You don’t get the price of Social Business if you don’t understand its value

Everything comes with a price. You can never gain something if you don’t sacrifice something of equal value.

Some of you might have experienced, just as I did, the start of corporate websites in the 90s. A comment that echoed throughout those years was: “Should we pay this much for a website? My son/ kid next door / nephew / vaguely related other person can do that for 20% of this price”. Especially since the creation of websites was seen by some as nothing more than pushing buttons in Macromedia Dreamweaver  or Microsoft Frontpage (or Microsoft Word and save it as HTML…). People had a hard time to grasp the new set of competences that was required and they did not understand what value these competences would bring them. Since for them it was just doing a bit more advanced word processing.

20 years later: same paradigm

Fast forward 20 years since the rise of corporate websites: not so much has changed. Social Media is often seen as doing something on Twitter and Facebook and is more than often a job for an intern or a secretary. Selling professional services in the social media space or selling Enterprise Social Software is a tedious job, since it is more expensive than the license fees for Microsoft Office or for the SAP Product line and of course more expensive than the $0.99 apps on our smart phones. So our general assumption is that Social Software is overpriced. It is too expensive, since the price-level of commoditized software has become our baseline.

Every time there is something new, we tend to compare it to the things we already have and are already commoditized. And by doing so we create a false comparison. Since by comparing it to the old things we assume that the new thing will deliver an identical value to what existing tools are leveraging and since that is the assumption, it shouldn’t be more expensive than the baseline. It is hard to understand that the new thing might deliver more value or a different kind of value, since that is something new we haven’t experienced before.

Appreciate value, accept price

If you can grasp the value, you can understand the price. It doesn’t necessarily means that something with high value should always be priced for a premium, though something that is priced relatively low and promises to deliver a premium might be suspicious. No matter if the price is high or low, focus on the value that is delivered. Ask your vendor to explain the value to be delivered and ask for proof of this value. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. You were planning to spend money to achieve a certain goal, te get to a certain level of value. Spending less money doesn’t always mean that you save money, especially not on the long run.

Social in general is a transformational change and transformations are seldom done in a week. Focus big picture, focus on value. If the value is right, most often you can justify the price to pay. If you can prove the value, then you have already more than 80% of your business case for investments. Don’t be persuaded by pricing, a low price doesn’t mean a good deal, nor does a high price means high quality. Focus on value, be rational.

Adoption costs – Are you giving a blank check to your vendor

If you are part of a bigger organization chances are high that you are either using enterprise social software or you are in the middle of selecting what kind of enterprise social platform you will be using. Besides standard selection criteria such as Magic Quadrants and license fees, there is often one huge item that is not listed on anybody’s list: the adoption cost of the new platform.

Adoption costs does not equal just implementation costs

Don’t confuse adoption costs with implementation costs. Implementation costs are the costs required to implement the solution. Such as: installation on premise (in some cases Cloud deployment is not a choice), configuration, styling, data migration and often some project management and integration with existing systems. Adoption costs are the costs to make it really work: to ensure that people will be using the solution.

Every vendor, system integrator and boutique will be able to give you a clear overview (and big discount) on license fees, most of them will also be able to provide you with a clear view on a structured implementation with predictable costs. Many of them still might also have a structured approach for adoption. However what most of them are still lacking is a clear commitment on when and how much the platform will be adopted and any references particularly ion adoption timelines and uptake. Having no predictability around adoption is like providing a blank check for that piece of work. Which means that you completely jeopardise your enterprise social platform since it can turn into a black hole sucking all the money out of your company.

Not license fees, it is about value delivered

Therefore when selection an enterprise social platform don’t focus on license fees too much. These are often one time or recurring fees that can be negotiated. However these fees don’t provide value. The value is provided by the level of the adoption of the platform in the organisation and how it is used by the people. The earlier during and after implementation your people are using the platform in a way that adds value for them and the organisation, the earlier you will see a return of your investment.

There are several social enterprise platforms that are notorious for low license fees and implementation costs, however they are just as notorious that most of the organisations buying into those low fees will switch to another platform. Since low initial costs are great, however when adoption is lacking, there is not so much return on investment.

What are the criteria you should select on

If you are selecting these kind of platforms select on the following:

  1. License fees: often recurring on a yearly basis. Negotiating a long-term contract might often lower these costs dramatically. Make sure also to negotiate a maximum increase after the contract period. Some vendors can double their prices. Since when you are using a platform it is hard to switch.
    Reasons to not go forward with the vendor: short-term contracts, not willing to go for a fixed fee for a longer term period, not able to explain the reason why the vendor is billing the platform in a certain way, no guarantees for renewals.
  2. Implementation costs: not really important, since these are one time costs. Make sure that there is a structured plan, proven track record and experience especially when you need (standard) integration with your application landscape.
    Reasons to not go forward with the vendor: no structured approach, no track record, no experience around integration.
  3. Service and maintenance: depending on your type of deployment, though often upgrades, patches and other changes are or just aren’t included. Make sure that it is clear what the process is for new versions, who is doing this work and who is responsible. Similar agreements are to be made around service levels. Since this platform is likely to become one of the most critical in your organisation it is most likely that you don’t want service just within office hours with while allowing the service organisation to take on calls somewhere between instant and six hours since the incident had happened. Short timelines are necessary, though they come with a cost.
    Reasons to not go forward with the vendor:  no service organisation, not willing to discuss upgrade paths, geographically disconnected service organisation, not willing to include service in the license fee pricing.
  4. Customer base and loyalty: it is not about how many customers a vendor already has, it is more important to see how much of these customers are already using their platform for our three years (and / or more than one contract period and version). Since every vendor will succeed to get enough customers in a certain market, though to create a loyal customer base that doesn’t switch is more important. Loyalty is only created by making sure enough value is being delivered over time. Also let vendors share their churn rate (preferably including customer names), since that is showing where things are going wrong
    Reasons not to go forward with the vendor: no reference and no previous track record, high churn, no loyal customers, customers are loyal because they cannot get out.
  5. Adoption: as said in the beginning some platforms are notorious to score pretty well on the first three points and sometimes even on the fourth point, even though that is then more based on lock-in than on value delivered. However what is the track record on the adoption timelines, what is the average adoption rate, what are people doing when with the platform, what value is delivered and what are proven methods with this platform to increase adoption. This is a crucial part, since this is about getting value about the platform.
    Reasons not to go forward with the vendor: no structured approach, not willing to commit to certain adoption levels, no clear view on how value is delivered and when it is delivered, no experience beyond just installing the platform.

Number 1 to 4 are hygiene factors. In standard situation every vendor, system integrator or boutique can provide you with a solid answer on this. Even if one of these items is a bit questionable it shouldn’t lead to an instant disqualification (unless it is about a high churn rate of their current customer base). Number 5 is important: if there is no way that such a party is able to prove the value and to commit to deliver value within a certain time period then you should pass. Since 1 to 4 is about the investment, which is often a one time write off / budget round, number 5 is about delivering value. Value should be delivered every day and the value determines your return.

If you need any help on selecting the right platform for you. Feel free to contact me.

The Maximum Viable Product

This post appeared earlier on ProgrammableWeb.

You might know the term  Minimum Viable Product (MVP), it is a term which was popularised by Eric Ries, author of the book the Lean Startup. A MVP is a product with minimum features, though with enough features to collect feedback from the users of the product. A MVP provides you with the opportunity to validate the assumptions you made early on.

Even though there is something as a Minimum Viable Product, hardly ever somebody is defining a Maximum Viable Product. Product are not complete when there is  no feature left to add. Products are complete when there is no feature left to be removed (inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery). The Maximum Viable Product (MaVP) is a product with the maximum amount of features it should have to support the user in achieving a certain goal and before it starts to become confusing for the user what he has to do with the product to achieve the goal. It removes the false promise that more features will increase usage and thus product-love. However more features doesn’t always convert into a better overall user experience nor is increased usage an indicator for a better experience.

In order to achieve a MaVP it is important to have a good vision, to be stubborn, but maybe as equal important and API. The API enables you to focus on the MaVP, while you provide others with the opportunity to extend your product in different ways, without falling for the feature trap (adding endless amounts of features and configuration options). Your product will have a consistent and most likely great user experience, while others, who are extending your product via the API, are able to create also a great user experience in their solution.

As soon as you are starting to build and option or configuration screen, think of it if it really necessary to have it all. What you might need is an overview of what third parties have done with your API and what implementations you are endorsing. You might even want to include an appmarket in which people can find plugins or apps for your product which can be included directly in your product to enrich the experience. However even that might be just too much for your MaVP, since it could dilute the overall user experience.

Therefore keep focused on your product, remove features when you can and make sure your API is in sync with the functionality offered in your product. You can create the user experience, however you need the API in the end to make things really scale and to increase user adoption.

What makes a community tick (6 tips to make it work)

Creating a community platform is easy, however how to ensure that the target audience you were aiming for is using it. Since it is not an exact science, there is not a how to guide or one size fits all approach. However there are a few things you might want to pay extra attention to increase your changes on success:

  1. Think of the purpose of your community. Is it a place for people to spend a substantial time of their day, or is it just a platform for getting things done? You have to make it clear upfront, since your community management style might differ in each situation. You can read more about this in this article if your community is a restaurant or a supermarket. (tweet this)
  2. Create content. Nothing is more awkward than arriving in a community that is empty.  Therefore you should make sure that there is always a bit of content and more important some activity. Nothing is worse then to have stale content, since what is that telling your new community member… So make sure to have always a bit of activity, even it just a few people. (tweet this)
  3. Don’t structure. Too much. Structure is good, too much structure makes things confusing. If you enter a community which has more than 70 sub communities you don’t know where you should go (unless you are very structure loving person). If you have just one place to go, there is no decision involved, just move over there. So only structure when there is really a need for it, for example when you have +100 messages per day, then you might want to add structure to prevent information overflow. Structure is general is always an issue, and every issue is an opportunity in disguise. (tweet this)
  4. Don’t expect your (future) users to help you. The time of build-and-they-will-come are over, if that time has ever existed in the first place. There is no such thing as a bottom up strategy. You can try to motivate your users to help you, however in the end you have to do it on yourself. You are the one that should lead by example. (tweet this)
  5. If you have a specialised community, don’t settle for the generic 1-9-90 rule from Jakob Nielsen. You activity will be probably a lot higher, so make you sure you are not stopping when you have reach 10% of people who are posting very regular to every now and then. So know what you are activity level should be upfront and don’t stop till you get there. (tweet this)
  6. It is hard work. It might be obvious however many people think success comes overnight, just because they are great on Twitter and manage a Facebook page.  Building a community takes often 6-9 months to get a critical mass and to become a bit more closer to self sustaining. However even then you need community management, you need to be there daily, you need to be the one always providing anybody with answer until there is somebody who will do it for you. Read this story about a homeless women in my local super market and you might understand how important it is to build a loyal community. (tweet this)

What is your tip to make a community tick? Leave a comment, or tell me on Twitter.

The checklist mentality with social media

I guess you know the blog posts such as ‘X ways to get success’, ‘Y ways in growing your Facebook page with 1.000.000 users’ etc etc. There is just always a limited number of ways or a limited number of steps you have to take to get to a certain level of success. Tools such as Klout, Kred and Peerindex  provide an even deeper urge for compliance to lists and algorithms. Since to be credible you need a decent score with those tools, otherwise you are doing social media wrong. If this is the way you measure success of your social media activities, you are destined to fail.

As an addition to these tools and blog posts there are of course some very smart marketing efforts by companies who copy this checklist mentality to create either some smart buzz or to please some clients. Since the easiest way to get attention is to send out a press release that contains some research (whether this research is complete and objective or not). Examples such as these are the Social Business Index from Dachis Group and the Social Media Monitor by Social Embassy. Based on their checklists brands are identified as being successful or as brands that need improvement on social media.

Checklists are just marketing

The ironic part is that whether it is the people behind the blog posts, behind the tools or behind the companies creating this checklist mentality know that it is not about complying with a checklist. However they have created this abstraction so ‘normal people’  can grasp it better and at least know what to do in the first few steps. Though over time they have conveniently forgotten about this fact and don’t mention it anymore. Creating the false illusion that if you score according to a checklist you are doing a great.

Checklists are great for industrial environments and processes, not for social environments. It feeds the internal fear of non-compliance, if you are not complying with the checklist, you are the odd one out. You are the one that fails, you are the one who doesn’t know to do his job. You have to read the manual, you have to comply. Non-compliance is a synonym for failure in some organisations.

If you are forced to follow the checklist mentality for your social media effort just ask the checklist provider: Since when has success become a checklist? If there is an answer that this checklist is the only way to achieve success, make sure your ways part. Since then you are still working in the industrial age and not in the age of social and therefore your real success will be limited even though you might have 100% compliance to the checklist.

Social is a transformation, not a checklist.

Twitter is Outsourcing. Pivot or Death roll

There is a lot to do about Twitter’s latest API decisions, though in general it is obvious Twitter is pivoting or doing a death roll. Twitter is not the Twitter we used to know, they’ve changed in a different kind of company. First of all they are not the company for the developer anymore. Maintaining an API is hard work, it’s difficult to make it scale. Therefore they are outsourcing it. Developers are not anymore the core activity for Twitter. Maintaining relations with a lot of developers is hard work and it consumes a lot of time and you don’t earn a lot of money let alone the poor margin you make. Focusing on just a few big clients is easier and the margin is way better.

The Media Company

Second of all Twitter is becoming a media company. It turns itself in a publishing platform and not a platform for developers to play with. That has become clear by Twitter introducing Twitter cards, embedding rich media such a videos and pictures. Also they don’t want you to spent your time outside their platform or watch tweets in a different way than they dictate. That is the main reason for Twitter to cut off the friend finder from Instagram and Tumblr. Since if these services use the social graph of Twitter elsewhere then you might also spent your time elsewhere, which is rather inconvenient for a media company.

Twitter is becoming an old traditional media company subsidizing its contents by using advertisements. As a media company you want to grab all the attention you can for as long as you can in the way you want. Since if you are losing eyeballs you are losing money. That is why they outsourced the developer business because it is not core of a traditional media company and by outsourcing it they might even be able to still earn some money on it with a good margin. That is also why there are dictating how you should display tweets because their advertisers like it that way. That is why Twitter sometimes decide in favor of the advertiser instead of in the individual. Since advertisers are paying the bills.

Bankruptcy or API

What Twitter is doing looks like a company either heading to bankruptcy or to an IPO. They are adding focus which is important since no focus automatically leads to waste. They’re looking for ways to make more revenue with a good margin. Now I think the most remarkable thing is that they’re copying an old business model which doesn’t work anymore; the ad-supported web app was already dead a few years ago. Is there such an urgency for money on the short-term that there was no time to create a better business model? Or is Twitter really tired of all those small developers and just want to focus on big companies creating big money for them.

Twitter  leaves the big money on the table. Since they had the opportunity to become infrastructure. Infrastructure is a lot less sexy than a media company. However media companies are easy to be replaced by another media company, infrastructure done right is irreplaceable.

Dear Twitter user, I don’t care about what you think about my tweets

Dear Twitter user,

Thanks for notifying me that there is something ‘wrong’ with:

  1. What I tweet
  2. How I tweet it
  3. When I tweet it

Please be informed that I don’t care about what you think of either of these three things. My tweets are my own, you can follow me, you are not obliged to do so. I promise I won’t be sad if you unfollow me, I would even recommend it. Since if you are so distressed that you need to send out a tweet to complain you might want to think of your blood pressure.

Don’t expect me to explain on why I do things in my way on Twitter, I just do things in the way I like. If you like that, you can subscribe. If  you think my tweets are annoying and you still subscribe, then don’t complain, you are the one pushing the follow button, you are the one reading my tweets, stop complaining, just unfollow. If you like to be annoyed, just stay tuned on my twitter timeline since, according to you, there will be a steady flow of tweets that are completely wrong, just don’t complain.

Just to stress: I don’t care what you think of what I do online. I appreciate the fact that you think you have to guide me, though I would suggest you to spend your time in a different and less annoying way. There is not a good way in using Twitter, there is your way that works for you, just like there is my way that works for me.

Unfollow. Block. Do whatever you want to do. It’s your Twitter timeline anyway.

Communities, crossing the `don’t care`-line and love your haters

Are you running a community and one of your goals is to create more engagement? That is easy, just do something your community will really hates. As soon as you do something like that, there will be small revolt at least. Angry mobs are moving around with pitchforks looking for engagement. . Engagement is an intention of marriage or an intention of war. Engagement is a process, not a goal on itself, however it could give you an indication how involved people are in your community whether they love or hate you.

Hate is a different kind of love

The worst thing that could happen is that people are crossing the don’t care line (see illustration below). Since if people don’t care anymore, they drop off. They won’t remember you and whatever you might do, they just won’t get triggered. People that love you are with you for over some time and the better you are for them, the longer they will love you. However, even your biggest fans will drop off at a certain time.

People who hate you, even though hate might be a very strong word in this case, might be even more passionate than your biggest fans. However they will have less patience and as soon as they have decided to go, they go. You won’t have a second chance with the haters, you have just one time to do it right just before they drop off and go below the don’t care line. Don’t confuse haters with people who do not care, since the reason they hate what you do, is because they love you. Even though they love you in their own particular way.

If you wonder who should “own” social media in your organisation, you miss the point

I was just reading the article ‘Who should “own” social media within an organisation’ by Natalie Cowan on Econsultancy. This article makes some good points on where ownership should be, though it misses the boat completely in the last paragraph:

So despite the obvious (and sometimes compelling) arguments for social media ownership within an organisation sitting with one department or the other (or even an individual), there really is only one person who can own social media for any company, and that’s the customer.

I would say that is the worst thing you can do as an organization. Ownership should be within the organization, especially since an organization has it own values and vision. When applying social as a design element you take those values and vision in account. You might listen to your customers for the details, though you should be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details. Since social media is not about channels, it is about designing a social experience. Channels are controlled and owned by customers (actually big corporations own the channels) the experiences on those channels are a result of your design and if you design well you deliver a great customer experience on those channels.

It is not about owning the media, it is about owning the process. Or as Natalie Cowan describes it in her article: creating a seamless customer experience.  Even though Social Design  is most often seen as an end result, or as an activity on Twitter, Facebook ,Pinterest or another social media platform, it is more than that.  Social Design is in its most effective form a way for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It is a process, not a channel not a business model, it is an activity, it is a set of design principles which enable you to make truly social experiences. Experiences that connect, that people want to trust, to which they can relate, where they want to participate with friends or strangers, to which they want to contribute with their time and efforts and experiences that they can share with others.

So if you are wondering who should own social media in your organisation you are not creating a truly social experience, you are just putting social on top, something next to existing processes and existing experiences. Applying social as a design principle is going beyond ‘being great’ on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. It is a fundamental change in how business are being run, organized and how businesses and their stakeholders interact and think.

Webcare: are you doing it right? Probably not

You only have to ask one question to know if your webcare activities are future proof:

If I would receive ten times the amount of messages for my organisation on social media as I do today, can I then still scale with my current team and technologies?

We have to understand that the current amount of messages on social media about brands, products and services is still relatively low. Just a small percentage of people are using social media as a replacement for their customer service or as an active sales orientation channel. A lot of the activities are still rather private and passive. However quite a significant amount of companies are now starting their webcare activities, which is often a copy of the old-fashioned offline customer service process: single reaction, single response.

By just copying your approach from your traditional call center you might be able to give yourself a nice marketing advantage in the early days of interacting with your customers online. Though in the long run it is a recipe for failure. What if all your customers decide to stop calling your call centers and move over to social media? What will happen then? There is no way to throttle the waiting queues as you can when your customers call your call center.

Therefore your approach has to be different, since the medium is different. A future proof approach consists of three elements:

  1. Customer Communities; It is a misunderstanding that you or your organization has to be the one answering all the questions online. Create or facilitate a customer community in which your stimulate customer self service. If customers help other customers it will make you more scaleable in peak situations.
  2. Social Media Analytics; A customer community will only help you in getting to a certain amount of questions asked online. Therefore you nee to monitor the rest of the Web as well to see if questions arise and even more important to identify certain trends you can act upon more pro actively.
  3. Automation; If customers ask a question they are in search of an answer, if you can provide the answer in a few seconds, they are happy. A lot of questions don’t need an answer provided by a human, so why bother to have human providing standard answers on standard questions.

These three elements will provide you with a more efficient approach, since either work is done by your customers themselves or in some cases the work will be automated. Leaving you with your existing team, that now can start making a difference on the interactions that matter, instead of providing standard answers on standard questions.