One, two, tweet

“Staying On Message” by Jaikumar Vijayan (Computer World Magazine, 19 October 2009). There’s certainly no shortage of ideas and examples on the business uses of social networks. None the less, this is a solid collection to get your week started on the right click.

In addition, there were two other soc-net focused articles from ComputerWorld.com that you should be of interest to you:

“Social Security – Public cloud vs. internal social networks” by Stacy Collett

“Scams & shams: The trouble with social networks” by Robert L. Mitchell

The smaller shape of bigger things to come

“Start Connecting With Customers’ Smartphones” by Mary Brandel (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Simply put, a thorough overview on the subject of mobile phones and web sites with some great insights as well. For some it looks like the time has come to seriously consider that mobile version of your web site you’ve been dreaming about for too long. For others it looks like you might not have a choice.

And in semi-related, if not geeky news, “Book review: What’s wrong with software development” by Mitch Betts (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Mitch reviews “Wrench in the System” by Harold Hambrose (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2009). The thing is, the value of great design and usability isn’t limited to software. Once you read this little bit, stop and ask yourself, “How can we use design to make our company more guest-centric?” Think. Create. Act. Try again.

Survival of the capable

“Interview: Andrew McAfee — Writing the book on Enterprise 2.0″ by Hugh McKellar (KMWorld.com, September 2009). The book might not be due until December (from Harvard Business School Press) but this interview should help you to warm up to Mr. McAfee’s ideas now. Here’s a free sample:

HM: So, you’re quite confident that the Enterprise 2.0 movement is a fundamental shift in the way that organizations can share knowledge and gain collective intelligence and ultimately increase the bottom line?
McAfee: I am very convinced of that. I am also convinced that not all organizations are going to share that view. Even if they do, not all of them are going to be equally capable at deploying the new technologies and the new styles of collaboration and getting people to change the way they work. However, for the ones that actually can get through that process, I think some brilliant capabilities await them.

So either you’ll have it, or you won’t. And if you don’t then don’t expect your struggle to get any easier. What’s it going to take? Read the interview.

Calculate your IIE (Investment In Expectations)

“What’s your Twitter ROI? How to measure social media payoff” by Mary K. Pratt (ComputerWorld.com, 21 September 2009). Ms. Pratt crafts a soft, user friendly overview of some of the ROI issues that are confronting organizations as they migrate their brand into the realities of Web 2.0 and beyond. If you’re in this camp then this article will let you know that you are not alone.That said, aren’t these the say type of questions we asked 10 years ago as the internet went mainstream? My stock tongue in cheek joke is — The internet, I hear it’s gonna be big.

Unfortunately, the article misses the mark on the point of social media, Web 2.0, etc. and the associated shift in the paradigm. The world as it now exists isn’t about the brands, it’s about the guests. I’m certainly not going to suggest that any effort be pursued at all costs. We are talking business after all. However, the old mind set of, is what I’m spending going to get my customers to do what I want them to, doesn’t really apply in a world where the guest has the power. The question guests now ask is, is brand such-n-such doing what I expect? Are they living up to MY expectations?

In short, you don’t really have a choice.

You’re going to have to surrender to the fact that some of the old measurements (of control) no longer apply. The approach needs to more holistic. There needs to be effort put into being part of the conversation (and stop focusing on leading and/or manipulating it). For example, the reality is, you don’t have to tweet. However, you do need to give people something to tweet about. It’s amazing what you can get for free if you know how to play your cards right. The fact is, in the history of business, no marketing tool has been more cost effective than word of mouth/Tweet/FB status.

Actually, you have two choices. One, figure it out now. Two, figure it out later. Either way, you will have to figure it out. These things — whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or their eventual cousins — aren’t going away anytime soon. If you wait to make the investment in understanding and using the tools then you will only be that much further behind the curve. This isn’t a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. So while you’re scratching your bum, focused on ROI, others are being guest-centric, putting their self-interests aside for the moment and pushing forward knowing that the return will come.

Because as we all agree, standing still isn’t the key to success.

Bees or flies? – Part 2

Time for a little bit of shameless self-promotion…

The original post dates back to June or so. This letter was printed in the September of issue of CRM Magazine (online: www.DestinationCRM.com). Unfortunately, CRM did not post the letters of the September issue on their web site. As you know, they have done so in the past. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)

Beautiful article by Associate Editor Jessica Tsai (“Search Engineering”, July 2009, http://sn.im/0709tsai). Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and online marketing in general continue to be hot topics. The theory is, why chase customers when they can find you? Yes, when done right, it can work quite well.

Ms. Tsai does the subject matter justice, with a thorough (even fantasic) overview of SEO. There are a few things I’d like to add to her efforts, however, that I believe will help the CRM masses.

1) The design and user experience (UX) of the site itself is critical. While not part of SEO, per se, there is a very important connection: There’s no point in driving traffic to a visually unpleasing and/or dysfunctional web site. Guests will judge a book by its cover, and if they don’t like what they see or how it works they will bounce. In order to fully benefit from SEO (i.e., inviting guests over), we believe more companies should first focus on cleaning up the house.

2) The article focuses on the value of a web site “homepage”, but the current approach is that there is no such thing as a homepage anymore. Since search engines will drop a person into any page of a site, it’s not safe to assume the homepage will be the point of entry. The relationship can start anywhere, so plan accordingly.

3) One essential factor that’s too often overlooked — click fraud in paid search (PPC) — appears in one of the article’s sidebars (“Bad and Ugly SEO”): “Some reports indicate that one-third of clicks on paid search are fraudulent — the result of developers creating bots to click on competitions’ ads, raising those competitors’ costs.”

Even with Google’s much-vaunted AdWords/AdSense, some estimates put the click-fraud rate above 15 percent. Either figure represents a pretty significant amout of waste to not be aware of — especially for anyone new to pay-per-click advertising. Yes, search engines say they prevent it but the general belief is to the contrary.

So we’d like to add a caveat to the feature story: SEO/SEM is not a panacea. It will not make up for a visually dated web design or a marginal user experience. Nor will it fix a shaky business model, poor customer service, or a second-rate product or service. SEO/SEM is merely a way to attract customers.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Your vision . Our passion . Success realized

We feel honored to be validated (again) by another respected authority. This time it is CRM magazine.

More building blocks

This is a follow up of moderate commitment (i.e., it’s not quick) to yesterday’s post on online communities / social networks. All of these were sourced from CRM Magazine (www.DestinationCRM.com), which always comes highly recommended.

“The 7 Benefits of Online Customer Service Communities” by Christopher Musico —A new Forrester Research report highlights the return on investment in social media communities.

“10 Steps to Social Media Success” by Lauren McKay — Internet Week ’09: Brand Exposure event shows companies how to join the conversation.

“Webinar: How Social Media is Transforming Customer Service and the Customer Experience” from Parature’s blog — Note: Free registration is required.

“Find Out How Businesses Are Leveraging Social Media” from AIM-Partners (via SageSpark.com) — Note: Free registration is required.

Grab a coffee and sip some more soc-net knowledge. Enjoy!

Lessons in community building love

“If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Angela Connor (EContent Magazine, September 2009). This article is an excerpt from Ms. Connor’s book “18 Rules of Community Engagement”. First, let’s hit some of the pull quote highlights. Then we’ll finish with some AU commentary.

We are living in the conversation age, where one-way communication is no longer enough. Savvy consumers with infinite choices across the web expect interaction and engagement, and those who can’t deliver will find themselves at the end of the line. What that means is the days of broadcasting your message to the masses and reaping huge benefits are fading fast. The deepest pockets once delivered the biggest audience, but the audience can no longer be bought. It must be earned.

Many businesses and organizations are aware of this fact and have built online communities or have become involved in existing social media platforms to actively listen to and communicate with customers. They understand the power of engagement and recognize the importance of transparency. Others are still in denial, ignoring the conversations and refusing to embrace this new way of communication. However, when the president of the U.S. creates a new office dedicated solely to public engagement, it underscores a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Growing a successful online community, for me, has been a trial by fire, and in some aspects it still is. What seems like a great idea can easily flop, and the simplest ideas can resonate with the community in ways you could never imagine, bringing new members in waves and causing participation levels to skyrocket.

If You Build It, Will They Come? The answer, simply, is no! Many organizations and businesses mistakenly believe that if they provide the tools for community engagement and interaction, a community will form on its own and ultimately engage and interact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While providing the tools does indicate a desire to bring people together, it does nothing to actually make it happen. It takes a different kind of investment to grow a community, and a major portion of that investment is time.

This was published in the Business and Technology section of The Wall Street Journal’s website on July 16, 2008. The headline was “Why Most Online Communities Fail.” According to the article, Ed Moran, the Deloitte consultant who conducted the study, indicated that most of the sites failed to attract visitors because businesses focused on the value the community could bring rather than investing in the actual community.

The key phrase in that statement is “long-term.” Success will not happen overnight, and anything short of a long-term commitment will produce mediocre results.

These differences make the role of a community manager very unique and underscore the importance of having clear goals and knowing what constitutes success.

Without a clear-cut mission, you will find it difficult to reach your goals. General goals such as “reach out to the community and communicate” will only get you so far. What are you reaching out to the community for? What are you communicating about? Those are the questions that have to be answered so you can gauge your success.

“The value lies in the community manager serving as a hub and having the ability to personally connect with the customers (humanize the company), and providing feedback to many departments internally.”

Keep in mind that shared interests bring people in a community together, and online communities can only thrive if people visit regularly and spend a good amount of time when they do visit. And given the fact that no one willingly wastes this precious commodity [i.e., time], it should be a major priority to create experiences that are worthy of their time and make them want to return and give even more of it.

In my book, I will share what I know and some of the things I’ve learned from others while managing the online community GOLO.com, from its infancy to its current status of more than 11,000 members with dozens joining every day.

And now for the AU value add…

Ms. Connor makes a number of excellent points, many of which should be applied beyond the idea of community. For example, time, time is always precious and should be respected. Waste your guests’ time during an interaction — in your store or on your web site — and you’re certain to struggle but save them time and you’ll earn a following.

Next, while the general idea of Community Manager is certainly sound there seems to be a couple tweaks in order. First, as minor as it might sound, the title of Community Manager itself should be changed. Assigning  someone to “manage” a community seems to  be counter to the foundation of  many of Ms. Connor’s ideas. In short, words matter (because they are the building blocks of ideas). For example, Community Facilitator would a step in the right direction. Certainly there are others.

The other issue with Community Manager is, why have just one? Why have all your eggs in one basket and risk losing your center if that person leaves or isn’t the right fit? It would make more sense to spread that assignment across as many people are possible. Why not eat the elephant one bite at a time instead of trying to swallow it whole?  Having “behind the scenes” staff seems counter productive to the idea of community.  Getting everyone out front and involved will help keep everyone engaged and focused on the goal(s) of the team.

Finally, Ms. Connor finishes with a comment about the size of GOLO.com. The question is, is that good? Did they meet their goals or not? The other issue is, is size really the ultimate measurement of success? Maybe it’s another chapter in the book but further discussion on various useful measurements of a community seems to be in order, as well as how those might change as the community grows.

p.s. Did anyone else notice the irony that a male, Martin Read, is the founder of Female Forum?

Less news isn’t bad news

Time for some shameless self-promotion…

“News Unfit for Print” by Michelle Manafy (EContent Magazine, May 2009). The article dates back to May but what’s new is that EContect printed an AU submitted letter. Please take a moment to read what we thought and they printed. Ironically, EContent does not post printed letters on their web site.

This is my first issue of eContent and so far I like it. It’s definitely of the same quality as the other Info Today publications I read. With regards to your latest Edit This: “News Unfit for Print”, I’d like to share a couple thoughts with you (and Dennis).

I’d make the “argument” that it’s actually the true media companies that are succeeding. On the other hand, the companies and organizations that see themselves as being “newspapers”, or “television broadcasters”, etc. are the ones who are being hurt by their own archaic mind-set. Until those traditionalists realign themselves with how the market see them, they will continue to struggle. And rightfully so; where’s the surprise?

The pull quote said, “In this collapse of the media business, the ensuing news vacuum will need to be filled.” Please excuse my tone but… Pardon me, what vacuum? It is actually the ubiquitous availability of information that has destroyed the market’s need for printed / televised word. Just because less people are getting the paper or watching the news does not mean they are not keeping informed. The only vacuum I’ve seen is in the minds of traditional media companies’ and how it effects their ability to meet the needs of the market.

Thanks again for eContent. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.

Hoist a new flag,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

There is one additional point I’d like to add in regards to the current state of traditional news outlets. The majority of the time it’s difficult to tell if they are trying to inform me or entertain me. Between the interviews overflowing with softball sized questions to the “it’s on Twitter so it must be true” insights there’s hardly any value added and  little true news disseminated.

It’s odd that these brands wish to be taken seriously as news sources yet devote so little energy to spin-free, honest and insightful news. They want to talk the talk but they don’t want to walk the walk. That’s fine, they just shouldn’t be shocked that they’re losing a battle to their (market defined) equals.

The bottom line… If you want real news then watch, listen and/or read the BBC News.

Burn Hollywood, burn

“JetBlue Genius And Hollywood Hustlers” by Bob Evans (Informationweek.com, 17 August 2009). When the ideals of The Guest Experience start showing up in geeky publications such as Information Week you know it’s time to get on board. His words might not be exactly the same but the concepts are in concert with our own. Could this be the article that inspires you to adjust to the new normal of guest-centricity? Or are you too Hollywood?

A bit less power to the people

“Wikipedia to Limit Changes to Articles on People” by Noam Cohen (New York Times, 24 August 2009). A subtle but noteworthy tweak in approach. It’s as if to say the people are always right except when they’re not. Interesting, eh? What do you think?

Google isn’t always the greatest – Part 2

A quick addendum to the previous post on Google and Yahoo.

First, here is the link to Yahoo’s Finance page: http://finance.yahoo.com/. And here’s Google’s: http://www.google.com/finance. As you dip your toes into Yahoo’s water you’ll notice similar aesthetics that often overshadows Google’s more utilitarian approach.

In addition, here’s a quickie from CNN Money: “Do you Yahoo? Probably” By David Goldman (CNNMoney.com, 23 August 2000). The article points out that Yahoo’s approach is less profitable than Google’s. What it fails to clarify is the time frame of this measurement. Is it the last two of three quarters? Or more? Or less? Even so, three or four quarters does not a long term trend make. It should also be noted that to some extent this is an apples and oranges comparison. These are both internet based companies but their paths in terms of focus and approach quickly diverge. There is little reason to believe they will produce similer results.

Btw, did you notice the similarity between Yahoo’s design and CNNMoney’s?

Google isn’t always the greatest

“Where Yahoo Leaves Google in the Dust” By Randall Stross (New York Times, 22 August 2009). While the Google hype machine would like you to believe otherwise, Google is not perfect. Yes, they are a damn good advertising machine but there are plenty examples of failed Google projects that were eventually sacked. If fact, that’s Google’s M.O. — if a project takes off they continue to refine it  but if it doesn’t they cut their losses and move on. They don’t waste resources on ideas that fail to gain traction in the market. For some there’s a possible lesson here. I digress.

When it comes to having a successful web site it is essential to embrace the value of a great UX (user expereince), or as we at AU like to say, the all inclusive Guest Experience.

Yahoo understands that information about money — a user’s own money — presents some tricky psychological issues. James Pitaro, vice president of Yahoo’s audience group, said, “In our research with users, we found that the more information that was displayed on the page, the greater the anxiety.”

Put another way, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. Say too much and you run that risk that nothing will be heard. No doubt you are passionate about your business.  That you want your guest to know everything about your brand and you want them to know know it all the second they meet you (i.e., visit your web site, see your ad, etc.). That’s just not practical. That’s not the way relationships work. There is a pace and rhythm to The Guest Experience and often TMI (too much information) is not part of The Guests’ expectations.

The other lesson here is that Goliath can be beat, but you have to choose your battles. You have to be willing to suspend your subjective passions for a moment. Stop, step back and be objective about what is going to maximize the Guest Experience that your brand offers. Ultimately, it is your guests who will beat Goliath, not you. Think about it…

Finally while we’re on the subject of Yahoo vs Google there is another place where Yahoo slays Google — email. Yahoo offer unlimited storage while Google is currently capped at 6 or 7 gigs. Fair enough, 6 gigs is still a lot of email but it’s not as much as unlimited. Regardless, Yahoo’s UX is much stronger (and almost a desktop experience). For example, you can drag and drop emails from one folder to another. You can even drag an email onto your Contacts folder and Yahoo will prompt you to add that person’s email address and other details to your contact lists. Simple, clean and easy.

One often overlooked bomus is that both Yahoo and Google allow you to check your other email accounts (commonly known as POP3 accounts) via their interface. So rather than have to use (for example) Verizon’s crap web mail you can use Yahoo (or Google) instead, much like you might have used Outlook to check multiple accounts. This is also handy when you’re transitioning from one email address to another. You can have your email come in via the old address and then send out via the new one, all via a single interface. Yahoo mail is also slickly integrated into MyYahoo!. MyYahoo! is great for setting up pages of RSS feeds but that’s another lesson for another day.

Btw, the Yahoo calendar is great too. You can even set up reminders to be sent to your cell phone via text message. Remembering important dates and appointments has never been easier.

The bottom line… If you have more than one email address or are looking to make your life – both online and off –  easier, AU proudly dismisses the Google hype and highly recommends Yahoo email and MyYahoo.  Check it out, it’s time well spent.

The Chaos Scenario

As heard on WNYC,org’s The Leonard Lopate Show:

Bob Garfield, Advertising Age editor-at-large and co-host of On the Media, documents how the digital revolution has separated the 350-year connection between mass media and mass marketing, and prescribes a new way for business and institutions to go forward in the changing media landscape. His book The Chaos Scenario looks at what happens when the traditional media world order collapses and there’s nothing in place to replace it.

The audio of the interview can be found here: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2009/08/03/segments/137774

Mr. Garfield does a perfect job of summing up the current state of marketing and how the internet empowered guest is changing everything. Click to get a free download of the first two chapters of The Chaos Scenario.

Brilliant stuff.

Moving the moutain

“NPR Moves to Rewire Its Approach to the Web” by Elizabeth Jensen (New York Times, 26 July 2009). As one of the few true news outlets left, NPR’s decision to revamp has the potential to be significant in terms of widening their reach. As Vivian Schiller, NPR’s president and chief executive, notes:

We are a news content organization, not just a radio organization.

The other significant point mentioned is that shows will be available in both audio and text. In other words, the guest gets to choose the format that fits their moment. We’re looking forward to a new and improved NPR. We hope you are as well.

Btw, the music industry publication Billboard (www.Billboard.com) has also just lauched a new web site. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Say what you need to say

“Create and Monetize Podcasts on Any Budget” by Mark Underhill (Website Magazine, August 2009). Podcasting might not be the buzz phrase of the moment but despite it’s post-trendiness stature it’s still a great tool to have in the tool box. Audio is simple to produce and manage, as well as adds another dimension to The Guest Experience you offer. The other benefit is that guests can consume your content even when they’re not chained to their monitor.

For those who show further interest, here’s a list of podcast articles from WebsiteMagazine.com. Enjoy yourself!

You have to start somewhere

“The Essentials of E-Marketing” by Sara Baker (NICHE Magazine, Summer 2009). Time is tight so let’s get right to it. For some this article is a nice overview, or others it should function as a healthy refresher.

What? Yes. When? Not so much so.

“What Data Mining Can and Can’t Do” by Allan E. Alter (CIO Insight Magazine, June 2007) The subject of business intelligence (BI) came up in a meeting a couple days ago. The discussion centered around using broad patterns, as well as past behaviors of individuals to make future predictions. This article isn’t new but given the authority of Mr. Peter Fader (who is the interviewee) it will help you properly wrap your mind around this topic.

In short, there seems to be a fair amount misunderstanding when it comes to BI. Well, at least Prof. Fader thinks so.

It never hurts to look

“30 Light and Sleek Web Designs for Inspiration” by Jacob Gube (Six Revisions, 12 July 2009). How about a little web eye candy for a change? Granted the general aesthetic is somewhat trendy at the moment but here’s a nice run down that should get your creative juices flowing. Enjoy!

Still looking for a good summer read?

“What You Pay For (a review of Wired’s Chris Anderson’s new book ‘Free’)” by Virginia Postrel (New York Times, 10 July 2009). Mr. Anderson is often a voice worth listening to and thus his latest book is worth investigating. The question seems to be, is the biz model he champions where things are or where they are going? If you believe it’s where we are then the next question is, “What’s next?”

Bees or flies?

“Search Engineering” by Jessica Tsai (CRM Magazine, July 2009). Beautiful. The theory is, why chase customers when they can find you? Yes, when done right it can work quite well. Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and online marketing in general continue to be hot topics. Ms. Tsai does the subject matter justice.

One essential factors that is too often “overlooked” comes in one of the article’s sidebars:

Bad and Ugly SEO
Click fraud in paid search. Some reports indicate that one-third of clicks on paid search are fraudulent—the result of developers creating bots to click on competitors’ ads, raising those competitors’ costs.

We’d also like to add an AU caveat. SEO / SEM is not a panacea. It will not make up for a visually dated web design or a marginal user experience (UX). Nor will it fix a shaky business model, poor customer service, or a second rate product / service. SEO / SEM is a way to attract customers. The question is — Is what your brand puts forward best suited for attracting bees or flys? If you need someone to be your trusted and objective mirror please give us a ring.