ROI 2.0, Part 2: Storytelling and Business Cases

15 12 2008

Storytelling, in the various realms of life, is a powerful tool in spreading the word, creating rapport and inspiring others. It’s not uncommon to hear advocates of social media tell nice stories
about how they blogged or twittered about something and because of
that, somebody else was able to solve a problem that otherwise would
take much longer to address. I use it all the time, and enjoy when others do the same.

However, storytelling is not a substitute for a solid business case. While story telling is a legitimate way to communicate, anecdotal evidence showing a feel-good story on the power of social computing does not constitute proof that net returns are being achieved. Of course, that cuts both ways: the fact that a given person or team never got anything out of blogging or using a wiki cannot be used as a conclusive argument against it either.

The tale that goes untold is: how many of the blog posts, tweets or wiki articles went unnoticed, and how much time was spent covering numerous subjects that did not help the resolution of any problem?

User-generated content (UGC), be it in the form of blog posts, tweets, contributions to a wiki, photos posted to Flickr or Facebook, Amazon book reviews, TripAdvisor feedback or comments to newspaper articles, tend to follow a power law distribution, where usefulness or relevance tend to concentrate on a very small fraction of the whole. That pattern is expected, and it can be even considered an intrinsic part of the overall value embedded in UGC. The gems made possible by UGC exist in part because so much content of various degrees of quality was created, not despite of that.

The point that sometimes is missed in the ROI discussion is that one cannot ignore the total cost and investment to generate those gems when assessing the business value of enabling users to create content. There’s no doubt that the enterprise adoption of social media generates value, as can be attested by the multiple stories collected by Web 2.0 advocates in the last few years. But once discounted the costs, does it generate net business value? Any ROI analysis needs to take into consideration the returns, the investment and the time horizon. Therefore, the questions that need to be answered are: how much, how often (or how soon) and at what cost. Add storytelling to that, and you may have a winner in your hands.

Click here for Part 1 of this ROI 2.0 Series: Bean Counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas

Advertisements




2.0 Tales: A not so flat world

11 12 2008

This is an old story, but since I never blogged about it, I thought it would be worthwhile to share

In the summer of 2007, I was visiting the IBM’s Banking Industry Solution Centre (BISC) in Barcelona, and was asked to run a session on Web 2.0 and Social Computing to the local team of young developers. At some point, I was mentioning how the world was not actually flat, and how different countries tend to choose distinct online social networks. I then asked: “Facebook is popular in Canada and in the US, Bebo in UK, Orkut in India and Brazil. Which Social Network is popular here in Spain?”. All those young faces were staring at me as if I were the biggest loser on Earth. Then, somebody took the courage and said: “Err. None. Here in Spain, we just go to bars and talk to each other”.

Confirming that assessment, I found later that the Forrester’s European Technographics Benchmark Survey for Q2 2007 revealed that both Spain and France had the lowest number of joiners (those who participate on social networking sites like MySpace) among the European countries included in the research, at 5 and 4% respectively.

The lesson learned was that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to the enterprise adoption of social software. It’s important to understand how different age groups, cultures and personalities react to social computing initiatives and tailor your strategy accordingly.





ROI 2.0, Part 1: Bean counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas

11 12 2008

This year I’ve been talking to a very large number of clients around the globe and across multiple industries about the business value of Web 2.0 and Social Computing, and inevitably the topic of ROI surfaces. It seems to be more the subject of a book than a blog post due to its complexity and scope, and it’s also a dry subject, not as flashy as talking about Twitter or cool beer ads. Nonetheless, blogging is my way of thinking out loud, so I’ll give it a try here, but breaking it down into manageable chunks.

Discussions on the ROI for Web 2.0 and Social Computing tend to be very polarized. Many early adopters, enterprise 2.0 thinkers and so-called evangelists tend to dismiss the need to articulate ROI for innovation, with arguments ranging from quick – and shallow – “nobody asks for the ROI of email or phones” to some elaborated points of view. Andrew McAfee, Associate Professor with the Harvard Business School and a recognized thought leader in Enterprise 2.0 wrote a blog post back in 2006 about the challenges of building business cases to justify IT investments using ROI or NPV figures. He quotes the book Strategy Maps, by Bob Kaplan and David Norton, who say:

“None of these intangible assets has value that can be measured separately or independently. The value of these intangible assets derives from their ability to help the organization implement its strategy… Intangible assets such as knowledge and technology seldom have a direct impact on financial outcomes such as increased revenues, lowered costs, and higher profits.  Improvements in intangible assets affect financial outcomes through chains of cause-and-effect relationships.”

On the other side, there seems to be a strong demand by the ones holding the money – often the decision makers – to better articulate the financial returns on social computing initiatives. Pat LaPointe, from MarketingNPV, stated in a blog post he wrote in September 2008:

“(…) we marketers don’t do ourselves any favors by trying to disconnect [Social Media] from financial value just because it’s hard to make the links. Maybe we should take a page from how our companies decide to invest in R&D – with clarity of purpose, explicit assumptions, and rigorous experimentation in escalating risk scenarios. In the end, that will accelerate corporate adoption of social media much faster. So rather than trying to spin the tangential metrics, help those grounded in the P&L to “get it”. Remember, if they don’t “get it”, neither will you. Budget that is.”

John T. Gourville, associate professor at Harvard Business School, writing about the psychology of new-product adoption for the Harvard Business Review (Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers), described a similar conflict between product developers and consumers. The former, like innovators, are likely to see a need for their product and see them as essential, while the latter are reluctant to part with the incumbent product, and are unable to see the need for a change.

As in any polarized discussion, the arguments quickly escalate to become very dogmatic, and no real dialogue takes place. Which side is right, the innovators or the bean counters? Both, to some extent, as it’s often the case. ROI models are far from perfect and benefits derived from social computing are hard to measure. But in a corporate world of limited resources and high scrutiny, investments on Web 2.0 compete with more ordinary needs such as employee compensation and basic infrastructure improvements, so if you don’t have a business case, chances are that you won’t get much funding either. Hype will only take you so far. Past the smoke and mirrors, if there is real net value in Enterprise 2.0, it must be clearly articulated.

To get this conversation started, both sides need to focus on their common objectives: a solution that will benefit both the individuals and the companies they work for. That’s why, at this point of the Social Media evolution, we need more bridges than evangelists.





Podcasts: What’s in your list?

9 12 2008

I’m completely addicted to podcasts. Being able to board a packed subway and still get your daily fix of news or entertainment relief makes the 40-minute commute back and forth feel like a walk in the park. iPods and other MP3 players are so pervasive now, and most of us have no time to watch TV or listen to radio.

My podcast listening pattern mimics my old radio listening habits: I created a playlist with everything that’s recent and let it play continuously. This leads me to keep having senile moments when I can’t for the life of me remember what the source was for my references. I also wanted to tell Andy and the Michaels that I’m now subscribing to Dogear Nation, but my recollection of the shows is all mixed up with Buzz Out Loud and net@nite, so I’d better stay quiet 😛 .

An annoying side effect of having the so-called wisdom of crowds surfacing what’s worth talking about is that most of the tech podcasting tend to cover exactly the same things. They all seem to go to Digg, Reddit and Engadget as their main inspiration for news, so I’m getting increasingly more fond of listening to non-news radio shows from BBC,  CBC and NPR. The TED Talks are also top in my list, but I can only consume videos when I manage to get a seat, so there’s a lot to catch up on the video podcast front. Yesterday I listened to Ken Robinson talking about education and creativity. Fantastic talk, if you ask me.

I keep changing my subscriptions, but this is my full current list. Looking at it now, it seems obvious that I need to shrink the techie talks and get more of other stuff urgently there.

  • Best Ads on TV
  • Best of Today
  • Best of YouTube (Ipod video)
  • Boing Boing TV
  • Book Review
  • BusinessWeek — Technology & You
  • Buzz Out Loud
  • CBC Radio:  Ontario This Week
  • CBC Radio: C’est la vie: Word of the Week
  • CBC Radio: Dispatches
  • CBC Radio: Editor’s Choice
  • CBC Radio: Quirks & Quarks Complete Show
  • CBC Radio: Search Engine
  • CBC Radio: Spark
  • CBC Radio: The Best of As It Happens
  • CBC Radio: The Best of Ideas
  • CBC Radio: The Best of Sounds Like Canada
  • CBC Radio: The Best of The Current
  • CBC Radio: Toronto This Week
  • CBC Radio: Words at Large
  • CNET News Daily Podcast
  • CanadExport podcast
  • Cranky Geeks for the iPod Video
  • Digital Planet
  • Dilbert Animated Cartoons
  • Documentaries
  • Dogear Nation Podcast
  • Engadget
  • ExtremeTech.com
  • From Our Own Correspondent
  • Front Page
  • GeekBrief.TV | Video Podcast (iPod)
  • Global News
  • Harlequin Author Spotlight
  • Harvard Business IdeaCast
  • IBM – Powered by PodTech.net
  • IBM DEMOzone:en Accelerating Web 2.0 for Government
  • IBM Innovations Podcasts
  • IBM Institute for Business Value: Insights and Perspectives Podcast
  • IBM News Center – Audio Podcasts – United States
  • IBM Small Business Podcast
  • IBM WebSphere Technical Podcast series on SOA
  • IBM and the Future of. . .
  • IBM developerWorks – Powered by PodTech.net
  • IBM developerWorks podcasts
  • In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
  • Inside Mac Radio
  • Java News Podcast
  • Learn French by Podcast
  • Learn Spanish with Coffee Break Spanish
  • Mac Tips Daily!
  • MacBreak (iPod video)
  • NPR: 7AM ET News Summary Podcast
  • NPR: 7PM ET News Summary Podcast
  • NPR: Books Podcast
  • NPR: Business Story of the Day Podcast
  • NPR: Environment Podcast
  • NPR: Foreign Dispatch Podcast
  • NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
  • NPR: Health & Science Podcast
  • NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
  • NPR: Koppel on the News Podcast
  • NPR: Movies Podcast
  • NPR: Pop Culture Podcast
  • NPR: Shuffle Podcast
  • NPR: Story of the Day Podcast
  • NPR: Technology Podcast
  • NPR: Tell Me More Podcast
  • NPR: World Story of the Day Podcast
  • NYT Op-Ed Podcast
  • NYT Tech Talk
  • Nature Podcast
  • New Yorker: Fiction
  • New Yorker: Out Loud
  • NewsPod
  • Nickjr: Diego (VIDEO)
  • Odeo
  • Onion News Network (Video)
  • PCMag Radio
  • PRI’s The World: Technology Podcast from BBC/PRI/WGBH
  • Productivity @ IBM
  • Rough Guides iToors
  • Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
  • Science Times
  • Sesame Street Podcast
  • Slashdot Review – SDR News
  • Spanish Podcasts for Beginners
  • Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at D5 Conference
  • Storynory – Stories For Kids
  • Stuff You Should Know
  • TEDTalks (video)
  • The Economist
  • The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos Video Podcast
  • The Java Posse
  • The Sarah Silverman Program (Video)
  • The Web 2.0 Show
  • The latest news from IBM in the US
  • TimesTalks
  • Tourcaster
  • Travel with Rick Steves
  • Wake Up To Money
  • Walks of a Lifetime
  • Weekend Business
  • Weekend Explorer
  • Wired Science Video Podcast
  • World View
  • net@night
  • this WEEK in TECH – AAC Edition
  • todmaffin.com

If you managed to get to this line of this long post, you may be wondering why the heck I carry Harlequin Author Spotlight, Diego and Sesame Street in my iPhone. I attended Jenny Bullough’s talk at the Canadian Institute Social Media event last week and was curious to see how them are using podcasts to drive revenues. As for Diego and SS, those are life savers when your 2-year old is having a tantrum in a crowded restaurant.

I would love to hear recommendations for good podcasts, as I keep tweaking this list, so please let me know what you’ve been listening lately.





Blog or Twitter?

8 12 2008

I haven’t blogged for quite some time now, and even my feed reader is covered by virtual cobwebs these days. Being busy is the first excuse that comes to mind – and I’ve been insanely busy in the last few weeks – but of course you always find time to do what you love. And I do love writing and reading blog posts and comments. On the other side, I’ve been twittering quite a bit lately, resembling the character in this gaping void cartoon that Andy Piper mentioned in a recent Web 2.0 presentation of his:


by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid

I was actually late to the Twitter party. My first tweet was dated April 16th, 2007 but I only started using it often a few months ago.

Switching completely from blogs to Twitter is very tempting. You may struggle to write a blog post from time to time, but you always have an answer to the question “What are you doing right now?”. That may result in tweets that go from mundane (“back to my dorm”), to cryptic (“VARIA: Files Antwerpen”), to bizarre (abracadabra and decaf???) to history-in-the-making, like in the Mumbai attacks. The atomic nature of Twitter holds an enormous potential that’s not fully realized yet. But does that mean that blogs are really dying?

Paul Boutin, from Valleywag, created some buzz when he wrote in the November issue of the WIRED magazine:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug. (…) The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

The trend towards minimalism in communications was nicely covered by Jeremy Kaplan (Time magazine) in his befitting short article Haiku Nation. If you find 140 characters too limiting, visit smithmag’s Six-Word Memoirs and you may find that the 1120-bit ceiling for SMS is plenty. Supporting his micro-writing argument, Jeremy lists the NaNoWriMo 12-word novel challenge, the 5-word reviews blog for London musicals and plays, and the always popular 4-word film review site (the reviews on Titanic are just hilarious).

And, of course, there’s a whole series you can find in YouTube shrinking popular movies to their bare essence, such as “Rocky in 5 Seconds”:

Nobody knows for sure if blogs will follow the way of the dodo and GeoCities, or if we are just witnessing the ultra fragmentation of media channels. I expect blogs to be around for a long time, evolving with the other social media, as opposed to being replaced by them. Blogging is still my preferred way of communicating as it allows one to more effectively construct an argument and have meaningful conversations. And of course, you can tell by the length of this post that being succinct has never been my forté 😉





On Wi-Fi access, panels and building on your strengths

29 09 2008

Last week, I joined a panel at the Toronto Tech Week, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with the theme “Online Social Networks Go To Work”. I got there early in the morning to catch Alan Lepofsky, former IBMer and now at SocialText, speaking on the use of wikis for the Enterprise. It was a good session, I enjoyed his casual style, and he mentioned IBM a few times in his session, as he still does in his blog. As the workplace becomes more dynamic, and employee-for-life is becoming a thing of the past, the new HR approach of treating former employees as alumni makes total sense.

Just before Alan’s session, I tried to get a wi-fi connection, so that I could twitter from it live, but this is what I got instead:

No attendee Wi-Fi access, only exhibitor access, and with a steep price tag. I complained last week that the wi-fi access at the Javits Center in New York was spotty, but for a convention facility who claims to be the #1 in Canada, “inviting, inspiring, innovative, incomparable”, they clearly need to do something about Internet connectivity, as one can easily think about 4 “I”s that are not as flattering as those.

I found my own participation in the panel to be quite flat, but in retrospect, I don’t recall any technical panel I attended lately to be memorable. Bernie Michalik, via Twitter, brought my attention to this gem from Dan Lyons (formerly known as Fake Steve Jobs):

Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over. A few people got up and asked questions and the geeks did manage to (sort of) address one or two but then they forgot about the questioners and just started rambling again, talking to each other and forgetting about the audience. It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.

Jeremiah Owyang, from Forrester Research, wrote a comprehensive post on how to moderate conference panels, but I don’t think it’s even a question of better moderation. Asif Khan, a very articulate facilitator, did a fine job on that. What’s really missing in most Web 2.0 panels are two things:

  • Distinct points of view: Frankly, I feel like watching Beavis & Butt-head when I see a panel composed exclusively of evangelists/early adopters/Enterprise 2.0 vendors. Panelist A says “Social Networking/Crowdsourcing/Long Tail/[place your favourite buzz-2.0 jargon here] is the way to the future” and Panelists B, C and D say “cool”. To have a meaningful discussion going you need to have some disagreement there. Put doubters and visionaries/futurists/dreamers face-to-face and then you can uncover real insights.
  • Flattening of the discussion space: Having so-called Subject Matter Experts on stage and an audience attending passively most of the time is the total opposite of the Web 2.0 Architecture of Participation approach. I don’t think anybody can actually claim to be an SME in Web 2.0 or Social Computing. We are all learning, making mistakes and getting it right from time to time. Furthermore, people in the audience may have more interesting things to say than the panelists. But then you have a logistic problem, similar to the fame conundrum described by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody: it’s not practical to have everyone in an audience having its slice of airtime. Ironically, what seems to be missing is exactly a two-oh-ish type of moderation, the enablement of crowd participation by other channels. Allow panelists to state their position briefly prior to the event, then allow potential attendees to get questions in advance. I’ve seen people using post-it stickers, emails, Twitter, SixGroups and Crowdvine for that, but all are kind of cumbersome to use. Google Moderator looks like a promising tool to serve this need. I’d like to try it out the next time I facilitate or participate of a panel.

As usual, the intent of this post is not to throw cheap shots at the MTCC or the Toronto Tech Week organization. They both play fundamental roles in positioning Toronto as a premier destination for large and relevant events, and there’s definitely much more to praise than to criticize in what they are offering Toronto. I have high hopes that the Toronto Tech Week will grow to be a major global event a few years from now. To have a more balanced view of what people thought of the event, check out this Twitter search.

In any case, I’m considering giving priority to standard speaking engagements rather than panel participation in the near future, as the latter is definitely not my forté.





Top Web 2.0 Expo Keynote Videos: Dan Lyons (Fake Steve Jobs)

25 09 2008

Okay, this is the last of my top keynote videos. This talk didn’t have any real insights, but it was very entertaining, so it is good for a Friday post. See the video: