Dear Facebook: Don’t Listen to Us(ers)

March 23, 2009

markzA big deal is currently being made about the recent redesign of Facebook.  You can read about it anywhere, see it in a new Facebook poll, or check it out for yourself.  It’s the same old story from the same people about the same problems, blah, blah, blah.

In the most recent round of design changes, Facebook changed the Homepage, made company pages more like profile pages, and made some minor font and layout changes on the profiles.  All of these changes were announced ahead of time, and users were updated as the changes came closer.  And then it happened, the changes took effect, and people got angry.

This is nothing new in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. In fact, nearly every time Facebook has changed something about the website they have encountered a backlash from their own community.  And when you serve as many people as the most popular social network does, you would almost expect it.

The crazy thing is, the backlash is usually followed by an explanation from Zuckerberg himself, but no real change (or a very small one), never going back to the way things were before the change.  And what happens to the people who hated the changes?  They just accept things the way they are.  Why? Basically because they are already so hooked as a Facebook user that they will shut their mouths and continue to use the network anyway.

I have a feeling Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and he uses it to his advantage.  Whereas other companies who may shake things up when this many users complain about a new program or design, Facebook seems to be sitting back and waiting for the latest round of craziness to pass.  And I think that is exactly what they should be doing.

Remember when Facebook changed their homepage the first time, adding the news feed that everyone is talking about.  For the first time as users, we were privy to a constant stream of updates from all of our friends.  Remember the backlash that created among the community.  What happened?  People threatened to leave Facebook forever, Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for springing this on us without telling us before hand, updated a few privacy features, and left the news feed exactly as it was.  Those who fought back against it eventually stopped talking, accepted the change, and moved on.

This is will no doubt happen again with this design change.

In addition, this round of changes increases the value that Facebook has to corporate members and paid sponsors.  By updating these pages and feeding them into the profile-like stream, they allow companies to connect with more people on the network, increasing the chances of Facebook finding new and successful business models.

So when I say that Zuckerberg, and the rest of the team at Facebook, should not listen to the naysayers on this one, I mean it.  Just keep doing what you are doing, focus on improving the service and finding a monetization strategy (one that works), and let us complain all day.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who discusses the need for companies to listen to their customers to drive forward moving and successful change.  And I also know that many people will disagree with this.  But the point is, Facebook is in a different league.  They are not defined by what their users think because their users have already shown how fickle they are.  No one is going to leave the network because of these design changes, Facebook will not lose any money, and truthfully, the service is not worse.  Sorry guys, Facebook wins.

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What do your Customers Want? Ask them

February 19, 2009

pdre042052The days of focus groups, hiring expensive business consultants, conducting mass surveys, and spending countless amounts of money designing and redesigning products that go nowhere are all but over.  We are officially connected. Connected with each other, with other businesses, and with the customer.

Whether you are a small business owner struggling to find more business or a CEO who is comfortable with your current market position, you can always learn from your customers.  Don’t ever let yourself be tricked into thinking that because you know the company so well, you know best what to do next.  Because you don’t.

First, think about who talks to your customers the most.  You have a customer service department that solves their problems, a sales team that helps them answer questions and make a purchase, and maybe a group of brand ambassadors that communicates with potential customers and advocates.  They are all in a better position than you to create real change in the customers’ eyes.

Listen to what they have to say. Create a suggestion box and give them credit (maybe cash) if one of their suggestions gets implemented.  Hold weekly meetings for them to voice their opinions.  Allow them a forum for open communication between various departments.  Create teams to develop these new ideas.

Start a blog that you use to communicate directly to a community of your customers or clients.  Tell them what you are working on, how you are solving their problems, and who you are working with.  And constantly ask for their feedback.  They will be quick to tell you where you are going right and even quicker to tell you where you are going wrong.  But as many companies that have already done this have seen, they will show you where you can improve and thank you for actually making the effort.

Use various social networks to solve problems and open the lines of communicationTwitter accounts can be used for customer service just like JetBlue, Zappos, and Comcast have done.  A Facebook page can be used for idea and strategy discussion.  Make the customers feel like they have a real ownership interest in the company.  They will reward you for it.

Starting today, you won’t have to come up with any new ideas on your own.  All you have to do is implement some or all of the strategies above and let the people do the talking.  Then just sit back and relax, make the decisions as they come, and enjoy a more powerful business; a business supported and backed by a community of evangelists.

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Where is Our News Going?

January 19, 2009

breaking-newsSeth Godin will have you believe that major media companies are on the way out. But is that really the case?

I would argue the opposite, though I add a warning that if these companies do not innovate in the way they obtain and dispense information, they’re dead. I think that, in the area of news, these major corporate networks are still best situated to develop their technology and deliver information to the public in new and relevant ways.

Why Major News Organization Can Still Win

  1. Access – these organizations have the credibility and network skills to get inside information. They can access people at the highest levels, in all parts of the world, and deliver the most up to date information from anywhere.
  2. Money – Established corporate networks have the resources needed to overhaul their technology. It’s true that they need to re-evaluate their real time and web efforts, but they have the ability to do that. Find the value that your readers are looking for and give it to them, no questions asked.
  3. Loyalty – People are less loyal these days to brands or companies because “shopping around” has become much easier. However, when it comes to news and other important information, there is a credibility factor that is difficult to get around. People are not as comfortable getting news from lesser known blogs or other online sources.

What They Need to Do

  1. Personalization – The web and other mobile technologies have allowed people to customize the information they get, and how they see it. Make it easy for readers to sign up for alerts in certain areas, and give them the information how they ask for it.
  2. Email – Utilize email systems to let people get the news they want when they want it. All the stories you run should be available in email format, and people should not have to ask for them more than once.
  3. Social MediaTwitter and other social networks have become valuable resources for providing and passing along important news as it breaks. There is no reason that a news service cannot tap into that “real time” power and use it. Learn how to capitalize on these systems and incorporate them into your strategy.
  4. Blogs, blog readers, and bookmarking – Stories need to be passed from person to person to spread. Newsworthy is a term that now applies to something that deserves to be relayed on to friends. Incorporate blogging and social bookmarking tools to your website to give people the option to spread the best stories. This builds brand awareness and keeps you relevant.
  5. Feedback – Reach out for and pay attention to your readers’ opinions. This can be on a story by story basis or feedback on your services in general. Listen to people because if there is anything that the social web has taught us, it’s that we all have something to say.

The major thing that these corporate news services and media companies have to acknowledge is that the old way of doing things no longer works. Evaluate where your information is coming from and how it is getting out. Learn that people want access to the information they are interested in, no fluff, and they want it free. Give that to them and then rebuild accordingly. It’s time to fight for your readers our die.

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Monetize Twitter then Monetize Everything Else

December 19, 2008

twitter-birdMonetizing the social web.  It’s the hot topic headed into 2009.  How can Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other online services begin to see real revenue and profitability?  And how can they do that without ruining the user experience and creating too much confusion on the websites?

For those familiar with social networks, those who use them daily, it is a constant debate.  From the business end, we can see that value of these networks, and the amount of information they hold, so we know there is money there somewhere.  From the usability end, we can see that attempts to use advertisers and third party publishers have had some negative effects on the cleanliness and function of the interface.  So what to do?

Well, I am not here to answer all the questions.  But I thought I would try my hand at just one.  How can Twitter make money?

I noticed a few days ago that Twitter announced that they were hiring a VP of Business Operations with one clear task, monetize Twitter.  Chances are that I will not get that job.  But if I did, here is what I would try:

1.    Charge Third Party Developers.  Twitter is a great service, and its easy to use.  Developers noticed this right away.  Many tools have come out that made Twitter more accessible from anywhere on and off the web.  Set fees to develop applications and programs that are used in conjunction with Twitter.

2.    Rotate Ads Right of Screen.  The Twitter interface is so clean that many people think ads would ruin the experience.  But as far as I can see, rotating long sidebar ads on the right side of the screen would take nothing away.  Ads can be targeted based on activity (updates, who you follow, @replies).  Show a new ad every time the page is reloaded.

3.    Sell Twitter Software.  Twitter has many uses.  In an office setting, I can see it as a means of communication that surpasses those that we use today.  Why not sell Twitter software to companies for a monthly or yearly fee.  Let them customize the design, add all their employees, and operate it on a different site (businessname.twitter.com).

4.    Twitter Marketing Accounts.  Create a new type of account, for marketers, that you have to pay for.  A marketer account allows you to send updates to a targeted market of Twitter users once or twice daily.  These will show up like normal updates on a person’s home page, but there will be a limited amount so the intrusion is negligible.

5.    Paid Twitter Ad-ons.  Similar to the Twitter Software idea, Twitter could add new services to their existing tool that one would have to sign up and pay for.  Call this a Twitter Pro Account if that is what works.  These could include a news section, forums, directories, finance that allow you to group Tweets together and display headline style information.  This is more valuable simply because it would be easier to classify information.  Charge a one-time upgrade fee or a yearly subscription that is so small that we all sign up.

So there are five things that I would do my first day on the job.  Who will get the job? Will they like my ideas?  Will they follow them?  Will they ever read or hear them?  Whatever happens, this is an important step in monetizing the social web.  And all other networks can be aware of these ideas and use them in their own way.  Prove to us that your inflated values make sense and that your products will bring us further than we ever anticipated.

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Outsource Your Internet Strategy: Value in Innovative Partnerships

December 17, 2008

Web promotion and advertising is essential to the success of many, if not all, companies today.  But it is a tricky area for a lot of people.  It becomes even trickier if you are talking about a brick and mortar company that has no real online experience or activity.  If you are a relative unknown on the web, the chances of you sticking around in the new economy are slim and none.

Luckily, there are companies that dominate business on the web.  I am talking about companies that were formed and developed online, with no real offline business activity.  These companies, like social networks, e-commerce retailers, and search engines operate primarily online and have already carved out their corner of the online marketplace.  So why not reach out to them?

A partnership with an online company can go a long way toward helping an offline company compete in an online world.  Instead of going it alone, and guessing your way to success (or failure, most likely), try leveraging their brand on the web to increase exposure and improve business.  Many organizations (ie. Salvation Army) have tried the hard way only to find out it didn’t work.

Step one, do a little research.  Find out what types of companies are reaching your target audience online.  Figure out who is popular, why they are popular, and how a potential partnership could work.  Prepare yourself for negotiations, but go in with an open mind.  Many of these online companies have their own strategies that have taken them to where they are, and a partnership with an offline company might be a relatively new concept.

Step two, reach out to them.  Tell them what you are interested in doing.  Explain to them how it can help both parties reach new audiences.  Even if all you are doing is adding content to their website, or inventory for them to sell, a simple revenue share might do the trick.  And it will still get you the necessary exposure that your are looking for.

Step three, let go.  Your instinct will be to try to control this new online strategy.  Most things online can only be controlled up to a certain point before consumer behavior takes over.  Most likely, the web-based company you are partnering with will have a better idea of how to implement and manage this strategy, so give them some control.

One basic example would be a retail store with limited online exposure partnering with Woot, Amazon, or an eBay store.  Another is a restaurant that partners with an online menu server to get some attention.  This can be purely marketing and advertising, or it can be co-branded sponsorships.  You can add content, inventory, money, or your own customer base.  Be creative.

In the end, even if it costs you some money, it will still be cheaper than trying to develop your own content online.  And if it works, you can just do more of it.  The truth is, even if you are not struggling now, the time is coming that a company who has no presence on the web will become absolete.

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Mobile Battles, Monetization of the Social Web, and Risk Taking

November 14, 2008

Economists and writers are still stuck in the bad news area. And why shouldn’t they be? Look at the stats that keep rolling in. They are not good.

But here’s something to think about. As more and more of the traditional companies that dominated the old economy (pre-internet) struggle and go under, the new economy companies are finding new ways to develop. In fact, this whole meltdown could in fact be the final transition between the old and new economy, where new technologies win out over dried up 20th century business.

Michael Baxter points out that risk taking has been the thing that has led to many of the great innovations of91052290-ce47-36c5-6628f34fc51e972c_1 the past. Companies, scientists, economists, advertisers all took risks, made mistakes, and stumbled upon the next great idea or invention. And those “inventions” carried us to the next level. New companies form, old companies die, but the economy as a while continues to move forward.

But in this economy, it seems that all of those companies are scared for their lives. And because they are so scared, they seem to be pulling out the risk taking business. In an effort to save cash, they cut marketing, they cut R&D, and they cut people. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, the companies that will succeed are those that find the opportunities in this mess and exploit them.

blackberry_2_430So who is taking advantage? Look at the Technology sector, look at the web. Social Media seems to be moving forward at the speed of light, and looking for the right way to make money and develop into valuable commodities. Youtube and other online video platforms continue to experiment with advertisements and partnerships to find revenue. The more people that watch videos online, the more traditional marketers try to enter the market, the more important a revenue stream will become.

Social Networks are starting to see the dollar signs. A week after MySpace announced $1 Billion in ad revenue, Open Social discussed how they will monetize their applications. The valuations of companies that connect people online used to be based on the idea of monetization, and now we are seeing the first real signs of those possibilities in action.

And let’s not forget about the Mobile Web. With the popularity of the iPhone as high as ever, here comes Google’s G1, and the new Blackberry Storm. The battle is on to connect more people to the web from a touch-screen phone. This means new opportunities for mobile service providers, platform developers, and third party applications. This is a battle that is sure to be waged for years.iphone_3g

Am I saying that traditional companies are dead in the water, of course not. But I am saying that it is time to wake up and see that online strategies are paying off. Technology is moving forward far faster than any other sector of the economy. They are the ones taking all the risks, and it appears that all the rewards are falling in their direction. So are we on the verge of a major transformation? That is for you to decide.

To here more on this topic and others in business and innovation, you can now sign up for email updates. Happy reading.

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The Truth about the Facebook/Google War

October 29, 2008

Google embodies everything that we dream the internet can be.  Their search engine transformed the way we found information.  And through the years, it seems like they lead the way for other internet companies to build their own space.  They represent freedom.

Facebook represents the newer, more united internet.  A network of people that grew out of control because it filled a void that we never even knew existed.  They lead the way in an area that has taken off in the last 3 years.  They are the epitome of social networking, and continue to grow their aspirations almost as fast as they grow their reach.

For these two companies, to say that they don’t directly compete would be very shortsighted.  Almost every online company must be aware of others, and these are the two giants of our time.  They are far and away two of the most innovative companies on the net, and they have enough money and power to dream and accomplish many things that we have yet to even contemplate.

As they grow, they also grow fearfulof what other internet powers meet do.  Though they will not openly say it, they must be afraid of losing out on the next big thing, or being beaten to the punch of some new project they are working on.

The poll from my last post shows that the majority of respondents felt that it was a good thing that these companies have been fighting back against each other.  And of course, in the traditional business sense, competitionis a good thing.  The internet, which represents freedom of ideas and information, must be a competitive marketplace, with no one company having too much control.  In this way, the pressure these companies put on each other will lead to each of them working harder.

But competition, perhaps especially on the internet, can make companies fearful and greedy.  This is an area that we have only started to understand.  Internet startups and entrepreneurs have proven that there is a limitless value to the online world.  We have only scratched the surface of its use.  And it seems that if these two giants worked together they could unlock more of the hidden magic in this marketplace than working against each other.

In my eyes, competition is good for the consumer when a market has limits.  When companies battle over set market share, they add value to their products and get better.  But in a field that has no limits, does a head to head battle make sense?

The internet is still a fresh, relatively undiscovered field.  In the coming years, we will no doubt develop new uses that are yet to be conceived.  And it is going to take companies acting on their own terms to continue to innovate and develop these new areas.  A Facebook vs. Google internetmay not be the best scenario for anyone involved.  The two companies share many of the purest and most innovative qualities that have made both of them successful in the online world.  They should continue to develop these commonalities and find a way to coexist without competing in order to get the most out of the internet in coming years.


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