Posts Tagged ‘social media’

The Best Business Books of 2009

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

In the wake of the worst US economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, everybody realized this: Making money is harder than we thought. So, this year, books on innovation had special resonance. Luckily, there were some great ones out there. So many, in fact, that this year’s best-of list includes two “companion volumes”–other good books from this year that cover similar material from another perspective.

These are the best books I read this year:

design-driven innovation1. Design-Driven Innovation – Roberto Verganti. A fascinating book that looks at companies that don’t merely create new products, but develop products and services that create new meaning for customers. Is that important? Well, companies that do it well avoid commoditization and generate outsized profits for long periods of time. Think Apple.

(companion volume: The Design of Business by Roger Martin)

Discovery-Driven Growth2. Discovery-Driven Growth – Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan. Verganti’s book covers the more creative side of innovation, while McGrath and MacMillan discuss the process that established companies should use to improve their innovation efficiency–that is, bringing more successful products to market and spending less on the failures. The central lesson: do more work on paper, and scrupulously document & validate assumptions as you go.

(companion volume: Innovation Tournaments by Christian Terweisch and Karl Ulrich)


3. Enterprise 2.0 – Andrew McAfee. A clear description for the general business audience of how web 2.0 products, like social network software, wikis, messaging services, and the like, can be deployed to help corporations work more effectively. Excellent combination of case studies, theoretical models, and a clear-eyed assessment of the obstacles in the way of wide adoption.

4. Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You – Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead and Andrew Campbell. A timely book that shows how smart, experienced people can make terrible decisions, and what safeguards companies can use to improve their decisionmaking. Illuminates the many cognitive biases at work during the decision process, which helps the reader to understand why so many decisions that look atrocious in hindsight were considered reasonable and logical at the time.

Collaboration by Morten Hansen5. Collaboration – Morten Hansen. Discusses how collaboration in business works, and when it doesn’t work, then provides a map for companies to improve their collaborative behavior – including unifying your workforce, nurturing “T-shaped” management and using networks intelligently. Key message: collaboration has a cost, and you need to make sure the payoff of collaboration outweighs it.

Related posts:
Podcast: Sydney Finkelstein on “Think Again”
On “Discovery-Driven Growth”
Podcast: Roberto Verganti on “Design-Driven Innovation”
On “Collaboration”
Video Review of “Enterprise 2.0″

The tyranny of the dashboard

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

722346_speedingI frankly am beginning to feel that I’m shouting into a void here. Companies are spending more time and money equipping the CEO and team with information, while starving the thousands of ground-level employees who, frankly, can have more impact on the company’s success simply through their day-to-day actions.

One ray of hope: an article in the December Harvard Business Review (co-authored by Fred Reichheld, the creator of the Net Promoter Score – a simple metric that somehow captures the complexity of customer perception) entitled, “Closing The Customer Feedback Loop.”

As opposed to the conventional wisdom of gathering masses of data and trying to detect high-level patterns in them, Reichheld and his coauthors talk about getting more granular – gathering information at the customer transaction level, creating small rollups of the data, and sharing them where they can do the most good – with the front-line employees and first-level management who directly impact the customer experience.

I agree with their prescriptions, but it still leaves the problem of what to tell upper management. Is there anything wrong with high-level management dashboards? Well, yes. Something of the danger in this is described in today’s WSJ article on Simpson’s Paradox (”When Combined Data Reveal the Flaw of Averages“). The first example cited: while today’s overall unemployment rate is lower than the 1982 level, unemployment at each educational level is higher. (The overall rate is lower because there are more people at higher educational levels, which have lower unemployment, than there were in 1982.) The article states: “Compared with a similarly educated worker in 1983, ‘the worker today has higher unemployment at every educational level.’”

There’s always something lost in summarization. In the case of Simpson’s Paradox, the result of the loss is a flawed conclusion, or at minimum missing a greater point of the story. Overall unemployment today is lower than 1982, but people today have been hit harder than their 1982 counterparts.

Dashboards distort reality as well. Executives rely on machines crunching millions or billions of numbers to present them an easily readable story of what is happening in their businesses. Yet the farther the statistics are distanced from the on-the-ground reality, the more likely they are to lie.

What can be done? Let’s get back to “Closing the Customer Feedback Loop.” On-the-ground data gathering and interpretation by those close to it makes all the sense in the world. But in communicating with upper management, there needs to be less sharing of numbers, and more sharing of individual stories. You can’t get any more granular than that. You can read a vibrant story in a minute or two. And stories fall into patterns–something more subtle and nuanced than statistics–that help senior management understand what’s going on. And human experiences are more understandable than the simplest dashboard.

There are tools to do help you gather and use stories. Rakontu, an open-source story-sharing platform, is one. Enterprise 2.0 tools such as blogs would also work for this purpose. So what’s stopping us? Or am I still shouting into the void?

(Photo by awegedebe via stock.xchng)

Related posts:
GE uses “net promoter score” – one of my earliest posts!
On Rakontu
Time to listen to front-line employees
How B2B customers talk
“Enterprise 2.0″ review
Technology is great, and so is avoiding the acorns

Video review of Andrew McAfee’s “Enterprise 2.0″

Monday, November 30th, 2009


We’re here today to talk about “Enterprise 2.0” by Andrew McAfee. He is with MIT, used to be at Harvard Business School. Just switched over a couple of months ago. He writes an excellent blog on IT and business, that I’d recommend you read if you haven’t come across it yet. And so, he’s just produced his first book. To explain the title, Enterprise 2.0 is a term he coined to refer to using web 2.0 tools like Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and similar tools in a business context.

The book is a lot like a recent book, “Groundswell,” that explained to general business people how social tools affected customers and markets and how to use those to communicate and listen. Communicating from inside the business to outside. “Enterprise 2.0″ performs a similar task, focusing on using those tools inside the business, more for collaboration and tapping the collective intelligence of employees. And so it takes this marginal topic and moves it to a general management-type discussion. Which I think is really important, to get it out of the IT discussion into the management discussion.

So as part of that objective he does a really good job of explaining how these tools work and also what ties them together because if you think about tools like Flickr or YouTube or a blogging platform or a messaging platform or a wiki there are a lot of differences among those but he’s tied together the common threads, using an acronym called SLATES (search, links, authoring, tags, extensions and signals). Signals, for example, like RSS that allows people who follow these platforms without having to log on to them every single hour to see what’s changed.

Another important part of the book is in putting the different tools into a context in terms of how useful they’d be for different organizational problems. He uses a bullseye metaphor focused on the strength of ties between colleagues to explain that. At the center of the bullseye are strongly-tied colleagues meaning people who work together in the same department, in the same location, all the way out to the edge of the bullseye. meaning colleagues who have no relationship at all. Different tools apply at different levels of the bullseye. In the center, people with strong ties would use tools like wikis, or collaborative development tools, like Google Docs.

Midway out the bullseye are colleagues with weak ties. People who know each other but don’t get together often, who don’t talk often, but would like to keep apprised of each other’s activities for the purposes of sharing knowledge, best practices, identifying solutions to problems, and so forth. For that ring of the bullseye, Facebook-like tools are very useful.

At the outer edge of the bullseye, where colleagues have no relationship other than that they work for the same company, a prediction market is a useful tool, that gathers people’s guesses about the possibility of certain things happening like a certain sales volume being reached or likelihood an innovation will succeed in the marketplace and aggregating that information to get a better answer than any individual would come up with themselves.

He doesn’t go overboard in terms of enthusiasm for how great these things are and how it’ll change companies overnight, and he has a pretty clear-eyed view of how difficult it is going to be to bring these tools to wide use. It just takes a long time -and he dwells on that at some extent – how long it takes for revolutionary innovations to take hold, and he doesn’t think this is any different, though he is optimistic that it’ll happen eventually.

And finally in the book he talks about kind of different management models or practices that work well with these tools, and by contrast he talks about typical Model 1 behaviors which are more command-and-control type behaviors, self-protecting behaviors and less-collaborative behaviors, which don’t go well with these new tools. To really utilize these new tools, people have to adopt what he calls Model 2 behaviors, which are collaborative, not so much focused on self-protection but looking out for the best interests of the company. Quite a different model than what most people have seen where they work. And I think that heaps underline the challenges in getting these systems adopted and in wide use.

It’s an excellent book, very well-organized and well-written. It takes an important topic and brings it into the mainstream. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too.

Marketing messages are simply another bee in the hive

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Cynthia Kurtz starts off a recent blog post with a provocative statement: “Telling a story is not always the best way to tell a story.”

She continues:

There are no green fields in the land of stories; every available spot is occupied and contested. There are no story-free environments. When a new story is launched into the world, the stories it meets do not simply watch as the newcomer descends; they rise to meet it and swarm around it in complex, unpredictable and sometimes baffling ways. If an idealistic metaphor for telling a purposeful story is pulling a lever or pushing a button on a compliant machine, a more realistic metaphor is sending a bee into a hive.

I want to talk about what this means for marketing communications, especially in today’s world of proliferating social technologies.

Marcomm people have always been tasked with creating messages that can inform the public utterances of the company – be they press releases, speeches, interviews, advertisements, etc. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call these things “stories.” Here are some examples of very brief stories that companies have told over the years:

  • Budweiser is the King of Beers
  • Chevy is the Heartbeat of America
  • GE brings good things to life
  • Wal-Mart: always the low price

Those are the most public messages, but there are others, not explicitly stated, perhaps, but nurtured and supported by the marcomm folks:

  • Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.
  • A Mercedes tells people, “I’ve arrived.”
  • Cool people shop at Target.

The official messages have always encountered other bees in the hive. Protesters, in some cases unions, and the press have offered counterstories to the company story – although one could argue that the press has often swallowed the company message and regurgitated it whole. (Quick aside – for the longest time I was amazed by how news stories profiling a musical artist would appear just a couple of days before a new album hit stores.) Here are some counterstories you may be familiar with:

  • GE’s industrial pollutants have damaged the environment at certain places where they had plants.
  • Wal-Mart achieves cheap prices by purchasing goods from overseas factories that exploit their workers.
  • GM cars have poor fit and finish and aren’t fun to drive.

By and large, though, the hive was pretty empty. Corporate messages were transmitted, and seeped into our consciousness pretty much unaltered. This was because mass public communication was expensive and exclusive.

Now we live in a different world. The hive is buzzing with voices. Communication is cheap and easy. Blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, Yelping, Amazon-reviewing, etc., etc. The counterstories fly fast and furious (read this one contesting an oft-reported statistic that Wal-Mart prices save American families $3,100 per year).

More than once, the other hive members have swarmed all over a corporate story and killed it. Remember the Motrin Moms fiasco, or the short-lived new Tropicana packaging?

Marketers, it’s time to stop trying to control your message. It’s time to stop believing that if you spend a lot of money buying advertisements, sponsoring sporting events or creating publicity stunts, that people will automatically believe what you say.

Instead, you’re going to have to earn your positive messages. Sell great products, service them well, provide outstanding value, thrill your customers. Listen hard to what they’re saying. The deep values they espouse in the stories they tell are your messages. Feel free to retell those stories in your forums. Look in the negative ones for clues to things you can improve, or markets you simply don’t serve well.

But, most of all, stop thinking you’re in control.

(Photo from direct dish via Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:
The “Values Proposition”
Tropicana hears feedback, brings back old carton
Marketers, stop shouting

Pro social media, anti shouting

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Last week, a client of mine referred me to someone who needs help figuring out how to incorporate social media into his marketing mix. “You know,” my client said, “I don’t even know if you like doing this work, because you never talk about it. But you helped me a lot and I think you can help this guy.”

The conversation made me confront why I don’t talk much about helping people with social media, and why it’s not a big part of my website or this blog (though it does sneak in from time to time).

One reason is that it seems that everyone in marketing today calls themselves “social media consultants.” And many of these consultants (snake-oil salesmen?) want to teach you how to shout at prospects, how to coerce people into joining your network, and other strategies (I use that term loosely) that to me are ineffective and basically bad, offensive marketing. Someone, say, like this guy:

So what do I do to help people in social media? I won’t tweet for you. I won’t write a sponsored post for you. I will talk to you about what you do, who your customers are & how they use social media. We’ll have a discussion about whether and how you could reach them using social media, whether there are ways to find customers or service your existing customers using these tools, and whether, frankly, you and your company really want to engage with customers this way (not everyone does).

At the end, you might see social media as something that can help your business, or you might think it has no value to your business at all. But you won’t feel sleazy, and your ears won’t be ringing from shouting.


Related posts:
The 5 Archetypal Business Twitter Strategies
John Quelch minipodcast: Why marketing is seen as unseemly

Desperately needed: a killer front-end to integrate all online comms channels

Monday, July 13th, 2009

I got into a neat discussion with one of the users I interviewed for the Listrak customer research project a few months ago. Her company does a lot of email marketing, but in addition they have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. As a result, their communication channels have multiplied, and now they have to manage customer communications over several corporate (and customer) identities.

What’s true with companies is also true with us plain old people. I have messages coming from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter,, Friendfeed, Plaxo, Skype, Meetup, Ning (4 groups) and, oh yes, email (4 accounts). If I want to respond, I by and large need to use whichever app the message came in on. This means a dozen separate communications channels… and no way to integrate my dialogues with one friend over all these channels.

So, a user’s plea. Who can create a unified client that can integrate these channels into one stream, where the same person’s email, Facebook messages, Tweets, etc., are collected together, where I can respond and the app can translate the message into whichever protocol is needed? [Some candidates I can think of: EmailcenterPro, CoTweet, TweetDeck - each of these companies is solving a part of this problem.]

(Just imagine how valuable that would be to a company trying to converse with its customers, such as the Listrak user I talked to?)

Customers are talking: many ways small businesses can listen

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

I subscribe to Duct Tape Marketing’s RSS feed because, even though it occasionally tips toward the “carnival barker” end of the Bloggers’ Continuum, it regularly delivers important posts that I find value in.

And so it was today, when John Jantsch (DTM’s author) posted “Listening in a Digital Age.” Jantsch discussed how listening to customers has gotten more complicated since the internet showed up (true), and offered a set of tools to help manage the flow (becoming a torrent) of online feedback.

He mentioned Google Alerts and Twitter Search (free), and Buzzlogic, Radian6 and other paid listening tools. (He didn’t mention CoTweet; perhaps he hasn’t tried it yet.)

A good follow up on this post, in my opinion, could be to talk about how businesses should deal with what they learn from these listening sessions. In fact, that may be something I take a shot at soon.

More on Netflix… and the value of dialogue in media

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Tim Berry wrote a post that took up the subject of my post yesterday: Netflix and “cannibalistic” innovation. The following is a comment that I added to Tim’s post:

Tim, I’m a bit in awe here. You took a partially-thought-through idea, probed it, refined it and added to it.

The result is kind of a diptych–two linked posts that form the basis of a dialog on an important subject (important to me, anyway).

This kind of collaboration is unique to social media. And that’s one of the things that really annoys me when the mainstream media (MSM) denigrates blogs as useful info sources.

Peer-to-peer, emerging dialog just doesn’t happen in the MSM. It’s one voice (with an editor in the background, perhaps). It’s static.

Even when MSM outlets use blogs and other online capabilities, they enfeeble them. Newspapers put older articles (some as recent as 2 weeks old!) behind pay firewalls.

The New Yorker blogs (examples here), which are superbly written and insightful, as you’d expect, don’t allow comments (!?!).

This to me is like purchasing a new car and refusing to use reverse gear. It’s just crazy. (Perhaps fueled by fear of eating one’s own tail, to bring it back to the subject of the dialog.)

Sorry to drag on, but I think your post highlighted one of the distinctive values of blogging & social media. It’s one of the reasons fewer people buy newspapers, & more people are participating & creating their own information sources.

Customers are talking: @comcastcares – not just conversation

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I recently spent some time with Frank Eliason, known to the Twitter community as @comcastcares. Frank has become a minor internet celebrity in the last year because of the work he and his team do resolving problems for unhappy Comcast customers who tweet or blog their frustration with Comcast.

His work is fascinating to me because Comcast is a gigantic, engineering-driven company and one which you wouldn’t have expected to embrace a “customers are talking” approach.

I think there are two reasons Frank and his team stand out. One is novelty. There aren’t a lot of companies who have prominent profiles on Twitter (Dell and Zappos are two others). That won’t last, of course, as more and more companies jump on board.

The second reason is more sustainable. The term “conversation” is everywhere in social media. It’s all about the conversation. Not for users of products and services. When they talk about products and services and companies on Twitter, it’s not just to have a conversation. In many cases, it is to highlight a problem.

The Comcastcares team doesn’t just engage in conversation. They solve problems. Here’s an example (for readability, these tweets are ordered from earliest to latest–the opposite of how you would read them on Twitter):

The biggest reason for me Frank and his team succeed is that they are customer-service and tech-support people, not PR people. Frank in particular has years of call-center experience, and therefore is able to skillfully engage with unhappy customers, listen, and, best of all, get them a quick resolution. In other words, your company can say it’s serious about social media, but actually using it to help people is better than the best messaging in the world.

Did you see from the example above that this problem was reported in the hour before the Super Bowl and was resolved before kickoff?

Stop reacting, and start listening, to online customer feedback

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I generally like this post from Matt Rhodes, my fellow Futurelabber (”How to react if somebody writes about your brand online“), but I have a bone to pick with the premise.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers are making in social media now is focusing on reacting. They are taking lessons learned from political campaigns and applying them to their relationships to the public. It’s a misfit. Political campaigns are adversarial. If your relationship with the public is that way, you have bigger problems than what people say about you on Twitter.

Reacting as strategy is a last, desperate attempt to deploy the marketer’s favorite tool, “messaging,” into a connected marketplace. As Doc Searls wrote, “There is no market for your messages.”

Rather than a futile tit-for-tat, your post to my counterpost competition to establish the preeminence of a company’s message in the networked marketplace, how about listening to what customers are saying, and taking it to heart? Thinking about it, perhaps? And, if warranted, a respectful, measured contribution to the dialogue? It can be done. Ask Comcast, and Dell, for starters.