The blog migrates

We’ve decided to migrate the blog to http://www.strategyworks.net. New blog posts will appear on that domain. It’s a logical step for us to take – to consolidate our web presence in one domain and an opportunity to re-think our own core web strategy. Hopefully we can engage with you on our site.

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Managing Information overload

We are suffering from information overload and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. There is no single tool that can take over as our automated infotention tool for detecting, filtering, organising and sharing relevant information. Check out Howard Rheingold’s screencasts on the subject for insights on how he chooses a wide variety of tools to help him manage the ‘noise’.

This is the mix of tools I am currently using to stay on top of the daily wave of data that I need to manage quickly for my work and academic research.

DETECTING

NetVibes is my preferred RSS tool to track a wide range of blogs. The trick is to organise multiple pages within the system, set up tabs in a coherent manner and to remember to go back to your pages on a regular basis. It’s very easy to forget that you are curating some great (even if obscure) material. I live in the hope that RSS is never killed off!

I use Twitter when I’m searching for more immediate material – news-breaking stuff, or material that people I follow have just discovered. I find the LISTS feature on Twitter particularly useful, as I have organised people I follow regularly in a handful of lists (academics, media types, people who understand social strategy etc). I have specific search tabs permanently open on my Twitter management tool (Hootsuite) to stay in touch with subjects I am interested in and monitor what specific people are saying (for instance, Howard Rheingold is on my academics list).

I’ve joined a few Facebook pages and groups, so I also get alerts from there.  As a closed ecosystem, Facebook is a good way of finding what your peers are up to; not so great at discovering new knowledge outside your immediate networks.

FILTERING & ORGANISING

I find Diigo excellent for social bookmarking, and it works pretty well with Chrome and FireFox, if you’ve downloaded the relevant extensions to insert in your browser toolbar. One click, and you’ve bookmarked, tagged, highlighted text, created a sticky note, taken a snapshot of a page with the Awesome screenshot extension, stored it somewhere on a drive if you need to revisit and remix the content that you’ve just discovered. The search function on ‘my library’ combined with a decent attempt at tagging means that I can normally find material I have stored a while ago.

Diigo also enables me to follow other people and groups. I’m part of Rheingold’s Mind Amplifiers group, and I am alerted regularly whenever someone within the group finds something of interest and tags it as ‘MindAmp‘ on Diigo.  Diigo can become a fundamental curating tool in the future.  Like others, I migrated my Delicious bookmarks earlier this year, and continue to back everything up on Google bookmarks. Again, we live in a time when we have to hope that some of these tools have longevity.

I’m starting the third year of my PhD and have been using RefWorks to keep track of literature. It’s a decent system, but it’s a closed subscription model. I wish I had used Zotero when I started, but I am too far down the line to re-engineer my brain on that one, right now.  Mendeley also holds promise for academic researchers.

SHARING

Nothing quite beats Twitter for instant sharing. Using Hootsuite or Seesmic as my primary management tools, I can disseminate what I find quickly. The downside is that Twitter remains the curation tool for ‘now’ – it can never compete with a wiki.

I think more can be done with Twitter hashtags – Tweetchat is an excellent, if asynchronous, way of holding a group chat.

When something is really interesting, or it’s a video link, I embed that in one of my blogs, and write around that. It’s a way of personal branding, I guess – but I also, to date, have found no substitute for the ease of use and flexibility of the blog for essay-type, more reflective writing. Scott Rosenberg nailed it: with a blog you can say everything. And it also functions as an archive of sorts; and if you’re using WordPress it’s also likely to have longevity as a technology.

And now Google+

It’s early days, but Google+ is either going to be a game-changer or another Wave damp squib. I like a lot of what I have seen though my discomfort about large companies like Google and Facebook helping me ‘curate’ MY information still makes me uncomfortable. To date, I’ve really enjoyed using Hangout, been incredibly underwhelmed by Sparks, and generally I am not sure Google+ is going to be a social network – but it may yet become a powerful sharing tool because of the integration with all the other Google applications we all use – from Gmail to Google documents.  As others have pointed out, Microsoft stands more to lose from Google+ than Facebook, at this juncture.

Posted in Getting organised, Social media | 1 Comment

Social media and banking

Tomorrow morning, I’m speaking to over 100 bankers on social media and business.

I’m curious about how receptive bankers are to the notion of disruptive technologies and empowered clients. In the past two years, banking has had more than its fair share of bad press – mention ‘banking’ and you get mutterings of greed, fat cat bonuses, corruption and government bailouts. Ask anyone in academia in the UK about why they are having to work with decimated budgets and raise student fees, and they point the finger at the financial sector.

In my country, the impact of the financial meltdown has been somewhat cushioned – to the extent that some local bankers are surprised by the barricade mentality of their counterparts across the water. And yet, the bubble that burst has still impacted the local way of doing business, as all major banks have been forced to increase checks and balances and tighten up internal control procedures to make sure there is no repeat of the 2010 crash.

In this new ‘cautious’ brave new world, you can understand why some banks have been reluctant to explore using social media channels. Yes, there are blogs aplenty on financial issues, Deutsche Bank and American Express are doing some interesting things, but most of the ‘social’ in banking happens at an individual basis – or in the way some banks continue to engage with their customers – developing personal relationships, going the extra mile for clients who are known and trusted.

The corollary is that banks have had an online presence for many years – and yet, clients’ only interface with the bank’s website is to complete a basic transaction within as short a timeframe as possible: checking a balance, making a payment, viewing an electronic bank statement. I have serious doubts on how many people use the more ‘social’ functions of these sites – such as requesting a meeting, asking for information about a new set of financial instruments, engaging in the type of interaction that has to happen on a ‘face to face’ basis.

When I tweeted that I was running a workshop for bankers a couple of days ago, the instant reaction from the Twitterati went from ‘They seriously need to be receptive, Alex’ to ‘Yeah.. about time they got disrupted.’ A day or two later, a lovely lady from my local (village) branch called me on my mobile to ‘remind’ me that I had promised to meet her and a colleague to review a new set of financial instruments.

Somewhere, there is an opportunity to migrate the personal touch of the village bank online. Whether there is an interest in doing this, in the age of austerity and procedure will unravel.

In the meantime, Jeremiah Owyang et al continue to evangelise on the need to turn the corporate website social. Banks could do worse than start from this: how can they use their functional, utilitarian websites to help them operate more as village banks, and less as ‘suits’ hiding behind procedure?

Secrets of Engagement: Leverage Social to Unlock User Value on Your Site from Janrain on Vimeo.

Posted in Social media | 7 Comments

Social Media for Business: debunking some myths

We’re some way into the 21st century and yet ‘making money online’ remains the holy grail of many who harp back to the heady dot-com, get-rich-quick days. The mass uptake of social media such as blogs, social networks and microblogs has now reached a tipping point where even the most hardened business executive is trying to determine how the new, disruptive technologies impact business.

Altimeter Group, a US research firm, says that 2011 is the year of social integration for US business. Yet views on business and social media remain polarised. Some are exploring how social media can increase productivity, cut costs and facilitate new ways of engaging with customers and prospects. Many remain sceptical – especially those with recent investments in websites, SEO and pay-per-click campaigns as a sure-fire way of ‘getting e-business’ and who now find themselves having to go back to the drawing board.

Here are some common social media myths that need to be debunked if businesses in Malta are to start incorporating social media in their business model:

Myth#1: Social media is free.
Fact: As a bare minimum, engagement requires content, interaction with users, technology-savviness, channel management, SEO and more. Real people cost real money.

Myth#2: Social media is easy
Fact: The barriers to entry may be low: setting up a blog, or an account on Facebook or Twitter requires little technical skill. Using social media to increase sales, reduce costs, develop a brand and engage with customers and prospects requires strategic content, technical expertise and commitment.

Myth #3: Social media’s a fad.
Fact: The participatory read/write web has been around for over 10 years. Rather than about technology, it’s about a paradigm shift in social engagement: a new sphere of working, networking, communicating, living, and organising. It has become intertwined in our daily lives.

Myth #4: Social media is all about branding and PR.
Fact: Social media is not about broadcasting, but about a personal, more open way of engagement. It’s as fraught with risk as it is rich in opportunity. It flies against many business cultures. The brand lives in the voices of your online community. Use social media to be personable and build trust relationships instead of broadcasting corporate spin.

Myth #5: Social media will lead to a loss of control
Fact: The technologies are disruptive, not least because customers and prospects have access to instant publishing tools. The real myth is that a business never had control over what people were saying.

Myth #6: Success is about content going viral.
Fact: It is more important that the right people view targeted content. Content rarely goes viral.

Myth #7: Participation requires the engagement of a “social media agency” or “guru.”
Fact: You will probably need help with strategy and technology. Always ask for case studies to back up social media credentials. But the champion of change has always got to be found within.

Myth #8: Focus on increasing online visitors, not making money.
Fact: Unless you’ve got VC backing, what you have is a hobby, not a business. Even Twitter now needs to monetise. Conversely, the most popular business model on line is the freemium model, where a very small proportion of online users pay for premium services and online advertising.

Myth #9: Social media is not measurable.
Fact: Social media monitoring tools can provide an array of qualitative and quantitative metrics. From blog comments, media mentions and real-time Facebook advertising outcomes to click-throughs to your website. Conversely: what’s the ROI on your print campaigns, your trade show, on that phone call you just made?

Myth #10: Build it and they will come
Fact: Social media needs to be actively managed. Facebook and Twitter are littered with a graveyard of inactive ‘business’ pages and profiles that potentially damage an existing brand.

Myth #11: User-generated content will lead to money-making opportunities.
Fact: Social media can provide valuable inbound marketing links and bring more prospects to your e-business platform. It is not a guarantee that click-throughs will convert into sales. It’s easier to make money if you have an existing product or service that can be sold online than if you are building one from the ground up on a social media platform.

Myth #12: User-generated content is better than branded content.
Fact. Content is expensive to produce. People do not normally enjoy watching branded content as it’s associated with one-way marketing. Most user-generated content will bring your business zero value. Compelling content is rarely about you.

Myth #13: You can do it all in-house.
Fact: The likelihood is that someone within the organisation has used social media tools. The challenge is convincing internal stakeholders that social media should be considered alongside orthodox marketing, CRM, PR and HR channels. Sometimes, it’s easier to do that with the help of an external change agent with hands-on experience with new media.

Myth #14: Social media is for kids.
Fact: In the US, the 55-64 age group on Facebook is almost the size of the 13-17 group. Older demographics are now joining social media than younger ones.

Myth #15: A business needs to have a presence on all major social media.
Fact: First think of where your clients and prospects are likely to be interacting, then think of the media.

Finally: Get your website social media ready. Incorporate Facebook, YouTube and Twitter alongside orthodox marketing and customer relationship channels. Approach bloggers and other online influencers about your products and services, ask for feedback and engage. Develop a sound social media strategy before you dive in. If you do not wish to engage immediately, just listen to your customers and your competitors. Manage your expectations.

Article syndicated by the Times of Malta

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Social Media Strategy Rules OK

Process for developing a Social Media Strategy

Sometimes, it seems we’re stuck in groundhog day.

I developed my first social media strategic plan in 2008. It’s three years down the line and you’ve still get corporates ‘trying things out’ on the fly‘ and then scrambling for some social media monitoring tool to demonstrate ‘ROI’ to a sceptic executive.

The slide above is from one of those early workshops I ran years ago. It was reproduced in part by my friend Joakim Nilsson. If the pyramid looks very much like an orthodox strategic planning approach to any business – the comparisons are all intentional.

In the heady space between suspicious, middle-aged power executives and the eager-beaver ‘new media consultants’ there continues to be a disconnect that has proved to be more resilient that we all thought in 2008.

The only way to bridge the gap between social media enthusiasts and CEO’s and CFO’s who have to watch the bottom line is to treat social media as another (albeit revolutionary) CRM, marketing, PR, and HR channel.

And that means approaching it in a logical, phased fashion that is comprehensible to the men in suits – and to those whose comfortable world is likely to be turned upside down once people start to understand the transformational potential of the medium.

Social media is all about engagement. But you cannot engage in a cost-effective manner without getting your strategy nailed early on. And the first people you have to engage with are the sceptics within your fold – before you try and engage with your prospects and clients.

There are more pearls of wisdom in the deck of slides below.

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Rethinking Education

As you age, you realise that the most precious currency you have is time.

In the business world, I’m the equivalent of a grizzly veteran.  I am old enough to have seen my first computer when I was 23, known life before the Internet, navigated the dot boom and bust at the end of the last century and realised early on that web 2.0’s promise of social engagement was also going to disrupt the comfort zones for some and empower many others.  And in 2009, a chance connection on Twitter made me realise it was time for me to structure my learning for the rest of my life.

In academic terms, I’m a relative novice.  I’ve had to relearn how to write (from bullets and join the dots, time-poor consultant speak to measured, reference, journal-speak).  I sometimes spend an hour to craft a sentence in front of a paragraph.  There are days when I see only mountains of text around me, and others when the sheer pleasure of learning is almost sensual.

And yet, the novice academic is in constant conversation with the pragmatic change agent.  We now all possess tools that have extended learning to 24 x 7, across multiple channels, connecting students and educators beyond geography, blurring the lines between the educator and the learner.  It is not just the shields of laptops that educators now face in a lecture hall, or the merciless Twitter back-channel, or the streamed webinar.  There is a clear need for some paradigm shift in this new century to re-engineer education to account for the fact that peer to peer has now gone mainstream.

On 30th December, I noticed a tweet from Howard Rheingold, asking if people would consider becoming beta students on his Mind Amplifiers course.  As from this week, I am part of a group of 30 learners from across the globe, with Howard as the glue,  navigating around text, audio, video and online tools.  I’m like a kid who’s just found the cookie jar.

We are all co-learners, says Rheingold.  That’s a far cry from where we’ve just come from, already.

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Waving hands, TV and Facebook

If you want to experience convergence culture, you could do worse than do a live radio show to understand how permeable to the web 2.0 that medium is becoming.

TV, long besieged by YouTube’s potential for disintermediation and personalisation and ‘free culture’, is somewhere between a siege mentality and curiosity about the idea of using social media platforms to reach out to the audience, foster content longevity, nurture online networks and (who knows) tap into whatever scraps of online revenues such participation may create.

My country continues to equally bemuse because of its disproportional uptake of Facebook. Three years ago, I was trying to find out why, by asking my online friends – and I followed up a year ago.   Now that 43% of the nation is on Facebook, the mainstream TV media in Malta has also had to take notice – and finally, perhaps, start to understand and adapt to citizens’ use of the powerful tools at their disposal.

So this is where I get to stay at home and wave my hands on TV and gabble in Maltese about the changes behind closed doors.   Which also means that 10 seconds of attention span gets mashed up into the ageing, trusted medium of the blog.  Though my grocer in Siggiewi told me, the following day, that though I was right about what I’d said on TV, she still had problems convincing her husband to actually use his mobile phone.

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The machine is still changing

I was wilfing – it’s what tired people in front of a screen with an Internet connection tend to do.

I went back to my YouTube favourites, and found that I had favourited this video, over three years ago. Unbeknown to me, it was an important personal milestone: it recorded my growing interest in web 2.0 and internet culture, and fuelled my interest in researching how people, like me, were starting to use Blogger and Flickr as personal media vehicles.

The video was made by Professor Michael Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch’s work includes media ecology and digital ethnography, where he studies the impact of new media on human interaction.

I’ve just spent over 33 minutes watching another Dr Wesch talk, from 2009, about Postman, the history of ‘whatever’, online conversations and YouTube as antropology. It’s great fun, and a timely reminder of how, among the noise, chaos and mediocrity of the world wide web, we don’t necessarily have to amuse ourselves to death.

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Social Business Forecast 2011

Over the past three years or so, Jeremiah Owyang and David Armano have been a source of inspiration and plain old common sense when I was developing a social media strategy for business clients. There is much to savour, in this deck of slides from Owyang’s keynote at Le Web.

My ‘take-homes’ for the new year:

1. Avoid self-proclaimed social media gurus like the plague. Ask them to explain how they would develop a strategic plan, and how ROI could be measured for a programme. Get them to share their blog and explain how they use Twitter and Delicious for research purposes. Finally, how they intend to cross-train your staff, and whether they’d like to provide you with an active client list. It may be a short conversation.

2. Blogging is not going away, even if the numbers and pundits point to its slow demise. It’s just going to become granular and content-rich. The blogosphere may well become smaller. It may not be such a bad thing if the attention-deficient migrate to other platforms.

3. Social media monitoring tools are suddenly all the rage. I expect these to eventually become embedded in some larger, mainstream product. Some add-on to Google Analytics, perhaps. In the short term, some people will get seriously rich.

4. The tools may be new, the thinking isn’t. Read Castells, Turner, Wellman, Granovetter, Rheingold, Shirky or plain old Boissevain for a history of social networks. Ask your gurus if they read them too.

5. Inbound marketing still works – especially from quality third party collateral, in the form of sponsorships and quality advertising. As does the plain, old, tried and tested e-mailed newsletter masquerading as a filtered blog.

6. WikiLeaks will encourage further disruption by citizen journalists operating at a more hyper-local level. Expect a cocktail of law-suits, nervous politicians and mainstream journalists getting all defensive about blogs, tweets and Facebook pages.

7. NGOs will continue to lead the way for innovation in social business. They are hungrier, and have less internal political baggage and resistance to deal with, as a general rule.

8. There are still companies who have yet to exploit their own sophisticated CRM systems. Conduct a simple exercise to determine how your customers are participating on social media platforms. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is so much easier to up-sell to an existing customer as opposed to winning a new one. Especially if you start engaging in a more social, transparent manner.

Posted in Blogging, Social media, Strategy | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

So, where’s it going?

A week ago Saturday, I was on a radio show to discuss ‘Internet and society’ with an activist turned blogger, an academic and a lawyer cum blogger on a phone link from Luxembourg.  Throughout the show, the unseen radio audience was commenting on the wall of the show’s Facebook page.  Someone skyped in.  My eight year-old stared at the big mic in the middle of the wooden table, fidgeted and drew cartoons of most of us.  And I kept thinking of how I was sitting in a building that in the early eighties was a media fortress, often associated with Big Brother and blatant use of public broadcasting for propaganda purposes.  And here we were, 30 years later, with the same flaking walls and advocating the use of social media and debating censorship and online power structures.

Somewhere along the way, my island became permeable to technology, and old media is having to adjust – get streamed, embedded, podcasted, packaged in whatever format it takes to survive – or even thrive.

It may be early days for some and the island’s digital natives may still be trying to swim in the fish pond – but if you want to experience convergence, get yourself on live radio and wait for the unseen audience to engage on their social networking platform of choice.

Speaking of digital natives, here’s Zuckerberg talking about a whole bunch of stuff, including privacy, strategic partnerships, your data and the new eco system.  And ‘building products that people love’.

Posted in Facebook, Internet, Social media | Tagged , , | 1 Comment