Friday, June 12, 2009

When Businesses and Personalities Collide

It’s a no brainer: as companies explore word of mouth marketing and introduce brands to the social web, social media savvy employees will be your strongest advocates, acting as the “special forces” troops in starting the groundswell. According to a study conducted by Edelman, 40% consider consider conversations with company employees as a creditable source of information (where as only 13% consider corporate advertising creditable). If your social media super stars are strong influencers in online communities targeting your customer base, it would make sense to empower them, right? After all, in a perfect world, each social media savvy employee can engage in positive conversations about your company's products and services, introducing exponential influences for brand building and customer loyalty efforts.

However, we do not live in a perfect world, and when old school “control” oriented management structures collide with the democratized social web, things can often get very complicated. When the topic of social media initiative comes up with friends and colleagues, it’s not uncommon to hear horror stories of “when social media efforts go bad”.

When social media savvy employees begin to attract large followings on social media platforms and mix personal messages with company related messages, should management and PR be worried? Enlightened companies should already have updated social media policies in place to prevent obvious problems such as disclosing confidential information and financial outlooks. However, things are much more complex when it comes to things NOT included in the guidelines. Should managers take it upon them selves to impose limitation on language, profile photos and use of social media platform during work hours? In my conversation with colleagues and associates, I've heard of horror stories from managers spying on employee's Facebook accounts (measuring "productivity") to unofficial, none HR sanctioned pressure to censor employees profile photos (we are not talking about offensive photos here. These are studio shots which are considered "too glamorous" for conservative business cultures).

There are many different ways to look at the mix of personal vs professional personas. As we venture into this brave new world of intermixing personal brand and business agenda, let's not forget a few points which are often overlooked:

  • As we encourage employees to participate in the social web, we need to keep in mind that social media super stars attract followers because of their unique personalities. People connect with people, not banner ads. When you strip the personalities away from your employees, you will end up with spambot like social media accounts. No body wants to "friend" a contact that repeats the press release in their status update verbatim and send out marketing spam day after day.
  • When employees feel like they have to hide their personal life and create a 2nd "company approved" accounts to please management, you have failed in the groundswell effort from within. Chances are, the only people connecting to these shill accounts are managers and other employees, and the content from these accounts are probably as transparent and genuine as traditional marketing messages. Your customers will quickly unsubscribe when they do not find value added information. Once again, people want to connect with real people, not another press release feed. Few customers are interested in feeds with only cheerleading shouts and updates on how hard your employees work.
  • I am not a fan of "implied" anything. Employees with strong social media followings should not imply that they are company spokespersons, nor should there be implied expectation from management to make them into "rogue mouth pieces". You can be a strong fan of your company's product and services, but it's always a good idea to remind your audience that your opinions are your own, and you do not speak for the company.
  • Finally, the golden rule of all online communications: If you don't want it to be printed on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper, don't write it. You can't "whisper" in the online world, and everything you write will become an extension of your personal brand. Think before you comment.

What are some of the issues you are seeing in with the integration of personal and professional social media communication? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

*Photo Credit: Flickr user "Kathryn"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Google Wave: Initial thoughts

The announcement of Google Wave last week has generated a lot of buzz on the web. By combining email, IM and wiki in a real time collaboration platform, Google Wave has the potential to be the next game changing killer app, drastically changing the way we communicate. I've read a number of reviews in the past few days, and it's been interesting to see many different opinions and predictions around this hot topic. After digesting much information, some of my initial thoughts around Google Wave are as follows:

  • Synchronous vs asynchronous communication. Will Google Wave eliminate the need for unproductive meetings? The email/IM/wiki mashup in real time will potentially change corporate cultures by introducing new workflows and change the very definition of meetings. It will be harder to hide behind endless email threads and meeting requests. However, it will also introduce new challenges to time management and project management, becoming a potential for constant distraction. What will this do to employers'/individuals' expectations for "always on, always real time" communications?
  • Forums, social networks and collaboration software. What will be Google Wave's impact to companies/products such as Lithium, Jive, Facebook, and SharePoint? The freedom to unlock content from isolated platforms and bring them into the Wave will be liberating for end users, but how will social media and collaboration platform vendors differentiate themselves and survive the tidal wave? Can you survive without being a part of the developer ecosystem?
  • Interpersonal communication vs. mass communication. Social media and collaboration technologies continue to erode the line between interpersonal communication and mass communication. It appears that Google Wave will continue to blur this line as well. What will be some of the privacy and content ownership issues resulting from this new way to communicate?
As we hear more about Google Wave in the next few months, I am sure more conversations will be created around the impacts of Google Wave. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment below if you'd like to share your thoughts/blogs on Google Wave.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The quest for more screen real estate: NEC CRVD

We all know that one can never have too much storage or too much screen real estate. Check out NEC's 42.8 inch curved monitor. Stack three of these together and you'll be ready for world dominiation (or a really, really large spreadsheet).

Windows 7 demo videos from Computex 2009 Taipei

From YouTube user "nicylin", hot off the press.

Part I:

Part II:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coming soon to a TV near you: YouTube XL

Yesterday YouTube released YouTube XL: an optimized YouTube UI for the TV screen. While initial reviews were mixed, I believe this is an excellent move on Google's part to counter Hulu. By targeting HTPC and game console installations out there, Google is eager to invading your living room with YouTube XL. Once again, we see that the line between TV screen and PC monitor continues to blur. Before we know it, the "channel surfing" days of none interactive television may be a thing of the past.

Slideshow of Flickr photos tagged with "Computex" and "2009"

Dynamic slideshow of all public photos on Flickr tagged with "Computex" and "2009".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Web Community Vlogs in the B2B Environment

The art and science of building strong online communities continue to evolve rapidly, and one of the toughest challenges for web community managers out there is to "keep them coming back for more". Community management and power user development are both important to maintain the health of your online community. However, to jump start a new or stale community environment, an injection of useful and interesting content must be a top priority.

Faced with this challenge last year, I was tasked to re-launch an existing technical community on a new platform and take the current activity level to a new high. This was no easy task. After all, B2B products and services are just not as sexy as the next high tech consumer gadget. How do you keep an existing community base interested and lure them to bookmark your community as a destination site? Further more, how do you make it so engaging that they can't wait to share the positive experience with their colleagues? For me, the answer was in rich media and community advocate personalities.

I am fortunate enough to work with an extremely talented team here at Juniper Networks. After much consultation with my team members, the community vlog was born.

I have to admit, even those of us directly involved with the vlog program were slightly skeptical when it was first launched. Deep down inside, I firmly believed in what I was doing: My thesis in graduate school was on the convergence of video and multimedia PC presentations, and I've never looked back since then. I know webcasting works, I know rich media experiences enhance the learning process. However, I've never applied what I know to a B2B technical community setting before, and my fingers were definitely crossed when the first video was launched.

With the help of our award winning staff producer Kevin Eck and an extremely talented community advocate Tawnee Kendall, the vlog program was a hit. My talented teammates were able to make the community vlogs interesting, yet not cheesy or over the top. Community members slowly began to feel like they know "J-Net Tawnee" personally, and praises began to fly in via PM, email, Facebook and Twitter. Value added contents were presented to the community via short, engaging vlog videos. As a result, we began to see registration, page view and participation increase exponentially.

Under the guidance of our manager Paul Gilliham (a seasoned web professional with some serious site architecture and user experience expertise under his belt), we continued to tweak the program, update content and enhance our user management/ranking programs. Today, the difference between that old community we inherited two years ago and our current community is clearly a contrast between night and day.

The current community vlog on our user promo program is embedded below. For the rest of our community vlogs, check out the Juniper Media Center YouTube Channel. I hope you find these videos interesting, even if you are not in the networking equipment industry.

Photo Gallery: Canon's G10 Promotional Website

I came across Canon's G10 Promotional Website today while scanning through my RSS reader. This site has been up since April, but somehow it never got on my radar until today.

I really like this promo campaign. Yes, I know I am being sold a camera, but I am willing to go to the campaign site, click around and learn more about the product in order to check out the beautiful photo gallery. Canon has offered the perfect value add content for the demographic interested in the G Series: serious amateurs and professionals who want a solid 2nd camera that's lighter than their D-SLR, but still maintain manual controls and high image quality. Being a Canon G9 owner, I may be partial to Canon. However, the VII Photo Agency gallery really appealed to me. These are the type of shots I would like to create, and this site has provided me with some very satisfying content. When we launched the Juniper Media Center YouTube Channel last year, the idea was very similar: provide value added content for our technical community, and the rest will follow. The key is offer value: tell, not sell, and let satisfied customers and word of mouth marketing work for you.

What's missing from the G10 promo site? Perhaps if it were up to me, I would provide some type of link to a user generated content forum. Another interesting possibility is linking this to an actionable community event (photo contest sponsored by the VII agency maybe?) When the G11 campaign comes around, hopefully a community oriented segment will be included. If a photo contest ends up as part of the campaign, I am sure I will be one of the first to participate :)

Windows 7 Netbooks/Notebooks at Computex 2009

According to Engadget Chinese, a number of Netbooks and Notebooks running Windows 7 (RC build 7100) are appearing at Computex 2009. Check out Sharp's Mebius PC-NJ70Apro with a sub-screen on the touchpad!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Social Media Revolution.. So What?

"Social media this, Web 2.0 that, I swear, if I hear about Twitter one more time today..."

Ever had a conversation with a "social media cynic" that started with something like the sentence above? With a large dose of the dot com cynicism still ingrained in a lot of folks, I can understand why some folks feel this way.

So What is the big deal? "Online" Communities have been around since the 300k dial up BBS days, and online chat room have been around for a few decades now. What makes things special this time around?

In fact, people and animals have been forming communities since day one. This notion of "community" and "social" part of the web really is nothing new, is it?

To me, the most interesting part of the so call social media revolution is not technological, but a social change made possible by technology. In short, it is all about the the reach online communities have today. A dial up BBS may get a few hundred folks together, and a CompuServe community perhaps quite a bit more. Today, however, tools of the social web are bringing literally everyone with Internet access together, enabling true democracy on the web. Power of the crowd can finally triumph the elite few. Corporations and public figures can no longer ignore the collective. And pathetic attempts to "fool" the collective have often ended up backfiring on the creators of such schemes.

Enlightened management teams at large corporations have adapted to this new democratic system with great success. Dell's Idea Storm and Starbuck's Idea site are just a few great examples. Gone are the days of Milli Vanilli type of acts. Listen, react, and provide value-add to your customers. In return, you will gain an army of word-of-mouth marketers with results surpassing your most expensive ad campaigns.