Who is your Most Valuable Follower?

mvf Here is a nice web app for Twitter built by Alexander Taub and Michael Schonfeld. It’s very simple and straight forward, asking “who’s your MVF” – most valuable follower. You login via Twitter and authorise the app to dig around in your follower list, and after a few moments it tells you which of your followers has the largest following. OK, so it’s not necessarily your most valuable, but your most popular – even still, it’s an interesting question to ask of any audience.

Mine is @ONECampaign. Who is yours? Find out here.

PCN Connect: A Little Something I Prepared Earlier

About two years ago I wrote that Social Media is Not Sexy. This post was about the business challenges of social media and just how complex, challenging and incremental it can be within large scale, enterprise sized businesses.

About eight or nine months after writing this post I took on a new role with SAP’s Premier Customer Network. I’d already launched an online platform for SAP’s education team with a heavy social media element – and this new opportunity to work closely with the world’s largest companies in a social media focused role sounded fantastic. But what would it really take? How far could we go? Would it be as unsexy as I thought?

I can recall speaking with Mike Hickinbotham who suggested that there WAS a deep down sexiness to getting big companies to engage in social media. And he should know, working with one of Australia’s largest companies, Telstra – but his point was not necessarily about the glitz and glamour that comes with flashy campaigns – it was about the slow burn that comes from changing the nature of the relationships that we have with our customers.

Over the last 12 months or so, we have been working with some of SAP’s most strategic customers in this way – creating a secure, closed community called PCN Connect. It is still early days – but it is exciting – and maybe even a little sexy – to see this site come to life.

Here’s a taste of our journey so far. But like any social business initiative – there is still a way to go – and it gets more interesting with every step.

The Value of Conversion

chart-of-the-day-revenue-per-unique-visitor-google-facebook-ebay-jan-2011

I can remember way back in the early days of the web that we used to count hits. This basically meant that we would count every element on the web page as a single item and each time it was displayed, we would get a “hit”. So a page with ten items would rate as ten hits. This would get people very excited! “My page got 1000 hits” could translate to as little as one visitor if you have 1000 items on your page.

Of course, to the web novice, 1000 hits sounded great.

As we got savvier – and as the number of web users grew – we started counting visitors. And then unique visitors. And then repeat visitors. We started to think of our websites as destinations – as homes for our content, our ideas, products and services.

But, inevitably, someone asks about ROI. What is the value of the transactions that come in when measured against the money spent in creating, maintaining and improving your web presence? In the early days of the web, the cost of implementing a payment gateway was astronomical, so very few businesses could afford it. (These days, you can implement a PayPal gateway with a few clicks and a couple of hours!)

But those businesses that got involved in online commerce early were able to learn valuable lessons. The value to their business was not in the transactions that came through the web (as a channel). What they gained was an understanding of the web AS a business. They learned how to translate business models into the online space – focusing on the hard metrics (ie revenue) rather then hits, visitors etc.

In the online world – where attention is scarce – your challenge is to convert your website visitor’s attention, interest and trust into something more tangible for your business. Sometimes that is not transactional – perhaps you want to grow a community or position yourself as a thought leader (if so, think through the appropriate metrics such as subscriber numbers, inbound links, community membership).

Now – make the hard decision.

Divide those numbers by your traffic figures. What is the conversion percentage (ie how many “visitors” sign up or subscribe)?

Relentlessly focusing on that per-visitor statistic will help you improve your efforts and achieve your objectives. Just take a look at the graph above from the Silicon Alley Insider (via the Measurement Standard). Amazon drives conversion at every opportunity – and the results show. Make just one change to your site and see what impact it has. Keep refining it until you see improvement. And once your site is more relevant to your audience – and is easier for them to use – watch as your conversion rates improve.

Oh, and on that subject, be sure to subscribe here to my blog. Then there’ll be more branding, marketing and social media goodness coming your way.

How Google Works – The Scary Truth About Search

I can remember when Google first came along, promising improved search. I scoffed. “Who needs better search?”, I said. After all, I knew the most relevant and valuable websites. I knew some people who kept and updated good site lists. I could navigate the web with confidence. I felt like a Renaissance Man of the early web.

And even after my colleagues began using Google, I resisted. I kept plugging away at AltaVista. I kept alternating with Yahoo! I leapt over to Excite for certain search types and AskJeeves for others. I was proud of my knowledge and capabilities.

But I did not know what I did not know.

A couple of tentative searches on this white, clean, non-polluted search engine changed my online behaviour. Now, I did not need to know where to go, because Google knew for me. I could colour my searching by including not just keywords but also sentiment related words. I could search wider, faster from a single interface, rather than jumping from search engine to search engine.

The results were good. Better. Best.

But then, as I began to take on more responsibility for the creation of sites, I realised that there was not just art, but also science, involved in making your site “findable”. The exact recipe for this was held tighter than Colonel Sander’s secret recipe.

And it still is.

But those clever folks over at the PPC Blog have created this stupendous diagram that shows just how Google search works. Well – it’s a good approximation. After all, this really is the secret to Google’s $20 billion a year business.

Take a look and think about how Google (and therefore your customers) find and access your website. Then think about whether you are delivering business value with your current setup. Try to be honest. And then, when you think you have all the boxes ticked, throw “social” into the mix and see how you stack up. Scared? You should be.

how-google-works

The Three Ages of Content Management Systems

I have been working with content management systems for longer than I care to admit. I have built my own, rudimentary systems using PHP and I have selected and implemented large scale systems that powered business and consumer sites. I have done evaluations on some of the largest (and most expensive) CMS vendors and also worked with open source CMS providers.

Over the years, I slowly shifted away from the proprietary packages and embraced the open source platforms. But it seems that we have really had three separate ages:

  • The Age of Waving
  • The Age of Shouting
  • The Age of Sharing

The Age of Waving

Way back in the mists of time, content management was a complicated, expensive business. It was the time of the dot com boom – and specialist content management platforms began to emerge. Overnight it seemed that companies like Interwoven and Vignette took centre stage – it was the age of waving and we were all vying for attention.

From a business point of view, we knew already that hand crafted websites would not scale. There were too many pages to manage, too many authors to deal with and it was too hard to search. We needed a better way. Websites were a measure of innovation – and in a time when many businesses struggled to provide their employees with an email address, the launch of a website seriously aligned your brand with “new thinking”. Of course, we still measured website traffic in “hits” so the thinking may have been new, but it wasn’t very deep.

Meanwhile, consumers were reading these sites like brochures. We were looking for information, doing our product research and searching for local stores. eCommerce was in its infancy and we were still not sure whether we could trust the internet with our valuable credit card numbers.

The Age of Waving was about saying – “here I am”. But the next level of development transformed not just the technology, but also our expectations.

The Age of Shouting

Once we realised the power of content management, everyone wanted a piece of the action. I remember developing complicated matrices that compared the feature sets of the main CMS vendors and cross matched it to open source variants. I published white papers in PDF and put them on the web. I felt like my own miniature Gartner-Group-of-One.

Meanwhile, the shift had begun within the business, with marketing taking control of the web as a “channel”. This often involved a bloody fight with the IT teams who had lovingly nurtured the site through its infancy. But it seemed like there was money to be made, messages to be pushed and advertising to be monetised, so a coup was arranged and the messaging volume was amped up. There was flash, music and even some rudimentary video. It all needed to be integrated and managed by the CMS. We also needed brand consistency, templates and contact forms. We needed workflow and approvals. We needed “legal to be involved”.

It was during this time that I had a kind of a love affair with the Scandinavian platform ezPublish – it was “social” before we even knew what “social networks” were – but was built with enterprise scale in mind. There were access control lists, user management functions, publishing functions and scheduling and a shopping/eCommerce system that could be turned on with the press of a button. At the same time, I also loved Lotus Quickplace – precisely because it was quick (and quite pretty), though not as powerful as ezPublish.

Consumers were now reading sites like newspapers. We were expecting content – and lots of it. We wanted research information and ease-of-use. We wanted searching capabilities and bookmarking. We wanted our own profiles on websites – we wanted personalisation. Or we thought we did.

I remember working with the Koz Community Publishing Platform, talking to publishers like the Trading Post and the Chicago Tribune. The ground was shifting but we didn’t know where it was going. It was all gut instinct. User generated content sounded like a good idea, but raised many problems (database scaling, traffic volumes, user management, ad serving, revenue splits etc). We didn’t yet have the business models in place to take advantage of the opportunities (and perhaps we still don’t).

We were measuring unique visitors and crying about the fact that it seemed so small compared with “hits”. Every vendor and his dog were now providing content management systems – and if you looked closely, you could see these strange beasts – blogging systems – starting to appear.

Joomla and Drupal came along and shook the world again. These serious, enterprise grade content management systems came with all the bells and whistles, deep functionality and support from a great community of developers. There were plenty of plugins and extensions that could help you deliver the perfect web solution for your business or your customers. There were shops, templates, banner ad management, forums and all sorts of features. But it wasn’t a new beginning – it was the end of an era.

The Age of Sharing

Then, the web world became social.

The content management system has shifted from being a channel or vehicle for awareness and then broadcast, to being a platform for sharing and engagement. Where once the most important aspect of content management was on the “business” of managing content – it has now shifted to the business of managing conversations and conversation flows. Sure we want people to know about and find our content, and we want them to engage with it – but we also want them to share it, distribute it through their own personal publishing networks. We want them to recommend our products and services.  And we want them to engage with us beyond the web.

On the CMS front, vendors increasingly bolt-on new functionality. There are blogs and forums, there are plugins to manage users through Facebook Connect, and support for user generated content. Similarly, blogging platforms have continued to evolve, but being social at their heart, they have an intrinsic advantage. And now, with WordPress 3.0, it seems that the functionality, flexibility and scale offered by large scale CMS vendors is now available through this open source platform.

And interestingly, consumers are in charge. Even within the workplace. In many instances, we are seeing ourselves in more than one light – we’re no longer the 1990s worker, firewalled and locked-down. We’re empowered and demanding – wanting to push for results and ready to achieve them with enterprise, cloud or web based apps where ever they may be. Yes, this may be the IT groups greatest nightmare, but it indicates that “being social” no longer ends at the sliding glass doors of the workplace – and nor does it begin with the technology that we choose for our businesses. It’s all about attitude – and that is ageless.

Storytelling for a Cause: Blurb for Good

One of the most powerful ways of engaging people, creating change and yes, transforming the world in which we live, is to tell stories. From Homer to Perez Hilton, from the Bible to the Simpsons, stories continue to shape our lives. And at the heart of the story has always been the desire to connect – between the author and the reader, the storyteller and the audience. This strange, sometimes antagonistic bond is as much part of the storytelling tradition as words themselves.

Interestingly, the production and distribution of stories also seems to have come full circle. We started with the bards who would memorise, distribute and share Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for a few sheckels. One has to ask, “was the fall of Troy really a military victory or a massively successful word of mouth campaign?” It took Heinrich Schliemann centuries to uncover the truth.

Realising that knowledge and power were close bed fellows, the church accumulated vast stores of manuscripts. Cloistered away in abbeys across Europe, monks copied and created, philosophised and imagined – all the while contributing to a precious body of knowledge protected by the fortress-like walls of places like the Vatican Library.

Centuries of work would be swept away with the invention of the printing press, beginning a process which would not just share knowledge but transform our very notion of intelligence. Matching the newly literate population’s thirst for knowledge, whole industries sprang up – schools, printing houses, publishers – and of course, the mass media. Each of these cordoned off a market of their own in an attempt to capitalise on the changes coursing their way through society’s veins. Walls sprang up, money exchanged hands. The knowledge drug had us all hooked.

A century or two on, these walls are also crumbling. In minutes we can create our own blogs and websites, write our own stories and share them with the world. And with sites like Blurb.com, we can take these stories and share in the great literary and social phenomenon of authoring a book.

Last year, Mark Pollard and I, concerned at the mental health and substance abuse issues confronting young men, we reached out to colleagues, friends and family, asking for their stories and their experiences. We pulled it together into a powerful collection of short stories entitled The Perfect Gift for a Man. We published is using the Blurb.com self-publishing platform, donating the money raised to the Inspire Foundation’s Reach Out program.

Projects like this are now much easier for qualifying not-for-profit organisations. Blurb for Good enables citizen philanthropists to create, market and sell books – with a special page in the Blurb bookstore, and access to the BookShow widget (see below).

But how easy is it? I used the Blurb BookSmart software to create a family holiday picture book in about three hours. I had the photos and an idea and I got it done. You can too.


The Perfect Gift for a Man by Gavin Heaton and Mark Pollard | Make Your Own Book

 

But the best thing about this, for me, is that NFP authors can apply to Blurb to receive an additional contribution from Blurb for every book sold. So, not only do you keep 100% of the profits from the sale of the book, you get access to a secure online shopfront, tools to help you market your book and a little extra cash to help change the world. Sound good? Check out Blurb for Good. Happy book making!

The BP Oil Disaster Mashup

When we hear about the BP Oil Disaster – it is difficult to get a sense of the scale of the impact. But what if we could superimpose the spill dimensions on a map of your local area? What if it was possible to take the data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and mash it up with a Google map?

Andy’s website does just that. You can choose your location and show just how far the slick would extend up and down your own coastline.

The BP Oilspill Over Sydney

In this image we can see that the spill would reach from Newcastle in the north to almost Shell Harbour in the south. It would reach as far as Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, extend over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow and reach far out to sea. If you wanted to drive from north to south in a car, it would take you about four hours at highway speeds.

If this happened on your doorstep, do you think you would consider it a spill – or a disaster? Would you take it personally? I would.

Via Kristen Obaid

A Perfect Gift from Blurb

Self publishing is one of the amazing developments of the “social web”. Not only can we simply and easily share insights, analysis, stories, poems, movies, music or any other types of creative work – thanks to applications like Blurb.com, we can also turn these into publications – books, calendars and so on.

I have been involved in a number of collaborations that bridge the digital and offline worlds. There has been the marketing focused Age of Conversation books, my own self publishing efforts around blogging, and most recently, The Perfect Gift for a Man.

The Perfect Gift for a Man was a book that Mark Pollard and I edited and published through Blurb. But when it came to promoting the book, there was nothing that made it easy for us to share the book across the web (we ended up creating our own image based widget). Now, Blurb is trialling a new widget that allows you to embed, share, preview and buy books directly from your blog. I think it’s a huge and much needed improvement. Here it is below:

Making Your Own Context with Feedly

I have shifted the vast majority of my news reading onto the web. I have not purchased a newspaper in months and I rarely, if ever, read the local online newspapers (after all, Miranda Devine is the reason I unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald).

Newspapers and magazines, however, do serve a function that I miss – that I am poorer for by not having them in my life. Through the juxtaposition of stories, newspapers help to create a context, a lens, for the happenings of the world at a certain point in time. But now, it looks like there may be a neat, new Firefox plug-in that turns your favourite feeds into something a little more visual, more integrated and a whole lot more compelling than a never ending stream of unread feeds.

I spent an hour or so bringing my favourite feeds into Bloglines and then sucked them into the Feedly application. Now I not only can get a visual snapshot of my favourite blogs, I get to see a bit of the Twitter conversation as it flashes by, or I can get a digest or the latest posts. And if I want to dig, I can do so by category. I can also easily search the blogs that I subscribe to.

feedly And while all these are great features, more importantly, Feedly lets me see the CONTEXT in which I am consuming all this content. It lets me see what smart people are saying IN RELATION TO each other. And that makes me a whole lot happier – and a whole lot smarter.

I have a feeling that this may well change the way I think of my Monday morning feed reading.

Starting to be an Expert

Beautiful girl reads bookMalcolm Gladwell has suggested that it takes 10,000 hours of dedication to become an expert. But what exactly is “an expert”? Some definitions suggest that it is to do with specialist skill or knowledge; while others indicate that expertise can only be arrived at through practising (ie doing).

Regardless of whether expertise is achieved through research, thinking or “doing”, there is no doubt that reading plays a major part in the claim to expertise. Of course, one must also be able to communicate what you learned from reading, but think about it – how many books would you read a year? And how many blogs? How much of books and blogs (and for that matter, other sources of knowledge such as podcasts, ebooks, youtube videos etc) contribute to your understanding of your specialist skill? How do you translate it to your professional life – or the practise of your passion?

In 2007, a Washington Post survey indicated that the average American read four books a year. So what happens when you increase your quota of learning? What happens if you read one book a month – or 12 books a year. In five years, the average American will have read 20 books, and you will have read 60.

And according to the Pew Internet Study (July 2008), only 24% of American adults read blogs (only 11% read blogs daily). But I wonder how many blogs does this cover? One? One hundred? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Again, what would happen if you increased your consumption of blogs? If you read blogs, you are already consuming more knowledge (or perhaps gossip, cooking tips, renovation ideas etc) than almost 90% of Americans. But what would happen if you double your effort? What if you also WROTE? Or SHARED? Or REINTERPRETED?

While the figures are interesting, the real point about expertise is that it requires effort. No matter whether you are an expert at ADVISING or DOING or even KNOWING a particular topic, you don’t get anywhere without LEARNING first – and may I add, learning CONTINUOUSLY.

I constantly read books and blogs. I consume all manner of media, but I am drawn to the type of knowledge that I can deploy as a SERVICE to others. And at the moment I am reading or re-reading some outstanding books. I have tagged them using Booktagger.com. I would encourage you to check them out. But for something a little more immediately gratifying, take a spin through my blogroll – it’s all A-grade quality thinking.