6 ways to get your web presence and infrastructure in shape for 2010

In this lingering recession, everyone is looking for new ways to better position themselves to compete and grow revenue. A lower level of consumer and business spending will require efficiency, careful optimization and leverage of low cost assets and methods. It’s time to get into shape! Here are 6 ways to revamp and strengthen your web sites and infrastructure on a modest budget:

Revamp your web strategy for a web 2.0+ world.

The internet world has dramatically changed in the last 3-4 years. Social networks, user communities, user generated content, twitter, the iPhone and other mobile devices, GPS and location aware devices and the other components of Web 2.0 completely altered the way businesses and users communicate and transact online. Each of the Web 2.0 components come with their own set of opportunities and challenges. They provide new channels that enable communication at a fraction of the cost while demanding a new approach to openness, transparency and interactivity. Regulatory, security and governance concerns are not always easy to address. Chart a path in these new waters by rethinking your Web Strategy and redefine the role that the web and other digital channels will play in the company’s future and put a plan in place for its execution.  

Implement a social media strategy and measure its value

Social media tools are a great way to build honest online relationship with customers and other audiences. Doing it right is not always easy. A social media strategy will force you to think through and define where to be and what is to be communicated, set the tone and nature of interactions, set guidelines on how to respond to negative feedback, factor in legal and regulatory implications, address intellectual property and security issues and many other aspects need to be thought through. In addition, measuring the impact of these activities is not always easy. Building a model that can assess and provide value guidelines is very important. 

Reduce costs by Leveraging open source and Cloud web infrastructure components

We have a client who recently came to us asking advice after a planned $3M Oracle e-business implementation turned into a projected $15M 3 year project. We recommended they look at OfBiz and other open source e-commerce frameworks. Open source enterprise level software , SaaS and Cloud Computing have matured to the level that major organizations are leveraging these low cost scalable solutions to build a robust infrastructure that can replace big investments in hardware, software licenses and data centers.  

Take control of your content – Deploy a Content Management Solution

For many companies, fresh content is key to repeat visits. As sites scale, managing and maintaining them becomes an expensive and difficult task often dependent on IT or external resources. Content Management Systems (CMS) provide business users with the ability to modify and update sites and global structures that make graphical changes easy to implement. They also provide ability to segment users, add personalization and social features such as Blogs and community without the need for additional software and services.

User Experience Redesign

If your website has not gone through a redesign in the last 3 years, chances are that it looks dated. What looks fresh and relevant changes all the time and the key in the last few years has been incorporation of user engagement and interactivity, quality content that speaks more directly to the users, content targeting and using sites as relationship building tools rather than one way communication streams. Sites need to add rich content, video and mobile support as well as dynamic interfaces. All these changes contribute substantially to improved website ROI

Optimize sites for goals and conversion

It’s crucial that every marketing and search dollar is well spent. To do this, websites need strong web analytics so that sites can be continuously optimized to maximize conversion and be careful to avoid the main pitfalls. Web analytics capability allows businesses to test new ideas, layouts and promotions and to quickly refine them to drive sales and traffic as well as optimize search and marketing spend. With Google analytics and other low costs services, setting great analytics does not have to mean big bucks.

Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2009 – What’s New?

It was interesting to visit the Web 2.0 conference last week and see the progress and trends compared to my last year impressions.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • SharePoint is the de-facto standard for Enterprise 2.0 While other vendors have compelling products and features, a CIO that is looking for an internal, comprehensive, secure and maintainable solution has almost only one choice (unless you are on an IBM stack..). Other tools focus on providing point solutions, hosted environments, plugging current SharePoint holes and extending functionality. Microsoft had the biggest and most impressive presence and were heavily promoting the next version SharePoint 2010 that will be launched in the SharePoint conference in October. (Some preliminary details here).
  • The field has definitely matured over the last year. There are more case studies and research about usage, benefits and trends although most companies are not sharing explicit ROI numbers. Some vendors have disappeared while others are growing and establishing themselves at a level where they may be considered long term players and safe for the enterprise.
  • The experts are still frustrated with the slow rate of adoption and the seeming growing gap between the prevalence of social tools and technologies used by marketing and sales to communicate externally Vs. they almost complete absence internally. The rapid adoption of tools like Facebook and Twitter for customer communication not just in retail but in Healthcare and other industries creates glaring discrepancies where the same companies have no tools internally and sometimes even block their own marketing teams from external use of these tools under some outdated IT policy.
  • IT is still not part of the discussion. That is unfortunate because as Steve Wylie, the conference director expressed in a guest post at ZDNET last week, large scale adoptions will not happen without IT.

    “While we could argue that this is a very new market and that businesses take time to change, I also believe that Enterprise 2.0 will be challenged by large-scale adoption until corporate IT is fully on board.  Early adoption has been largely driven by business users and department-level managers.  They had a problem to solve and were fed up waiting for IT to provide the solutions they needed.  They took matters into their own hands by finding workable, web-based solutions and even celebrated this new found freedom from IT.  With a few exceptions, IT took a reactive posture to Enterprise 2.0 and viewed it as a threat to be managed, secured and even blocked in some cases.”

  • Tactical view. One of the most frequently asked questions was “what is the best way to get started?”. The pretty universal answer for vendors and corporate users was to approach it in a tactical manner and find a specific business problem you can solve using collaboration tools. Be it an HR portal to boost morale, tools to help virtual project teams work more efficiently, sales best practices portal or any of many other ideas. Define a narrow business case and implement. So far, trying to approach this in a strategic manner makes finding ROI a herculean task and as noted above, puts IT on the defensive. I hope that this trend will start to change as these tactical solutions rarely provide long term sustainable benefits.
  • Rise of the Community Manager. The most active forum was the one where the newly created function – community managers shared their challenges and tricks for getting people to take part in the social activity. First, It is great to see that many leading organizations have realized the importance of such a task although many had it as a secondary responsibility they volunteered to do rather than a full time position. Creating and maintaining a vibrant and active internal community requires skill, passion and process and the focus should rightfully be as much on that as on the tools that enable the community.

Additional impressions:

Enterprise 2.0 2009 Conference: Aggregate and Organize

The Magic of Mash-ups: Co-browsing

What is co-browsing?

Co-browsing lets multiple users work together in their respective browsers through what look like shared screens and communicate via telepresence including video and audio.  The impact of this technology is enormous as companies become more virtual and the need for serious collaboration increases to be competitive in tough times.  To be able to share, interact and see the body language of your collaborator in real-time without extraordinary downloads to your PC or expensive third party solutions could simply change the way we work.  This innovation comes from not Google, or Yahoo but from IBM in a proof of concept project called Blue Spruce, a Web browser application platform that IBM is working on to allow simultaneous multiuser interactions enabled by AJAX and other standard technologies through the Web browser.

blue spruce header

The Blue Spruce project is IBM’s solution to the classic one-window, one-user limitation of current Web browsers.  The application is a mash-up that combines Web conferencing with voice and video and other data forms to let people share content including existing Web widgets – at the same time.  Two different users, possibly anywhere, are able to move their respective mouse pointers around the screen in the browser to click and make changes on the shared application, with the platform enabling concurrent interactions through the browser without disruptions.  Despite the appearance, the co-browsers aren’t actually sharing content. Both collaborators obtained a Web page through the Blue Spruce client, but the “events” enabled by the mouse are what is being sent to the Blue Spruce Co-Web Server.  The idea is that no matter where the two users are in the Internet world, they pick up the general data caches on both personal computers and react to the events.

The applications for co-browsing collaboration are numerous, especially for knowledge workers. In healthcare, IBM has used Blue Spruce to create an online “radiology theatre” product, currently at the prototype stage, which allows teams of medical experts to “simultaneously discuss and review patients’ medical test data using a Web browser.” The project is being run in collaboration with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston.  According to IBM, it has created a secure Web site that allows select medical experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to access and collaborate on data such as CT scans, MRIs, EKGs and other medical tests. Each medical expert can “talk and be seen through live streaming audio/video through their standard web connection, and have the ability to whiteboard over the Web page as well as input information to the patient’s record.” Basically it is a secure multimedia experience running inside a single browser window, using Blue Spruce as the platform.

It is important to note that Blue Spruce is not your typical “fat client” or downloaded application, but it is a fully browser-based application development platform, currently in development, which is being built on open Web standards. The main feature of Blue Spruce is that it allows for a combination of different Web components – data mashups, high-definition video, audio and graphics – to run simultaneously on the same browser page. It’s important to note that the Radiology Theatre app only requires a standard Web browser – so there’s nothing to download for the end user, in this case, doctors.

This is how IBM described how the new online radiology theatre will work:

 “A group of doctors can log into a secure Web site at the same time to review and analyze a patient’s recent battery of tests. For instance, a radiologist could use her mouse to circle an area on the CT scan of a lung that needs a closer look. Then using the mouse she could zoom into that scan to enlarge the view for all to see. An expert on lung cancer could use his mouse to show how the spot had changed from the last scan. And then, a pathologist could talk about patient treatments based on spots of that size depending on age and prior health history, paging through clinical data accessible on the site.”

“The theatre allows all these experts to discuss, tag and share information simultaneously, rather than paging through stacks of papers, calling physicians to discuss scan results and then charting the results. This collaborative consultation brings together the personal data, the experts and the clinical data in one physical, visual theatre.” 

The impact on rural medicine and the need for telemedicine for key healthcare experts is significantly advanced with this technology.
Perhaps the biggest potential benefit of the online radiology theatre is that it will enable experts from all over the world to consult on cases. The ability for multiple users to “co-browse” means they can interact in the browser in real-time and see each other’s changes.  Of course, since this is medical data, there are significant privacy implications involved in using the Internet to collaborate.  The time and cost savings from collaboration is important, but better and faster decision making is the key.

The need for inexpensive and minimally invasive techniques for real collaboration over the Internet is real and the backlog of potential applications is fun to consider.  Imagine reviewing your health care or insurance claims with a live person (and their reactions) at the insurance company to reduce cycle time, or collaborating on new product engineering drawings from the U.S. with your Chinese manufacturer.  Imagine the potential for teaching or training with key experts and a worldwide audience using a live whiteboard. Finally, imagine not paying big monthly fees for basic meeting collaboration needs on a daily basis.  Blue Spruce is really a technology to keep an eye on.

Web 2.0 for Healthcare Providers – Q and A Part 1

Thanks for all those who attended our webinar on implementing web 2.0 strategies last week. If you missed it, the recorded webinar is available on our site. Enjoy.

As I promised, here are some of the questions asked during the session that I have not had time to address:

Q1: Using Facebook and Twitter – how do I get started? How can we monitor it?

Getting started is ridiculously easy. Facebook has a good starter guide . Setting up Twitter is even simpler as there is not much to do other than selecting a name. You have only 15 characters so it is not always an easy task. Twitip has a good guide to best practices in twitting and a list of useful services to track and monitor twitter conversations.

Q2: Why would people want to follow a healthcare organization? How do I promote it without spending money? is it really worth the effort and Investment?

So setting up profiles and pages is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow you on a regular basis. The good news is that you just need to get users to act once and add you to their friends list or follow you on twitter. From that point forward you are just one in a stream of many others.
Spreading the word is done in every way possible, but not through direct advertising. Put it on your website, emails, blog and any other marketing communication form. The best promotion methods are viral. If you have something interesting to say, people will spread the word.

Social media communication tools are just one more way to reach an audience in a fragmented media world but health is something people really care about. If you are a regional hospital, publish daily information your community will want to know. Allergy report, flu alerts, flu vaccine reminders, etc. The cost is usually limited to a resource that will write and maintain all these social media properties. We’ll go into ROI in the next answer but first and foremost the benefit is relevancy. Hospitals that will engage and communicate will be relevant and top of mind. Others will be there when the appendix burst.

Q3: What type of investment is required? What is the ROI

We usually see 2 main areas of investment. The first is Strategy. With so many options, tools, opportunities and risks large organization usually do not just jump in but take some time to look at the landscape, their audience, their revenue centers and their media assets and capabilities to form a cohesive strategy. This is the main area we help clients in as they often lack internal expertise. We usually recommend forming a broader web strategy as these social activities are not isolated from the needs to have an attractive and interactive website than engages users and effective e-marketing programs. The strategy part also looks at the organizational ability to support these types of programs, the skills required and can help in building a cost and ROI structure. The cost of a comprehensive web strategy can range from five to low six figure depending on the size of the organization and scope.

The second area of investment is in the program operations. This usually translates to people who dedicate some of their time to writing content and managing user interactions. It can range from a few hours a week for a small program to a full time position.

The returns: like in any marketing program, these activities are judged by their ability to generate increase in profitable patients and donations. Since they provide a great way to reach an audience without a cost per unit (as you have in email, banners or paid search) the ROI increases as the size of your audience.

Mashable.com has a good overview for the qualitative and qualitative measurements for ROI. I think it goes back to relevancy and the need to be part of your audience daily life.

Illustration: Monica Parra / Newsweek

Why CEO’s must care about Enterprise 2.0 as a Strategic Imperative

One of the strongest and most misguided arguments expressed online and in many companies we speak with about Enterprise 2.0 is that it is not strategic.

That this collection of tools, technologies and ideas is not yet mature enough, lacks proven ROI, introduces a myriad of security and governance issues and even if successful is not a priority in today’s soft economy. It is too often delegated to IT managers to experiment with and report back in a few years.

Here’s where the difference is: Enterprise 2.0 is not a technology. It represents first and foremost a new way of thinking, interacting and communicating that includes attitude and cultural changes, empowered by IT. Is there anything more strategic than that and more important to a business future success?

It is arguably the biggest opportunity for IT driven cultural change facing organizations since the introduction of PC networks more than 2 decades ago.

One of the C suite most important tasks is to shape an organizational culture that will make their company innovative, competitive, efficient and successful not just now but in the future. Embracing Enterprise 2.0 now and guiding their employees through this transitional period should be one of their top priorities.

While in a few cases adoption started from the bottom up, a change of this magnitude usually needs to come from the top accompanied by the matching set of values and actions that prove the seriousness and commitment to change.

It requires leadership that is able to see that transparency and increased visibility into activities throughout the company will finally enable them to know what is really happening and will create a culture of trust. That openness and exchange of ideas will lead to innovation and efficiency. That collaboration will enable a diverse workforce to work together in emergent ways while being physically and geographically dispersed.

In short, it requires vision that will set a future path and will ask managers to overcome the obstacles in the way. The type of vision CEO’s need to provide and not delegate to IT managers.

The challenge and opportunity is that not many chief executives have realized yet that embracing Enterprise 2.0 is a strategic imperative and are focusing the discussion around short term ROI.

Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNET provides a comprehensive review of the evidence and opinions regarding ROI and adoption challenges, and adds his own interesting model of collaboration cause and effect chains that while clearly provide benefits, make them harder to pinpoint and measure.

He also concludes that

an accumulating body of knowledge is pointing to potentially dramatic business returns with Enterprise 2.0. If these continue to be borne out, it will affect the competitive and financial positions of the companies that are proactive and therefore their long-term marketplace success

And wonders what it will take to break the current status quo?

His colleague Dennis Howlett on the other end thinks the ROI is still years off and concludes

As always, the secret to long term success depends on management’s ability to maintain a sustained commitment and all that goes with it. The difficulty today is that same management is wondering where the next sale comes from or how cash will be generated.”

The good news is that Enterprise 2.0 does not require large capital expenditures but mostly thorough organizational commitment. There has rarely been an opportunity for businesses to gain so much competitive edge by investing so little.

As in many cultural revolutions, by the time Enterprise 2.0 related changes start translating into business differentiators, organizations that have not made the transition will look as outdated as an organization resisting getting these useless PC boxes or adopting email.

Hospital and Health Provider Web 2.0 Trends and Opportunities

We recently looked into ways that companies can leverage web 2.0 and monetize social networks.

We got a lot of questions regarding the applicability of these principles and methods to different industries and specifically for hospitals and other health providers. As organizations with a strong social purpose and educational / outreach focus, how can they remake themselves and their services to provide innovative and effective web-based information and health?

We envision the Hospital as the center of regional health, building a community of patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals that work online and offline providing care, support and prevention.

It is an overall shift in strategy that transforms the organization to be more Open, Collaborative, Transparent, Interactive, and Social.  Organizations that have successfully executed Web 2.0 initiatives:  share data and information securely and seamlessly with their health care partners, provide platforms for patients, doctors, and hospitals to collaborate on improving the effectiveness of services and communications, foster community patient support networks, and empower patients to gain access to the best health care services and providers.

There have been some interesting efforts but most providers are just in the initial experimentation mode. Ed Bennett maintains a great list on his blog of all the hospitals and their social activities. According to his findings, Twitter has just become the most popular social media channel among hospitals

Paul Levy, Beth Israel Deaconess CEO has been a trail blazer in his blog, sharing thoughts, ideals, goals, results and experiences, promoting true transparency. The hospital has recently launched the first web 2.0 oriented site with a special section dedicated to interactive features such as blogs, videos, podcasts chat etc.

St. Jude Children Research Hospital has close to 35,000 fans in their facebook group and have extensive social media program on their site. Cedars Sinai in LA is using YouTube for staff recruitment purposes.

These are great examples for a few health providers that seem to have a cohesive strategy for this new interactive age. For most hospitals, just being on facebook or Twitter without setting measurable goals and defining a strategy will not yield the anticipated results.

The following diagram shows the different areas where hospitals can consider collaboration and use of social media and interactivity:

 

Some of the interesting opportunities we are seeing for hospitals:

  • Use of social media and communities to create an active health community around their health facilities that will involve patients, physicians and hospitals
  • Enhance educational activities to include online courses and support groups
  • Use blogs and actual access to quality and performance data to promote transparency and trust with the community
  • Use advanced web analytics to capture interests and trends and improve content and services accordingly
  • Build a stronger relationship with Affiliated Health Professionals and allow them to collaborate and exchange knowledge
  • Reduce the customer support functions by moving self service functions to the web

Online Social Networking Revenue: Part II

submitted by Ken Allard

In the first post in this series, I wrote about companies that have new online revenue potential by virtue of being brokers of goods or services or by owning a significant share of market.  In this entry, I will explore the revenue opportunities for more traditional content owners who answer yes to question number 3:

  1. Do you act as a broker of goods or services?
  2. Do you provide content or advice to a significant percentage of a specific industry or consumer segment?
  3. Are you facing new competitors who generate revenue by aggregating audience around your content or by providing meta-content?
  4. Do you have data or knowledge within your organization that is obscure to your clients?
  5. Do you serve an audience that is highly fragmented?

Most traditional media companies have faced dramatic profit losses as their audiences have flocked from physical products to online alternatives.  It is ironic that their proprietary content gained intrinsic value online while simultaneously losing its ability to generate income.  Music labels have watched in dismay as their content is shared, and worse yet distributed to thousands, without resulting in direct sales.  Publishers have seen the value of their vast collection of high-priced text-books diminished as students rely on digital sources of  content and publish notes and answers to study questions on their own personal sites.  Even super-star authors like J.K. Rowling, find themselves battling superfans who create valuable media properties by adding meta-content (e.g. character lists, family trees, etc.) around their published works.  (She won that court case, but who wants to start suing fans?)

It is an unfortunate paradox, that while the Internet has dramatically increased the popularity, utility, and accessibility of all kinds of proprietary content, it has simultaneously and systematically erased the revenue models that most traditional companies have relied upon.  Nearly every consumer content company has decided that both paid subscription and fee per article/data slice business models are dead online.  (Consumer Reports is one of the last notable hold-outs.)  Proprietary business to business content services have not been as severely impacted, but they too are not recognizing opportunities to increase profits.  I believe that these organizations are failing to monetize their content because they are failing to take advantage of the fact that it is more popular, useful, accessible and social once it is available in online media.  The key to new revenue is to exploit these inherent benefits:

    1. Popular – Content should be marketed to , optimized for, and appreciated by the broadest possible relevant audience
    2. Useful – Content should be helpful, active, purpose driven and immersive
    3. Accessible – Content should be open, pervasive across devices, and present in the right context
    4. Social – Content should be viewed as the basis for an interaction between people, author-consumer, consumer-consumer, consumer-group, author-group

The most successful online initiatives exploit these online advantages.  Let’s look at a few different examples of companies who have already taken the right steps or who may be missing new revenue opportunities:

Universal Music (various artist Web sites) – Universal Music, like most other major music labels, is failing to monetize its content online, abdicating the revenue to various unrelated 3rdparty entertainment sites, direct to consumer commerce sites, and fan sites.  Music labels have always treated their artist Web sites as marketing brochures for new album releases.  Rather than taking advantage of a direct to consumer connection that could deliver revenue from direct sales of music content, advertising, sponsorship, auctions of unique memorabilia, ongoing engagement with fans, and countless other revenue opportunities, they have simply failed to connect with their audience online. Despite the fact that the “official artist Web site” typically appears first in organic search results, fans spend very little time on most artist Web sites.  Instead they are shuttled off to other media properties, e.g. MySpace,YouTube, or fan run sites, where they have richer opportunities to interact with each other and the music content.  While the music labels do in fact face numerous obstacles in securing all of the rights (because of complicated artist royalty contracts) to generate revenue by using the content online, they often fail to make even a modest attempt to take advantage of the enormous online social energy that propels popular artists.

Nelly is a multi-grammy winning hip-hop artist on a Universal music label.  His official Web site is www.nelly.net.  It is a good example of the typical artist Web site.  It scores moderate to very low on the four measures outlined above:

 nelly_official_11

Popular – While the site is optimized to be the top returned site for organic search for the word “nelly”, many other sites (e.g. YouTube, MySpace, nellyhq, and lastfm) appear just below the top result and offer better content.  Also, other entertainment sites like AOL and Yahoo have bought paid search results that draw fans away from the official site.  Lastly, the site content is not really targeted to the fans that would likely be searching for it.

Useful – If you are a Nelly fan, it is unlikely that you would find any content on this site that would make you want to come back.  It is generic, “official,” promotional content with no special features (behind the scenes, personal interactions with the artist, “bootleg” versions of the songs) that real fans would likely be looking for. 

Accessible – The site does allow users to buy ringtones for mobile devices and subscribe to a basic RSS feed. 

Social – In terms of generating revenue from an online fan base, this site is a total failure.  Fans who click on community are shuttled off to myspace.  There is no opportunity for fans to upload photos or videos from concerts.  There isn’t even an opportunity for basic fan interaction.  While the site apparently is generating some add revenue, it does little to engage fans to stay on the site or to ever come back.  Conversely, the two sites below are both aggregating an audience based on nelly’s content and monetizing the audience much more aggressively with direct commerce opportunities, numerous advertisements, and offers to join communities of users with like interests.

nelly_headquarters_22

nelly_lastfm_3

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Universal Music has abdicated the energized network of online fans to a multitude of unaffiliated sites.  While music labels have historically generated revenue by earning royalties on the sales of recorded music, they certainly have the opportunity to gain more rights from artists by creating immersive music experiences for their fans.  Instead of taking advantage of their relationship with and unique access to their artists to create a deluge of fresh, “meta” content online, music labels have resorted to keeping their official sites as anemic online marketing brochures.

MLB Advanced Media (www.mlb.com) – While there are thousands of fan sites and sports sites, MLB.com is undisputed premier site for baseball.  It is the opposite of the official artist Web sites most music labels develop.  Major League Baseball has been extremely aggressive in monetizing its content online, transforming what was once printed pages of scores and sports stories controlled by hundreds of physical media newspapers into a bonanza of advertising, auction, gaming, merchandise, and subscription revenue.  It gets high scores in all respects:

mlb_4

Popular – The site is optimized to be the top returned site for organic search for the word “baseball” or any professional baseball team on major search engines.  It almost always is one of the top 3 choices for player names as well.  It either advertises on or has affiliate relationships with other top baseball or related content sites like baseball.com.  Registration for any feature is easy.  All that is required is an e-mail address and a password. Yet, the site is establishing opportunities to learn more and more about its users over time as people flesh out their profiles as they participate in games, contests, and sign up for additional services.

Useful – If you are a baseball fan, this site has everything baseball related that you could possibly want to consume.  It is completely immersive.  Team sites, player sites, online games, auctions, subscriptions to streaming video, tickets, history, stats, blogs, forums, etc; It is hard to imagine what other kind of content they could add.  The content is active.  Users of the site have a plethora of opportunities to interact with the content.  They can play any number of fantasy sports games, some of which offer opportunities to stay engaged for a whole season, others which offer faster gratification, asking users to compete on the basis of their ability to pick streaks (e.g. winning, hitting, stealing, etc.) 

Accessible – The site allows users to deliver the content to any device.  It has numerous mobile offerings.  Users can also subscribe to RSS feeds by team or for the whole league.

Social – MLB.com has truly exploited the social nature of its entertainment content.  The fantasy sports games are an excellent example of an online social networking revenue opportunity.  Commodity data is used as the basis to bring fans together to compete in fantasy leagues.  These games increase engagement, impressions, repeat visits, duration of visit, and switching costs to competitive sites.  While fantasy sports is perhaps the best example of a social application based on content, the site also seeks to build community through more common approaches such as blogsmessage boards, and forums.

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MLB.com uses its content to aggregate an audience and generate revenue through many mechanisms: direct sales of merchandise, auctions, advertising, sponsorships, subscriptions, and ticket sales.  While not all of these opportunities are directly related to online social networks, the users of the site and their ability to interact with each other and the content are what make it successful and differentiate it from static print-based publications and many online versions of traditional media.  Also, instead of giving its content away and allowing a plethora of 3rd party sites and superfans to monetize its assets, MLB.com has taken an aggressive approach to be the best place to immerse oneself in baseball and get the most unique, exclusive access to players and memorabilia.

BusinessWeek(www.businessweek.com) – BusinessWeek is a traditional print publication that targets a general business audience and has developed an effective online version of its publication.  It is filled with breaking AP stories, proprietary news stories and commentary and is suffering from the same decline in revenue that most traditional publishers are facing.  In 2008, BusinessWeek launched Business Exchange, pithily marketed with the tag line, “Track and share business stories across the Web.”  The Web site allows users to “create business topics, collaboratively aggregate content from the entire Web and connect with other business focused users around these topics.”  It is a great tool for business users to research and/or stay current on business trends that are important to them.  The tool is easy to use and seamlessly integrated with LinkedIn.  While the service is still new, I think that it has the potential to truly differentiate and potentially transform BusinessWeek.

business-exchange_5

Popular – Business Exchange is presented to users as a tab off the home page.  It is unlikely that non-BusinessWeek users will find it because it has not really established itself as a “destination site” yet and it is unlikely that users will start searching for it.  The popularity of the site could be significantly enhanced with some marketing and PR.   Still, activity on the site is certainly respectable, and any curious business person could easily lose themselves browsing through the many user-generated blogs and stories that are posted there.

Useful – The site offers a lot of utility.  In fact, in my opinion, it notably beats search engines for getting up to speed about new issues or tracking new stories about chosen topics.  It is also provides integrated, contextually relevant opportunities to network with other users and find potential thought partners, new employees, or prospects in a targeted way.  The site has the opportunity to add twitter like capabilities in the future that might add to its overall utility.

Accessible – User profiles are seamlessly integrated with LinkedIn.  This makes it easier to sign up and start with a well-populated profile.  The LinkedIn integration also sets the right context for users. 

Social – In terms of generating revenue from an online user base, this new service has the potential to really impact BusinessWeek’s success.  The magazine has truly embraced the open, collaborative nature of the Web.  Rather than trying to cling to a strategy of differentiation by content, the site is transforming itself into a useful business tool.  While the BusinessWeek brand and content are still important, Business Exchange recognizes that the vast network of readers may have as much or more content to offer than its own staff of writers and editors.  Also, the service has an opportunity to segment and even publicly “tag” users by their reading behavior in addition to users’ explicit self-ascribed tags and interests.  I hope that this service gets some more press and attention as it is an ambitious step forward for a traditional print publication.

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At the most basic level Business Exchange will help increase revenue by helping the magazine to grow its user base and dramatically increase user engagement and thereby advertising revenue.  As the service evolves and learns more about its users, it will have opportunities to offer additional business service products such as recruiting and marketing services.

Social Networking Revenue Strategies
There are three basic approaches that these companies have pursued or should pursue to generate new revenue.

  1. Transform traditional content sites into tools by embracing the open, collaborative nature of the Web. (http://bx.businessweek.com/)
  2. Aggressively exploit all aspects of your content and your community, paying special attention to meta content opportunities (e.g. baseball stats, behind the scenes artist information), user-generated content (e.g. bootlegs and concert videos), and other forms of user interaction (e.g. games, lists, contests) (www.mlb.com)
  3. Treat highly fragmented media properties (e.g artist Web sites) as a network.  By aggregating the audiences of smaller sites, companies have an opportunity to increase potential advertising and commerce revenue.

Collaboration Style Revisited

When looking at the results of our last poll on collaboration styles, several things jumped out at us.

1. Nearly a third of the respondents are either still relying on email collaboration or under-utilizing basic portal functionality (document checkout/checkin for version control).

2. Among users of collaboration portals, there was an even split between Sharepoint and other tools.

This led us to wonder how broad corporate adoption of collaboration tools might be. And it leads us, of course, to another poll.

Comments always welcome, and in case you missed the first post in this series, it’s still open and you can vote here.

Missing pieces in your portal implementation plan?

missing-pieceClearly, many companies have collaboration tools such as portals on their to-do list as one of the top technology trends of 2009. Even this early in the year, we’re already hearing some frustration with the earlier adopters, in terms of the difficulties in getting their organizations to actually embrace the powerful functionality of collaboration portals. 

Here are four key elements to fostering user adoption of collaboration tools. They need to be baked into your portal implementation plan, because you need to sell this change aggressively into your organization to realize the full ROI of the technology investment. Sometimes, this can be the part of the implementation that requires the most finesse.

1. Strong executive sponsorship. Portals can fail when they are perceived as an IT initiative. Someone at the top has to get the early message out about how the portal can make the whole business more efficient. Executives can then lead the way by making the portal the preferred place to interact with the executive team.

2. Data Migration plan. If your business has traditionally used shared drives for file-level collaboration, make sure your portal migration plan includes moving the latest versions of files over to the portal site and decommissioning the old shared drive. 

3. Refine your collaboration processes to fully exploit the new technology. Workflows that have burdensome review/approval cycles can bog down any attempt at collaboration. While such rigor is useful in highly regulated businesses, it’s overkill in many others. If you make the portal a place where people can quickly share lessons learned and the new tools they develop for doing their jobs more efficiently, they will rush to embrace the portal. Limit approval requirements to the bare minimum and don’t let their contributions languish an an approval queue.

4. Change management. More than just training in portal functionality is needed. Key elements of your portal change management plan include organization design (assigning clear responsibility administration and creation/maintenance of portal sites), getting the message out early and often about the benefits of portal functionality, training in key user procedures (checkin/checkout, alerts, discussion boards, etc), and handholding as the business units create their own working sites.

If you’ve implemented a collaboration portal and are finding that your enterprise is ignoring it or under-utilizing its capabilities, please leave a comment–we’d love to hear about the challenges and how you’ve overcome them.

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Facebook

Facebook has surpassed the BBC in the UK, and, as of November 2008, is the #13 most visited site in the United States (source: comScore.com). Although it is mostly a consumer-focused site, businesses without a Facebook strategy may be missing a key component of their internet vision.

What is Facebook?

Facebook is a social networking application that lets users keep up with their friends, and exchange photos, location updates, and thousands of other activites due to its rich application development capabilities.

Why Facebook?

Facebook has the unique position to put your company in front of millions of users, both through traditional targeted online advertising as well as grassroots popularity.

Enterprises can take advantage of the broad reach, as well as users’ social graphs, by adapting their business processes to integrate with the metadata available there.

In contrast to MySpace, Facebook is far more structured, with a rigid template and page set up allowing very little design and content freedom. Although some users may find it limiting, it does mean less opportunity for abuse. For example, users can become “fans” of or companies or products, creating fan networks, but they can’t start boycott or other negative campaigns within Facebook’s standard template.

Example: WorkLight WorkBook

WorkLight’s WorkBook, released late last year, is the first of what are likely to be many applications that integrate with users’ existing social graphs in Facebook. These hybrid applications will take advantage of the rich Facebook API, while at the same time provide integration with enterprise systems via single-sign on and a unified data architecture. WorkLight has the benefit of already having an established presence in many large companies, where adoption rate and accessibility will be critical to their widespread success across the enterprise.

Brand Awareness

Enterprises will be significantly cutting back on marketing expenses in calendar year 2009 – making it a perfect time to explore Facebook as a low cost of entry marketing platform. Major consumer brands such as Jeep, Red Bull, and Coca-Cola have already invested heavily over the past 2 years in developing content and building audiences.

Late 2008 and early 2009 will bring business-oriented users to Facebook, looking to network for leads and build brand awareness and loyalty. This may result in fostering communities of “friends”, from smaller corporate divisions like Cisco Corporate Communications on up to General Electric.

I believe that a social media campaign is a lot harder, a lot more resource intensive than many marketers realize. Starting one without the ability to maintain it, is a form of brand suicide. Like blogs whose last entry was a year ago, an abandoned social media campaign shows both a lack of understanding and a lack of real engagement. — Simon Salt, CEO, IncSlingers

“Facebook-Like” Applications

In a future blog post, we plan on exploring what I believe is more likely to occur in 2009, that is the rise of “Facebook-Like” applications inside the corporate firewall. Most major enterprise software vendors are developing or releasing products to provide functionality similar to Facebook, adapting it for use in the enterprise. Product vendors such as Socialtext exemplify the types of products we are likely to see inside the firewall in the near future.

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