Monday, December 28, 2009

Social Media Primer – what’s a Blog?

So you’re a business major. You know there’s this Internet thing. And people are facebooking and twittering all over themselves about it. And your boss mentioned that you need to get a social media strategy. What do you need to know?

Time and Risk are an important consideration in your Social Media strategy and we discuss them in another Social Media Primer article about time and risk.

To get started with your Social Media strategy, we have a few key words for you to understand.

A blog is a one-to-many social media model. One author or a small group of authors in your company write articles (posts) about your products and services. Customers, prospects and unknown people can read and post comments on the article. A blog is great for mass communication. It offers limited interactivity between customers, the company and other customers. The primary model of interaction is comments on each article. These are in a linear format, not well suited for diverse discussion. You control the content and the message of the blog site and articles. Blogs are fairly easy to set up. There is a relatively low time commitment. There’s also a fairly low risk in setting up a blog. Content on your blog will be searchable by the whole Internet and available somewhere forever.

A forum is a many-to-many social media model. In a forum, your customers can ask questions, post opinions, and talk amongst themselves. Other customers, visitors and prospects can read their posts, answer questions and engage in discussions. Not all topics will be complimentary to your product or service. Your company can also post your comments, start discussions and interact with your customers. You can also simply ignore the forum and use it solely as a customer-to-customer site with no company involvement. In a forum, you need to be aware that your voice has no more weight than any other poster. You have to build your own reputation in the forum. Forums are people talking to people. Relationships start to emerge as people get to know each other. Relationships with your company can start to emerge if you have committed caring people engaging on the forums. Forums offer far less control over the message and content. Moderation can be used to remove or redirect unwanted topics, but that carries a risk in itself of alienating customers. Forums are a more difficult model to set up, and require more time commitment. They also require more initial and ongoing funding. Forums also carry a much higher degree of risk. Content on your forum will be searchable by the whole Internet and available somewhere forever.

Twitter is a new ‘micro blogging’ service where you can talk about your products, services, features, ideas and more in 140 characters at a time. It’s ideal for mobile devices and quick hits. It’s also a great site to monitor for customer feedback about your products and services. Getting started in Twitter has no cost and requires very little time. Proper engagement with the ‘twitterverse’ requires more time and resources – especially if you are a service company with potential customer challenges coming up. You’ll need a plan in place on how to handle problems raised via Twitter. The resource and risk model vary depending on how you choose to use Twitter. Content on your Twitter account will be searchable by the whole Internet and available somewhere forever.

Facebook is the biggest ‘walled garden’ social media platform around right now. Creating a ‘page’ for your brand is fairly straight forward, free and requires little time commitment. Making the page a success requires more time, more engagement with customers and more risk. With Facebook you have the option to engage directly with customers, encourage posting on your page about your product or service, show photos of your business, products, people and more. You can go as far as having custom applications developed to enhance your primary product or service, or to advertise your wares. Several subscription model companies (phone companies) have applications on Facebook that allow you to check your minutes used and other account statistics – all within Facebook. Content on Facebook is more controlled and is not indexed by the public internet – hence the ‘walled garden’.

Choosing which platform to use for your social media strategy should be take into consideration how much time you have, how committed you are to using the tool, and how much risk you are willing to accept.

Social Media Primer: Time and Risk

So you’re a business major. You know there’s this Internet thing. And people are facebooking and twittering all over themselves about it. And your boss mentioned that you need to get a social media strategy. What do you need to know?

We’re looking at time and risk today. Some key terms are defined in the primer about ‘What’s a Blog’

First, there’s time. Social media is about people talking to people. That takes time. You have to have someone look up from their budgets and spreadsheets and pay attention. It can be a full time job, or an entire department dedicated to social media. The time commitment depends on what technology you want to use.

Second, there’s risk. You’re putting your brand out there for people to talk about. And they will talk. Good, bad and ugly. If you offer a platform for their comments, you will hear about it. Managing that flow of potentially brand damaging negative comment flow is challenging. You can accept it, take the criticism, modify your behaviors (products, plans, etc). You can ignore it – but why are you in social media if you’re ignoring it? Being transparent, and acknowledging your problems can bring significant customer perception rewards. Comcast, Zappos, Sprint and others have used social media technologies to defuse potential time-bombs of customer problems.

A bad social media presence also creates risk – social media is where people are talking today. You wouldn’t put out a website designed by your second cousin, or produce commercials with a camcorder and a work light? Social media is coming of age and should be treated with the same level of professionalism as traditional media. Social media is just faster, more immediate and more (virtual) belly-to-belly relationship building.

Scheduling IT Development in Big Companies - Rule of Thumb

So, you’re scheduling IT projects and you ‘know’ how long it should take. But you don’t want to get burned by making a too low estimate. Late projects are bad. I’ve developed a handy rule of thumb for large company development projects. I have found it to be surprisingly accurate over the past (mumble) years.

How long will it take for hard-core knowledgeable developers to get it done? (Say, 10 days).

Since you’re in a big company, double that estimate. You need have to have meetings about the project and get approvals. (Now you’re at 20 days)

Are you the developer? Nope? You have another org doing the development? Double your time estimate again. The IT org will have to have meetings amongst themselves and meetings with your business team. This is important – they need to know what you want developed. (40 days)

Is your development team handled by a third party / offshore contractors / not under your companies’ direct control? Double it again, because they’ll have to talk to your IT team and have meetings. (80 days) And then double it again, because they just aren’t best of class on your application. Most contract development models depend on rolling in resources as needed, then rolling them out as soon as code is complete. So, there’s some learning curve and training needed for the project. (Now you’re up to 160 days).

That’s the general rule of thumb for big companies with lots of layers and the typical outsource development model.

(Editorial comment removed – my boss reads my blog.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Alec's Limerick

There once was a silly cat named Line
That silly old cat was fat and fine
He was a creeper
Always asleeper
Creeping or sleeping, that cat was Mine