Social

Email newsletters... Don't you just hate them?

Well… I do.

I mean - we used to get individual emails from people across the organization containing useful information sent to a well maintained distribution list. Anyone could send, but as each email would go out to lots of people, you would be careful to compose your email, and ensure not to send if it wasn’t going to be valuable to the recipient.

Recipients had the power to filter the content email by email - because if I determined that a certain person was sending content that wasn’t relevant to my job, then I could simply un-subscribe from their distribution list, or auto-filter their emails into a ‘I’ll read this someday’ folder. Conversely I could look for keywords in the title of useful emails, and mark them as bold & red in my inbox to highlight them as important to read - because each email generally contained one item.

The rise of the newsletter

Now zip forward to 2012, and newsletters have taken hold within the enterprise. Someone somewhere decided that we all get too much email. So they determined what we need is less email, and the solution would be to bury all of the interesting and useful content into a stream of utterly irrelevant content. Oh - I’m sure the content is interesting and valuable to the publisher; and that they try to create email newsletters customized to a particular audience to make sure it is all relevant, but to me… most of it is irrelevant. We don’t all do the same job in this company, and we don’t all consume information in the same way.

Newspapers are fine for browsing content on a Sunday morning over a coffee and croissant, but when every email in my inbox is another newsletter… things have got out of hand.

Now because the process for pushing content into an email newsletter has become so much easier, publishers don’t think about the effort the readers have to go through to filter out the gems from the dross; so they put less effort into making it concise, and send more, rather than less content.

The worst crime I see these days is the repeat-summary newsletter… where a second person thinks the content from the first newsletter was so important that they recycle into a new format, and send again - making me have to scan through for a second time to determine if it is indeed something interesting or not.

How do I respond?

When I receive an email today, I scan the subject line to see if it is worth opening. If it passes that test, I scan the first page to see if there is anything there worth reading. If not - it gets filed in Archive or Trash depending on whether I might want to be able to search for the content later. I NEVER scroll past the first ‘fold’ unless I see something on the first page that draws me in.

I’m considering changing my email filters in Outlook to auto-file all newsletters into an archive folder - just so that they’ll be there if I have to go search for the content, but otherwise not getting in the way of doing my job.

So how would I fix it?

Personally I find twitter and feedly both excellent ways to consume updates and information. I can follow, or un-follow sources of information at will. Sources tend to be either very subject specific, or are generalists that have the same interest base as I do. All headlines are concise, and designed to fit the teaser into as few characters as possible - so that I can scan and read quickly, without getting bogged down.

But how could this apply to the enterprise?

Well - the simplest answer for me would be to ban email newsletters (or at least use best practice and put concise summaries above the fold for everything in the newsletter).

I’d love it if we managed to convince folks to go back to sending one email at a time about a specific subject, and to let us subscribe and autofilter - but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

How about an enterprise microblog (twitter-like) service, with publishers forced to create one article at a time, then published with a short teaser, appropriate #tags, and a link back to the article. The number of clicks on the item would indicate the popularity of the item, making it possible for others to discover to popular topics. Then as the user I could subscribe to the sources that I need to do my job - whether people, or topics (#tags). Assuming we also built a mobile interface to the service - we could also scan the news via mobile while out and about.

Does the technology exist today to do this? Yes - of course.

Question is - will we use it?

CRM, E2.0 & social convergence

As I predicted at the start of the year, we’re beginning to see the start of a movement to tie together social, CRM, and E2.0 - and it’s @loic from Seesmic that’s in the driving seat (with just a little help from salesforce.com).

I just spotted a post on G+ from Robert Scoble with an interview of @loic about Seesmic CRM - their new product focused on the Enterprise providing a mobile interface into SalesForce using a native app on iOS, Android and WP7.

The sales team can use the app to dial direct from contacts or leads, send emails, or participate in chatter (salesforce.com’s enterprise-microblogging service), and all of these actions are captured in Salesforce automatically - saving the sales guy from having to manually populate CRM after the fact.

Whilst Salesforce are already planning to move to a html5 app, @loic talks about how Seesmic is going to be able to combine their skills and knowledge in social with native apps on mobile to come up with something special that builds added-value over and above the basic Salesforce platform.

One of the features discussed is geo-location & ability to look at your customers or opportunities on a map - which is something that I suspect is going to be much easier to do with a local app which could potentially hook into the device’s mapping service vs a html5 based app.

Chatter conversations around a customer or deal are automatically aggregated on the device, so you can instantly see the discussions that the account team is having across your enterprise about that customer of deal. This really dissolves one of the issues in gaining traction on standalone E2.0 systems - because the chatter discussion is right there in your CRM system, and on your mobile.

One additional comment that @loic made during the video was that salesforce are planning on somehow extending chatter to allow the org’s sales team to interact with customers directly through the chatter interface. He didn’t explain how this was going to work, but I got the impression that it was something salesforce are working on, which Seesmic will build into their app when released. You also have to remember that salesforce acquired Radian6 earlier this year - so they’ve already got the ability to be scanning the social media space for leads and issues that can be tied back into the CRM system.

Even if salesforce don’t build it in - I think it is likley that seesmic are going to work out a clever way of bridging that connection at some point, given their experience in social and mobile.

As I said in January, I think salesforce are in the best position out there to capitalize on the this convergence, due in a large part to their forethought in making salesforce a platform, not just a closed application.

Watch the full interview here:-

Innovative uses for QR Codes

QR codes seem to have passed the trough of despair in the innovation cycle, and have started popping up all over the place in recent months. I spotted one on the back of a junk-mail leaflet from a local Church in France, a poster containing just a QR code advertising a somewhat controversial political party, and the company I work for will be using them on the booth at the next big trade-show we attend.

Whilst it is really easy to generate a QR code of your contact details, or to refer your website viewers to a mobile optimized version of your site (which I’ve had on my site for years and could really do with refreshing), coming up with an innovative or creative use for QR codes is mighty hard.

Thanks to the error correction embedded in QR codes, it is possible to mess with the design, and create some really pleasing examples that don’t look quite so grating when used on a website, or printed advertising. Hamilton Chan at Mashable posted a few beautiful QR code examples last week, including the one to the right here.

Jumpscan also provided Mashable with a neat infographic showing some of the history of QR codes, pointing out amongst other statistics that scanning of QR codes has increased 1200% from July to Dec 2010, somewhat confirming my suspicion that these things are really starting to take off.

Image from JumpScan

Yet again from mashable - today I see that Victor Petit from Lyon, who was looking for an internship, but has now landed one, came up with a really innovative way of showcasing his creativity and allowing him to attach his voice to a paper resume.

In the comments of the above article I also came across Hagan Blount - an unemployed social media strategist, who claims he will ‘tweet for food’, and uses a couple of QR codes to provide links to videos of himself and his contact details.

 

As Clay Shirky would likely say - this is one of the great examples of technology only becoming interesting once it becomes technologically boring… which is to say that’s when the creative folks start using it

What will you do to ‘move the needle’ and increase creativity?

2011 Social Media Predictions Pt2

This is the second part of my 2011 social media predictions.  Part 1 is available here.

Social Media Command Center

More people within the enterprise will start to be present in Social Media, and the dedicated social media role begins to fade

Up until now, most of the company twitter identities I’ve come across have been US-centric or global, driven by one or a few people.  As social media becomes part of everyone’s job, I think we’ll start to see more than just the initial SoMe evangelist manning the fire hose - and will find efficient ways to share the workload across a broader team.  This will allow organizations to engage in discussions locally using local language, and to talk about locally relevant products and offers.

The challenge will be ensuring that the distributed organization maintains a consistent identity and voice; and that there is a centralized system for making sure that cries for help are responded to appropriately.

This will need a good workflow system, a solid training and support mechanism for the distributed teams, and a good flow of information to provide them with the tools they need to stay current with the company’s latest messaging and offers.

More companies deploying Social Media Command Centers

In social media – the customer is generally represented by one person, who at various times may be researching new products or expecting support assistance. They don’t care who is behind the company twitter account – just that the company is listening to their needs, and providing the right answers.

Within the company – there is often a tug of war between the various groups with a stake in social media (which turns out to be most of the company). One way to help resolve this is to create a centralized command center, supporting both sales/marketing and support teams. I think this is a good way to ensures that the company deals with all types of interactions in social media without becoming overly reliant on sales/marketing or support to know what the other group needs.

The control-center would provide an entry point into the company covering ALL discussions about our products and brands. A small team could respond to queries (supporting the brand message), nurture or route potential leads to an social-media-inside-sales team, as well as escalating or routing issues for the support team.

Brian Solis’ conversation funnel illustrates this well, and he also has a post talking about Dell and Gatorade’s recently announced Command Centers.  I did notice from Brian’s post that that the Dell one is owned by the support team, while the Gatorade one by the marketing team.

Social graph and implicit search

Mobile and local tied to your social graph

Now that the US have finally caught up with (and overtaken Europe) with smart phones (iPhone/Android), we’ll continue to see the growth of mobile users accessing the social web from their handsets. The new array of reasonably priced Android handsets will continue to drive smart-phones down to the mid-market and mainstream consumers.

The world-wide tour that Marissa Mayer has been on recently, covered in numerous blogs and on-stage at Le Web gives us some hints to Google’s plans for social.  As I suspected last year - it looks like they’re going to use the fact that they’ve got you, your location and your contacts from Android with some sort of implicit search to provide you with information that you want before you think to search for it. The scenes from various SciFi movies are already ringing in my memory - and I can imagine lots of personally useful services (such as giving me tips for restaurants I might like to visit that have received good reviews, or that were visited by my friends in the past).

It only remains to be seen if Google can convince enough of us to relinquish our privacy (within the scope of our social graph) to a sufficient level to pass the tipping point required to make this sort of service useful. 

Ecommerce and social connected with OpenID

I think you’ve all seen the facebook social plugins appearing on blogs, and brand pages - pointing out those from your social graph who have liked, or commented on a blog post. You’re also probably familiar with consumer reviews on sites like Amazon - which I always refer to when purchasing. The missing element here is a link between the two. When I’m looking at a list of product reviews - I’d like to see if any of my friends have used one of the products that I’m looking at - and then I can send them a message to see what they think of it now.

The technology missing here is some way to connect my disparate identities across the various sites (also helping to reduce the plethora of passwords and accounts I have to remember). I suspect that this could either be done through the use of an 3rd party identity host (OpenID, google, facebook or twitter) to identify reviewers on the product site; or some sort of search aggregation (Google) where the search engine is able to connect my identity on Amazon with who I am on Google.

It will also require the manufacturers or vendors to relinquish control over user accounts - which will be a big step for some like HP and Amazon.

Conclusion

I’d love to hear if you agree with my predictions for 2011. Am I too early with some of these; or do the technologies to deliver on these ideas already exist? Let me know if the comments…

Image credits: NASA, x-ray delta one