Four Ways to Optimise Notifications for Your Social Platform

We have a very schizophrenic relation with our email. We like the ease of use of it so we can contact everybody, on the other hand we hate the ease of use, since everybody can send email. Email is a great tool in conjunction with social platforms, especially when used as BACN. Social platforms might have better means for interactions, however most people are still less used to social platform than they are to email. People are completely conditioned on checking in on email, every mobile device has by default an email app. Therefore make use of it.

The difficulty of email is not abusing it. It is very attractive and easy to send for each and every notification an email. Since every email could contain a link to a social platform providing people the opportunity to click and visit the social platform.  Sending email is relatively cheap, and if there is an opportunity to send out high volumes of email with a low conversion margin, then you still can have a great return.  That business model is now what we call spam, and spamming is not the most popular activity you can do. So don’t let your BACN turn into spam and  think of the following items:

  1. Measure, it is an obvious habit especially if you have read more of my articles. Know what works, know what doesn’t works. If the email doesn’t work, get rid of it. Don’t spend time and resources on notifications that don’t work. If things work, make sure it works really well, don’t settle for minimal conversions.
  2. Know what interacts. Everything that stimulates interaction on the social platform could be worth to send out a notification for, try out notifications for different types of interactions (or lack of). Though make sure to keep the spam  gates closed. Not every interaction is appreciated in the inbox, it has to provide a certain meaning. Measure this over and over again.
  3. Diversify when you want to apply social proof into your notifications. It is not about how many friends are part of the social proof, it is about how many disconnected groups they fall in.
  4. A/B test notification emails. Not only the layout of emails and the landing pages, but also test the frequency of emails. You know when you go to far as soon as people start to change their notification settings or start unsubscribing. Better make sure you have your apology emails ready when you hit the limit.

 

Transforming Your Web Care Activities into a Money Machine

What do most companies do on social media? Replying on complaints. Reactively responding to negative messages from customers (or from people just talking about your products and services) on social media. Please don’t call this web care, it is hate care. Doing hate care is just feeding the negative side of messages, since people will notice that as soon as they complain about you, or in a slightly more positive way, have a question about your product or service, that they will get attention. Attention is the thing we all want and if you only give if to your non-promoters you end up in a process that feels like it is taking place in purgatory and is adding zero value to your business. You are just creating waste, not adding value.

Hate care

Complaints are waste, since they shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. If your product or service was good enough there would not have been a complaint. If your product or service was clear enough there wouldn’t be questions. Questions and complaints are waste because your processes should have prevented them to happen early on and if you have been working in software development, logistics or manufacturing you know that solving a defect (waste) is way easier and less expensive than solving it later in the process. Though the thing most web care is doing, is just trying to fix the defect at the end of the chain without feeding the beginning of chain on how to prevent this at all.

Nobody wants to be without a job

Not even web care people. However the misunderstanding is that as long as they can answer questions and solve complaints they have a future proof job. Even worse you might even think that if there are more complaints and questions and you can solve them with the same amount of people as you did before you are doing a better job. Or worst case: if you answer every question or complaint within an hour that you are in web care nirvana. Well, you are not, what you are doing is feeding negativity about your brand and its products and services. You are not eliminating waste, you are not really solving problems, you are just creating work for yourself on the short-term, without doing improvements for the long-term. So basically you are managing your company towards bankruptcy and yourself towards unemployment.

Eliminating Waste, Save Money and Make Money

Let’s identify if there is waste in your way of interacting with people online:

  1. You are doing hate care, not web care (see description above on hate care)
  2. Web care is located in a department, not across the whole organisation
  3. Web care can do more than traditional customer care
  4. There is no feedback loop back to the product team or any other part of the organisation to fix the root cause of the complaints and questions
  5. The KPI for web care is not about reduction of complaints or reduction of questions

If ‘yes’ is your answer on one of these five statements than you are leaving money on the table and you are stuck in doing hate care. Let me help you in making improvements:

Social Business not Social Department

First of all it is about becoming a Social Business not about being a Social Department. Web care or any other activities is a Business issue, which means that you have to integrate this activities and its outcomes throughout the whole business. Focus on solving root causes of questions and complaints, that is even more important than answering these questions and complaints (though I would consider it is a big plus if you can do both at the same time). If you can solve the root cause of the complaints and questions you free up time for more value adding activities such as improving your products and services.

Feedback loops

It is vital to have such feedback loop, otherwise it is just like you are emptying the ocean with a thimble. You have to be willing to solve the root cause and social media is an ideal monitoring tool to pick up complaints and questions. You are still picking it up relatively late in the process, however it is better than when you find out that nobody is buying your product and you end up with a lot of products and no buyers.

All channels are equal

If you allow your web care department to provide better or different compensation, you are just creating more waste. Since you are training your customers to complain on social media since that provides them with a better compensation and the more they will complain the more compensation they will receive. It might be clear that you should remove the reason to complain in the first place.

Your multi million opportunity

Your KPI is not solving complaints, nor is it solving complaints really fast. It is improving the perceived value of your product by your customers and potential customers. Since perceived value is one of the items that determines if a customer is willing to give you money for your product and service. The easiest way to increase perceived value is by letting your customers shine.

Your customers don’t  have a vested interest in your company, are most likely not biased and don’t benefit from other customers buying your product. By putting them in the spotlight, they are the most authentic source that can share your story and by doing so they might be becoming your best sales people. However it is not just putting the spotlight on them, it is by providing them the opportunity that they want shine for you.

It is by doing really well and by increasing your perceived value so much that your customer is thinking that he is almost robbing you since he is not paying enough compared the value he receives. It is by making it really easy for your customer to promote you and your products and services and finally is by encouraging your customer by doing so. Not only by making sure there is no reason for complaints and questions but also by letting your customers know you value them. The best way to value your customer is by making sure the perceived value of your products and services is higher than the money that your customer pays for. By doing so you are basically building up credits and in the end your customer is happy to exchange this credit for investing some of his time in recommending you to his friends.

Stop doing web care. Start caring.

Facebook Graph Search, Heaven and Hell for Enterprises

You might have heard of the introduction of Facebook’s Graph Search. Which is just a difficult name for social search. Facebook enables you to explore your network, their likes, their connections and basically all the data they share with you in a very natural way. For example you can search for:

  • Friends who live in Spijkenisse (My home town)
  • Single friends who live in Spijkenisse and like beer
  • Single male friends who live in Spijkenisse who like beer and soccer

As you can see Facebook can find everything that has some kind of relation with one and other. And that exactly why it is both heaven and hell for enterprises. However first take a look at this release video from Facebook that provides you with more examples on graph search and an explanation why they did it:

Why could this be hell for enterprises?

It might be obvious, if you can search for nice relations, you can search for bad relations as well. So imagine the following searches:

  • Employees of company X that like racism
  • Employees of company X that like getting drunk
  • Employees of company X that like the holocaust
  • Or less harmful: “People who work at Coca-Cola and who like Pepsi”

Those searches could create at least an interesting viewpoint on your company. You could imagine that on slow news days some intern at a newspaper who is bored will do some Facebook graph searches and will create a nice news item that can fit a sidebar on the front page.

It is not something new, some people within enterprises have a specific taste or distaste and certain preferences, however graph search exposes this in a very easy way. Easier than it was before. It show cases that real people working at your company, however real people with real preferences can be harmful for your brand. Since you wouldn’t like to be listed in the ‘Top 10 most racist companies in healthcare’, or would you?

However everything is just the same as yesterday, it seems that you have some employees that in their personal life doesn’t fit your profile of ideal employee. It seems they are just human. As long as it doesn’t hinder the way they work, why worry? You might want to provide them with some additional education, since if this effecting your brand, it effects their personal brand as well. Not many people are aware what is public and what is not public on Facebook so go the extra mile for them and educate them on how they can use Facebook in a way that doesn’t harm them in any way, instead of just thinking of the self-interest of your company.

This is absolutely heaven for enterprises!

If you are hiring people, you hire for cultural fit not necessarily for skills. Since skills can be trained, culture is less trainable. However how would you define your culture and how to find the right fit? Well these graph searches could help:

  • Friends of people working at company X that are engineers and that like Monty Python and The Office
  • Project Managers that like Pulp Fiction and Terminator
  • Librarians that like War and Peace

Interests can be a great indicator of a certain culture. If your web development shop is all about Monty Python jokes why not look for somebody who is already a friend of one of your employees, who is an engineer and has the same taste in jokes. You have  a better chance in getting the right person for the right job a lot faster.

In case you are planning to create a new marketing campaign how do you create something your customers can relate to? Simple use their interests that they already expressed on Facebook, for example:

  • Movies liked by people who like Company X
  • Music liked by people who like Company X

Using this information you can find the movies, celebrities, music that people on Facebook that are related to your brand like most and you can create an experience they relate to. And these things are not one-dimensional. You can add more context to the query such as:

  • Movies liked by people who like Company X who live in the Netherlands and like Rock Music

You can make it is as narrow or as complex as you would like to, though you can get to know more about your fans than you have ever  had the opportunity to.

What do I need to do now with this information

First of all reread this article why you should integrate with the Facebook open graph, now with graph search it has become more important.

If you are a retailer not only focus on the connection between your brand and other things, focus on the relation between the products you are selling and all the other things people like as well. If you can find a correlation between what products people like, what people buy, what people talk about, what people recommend to their friends, you are gaining so much more insight than you have already know.

If you are a smart company you will be able to harness this data in such a way that your customers can benefit from it. However not all information is public and not all of your customers are liking you on Facebook. So if you would like to really harness this information you have to give your customers a reason to like you. Of course an iPad give-a-way could be an easy way to get people in, however you might want to try something more sustainable, since you not only need their data, you would like to make sure they have a reason to be loyal as well.

The opportunity to go beyond customer expectations never has been so close for you. Now you need to find a way to connect and to execute.

Your Social Media Efforts are not Worth Doing

If you are not focusing on achieving business goals with your social media efforts it is not worth doing social media for your business at all. Do you know that 50% of the projects done in Social CRM do not provide a worthwhile return or that 57% of the companies are still struggling with even measuring ROI (let alone achieving it!). So half of the companies doing something with social media are just burning money and not earning money. That is concerning, since if you more burn than you earn, you will end up bankrupt on the long run. Let me help you to first of all identify why it could be that your social media efforts and then finish with the most important bit: how to ensure that you can make money with your Social Media efforts and to make it a sustainable component in your organisation. There are three reasons why your current efforts are not worth doing at all:

  1. You have no clue why you are doing it.
  2. You are not measuring returns or you are settling for very little.
  3. You are not investing in it.

Let me explain these three points a bit more:

Why it is not worth your efforts

The Qualman argument

“The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.” – Erik Qualman

Fear based arguments are great, we humans are a sucker for it. And if you think you don’t fell for fear based arguments: you are using tooth paste, right? And you would hate it if you teeth would yellow, right? Tooth paste is born from fear based marketing, the fear of not fitting in a group of white teeth humans. Even if we are not aware of it, we just act upon such triggers. Back to Qualman. If you happen to work in company that will stop existing in the next five years, what is causing this? Trust me, it is not the lack of Facebook page, or not having a tweet button on your site. If you have no clue what is causing it, or if it is very clear that you will be around in the next five years than you would have no reason to do anything with social media according to Qualman. Which just feels weird…

If you happen to work in a dying company and you have discovered the reason why the company is dying, change the company in a different and more future proof direction. Most often your customers are moving elsewhere, competition is better and prices elsewhere are lower. Social Media doesn’t solve this issue on itself (according to Qualman’s oneliner it would). You have to fix the basis and see how social media can help. It is not a holy grail. You have to drive change and to transform your business and if you are social media in this, you have to make sure it has an impact.

In short: only do social media if you can make an impact. If you have no clue why you are doing it, just don’t do it.

Our returns are not substantial, but it is better than nothing…

Nobody can spend more money than he or she earns. At least not forever. You might have some reserves, some savings. However in the end if you spend more than you earn, you’ll end up bankrupt. There has to be a good return from your social media activities, otherwise you can better invest your time and money in something else. Better than nothing is just a poor man excuse, just go the casino, your chances on a higher return might be better and you are more honest on the fact that you are just wasting money.

You have to make sure that the things you are doing with social media are getting you a higher return than other activities you could deploy with the same investments. Returns that are little are often a sign that you either are not trying hard enough (or you are doing it just plain wrong) or that something else might be more worthwhile doing. Perseverance is a great skill, however if you are just doing the wrong thing it is stupid.

In short: Measure what you do and don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. If it isn’t worthwhile doing, find something that is. Perseverance alone doesn’t make you money.

We minimize investments (aka: the interns are running Social Media)

If  ‘Return’  is an important theme in your organisation, then why cut down the ‘Investment’. It is Return on Investment which implies that if you lower the investment, you automatically get a lower return. The fact that interns are millenials doesn’t automatically imply that they know social media better than you do let alone social media in an enterprise setting.

You can learn a lot from interns, since they bring a new perspective, however you cannot expect that an intern will be the one who guides your company to a million dollar opportunity with social media activities. Of course it can happen, just like you can win the lottery: if you are lucky. Interns have a lot learn and if you are lucky they have a lot of questions that in the end will help you in getting things more clear.

In short: If Return on Investment is important, don’t limit your investments by default.

How to make it worthwhile and make money and make it sustainable

If you have read why your efforts might not have been worthwhile, it could be rather obvious what you have to do. However let me elaborate a bit more on this points:

Business goals, business goals, business goals

The only reason to deploy an activity within an organisation it to reach certain goals. If it doesn’t have a goal it is just wasting money and since money is a limited resource in most organisation you’d better not waste too much of it. Social Media can only be effective if it serves a business goal. This can be: increasing revenue, increasing margin, attracting highly competent people, reducing marketing spend. However don’t confuse a vague term such as engagement as a goal. Engagement is a process, not a goal. Business goals are often already set on a strategic level, what you should do it so how social media can contribute to this business goal.

Real Metrics, not vanity metrics

Nobody cares how many tweets you’ve sent out, how many likes you have received or what your Klout score is. If you don’t make money there will be a moment in time that somebody will notice and requires you to start making money. I have written about this topic on this page: How to Measure ROI in Social Business Projects, please read this, since it provides you with good insights in what not to measure, what you should measure and an example business case.

Knowing what investments have for effect

Money and time are limited resources within any organisation. Spending all your money on Social Media will not provide you with the best return perse, you might be able to achieve that with spending less money  or spending less time. However you should know what the difference a certain investment makes. Therefore it is important to have the real metrics in place as mentioned before and to know how your social media activities relate to the business goals and what their impact. If you know how much one extra dollar of budget (investment) would deliver as business value (contribution to a business goal), then you can calculate what you require to achieve a goal within a certain time frame and how much time it would require to start earning more than you are spending.

To keep things really simple:

There are three things you have to do to start making your social media efforts worthwhile:

  1. You have are achieving (or helping to achieve) a business goal with Social Media.
  2. You are constantly measuring and adjusting based on real metrics.
  3. You know what happens if you invest more or when you lower your investments.

To test if you have all these three points, try to formulate what you are doing (or going to do) in a way like this:

  1. When will you start delivering value
  2. What is it you are doing
  3. What is your company or your customers able to do
  4. What are the business improvements
  5. What is the investment
  6. What is the payback period
  7. How will you document your delivered value.

Example:

By the beginning of next year, as a result of our web care efforts, customers will be able to get better answers more quickly resulting in an increase in the NPS and a reduction of 40% the number of calls on the service desk. We need to have two FTE  and an additional 50k to achieve these goals and the payback period for this is six months. We will document the delivered value by measuring the call reduction on our service desk, measuring the sentiment online about our service and by surveying our clients to measure the NPS.

As final thought: please realize that social media (or better phrased: social business transformation) is a specific competence, a skill that requires training, experience and knowledge. A check list is not the thing that helps you solving issues, you need to involve people who have done this over and over again, who have a proven track record and who can commit to certain targets and deliver on time. Yes those people might cost you money, however as mentioned before: if you want results, you know there has to be an investment.

Why LEGO is a Social Business

No it is not because LEGO is brilliant on Facebook or that have a very cool retweet action on Twitter. They do one thing really brilliantly: they give kids what they deserve in the way they understand. Let me show you two examples after which I will explain you how much money LEGO is saving by doing this. Yes LEGO is saving money by giving stuff away in an authentic fashion and that is why they are a Social Business. First the examples:

First of all there is Luka who lost his Jay ZX LEGO character and who sent a letter to LEGO asking if he could get a replacement. He did get a replacement, plus he got some valuable advice:

Luka, I told Sensei Wu that losing your Jay minifigure was purely an accident and that you would never ever ever let it happen ever again.

He told me to tell you, “Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu!”

Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan.

So, I hope you enjoy your Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight!

Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad.

This is already a non standard reply from a big company, however the video on top of the page gives even a bigger picture of what the impact is of LEGO on the life of kids (and their parents):

Now how is this a Social Business?

LEGO has the mindset to go beyond just playing a regular game of customer service with its customers, since they see their customers as something they should cherish, or as they put in the letter to James Groccia: Fans like you are why we are so lucky as a company. LEGO doesn’t think profit centric (since having to do customer service for free is a killer for margins), they think client centric since in the end this saves them money and even better: builds a loyal customer base.  That is what a Social Business is all about: solving business issues in a social and sustainable manner. It is not about just being great on Twitter and Facebook.

And how makes this money for LEGO?

First of all, I am writing about this, however some outlets with a bigger reach have also written about this. The YouTube video has over 1.6M views. LEGO is reducing marketing costs, their fans are promoting the brand and their fans are able to promote the brand in a more authentic fashion than LEGO could ever do.

By doing customer service the first time right you not only make sure that you get a lot of publicity as LEGO got, you make sure that your customers are turning into loyal customers. LEGO customers have a very common life cycle, since many of them will grow up and might have kids of their own and thus might buy LEGO for their kids as well. Also the kids will love LEGO for this and it might be known who makes the buying decision for the next toy: the kid, the parents are only spending money on something they kid will appreciate a lot.

Also if you got something for free, whether it is a complete train or just 3 characters, most likely you won’t dare to ask for a second favor. The next time you screw something up, you will pay for it yourself. LEGO has reduced the number of customer interactions via customer service to one. Just one time per customer in their entire life cycle there is some free interaction. By reducing the number of interactions, they increase the margins they can make.

So basically LEGO is doing three things:

  1. Lowering marketing costs
  2. Increase customer loyalty
  3. Reduce customer calls on the call center/ customer interaction center

How can you do the same as LEGO and save and make money?

First all of: have a clear view of your customer. Who is your customer, who is paying for product and what is their life-cycle. Be aware of what the additional benefit is of turning somebody in a loyal customer and what you will lose if you lose a customer. Know what it costs to help your customers and keep the aforementioned in mind. Since if a customer interaction is costing less than the money you could make by turning your customer in a loyal customer, why not add a little more to go beyond customer expectations? However it is not just focusing on a the per customer costs, it is the overall benefit. Since by giving away one train which costs $100 LEGO has not just created one loyal customer, they have created many, even if only 0.1% of the YouTube becomes a loyal customer they have 1,600 new loyal customer (only costing 0.06 dollar per customer!).

View your social behaviour and returns on a business level, not a department level. It is about focusing on business goals and business outcomes and the only sustainable and really social outcomes are those where not the business benefits on the short-term, but where the customer benefits. It is a long-term activity which has to be done across the company, that is the only way to become a really social business.

Otherwise you’ll just be a social department: a nice gimmick, great on Twitter and Facebook, great in doing campaigns. However unsustainable on the long-term, since you are not able to have the long-term view and the complete business view.

It is Social Business, not social department.

Three Excuses Software Vendors Cannot Make Anymore

Last year was a great year in numerous ways for me. Also because I had the opportunity to see a lot of new products being demoed to me (if you would like to provide me with a demo, read more about how you could pitch me here). However in many demos there were still some poor excuses which were more a showcase of lack of skills than a real excuses. Therefore a small list of three excuses you cannot come up with any more:

Sorry, our people need to be on premise for maintenance

As you might have noticed we the Curiosity has landed on Mars taking many wonderful pictures and doing great research. However did you also know that the engineers of the Curiosity rover did an over the air software update. Of course what Apple did was very interesting with their over the air updates on the iOS devices, however what the NASA did was an update from Earth to Mars, which is pretty impressive. So stop with your excuses that your guys (or girls) have to be on premise to do maintenance.

Sorry, we don’t have an internet connection here

Felix Baumgartner was 40km up in the sky before he started his long (and fast fall). Every bit of this of jump was streamed live, in HD! If you can get a decent connection 40km up in the air to stream at least 720p, you must be able to get some kind of connectivity in a more urban area. Prepare yourself and make sure you have a backup (and a backup of the backup) internet connection with you when you have to demo something which requires an internet connection.

Sorry, our live demo doesn’t work

Demos and particularly live demos are still something that is hard for many companies to do right. Most often there are glitches, failures and other unexpected behaviours that leave the one who provides the demo embarrassed. Google has redefined how you can do your demo in a more exciting way? Did you ever do a demo of your product while doing a parachute jump, jumping over buildings with a BMX and abseiling from a huge building? I guess not. And probably you didn’t do it streaming this demo live. Google did and that is the reason you have absolutely no reason to have a failing demo. Since your demo is most likely in a very controlled environment doing just ‘boring’ stuff.

Just stop making excuses and start being excellent. You are not updating software on Mars, jumping out of a capsule on 40km up in the air or demoing your product during skydiving. You are doing simple things, why should it be then so hard to do it right.

Yes you need a community manager, though what about a data scientist for your community?

It might be the showcase of a filter bubble, though I would say that we all agree that if you want to do anything with communities, social platforms are anything related to that, that you need a community manager. You need a community manager to make it into a success, since without a community manager luck is your biggest success factor. Though do you already have a data scientist?

However an upcoming trend I see is data driven community management. Currently most community managers are great in social skills, are great connectors and sometimes have a traditional internal communications background. They might be great in doing some reporting either via standard reports int he community platform itself or via data dumps in excels. However that is not science, that is reporting, that is simplifying data so it fits a pie chart or bar chart.

The data scientist

The data scientist takes a higher order view of things: for example, for example they might correlate weather data with community activity and looking at their relationship to the overall customer satisfaction.  It’s understanding the relationships between data and how they interact with each other.

It is a whole different mindset. The community manager sees a certain issue arise (a declining participation rate) and will start to solve it by creating more engaging content or by engaging members of the community more actively. A data scientist will first question if there really is an issue and will try to see if there is a correlation or causation that is causing this perceived issue and will based on that information provide next steps (or no steps in case it is a non solvable issue).

However if I would only provide that example, I would do the real data scientist and community manager a lot of injustice. Since these people do more than solving issues. They spot trends, things that are common, things that arise, that are useful. The community manager often uses ‘gut’ to identity these things. The data scientist uses ‘ head’. The community manager often only uses the information on what is happening in the community (not limited to the platform, though limited to a group). A data scientist will use all the sources he can use.

A data scientist spot trends based on combining different data sources and discover previously unknown insights such as that community members that like content more than average buy more bottles of soda in one go than other members. Or that a decline in community participation means a run a barbecue meat, since the weather correlates both to dinner choices and online activity.

You need head and gut

You need both ‘head’ and ‘gut’  in your community. Community management isn’t an exact science. Yet! A good data scientist will test the assumptions of ‘gut’  and will provide new insights and recommendations based on his analysis of various data.

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.