We Own the Internet!

December 21, 2010

…but only by one vote, and only for now.

Today, the FCC passed new net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote. In one of the bigger judgments that no one will ever know about, the people that use the internet just won ownership of it rather than the companies that allow us to access it.

If it had gone the other way, it would have generated an uproar, and we all would have heard about it. Why? What are the rules that were passed?

Well, at the most basic level, Comcast and other large internet service providers want control over the internet so that they can restrict user’s access to certain sites, and charge more for “preferred” internet users who want the fastest possible connection.  While defenders of net neutrality, Google standing at the forefront, demand that no one have control over the internet.  Users should be free to see it all, without jumping through hoops, or paying more than anyone else.

In my opinion, net neutrality is a no brainer.  The fact that the vote was 3-2 surprises me.  The fact that the 2 no votes were Republicans does not surprise me.  Calling the new rules “unnecessary regulation” is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.  I wonder if either of them has ties to Big Internet.  I wonder if there are any registered republicans who use the internet out there who would not be happy if all of the sudden they could not use the internet at peak hours unless they paid more for it.

But none of that matters now, because the rules passed, and no one will ever hear about this one way or the other.

Either way, we the people won the day.  Congrats to us!

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Google Should Only Buy Groupon if…

December 1, 2010

They’re smart.

The biggest purchase in Google’s long history of acquisitions has yet to happen, but it’s about to.  It’s a $6 Billion plus offer that makes a lot of sense for both companies.

Having never met Groupon’s founders, or any members of the team other than a few phone calls with some of their sales reps, I cannot attest to the vision or goals of the company.  But to be acquired by Google can’t be too far down on anyone’s wish list.

As far as the huge valuation that Google has given them, I would warn that Groupon is worth every bit of it, and then some. In a field that is quickly becoming overcrowded with clones, Groupon has demonstrated an ability to stay relevant, and become even more relevant.  As the local coupon company that took a deal a day to the next level, as the company that today thousands try to imitate, Groupon has set themselves apart.  And through the right kind of marketing, and the right kind of positioning, they’ve built an army of potential consumers for every brand.

Here’s a hint that every potential business owner should take from Groupon: create a way for consumers to get deals on products that they most likely would have bought anyway at full price, and you’re bound to make anyone happy.  In a lot of ways, that was Walmart’s vision when they got Sam Walton got started back in the early 60’s.  Serve the under-served yes, but offer deals on products people need or want based on another company’s advertising.

In any case, am I surprised that Google didn’t try to create their own clone? Yes. Am I surprised they’re interested in Groupon’s business? No. It opens up new doors to Google’s plans to take control of the “local” business of mobile and web apps.  Using Groupon in conjunction with other Google services may prove Groupon to be the company’s most successful acquisition ever.


Chili’s Gets It (I Think)

April 17, 2009

3427852837_bd0e99c337Chili’s did some market research and found out that most of the restaurant chains in their category have rather bland food compared to their own.  So naturally, they decided to tell the world this very discovery in a new ad campaign.

But this time, they did something that really speaks to the times we are living in.  They decided to go after the social media space, and go after it in a big way.

In Wednesday’s post, I discussed how more companies trying to enter the social media playing field will imminently cause the space to be overcrowded and boring.  But Chili’s, in my opinion, is going about it in all the right ways.

The campaign is based around a fictional restaurant chain called “PJ Blands“, which already sounds like a play on Friday’s.  And of course they have the traditional television commercials, which feature PJ Bland himself discussing the amazing new “cardboard-style” menu items at his restaurant.  This then leads to the decision of the featured consumers to choose taste, and eat at Chili’s.

Then, to back up the commercials, they created a website for the fictional restaurant.  And the website it dynamic, featuring many of the same things you would find on a REAL restaurant’s site.  It offers things like career applications, menu items, history of the company, and PJ himself discussing how amazing the new restaurant is.

After that, you can find a Twitter account for PJ, a Flickr account, all their commercials on YouTube, and much, much more.  It’s obvious that Chili’s recognized the need to go social, and put the time and money into it to get it right.  This is a story that has the ability to spread.  It builds the right kind of message, fun and casual, that will spread links.  All of this goes to build brand awareness of the Chili’s restaurant chain and makes them a player in the social media landscape.

For other companies that are looking to test the waters in our Web 2.0 world, exploring how Chili’s went about launching the PJ Blands campaign is a good start.  I commend the advertising people who came up with this idea, and the higher ups at Chili’s who saw the value in committing resources to this type of project.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.  Check out the campaign for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments area below, or by sending me a quick email.  It’s the opinion of all of us that really matters.

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High Risk of “Social Blanding” as Networks Go Mainstream

April 15, 2009

boringWe operate in the era of perpetual online expansion.  New forms of social networks and media channels continue to develop and grow all around us.  As consumers, we have more options than ever before on who we talk to, how we communicate and share information, and where we spend our time.  And companies, seeing the potential, have started to join us in this new space.  Successful efforts by those early corporate adopters of social media have led to an increased demand for other companies and competitors to join in the race.

But as more and more companies look to focus their attention online, they run the risk of turning this platform into just another commercialized media outlet.

The social web was built for creativity.  Companies that are most successful offer us genuine ideas, fun promotions, odd games and characters, and easy to find information.  They use various networks to deliver one unique voice and help us discover things that we really want or need.

The problem comes when companies enter the space with no real plan or vision.  Too often, the higher ups who control the money will consider online marketing just another form of advertising, throw some money at it, and leave it at that.  Since they won’t take the time to understand it, they may decide that whatever it is that they are doing is not working, and abort or change the strategy.

Unfortunately, there are too many companies that are too conservative to do anything differently.  We are in danger of allowing this online space to grow boring as more corporate blogs, and Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages discuss and share the same old information.  There are now social media consultancies that offer to get you started and coach you through the social web.  Content runs the risk of being generic and bland.  And all of the sudden, you’ll have thousands of companies just promoting themselves slowly and sparingly with no real rhyme or reason.

True social media success, from a corporate perspective, really cannot be measured. At least not in dollars and cents like CEO’s are used to measuring everything else.  It is a presence, an overall sense of being there for the consumer, a connection and personalization of brands and services.

This post from Chris Brogan goes through a list of things to measure for solid online content.  It is important that as more companies go online and try to communicate with users that they generally put effort into it.  If your company has a problem with communication or consumer backlash, throwing money at it will not make it go away.

Be real, be original, and save us from “social blanding”.

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What Could You Do with 200 Million Users?

April 8, 2009

congratulations-wish-greeting-cardYou may or may not have heard the news out of Mark Zuckerberg world today.  Facebook will officially welcome its 200 Millionth user to the most popular social networking site in the world today.  To most of us, that number is unfathomable.  To Facebook, that is just another milestone to add to the list.

For people like me, who are in the business of making money online, you just have to sit back and admire an accomplishment like that.  True, Facebook has the advantage of being free.  And true, they still have yet to turn a profit even with that extraordinary exposure.  But 200,000,000 people using your service, wow.

For entrepreneurs in the technology field, it takes a lot to be optimistic.  I have heard countless people say they will be the next Facebook.  “If we could only get a few million users, we’ll be set for life.”

It’s true that most of us could do a lot if we had 200 Million users, but you have to be realistic here.  If you are just starting out, tell yourself that you can make money without an accomplishment like that.  If it’s going to take a million or so users for your service to make money, you had better know exactly where those users are coming from.

Think long and hard about who you are trying to serve.  Is your market as big as Facebook?  Is your service the first, or the best, of its kind?  Why will people care?

Starting a free service and trying to get the masses to sign up is much harder than starting a real business that makes money up front and spreading the word through marketing.  The internet has opened the doors for a whole new breed of company, but that does not mean that everyone who tries their luck will win at it.

It’s okay to admire Facebook, but don’t try to emulate them.

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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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