Business case or prototype

If you love social media you probably already saw the YouTube movie about social media and if it is a fad. It is a very impressive movie showing a lot of statistics about social media. Although I am spending quite some time every day on social media and helping people and enterprises on what they can achieve with social media, I think some numbers require some perspective. For example the time to reach 50 million users of a certain service. My colleague Mark Walton-Hayfield made a nice visual of some of the items that appear in the video:

statistics.png

Before you start thinking that Facebook is far more superior than any other medium please take into account that:

  • The phone was something that was quite costly
  • Nobody used the phone, so buying one was risking
  • There was hardly any infrastructure for the phone, since it was new
  • Same goes for radio: there wasn’t a lot to listen to
  • The World Wide Web had it easier, since some of the infrastructure was already there, as well as the medium (Personal Computer)
  • Facebook is the only service that requires no upfront investment
  • Facebook uses an infrastructure that is already there, even more: if you don’t have access to that infrastructure you cannot access Facebook
  • Facebook ‘just’ extended an existing platform that had already more than 50 million users, instead of creating a new platform and acquiring new users.

Are statistics a fad?

Are social media statistics therefore a fad? No not at all, however you should not compare apples and oranges. You should not compare a service that costs money and needs an infrastructure to be developed with a service that is free and is running on an existing infrastructure. However you can conclude something from the visualization: we now have the possibility to introduce new services on top of existing infrastructure which have no initial investment except for time and which has an immense potential reach at the moment they are released.

If you want to build the next Facebook (or a service that has Facebook’s reach), you don’t need to have millions of dollars, the only thing you need to have is some time and if you want to reach out to the public you can start for a few dollars with online hosting. It doesn’t require a big investment upfront to create a great idea. So are you still building business cases for months, spending a lot of money and time on paper without any tangible result, or are you starting to develop a working prototype? The prototype is cheaper to build and you are likely to be able to present your idea more tangible.

Business cases are for old business

What you choose is up to you, however you can save more money than ever since it has never been so easy and so cheap to get a solution up and running and have access to 1.6 billion potential customers. Off course you still can build a business case, however with the same amount of time and money you have to use for your business case you are probably able to deliver a solid prototype which speaks for itself.

The empty restaurant

Did you ever walk down a street looking for a good place to eat and end up in an empty restaurant? No you probably didn’t, why? Nobody will go and eat in an empty restaurant, because people think there is something wrong and that there is a reason nobody is eating there. If you end up in an empty restaurant you either like to take a risk (will the food be really good, will it be worth my time) or you know the place and you’ll know what to expect and you’ll know how much value you will get for your money.

Same goes for your high-end-enterprise-like-software-product you bought to enable collaboration in your enterprise. If there are no discussions present and no other activities. Why should people join? Why should put their effort in it? Some will do it, but many more will not.

How to overcome this?

It is simple, it is just like the restaurant: start exclusively for your friends. Only invite the people you know and of who you know they are willing to invest some time to create value. Let those people create content, let them invite other people (for example 5 at the time) and let the community grow member by member. Listen to their feedback and make changes that they need to have a better experience. Create enough buzz that people are longing for invites to participate. After time enough people can participate and you’ll have plenty of content. This might be the moment to open up for all others that did not have an invite. They are more likely to participate since there is already an active community.

So if you want a successful internal community, you should not open it up for everybody at first, but start with just a small selection of people. Grow it one member at the time and before you’ll know it people are stalking you to get an invite for the community.

facebook://

Having 250 million members, Facebook is huge. If it was a country it would be the fourth country in the world measured on population size (US is third with 300 million, India and China are the numbers 2 and 1 with more than one billion people). It is an immense number and it is just a matter of time before Facebook will separate itself from the traditional Web.  With 250 million active members, one out of approximately every six people who can be online is a member of Facebook.

Leaving the Web behind

Why should Facebook want to leave the traditional web? Because they can? Facebook has an immense userbase and this userbase contributes immense numbers of data (which can be information and knowledge) to the platform. Every day five billion minutes are spend on Facebook, every week one billion pieces of content are added and shared. Most of this content is not shared with the outside world, is not indexable by for example Google and is thus only available within the great wall of Facebook. So Facebook already left the Web by keeping most if its content inside its network.

Facebook does not need other sites on the Web, other sites need Facebook. Why would Facebook still hinde its members with the rather old-fashioned WorldWideWeb (which is slow, since you first have to resolve the URL into an IP address via DNS, then do the HTTP request to the web server, than receive the HTML and other files and than render the page) and why wouldn’t they introduce their own implementation (facebook:// instead of http://) which could do more than just the aforementioned process?

The new Facebook Web

Facebook has the size to introduce its own browser-like platform, its own operating systems and perhaps even its own hardware line. Facebook could disrupt the Web and create a new (proprietary?) standard on how the new Web could be. They can, because one out of every six people that is online, has a Facebook account. They can because they have got such immense amount of data and people who are spending so much time on it, people will miss it when it is gone.

Facebook can, however will they do it?

The fundamental design flaw in Twitter and Friendfeed

Both in Twitter and Friendfeed (and probably an awful lot of other applications) there is a design flaw regarding users protecting their updates. As you might know you can only read updates of users that protect their updates after they gave you permission for it.

However if you do not protect you updates (and give it a thought, why would you want to protect your updates, or are you talking about homeland security? Then you should not use these tools at all), the users that protect their updates are free to add you to follow you. However if you want to follow them back, you have to do a request…

Is it technical?

I understand the technical decision why you have to do a request: the user protected his updates and to see them, he has to approve you. However it does not feel right and it feels morally wrong to me, also there is an inequality created in the relationship of the users . Especially since if you want to get to know that person, or if you want to know what subjects this person is talking/ tweeting about, you first have to request and then you can decide whether if you want to follow back or would rather like to block this person since his content is objectionable.

The correct design for these kind of systems should be that if an user that protects his updates starts following somebody, he automatically grants that person access to his updates. With this method you create transparency between follower and followed one, and also you create an equal starting position for both parties. They both can see what the other one is talking about and decide whether the relation that is started by the one is worth to be mutual or should be ended as soon as possible.

Stalkers and voyeurs

Why would you want to keep your updates protected for a person if you follow that person? It would be like wearing a ski mask: the person wearing the mask can see you, and even follow you around, while you have no clue who that person is, and why you are so interesting to him. You won’t even have the opportunity to ask him!

So: if you would like to follow someone, take of your mask, or let the network do it for you.

The only good thing you can do with e-mail

Although we predicted at the Technology Blog of Capgemini that e-mail would die this year it seems it is rather persistent. However besides overloading people with e-mails and setup a competition “Who is the person who could CC the most people”, there is one good thing you can do with it: use it with Posterous.

Meet Posterous

Posterous is a service that distributes its content in a way that seems to be uncool at first sight. Simple: sending e-mail is not something the cool kids do, everybody is sending e-mail on a daily basis. Therefore my first feelings about Posterous were that it was totally not cool or useful. We are struggling with an immense amount of e-mails (with only a small percentage that is really useful) and then there is Posterous, a new service that seems to be e-mail centric.

By using such an uncool medium as e-mail, Posterous is quite cool. It is a really easy way to send your content to a lot of networks. It is an easy method to get people to start a blog or to share their photos and videos on several sites. Often senior management does not get what a blog is, or how sites like YouTube, Flickr or Twitter work, however they are masters of their inbox and understand e-mail very well. Now these people can also blog, they do not have to learn a new trick, they only have to e-mail to a certain e-mail address. The only thing they have to be aware of, is the results of sending a simple e-mail to Posterous

For the digital illiterated

Besides an easy introduction to social media for the digital illiterated, e-mail is also a service that is not blocked in most offices or countries (while something like Facebook or YouTube is often blocked). E-mail to certain domains is hardly ever blocked, and at almost every device that has an internet connection you will have the possibility to send an email to Posterous and distribute your content.

But still: it’s e-mail. So it’s a bit uncool.

Dump the disclaimer

On a lot of blogs I read a little a disclaimer such as (format is from the SAP social media guidelines):

“This [Choose. Blog, Space …] is the personal [Blog, Space …] of [Name] and only contains my personal views, thoughts and opinions. It is not endorsed by [employer] nor does it constitute any official communication of [employer].”

Although I think I understand why this is put on some of these sites, I think it is something that is not really adding any value. The employer is not endorsing or using the site for official communication, however why is this mentioned explicitly? Is the employer afraid of that the employee will damage the brand or the company? Should the employer be afraid of anything harmful that might happen?

Don’t worry

No the employer should not worry of bad things that might happen on certain places on the Web that are caused by its employees. At least he should not be worried more than when one of his employees is going to a pub having a beer. I am aware the Web is more permanent in saving information one told, however you do not have to be the one who put the story online. Somebody else can write (or film or record) a great story with all the details about your behavior in the pub after a few beers.

If you have a set of social media guidelines you provide employees a guide how they should behave online. By providing such a guide, you do not need disclaimer, since the employee is already behaving according those guidelines. Employees are great marketeers for your company and your brand, do endorse them and provide them a set of guidelines on how they should behave. Professional and personal lifes are meshed, accept that as an employer, however trust your employees and let them promote and talk about your company. It can do more good than harm, especially if you provided them clear guidelines.

Off course is this item my personal view, it does not necessarily represents the views of my employer 😉

Get millions of followers on Twitter (for free!)

Followers, followers, everything seems to be about followers on Twitter. Although that is wrong statement, since it is not about followers, but about the attention you are able to get from your followers. However there are quite some obscure pyramid schemes to get more followers on Twitter. Which, as every pyramid scheme, promise to most immense results: 20k followers in a day, 1k followers per day, the only thing you have to for it is… and so on. Since I am still interested in how Twitter can work better for me, I decided to give it go, not get the immense numbers, but to see how much value / attention you could get by these services.

Twitter train

I decided to use a service which called itself the Twitter train: ‘get onboard with the Twitter train’ was the fancy slogan. And onboard I went, I had to give them my username and password (sadly they did not had an Oauth implementation) and the next thing I had to do was first follow some VIP members (people who pay to be a member of this service and gain some privileges in that) and the next I had to do was to follow at least 20 other people that were already ‘on the train’. The first issue was already there for me: why would I want to follow these people while they do not add any value for me? I do not mind to follow 40 extra people, however I do mind to follow extra people that are only talking about medicines, mortgages and how you can mystically enlarge some parts of the male body. Alas, i was in this experiment, so I decided to go on with.

In the next few hours I got at least one hundred new followers, so the service did what it promised. However it did more: it tweeted on my behalf, every few hours some promotional tweet was send suggesting that all people should get on this Twitter train. They didn’t told me that before signing up. However, getting more and more followers every hour, it could be worth it. However there wasn’t really any normal new follower that I gained. Not a single one was looking for adding value to Twitter, they were al fixating at numbers or in selling meds, mortgages or some other obscure things.

I decided to remove myself from the service, since it didn’t add any value at all. However removing myself from it was hard to do. Even after I removed myself twice, the thing was still tweeting on my behalf. So I changed my password and that tweeting was solved.

Results

Yes my number of followers are increased, although I removed an awful lot of the new followers by blocking them, since they were not on Twitter to interact, to share or to do any other thing than just playing with numbers, or just selling their stuff. They were not doing things I thought off as valuable for me.

So is it worth to use these kind of services? No not at all, you have to follow random people, and random people follow you back. The value you get out of this is absolutely zero, yes the number of your followers will increase, however how much is that worth, if you cannot capture anyones attention and while you are spamming some kind of Twitter train site to your ‘normal’ followers.

Hello email world, bye email world

Hello Twitterati, twexit, good morning Twitterteers etc etc. That seems to be normal behavior on microblogging sites and other social networks. I am not going to tell what you should or you should not do online, that is completely up to you, since the Internet is about you and all the individuals there are and there are no rules. However, do you do exactly the same thing with a medium such as email? First thing in the morning: send an email to wish all your colleagues and friends a very good morning, or send them all an email that you are offline for the next 10 minutes. I guess (and hope) you don’t do that. I know the mediums differ, however your Twitter account has often a bigger reach than your email.

Why?

But some are doing this on Twitter, why would you want to do that? Off course wishing everybody a beautiful morning is great (like wishing everybody in a bus a very good morning), however does it add value after doing that 20 times in a row? And than the other thing: telling people that you are exiting Twitter (the twexit tweets), why would you even want to do that? Will be people end up in utter distress if you won’t tweet back in a few minutes? No probably they will think that you are offline, even if you did not tell them. Or do you also enable your auto responder in your email as soon as you leave your email client alone for 10 minutes?

Think!

So think before you tweet, does it add value? Your tweet is send out to all your followers and that number is often larger than the number of people you meet in real life in one week. It adds more value to personalize your wishes for a beautiful good morning (and people will appreciate it more if they are the one who get such a personalized greeting). Mentioning that you are not online for a few minutes or hours? Sorry but nobody expects you that you will be online 24/7 so there is no need to notify everybody that you are not online anymore. In case you are afraid that you miss something: you will miss things anyway, you do not have the time to read everything. If it is really important the news will reach you anyway, same goes for urgent matters of your friends, if it is really urgent they will find you, independent of the medium.

Well I go offline for a few minutes, have to do some shopping…

For the sake of being social

Have you ever been commuting or been in a elevator for a few floors? Not a very lively and social environment is it? In the Netherlands there seems to be a rule that while commuting you are not allowed to talk to others that you do not know and the same goes for elevators. Which is weird behavior, since when you would see the same people online on a social network, they are all talking and sharing some of their deepest secrets, even to people they have not met in real life.

Will human interaction disappear?

Often when I do a presentation about social media and how to apply it in your daily work I get the question if there is still space for real life human interaction or that it will be replaced by social media. Well if you read the first paragraph than it might the basis of a very spooky future where people interact via screen and keyboards.

However, interaction between people is something that every human being wants and needs, it just seems like the barrier online is so much lower than in real life. Online you have got a reason to talk to someone, or to an entire group (for example Twitter is about what you are thinking / doing at this moment). In a bus of elevator, there is no reason to interact or to start a conversation. Well actually there are enough resons to interact with your fellow commuters since you will not get killed by interaction and although you are taught that you should never talk to strangers, it won’t hurt you, it could add value and gain you some insights. However, starting a conversation with somebody you don’t know seems to feel a bit clunky in real life.

Akoha and Springboard; social reality games

With a spooky future ahead it is a good thing we have social media. A service like  Akoha offers a social reality game where you can earn points by playing real-world missions with your friends. Missions might include giving someone your favorite book, inviting a friend for drinks, or buying a friend some chocolate. Something that you will not do just to make you feel good, however if you have got a reason (like a social reality game that has cards with missions on it), than you have a reason to do so. It does not feel clunky anymore, and the one you are helping could be still a bit surprised, however he will not be suspicious, since he knows why you are doing this.

Cristina Matei created something similair called Springboard. That is exactly what Akoho and Springboard do: offering a springboard to real life interaction via social media that removes the barrier we perceive when starting up real life interaction. Using social media just for the sake of being social in real life, I sure hope that is not our future, however still better than only talking with each other via screens and keyboards.

Building a community

This presentation contains an overview about things to keep in mind when trying to build a community. As one of the first slides already states: you cannot create a community, it is already there. However you can help the community better in several ways. Therefore a model of the different phases of a member in a community is used. Based on this model several actions are defined which a community manager could take to help the community. The last few slides contain an overview of several well known social media cases.

The basis for each community is to get to the outsiders (and at the start of each community platform everybody is an outsider) and to facilitate them to progress through several phases to go from passive to active membership and some of them might even progress to passionate members.