The Social Web

Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

Social Retailing

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Shopping is undeniably a social activity. As more retailers realize the need to embrace social media, they’re also recognizing that there are key loyalty differences between online and offline retail behavior: in the online world, retailers have to deal with the fact that customers can switch behaviors as soon as they see something better.

Customers, especially generation y, who are more involved in social networking than any other generation, tend to leave the retailers site to seek opinions and recommendations from social networks and communities. There are two approaches that retailers can take to be part of the conversations and enable their customers to engage in social shopping in a more seamless manner.

The first method involves syndicating their product catalogs right to the place where the conversations and recommendations happen: blogs, social rating sites, social networking sites and other affiliate sites. There are plenty of examples of retailers syndicating their product catalogs via APIs and making them available to social sites. I love what companies like Best Buy, Tesco, Amazon and EBay have done by making their APIs available for developers to integrate into their sites. This method also involves building social applications on platforms like Facebook and enabling social shopping experiences.

Best Buy Remix is the open API for Best Buy’s product catalog, featuring full product information including pricing, availability, specifications, descriptions and images for nearly a million current and historical products. It can be accessed via http://remix.bestbuy.com/ Through the Amazon Associates Web Service API developers can retrieve product information and access e-commerce functionality. This allows developers, web site publishers and others to leverage the data that Amazon uses to power its own business, and potentially make money as an Amazon affiliate. https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html . Tesco has its own API web to access the Grocery catalog at https://www.lansleytech.com/tescoapiweb/ . Check out Nick Lansleys blog for more information: http://techfortesco.blogspot.com/ . The eBay API at http://developer.ebay.com/common/api/ enables developers to submit items for listing on eBay, get current listings and eBay categories and more.

We are not only seeing more and more retailers make their APIs available so that they can be wherever their customers are but we are also seeing Social Networking sites open up so that you can take customers social networks to shopping sites for a true social shopping experience, bringing us to the second method: enabling social interactions on the retailers site.

On the retailer’s site, customers should be able to view their friend’s comments and ratings. If the customer is considering a specific product and wants to solicit feedback from their friends they should be able to push the information out via feeds to one or more social networks and get feedback in real time. In addition, integration of instant messaging tools within the retailer’s site can enable the customer to engage in real time conversations with any of their friends. Customers benefit from this approach since they are able to view comments on products from friends whose opinions they trust and also engage in real time communication with them. They have a richer shopping experience as a result and retailers benefit from the fact that the customers never have to leave their site to obtain feedback and opinions.

To enable the above scenarios, retailers need to look for social networking platforms that can enable the following:

  1. Provide a large user community. The social networking platform should be well established and have a significantly large user base.
  2. Activity Feeds. The social networking platform should enable users to selectively publish feeds of their activity on retailer’s sites to various Social Networking sites. Feeds are a powerful viral promotion and user acquisition tool. The more users clicking on published feeds, the more the increase in traffic to your site.
  3. Single Click Sharing. This capability allows customers to share news, offers or other content on retailer’s sites to the various social networking sites in a ‘single-click’.  This capability has excellent viral capability and helps retailers in user acquisition and brand visibility.
  4. Easy Integration. The social networking platform should enable the retailer to integrate social networking capabilities into their site. This is an effective tool for driving large user acquisition and engagement. With this capability, users should be able to-
  • Log into the retailers site using their Social Network ID.
  • Access and interact with their social network profile and friends list via the retailer’s site.
  • Communicate with their friends on the retailer’s site and share content from the site via instant messaging tools.
  • Selectively publish feeds of their activity on the retailer’s site to social networking sites.
  • Share wish lists and shopping lists with people in their network.

Recommendation based on Market Basket Analysis are great for making recommendations to customers but ultimately customers trust opinions of their friends and peers and their ability to seek opinions easily can mean significant ROI for the retailer.

Some of the options/tools that I have explored lately, that will help you enable all or some of the above capabilities:

  1. RPX: RPX handles the UI, authentication, and import of user profile and registration data for your website. With RPX (http://rpxnow.com), you can have your users log into your site using their Facebook account, Google account. MySpaceID, Yahoo account, OpenID or Windows Live ID. http://MySears.com is one of the sites that use RPX today.
  2. Facebook Connect: With the Facebook Connect APIs you gain access to a user’s identity, feeds and other integration points within Facebook. For more information see: http://developers.facebook.com/connect.php . The Facebook Connect APIs can be used to enable users to easily share content and the actions they take on your site with their friends on Facebook.
  3. Windows Live Authentication: Windows Live ID is the identity and authentication system provided by Windows Live. I like the fact that it has a massive user base and more than 460 million users have credentials that work with Windows Live ID. Three software development kits (SDKs) now make it possible for developers. The SDKs and other information can be found at : http://dev.live.com/liveid/ . http://Expedia.com is one of the sites that use Windows Live Authentication today.
  4. AddThis: AddThis is a bookmarking and sharing button on the Internet. It makes it easy for visitors to bookmark and share content to their favorite social destinations. http://www.time.com/time/ is one of the sites that uses AddThis. You can get more information at
    http://www.addthis.com
  5. Disqus: Disqus is a comment system that enhances the discussion on websites. http://www.ubergizmo.com/ is one of the sites that use this solution for adding discussions to postings. You can get more details of Disqus via: http://disqus.com/.

Blog Publishing

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2009 at 2:25 am

clip_image001This morning, I was excited to hear that Kindle Publishing is now open to all blogs. I tested out the beta at http://kindlepublishing.amazon.com/ and found it very simple to use. All I had to do was create an account, and enter the details of my blog including the feed, thumbnails and a description. Amazon will make the blog available in the Kindle Store within 48-72 hours. According to the site, you will get paid 30% of the monthly blog subscription price for every subscriber to your blog and it also says in an FAQ “Amazon will define the price based on what we deem is a fair value for customers”. It also appears that you can’t make your blog free if you chose to, and I certainly hope that changes. In addition to making your blog available to Kindle users via the Kindle Store there are other options that I have been experimenting with to make blog updates available through other media.  One of my blogs is now available as a kindle download via the Kindle Store.

The ShiSh Lists

clip_image003Magcloud is another option that I am experimenting with and can be viewed as the future of magazine publishing. Magcloud is the option for the rest of us that don’t use Kindles. Paper still holds its magic for many of us that refuse to be drawn to reading off a screen. You can create an account at http://magcloud.com/ and register your blog to be available for conversion to a printed magazine. I tested this out by exporting my wordpress blog out as XML and then converting the articles to a PDF file using http://www.blogbooker.com/ . It’s a fairly simple process of uploading the PDF to Magcloud and making it available for subscribers.

 

clip_image005I also use http://www.TwitterFeed.com to automatically twitter my blog posts out to the twittersphere. This is an excellent way to notify people of blog entries and also to automatically twitter RSS Feeds from multiple blogs to your twitter account. I also use this for my group twitter account where several of my team mate’s blogs are automatically twittered through a single twitter account. Between these methods and RSS Feed Syndication using services such as http://www.blogburst.com , there are several ways in which you can make your blog available across different social media.

Taking your Retail Business to Social Communities

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2009 at 4:28 pm

With the growth of Social Networks and Communities, we see a lot of conversations, recommendations of products and services happening outside of the retailer’s site. This presents an excellent opportunity for retailers to syndicate their product catalogs right to the place where the conversations and recommendations happen: blogs, social rating sites, social networking sites and other affiliate sites. I love what companies like Best Buy, Tesco, Amazon and EBay have done by making their APIs available for developers to integrate into their sites.

Best Buy Remix is the open API for Best Buy’s product catalog, featuring full product information including pricing, availability, specifications, descriptions and images for nearly a million current and historical products. It can be accessed via http://remix.bestbuy.com/ . I wasn’t aware that Best Buy had an affiliate program as well: you will notice the signup link there as well.

Through the Amazon Associates Web Service API developers can retrieve product information and access e-commerce functionality. This allows developers, web site publishers and others to leverage the data that Amazon uses to power its own business, and potentially make money as an Amazon affiliate. https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html

Tesco has its own API web to access the Grocery catalog at https://www.lansleytech.com/tescoapiweb/ . Check out Nick Lansleys blog for more information: http://techfortesco.blogspot.com/

The eBay API at http://developer.ebay.com/common/api/ enables developers to submit items for listing on eBay, get current listings and eBay categories and more.

Some of the APIs available out there:

We are not only seeing more and more retailers make their APIs available so that they can be wherever their customers are but we are also seeing Social Networking sites open up so that you can take your networks to shopping sites for a true social shopping experience. Facebook Connect is a great example of this. CitySearch is a great example of a site using Facebook Connect.

Social Media and the Business Case!!

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

NewsGator Technologies  has a good post here  that highlights all the benefits of social media for businesses. Its a great resource for folks figuring out how to articulate the benefits of Social Media to their organizations.

 

Most often we’ve seen folks get stuck on talking about individual brands that are in the social space- most of them top of mind in the press- like twitter etc and they talk like the new converts about how “cool” this new tool is and sometime fail to make the bridge between the technology and the benefit. The above NewsGator link  gives a good breakdown. A good example for some of you may be this recent news  announcement from Nissan North America about connecting with their consumers in an online community. Another example is that of Verizon creating its own community.

Closer to home, I am beginning to build a community or our own service using getsatisfaction.com – It allows me to create a community for support and feedback. So far the process has been smooth but going back to the original principle- I need to figure out the easiest and most seamless way to integrate this service with the existing business process inside our organization.

The key blocker to a successful social media rollout is the absence of any bridge between the tool and the business process its supposed to support. As such in the absence of such a bridge- the technology becomes a toy and as a result you will see that most , in fact all organizations are playing with social media on the fringes – like that marketing guy building a pilot community.

For Enterprises looking to get ahead and breakout , they need to bring the social media strategy right to to the core of their business planning process in order to serve their customers. I would like to refer to that old adage- the customer is the reason we exist he is not an annoyance or an afterthought , satisfying the customer is our primary objective.

I will put out an update on the process I used internally to make my case and how I integrated stuff into my business process. Let us know if you would be interested in it.

Social Web & Social Computing

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I have been using the terms Social Network, Social Computing, Social Media, Social Web, Social Software at random in the past. Over the weekend, I decided I want to really narrow down my usage of the terms. I feel that the term Social Web describes the mix of social Networks, collaborations, sharing content, crowdsourcing, social shopping, blogging, wikis, social tagging and more. Somehow, the Social Web, to me conveys the image of an ecosystem that enables all of the capabilities that we have come to love.

At the same time, the term Social Web seems to indicate the ecosystem on the internet and not necessarily the enterprise ecosystem. For me, social computing is all about enterprise applications leveraging the power of social to empower people with the social connections and capabilities to empower them further. So for now, I will be using the term Social Web to describe the ecosystem on the internet and Social Computing to describe it within the firewall. I would love to know your thoughts.

Why Social Networking ?

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2009 at 7:34 am

Till now all our posts here have focused on the “how” of social networking in the context of enabling business performance. I would like us to take a step back and as business leaders think about the – Why? Without having to divulge my age 🙂 I would like us to go back to our first reaction to – Twitter or even a blog. Why in the world would anyone want to tell the world that he is going out for a run?  Why in the world do I care about the latest soap opera in your life? Why, why, why?

The reason is that people are inherently social and we like to connect (yes you the introvert too) we want to be recognized and be counted!!  The internet with the help of all the associated social tools allows us to communicate. This ability to communicate across vast distances is critical.  One critical change is economic. Mobilizing a large group of people used to be expensive. Organizing them took huge amounts of work, which led to “the institutional dilemma,” the axiom that formal institutions are necessary for getting things done ( The theory of firms- why do firms exist?) , even though they absorb resources and get in the way. Now, because e-mail and instant messaging are fast and cheap, time costs are evaporating. Since you can send an electronic message to many people as easily as to one, everybody has access to groups that, once, only their leaders could reach. This fundamental change needs to be understood by each business leader and they should invest in social tools by answering this question- Am I lowering my transactional cost? When Transactional costs lower you can add more people to the organization.

Social networking tools lower the transactional cost to almost – zero – and that makes them so powerful in cases where organizations need to stay connected with their customers – which is most – I am yet to see any organization that says- customers are not important 🙂 . 

Once this simple message is understood we will see every organization at every level embrace these tools for all the scenarios that have been mentioned in the previous post.

Most people are part of a “Small World network,” which is connected to a medium-sized group of people, many of whom are connected to one another – often through several shared attributes. A few of the people in your small and medium worlds are highly connected to more outsiders, and they link your group with farther-flung communities. In a setting such as a professional association, these people wield considerable influence. People who associate primarily with others like themselves – no matter how many – generate fewer, safer ideas through a kind of diffused groupthink. By contrast, those who link up with many different kinds of people generate a greater number of better, more innovative ideas.

Social media tools provide professional advantages by lowering the cost of failure. For example, many proposed Meetup groups fail. Most older businesses would find this daunting: they try to manage the cost of failure by making it less likely. Those who associate with repeated failures might even be stigmatized. However, trial and error, a great way to learn, is far less expensive, daunting or damning online. Just consider the world of open source software. Most open source projects go nowhere and have no users. Yet, because open source people get involved in projects voluntarily and abandon them with no penalty, talent flows to interesting projects, letting communities sort projects cheaply and try them risk free. From a traditional business point of view, this is chaos and, indeed, early in the process, no one can predict which projects will fly. However, if a project reaches a critical mass of involvement, and if it sets community norms of reciprocity and high performance, and if those involved care about each other and act respectfully, community-based projects can be cheaper and even better than professional projects.

Social Media Monitoring

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2009 at 11:12 pm

The early 90s didn’t have as many options for going viral compared to today but in 1992 Snapple found out that not paying attention to customer conversations can be very damaging to business. Snapple initially tried to quell these rumors quietly, but eventually had to launch a media campaign to squash them, pointing out it would be bad for business to support controversial issues in such a way as the rumors implied.

Over the last few days, the internet and media was abuzz with the news about Dominos Pizza. Two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed a prank in the restaurant’s kitchen and decided to post it online. It didn’t take long for the viral power of social media to kick in and result in more than a million viewers view the videos. This is the kind of public relations nightmare that any retailer dreads.

Installing cameras seems like an obvious answer to thwarting a repeat of the incident. However, the real threat is in the snowballing of issues on the internet by not addressing it quickly enough before it goes out of hand. I think that social media monitoring should an important focus for any organization.

Social Media Monitoring can be as simple as using search engines to searching for keywords using complex social media monitoring tools. One of the simplest social media monitoring tools that I have implemented is to use a web part on our team portal site that shows a continuous feed of search results and twitter feeds with specific keywords. This information is available to anyone that visits the portal site and they can choose to respond to any of the tweets when they see something that requires attention. Here is a post that talks about the simple things that a company can do to monitor their social media presence in ten minutes a day: http://bit.ly/zvZLd

There are also several tools that you can use for monitoring and protecting your reputation on the internet. One such tool is Trackur, an online reputation monitoring tool designed to assist you in tracking what is said about you on the internet. Trackur scans web pages–including news, blogs, video, images, and forums–and lets you know if it discovers anything that matches the keywords that interest you. Another example is Visible Technologies that provides brands, including Microsoft, Panasonic and Hormel, the ability to bolster brand reputation, build revenue and measure the success of social media engagement. The company’s TruCast®2.0 social media monitoring and engagement platform launched in May 2008. Radian6 seems to be a popular solution for engaging with social media.

Here is a list of some excellent tools for managing your online reputation:

· Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and microblogging services.

· BlogPulse from Nielsen Online. BlogPulse is an automated trend discovery system for blogs.

· Trendpedia finds the articles online that talk about your topics. Trendpedia organizes the articles in a trendline that shows the popularity of the topic over time — you can track a topic’s trendline from three months ago up to today

An attempt to map Web2.0 concepts and technologies to business challenges

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2009 at 9:14 pm

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a group of CIOs from the Food Services Industry and we had quite an interesting conversation around Enterprise Social Computing. During the conversation, we came to the conclusion (among many others) that organizations should not be looking at how to leverage Social Computing just because its the latest buzzword but rather look at the existing business challenges that they have and adopt Social Computing concepts and technologies to make the solution of those challenges easier. In this table, I have attempted to map some of the common business challenges against Web 2.0 technologies that these challenges could benefit from. 

scoial scenarios

Socializing Ideas

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Frontline employees are usually the people that have the most contact with the customer in any organization. As a result of observations and feedback from customers, they are usually in a position to make innovative suggestions on the business. However, in many organizations, the ideas and suggestions can get lost due to a lack of process in place for taking the idea through to reality. The problem is seldom about a shortage of ideas; rather, they lack the ability to determine their value in a systematic, timely, and cost-effective way.

Last year I was invited to NY to speak at the WWD Retail Leadership Forum on Innovation Process Management. Among Retailers, innovation traditionally has been a compartmentalized, top-down process run by a small team. In my discussions with retailers at the conference I also found that one of the biggest challenges in the way of Innovation was Legacy. Every company has a legacy. Its the belief that "That which made you great will continue to make you great". The legacy tends to consume a majority of the firms resources. The legacy creates a system that fights off any ideas which are tangential to the legacy. How much time and resource would your management provide you if you had a great idea? As a result of the legacy issues we are seeing more of our customers establish separate processes one for incremental innovation to support the legacy and one for radical innovation.

The rapid spread and high availability of collaborative technologies has changed that model. It is now widely recognized that the next great breakthrough in products, services and processes can come from people anywhere inside or outside an organization. Several organizations including Dell and Starbucks have realized this and created sites and tools to tap into ideas from their customers. The "weapons of mass collaboration" have enabled thousands of individuals to work together and ideate across organizational and geographic boundaries. The Goldcorp Challenge is a great example.

The challenges of innovation are not new.  As we look back over the last 90 years of business we see that a mere 2% of companies outperform the market over long periods of time.  Innovate or die is a reality.

The tools in itself will not help organizations become innovative. An organizational culture that is focused on innovation and encourages employees to share their ideas will benefit from tools that help streamline the process. The tool should enable:

  • Capturing Ideas at any time. An employee should have ready templates or tools (such as Infopath forms or OneNote Templates) to quickly capture an idea.
  • Submitting Ideas and Socializing them using tools such as Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server. The tool should also enable people to find information and potential collaborators to work together on refining the idea. Social Networking tools would enable the ideas to be rated and further refined before they make their way into a feasibility process as part of the workflow.
  • Take the idea through a workflow process from concept to reality. The Workflow capabilities in Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server support this requirement. The tools should easily enable the idea to flow through the process of evaluation and action.

See EPMConnect for more details on this initiative.

Innovation Process Management Whitepaper

 

Social Shopping

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Shopping is a social activity and more and more retailers are realizing that they need to embrace social computing (or the “groundswell” as explained in an excellent must-read book by the same name by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff). Offline, people don’t change behaviors quickly, so companies can develop loyal customers. Online, people can switch behaviors as soon as they see something better. People are not just buying online; they are buying from each other. They are comparing prices all over the internet and telling each other where to get the best deals. Shelf space creates far less power when there’s nearly infinite selection online (Chris Anderson in The Long Tail)

The latest issue of Stores magazine has an interesting article on the impact of Facebook on Retail. See the article at CLICK HERE.

Denver-based bSocial Networks has developed Market Lodge, which enables social network users to build personalized online stores within their profiles in less than five minutes, turning social networks into online "bazaars" with members recommending, buying and selling products.

Wishlist, an application from U.K.-based Affiliate Window, allows retailers to add a Facebook link to each of the products offered on their websites. Wishlist is a fun way for friends to recommend things to one another and for individuals to create a list of things they want. The system is built on a ‘Social Rewards’ basis which means Facebook users can earn pocket money by using and promoting the Wishlist application amongst their friends. Wishlist turns Facebook users into affiliates. The application allows a merchant to break their products in to Facebook.

clip_image001I was fortunate to meet with two other companies that are heavily into social shopping: WetSeal and Bevy. I had the opportunity to hear Kevin Foreman, CEO of Bevy, speak at the Facebook Developers Garage in Seattle a few weeks ago. I think Bevy is onto something really exciting and enables women to discuss and discover fashion through their networks thus filling a void that search engines cannot fulfill. I love the fact that they cross retailer boundaries and work across their partner base that includes Macys, Nordstrom, Guess and more. This morning, I co-presented with John Kubo, CIO of Wetseal at a WWD webinar. The Wet Seal Fashion Community allows you to create, publish, rate, and buy outfits created by you and your peers.