Open doesn’t always mean Open

There is a growing critique on companies such as Facebook and Apple that build there ecosystems on closed and often proprietary standards. However often the use of an open standard is just a facade. Since open doesn’t always mean open in best case it is just less closed.

In a conversation I had on Twitter with Werner Keil he provided me with information that Twitter will be using an open standard called Java Social. Which in general is a good thing. However makes it Twitter any more open than it is now? I don’t think so. Since there is still no way to get all my tweets out of Twitter. Even the basic Twitter search doesn’t go back for a bit more than a week. So Twitter is closed even though they use open standards, since you cannot get anything out.

Google is praised for their activities in the data liberation front. However the data liberation front is in some cases just a facade. If you can get your Google+ data out, though their is no way to import this data into something else, what is the use of getting it out in the first place? It is nice there is a way out, though as long as that is in a format you cannot import elsewhere it is just some openess-theater, not something really open.

Of course open comes from two sides and Google probably would say that somebody else should build an importer for Google+ theater for other networks. However some networks / platforms already have standards (proprietary and open) and Google isn’t exporting its data according to those standards.

So beware of the openess-theater, since open doesn’t always mean open. Plus open doesn’t always mean better, it is just a different approach for doing things.

Facebook’s Timeline: the emperor’s new clothes or how it kills your brand

Facebook is introducing Timeline for Brand pages in the upcoming few weeks. Of course this is in basis about unifying the complete Facebook experience. Though I would say it is more than that. Timeline will make a killing in brands. It is the emperor’s new clothes, though instead of an emperor walking around naked we now see brands being exposed.

Since suddenly it will be clear which brands are social on top (such as lipstick on a pig) or social enabled / designed. Timeline is all about telling a story that is worth sharing. Timeline is not a timeline of your latest and greatest (not!) press releases and other marketing material. If you don’t have a story to share as a brand that is worth sharing you will be exposed.

Stories are things that are worth sharing, press releases aren’t, corporate communications isn’t, it is about telling great stories. Timelines will enforce this upon brands. Brands all of a sudden have to become story tellers and a lot of brands will learn that the current story they have to tell is incredibly boring. Face it: nobody will listen to a boring story not even when they have pressed the like button in the past.

You have 30 days to get your story right. Will you be able to have a good story to tell, a story worth sharing? Or will it be the emperor’s new clothes? Leaving you exposed while you are still thinking you were doing brilliant things with a like button.

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.

f-commerce: the mismatch with the traditional retailer business model

There is a lot to do about f-commerce lately, especially the closing down of some Facebook storefronts of big retailers. Of course there are people telling that commerce on Facebook doesn’t work (and of course never will work in their views) because Facebook is different and without understanding their own comments, they hit the nail on the head:

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop, but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

This is exactly the reason it is so hard for retailers to do anything with social media at all:

  • Most retailers have boring products which are not worth talking about. Why bother your friends  with boring products.
  • Traditional retailers have a business model based on high volume and low margins, so there is no time (or money) to build up a relationship with their customers. The only thing that matters is selling high volume.
  • Retailers traditionally are short-term thinkers. A ROI of 6-9 months is unthinkable and in some cases even not possible since the retailer would be bankrupt by then. However 6-9 months is the smallest timeframe you should be thinking of when doing anything with social media.

It is different. Adapt or die

Facebook is different and by trying to push old things on a new platform you notice that things won’t work. Facebook is not your e-commerce site, it is a social platform. Providing people with a catalog of all your products doesn’t work. People on Facebook never said that they were missing your catalog on Facebook in the first place, even worse: they don’t miss your organization at all at Facebook.

If you want to do anything around commerce on Facebook you have to design it better instead of just copying your catalog in a tab on a Facebook page. Your catalog is not worth sharing, products, if these are great products, might be worth sharing, experiences are worth sharing. It is not about selling your product to people on Facebook, it is making the product worth sharing, it is making the product worth to talk about and it is making sure that the product adds value to the individual.

It is a different way of doing business. Conversion is not the primary goal on Facebook, conversations and relations are the primary goals. If you succeed in these two then you might be able to sell something. However if you keep your old business model in place it is nearly impossible to do this, since the old way of working is constraining you.

Social Design: a sign up pattern that helps (and one that fails)

Having people participating on your online (social) platform is something that requires often a lot of hard work and careful planning and design. One of the basic things to help people to participate is to make things really easy to start with. So make it easy to sign up, and once signed up, make it easy to login. For me personally Quora is the key example of making things simple. The login screen provides you with and option to either login with a dedicated Quora account, a Facebook account or a Twitter account:

Since most people have more than one email address, Quora makes even that question rather easy since it checks your email address while typing it:

Quora makes it real easy to get in and to participate. It makes it also real easy to logout and when you logout your session is remembered so that if you would prefer you could login instantly without having to type your password once again. If you really want to logout you have to do an additional step to terminate your session. Also Quora shows you with an overview of all other sessions that are active and which you could end as well.

However not every application makes things so easy. SAP StreamWorks has an anti pattern of participation, even though it is one of the few social bits in SAP’s ecosystem. SAP doesn’t make it too hard to login. Since you also choose to use your Google Apps account (which makes sense since it is a corporate environment) or your general Google account to login. However when you have to create a new account, you are all of the sudden slapped with a captcha which just makes it harder to sign up.

However the real anti pattern starts when you login on StreamWork with an existing account a new device. Since SAP prefers to make it a secure environment they decide to put an additional check in place before you can really use the application. However as many companies SAP confuses secure with hard to use. Since if I want to login I have to answer four questions which I have probably selected in the past (to be honest: forget completely about those questions) and there is no way of getting past these questions if you don’t know the answer.

Security is important, though don’t confuse security with making things hard to use. Captchas, additional questions or email address guessing don’t help in driving adoption. For me Quora is one of the scarce example of making things really easy and really user friendly. That is what you want to end up with: making sure there is no reason for the user to not sign up and to log in once again when he or she is coming back. Since if you don’t make it easy, people are most likely not going to use it, they can spend their time on better things than jumping through hoops.

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.

An example of real social marketing

Marketing in itself is not social, it never has been and it never will be. Though sometimes there are activities that are a core example of social design and that could be qualified as a marketing. Dropbox is such an example. To give you a bit of background Dropbox is introducing a new photo import and sync option in the new version of their software and to make sure it works they offered a beta.

So far, nothing new. It is just a beta and of course in beta direct user feedback is preferred and there is ongoing conversation on the forum. What might be interesting in this case is that the announcement was made on the forum, not somewhere on their blog or other more formal channel. However this still isn’t really social, it is just a conversation. However the thing that made it more social was just one simple incentive: if you use the product and do an upload of 500MB of pictures you will get 500MB free.

Dropbox is not just requesting for people to spend their time with the new beta of Dropbox, Dropbox is instantly giving back. By doing so it is no longer a traditional beta which is just asking people to spend their time and do your work in finding bugs. It is not a traditional beta in which you can get early access by spamming your friends or in which you can get extra disk space by spamming your friends. Dropbox ensures that the experience is becoming worth sharing and can be beneficial for all, instead of introducing a new Ponzi-scheme. Dropbox makes it social by making sure there is value delivered to the ones participating in the beta, even if they don’t give any feedback. Plus they make the news about the beta worth sharing and your first picture upload to Dropbox is worth sharing, since all of a sudden you have 500MB of disk space for free.

By doing so Dropbox is using the three basics of social design: delivering value for the individual without demanding value back, making it worth sharing and making it conversational by allowing direct feedback from users. And by doing so they create even a bigger return than when they would have done a traditional marketing campaign or traditional beta around their new release.

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.