Infographic Gives Good Overview of Good Helpouts

One of the many little-known Google services is Helpouts, which are video meetings with experts who can help you do everything from seed your lawn to play the piano. You can hold impromptu Helpout conferences using Google Hangouts immediately or schedule them for later, depending on the expert and availability. Some carry a charge and others are free. Several brands offer free Helpouts to support their products.

A useful infographic arrived today from DPFOC, a digital marketing agency based in Ireland and the UK. It traces the history of Helpouts and offers some useful advice on what you can do with them.  I thought it was worth sharing. I’ll even forgive the agency for auto-launching a video when you visit its site.

DPFOC IG Helpouts

Why Facebook Isn’t Worried About Ello

I haven’t yet tried Ello, the newest social network to aspire to the role of “Facebook killer” (though my request for access is pending), but I know already that it is doomed to fail in that role. I’ve seen this scenario play out again and again, and result is a foregone conclusion.

Ello has attracted attention because of its pugnacious attitude expressed in a “manifesto” that begins, “Your social network is owned by advertisers” and ends “You are not a product.”

Some people are rooting for Ello to unseat Facebook by tapping into user rage over the giant social network’s controversial approach to using member information to sell advertising. They will be disappointed. Ello has no better chance of challenging Facebook than MySpace or Friendster. The social network wars are over, Facebook won and it’s time to move on.

My opinion is rooted in more than 30 years of watching battles play out over new platforms. Invariably the script is the same. To understand why Facebook has already won you have to understand the nature of technology platforms.

Platform Markets are Different

Platforms are technologies that serve as a foundation for development. Windows is a platform. So is the X86 chip architecture. Oracle is a platform and so are iOS and Google Maps. The winners in platform markets typically get 80% share, and everybody else fights over the scraps. This is because developers and customers want safe choices. They’re willing to pay more and accept less in exchange for knowing that a platform is going to be around for a while.

Platform winners are never supplanted by direct competitors. They fail for two main reasons: Customer preferences change or a new platform comes along that delivers a new kind of value.

An example of the first phenomenon is spreadsheets. In the late 1980s Lotus was larger than Microsoft and had a stranglehold on the highly profitable spreadsheet market with 1-2-3. Dozens of competitors took on Lotus with cheaper alternatives or modestly differentiated products. None gained more than a few percentage points of market share. What killed 1-2-3 was a change in preferences.Users preferred an integrated office suite based on a GUI metaphor. Microsoft had that and Lotus was slow to respond. (What’s sometimes forgotten is the Microsoft also discounted Office heavily in the early days, a strategy that helped tip the balance.)

An example of the second phenomenon is network operating systems. Novell’s NetWare reigned as the market leader until a good enough alternative came along in IP. IP wasn’t as elegant as NetWare, but it was free and accessible to all. Once it achieved critical mass, it became a safe choice and NetWare’s fate was sealed. Linux did the same thing to proprietary competitors on the server. Platform vendors are terrified by competitors that build critical mass.

Free doesn’t always supplant expensive. Linux on the desktop has never challenged Windows, but I think that’s due more to usability issues than price. On servers, Linux has done extremely well. It has critical mass.

Once platform companies become embedded they protect their franchise through a surround strategy. Some, like Microsoft and Intel, build formidable distribution networks and use volume discounts to block competition. Others, like Oracle and EMC, build software layers around their platforms that effectively embed them into customers’ organizations. Basically, it becomes more expensive for customers to switch than to stick with the incumbent.

What’s Really Different about Ello?

How does this relate to Ello? From what I’ve read, Ello uses the same basic social networking metaphors as Facebook and every other social network. Functionally, it’s a wash. Ello’s only major distinction is in the way it handles personal data.

The problem with that strategy is a few people really care. Privacy is important to a vocal minority, but in my view the vast majority of Facebook users couldn’t care less. As long as they can post photos of their kids and trash talk with their friends at no charge they’re happy. The recent disclosure that Facebook secretly manipulated the emotions of nearly 700,000 users has gotten plenty of media attention, but I don’t see anyone occupying Central Park over this issue. Facebook knows better than anyone that there are lines it shouldn’t cross.

What will ultimately unseat Facebook – or at least halt its growth – will be something that looks nothing like a social network. It may be based on sensors or artificial intelligence or free beer. No one knows. That’s one of the beauties of technology disruption. It comes from the craziest places. One thing is clear to me, however. It won’t come from Ello.

Book Review: Tales From a Veteran Blogger

I’ve been a reader of Ed Brill’s blog for several years, not because of any particular  interest in the IBM/Lotus products that he long championed, but because he’s just so good at blogging.

Opting In by Ed BrillBrill was a longtime product manager for IBM’s Social Business products, where he fought an uphill and often public battle against Microsoft. Brill’s barbs were notable because IBM’s buttoned-down culture had historically discouraged direct public engagement. How did a product manager get away with poking a stick in the eye of a major competitor?

The fact that he did get away with it is one of the sub themes of Opting In, Brill’s new book about social product management. “Only twice did someone ask for me to be fired at the chairman’s level,” he jokes. That seems funny today, but at the time it was a bold test of new management principles that challenged IBM’s 100-year-old prohibitions against individual expression.

Brill’s engaging and readable book is aimed at product managers, those corporate jacks of all trades who fret about everything from market research to customer support. Product managers are the ones who ultimately take the credit or blame for a product’s performance in the marketplace, and Brill sees social media as their ally at almost every level. Opting In covers everything from Google Alerts to Pinterest, and Brill not only outlines the unique utility of each of these tools but usually provide stories to support his points.

Telling Stories

For me, the benchmark of an enjoyable business book is storytelling, and Opting In has stories aplenty. They include detailed accounts of some of his more notable confrontations, such as a 2004 dustup with the influential Radicati Group and a 2010 challenge to a controversial Gartner report. Conventional wisdom holds that you don’t pick fights with these influencers, but Brill went to war and lived to tell about it. The explanations of his reasoning behind these actions are valuable competitive intelligence for any product manager.

Ed_Brill

Ed Brill

Most of the tales in Opting In are more upbeat. For example, Brill tells how a single tweet on a trip to Sydney led to a meeting with a local follower and fellow foodie and a friendship that has lasted for years. Social media is about more than business, he emphasizes. Those glimpses into your experiences, hobbies and interests create touch points that lead to meaningful relationships.

Product managers will learn much from scrutinizing Brill’s insight on topics common to the profession. He introduces the concept of “progressive disclosure” as an alternative to the traditional Big Bang product announcement, with the idea being to use social media to build awareness and buzz leading up to the communication of the news.

He describes how Lotus has increasingly moved toward open product development as a way to integrate user feedback into the process and even shares a story about how his group handled an unforeseen customer backlash to some changes that everyone expected to be a hit. Fellow product managers will relate to all of this.

Opening Up

The hero of the book is IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines, which get a full appendix entry of their own. Brill frequently praises these rules, which are often cited as a model of social media policy, for giving him the courage to take on some of his more notable battles and to continually give voice to his opinions.

The guidelines, which were first drafted in 2005, have changed IBM fundamentally. To dramatize the scope of that change, Brill recalls how he was slapped down by corporate communications in 2003 for identifying an employee in a blog post because, “we don’t have celebrities at IBM.” Less than a decade later, IBM was running ads celebrating individual employees.

“The guidelines…signaled to employees, clients and the market that IBM would stand behind its [people],” he writes. In a day when corporate loyalty seems almost a quaint historical curiosity, the kind of faith must be pretty empowering.

Full disclosure: I have a consulting relationship with an IBM subcontractor.

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Unfair Rap on Gates

Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum ,2007.

Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum ,2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bill Gates is getting bashed over comments he made that are critical of capitalism, and I think he’s getting a bad rap.

Wired reported on comments Gates made in London last week in which he complained that more funding is directed to male baldness research than to malaria vaccines because the wealthy people who write the checks are more concerned with their own problems than bigger humanitarian issues. He said governments and philanthropic organizations have to take steps to correct this “flaw in the pure capitalistic approach”.

Reader comments on Wired are a bit more thoughtful than the ones on the U.K.’s Mail, but the criticism in both forums centers on Gates’ implied criticism of capitalism, which made him one of the richest people on earth.
For one thing, Gates didn’t trash capitalism in general. What he said was that there was a “flaw in the pure capitalistic approach” that created funding inequities. Most people would agree that capitalism in its purest form creates imbalances that lead to lead to things like the Great Depression, and that’s why some regulation is needed. It’s the best economic model humans have yet invented, but it isn’t perfect.

I also think Gates’ image needs revisiting in light of all the good he has done over the last decade.

If you read the rest of the Wired story, you see that Gates has his fingers on the pulse of some huge humanitarian issues, and the Gates Foundation is doing some of the world’s best work to address the problems of the desperately poor. I now believe that the Gates Foundation – not Microsoft – has been Bill Gates’ life goal for a very long time. Microsoft was his way to make the Foundation real.

Back in my technology media days I had the chance to interview Gates on several occasions. I once asked him why he continued to accumulate so much wealth. Did he ever think about scaling back and enjoying the fruits of his success (This was in the early 90s, when he was worth only around $8 billion)?

Gates’ answer surprised me. He said he planned to give away most of the money eventually and that he was in the best possible place to generate the maximum amount of wealth for that purpose  While the Gates Foundation didn’t have a name at the time, it was clearly a goal in his mind.

Since leaving Microsoft in 2008, Gates has all but disappeared from the industry he helped create, devoting himself instead to his foundation. He has thrown himself into that task with all the energy he brought to crushing Microsoft competitors, only this time has goals are perhaps more commendable. Microsoft stock has languished for a decade. Gates cashed out his winnings when there was nothing more to be gained, just as he told me he would 20 years ago.

I think we’re seeing another side to Bill Gates, and I hope it’s part of his legacy. While he is a brilliant and often ruthless competitor, he’s also capable of great compassion. I think it’s a shame that Steve Jobs, who gave away very little of the wealth he accumulated, is viewed more positively than a man who seems determined to spend the rest of his life tackling some of the world’s toughest health and humanitarian issues.

 

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An Intelligent Approach to Influence Measurement

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not a big fan of Klout, or any service that oversimplifies the complex process of assessing online influence by boiling it down to a single number. However, I do think it’s important that organizations be able to understand the online influence of people they want to build relationships with.

Awareness Networks just announced a tool that takes an intelligent and customized approach to influence assessment. The Social Marketing Automation suite enables customers to identify patterns in public online conversations, extract profile information and create what amounts to custom Klout scores.

Here’s how it might work: A user could search Twitter for people who have engaged directly with a brand more than twice over the last month, have mentioned the brand more than five times and have more than a specified number of followers. The suite can also dig into publicly available profile information to add filters by location, profession or any other data that is publicly available on Facebook or Twitter. So if you’re looking for health care professionals in the Milwaukee area who frequently recommend Motrin over Advil, you can find them for prospecting or a targeted marketing campaign.

Awareness goes a step further by combining public profile data with conversation topics to create prospect databases. This information can be imported into CRM and marketing automation packages, easing what is usually a laborious manual process. Integration with Salesforce.com is built into the first product and most of the leading platforms will be added over time, according to Mike Lewis, VP of marketing at Awareness. This addresses the problem of lead quality, which is the biggest cause of sales waste.

Awareness doesn’t extract data from social networks directly but rather works with Gnip, a company that has license agreements with most of the top social networks to distribute their content. About the only major source Gnip doesn’t have is LinkedIn, which keeps its profile information close to the vest. But YouTube, Tumblr, WordPress and many other sources are pumped through its firehose.

Awareness Social Authority Dashboard

Competitive advantage is fleeting in this business, and I expect that others will quickly add this kind of functionality. Awareness’ strategy is smart: It will focus on providing the core data mining and filtering technology and work with partners to deliver results to whatever marketing or sales automation tool they prefer. Victory will go to the swiftest.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but there’s a webinar set for Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 2 EDT at which more details will be discussed. Maybe you can pry some dollar figures out of the speakers then.

Full disclosure: I have been a paid consultant to Awareness on spot projects in the past, although I’ve done no work for the company in at least two years.

Research Finds Expanded Marketing Role Correlates With Business Results

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s further evidence that IT organizations need to take a more active role in supporting social business.

IBM just released a global survey of more than 360 marketing practitioners and one of the key findings is that marketers want to be better aligned with their IT organizations. You can see a 28-slide summary of the top findings here.

There’s a lot of data about the lousy tools most marketers have two analyze the flood of data they’re collecting, but the relevant point for tech pros is that “nearly 60% indicate that lack of IT alignment and integration are significant barriers to the adoption of technology.” Marketers say they work pretty well with IT organizations in general, but those at top-performing companies have better-than-average relationships.

The research breaks the respondent base into two categories: Top Performers and Rest of Population. It finds that the best marketers have higher-than-average involvement in products, price, placement and promotion than average. They’re also more likely to be involved in customer service, supply networks and multi-channel marketing. basically, they’re assuming a more central role in business strategy.

However, they’re mostly flying blind because analyzing results is a huge challenge. Among the the top problems are measuring effectiveness, juggling data coming in from multiple sources and managing complex business rules. Eighty-five percent of marketers say they need an integrated suite to manage multi-channel communications. And who better to help them get there than the technology pros?

Other interesting data: E-mail is kind of a mess. Two thirds of marketers don’t integrate e-mail data with other customer information or they integrate data manually, which doesn’t scale. Only 21% have mobile marketing campaigns and 80% handle mobile marketing on an ad hoc basis. We’re still very early stage with that channel.

Overall, there’s a lot of good news for marketing in this research. It establishes that companies that expand the role of marketing beyond mere messaging are seeing better business results. That’s a good thing, right?

Press release/summary of results

My First Prezi

I’ve probably spent at least a couple of thousand hours with PowerPoint over the last 15 years and believe me, familiarity breeds contempt. I find conference organizers’ obsession with “getting the slides in advance” to be a bit annoying at times, as if the slides are more important than the message, but I suppose that’s the world in which we live.

Tomorrow I’m keynoting a local conference of educators, and my message is that they need to make some pretty fundamental changes in the way they do their work in order to meet the needs of today’s young people and tomorrow’s markets. So I thought the least I could do is to change the way I create my message. I tried Prezi, the online presentation service that comes at presentations from a completely different angle. Instead of a slide deck, Prezi uses a “canvas” onto which you can drop elements. The presentation zooms and pans around in an order you specify. It’s amazingly easy to use once you get the hang of it, and there are some very cool things you can do that you’d never consider with PowerPoint.

On the other hand, motion sickness is a real risk with Prezi. My wife, Dana, who is prone to migraines, took a look at the first version of this presentation and said it gave her a headache. I toned it down, but the experience still takes some getting used do.

Prezi isn’t right for every scenario, but it’s a nice new addition to my presentation toolkit. And it’s so NOT PowerPoint!

 

A Chance for CIOs to Lead in Social Business

I’m presenting a session at the CIO Solutions Gallery at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University tomorrow on the topic of “Measuring Social ROI: The CIO’s Role.” The subject got me thinking about a topic that’s close to my heart, which is the low profile IT executives have assumed in driving social business at their organizations. The absence of IT at the strategy table perplexes me,  since social technologies are arguably the most important force guiding the evolution of relationships between companies and their constituents. IT departments played an important role in the last transformational change, which was the adoption of enterprise resource planning in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So why aren’t they more active in driving the socialization of business?

I created the presentation below largely for my talk tomorrow and wanted to share it. In particular, look at slide 3, which shows the results of a recent Economist Intelligence Unit Survey of 329 Business Leaders. The survey asked which group within the company had primary responsibility for social business. Not surprisingly, marketing topped the list. Surprising is that IT isn’t even on it.

Study after study has documented that companies are doing a poor job of measuring the results of their social media marketing efforts and have made only weak attempts to integrate customer service data and so-called “social CRM” to create a holistic view of their customers. IT leaders are experts at measurement, and they also have cross-functional visibility that makes them the most logical candidates to integrate islands of automation. This is an opportunity for them to pick up the ball.

I suggest in my presentation that there are several initiatives IT could lead that would give them a critical role in social business. They include standardizing and improving measurement criteria and give businesses a more complete view of their markets. Feel free to download the presentation; it’s posted on a Creative Commons Attribution License.

And please let me know what you think.

Finding Balance in the Always-On World

Digital LeaderI picked up Erik Qualman’s Digital Leader expecting a very different experience from the one I got. Qualman is a thought leader on the transformative potential of social media whose 2010 bestseller, Socialnomics, is considered a textbook in its field. I expected Digital Leader would instruct me on how to further immerse myself in these tools of change.

But quite the opposite is true. While Digital Leader is unabashedly enthusiastic about technology, it is more about about restoring balance to your life, getting your priorities straight, learning to relax and even disconnecting from the grid on occasion. I’ve already made three or four changes to my daily routine as a result of insights I gained from this book, and that’s good enough to merit an enthusiastic endorsement.

Eric QualmanQualman (left) lays out his thesis in the book’s very first words: “Life is complex; those that simplify it win.” What follows is an engagingly uplifting read that focuses on making the most of your productive time so that you can maximize the value of your downtime.

The phenomenon Digital Leader addresses is familiar to many of us. Our world increasingly demands that we be constantly connected and always available. Our greatest challenge is no longer how to connect with others but to keep our digital lifelines from entangling us.

Qualman cites numerous examples of people who have found this balance. They range from Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor, who refuses to check e-mail after he leaves the office every day, to football star Rosie Grier, who found relief from a pressurized career in needlepoint. Chapter 5, entitled “Simple = Success,” has many practical examples of how we can simplify daily tasks, and I’ve already put some of them into practice. For example:

Don’t be a prisoner to your inbox. The fact that someone sends you an unsolicited e-mail does not mean you are obliged to respond. Most e-mail messages that demand a reply can be dispatched with a delete key or a one-sentence response. Someone else’s needs are not necessarily your problem. This advice is already saving me time.

Focus on completing the tasks that matter. Multitasking actually makes us less productive. Set out two goals to accomplish each day and make them your first priority. Everything else can wait.

Follow your passion. Qualman is particularly taken with the examples of legendary innovators like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who refused to accept the conventional wisdom that what they were doing was futile and who treated failure as a necessary step on the path to success. Innovators have big dreams.

Unplug occasionally. Qualman recommends completely shutting off e-mail, Twitter and the like once a week. I’m not there yet, but it’s a laudable goal.

Rest. Sleep deprivation and 17-hour workdays ultimately impair judgment and lead to bad decisions. Let your body, not your alarm clock, determine how much sleep you need. I heeded that advice and got an extra hour of sleep just this morning.

Failure is a persistent theme in Digital Leader, but always in a positive sense. “I failed my way to success,” says Edison in a quotation leading a chapter that highlights the virtues of what Qualman calls “failing forward.” Veterans of the tech world will recognize this willingness to learn from one’s mistakes as a core ingredient in the success of Silicon Valley. Other parts of the world have tried to attract technology entrepreneurs with tax breaks and subsidies, but none has duplicated this essential trait.

Don’t interpret these examples to mean that Digital Leader is some kind of self-help tutorial. Substantial sections of the book are devoted to the stories of successful leaders, although not all of them are digital. The overarching message of this book, however, is that balance, passion and a willingness not to take oneself too seriously are qualities that many leaders share. Digital tools are a means to an end, but they shouldn’t be a lifestyle.

IBMer: ‘Social Selling’ Is a Sales Process in Itself

It’s no secret that the factors that motivate salespeople to change the way they work have to be pretty simple: Help them spend more time selling and less time scrounging for information and telling managers what they’re doing.

So when IBM began to introduce the concept of “social selling,” it chose a test base of a few hundred salespeople and their managers to build a set of integrated systems that improved productivity and reduced administrative overhead. In a presentation to the SugarCRM SugarCon conference in San Francisco earlier this week, Gary Burnette, vice president of sales transformation at IBM, told how the implementation team at IBM succeeded in making social selling a coveted goal rather than another set of rules and reports.

“We didn’t think of it as social selling; we thought of it as improving sales productivity,” Burnette said of the pilot. “It was about returning value and time to our sales teams for their time invested.”

Familiarity Breeds Intent

The program began with the assumption that nearly every salesperson was already familiar with the value provided by Facebook and LinkedIn in their personal lives. The tools made it easy to find information and expertise by consulting friends. Those same capabilities could be useful as a formal part of the business process.


Download Gary Burnette’s Social Selling Presentation here


A key goal was to simplify reporting, an already distasteful task that becomes more intrusive as the end of the quarter nears. Management has a constant need for information about the status of different sales opportunities, and as a result “We’ve had sales people called out of client meetings to answer questions from upline sales execs,” Burnette said. Much of this information was locked up in Excel spreadsheets owned by individual reps. The only person who could answer a question was the representative on the account.

IBM built a sales force automation system based on SugarCRM, Websphere and Lotus Connections to enable collaboration and streamline visibility into the sales cycle. Cognos and SPSS analytics were applied to better qualify opportunities and improve forecasting. As a result, salespeople now know more about their prospects and managers have better visibility into progress against goals.

Opportunity reports were replaced with an “activity stream” approach similar to the Facebook timeline that enables salespeople to document the status of each opportunity on an ongoing basis. Management can peek into the status of opportunities at any point in the process and get the latest information. As a result, lag times have been cut from five days to almost nothing and report preparation has been significantly reduced because everyone has access to the same information.

“I don’t think most senior sales executives have any idea how many people are behind the scenes creating reports and forecasts,” Burnette said. “If managers are in collaboration with their teams the information is more accurate and less filtered.”

All members of the team can now apply social tools like tagging and profiling to identify and recommend experts who can help solve customer problems and closed deals. “The management team is helping the seller sell instead of asking why they aren’t selling,” Burnette said.

Critical Success Factors

A project this ambitious can’t succeed without support at three levels:  top management, brand managers and the reps on the street. The fact that new IBM CEO Ginni Rometty had endorsed the project before she even became CEO was a godsend, Burnette said. Also critical was involving users in the development of the dashboard. Nearly 800 sales reps gave feedback at every step. Brand leaders helped in strategic direction so that the most important information would be the easiest to find.

Social selling is now being woven into the mainstream of IBM’s business process, but adoption was never a sure thing.

“Becoming a social business is a transformational journey,” Burnette said. “The onus has been on us to translate these systems into something that has clear business value.” As word-of-mouth has grown, the new social selling process has taken on a life of its own. “It started with us deliberately selecting the people to participate, but now it’s ballooned to the point where people are saying, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

Read more coverage of Burnette’s session.


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.