Saturday, December 29, 2007

The death of social networking as we know it . . . Social Network Commerce

Social Network technology is only as useful as we make it. There will, however, be a point when it gets old or outlives its usefulness if all we are doing is connecting for the sake of connecting. If it's going to be more than a fad in the history books, then there should be something more than sharing information, displaying our music and video preferences, making introductions, playing games, and poking each other. Now would be a good time to figure out what to do with it.

Here are a few ideas. They center around a yet-to-catch on term . . . Social Network Commerce.

Police Departments

Some departments already distinguish between a crime in progress and the need to take a report (especially for insurance purposes). They have non-sworn personnel that either take your report on the phone or at your home. These reports are usually not followed up on unless other developments occur separately (like the recovery of a bunch of property). This program provides a convenience to the citizen and limits the cost (and the need for additional on-duty sworn officers) for the police department.

So stick your imagination cap on and think about this . . . you realize that your yard art has been damaged, your mailbox has been smashed, or your neighbor's car has been vandalized. Your local police department recently installed a social network precinct, and you already added them as a "preferred location." This virtual precinct takes reports around the clock, using either text or voice input. Follow up consists of a text confirmation or a phone call, and you can check the status of your report at any time.

Upon submission of your report, you check the block that allows your neighbors to see the type of report and a general description of what you reported. You limit their personal information visibility to the street you live on, not wanting to get a bunch of visits or calls from any nosey neighbors. You also check the block that provides you with updates. In a few moments, everyone in your neighborhood (that opted in) has received a text message or recorded voice message) with a brief summary, including the time frame you reported.

Within a couple of hours, you receive a text message that another resident on your street just reported something similar (they checked their stuff after getting the message), and you choose to allow them to communicate with you in a protected area -- accessible to you and your neighbor and the police only. You chat with your neighbor and realize that you saw the same car in your neighborhood, or that both of your teenage daughters knew the same "troublemaker," or . . . you get the point.

Would this benefit the people in the neighborhood?

Grocery Stores

Why do people spend more for milk and food at "convenience stores?" Because they are convenient. No matter what time it is, or how clear the parking lot is, the grocery store is rarely confused with something resembling "convenience." So why not shorten the time that it tales to get the essentials?

OK, this type of thing has been tried before -- with Webvan, Peapod, and the like, but it was a few years ago and those models were based more on delivery. Imagine you are in front of your computer and you are trying to squeeze in time to stop by the grocery store where you just need "a few things." Your local store recently developed (or joined) a social network storefront, and you already added them as a "preferred location." This store keeps a record (only for your benefit) of your frequent purchases, and allows you to import/export the list as a CSV file for use on your computer or smartphone (or pda, of course). They take orders for up to 15 items around the clock, also using text or voice input. You receive a text (email or SMS) confirmation or a recorded call, and you can check the status of your order at any time -- even in traffic!

You know that between 4:30 and 4:45 PM, you will be passing by the store. You access their site and click 14 of the 15 frequent purchases, and then search for a not-so-frequent purchase. You submit the order and pay for it in advance using your debit/credit/whatever card, and receive a confirmation that the order will be ready. Your order comes up on the screen in the store at 4:20, and one of the baggers is handed your shopping list and a cart.

At 4:45 you pull up to the drive through window, and the clerk recognizes you. After confirming that you want paper, not plastic, you receive two paper bags, inspect each one, and are on your way as (or more) quickly as if you had stopped at the fast-food restaurant of your choice. You are home in record time, and didn't even have to get out of your car.

Local Shopping Areas

OK, imagine this. There are a number of businesses in your city that realize that we have increasingly busy lives. They band "together" (or even better, are united by a pre-established organization like the Chamber of Commerce) to provide you what you want -- a pleasurable shopping experience. Each store provides a list of a certain number of their wares on a site and allows you to see what they have -- before you head off for downtown. That way, you can make sure you find what you are looking for (guaranteeing them a sale), and you have more time to "enjoy" the experience (and spend money at the local coffee shop afterwards). They might even allow you to purchase the item for pickup, or allow you to pay for it with your cell phone and your mobile bank account when you arrive, but that's another post.

So would this work? Jay Deragon's recent post makes the observation that "A business is driven by the need to produce revenue and subsequent profits for its stakeholders." Doesn't that mean that business are in business to be profitable? Shouldn't that mean they provide value to the consumer? For most people who like the "get in and get out" shopping method, I think it's a winner. Doc Searls is focusing on VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), and recently observed that "the Net has been seen as a way to remove the humanity from markets." This strategy gives a bit of a nod to humanity, while still offering convenience -- something we are demanding (whether we receive it or not) more and more. I realize some people enjoy "the hunt" and that actually purchasing something is not part of the game. It won't be mandatory that we pre-order, but it sure would be convenient. These two shopping types can co-exist easily, and meet for coffee afterwards!

Why does this represent the death of social networking as we know it? Because Social Network Commerce takes it to a new level. "Computers" were there. They needed people to use them for more than gaming before they were widely accepted. "The Internet" was there. It needed something for people to do on it besides just "be on it." And now, Social Networking is there. If we don't use it as a commodity then it will remain a hobby, or even worse -- an expense (think about the bass boat in your back yard) and those don't pay the bills.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How I got started on Social Networking (MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook edition)

Though I am a lifelong Introvert, I have always been social.

I spent several years in policework, where no matter how much you didn't want to, you always had to talk to people -- usually about some pretty personal matters.

It was kind of like being in customer service for a funeral director. No one ever wanted us around unless something really bad happened to them, and it was clear that we better not screw up while we were invading their space.

After I retired from policework, I spent some time in sales -- mostly sales of services. I had to describe something that someone else would deliver at a yet-to-be-determined, likely inconvenient, time in the future. That's a really intangible thing to do, 'cause if you cannot say when it will show up and you can't describe it well you cannot tell when it works. Fortunately, you ALWAYS know when it doesn't. The unknowns, of course, made it fun, and I found it very enjoyable.

In both policework and sales, I realized, perhaps intuitively, that making connections with others was the way to "do business." I ultimately enjoyed meeting new people, and often kept in contact with people I had met, especially if we had a few things in common. So how'd I get into online social networking?

Here's a brief history of my experiences, in the context of three sites: MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook. There are others, and there are others I have joined, but these are the "big three," though not necessarily in the order listed.

I am the father of teenagers - two teenage boys, to be precise. As teenagers, they have to be involved in things their friends are involved in. As it turned out, their friends were involved in MySpace. Both my kids (in their early teens at the time) swallowed their integrity and alleged that they were old enough to sign up (this is reminiscent of someone copying a video tape or disk that has the FBI warning at the beginning).

After I discovered (refer back to the police training) that the only way to see their MySpace account was to be their friend, I decided to be friends with my kids. My older son was instantly impressed when he found out -- I think I got some cool points, at least initially. He received my friend "request" and said, "Hey dad, you got a MySpace . . . COOL!" On reflection, I think that this was the only time he ever thought so. Shortly after gaining access to his site, I "recommended" that he remove my home phone number and my address from his site. I then suggested that he review the site and remove anything that would cause his mother to blush. I've done this a couple of times since, but there are fewer and fewer problems.

My younger son witnessed this interaction and questioned the logic of adding his dad as a "friend." After a couple of days during which I waited patiently for him to add me, he casually asked what would happen if he chose not to. I just as casually responded that I would honor his decision by banning him from the MySpace community. He added me shortly thereafter.

My Entrepreneur side kicked in when a colleague invited me to join the LinkedIn network. I started out copying and pasting the "about me" stuff from my MySpace profile, but quickly realized it wasn't the same type of forum. MySpace was all "social," while LinkedIn was all about "networking," I saw the power of LinkedIn for business purposes, and began tuning and re-tuning my profile. Adding contacts became a hobby, and when the LinkedIn Answers section opened up, I realized I had found a niche.

I've noticed that only a portion of those with whom I would otherwise be connected are actually on LinkedIn. For them, I still have to make time to email or call them to get an update on their professional accomplishments. For the rest of us, there's LinkedIn. Maybe it's because LinkedIn hasn't been around more than a few years. Perhaps it's because no one has invited them. I'm not sure why it is, but I have connections all over the place, and a rapidly growing network.

I have been a college professor off-and-on for several years. When I started doing so on a fulltime basis, I realized that most of my students had a Facebook account. I realized that if I wanted to genuinely connect with my students, I needed to add another social network site to my repertoire. As before, I started out copying the stuff from my MySpace profile, but saw subtle differences in the atmosphere at Facebook. While MySpace was more bells and whistles, Facebook was more words and pictures. It just seemed more "cultured" than MySpace.

In any event, just about all of the students in my classes had accounts, and I had a couple dozen friends within a few days of mentioning that I had an account. I made a point not to send out friend requests because I didn't want there to be any perception of "pressure" or "favoritism." For the most part, I have maintained that philosophy, but have shifted strategies a little in favor of LinkedIn and network building.

There's something about Facebook. Like the other sites, it gives you a chance to catch up on the developments in the lives or your friends and other acquaintences. It also gives you a unique (more transparent) perspective on people with whom you have only corresponded via email, phone call, or other form of message transference. There are some who have a little difficulty accepting this (see my previous post titled "Get over it").

So there it is - a brief history of my adventure into the social networking scene. I have some overlap in my networks, but for the most part they are three separate areas. I'm not sure why there isn't more interconnectivity . . .

What do you think?

Friday, December 21, 2007

The CEOs new social network strategy

At some point in the recent past, there lived a CEO who cared so much for cutting-edge technology and unusual ways to increase market share that he spent a sizeable amount of his company’s profit on finding and implementing new ideas. One day, he realized that many of his employees had embraced the new “social networking” phenomenon, and decided to find a way to harness the power of this new technology to secure the future of his company. He instructed his managers to direct their minions on the appropriate way to represent the company in their off time. He made sure that there was no inexperienced addressing of product quality issues, and there were no online discussions that might expose trade secrets.

The CEO even got in on the action, and before long he had a login for every social networking site. He spent most of his time checking out the activities and connections of his employees and regularly changing his profile picture so that everyone would get an update and might see his handsome face and know that he was watching (and learning).

One day there came to the company two rogues who set themselves up as social networking gurus. They said they knew how to establish the company as a market leader while providing a venue for capitalizing on the social networking phenomenon and increase not only the bottom line, but also the position of the company in the global marketplace. The samples and statistics they showed were beautiful.

"I must have a strategy designed by these networking gurus," thought the CEO. "When I announce this decision at the annual company webinar, I will find out which of my executives and business partners are not fit for their positions. I shall know the brilliant minds and visionaries from the has-beens. Those networking gurus must be brought to me at once."

So the two rogues came to the Executive suite. The CEO asked to check out their profiles on a variety of sites, but they advised that was not possible, and their personal networking efforts and activities were relatively non-existent. They explained that only those who studied the space were able to help others understand it, and that participation in the space was something they “just didn’t have time for.” They noted that this information could not be understood by anyone who was stupid or unfit for his position within the company, but they assured the CEO that they could deliver results. The CEO gave them a vast sum of money so they could begin designing the company strategy immediately.

The rogues put up two cutting edge computer systems, with multiple monitors, and began building a closed social network that would allow the company to synergize the brainpower of employees across all divisions. They designed file-sharing systems that would allow multiple-user edits. They made sure that all who signed on automatically had the CEO and their supervisor as a contact, and they provided a recommend-connection mode that allowed supervisors to see who should be connected and communicating but was not. They designed policy that allowed for up to one hour per workday for socializing with others in the company, and encouraged employee access from home via VPN.

They expensed trips to remote locations and had lunch with some of the best and brightest strategists in the social networking space, charging the costs to the company. They worked steadily at the computers, building their own reputations on many of the largest and most profitable niche sites, and cruised the lonely matchmaker websites until far into the night.

Day after day, the CEO could hear the clicking of the keyboards. He became very curious to see the wonderful strategy these rogues were developing; and he decided to send someone to find out how the networking gurus were doing. But he remembered that no one who was stupid or was unfit for his position would understand their strategy.

"I will send my COO to the gurus," thought the CEO. "He is a very clever man, and no one is more worthy of his position than he."

So the COO went into the office where the two rogues sat working at the computers. The rogues explained the networking strategy that linked employees to one another, enabling them to capitalize on institutional wisdom and build on it – even on their own time. He stared and stared, and opened his eyes wide.

"I am in so much trouble!" he thought. "It looks like they are closing us off from our customers." He thought to ask the gurus how building a gated community would interface with the envisioned social networking strategy, but he said nothing at all.

"Step a little closer," said the rogues. "Check out these graphics! And the colors - are they not wonderful?" And they pointed to the computer screen.

The COO put on his glasses, and looked and looked at the computer screen; but he could not figure out how this closed environment supported his company’s outreach strategy.

"Oh no!" he said to himself. "Is it possible that I am unfit for my office? Certainly, no one must know it. Am I a complete idiot? I will never say that I cannot understand this strategy!"

"Well, sir, what do you think of it?" asked one of the rogues.

"Oh, it is exciting – wonderful!" said the COO, as he peered through his glasses. "The colors are gorgeous and the graphics are excellent. I shall tell the CEO that I am very pleased with your strategy."

"We are glad to hear you say so," said the rascals. And they continued talking of the design and vision for strategy implementation. They estimated the ongoing costs, and described the benefits. The COO listened carefully, for he wished to repeat to the CEO all that was said.

Soon the rogues began to ask for more funding for their work. All that was given to them they put into their pockets. Not a single dime was ever put into improving the company strategy.

The CEO sent another faithful friend, the CMO, to see the gurus’ work and inquire how soon the strategy would be ready, as the webinar was scheduled to happen soon. But the CMO fared no better than the COO. He stood before the computer screens, and looked and looked and looked, but he saw no useful strategy.

"Isn't this great stuff?" asked the two rogues. Then they praised the gorgeous colors and explained the design and its relationship to the current networking strategy, which was nonexistent.

"Oh, dear!" thought the CMO. "Surely I am not stupid. It must be that I am unfit for my position. That is very strange, as I have impeccable credentials and a resume that is very impressive. But I must not let it be known that I cannot understand this."

"Ah!" said he. "The strategy is most unusual; and the colors are marvelous. I shall tell the CEO what fine progress you are making."

Soon every one in the company was talking about the wonderful strategy that the two networking gurus were designing. The CEO thought that he would like to see the draft while it was still in the works. With a number of his executives, he went to visit the two rogues, who were working diligently, day after day, without really doing anything new.

Among the executives that accompanied the CEO were the two who had already visited the gurus. They thought that the others would see something in the strategy that made good business sense, so they began to cry out at once, "Look! Do you understand this insightful strategy? And the technology and design - are they not cutting edge?"

"What is this?" thought the CEO. "I see nothing new at all! Am I not fit to be CEO? Am I an idiot? If that were known, I will be terminated."

"Yes, yes, it is very exciting," said the CEO aloud. "I could not be more pleased."

He smiled and nodded his head, and stared at the computer screens. His executives, too, looked and looked, but saw no more than the others. Yet they all cried, "It is wonderful." And the rogues asked the CEO to provide some input on their draft design of his profile page, which they would roll out during the upcoming webinar.

The CEO put each of the rogues on his top connections list, and strongly recommended their work, calling them “Corporate Network Strategy Gurus.”

As the day of the webinar came nearer, the two rogues worked around the clock, inhaling energy drinks, and walking around the halls to keep their thoughts flowing. They were up the whole night before the webinar. They kept the lights on, their computer speakers cranked, and their plans for success empty.

Through the huge windows of the rogues' borrowed corner office, the employees could see they were hard at work. They edited and re-edited page upon page of code. They made drawings on whiteboards and sketched out designs on page after page of easel pad paper stuck to the walls. They wrote, revised, and re-worked; and at last, they said, "The strategy is ready."

The CEO, with his executives and board members surrounding him, went to examine the new strategy.

The rogues pointed to the computer screens as if there was something exciting there. "See!" they said. "Here is the website! Here is your profile! Here are your contacts! The company logo is watermarked in the cleverest places. You can drag-and-drop pictures, upload spreadsheets, interface with other internal corporate databases, and talk amongst yourselves as freely as if you were in a bank vault. That is the beauty of it."

"It is marvelous," said the executives. Yet the whole time they really understood nothing, for there was nothing to understand – this was all a (barely) new spin on an old business practice.

"Will you please provide us a quote for our press release?" asked the rogues of the CEO. "Then we will make a joint announcement, just in time to increase the excitement and attraction of the webinar."

The CEO deleted all his external networking website profiles, and issued a directive to have all his employees and company leaders to do the same. The rogues then showed each of the executives their new profiles. They had music and videos, and made a big deal about each one.

"How great an idea this is!" said the executives. "What a great strategy! What a wonderful idea!"

The CEO clicked on friend after friend, checking out each profile. He adjusted his top friends, posted on walls, sent instant messages, and even posted a few videos, and nodded his head enthusiastically.

"The webinar is about to launch," said one of his executives.

"I am ready," said the CEO. He gave one last click on his “about me” and prepared for the camera.

The two masters of ceremonies launched their browsers. They had yet to see the design of the site, as they wanted their own excitement to be expressed in their dialog. But they could not access the site, as they were not company employees. They assumed it was a technical glitch, and did not dare let it be known that they saw nothing. At least they could see the streaming video!

The CEO smiled at the camera, with the new site displayed on a 42-inch screen behind him, and all his executives stood beside him, with smiles on their faces. But those attending the webinar – the suppliers and partners, looked only at the screen behing the CEO, for they all wanted to see this wonderful site.

"How handsome the CEO's profile is!" they all cried. "What a great design! How well it represents him!" And they rushed to open a new window on their computer so they could check the site out in real time.

And they were all instantly depressed. None of them would admit that they could see nothing, for that would have proved them very stupid and unfit for a relationship with the company. No website strategy launch had ever been so widely announced or richly funded.

"But there’s nothing there!" said a customer in the chat room.

"Hush! Hush!" said a value-added reseller, “you must not have the new version of Java installed. Call Tech Support after the Webinar. Trust me, this thing is BiG! And, it’s revolutionary!”

But the customers, vendors, and suppliers began to private message one another about what the customer had said; "There’s nothing there! The customers cannot access the site!"

Soon all the suppliers were typing into the chat room, "But, we cannot access the site!"

The CEO saw what they said, and he shivered, for he knew that their words were true. He had agreed on the strategy because it was so familiar. Keep everything close-hold. Make it so contact with the company from outside is a privilege that is earned, not a natural response to an attempt to get information by a potential customer. But he couldn’t stop the process; and so he held his head up, put on his best fake smile, and continued his speech. And behind him, his executives smiled and nodded, and helped drive the company into the bankruptcy courts – even without a bursting bubble.

This contemporary portrayal of denial, rewritten from Hans Christian Andersen’s rewrite of an old Spanish story, was designed to provide a thought-provoking perspective regarding how social media (and other new technologies) can be seen by those entrenched in the status quo of yesterday’s business model. Will tomorrow’s successful companies apply the old rules in the relationship economy? Only time will tell!

The convergence of thoughts and ideas

Have you ever had the opportunity to see exactly why certain things happen or happened? I'm talking about going through a process, for days, weeks, perhaps months, and at the end you are able to connect all the dots.

Those are some pretty exciting times, aren't they?

I think that in order for such things to happen, we as individuals need to let our guard down and communicate - share our unstructured ideas - with others in a free form, fairly unrestricted way. Done properly, this will incite those around us to let loose and do the same. True contagion sets in, and soon we realize that this synergy has caused a convergence of thought, mixed (seriously) with multiple ideas.

That's when the fun begins!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

At some point it all comes together!

Have you ever noticed that just when you think you have it all figured out, something changes? I first noticed this in my early teenage years, though of course I never admitted to anyone.

I may have noticed it a few more times since, but recently I noticed it in a different perspective than ever before.

About halfway through this year, I noticed that I had been adding a lot of stuff to my "things to get done in 2007" plate. It wasn't long before I was seriously wondering if I would be able to get to them all, but somehow, without missing too much sleep, everything got done (or will be soon).

Sometimes, it was simply brute force that made it work, sometimes a little finesse, and on a few cases it was nothing other than Divine intervention (thanks!).

In the end (of the year), it appears that everything will be completed - on time. I guess that means I should make a New Years resolution not to fill up my plate so much. Or maybe I could resolve to keep on pushing the envelope. Or maybe . . .

What do you think?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ten Useful Rules for Novice Networkers

I've had a bit of a break (not from thinking, just from sharing), and realized I need to change something. It's important to be fresh, right? In the interest of sharing, here's my thoughts on the 10 things that newbies to networking (online, of course) can do to get their feet wet:

1) start an account
The toughest part (as a procrastinator) is often the first step -- getting started. So pick a network, create an account, upload a flattering picture, and log off. It'll take a couple minutes -- big deal. You've entered the world of online social networking -- congratulations! You may want to get a free email account to use for contact purposes, but I haven't found it necessary to add yet another to my list since I get very little spam from any of the sites that I use.

2) see how many people you know that are already there
Most of the social networking sites have a feature where you can access your online email (Gmail, aim, Yahoo!, etc.) or local address book to compare notes and find out who among those you already communicate with is already there (the list may surprise you). I have never heard of this being a security issue, and I have used the feature several times. Note that these services compare email addresses, not names, city, state, etc. You may also reverse steps 1 and 2 by sending an email to a select few contacts to see which social networking site they use most. I suspect it will be one of those pictured above . . .

3) test the waters
Go ahead -- click on the hyperlinks located througout the site. See what the site offers for free (most will offer enough to keep you interested without ever charging a dime). Click here, click there . . . explore! See what others have posted on their profile page -- get ideas for your own.

4) join a group
Each site is slightly different, but there should be a place for groups that folks can join based on shared demographics, interests, etc. Join one -- any one -- and check it out. You can always un-join, but many will allow you to preview the group a little before joining.

5) make a new friend
These sites realize that we come back to a place (in the "real" world and the "virtual") when we know someone there and enjoyed our experience. You should realize that too, and plan for success. As you are exploring and joining groups, make a new friend! It's not all that different than it is face-to-face, except no one has to decide who is paying for the drinks :-).

6) talk in public
As you venture throught the groups and communities, find a place where you can post something . . . anything. It's a start! Just post someting simple like a hello and a question: "Hi, I was just checking out this group and wondered how often you guys check the messages." If you've added friends, make a note on their profile page -- perhaps simply a "Hi!"
Say something!

7) make a public post
Now that you said something in public, it's time to build your confidence. In the group area or community there is likely to be a place where more substantive posts can be made. These contain views, opinions, and things that you might otherwise not say immediately after introducing yourself to someone. Follow the lead of those who have already posted (unless they received a cold shoulder response from others). Make a post at least as long as one of the paragraphs in this post, even if it is only in response to someone else.

8) find reasons to communicate
One of the "tricks" of networking is to be ever-watchful for opportunities to communicate with your contacts. If you just met someone who works in outdoor grill sales and you see an article that says stainless steel exteriors are better than castiron, send that person a link to the article and ask for their input. If you just met someone who is thinking about relocating to Topeka and you see something about cities (like Topeka) that have the highest cost of living, send them the link and ask if they know about the information. Develop this habit and you will be at the top of your game before you know it.

9) introduce two others for no reason
As you intentionally network and communicate, you will not only find things to talk about but also people who should be talking to each other -- even without you. Tell them! There's nothing better than being introduced to a person you "need to meet" by someone who has no vested interest in the introduction or the relationship that follows. Be a Networking Matchmaker!

10) repeat 1-9
Do each of these until you do it out of habit. Post the list on your computer. Take a look at it every day.

How have you done so far? Don't worry if you haven't mastered any of these yet -- few people ever do. The list is not all-inclusive, but these are the basics. You will see them work and you will also find many excuses to put them off. I encourage you to follow through with your ideas as you come up with them. It's best to take an idea and run with it -- especially if you have the procrastination gene (like me).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

been quiet

I know the posting has been missing lately, other irons in the fire were getting very hot.

Check out