Category Archives: Web/Tech

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening – “Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” – Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.

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Role of Education in Keeping US Tech Industry Competitive

Here’s a must-read post on Techcrunch, “Craig Barrett Takes On Vivek Wadhwa In The Tech Education Debate” , where two experts debate the role of education in ensuring US tech competitiveness in this era of globalization.

Here’s the premise for this highly insightful debate,

The most valuable employees of any technology company are the engineers and scientists, which is why everyone in Silicon Valley does whatever they can to ensure the continuous supply to this talent pool. The size of the talent pool is ultimately determined by the number of people who graduate from colleges and universities with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degrees. The U.S. is graduating fewer and fewer scientists and engineers, causing concern in many quarters. While many people agree this is a problem, not everyone agrees on what should be done about it.

In this highly insightful debate between Dr.Vivek Wadhwa , Harvard Law School fellow and Dr. Craig Barrett, former Intel CEO take on an important topic, which is the role of education in ensuring the future global competitiveness of US in technology.

It’s interesting that Dr. Wadhwa points out that the real issue at heart of this debate is NOT that “The U.S. is graduating fewer and fewer scientists and engineers.” The real problem is “that the majority of these graduates are foreign nationals (who are now increasingly returning home).”

So Dr.Wadhwa suggests,

“…while we fix the incentives for Americans, let’s do all we can to keep the best foreign students who come to the U.S. to study, here, so they are competing on our side.”

Although, retention of talented foreign students may help US competitiveness in the short-term, there is a definite need to grow the US Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) talent pool as Dr. Barrett has pointed out. He goes on to say,

“If the US is really serious about competing in the 21st Century economy we will have to decide to compete. This simply means that you have to create the work force (smart people), invest in R&D (smart ideas) and make sure the environment is attractive to investment in innovation (do something about tax rates, make it easier to form corporations, provide incentives to invest in R&D and make capital investments, etc).”

This is an issue that requires a comprehensive solution and there is no quick fix. Both agree that it is imperative to foster children’s interest and excitement in STEM early on in the education system, but the onus is on both public and private sectors to create an ecosystem with the right incentives for deserving talent, regardless of whether it’s US or foreign-bred. Creating an ecosystem without fostering the talent pool or having an abundant talent base with few opportunities is meaningless.

One point that especially resonates with me is Dr.Barrett’s contention that “it’s not just a financial compensation issue”. I completely agree that without genuine passion, pride, and excitement, all you’re left with is a culture of dollar-chasing sociopaths.

5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

If you’ve read my blog post on “Why Social Media Won’t Save Your Business“, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I think some companies shouldn’t have a social media presence.

So here’s what triggered this blog post. Recently, I tried to contact a live human being at a well-known national grocery chain via their Twitter account. But I didn’t get very far as the Corporate Twit (no pun intended) kept referring me back to the website, which has the contact information of one person in “Public Affairs”. Apparently, there’s only one live person at that huge national chain or the only one who dares to put his name out there.

What’s even more amusing is the disclaimer on this company’s Twitter page which says,

 

So this company won’t tell you who is posting this information but whatever this unknown person is posting is not their responsibility. Anyone else see anything wrong with this? I wonder if their lawyers are patting themselves on the back for coming up with this.

It was almost a year back when Robert Scoble wrote his blog post on how one large retailer’s website doesn’t have any people on there. What Scoble said then and I agree:

“Here it is in simple terms: add people to your web sites.”

Scoble’s not talking just about pretty stock pictures. He’s talking about real people – your employees, your customers, people your business needs in order to thrive. The same logic applies to blogs and every other type of your company’s online social media presence. Even a year later, it’s clear that there are plenty of businesses who still don’t get it or just plain don’t care.

Here are 5 signs that your company is not ready for an external social media presence:  

#1 If your company policy prevents you from adding a name or picture of a live human being on your corporate social media account (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or other), change that policy first and then launch your social media presence.

#2 If your company culture is all about one-way propaganda rather than two-way communication, train your employees in “social” skills before letting them loose on the social media sites.  

#3 If you’re only using social media for pitching products and/or shameless self-promotion, then you need to STOP. You’re no better than the spammers abusing the email system. Use social media for good – engage don’t annoy your customers.  

#4 If your customers didn’t like your cold and impersonal website and if try to replicate that same uninspiring experience on an external social media site, you will fail. We get that you’re a big company but don’t overdo the branding.

#5 If you don’t have a plan for managing and engaging your customers, STOP and create one before you go crazy on the social media sites.Your external social media presence should be treated as an extension of your existing community/customer programs and not as someone’s pet project.

Use of  social media by itself is not good enough any more. The only choice you have is to do it right or don’t do it. Doing it just because some “expert” says so, is far worse than waiting until you’re truly ready and can handle social media.

As far as my saga with the grocery chain goes, it had a positive outcome. I got a tweet from someone offering to introduce me to an executive he knows at that company. So we have proof that social media works but many companies still need to learn how to make it work for them and their customers.

Tips for Tech Entrepreneurs: Moving out of the Coffee Shop

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At the inaugural SF East Bay New Tech Meetup last week, Lawrence Coburn, the founder and CEO of Rate It All, gave aspiring entrepreneurs some valuable tips for “getting out of the coffee shop” and getting VC funding. Coburn’s venture – Rate It All, an online distributed consumer rating company, that allows users to find, share and solicit opinions on any topic, completed a $1.4M raise in September 2008.

Here are 4 key elements, according to Coburn, that a venture needs in order to get funding:

Solid Team: When Coburn initially kicked off his venture, he had meetings with many VCs who liked his business plan but weren’t ready to invest in his company because he was a one-person operation. The reality is that it’s risky for VCs to fund solo operations because if the entrepreneur got “hit by a truck” tomorrow, the venture and their investment would go down the drain. So Coburn made the point that VCs are most likely to fund a venture with a solid team and a clear game plan for succession to keep things going if anything goes wrong.

Product: A key point that Coburn brought to everyone’s attention was that VCs will no longer fund business plans  or concepts, so the venture needs to have a solid product or service that’s marketable. Given the competition for the VC funds, having a plan is just not enough as the funding will go to an existing product or service with a clear marketing strategy because that translates into lower risk for the VCs.

Traffic: Even when Coburn was working out of a coffee shop, Rate it All was revenue generating, making over $200K and yet, he couldn’t get funding right away. So, while revenue-generation is great, but it’s still not a guarantee that your venture will get funded. Having a revolutionary product or service is a good first step but to get funding, entrepreneurs need to make sure they’re focused on generating traffic right away (and revenue would be nice too).

Comfort level and Trustworthiness: Last but not the least, VCs want to fund someone they trust and are comfortable working with. This was a very insightful tip by Coburn and that was VCs need to have a certain level of comfort doing business with you – the entrepreneur. It also helps to be known in the industry and connecting with influencers who can help your cause. Some ways of making those connections and increasing your visibility is through speaking engagements and attending networking mixers where you have the opportunity to meet some of the influencers. He also said that inviting some of these influencers as advisors on your firm’s board will also add credibility to your new venture.

Overall, it was a brilliant talk by one of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest entrepreneurs. Coburn also went on to list several key technologies that are revolutionizing the online space including – Facebook Connect,Posterous, and the very well-known micro-blogging site – Twitter. Despite all the new technologies on the market today, Coburn reiterated that email still remains widely popular and is the primary way folks share online content today. He also pointed out that 90% of Rate It All’s 1.3million traffic comes from natural search so businesses shouldn’t underestimate the power of SEO either.

Facebook and the Quest for Social Media Domination

The Data Portability blog reports that the recent Power.com lawsuit accuses Facebook of being a monopoly,

“Facebook’s conduct constitutes monopolization (or attempted monopolization, ed.) of the market for social networking website services…”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been tracking the recent moves by Facebook to control and exploit user data and addition of Twitter and FriendFeed-like features. It wants to be your one and only social destination where you can tweet, blog, share, and heck, even search for content. Regardless of whether you think Facebook + FriendFeed news is all hype or if you’re truly concerned about the future of FriendFeed – one dangerous trend that’s undeniable in this saga, is this move towards consolidation in the social media space.  

For those who argue that it’s all about survival of the fittest, this acquisition is anything but that. Acquisitions of strong startups like FriendFeed stack the odds in favor of the weakest species that no one wants to buy and yet, they continue to exist, even if for no other reason, than to fill the void left by the strongest of the pack. One can hope that a strong startup is replaced by another stronger alternative, but if that startup too gets acquired before reaching critical mass, where does that leave the users?

I think it’s fantastic that talent is recognized and well-deserving entrepreneurs get their turn at the big pay-off. But there’s a real danger that if these acquisition sprees continue unchecked, it will dramatically reduce the choices for users, who are the real losers in this deal. When strong startups are bought out, all that the users are left with are mediocre me-too sites that don’t add any value or goliaths that have too much control over their online data.

The debate around FriendFeed acquisition is much more than just rooting for the underdog and all that fluff. What many are glossing over is the underlying truth, which is – by taking over FriendFeed, Facebook  has just about eliminated the only real competition that the uber-site has today in the social networking space.  

FriendFeed is much more than just a social network. It offers social conten aggregation, social media client, micro-blogging, real-time threaded conversations, and much more, all rolled up into one. Despite the steep learning curve, it trumps other social networks (including Facebook) in richness of features and robustness of the system.

In a short amount of time, it’s gone from a social aggregator on steroids to a feature-rich platform that even the popular sites are copying. By buying FriendFeed at this critical stage in its lifecycle, Facebook no longer has to worry if this site will take off and threaten its dominance in the near future.

Wouldn’t be least bit surprising if FriendFeed is shut down within a year, if not sooner, after Facebook’s ripped off every possible feature and integrated it into the mother-ship.

And why wouldn’t Facebook keep this wonderful community alive, you ask?  Oh yeah…I am sure Facebook would love to retain that passionate and vocal base of users who love FriendFeed precisely because it’s NOT Facebook.

Facebook is hardly the only one who’s been accused of vying for world domination. Google and Microsoft both have had their share of bad PR for trying to monopolize the marketplace. And even if Facebook shut down FriendFeed tomorrow, what’s the big deal? It’s just about million users, a mere drop in the ocean compared to Facebook and Twitter.

As a user, do you really care if there’s just one uber-social network? Should you care? I am sure many of us just love the idea of having just one search engine or just one “great” operating system or how about just one “perfect” flavor of icecream?! Who needs so many choices, anyway?! Really…

4 Common Excuses from Social Media Skeptics

Yes, Oprah’s on Twitter and so’s your 50-year old neighbor but that doesn’t mean everyone is on planet Social Media. Once you get out of the social media bubble and if you’re willing to listen to some professionals in the B2B space, you’ll more likely than not, come up against pockets of resistance to the new media. I have tremendous respect for folks who think before latching on to the latest latest fad and and in a previous post, I gave 5 reasons why social media skeptics may be onto something. But, there is a difference between healthy skepticism and unwillingess to change/adapt to a new environment.

Here are 4 typical pushbacks that I’ve come across that are a result of ignorance rather than pragmatism:

#1 “Our customers don’t do social media” I have heard this excuse so many times, even from organizers of social media events, who have confessed that they don’t see the value of social media for their customers. So finally, I asked one of them, “If your customers don’t read blogs or tweet, what channels do they use? Have you asked where they’re getting their information” and the answer is often a resounding “No”. Many professionals who play the “New media doesn’t apply to our customers” card haven’t even talked to their customers because leading research shows that social media is increasing in use among B2B marketers. Many purchase decision-makers pay attention to non-traditional media such as blogs and now, Twitter, thanks to big name celebrities. How much social media influences their decision-making is something the skeptics need to look into rather than hiding behind this excuse.

#2 “We’ve tried it but didn’t get any response” There’s a sense of “build it and they will come” attitude that’s very destructive for social media implementation because poor execution and lack of promotion is often blamed on the media. Companies spend a lot of time encouraging their employees to blog and tweet but don’t really spend any time promoting their efforts to the customers. “Tell our customer, what we’re doing? What a crazy concept!” Social media is new and will take some time for your customer base to adopt. That’s no different from email, not everyone was on it but you need to promote it and do it well for it to be successful.

#3  “There’s no clear ROI” That’s another common excuse that I’ve heard over and over again. Many companies still struggle with the ROI dilemma, but if social media doesn’t have clear returns, neither do many of traditional alternatives that your company currently uses. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it’s working. Social media metrics should be tied to clear business objectives and keep in mind, setting up a new channel will take time. Marketers who expect results overnight are setting themselves up for failure. Given that even the most traditional and established media struggle with the question of attribution, we need to give social media due time to get to its full potential.

#4 “It’s a fad”  Skeptics can keep hoping that the social media fad will blow over but hype aside, social media gives you the the ability to engage directly with your customers and that’s very powerful. Social sharing features provide the ability to make your marketing more impactful and empower your customers, champions to do the marketing for you and that’s not something you want to wish away. 

I am too much of a pragmatist to buy into all that jazz about how “social media is so wonderful and everyone on the planet should be on Twitter” but that being said, social media is inevitable. Engaging with our customers isn’t new, it’s not rocket-science, and it’s a no-brainer. So if social media tools enable us to do a better job at it, you either learn to do it and do it right, or else risk being irrelevant to your customers. While it’s not perfect, social media is revolutionizing the way we do business and communication, sooner companies learn how to navigate it the better off they’ll be in the long-run.

Tech and Social Media events in SF Bay Area for July

Here’s a roundup of interesting tech and social media events happening in the SF Bay Area in July. Let me know in the comments or tweet me, if you’re planning to be at any of these and if there others that should be on this list. 

July 7th
The SiliconValley NewTech July Meetup (Free! hugely popular event, nearly impossible to get in)
7:00 PM
at DLA Piper in Palo Alto, CA
The SiliconValley NewTech Meetup Group [SVNewTech]

July 8th
Women in Tech
5:30 PM
at Orange Labs in South San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Mobile Meetup

July 8th
MIGHTY
119 Utah St
San Francisco, CA 94103
 

July 23rd   
Silicon Valley Tweetup
5:30 to 8:00 PM at Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub, Santana Row in San Jose

July 27th
313 Fairchild Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043