Enterprise Social Media – The hidden treasure

For the Social Business Convention I did a presentation on the value of Enterprise Social Media. It shows a very clear way of  calculating the benefits of enterprise social media. There are two different types of benefits mentioned in this slidedeck:

  1. Benefits that create a cognitive surplus
  2. Benefits that create a direct benefit (often cost saving or increase in revenue)

Direct  benefits

Direct benefits are often very contextual, and since examples of these cases would only make sense in a certain context I only listed generic direct benefits, especially since the presentation was for a mixed audience and each of the audience members have their own context. However two generic direct benefits are: reducing telephone costs and reducing travel costs. For me these are rather obvious savings which provide people with the insight that there are other and better ways to get in touch with each other and to exchange information.

Cognitive Surplus

Saving  time (for example by making employees more productive), doesn’t directly create a cost saving. However these additional hours can be seen as a cognitive surplus: time that can be spend in a very useful way for a company. Or in some cases: playing some additional solitaire or Angry Birds. The cognitive surplus and especially the increase of this surplus is often one of the basis benefits of enterprise social media. These benefits are applicable to nearly all companies and are often implemented rather easy (as in: the return on investment is rather high and the turnaround time is at worst a bit more than three months).

ROI and Business Cases

Business cases are guesses, since nobody knows exactly upfront what the benefits will be and how much money you will save or if you will be able to create or increase a cognitive surplus in our organization. So the best way to move forward is to do things, to make change happen. Only when things are done you know what the actual result was and you have a clear view on the benefits. Though one thing is certain: benefits are there and social enters the workplace no matter what company or market you are working in.

3F the typical community approach

A few weeks ago I presented on B2B goes social about B2B communities. After my presentation and during the drinks I got this question: “If I want to start a community for my customers tomorrow what should I do?”. Basically those kind of questions always boil down to the 3F answer: Friends, Family and Fools.

If you want to get things started ask the people who are close to you what they think and if they would like to help you. Don’t just drop them an email, invite them over, give them a proper coffee (or if it is in the afternoon: a good pint) and share your thoughts with them and ask for feedback. If they care as much about you as you do about them you will get good advice.

It might sound obvious to you, however friends and family are a good starting point for many of your new ventures. The third F, fools, is the group that arrives after a while. It is a sign of a mature community as soon as the fools arrive.

Vanity Metrics – Measuring the wrong thing

About the time this blog is published I have just finished my presentation at B2B Goes Social. At this event I presented about Getting Real with B2B Communities and to be more exact about the pitfall of using vanity metrics instead of real actionable metrics. The main reason to do a talk about B2B communities and vanity metrics is because this was also a topic I did 2-3 years ago for B2C communities. Since B2B lacks 2-3 years behind B2C I found this topic rather applicable for reuse in a B2B context.

These are the slides I have used and below the slides there is a summary of what I have talked about.

With communities there are two general mistakes made in approaches:

  1. The 90-9-1 rule defined by Jakob Nielsen. Read why I think this limits the efforts of community builders here.
  2. Vanity Metrics.

Vanity Metrics

Vanity Metrics for me have two main appearances: aggregated numbers and false, non actionable metrics. For the latter I choose to dive into the aspect of signing up users into your B2B community, since one of the key KPIs I see is the number of users and since getting users on your community is important though the number of users is irrelevant, it is about what these users are doing.

Aggregated numbers

A typical view on success of communities is the total number of views or the total numbers of posts or to abstract it a bit: the total number of actions in a certain time frame. These give false information. Since even if your community has an increase of 200% in the number of views, is it really great? First of all it is important to know what has caused the change and second it is important to zoom on a more detailed level to see what the change actually is.

For example if your community was linked on Reddit, Slashdot, Digg or Twitter and these channels drove an enormous traffic spike then it is nice to have this spike, to there is no sustainable change. However if you have made a change in the user interface and all of a sudden your users don’t visit two pages per session but 6 pages per session you have a more meaningful insight.

Detailed Analysis

Even more meaningful would be to divide your users in different groups, such as new versus returning users, but also based on the life cycle of the user and perhaps even on demographic data or based on typical actions (users that buy your goods, users that review them, users who just read information).  In this way you can see what happen to certain changes. Also if you average user has a life cycle of three months in your community and you have an enormous peak of sign ups, you will know there will be a huge drop-off of users in three months after that and you most likely want to be ready for that.

 Attracting users

Even though the sheer number of users would be a vanity metric, it is still important to attract users. Since without users that do something communities are  boring. Research of Janrain has shown that users on different media have different preferences on (social) sign up, however that doesn’t mean there is just one solution that fits all. Important for social sign in and sign in-flows in general is that these are A-B-tested continuously. Since your first sign-in/up-flow is based on the assumptions you have about how it would work best. This is not about what the user thinks that work best. So involve the user early on, either by doing A-B testing, user interviews or any other way, though it is about validating the assumptions you have early on. There is no such thing as ‘the user’, users are people too.

Going viral

‘How do I get to the tipping point?’, a question often asked, since if you manage to get at a tipping point growth is happening at an immense rate. The basic premise to achieve this with the sign up of users is to make that every new user will bring more than 1 user with them. If every new user will bring a least two users you will get to a tipping point. To get there are several techniques you can use. You can choose the more black hat approach such as automatically spamming customer network with invites for your community, however this might drive traffic on short-term, it most likely will drive your reputation into the ground.

Therefore providing relevance is more important. Research from Cornell University about Facebook has shown that relevance is also something worth to A-B test:

“What jumped out at us was that someone’s likelihood of joining really corresponded not to the number of friends represented, but to how many disconnected groups the friends listed on the e-mail fell into,” Kleinberg says. “We were surprised by how clean the effect was.”

Getting in touch

Standard approach of communities is to get in touch twice with new members: one time when they join and the other when somebody leaves. However it might be more valuable to get in touch more often and first all not at the first moment they just joined. At that moment in time you have their attention, it might be more valuable to get in touch after a few days when they forget about you.

Flickr, or to be keep it more human: Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, founders of Flickr, used to welcome every new member on Flickr personally. This is a tedious job and consumes a lot of time. However each interaction with your first users is well spend. It is an investment you’ll have to make to make sure that your community will be viable. It is an investment in creating your first few community evangelists who will promote your community for your. And it is an opportunity to get instant feedback from those who are willing to join your community in this early phase.

The best solution for you

The best solution for you, is the solution that works best for your customers / users. Therefore don’t assume too much upfront. Start early, (AB)test early and adjust often. Don’t use vanity metrics, use real actionable metrics that can be related to your business goals and your assumptions. Validating your assumptions early is important for your community, since if you hold on to incorrect assumptions for too long your community will probably not bring what you had expected.

5 steps to get your CEO on social media

You have decided it is a good thing to have your CEO tweeting or blogging, however you have no idea how to make him / her. Well here is how:

1. Ask your CEO

CEOs are humans too. Just talk with your CEO about this idea. If there is no compelling reason for you CEO to take part in social media he or she won’t. So make sure you know why your CEO should do this and what the benefits are for you CEO (personally and for the company). If you cannot explain it why the CEO should do anything on social media, most likely it won’t happen.

2. Schedule time

CEOs are busy, always. However they have a calendar with all their meetings and other appointments. Make social such an event as well. Yes it is great if your CEO would be a natural change agent and would embed it in his or her personal life instantly. However change takes time and if things take time, better schedule it in the calendar of your CEO (and in your own calendar since you’ll have to help).

3. Pick the medium

You might be a great writer, though maybe your CEO isn’t, why force your CEO to blog then? Is he talker? Maybe podcasting or vodcasting are an option or a ghostwriter. When using a ghostwriter make sure that you are transparent about it.

4. Provide feedback

Did something great happen to the content your CEO has produced? Inform him or her as soon as possible. Are there any comments on the latest blog? Be sure to schedule time with your CEO to make sure that he or she answers these comments . Most important: let your CEO know why it is a good thing that he or she spending his/hers time on this by showing results. Don’t hide any negative feedback, your CEO will get to know this feedback anyways.

5. Evaluate this initiative

Time is valuable, not just for CEO it is also valuable for you. Set a time window upfront in which you give this initiative a go and evaluate afterwards. Was this experience valuable for you, the CEO and the company? Did it deliver what you thought it would? Did you reach the goals you have set? Is it time well spend? Does the CEO like to do this. Is this something you still like to do? Should you continue doing this?

Make sure you know why you want to do this and why it is good for you CEO and / or your company and make sure to book some time in your calendar to make this happen. Don’t be afraid to stop doing it if it not living up to expectations, however don’t kill it after two weeks, take at least 3 months to do this together with you CEO.

Your community needs 1,000 fans

One question I always ask people who are starting up a new (online) community is how to get to their first 1000 members. Since I believe if you can get 1000 members then you will be able to build a successful community. Kevin Kelly wrote the great article a while ago with the title 1,000 true fans. In this article he describes the following:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

What I believe is that if you are able to attract 1,000 fans you will be able to build a viable community. The hardest thing you have to do at the start of a community is to get those first few people joining your community. Because nobody (or very little people) have joined your community in the first few days, it is an empty restaurant: people don’t know if it is worth their time.

The first 1,000 fans is real hard work. Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, founders of Flickr, used to welcome every new member on Flickr personally. This is a tedious job and consumes a lot of time. However each interaction with your first users is well spend. It is an investment you’ll have to make to make sure that your community will be viable. It is an investment in creating your first few community evangelists who will promote your community for your. And it is an opportunity to get instant feedback from those who are willing to join your community in this early phase.

Think of it when starting a new community what your way of working will be to attract (and keep) your first 1,000 fans. If you are not able to come up with a solution for this you will fail. Unless you accept  luck as the critical success factor for your community.

Product Pitches and Pitfalls

Because of the work I do I receive product pitches on a very regular basis. One thing is remarkable: the incredible high number of bad pitches. Doing a good pitch is an art. Even though I am very interested in nearly everything going on in the social media space and I prefer to view and work with every product I can, my time is still limited.

Since I have limited time I want to spend it well. To give you an idea: attending a conference call with somebody who is almost ecstatically screaming why his product is so great and why I should want to use it is not my definition of having a good time.

My main reason to write this article is to send it to everybody who did a bad product pitch. So if you are reading this piece then it is because your introductory pitch to me sucked. It wasn’t so bad that I deleted it, or printed it and put on the wall for everybody so we could have a good laugh. It just might be that your product is interesting, however you haven’t convinced me yet why I should spend my time with you to get to know the product and to get to know you.

For me the basic order of a pitch is: Why > How > Who > What >When > We. It provides a clear overview of the use of your solution, your vision and other key items:

  • Why did you create this product of service, what problem does it solve, why are you great in solving this problem
  • How do you solve this problem, what technology are you using (insert IP or other interesting things here)
  • Who is in your team and how does this help your product on short and long-term. Who is not in your team (competition) and why are they important and how do you differentiate.
  • What are the things you are doing, what is the market you are aiming for (size and estimated revenue), what are the next steps for your product.
  • When are certain milestones, roadmap activities and other short-term and longer term activities
  • What is in it for me  and you.

Here is a list with common pitfalls I collected over the weeks (!) and what you could do, instead of repeating it over and over. Feel free to contact me a second time, since that is the reason I am sending you this article. If you didn’t pitch me yet and you read this article since somebody is referring you to it, feel free to contact me, I am always interested in new solutions and how these can be used in either and enterprise setting or a private setting.


The most common pitfalls I see regularly:

Starting with the solution

“Our product makes meetings a great experience”. Basically I don’t care what your product does, I am interested in the problem you solve, not in your solutions. Since your solution is most likely not my problem.

‘Wait till you see our product’

No I won’t. I don’t need cliffhangers in my email, I never need cliffhangers. What I need is enough information so I will have the need to see your product and that I don’t want to wait.

‘I know you are interested’

Don’t assume I am interested in what you do and what your product is. Don’t assume that I would like to spend an hour or two of my time in hearing the  sales pitch from a slimy sales guy. Make sure to give me enough information that I might be interested and that I want to spend time with you.

Don’t talk, listen

If you call me and I happen to pick up the phone, don’t start blabbering for ten minutes straight about yourself, your product, your family, your dogs, your family in law, the weather and how grass grows near the Amazon. Talk with me, don’t talk to me.

‘We have great features’

Even though I am a self-proclaimed geek, I am not interested in features. Features can be copied, vision not. Don’t compete on features it will only bring you so far. Even worse: too much features will make your product mediocre. Fewer features is better, since you can focus on a few things instead of focusing on everything.

Analyst X is saying Y

It might help if I know Analyst X, however if I don’t know him or her most likely I don’t care who is saying what. Tell me what your clients are saying about your or even better show me search results that provide insight in people talking positively about your product.

Don’t think being in the top right quadrant of Gartner makes you more interesting than anybody else. It shows that you are complying to a certain checklist, however since SharePoint has been in that top right Quadrant for social networking solutions it might be clear how much I value such reports.

‘We don’t have any competitors’

Everybody has competitors, if you don’t have competitors you simply haven’t done research. You are only looking at your solution, not at the problem you solve and not for who you are solving this problem. It is not that I will favor your competitors compared to you, though I would like to know who you see operating in the same market and I would like to hear why you  think they are competitors and what makes you better than them.

‘We are the SharePoint of social networking’

If you compare yourself to something (we are the X of Y), make sure it makes sense. SharePoint is a great product for document management, but is seriously has issues when it comes to anything social. Also make sure that I can understand your comparison, don’t tell me that you are ‘a bit of the enterprise of SharePoint, with the user experience of Jive and the data analytics capacity of Radian6’. Just spend one sentence max on explaining me how I should see you, though make sure I understand what problem you solve. Make sure elevator pitch makes sense.

‘We want you to sell it’

Hire a sales guy.

‘Can you give us some money’

What I rather would like to do is to give you something of my time and I would expect you to do the same. We can collaborate, though that means we both have to invest something to make things work and I would say sharing experiences, networks and investing time is a good first start. If the collaboration gets more serious, then we can talk about money.

‘We just figure out what we can do with this’

Happy to talk with you and give you some guidance. However preferable in a pub with some beers and when I have time.

‘Everybody is our customer’

Not everybody is your customer, you should have an ideal customer in mind or at least some personas. If everybody is your customer it means that you have a mediocre product that nobody really dislikes but also that nobody loves. Focus and even if your customer profile doesn’t match my customer profile I might be interested.

‘Big company XYZ is our customer’

Is it really, or is it department ABC  from big company XYZ that has done a pilot a while ago with your product? Everybody can do a pilot at any big company so don’t just show big names to impress me. If a big company is your customer, explain me why they went for your product. Even better get me in touch with somebody of that company and let them tell me your story.

‘We don’t have customers yet’

Why should I be interested to be your first customer? Of course I realize somebody has to be the first, however make it compelling for me to be the first. There must be a specific reason for you to want me to be one of the first?

‘It is a side project’

Focus.

Defaming the competition

This is most worrying thing I see: defaming the competition. A vendor explaining why another vendors sucks. I am fine if you make a comparison with another product, though don’t try to talk the other product down. I am interested in what your product can do, not in why somebody else’s product sucks. That is up to me to decide.

Clueless about the competition

Besides defaming the competition it is even worse if you don’t have a clue what other vendors offer. If you want to compare yourself with somebody else, make sure you exactly know what they are doing.

We don’t have  site / name / etc yet

Get that done first.

‘We have a business plan however no demo’

Not interested, come back when you can demo it.

‘Sometimes the live demo works’

If you do a demo: make sure it works seamlessly. Don’t make any remarks such as: “what does this button do”, “I don’t know why it isn’t working”, “well yes we are kind of in something like a beta or alpha”, “yesterday it worked”, “well I am not a developer and just the sales guy, so how would I know”.

Make it work, or even better: offer me a demo or a sandbox environment in which I can use it myself. Make sure it is stable or that I at least have the perception it is stable.

‘Sign a NDA’

No.

Long documents

I don’t have time for that. However if you can convey the message of that document in a few sentences which makes it more appealing I might start reading it.

‘Our revenue model is based on display ads’

The 90s called, they want their business model back

‘We develop any feature you want’

Even though it is a nice statement I tend to be turned off by this one. I appreciate that you think that I am such a visionary that I can think of great features for your product which provide you with instant success, though please show some vision yourself.

Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details. The best pitches I have had were from people who said to no to a certain direction for their product. They said no because they knew where they were heading to and were willing to go there on their own. They really believed in what they do.

‘We are unique’

Sure, everybody is. However how easy is it to copy your product or service, what is the uniqueness of it? What is the long-term prospects of the product and services? Is there a risk your seemingly innovative product service will be overtaken by the natural evolution of the rest of the market?

‘Do you have 60 minutes to talk about the product or service’

No, I have 10 minutes. That is enough. If it is great we will talk for 60 minutes later or maybe even spend a day or so in figuring out ways we can take this forward.

‘Our product will make you go viral’

No it won’t. Nobody knows how things go viral, since it is not an exact science. The only thing you can do is making sure everything is in place to make sure something might go viral. However how and when it will happen: nobody knows, not even you.

‘We have done business / you are friend, etc etc’

I keep track of nearly all my conversations and even though I meet around 1000 new people a year, I know pretty well with who I have done business and I know even better if you are a friend or not. So if we haven’t done business, or we aren’t friends or you really don’t know me, please don’t even pretend that we have some kind of link. I am very open to new people, I am not very open to people that fake things, especially faking relations and faking memories. So if you don’t know, please say so, don’t pretend we know eachother.

‘Ah, you are from Holland, so <insert prejudice here>’

Yes I am from Holland, however that doesn’t mean that I smoke marijuana, or that I live in the capital of Amsterdam which is named Holland (it is the other way around, and I live nearby Rotterdam). It is also doesn’t mean I am a fan of Ajax (soccer club, which is based in Amsterdam), since I am leaving near Rotterdam I am more a fan of Feyenoord: the arch rival of Ajax. I don’t have wooden clogs nor a windmill in the back of my yard.

‘Yes our product has a completely Flash based front-end’

Seriously? It probably is a great experience on my iPad isn’t it?

‘We are cheap’

So is your pitch. If your only differentiator is price, then I am not interested. Prices always drop over time, a better differentiator  would be great service, frequent updates, consultancy or any other of the suggestions Kevin Kelly made in his article Better than Free. Plus I am interested in what problem you solve, not in how your pricing compares to somebody else’s pricing.

Instantly subscribed to your newsletter

You might have mailed me once and I might even have replied to you. However don’t put on the subscriber list of your newsletter without asking me first. Otherwise? *Mark as Spam*

Using 2 (or more) different fonts or font sizes

Yes I do love those highly personalized emails that contains my name in a completely different font type and / or color… or those nice boilerplates that are in a completely different font types. Please how difficult is it to spend 10 seconds more to make the email even look like that it is really personalized for me.

We pay you money to listen

Really? What’s the desperation about people? I have now been offered Amazon gift cards in exchange for my attention. What’s the message you try to convey? Of course I am happy to get paid for listening to you, however I don’t have the feeling that your product is really interesting if you have to buy my attention.

Social Media is not about doing old things better

It is about doing new things to get better outcomes. Most organisations introduce social by supporting old processes and old habits with digital solutions. For example: if you introduce enterprise social networking to gain some more efficiency in your organisation don’t try to figure out how you could do meetings via this new platform. Or even worse: don’t try to make it easier to create new meeting requests via this platform. You need to do a social transformation, meaning that you focus more on outcomes you would like to achieve and less on the activities you already did for years.  Meetings aren’t a goal in itself (even though some managers might think of it), they are a way to get to a certain goal.

Change the activity to save time

Most meetings are a waste of time: wasting valuable time in a meeting since 80% of the meeting is not relevant for you. Instead of focusing on how you could do meetings more easily (supporting the old habit with digital tools), why not introduce a new habit by making collaboration more social: If a meeting is just about exchanging information you can do it virtually and asynchronously (time and location independent), by doing so you can eliminate about 80% of the time spend in physical meeting. That is the direct benefit for the people who would be attending the meeting since they have more time to spend on other things than just staring at walls or drawing images on their notepad.

There is clear ROI in not just supporting the old with something digital, but by transforming the way you really do business. I am not talking about just hours saved, since hours saved is just creating a cognitive surplus and if this surplus isn’t used there isn’t any benefit at all, it is just additional hours used to play solitaire. There are real cost savings to be made:

There is money to be made and to be saved

Lets assume there is an organisation in which there are 1000 meetings each year for which 1 of the participants of the meeting has to travel. With the average price for travelling is around 500 euro (combination of actual costs and time spend on travelling). Meaning that this organisation could save 500k on travel costs alone by just adoption another way of working.

When you introduce social within your organisation don’t make the mistake to transfer your old processes to new tools. Focus on how to achieve your business outcomes with these new tools and be prepared that it requires change to get the best results.

Community Maturity – Fools and Spam

One of the things that is annoying for communities is when the spammers come and when the people join that ask really annoying and sometimes even stupid questions (yes there are stupid questions). However even if this is a downside that a community has to handle these kind of people, it is also a sign of maturity.

Since spammers wont do anything on a community where there is no conversion opportunity. Spam is a high volume, low conversion business so it needs an audience. This audience can be either the community members or search engines, the latter mainly used then for link building in a non ethical way.

Fools also arrive as your community becomes more mainstream. Most communities start in a rather niche like way: very focused on a single or a few topics, often only attracting other people with the same niche interests, REsulting in a lot of knowledgable people talking about a subjects and making the community a valuable source for information. Which in itself will attract new users, including those who are not really knowledgable about this topic and are seen as fools and who are asking the stupid questions.

If you are measuring success of your community, you might want to measure it based on the numbers of spammers you have, since this will indicate your reach and attractiveness for conversion. Also you might want to include the number of obvious questions asked, since this will indicate how much new members you will attract that are interested in the topic, but not really passionate, you might say the typical mainstream audience.

Dear Google, social is about context not just about your network

Google rolled out it Social Search and besides that Google might have jumped the shark on this one and is likely to be moving to the dark side, there is something else that bothers me.

Google approaches social as an engineering thing, by just adding the content from my circles from Google+ to my search results. It messes up the results. This is because I circled people on Google+ because I they have interesting content on certain topics, not because they would make the ideal filters for search.

If Google would have looked at this from a social design perspective instead of an engineering perspective they would have implemented social search in a whole different way. Social search is not search + one social network, it is about some of the people in my social networks some of the time. Most of the things I search for are not connected to my social graph and if there is no connection to my social graph there is no use for showing me the results from my social graph.

The most disturbing thing is that Google favors Google+ over all other social networks, making things highly irrelevant since my social graph is in Twitter and Facebook not in Google+, so the search is not social, it is siloed, it is the new monopolist at work.

If Google would have approach search as something really social, then they would have focused on the result for the people, not on driving traffic to their own social network not on inflating their user counts by making plus mandatory for every new user, not on excluding others, not on making real names mandatory since you then can market your users better. They would have focused on not being evil, however it seems that now Facebook and Twitter have to take care of that.

Google+, not thinking globally (again)

Google is an interesting company to watch especially around the mistakes they make with the roll out of Google+. First of all they made the mistake of trying to enforce real names as Friendster did years ago with their fakesters issues and Facebook did a few years after Friendster. For both Friendster and Facebook it didn’t work out, therefore it is surprising that Google is making exactly the same mistake. Facebook was able to enforce this in the first few years since Facebook required a .edu mail address for sign up.

Besides that the real name issue Google still thinks that everybody got a first and last name which is not true, first Google forgets that there is such a thing as a mononimity (having just one name). Then there are many cultural differences in names and the W3 did a wonderful job in summing this differences up and providing a solution for your sign up forms.

Now Google realizes that enforcing common names is not working they have a new thing they focus on: mature and offensive content in pictures and to be more precise gestures that could be offensive. The interesting thing of that is that Google is once again thinking very US centric; the finger is seen in the US as very offensive, however in Iran a thumbs up is seen as an identical gesture. Same goes for showing your soles of your shoes in the Middle east or to show the palms of your hands in Greece.

If you are a global service (and I think Google is position Google+ in that way ;)), act globally and be aware that not every gesture means the same in each country, or in each context. Therefore I repeat my earlier words I wrote about Google+ earlier:

And since they cannot solve it, they shouldn’t bother to do so. The only thing they do show now, is showing they still don’t understand what people do, they have hard time to grasp the social part.