must have gone reasonably well, because people stayed and we filled the hour easily.

I started with the premise of sorting out social media measurement: the term is being used to refer to (at least) four different activities, and it's important to be clear about what information you're looking for and why. I mostly focused on the PR and market research angles, and we talked about the distinction between monitoring and measuring. We had a good conversation about the place of free tools for monitoring, human vs. machine analysis and Wal-Mart t-shirts (I learned today that the t-shirt story continues).

With about a dozen people in the room, it was one of the smaller sessions at the technologist-centric day, but participation was high, and I got to meet some smart people. Calvin Powers also writes about the session.

Based on some hallway conversations, I think we might put together a local conference on social media/Web 2.0 for marketers. It would focus on useful information for marketers who want/need to figure things out, with a mix of strategy and how-to sessions. Details are very much TBD. If you want to be part of starting something, let me know.

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Does Facebook want grown-ups?

Pop quiz: Is Facebook the new place to build your professional network and interact with your business contacts? Robert Scoble says yes. Scott Karp says no. And although Robert has the larger audience, Facebook's reaction to one recruiter's mass connection request suggests that they agree with Scott.

Import your contacts, but not too many
Marketing Headhunter Harry Joiner was summarily kicked out when he tried to import his Gmail contacts (which FB explicitly supports). He tripped over an unmarked threshold and was automatically banned. The response he got when he tried to address the problem with Facebook wasn't encouraging:

Abusing the features of the site to spam other people is not
permitted. In addition, it is a violation of our Terms of Use to use one's account for advertising or promotional puroses [sic]. I'm sorry, but you will no longer be able to use Facebook. This decision is final.
Spam may be in the eye of the beholder, but remember that Harry was importing his address book—these are people already in his (real-world) network. The decision to kill his account was based on the number of connections, not their quality. Given the quick reaction, it wasn't based on complaints, either.

Beer or business?
Jim Durbin summarizes the challenge to Facebook as they decide how to reconcile the interests of their student/social base with the adult/professional crowd that has fueled recent growth (and see his new campaign for FB, too):

I wonder how many of those 30 million members signed up because they wanted to make money, and heard Facebook was the next big thing? If we can't use it, we'll leave. And if we leave, the Facebook bubble pops, and returns to a social website for teens and college kids. That's over half the users. Yep—over half of Facebook Users are over the age of 25. We're not on it to arrange parties or meet people.

The Faceboook trend is hot enough that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) introduced a Facebook policy (via Ian Ketcheson):
The CBC is directing its journalists to avoid adding sources or contacts as “Facebook friends,” and to not post their political leanings on their profile.
Faceboook needs to decide if they want business happening on the site or not. With work-related details in profiles, work-related groups and the open membership policy, the service appears to be open for business (although LinkedIn is still better suited to professional networking). The existing policies, though, aren't on board with that direction.

One parting thought from Harry:

Note to Facebook: Wall St. is watching how you manage recruiters and recruiting researches. We are happy to keep our business on LinkedIn, who seems perfectly happy to cash my fat checks each year.

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SMAttering, 3 August 2007

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News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

People
  • 1 August - CoreX veteran Joseph Fiore is now president of the company and has changed the name to RepuMetrix Inc.

  • 2 August - Visible Technologies CEO Adam Selig presented in a CEO showcase on next-generation media tools at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit today. (Video)
New research and papers
  • CIC released their half-year review of developments in Chinese social media. Many of the trends will be familiar to the English-speaking (reading) social media crowd, but the report gives Chinese examples that you probably haven't seen.

    News flash: Chinese bloggers don't like press releases much more than American bloggers do (but keep sending me your news).

  • Dow Jones and PRSA released the results of a survey of PR pros and students on new technologies in the communications environment. Respondents were generally optimistic about the impact of new technology, though most pros feel their own organizations are behind in their use of technology. Online news sites, blogs and social networking sites were identified as sources of both challenge and opportunity.
The list of blogs now includes bloggers from dna13, MediaMiser, Metatale, RepuMetrix and Reputica. You're not reading all 50, are you?

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As anyone with a news source knows, Dow Jones & Company (NYSE: DJ) and News Corporation (NYSE: NWS) today reached a merger agreement valued at around $5.6 billon. As the news coverage focuses on editorial integrity, the future of the Wall Street Journal and the Bancroft family politics behind the agreement, it's worth pointing out that News also acquires Factiva and the rest of the Dow Jones information business in the transaction.

At about a third of DJ's revenue (2Q07), the Enterprise Media Group is a substantial part of the business—somewhere north of $500 million a year. But so far, almost all of the attention has been on the media business (will Murdoch ruin the Journal, will the Journal open its web site, what's the opportunity for the Financial Times...). That makes sense, since News Corp. is all about media, and there's time for details to firm up before the deal closes. But the question remains.

Will Murdoch's entertainment, media and advertising company keep its newly acquired information businesses, or will DJ's enterprise group go on the market? Should I call my college buddy at Blackstone?

Not really. But I am waiting for mention of what the combined company will do with the non-media businesses.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

  • ng.jpg
  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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