social media

  • June 22, 2010
  • Chatter,’s social collaboration tool goes GA today — that’s general availability for the acronym challenged among us.  I think it’s a good thing for many reasons.

    Chatter is new, perhaps a new category of business software and that’s something we haven’t seen in a while.  It took the company only eight months to go from concept to today, a great performance for any software vendor but even more so for not only building but inventing something like this.  It’s a tribute to the people involved but also the platform, which underpins the new application.  I’ll let you read some other writers to learn more about Chatter’s functionality and, instead, skip to the thing that I think is most important.

    Chatter is arguably the first bit of social business software that was built for the unique demands of the business environment.  Prior to Chatter we have a raft of software that was built, in some cases in a dorm room, to enhance the personal social outreach of its users.  While those tools are good and worthy and most of you reading this already use them, you have to admit that in a business context they leave a lot to be desired.

    Applying personal social software to business reminds me of early attempts at building a flying machine — like those grainy black and white movies with syncopated piano music backgrounds of early test flights.  They could have been scripted — an inventor straps wings to his back and jumps off a bridge.  You know what happens.  To me, that’s what personal social media in business has been, great hopes, an adrenalin rush and cold water in the face.

    The lesson here is that you can’t invent simply by emulating an old paradigm you have to think anew.  Salesforce saw this clearly, analyzed the need and built a product for the need it saw rather than simply copying something that worked in another context.  In other words, Chatter has no feathers.  Now, it must be said that the comparisons with the Facebook user interface are many and Salesforce leads the comparison parade.  That’s fine because the result is more than a UI.

    The business process that Salesforce saw and sees has been in our faces for a long time though we were stumped over how to address it.  How do you foster a contextually rich and running dialog between relevant parties over company business in a dynamic and evolving setting.  email didn’t work, portals had limited appeal and voice mail?

    The number of point to point connections in a company of even ten people can be big and in a company with five hundred or five thousand it’s just not possible.  Chatter supports an always on human network that ensures that the necessary people stay in touch over relevant issues.  That’s what is important about Chatter and what’s a bit different about it from personal social media.

    We might be witnessing the beginning of an important new era in business software and in a future that I think will require business to build more sustainable business processes — defined as processes that are more efficient and that incorporate customers as a renewable resource — I think products like Chatter will play an important role.

    Published: 12 years ago

    In addition to knowing about the demographic make up of your community members and making sure they participate in your community not just hang around reading other people’s contributions you need to know something about the demographics of the social sites you want to work with.

    I just read an article by Tom Stein about how small companies are giving up on Facebook as a marketing tool because they haven’t seen any returns on their efforts and some of the companies cited had been at it for a year or two.  So is Facebook’s time in the sun ending?  Maybe, but it will take more than a few anecdotes to make that call.

    Consider this.  According to a resent survey by Pingdom ( concluded that 16 out of 19 (84%) of the most popular social sites have more women populating them than men.  The super geek sites Digg, Reddit and Slashdot have more men on them but the more popular sites including Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter all have more women visiting them.  The average ratio of all sites surveyed according to Pingdom was 47% male, 53% female.

    That’s fine as far as I am concerned because women spend the bulk of family budgets.  But this neatly illustrates the flaw in the assumption that social media is a universal good.  One of the companies that Stein references as being dissatisfied with Facebook happens to be Blank Label, a company specializing in custom shirts designed and bought over the web.

    So, the question that leaps to mind now that we know all this is how many custom shirts does the average woman buy annually?  Go ahead, think about it, I can wait.  Bingo!

    So at least in the case of the shirt maker, the over reliance on Facebook is an example of not understanding the delivery medium.  It used to be so easy with print.  Magazines publish detailed statistics on readership, subscriptions, demographics and more so that potential advertisers can make educated decisions on their marketing spend.  The same kind of information is available from other sources on the web but you’ll need to do some work to find it and maybe collate it.

    The point is that social media is just a tool.  There are many kinds of social media some tools are great at blasting out messages to friends but other tools focus on collecting information from your community.  The focus on inbound data often gets lost with the result that we continue to “spray and pray” using social media as if it were direct mail or email marketing.  Social media is powerful and easy to use but we still need to pay attention to how we use it.

    The shirt maker might have a friend list of only men but and here’s the difficult part men might not go to Facebook looking for information specific to shirts.  The fact that so many women use it suggests to me that men who go there have other things on their minds.  So we see that just as in print advertising, lead generation is a fine art partly made up of the offer but much consideration should also go to placement.

    Published: 12 years ago

    It had to happen sooner or later, the only question in my mind is why it has taken so long.  It appears that the backlash against social media is beginning.  All I can say is yippee!

    With trends like social media or almost any trend we tend to over imbue the idea or offering with our own expectations of what’s possible and inevitably we are disappointed when we learn that nothing could do all that.  I think the old Saturday Night Live line “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!” nicely illustrates the point and social media has traveled a very typical path.

    When I started writing about social media in CRM in 2002, few people saw its potential and it took several years before the concept gained critical mass.  Then for a period of a couple years it was all that anyone wanted to talk about.  People wrote books about it and gave speeches and many out of work PR and marketing pros became experts overnight talking about it from their blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

    The other day I ran across an article by Tom Stein titled “The ugly truth about Facebook for business” in which he documented multiple small business owners who said that Facebook had been a total waste of time and these owners had stayed with the technology, in some cases, for two years.  The article goes on to talk about how much effort and time these businesses put into developing content for their accounts daily and how frustrated the owners were.

    The only answer I can give to all this is, duh!  It might be painful to hear this and hard to swallow but the reason for the lack of success can be boiled down to operator error.  A year an a half ago Clara Shih wrote “The Facebook Era” (a good book, by the way) in which she plainly showed that Facebook and other forms of social media are good at keeping tabs on acquaintances, people we know casually or through a mutual association just the kind of people who could be called customers.  Our best friends might interact with us through social media but they also email, pick up the phone or eat and drink with us.

    The difference is huge because the sum of all those interactions is bi-lateral communication in which we give information but we also get information too.  The problem with using Facebook or any other outbound social media exclusively is that when used this way it is no more revolutionary than a dumb direct mail blast and we all know how well that works.

    As I have written before, to be effective at using social media you need a social media strategy that incorporates both the outbound messaging that we love as well as ways that prompt user or customer input.  It is the input that makes social media valuable and it is seeking input that we seem to have trouble with.

    I don’t know why this is.  Perhaps it has to do with the incessant need marketers have to justify their existence to the CFO.  The usual approach is to heap up some statistics like the size of the base you market to, the number of impressions and similar things.  We consider that real work but when it comes to asking open-ended questions to come up with a good idea that had been hidden and that we can use to refine products and messaging we don’t see the same value.

    On other occasions I’ve suggested that the ratio of inbound social media use to outbound should approximate the 80/20 rule.  I might go 70/30 but the point is that the preponderance of effort should be on listening and understanding or as Stephen Covey said in Rule 5 of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”  Your messaging should be so chock full of knowledge and information that the recipient is compelled to act and that doesn’t happen if you’re spending a couple of hours a day just trying to dream up something relevant to say.

    Now that we are getting over the phase in the social media bubble when we think it’s the answer to every affliction known to humankind, perhaps we can begin the process of understanding its uses better as well as the nuances between different types.  Social media is a rich toolbox with many interesting and effective gadgets and knowing which ones to use and when is more than half the battle.  We’re at least over the idea that all we need is a hammer and that’s progress.

    Published: 13 years ago

    SAS introduced its Social Media analytics product today and, given that SAS is SAS, it will serve to give some new legitimacy to the field.  Social Media analytics has been around for a long time, probably as long as the Web minus a day or two.  But that doesn’t mean that SAS can’t add to the conversation in some important dimensions.

    For instance, two of the major constraints on analytics have always been CPU throughput and memory.  The more CPU cycles you can throw at the problem of finding a needle in a proverbial haystack the faster you can find that needle.  But CPU only works on the data in memory and if you need more data from disk each seek slows you down.  So SAS has done a lot to provide the highest performance possible by throwing CPU and memory at the problem.

    Last night at the opening keynote, Dr. Jim Goodnight, showed what this can mean.  He took an analysis process from a bank that had taken eighteen hours to load and reduced it to a couple of minutes by putting the whole shebang in memory and dividing the task among just over a thousand processors with multiple cores.  The importance here should be obvious, that massive amounts of data that a large enterprise might typically generate or have generated about it can now be analyzed in time to make the result relevant for ongoing business processes.

    The simple performance demonstration preceded today’s announcement of SAS’s social media analytics for a good reason.  If you add together high performance and the very large datasets you arrive at a useful solution for corporate marketers trying to make sense of the twitter-facebook-blog-and-other-social-media data streams that are a fact of life today.  As the demo at the press conference made clear, it’s nice to know that sentiment may be up or down but it’s even better if you can analyze it by source, season and other parameters.  The result may enable a marketer to pinpoint a particular article or post and determine the most effective course of action.

    In the right hands, Social Media analytics can also help you understand the unintentional information that’s given off by your competitors whenever they enter the social web or when the market reacts to something they do.

    SAS is offering its analytics as an on-demand package but it’s not simple or something that you buy this morning and start using this afternoon.  The company has a well thought out process for on-boarding customers and sticking with them over time to mentor, coach and occasionally perform consulting projects.  This all seems very reasonable.

    Several smaller Web marketing and marketing analytics companies have taken the same approach lately of providing product and ongoing service and it’s a business model that I think will become more common over time.  We’ve spent decades trying to make analytics simpler to use and the results have been good.  But the reality is that it will always be something close to rocket science to understand and use tools that predict what people might do with a given amount of information.  Also, the marketplace is changing.  In a zero-sum marketplace, like the one we’ll be in for a while, it is shrewd for a company to cross sell service rather than another product.  Selling service further cements the bond and enables further discovery leading to more cross and upselling.

    So the net of the SAS announcement.  Interesting that SAS has put a stake in the ground in social media analytics, their enterprise customers will appreciate it and I think it’s important for the continued growth of the company to offer a service like this.

    Published: 13 years ago

    There’s a huge discussion raging on the Internet started by a provocative question from Bob Thompson.  Can you do Social CRM without social media/networks?

    The question came to me via Paul Greenberg’s blog and I find it curious that I am not in agreement with much of the discussion or, more to the point, I might agree with the conclusion but not the underpinnings.

    The discussion — and there is a lot of it to wade through — and its conclusion falls too quickly, in my estimate, to Paul’s declaration that,

    “The business ecosystem is controlled by the customer.  Period.  That means its NOT controlled by the company and its NOT jointly controlled.  The controller of this ecosystem is going to be whatever group drives demand and, currently that is I think, indisputably, the customer (if it isn’t that – meaning you want to dispute it – prove it to me.”

    Now I’m feeling like John McEnroe in the rental car commercial, at first screaming “Take any car?  You cannot be serious!”  Then meekly saying “Ok.”

    So, Ok!

    First, let’s be clear, it is a social and socialized world out there.  Customers do have the upper hand in an economy with a bias to save rather than spend.  Demand is weak.  Customers do speak with one another and share the good, bad and ugly about their vendors.  There’s no use disputing this, there is too much evidence.  However, let’s also be clear on another point, this more defines a retail situation than business to business where vendor-customer partnership is governed by long-term agreements and the idea at least receives lip service these days.

    Even if we are simply talking about business to consumer situation (70% of the economy), I think we might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope when we say it’s all in customers’ hands.  Customers frequently are not social — a minority of them are and catering to a vocal minority without controls on what amounts to market experiments can be dicey.  It’s part of a problem that emanates from over use of the word community to refer to the customer base and I think that’s a mistake precisely because only a minority of customers participate in social forums.

    As I have written many times before, membership is not participation.  Numerous studies show that most members simply observe and that’s a long way from active participation.  A Harvard Business School study recently revealed that 90 per cent of Tweets came from ten percent of Twitter members.  The same study showed that the average Twitter member issued one tweet every 74 days.  Be still may heart!  Can the system handle all the input?  Pew Research recently published a big study showing that majorities in the 60 percent range at popular Social networking sites were women.  There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but it does poke a hole in theories about social customers and efficacy of raw social media as business tools for gauging customers.

    In my mind, we’re using Social CRM as a paradigm extension for conventional CRM.  Translated, that means we use social media to find less expensive ways to broadcast messages or conduct uncontrolled experiments (a.k.a. surveys) on customers.  The result is a dog’s breakfast.

    The result of all this is a system that is badly reactionary when it needs to be proactive.  It is reactive to follow customers around trying to capture a crumb of an idea in the hope of extrapolating it into a full-blown product idea, marketing message or offer.  It’s like playing CSI by following a bad guy around until he spits on the street so that you can swipe up the sample and extract DNA.  The CSI approach tells you what was but doesn’t shed much light on what will be and we really want to know what will be.

    The right approach is to ask customers directly what they think and to do it before a crisis hits a la Nestle.  That means having ongoing deep market research into customer attitudes, biases and needs.  This is real proactivity and it provides the necessary insights into customer opinion, motivation and bias that you need today to make rational decisions about product, messaging and interaction.  There’s no sense waiting until you’ve stirred up a hornets’ nest to sample customer opinion because it won’t be reliable.

    To do this, forget crowd sourcing.  I know it’s popular, but it is limited.  You can’t learn anything new or gain real insight from sampling the opinion of people who happen to be mad enough to express it.  Research shows that these opinions may only be a small sample and may not be indicative of the larger group.  When we fall into this trap we end up reacting and reacting and reacting.  First to what the minority said when it was mad, then to the mad over-reaction and so forth.

    Getting out of this death spiral requires that we form real communities of people we select for their diversity and willingness to participate before anything hits the fan.  Such communities exist and they are very useful but they require discipline and constancy — you can’t gen up a community only when you might want to know something about yesterday, you need to be in the game all the time.

    The information we get out of these communities will not be perfect and, in fact, you might want to call it qualitative.  In that case you will at least have a hypothesis to test with a larger group or even the whole population.  But you’ll be proactive in this, not waiting for something to hit you in the face that you will then have to react to.  More importantly you will have real numbers to work with.

    So, to the question, can you do Social CRM without technology?  I think, yes, but in a limited way.  Think of it as going from Boston to San Francisco.  People did this long before there were rails and airplanes.  But they did so infrequently simply because of the expense and rigor of the trip.

    Paul Greenberg gives some great examples of Social CRM without technology but the thing you have to acknowledge is that it doesn’t scale.  The real question that I think Bob Thompson was asking, or at least the one I would like to respond to, is can it be done today in our civilization to meet the needs of both customers and vendors?  I think, no, it can’t.  You need technology to do something serious like that.

    Published: 13 years ago