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What is the real cost of a social networking effort? (or, Twitter can be risky business)

Often people ask me about the ROI on investing in social networking services. My answer tends to be twofold – cost and risk. In currency terms, the cost of participating on existing platforms is negligible and more sophisticated offerings (e.g. your own Facebook app or your own user generated content site) might cost a few bob but nothing compared to the cost of a transactional platform. The real cost is risk, what is the risk of embarking on such a journey?

Dave’s half dozen social networking risks to consider

  • How you use these tools is inconsistent with your brand. I work for a consulting firm and an important part of our brand equity is our ability to maintain information confidential. It wouldn’t really be appropriate for someone in my firm to tweet “met with CIO of company x today to discuss their new sourcing platform”.
  • Your message is poorly crafted. Gordon Brown’s use of YouTube to try lead the discussion on the expenses scandal is widely covered and widely derided. No matter whether you agree with what he said, as a politician his message was relevant to current events and he was right to try and get it out there. He just didn’t do it particularly well.
  • Your timing is rotten. The immediate response to any such initiative will be considered in the context of events at the time. Are you a politician looking to build a followership? Launching the day after your name was in amongst the expenses sinners means all commentary will be linked your expenses matters.
  • What you publish is inconsistent with your brand. As exciting as the press makes it seem, social networking services are ‘just’ another channel. What you say on your Facebook page needs to be consistent with what you are saying in your advertising. And this needs to be consistent with what your call centre staff say on your customer services desk.
  • You’re inviting your detractors to speak up. This is often the hardest part to accept, social networking sites give people free rein to say what they really think about your product / service. I tend to think it’s better to know what people are saying than not as at least this allows you to manage the market’s perception. And, as the widely covered United breaks guitars story reminds us, if you don’t create the space to do this other people will.
  • There’s no turning back. The Internet is pervasive. Google (and other sites) cache everything so once you’ve launched such an initiative, it’s out there for good. The commonly cited rule of thumb is not to publish anything that you would be embarrassed to see repeated. And you can be sure that if it is embarrassing, it will be repeated. Often. Perhaps even often enough to hit the popular press.

I’m not saying don’t do social networking. Certainly not, what I’m saying is think about what you’re doing and – just like any technology implementation – be sure to consider and actively mitigate the risks.

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Have Blackberry missed the point?

A TechCrunch article yesterday announced that Blackberry are launching a social network of sorts designed to give Berry users a targeted experience. I suspect this is in response to the dismal download numbers from the Blackberry App Store. I can’t help but wonder, have these guys missed the point?

If you want a social network you’d better think long and hard as to why you’re building something new rather than building on Facebook, LinkedIn, Hi5, MySpace, etc. All of these sites will allow API applications which allow you to build on their success and user base rather than starting one from new.

If you want to attract downloads through your app store then make sure it’s fast, it’s elegant and it’s easily searchable. Most importantly make sure there are new apps appearing regularly.

Neither of those are the point though. I sometimes think strategists get so focused on one idea, i.e. “App store is not working, let’s make a brilliant social network and we’ll get more downloads” rather than thinking why the idea in the first place, i.e. “How do we make the Blackberry experience more sticky by getting people engaged in their Blackberry user experience?”

I like to hope that if that there was focus on the second question, the decision to spend development effort could be focused where it will drive the most desirable response rather than the idea that’s easiest to explain in a catchy elevator pitch.

How did Apple leapfrog Nokia in the smartphone market?

I’ve been toying with with the idea of upgrading my phone (currently an N82) with one of the new generation smartphones, either an iPhone 3GS or a NokiaN97. Truth be told, I’ve been lusting after the N97 for some months now as I’ve been committed to Nokia since replacing my Ericcson 337 with a Nokia 6210.

Now that the N97 is becoming widely available I’m reading some of the reviews and having second thoughts. A video review that I watched this morning (from The Really Mobile Project) got me thinking about how Apple have taken the market initiative from Nokia over the past few years.

What Apple has done to leave Nokia behind in smartphone development

  • Made the app store something every user will access rather than something for gadget heads
  • Made development for the iPhone attractive to swathes of developers
  • Made connectivity seamless (no “choose your connection” dialogs)
  • Not buried the functionality in an old-school “tree / folder” menu system
  • Focused on some key functions which non gadget heads can relate to and made these the ‘killer features’ on top of the phone functionality (i.e. browser and media consumption)

And this is all on top of some of Apple’s traditional strengths, i.e. it’s beautiful, it works without much crashing, it’s well marketed, etc.

Admittedly, I’ve not decided one way or the other. I am an experienced S60 user and doubt would be able to find my way around without any problems. And the Nokia is functionally more capable (internet tethering? come on Apple, Nokia’s came with bluetooth modem drivers years ago). For me, the jury is still out.

Will you be leaving Microsoft for Google?

There have been a number of Google announcements in the past few weeks of interest:

That’s all in the last week or so. If we look back to the past few months, there are a few other things that are interesting:

  • Google announced an online collaboration platform, Google Wave (May 2009)
  • Google is resurrecting efforts on Google Voice (March 2009)
  • Google launched Chrome, a browser (December 2008)

Individually, each of these things is interesting and has generated a lot of online column space. Collectively, it leads to me think that there’s moves afoot in Mountain View to consolidate online services into a saleable bundle.

I would suspect that for most people the collective offering of Google Apps and Google Mail bundled on top of a Google OS and a Google browser would meet most, if not all, of their day-to-day needs. Perhaps Google think that millions and millions of small business don’t need the extent of MS’s Exchange and Office platforms and there’s a market to sell a bundled, largely online, end-to-end package?

In these troubled times everyone should be sweating their assets.

— oo —

Updated 17/07 with some extra links

The evidence seems to be mounting.

Why Google Wave will conquer the enterprise

The recent Google Wave announcement has caused considerable interest amongst us online social media geeks. There’s a lot published about what it is and how brilliant it will be so I’ll avoid that here. Instead, I’ll just make one observation: Google Wave can be privately hosted.

That’s quite important. I work for a consulting firm and we have lots of meetings and our face-to-face collaborative behaviours are great but there is room to enhance this with better use of online collaborative tools. The challenge is that as an organisation we have to be wary of these because of the data security implications.

Many of the existing collaborative platforms are web based and we cannot introduce a platform where data (including consultants’ work related conversations) has to leave our organisation as it would be in contravention of our security practices.  That’s not the case with Wave.

I appreciate that Wave is not the first to do this, there’s Microsoft’s SharePoint, Lockheed’s Eureka and presumably some others. But Wave is most likely the coolest. It is whizzy with lots of features that we can imagine using. It is cross platform and we can continue Waving on our Blackberries. (Is it going to be termed “waving?”) Many of us already use Google tools so the learning curve is not as steep.

So yes – part of the attraction is the feature base, but in reality without the ability to be privately hosted many corporates would not even consider such a tool. It’s the baseline for entry, and that makes it one of the killer features.

— oo —

Note, I was thinking this after reading Lockheed develops open source, social media framework (CivSource) and Mid-Year 2009 Predictions for the Future of Social Media (Ignite Social Media).

— oo —

In case you’re not sure what I’m banging on about, here’s the Google Wave announcement video.

Planning a holiday?

It is now summer in the Northern hemisphere and the holiday season is well underway.  Most of you will have planned your trips by now but it did get me to thinking, when putting a trip together what are the online resources that I like to use?

Dave’s most used online travel resources

  • How do I get there? Kayak (formerly Sidestep) – for my money, this is best site for looking up flights. The search capability handles most criteria you’d be interested in and you can setup mail alerts for updates on fares.
  • How do I make the trip more comfortable? SeatGuru – I’m pretty specific about where I like to sit in the plane (aisle seat, as far forward as possible), this site maps all configs of the major carriers so I can request an allocation that’ll make me happiest.
  • Where should I sleep? TripAdvisor probably needs no introduction. My favourite port of call for accommodation reviews and occasional questions in the forum. The site also has nice connectivity into Facebook and embeddable travel maps.
  • What should I do? WikiTravel – It’s certainly not exhaustive, but often it gives me enough of an overview of a place to begin more detailed searching elsewhere.
  • How do I pull all the info together? – I typically create a new “My maps” map on Google Maps and pin in the sites that I’m interested in, that helps me choose the best place to look for accommodation as well as get a sense of how to get about. Note to Google: It would be nice if I could access My Maps via Google Maps mobile on my Blackberry when travelling! Note to Wikitravel, TripAdvisor, etc.:  It would be nice to have a link for each attraction that pops a pin into Google Maps so I don’t have to search for it myself.

I want to be able to say “I have such and such weekend available, where can I go?” Essentially it would be a site where I specify departure location, dates, travel times and possibly some other dimensions and the site searches flights / hotels to provide options from what’s available. It seems so obvious, surely such a site exists?

As always, this is by no means a definitive list. It’s just the sites I’ve tended to fall into using. I’d like to hear your suggestions though.

Here’s my travel map (from TripAdvisor)

5ive websites I visit to pass the time

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Where do you go?

Why do some gadgets succeed?

Why are some pieces of tech instant successes and some, offering similar features, just aren’t? The examples that come to mind are iPods and Blackberrys. When these devices debuted they did things that previous devices already did (the Palm already did email and the Rio already did mp3), the Blackberry and the iPod just did them in a way that non gadget geeks were able to pick them up and use them.

These are my reflections:

  • Make them easy to use. Nay, not just easy, simple. Non gadget users should be able to pick them up and use them pretty much instantly.
  • Make them solve specific problems which are easy to articulate. iPods do music. Blackberrys do (mostly corporate) email. Sure – overtime they’ve added additional features and complexity but they’ve retained their ‘basics’ within their interface.

No doubt there are other contributing factors. These devices wouldn’t be pervasive without good engineering, compelling interfaces and clever marketing but I do think the ‘simple and easy’ aspect is a significant contributor to their success.

What’s Twitter good for?

Recently I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to colleagues about Twitter and why it’s useful. We’ve been discussing whether Twitter is useful either for ourselves (a medium sized consulting firm) or for any of our clients. In order to dehype the conversation, I’ve been trying to distill my thinking around what can be done on Twitter into a few distinct functional uses…

Dave’s uses for Twitter (for a company / organisation)

  • Signposting –> using Twitter to link back into your own website whenever new content is available. If you’re already using RSS or some popular blogsites it can be automated with services such as Twitterstream.
  • Creating a customer services channel –> More and more companies are creating customer services channels on Twitter. I’ve personally used @easyjetcare with much success. This relies on having someone at the other end who is able to engage quickly and regularly, has sufficient information to address queries, etc.
  • Creating a brand engagement experience –> Some brands are coming up with innovative approaches to getting people engaged with their brands using social media platforms as the place to grab attention. Dunkin Donuts have come up with a great idea for a competition based on profile pics (although strangely only on Facebook, but the example remains relevant). At a simplistic level, this could be as easy as using Twitter for coupons and promotions.
  • Polling for opinions, help, information –> It’s called social networking for a reason – ask a question about your products/services, and see what people say. There are few other mediums that allow to ask your consumers for direct feedback in such a connected fashion.
  • [Added 07/07] An article in Inc introduced me to the idea of using Twitter to monitor keywords which may be translated into sales opportunities

The most important thing, of course, is to ensure that any efforts on Twitter is consistent with your communications strategy. It needs to be considered as one element of a broader channel strategy which presents a consistent brand image for your organisation across all platforms.

What do you think? Have you got any more?

Global identity

My current client is a global manufacturer and we had some colleagues from from one of their European offices today. During the course of the day we (consultants) had to escort them (employees) around their own offices because they don’t have local passes. My company, a (much) smaller but still spread out organisation has managed to get it that my London issued card works in our Manchester office. I’ve not tried elsewhere but it got me to thinking, what are the ‘little’ things that “spread out” organisations can do to foster a sense of being part of a single company?

  • Access / id cards work across all sites
  • Same / similar approach to ‘labelling’ in different locations (e.g. all meeting rooms are product names / local rivers / towns, etc.)
  • Same / similar approach to layout of office space & meeting rooms in different locations
  • “Briefing pack” for each site with info on most important onsite (bathrooms, cafeteria) and offsite (hotels, restaurants, directions) amenities available on the intranet and, more importantly, via mobile devices
  • Posters / photos of foreign offices (I saw this at a previous client, thought it was a nice idea)

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, just the ones that came to mind this morning – please go ahead and add some more in the comments. I guess it’s a matter of not having employees feel like visitors just because they’re not in their base office. It ‘felt’ crazy that we were escorting employees around their own building. Of course, some of these will be constrained by local considerations, different vendors, etc. But its food for thought.