Live Blog: How to Make Collaboration Cook

When building a collaborative workplace, a “build it and they will come” attitude is a recipe for disappointment. Effective deployment strategies demand a mix of promotion, training and tolerance of the adoption strategies that employees choose.

Speakers at Lotusphere today offered tips on rolling out collaboration platforms to employees who aren’t accustomed to the concept. The start with knowing what you want to accomplish.

Dr. CheeChin Liew, BASF ChemicalAt BASF Chemical, a €100 billion European chemical supplier with 109,000 employees, the goals were three fold: Encourage networking, share knowledge and improve collaboration across the far-flung organization, said Dr. CheeChin Liew (right, @twiliew), Enterprise Community Manager. The company already had a mix of stand-alone blogs, forums and wikis that had sprung up to address specific problems, but there was no integration between them. BASF Chemical wanted to see two-thirds of those silos move to a shared service within a year.

Don’t talk platforms to the users, Liew cautioned. Speak in terms that make business sense. Community managers made it a point to emphasize the value of sharing, whether through blogs, forum posts or just bookmarks. “Once people start sharing, they want to go to the next level, like file-sharing or managing a wiki. Once they connect through sharing, others will imitate them,” he said.

BASF Chemical set up webinars, learning events, demonstrations and consulting services to move people onto the new platform at their own pace. Pariticipation should be voluntary and motivated by perception of value, he said. “You want people inviting others to join the community.”

As participation grew, BASF Chemical kept the momentum growing through a demo-oriented road show, presentations by guest speakers and community exchanges. Half-day sessions built in lunch gatherings so that employees would network with each other. Informal networking is important, Liew said, and don’t start the session with lunch. Make it part of the organic learning process.

Best practices are recognized through online nomination and voting in which people recognize the accomplishments of their peers. This crowdsourcing component is an important part of nurturing the image that the network is owned by the employees and not mandate by management, Liew said.

BASF Chemical’s approach hit the mark, with participation growing from 1,000 people in the pilot phase to 28,500 after 18 months. More than one-third of new member signed up because of peer recommendations. Equally important: Most new participants moved over from existing networks, seeking to broaden their range of connections. “They joined the community to move beyond the silos,” he said.

The collaboration network now supports over 2,300 communities, which fall into four basic categories:

  • Expert and professional communities are created by users to benefit the organization. They cluster around topics of professional expertise.
  • Personal networks are formed by users for other users and generally relate to non-professional topics.
  • Initiative and service communities are built by the organization for users and usually concern topics that the company wants to communicate to employees.
  • Projects and working teams are formed by the organization for the organization and typically have a project management componentBASF Community Types

Community organizers are allowed to set their own access controls. More than half of the communities restrict membership in some way, about 15% are completely open and 30% are moderated. Don’t set rules about how open a community should be, Liew cautioned. People will choose the path that works for them. Organizations should also be prepared for a certain amount of non-work-related conversation. That’s perfectly all right if it attracts others to come on board.

Finally, it’s important to be sure you have the means to highlight success stories. Liew told of one product manager who spotted a post on the company’s Facebook page that he couldn’t decipher: “Holi hay ghar me mat bhetto.”

Google Translate couldn’t figure it out, so the product manager put the question on the network. Within 13 minutes he learned from another employee that the request was in Hindi and related to colors for a festival in India. The manager uploaded a video of BASF pigments and quickly got 35 likes and four positive comments. It was a small victory, but one that demonstrated the power of community intelligence.

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.

Blogging Blunders, Part 3

Ghost ShipIn Blogging Blunders Part 1 and Blogging Blunders Part 2, we looked at problems like failure to interact or to publish distinctive content. Let’s wrap up with the most frequent and frustrating blogging problem that I encounter: Failure to persist.

Perhaps I’m unusual, but the first thing I look for when visiting a blog is the date of the most recent entry. This tells me a lot. Knowing whether the essay I’m about to read is one week or three years old can make a huge difference in its relevance to me. But it also tells me a lot about whether the author is committed to the blog.

Too many business blogs suffer from lack of attention. The same pattern appears again and again: There’s a burst of early activity followed by a gradual decline in the frequency of updates and eventual abandonment. But nothing ever dies on the Internet, so these blogs drift along like ghost ships. They’re monuments to good intentions gone awry.

I don’t think many people start blogging with the intention of failing at it. Most are tripped up by one of four scenarios. See if you can avoid them.

Nothing More to Say – This happens when the blogger chooses a topic that lacks staying power. The subject is hot for a while, but then public interest wanes or the news value recedes. Any blog about a newsy or trendy issue is at risk of this fate. To avoid it, choose big issues that have staying power. For example, instead of writing about Blu-ray, write about the bigger issue of next-generation video formats.

Too Busy – So are we all, so think about that going in. It takes about an hour a week to contribute two brief new insights to a blog. You need to put some thought into developing and supporting a theme for a few hundreds words. If you don’t think you have that kind of time, don’t start. Twitter is an ideal alternative for people who are too busy to blog. The 140-character limit is actually a welcome restriction that forces them to keep their comments brief.

Nobody Came – This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. New bloggers put all kinds of effort into their work for six months and find that traffic still numbers in the few dozens per day. There are several reasons for this. One is that the topic they choose is highly competitive and their approach undifferentiated. If that happens to you, then look at ways to approach your topic from a distinctive angle or with a unique voice. Another common problem is that bloggers fail to promote themselves. This can be addressed via some basic outbound e-mail and sharing tactics (contact me if you want ideas). A third is that they simply don’t give the project enough time. It’s rare for a blog to catch fire during its first six to nine months. You need to build visibility with people who have traffic to send your way. If you’re persistent, then you should see rewards by your first anniversary date. But don’t be disappointed if it takes that long. Word of mouth isn’t always fast.

Turnover – This is a huge issue with business blogs. The internal sponsor leaves the company or gets reassigned and there’s no succession plan in place. This is why I encourage clients to view blogs as a business-wide initiative. Support has to come from the top and a backup plan must be in place to continue the conversation if the product champion leaves. A branded business blog is no place for cowboys. You need a team commitment to sustain the momentum.

Those are my candidates for the most common factors that derail business blogs. What are yours? Post your comments here and let’s discuss.

'Tis the Season For Predictions

Here are summaries of a couple of social media-related forecast stories that have come across my screen recently.

Eight Experts Predict How Web 2.0 Will Evolve In 2009

You won’t find a lot of big surprises here, but there’s good solid consensus on some driving trends.

  • One is that there will be a strong move toward federated identity that gives control of the user’s data back to the user. It’s ridiculous that people have to create 20 different profiles for 20 different social networks. We should be in charge of our own data and decide how to share it with others.
  • Another theme is that mobile devices will become more location-aware, meaning that applications will deliver targeted results based upon where the user is standing. There’s also general agreement that the Web 2.0 industry is ripe for consolidation. That’s true, but what I believe will be surprising is how minor that consolidation will be, particularly compared to the great dot-com collapse of 2001-2002. Many of today’s successful networks run on a shoestring and will be able to weather the economic storm because their operating costs are so low.
  • One seer from Google’s mapping operations also sees the rise of “collaborative mapping,” in which people working together with friends and colleagues build shared maps of places they care about.

Experts’ predictions for 2009

iMedia Connection asks six marketing and advertising executives about their predictions for 2009. While there aren’t many surprises, some of the panelists’ views are notably well stated. Highlights:

  • Investment and commercial banks left standing will turn to the internet to engage consumers in conversations about trust.
  • Marketers will start to look at the social networking opportunity as a way to extend utility and functionality with their brand attached to it…This means giving people tools to use rather than just throwing a message in their faces.
  • “Traditional” media companies have been actively incorporating social media into their online offerings for years and finding that it leads to greater levels of consumer involvement with content. The result is that, on places such as,, the HealthCentral Network or iVillage, marketers can reap the benefits of the dynamic social media experience, while doing so in a safe, high-quality environment.
  • In 2009, expect to see closed caption technology being used to understand the content of the video clip and that content being matched with relevant advertising on a keyword basis.

Tonight’s Full Moon is Brightest Possible

Tonight the world will witness the brightest full moon ever: about 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than the other full moons this year. This is because the moon is much closer to the earth than usual. The moon comes closest to the earth during its perigee, but this year the actual distance from the planet will be shorter than usual.


I’ve recently conducted a couple of online seminars about social media topics. The Q&A sessions at these events are almost always too short to get to the issues that are on people’s minds. So over the next few issues of this newsletter, I’ll run down a few of the best questions I didn’t get to. For a good, free webcast on this topic, check out the recent event sponsored by Listrak.

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Q: What is the best way to find blogs that are applicable to your business?

A: I have half-day seminars that address this question, but I’ll try to be succinct! First of all, remember that a blog is simply a way to display information.  There is no industry standard definition of a blog, so the only way to identify one is by looking at it.  Even the search engines that specialize in blog search don’t always get it right.

That said, you should start with search.  The blog search tools I use are Google Blog Search, Technorati, IceRocket, Bloglines and Blogpulse. There are others, but I’m less familiar with them. Tip: Use advanced search; it will save you time and better refine your results.

When you find bloggers who look important to you, look in their blogrolls, which are lists of other bloggers that they pay attention to. Blogrolls can usually be found on the home page.  This can save you a lot of time because the bloggers have already done the searching for you.

I also recommend searching social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Reddit. People share and comment upon favorite bookmarked pages there. Very often you’ll find sites on social bookmarking services that don’t show up prominently in search engines.

Q: Can you review the different social media for different communication goals?

A: Chapter 2 of my latest book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, goes into quite a bit of detail about this, but here’s a synopsis:

Blogs: Easy, fast and flexible. Think of them as a podium. You’re the speaker and you can say your peace and invite commentary. Blogs are good for telling a story, but not very good for interaction or conversation.

Podcasts: These are basically audio blogs. They’re very good for communicating a message but have almost zero interactivity. Podcasts are very popular with busy executives who like the efficiency of being able to learn when they can’t read. They’re basically a one-way medium, however.

Video podcasts: Good for telling a story visually, but people tire of them quickly if the content isn’t compelling. Video podcasts are excellent vehicles for humor or offbeat content. They have almost no interactivity. Think of them as TV commercials that viewers can easily share with each other.

Social networks: These are great places to listen to ongoing conversations and to gain insight on customers and markets. You can also use them to pose general questions about you market. Don’t be too specific, though; social networks are public forums. Popular topics can yield insight into new product possibilities.

Private Communities (for example, Communispace and Passenger): These are next-generation focus groups. Usually run by firms that specialize in community management, the members are hand-selected, carefully nurtured and often bound by confidentiality agreements. Private communities are a great way to get advice from a lot of perspectives in a hurry. The downside: high cost

Microblogs (for example, Twitter and a host of others): Very fast, targeted and responsive, they’re a great way to ask questions and get quick answers or to promote a timely idea or service. Interactivity is excellent, but content is limited to short messages and it’s difficult to integrate multimedia.

Virtual worlds (for example, Second Life and others): These venues may be good for real-time events, but the software is still too clunky for most people to use. Virtual worlds fare best with techie audiences. They’re unique in that you can observe group dynamics, such as facial expressions and body language. They’re also good for events with a strong visual component.

Q: We run a lodging resort and saw negative comments someone had posted about their experience here on their blog. How do you turn a negative blogger into a positive blogger?

A: The tactics that work in the physical world also work online: invite feedback, listen, confirm what you heard and offer some kind of relief or explanation.  In 80% to 90% of these situations, the naysayers can be neutralized or even turned into advocates with these tactics.  Since bloggers can’t see their audience, they tend to write in strong terms, sort of like shouting into the wilderness.  Once you personalize the interaction, they usually back down.  Start by commenting on the blog and also by sending a private e-mail.  It may even be worth picking up the phone.  The more you humanize the interaction, the quicker you’ll bring them around.

Digg Setback Calls 'Wisdom of Crowds' Into Question

Journalism junkies have been closely watching the example of to see if the wisdom of crowds really is better than the judgment of editors. According to David Chen, it isn’t. Writing on Mashable, Chen offers a detailed deconstruction of Digg’s recent decision to jettison some of its top users, apparently for trying to manipulate the system.  The weeding-out process was positioned as a routine cleanup intended to eliminate abusers of the community adjudication process, but it was actually an acknowledgment that decision-making by the masses has serious flaws, Chen concludes.

It’s been common knowledge for a couple of years that the Digg model lent itself to manipulation by a small number of people. In fact, there’s evidence that up to half the stories on Digg’s enormously influential home page were contributed by just 100 users.  By taking draconian action to ban members who had, in some cases, contributed hundreds of hours of effort to building the site, Digg is admitting that it has been unable to figure out an algorithmic solution to the abuse.

The problem isn’t in programs, but in people.  Individuals can attain fame within the community by contributing stories that are ranked highly by other users.  Active members discovered early on that by forming “friend” relationships with many others, they could enhance their performance and popularity.  In other words, the more you voted for another member’s contributions, the more the other member voted for yours.  As time went on, an elite corps grew more powerful, to the point that their contributions can achieve high visibility regardless of merit.

“In the years following its creation, Digg became less a democracy and more a republic, with a select few users responsible for the majority of front page stories,” Chen writes. Digg has tinkered with its settings to try to mitigate this factor, but some members responded by writing scripts that routed around the problem.  It became a giant cat and mouse game that eventually forced Digg to insert human editors at some levels to arbitrate the process.  So much for the wisdom of crowds.

Chen contends that the blockade may irreparably damage Digg’s reputation, although the site will continue to be a huge source of traffic for publishers who are lucky enough to be listed there.  At the very least, the conundrum points out the limits of a purely democratic model of news judgment.  Even successful sites like Wikipedia rely up a small cadre of elite editors to make most of the important decisions. People with significant experience in online communities agree that a very tiny percentage of members contribute the vast majority of content.  It appears that editors, whether bubbled up from the community or appointed by management, are inevitably needed to maintain order

Should this be taken as a condemnation of the community journalism model and validation for the rule of editors?  Absolutely not.  As Wikipedia has demonstrated, armies of ordinary people can create a phenomenal information resource.  However, leaving all decision-making to a group without providing rules or oversight invariably results in the ascendance of an elite.  in the case of Wikipedia, that elite is self-regulating.  In the case of Digg’s more juvenile crown, it’s a frat party.

Bookmarking Enhances Personal Productivity

From my weekly newsletter. Subscribe by filling in the box to the right.

Here are a couple of tricks I use to shave hours each month off the process of organizing information and publishing it on blogs and websites. Publishing features are some of the least understood and most useful services that bookmarking sites offer.

There are more than 50 social bookmarking sites on the Internet, including such popular brands as Feed Me Links, Linkroll, Ma.gnolia and Clipmarks. A good list is here. Most share a common set of features: You can quickly save and annotate Web pages, share them with others and subscribe to new entries. Most offer some added value on top of those basic functions, such as page previews, e-mail and ratings. All the services that I’ve found are free.

I use two sites that each excel at different things. For basic bookmarking and sharing, has the largest audience and the best browser integration. I can bookmark any page to by hitting a control key combination, entering tags (the autocomplete feature is a nice touch here) and then hitting enter. There are no mouse movements required (I’m a keyboard junkie) and the process is fast and simple.

What I don’t like about is its 255-character limit on annotations. That’s because I like to attach comments about the articles I read and upload them to my blog. There isn’t much you can say in 255 characters. Diigo plugs that gap. It’s a bit clumsier to use, but I can annotate to my heart’s content. Any annotations that I choose to make public are shared with other Diigo users who visit that page. I can also highlight passages and attach sticky notes to sections of the page that others can see.

The real value that I get out of both of these tools, though, is in publishing. I maintain three blogs and two Web sites, so I’m posting new material all the time. Web-based content management systems are slow and awkward to use, so I like to prepare and pre-format as much content as possible before logging on to the server. has a delightful feature called “link rolls” that enable you to automatically group bookmarks according to tags that you specify and feed them into a Web page. All you need to do is plug a little piece of JavaScript code into your website. Every time you add a bookmark, it’s dynamically displayed on the Web page.

For example, on my site’s speaking page, the list of recent appearances is nothing more than a bookmark list from So are the “Latest News” and “Recent Articles” sections in the two sidebars. All I have to do to update those lists is to add or modify my tags. My site simply grabs the latest feed and displays those entries.

Diigo has cool tools for posting to a blog. When I read something interesting online, I bookmark it with Diigo and write my description and commentary in the annotation box. I attach the appropriate tags and save. When I’m ready to post to my blog, I simply check the boxes next to the relevant bookmarks and Diigo automatically produces a page consisting of every bookmark I’ve selected, along with my annotations. I can edit the entries in the site’s simple editor and then copy and paste the whole thing into my content management system. Here’s an example of what the final output looks like.

Both and Diigo also offer you the option to tell them to post certain bookmarks and annotations automatically to your blog on a daily schedule. There’s no logging in to your content management system and the whole process is transparent. You can read instructions on how to do this on Diigo’s tools page or’ settings page. Here’s an example of what the finished product looks like.

According to does a better job of auto-posting, but I still can’t get around that 255-character limit. Given a choice between writing more briefly or settling for a little less than the optimum format, I’ll stick with Diigo.

How StumbleUpon Makes Sharing Easy and Fun

From my weekly newsletter. Subscribe by filling in the box to the right.

According to my e-mail service provider’s reports, a lot of subscribers to my newsletter skip my opening essay each week and going directly to a little item called “Just for Fun” that I include in every newsletter. Just For Fun is a link to a funny, offbeat or just plain bizarre item that I find on the Web.

It may look like I spend hours each week looking for source material, but my real secret is StumbleUpon, which is a popular example of the new breed of social bookmarking sites.
Social bookmarking is one of the hottest group activities on the Internet, and it’s capable of driving enormous amounts of traffic if your site is lucky enough to be selected. Over the next couple of issues of my newsletter, I’ll look at some of the more popular bookmarking sites and explain how they work. Although I caution against relying on raw traffic stats as an indicator of success, I recommend you make social bookmarking a staple of your promotion efforts.

Bookmarks have been around since the early stays of the Internet, having been included in the earliest browsers. Bookmarks are an easy way to keep track of information you’ve seen and want to return to, but as a standalone tool, they’re not very interesting.

Where they do get interesting is when you share your bookmarks with others. As I pointed out in an earlier newsletter, social bookmarking is kind of a human-powered search engine. As more and more people bookmark and comment upon the same content, a richer description of the content emerges. Also, web pages with a lot of votes can rise up the popularity stack, making them more prominent and more useful to interested people. Social bookmarking sites aren’t nearly as exhaustive as search engine indexes, but every single entry has been vetted by a person.

StumbleUpon is one of my favorite examples of this genre. Once you become a member, you can install the StumbleUpon toolbar and immediately begin flagging interesting sites. Your selections and descriptions go into a common area where others can see what you chose and why. As others vote for the same sites, those selections rise in the StumbleUpon hierarchy.As a user, you can subscribe to stumbled sites by category. When you click the “Stumble!” button in the toolbar, you automatically go to a random site that has been selected by other members. Sites that have been favorably reviewed more often are more likely to turn up in your random “stumblings.”

It’s perfectly OK to stumble upon your own site. This isn’t gaming the system, because your selection only becomes important if other people vote for you as well. If nobody else finds your page interesting, nothing much will happen, but if you attract enough interest you can draw an astonishing amount of traffic.

I found this out myself recently when I stumbled upon an entry in a blog I maintain called Newspaper Death Watch. Apparently some other people liked my selection. That blog, which normally gets about 100 visitors a day, received more than 1,200 visitors in one day, nearly all of them from StumbleUpon.

Not surprisingly, most of those visitors came and left in just a few seconds. But a few of them did stick around and the site’s average traffic levels increased about 20% after that one incident. This was hardly a make-or-break event, but it’s one indication of how social bookmarking can quickly generate a lot of visibility for your website.

Daily reading 03/15/2008

Is MySpace Good for Society?

A New York Times columnist asks six thought leaders a simple question: “Has social networking technology made us better or worse off as a society?” Their consensus: both.

Comparing Six Ways to Identify Top Blogs in Any Niche
ReadWriteWeb has a useful review of free tools that help you search the blogosphere and assess the influence of the bloggers you find.

Elliot Spitzer’s call girl has a MySpace page

The Inconvenient Truth About Social Media Marketing
Aaron wall offers a succinct and persuasive argument against link-baiting. We need more of this rational thinking. Link-baiting is a waste of time.

Corporate Blogging – How the Pros Do It
Scott Monty provides thorough coverage of an SXSW panel on corporate blogging. Includes some nice nuggets, such as Dell’s customer relations philosophy: “they’ve empowered every employee to apologize.”

Jeff Jarvis tells why you should reach out to the customers who say they hate you

What happens when 207 people freeze simultaneously for five minutes in Grand Central Station? Watch this…

Demo stuff that I'll use

Note: Video presentations of the products mentioned below, as well as most other presentations from Demo, are available here. Blogger won’t accept the embedded videos and I don’t have time to mess with it.

Here are some products and services I saw at Demo that I plan to try out for my own use:

GrasprThere used to be a great site called that showed how to perform life tasks ranging from making a soufflé to fixing a leaky pipe in simple words and pictures. I don’t know what became of it; the URL now points to a software retailer. Graspr gives the Learn2 concept a social media twist. Members can upload how-to videos and annotate each other’s creations, sharing tips or advice on how to do something better. Members can also vote on the most useful content. This is a good way to mine the wisdom of crowds while also enabling people to connect with others who have similar interests and expertise.

PropelThis is quality-of-service (QOS) for the PC. Developer Propel Software Corp. argues that when people are frustrated with Internet performance on the desktop, the culprit is often their own PC. A PC doesn’t distinguish between a file download and a VOIP session, for example, so bandwidth-critical applications may suffer because low-priority jobs are getting an equal share of the pipe.

QOS is a discipline that assigns priorities to applications so that some packets get priority on the network over others. It’s been implemented in corporate networks for years, but Propel’s utility brings the same concept to the desktop, allowing the user to define priorities for bandwidth demand. Propel also provides a simple dashboard to monitor traffic and make sure all is well. The product should be available by the end of the year. If it works, it’s a no-brainer that I’ll use it.

Diigo – I’m an active user of the social bookmarking service, but I’m frustrated by its limitations. A big one is that only provides a few characters with which to describe the pages I bookmark. I frequently run out of space trying to write a description.

Diigo is social bookmarking for serious researchers. Users of its toolbar can highlight and annotate passages on bookmarked Web pages. People can comment on each other’s bookmarked pages and highlights. Essentially, the service creates group discussion around Web content. Anyone with the Diigo toolbar can see other users’ annotations and sites that choose to implement the Diigo protocols can provide these capabilities even to non-Diigo users.

There are other innovatives features in this release, including a function that lets you create a PowerPoint-like slide show sequence using Web pages. I’m not sure I see much utility in that, but the highlighting feature alone could be enough to make me switch from

Yuuguu – screen sharing has been around since the early days of Microsoft NetMeeting, and is still a core feature of services like You can also download open-source screen sharing software like VNC. So the idea isn’t new, but Yuuguu has implemented it in an elegantly simple way.

Yuuguu WebShare users can share their screens with others on the fly by simply clicking on names in an AOL Instant Messenger-like buddy list. The shared screen comes up in a browser window and users can easily pass control of their screen to others, with everyone seeing the results. The company pairs the service with a global audio conferencing system. It’ll make money from that and give away the software client for free.

MyQuire – Another Web 1.0 idea that many find a new life with a social media twist is project management for consumers. In the early days of the Web, several Internet businesses launched services that let consumers collaborate on everyday group projects like organizing church socials and softball leagues. The services were limited by the technology of the time, particularly the reliance on e-mail for communication and limited file-sharing. MyQuire improves on the collaborative features of the early efforts and adds standard social media tools like photo and file-sharing. The company is in stealth mode for a couple of more months, but the demo version of its service looks interesting.

LongJump – As a small-business owner, my financial management processes are embarrassingly rudimentary. At some point, I probably should make the switch to Intuit’s QuickBooks, but LongJump would argue that it can deliver all that functionality and more for a low monthly fee. The initial service combines 14 common business applications and an integration platform that developers can use to add others. Monthly fees will start at around $25.

The integration platform is very similar to’s app exchange concept. While there’s nothing particularly new about LongJump’s business model, its aggressive pricing and impressive feature set could make it an attractive service for small business owners.