Monday, July 31, 2006

Feeds for market intelligence delivery

I've been working on an idea to improve the delivery of market intelligence within companies by combining feeds and some specialized services from various Web 2.0 companies. The goal is to create an intelligence environment that helps companies extract more value from information they already pay for, and to leverage the open-source intelligence capabilities of specialized search services. The original idea grew out of the personal dashboard I've kept since 1997.

I've worked in companies with major investments in outside research. To get to the information, we had to go to an internal web site to find out how to connect to each research firms' results. Then we had to go to each outside site with a different password and search through the research firm's results to find anything useful. The process all but guaranteed that most managers wouldn't have time to learn what was available. With feeds, the research can come to its audience, instead of waiting for people to find it.

The process starts by combining internal and external sources of market intelligence, such as internally generated competitive intelligence, analyst reports, news sites, and blog monitoring services. Add a capability for internal analysts to tag and prioritize entries, and deliver the result to multiple channels based on per-user, per-tag preferences. The end product is an individually customized intelligence environment, where information is available on web sites, feed readers, email clients, and mobile devices, and the most urgent information can be pushed to mobile phones via SMS.

You could build a system like this with a combination of free web-based services, but companies need to be able to keep the information confidential. What's needed is a system that does it all inside the firewall.

I was thinking of starting a company to build this system, but then I discovered that you can do most of it with NewsGator Enterprise Server. Maybe I should work with them, instead.


Aside: What's the guess on how long it'll be before this post gets its first visit from Clock starts... now.

Update: Just over 2.5 hours.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Can't keep bad habits secret

If you pay any attention to blogs and their impact on business (and it's getting harder to ignore), you'll see a tendency among bloggers to attack companies that have problems or bad habits. Showing the world a friendly face while hiding customer-hostile policies behind the "company confidential" veil isn't a lasting strategy in our age of involuntary transparency. If your business processes and policies are making enemies for you, expect embarassing facts to come out eventually. Bloggers especially seem to enjoy shining a light where companies don't want it shone.
A plain manila envelope arrived on our desk this week. Inside was the eighty-one paged "Enhanced Sales Training for AOL Retention Consultants" manual. Upon opening, the flowchart, "Guide to a World-Class Retention Call," fell out.

Consumerist, AOL Retention Manual Revealed

Shel Holtz summarizes with this observation: "There are no secrets anymore, just information the audience doesn't yet have."


Need help using Google?

Having trouble figuring out all the different services on Google? You could click on more to see a list of services, or you could try the new Google Help, which provides an introduction to their many services (via Google Blog, of all places). There's also an alphabetical list. Besides being useful for getting help on specific topics, this is also a good way to discover Google's services beyond web search.

If all you need is a few tips on search techniques, the cheat sheet is a good place to start. When you're ready for the advanced lessons, try Google Hacks. If you want more detail than that, contact Google HR—they'll want to talk to you.

Yahoo and Ask have search help pages, too, but Google has all the buzz.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

4 1/2 ways to find people

I went to a reunion last weekend—actually, I organized it. About three years ago, I started tracking down people from a summer camp program we all attended in 1981. I started with a 25-year old address book and a web site. By now, 21 of the original 25 have been located, and we've been catching up online, on the phone, and in person. How it happened is an example of how a research project can combine online and offline techniques.

Here are four and a half free techniques I used to find these people from my past. If you want to spend money, it's even easier.

Reverse vanity search
The whole project started when one of my old friends found himself on one of my web pages. He was conducting a vanity search—looking himself up on Google. A reverse vanity search uses this tendency of people to look themselves up to find them. You create a web page that includes the names of people you want to find, and caption it with something like, "if you find yourself on this list, send me a note!" I've found a couple of people this way, but it's obviously slow and unreliable.

A chance encounter
I ran across another of the guys in the office parking lot after lunch. I hadn't seen him since the mid-80s, but we were working at the same company in 2000. I don't count this as a research technique, but it made a big contribution to the overall success of the project.

Google, Yahoo, and the rest
Finding people on Google, Yahoo and the rest was a major effort that led directly to a few people and contributed to finding more. Nobody was all that easy to find, but when I knew a little something—an employer, or where they went to school—I was able to add search terms that sometimes led to the right people. I knew everyone's age, so I sometimes searched on name and assumed graduation year (high school and college). I knew home towns, so I added those for other searches. If I found a reference to a city, I moved on to the phone book.

Phone book
Local phone numbers are easily available from many web sites. I always forget the URL, and I haven't bookmarked it, so I usually start at Excite and follow the white pages link. (The actual lookup is at InfoSpace. Maybe I'll remember it now.)

I was starting with 25-year old addresses, and in a few cases, my friends' parents were still there. Those were easy. In other cases, I guessed or followed leads on states of residence and starting combing the online phonebooks. I apologized for wrong numbers when I guessed wrong, and I found a lot of the people I was looking for.

The guy in the parking lot knew an email address for a woman who had moved to Seattle. The one who found me through his vanity search knew of another who had been a Marine pilot and had become a lawyer. Some others were still in touch or able to find people later in the project. The nice thing about finding people in an old social network is the help the others add as you progress. Even if they don't know how to reach someone, they may be able to add enough information to make the other search techniques work.

The other kind of offline networking involved finding and contacting people and organizations who knew how to reach my friends. From a quote in a newspaper article (found in a Google search), I determined that the ex-Marine lawyer is back on active duty. The Marine Locator Service had useful information that pointed in the right general direction. From there, I called several bases and offices in the Navy and Marine Corps until I found someone who looked him up in a directory and gave me a work phone number. I got phone numbers and email addresses from the alumni affairs offices at a few universities, once I knew where someone went to school, and in a few cases, I found a relative who knew how to reach the right person.

Most of the networking searches combined telephone contacts and Internet searches based on what I learned on the phone. It was usually an iterative process, not a single step.

The final four
There you have it. Four and a half techniques that reunited 21 of the original 25 participants in a summer program 25 years ago. The remaining four are women, probably married with new surnames. One was named Smith, which is one of the most effective ways to hide on the Internet or in the phone book. None has family at the old address, and all of my search tricks haven't worked. The reverse vanity search is still in place, and we still hope to add them to our ongoing activities.

I like to help people learn how to make more effective use of the Internet search tools available to them. There's a lot more to Internet search than typing a simple word or phrase in Google. In addition to the fancy techniques, though, the most important attributes of a successful search are persistence and iteration. As you research a topic, you learn bits and pieces that can help you refine your search or guide you in new directions. A little applied curiosity can lead to a lot of useful information with today's tools.

We had a very nice weekend in the mountains.


Yahoo RSS Feeds

Want to follow a topic from the world of Yahoo? Grab a feed from the big list of Yahoo RSS feeds—from Ask Yahoo to Yahooligans, 36 different types of feeds in all (via Steve Rubel).


Friday, July 14, 2006

Admin: better commenting

I noticed this morning that some of the comments settings on this blog weren't what I thought they were. I've fixed them, so Blogger membership is no longer required to comment, and I'll be notified by email when comments are posted. My apologies to those whose comments I missed at the time.

Yesterday was also the day that I accidentally disabled site statistics for about 8 hours. Naturally, it was a day that saw probably ten times the usual traffic (based on AdSense impressions). Oh, well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What can you do with RSS?

RSS publishing isn't just for blogs. Paul Gibler has some examples of other RSS applications in No RSS feed? You're fired! (via Joe Wikert). See his article for examples of each:
  • Auction Feeds
  • Promotional Feeds
  • Job Feed
  • Local and Global Content Feeds
  • Public Relations Feed
  • Weather Feed

For the individual RSS user, some of the most powerful feeds come from search engines, tagging sites, and job boards (which can be useful sources of information even if you're not on the market).

Then there's the original idea for RSS, which finds updated content on the web sites you subscribe to. Using RSS to read blogs is the obvious use. Traditional media outlets are also offering feeds. Look at the Business Journals feeds page for an example of how they can tailor their feeds to your interests.


Listening to social media

Blogging as an outbound marketing tool gets all the attention, but listening to social media can make you more effective in your job even if you're not in a positon to create a company blog. While business blogging is something for senior management and marketing types to decide, listening is available—and useful—to everyone.

In my simple dichotomy, speaking refers to blog publishing, online marketing, personal branding, and any other things companies and individuals can do to increase their visibility online. Speaking is when you contribute content or communicate your message. Blogging, commenting, and tagging are speaking.

Listening is paying attention to what others are speaking, using social media to build and maintain your knowledge or expertise, learning about people and companies by what they and others have to say. This is one of the major themes of my work: how to use social media and related technologies as sources of market intelligence.

First, let's define social media. It's a new term that refers to a variety of online media, such as blogs, message boards, and social tagging sites. Social networking, mailing lists, and Usenet newsgroups also belong on the list. The ability of any reader to become a publisher or editor is what makes these media social. Hence, social media.

So, what is it about listening that is interesting? For one thing, these are tools that a majority of Internet users don't know about. It's easy to dismiss them as toys for geeks, but those who explore them will find real value, regardless of functional role. Here's a sampling of what you can do by listening to social media:
  • Learn from experts in your field. Experts use their Internet presence to promote themselves, to share their knowledge, to express their creative side... Really, it doesn't matter why they're writing. Whatever you do for a living, especially if expertise is important, someone is probably giving away bits of knowledge on a blog, in a discussion forum, on a mailing list, or in online articles.

  • Create your own news clipping service. Use RSS feeds from search engines and online news sources to follow news in your industry as it happens. Or subscribe to a free news clipping service by email.

  • Catch trends early. Bloggers are an early-adopter crowd that skews young. If you want to know what's coming next, look online.

  • Discover the right people. While you're sampling the tasty bits of knowledge scattered around the Internet, you'll find people in your field. The comments fields on their blogs are an invitation to connect. A link to them from your blog is an even better invitation. Social networking sites like LinkedIn can also help you find people you'd like to know but don't generally provide a strong introduction.

  • Find potential partners and customers. Search the web, blogs and social networking sites to find the companies and people who are a match for your business. Avoid surprises by using online tools to learn more about them before you make initial contact.

  • Protect your brand online. This starts to blur the distinction between listening and speaking, but we've seen enough incidents to prove that blogger relations is now a required part of a company's PR activities.

  • Monitor blogs with an eye toward customer service. Most of the painful company/blog conflicts have started with customer-service complaints. Head off the painful media exposure by finding the complaints on blogs and addressing the issues they identify.

OK, this is getting long. The point is, you can do a lot with emerging Internet services, and you don't have to be in a technology role or company to benefit from them. If you want help finding the benefits for your company, email me.


Friday, July 07, 2006

The first rule of social media

What's that Demotivators line—"It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others." The entertainment industry seems to want that role on the Internet. This time it's Paramount providing an object lesson in dealing with bloggers.

For those just entering the discussion, here's an easy-to-remember first rule for dealing with bloggers who write about you, your company, or your products:

Don't be stupid.

OK, that's simplistic, but you know the problem with common sense: it's not so common. An alternative might be, "First, do no harm." Or, perhaps, "Look for the opportunity first, then the threat."

I won't retell the story; it's all over the place. The short version is that Paramount's lawyers attacked a movie blog that was promoting an upcoming Paramount movie. This isn't a case of dealing with criticism online; it started with favorable coverage. Because of Paramount's actions, the coverage is now decidedly negative.

Here's Mack Collier's bottom line for marketers:
What Paramount did, was fail to realize that they are no longer the only source for their marketing message. Their lack of understanding about the viral nature of blogs and the internet, made them believe that if they shut-down a blog, they shut-down the problem... Paramount didn't see John as their marketing partner, they saw him as their enemy. And because of their actions, now that's exactly what he is.

Attacking your supporters is just stupid. Apparently, it's necessary to warn against stupidity before going into the finer points of blogger relations. And, for the Hollywood types:
  1. Get with the program. Paramount and others have used web sites to market their movies for years. Whether you create movie-centric blogs or work with outside bloggers, blogs are a natural communication channel for a mass-market business. That's especially true with movies that appeal to a young, tech-savvy audience. You just need to learn how they work.
  2. Don't mistake your lobbying position for reality. Not every unlicensed use of your content is theft. Your overly aggressive legal posture caused this mess.
  3. Still pictures are not your product. A few unauthorized stills that help sell the movie shouldn't be a problem. That's why you have that love/hate relationship with the tabloids.
  4. Pre-release publicity is a good thing. Especially when it's positive. Ask your marketing people.

Y'know, I'm looking for the deep insights, but I keep seeing these examples of companies blowing the basics. Don't be one of 'em, ok?

Update: Paramount has apologized. Smart move. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. Apparently, taking down The Movie Blog was an accident.

The interesting question now is, how long does this episode reverberate? Even assuming Paramount does all the right things (which appears to be what they're now doing), what are the longer-term effects? Accepting that this was an accident, what does it say about their legal tactics? Accidents tend to happen when you play with loaded weapons.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The staying power of business-oriented social networking

The business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn has generated a substantial following, lots of hype, privacy concerns from skeptics, and disdain from other skeptics. Is it a useful tool for making connections in business or an overhyped exercise in narcissism?

I'm a fan of LinkedIn. I can't point to any particular business success I can attribute to LinkedIn, but it has helped me learn about people and companies I've encountered in the real world, and I continue to build my LinkedIn network. I'm aware of the privacy concerns, and I've been turned down by people who don't like the whole idea, but I'm careful about what information I share in the system.

I do question the likelihood that people will maintain an involvement in more than one social network. The student-oriented Facebook and more social MySpace don't really compete with LinkedIn, but there are other business-oriented networking sites, like Ryze and Ecademy. I can't comment on their relative merits, because I haven't spent any time with them. Although I have an account on Ryze, I just can't see duplicating the effort that has gone into my LinkedIn network. I also can't imagine inviting the same people into multiple social networking sites. Claiming more than 6 million members—compared to 250,000 for Ryze and 80,000 for Ecademy—LinkedIn seems to be the winner for now.

A link from a comment on Andy Beal's blog took me from Jeremiah Owyang to Guy Kawasaki and eventually to an interesting variety of perspectives on social networking. Tristan Louis takes both sides of the discussion with 5 reasons why social networks fail and 5 reasons why social networks can succeed. Fred Stutzman raises an interesting challenge to LinkedIn in situational relevance in social networking websites:
Unfortunately for LinkedIn, the only time people strongly rely on their personal-professional secondary social network are in times of need. When someone has a comfortable job, there is limited incentive to invest much time in a site like LinkedIn. While LinkedIn serves a real need, its users will never be simultaneously vested in the system the way Facebook's users are.

Fortunately for those networkers in need, recruiters have discovered the value in LinkedIn. I think the value is there for other functions, too, especially those who interact with other companies—and anyone who might end up visiting the job market some day. The best time to build your network is before you need it, and LinkedIn is a good tool with a variety of uses.