Return on Investment

This one was a pest to put together. To generate useful numbers to work with requires numbers be available. Most companies do not like to provide hard figures on expenditure in areas that could leave them open to criticism. Those figures that would open them up to plaudits get pushed, but not in detail. So to find accurate numbers to use for examples of successful use of Social Media become problematic. To avoid assumption is of course impossible, we make assumptions every day; every minute of every day would be more accurate. That those assumptions are based on past experience does not make them more valid, just more probable, but I digress.

An early example I found was Cisco, and their launch of a new server in 2010. I passed over it to try to find a more contemporary example. In the end I was forced back to Cisco for the simple reason that it is a fine example of how successfully the Social Media network can be leveraged.

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Cisco maintains a presence on the following Social Media sites:

In 2010 Cisco hosted an online presentation for a new router; that is they launched an exclusively online presentation!

The figures cited for the attendance claim 9,000 people attended the launch in a Second Life virtual environment. They opened the event with a seven hour concert featuring seven different bands. The presentation was hosted on big screen monitors for an audience seated on chairs amid palm trees, the video presentation given by the executives of Cisco was displayed on the monitors in the game.

To highlight the features of the router reporters, or network engineers could navigate through a virtual model of the router in personal transport devices. A game was incorporated for the use of the guests to educate, and amuse. The player would defend the network using features of the product being displayed. The gamers would compete via their scores to enter a championship round with the winner receiving $10,000 and a router.

In conjunction with these activities Cisco ran videos on YouTube to educate customers, and press about the new product.

Customers were assembled for by local sales teams to participate via video conferencing.

Network engineers were contacted via mobile phones, and facebook support was offered.

The result:

  • The presentation generated triple the number of press articles traditional methods could.
  • Over 1,000 blogs and 40,000,000 online comments
  • Winner of the Leading Lights award for Best Marketing
  • Cost 1/6 the cost of a conventional launch.

Hard pressed to find any way they could have done this better.

Error Factor

In the run up to the Federal election I engaged with friend of mine in conversation via facebook about the predicted Coalition victory. She is rabidly anti Abbot, a sentiment I find myself unable to agree or disagree with; to me Tony is a blank space, a cardboard cut out of a man. So given that, I had trouble telling him and Kevin apart. I think Tony is slightly taller, and may have more hair, but really that is about all the difference I can see. For me the depressing prospect of a LNP government was mitigated only by the prospect that Abbot would spend more time with his foot in his mouth than Rudd. Tony may have some good qualities, (??) over endowed with intelligence is not one of his burdens though. As example of this statement, just watch him when he is asked a question for which he has not been prepared. Actually watch this for a typical Coalition candidate caught by his own need to hold the camera. That last was not fair you can delete the Coalition part of the sentence, the driving need of both major parties to deliver a sound bite message is so focused as to preclude the idea of content. But I digress, my enjoyment of the banter with Cath was driven by gently poking her anti-Abbot button. A tactic guaranteed to get a rise from her; the responses she gave to my gibes were on the other hand well considered and accurate criticism of Coalition policy. Cath does know how to suck the fun out of bear bating ūüė¶

In response to the election, and to the task of analyzing an organization, I choose the Coalition and their social impact over the period since the election. Fun!

As a starting point I made use of Addictomatic, Socialmention, and Topsy to see the social media sector was saying about the Coalition. Despite their being a supposed grace period for new governments post election the numbers suggest that the Coalition party has about the popularity of flatulence in a space suit.

Sentiment

positive
 
17
neutral
 
95
negative
 
54

The above was taken from Social mention and is subject to change as more tweets are made, so take it with a grain of salt as to the relevance. The figures offered by Topsy looked similar, and the comments attached had a striking similarity. I found the content of Addictomatic more engaging in content, especially the youtube links, some funny stuff there.

If you are looking for a more serious look at what the numbers suggest, do not expect any surprises. The figures and graphs only serve to highlight what is, or should be fairly common knowledge. The Coalition did not win the election; the Labour party lost the election.

If the figures offered by the sentiment meter are an accurate indicator of how Australia feels about the Coalition, they should have lost the election in a landslide. There is little doubt in me that the Labour party would have fielded similar numbers. The error factor with social media monitoring is canted toward the negative. The people being canvassed by social monitoring by definition, must be utilizing social media to comment on the organization in question.

For any political party, the problem is that people who are pleased with their performance, will be silent. To have one positive comment for every three negative is rather a good outcome. Not a reason to be complacent, but hardly a reason to panic either.

If, and I stress if; I were to give a suggestion to the Coalition party, it would be to listen. Listen to the concerns of the public being voiced over the social sites, listen to the experts they hire to do the reports on the state of the country, listen.

As to how much chance there is that the decision makers in the Coalition back rooms will listen to anyone outside of “their” social network? Not good, not good at all.

     
     
     

The Social in IT

Internet + Social Media = Linux

When you look at how the IT industry uses, and thrives on social media; you are inundated with choice. The most obvious are Linux and Wikipedia; both of which have defied their critics, both examples use the collective wisdom as a vehicle for their success. Contributors have given freely of their own expertize and time to make both Linux and Wikipedia work, and work they do. The extent and reach of both of these enterprises are bordering on pervasive in their influence. It would be interesting to see a percentage of all electronic devices that have Linux as their operating system. I may have to consult Wiki to see if anyone has done the math.

As influential as both of these examples are, they are not the example I have chosen to highlight for this post. Instead I will look briefly at the world of online gaming through BioWare; a subsidiary of EA games.

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Founded in 1995, BioWare first saw success with Shattered Steel. This was followed by Baldur’s Gate, then amongst other games by Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It is the latter that we will look at more closely.

Released in September 1996; Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a single player RPG game that partook of the popularity of the Star Wars franchise; without having to hold fast to the storyline of the movies. The story is set in the distant past of the Star Wars galaxy allowing a familiar story to be retold with enough variation to avoid the criticism that other Star Wars games have received from fans of the movies.

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The second version of the game released in November 2003; Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords continues the story from the point at which the first finished. The evolution of the game was more in the area of improved graphics; most likely in response to better video capacity. The humour of the game improved as well, if you have a chance to play the game, play out the dialogue chain of the HK droid; you will get more than a few laughs out if it.

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The latest incarnation has been in the form of a Multiplayer online game released in December 2011; Star Wars: The Old Republic. Preceding the release beginning in October 2011 BioWare hosted a series of open weekends for people to log on for gameplay and feedback. These weekends were valuable to BioWare as leverage of the long tail; the information gleaned from their customers drove the series of updates and patches that began the day of the games release.

This process of feedback from the gaming community and response by the developer has continued to this day. BioWare in a hardly unique fashion has utilized the customer as a partner in the development process. Those aspects of the game that have proved popular have been enhanced, those that have not met with ready acceptance have evolved.

The two major levers employed by BioWare and most if not all software developers are the long tail, and the constant beta. Customer feedback through community chat rooms provided within the game environment, as well as facebook and other social media provide direction for the developers. The perpetual beta a state of modification to the programs user interface and gameplay continue even after the official release. Even with the removal of the beta title; the game continues to be revised, sometimes with unforeseen consequences. There are numerous examples of problems reported after updates to improve existing problems. This is the risk of early publication, the dark side of the agile process.

What charity was that?

I sat down to write this post intending to focus on the benefit that social media can provide for charities in brand awareness, and fundraising. It had been my intent to include a couple of charts, or graphs to show statistical growth in both areas from leverage of 2.0 tools.

The following chart shows the growth of charitable donations in America and was sources from the National Philanthropic Trust.

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The growth of online donations, while a relatively small percentage of overall giving has shown a marked increase. The following figures are exclusive to online contributions.

$2,129,200,398 $1,868,016,152 14% 22,607,052 10.9% 94.18

This is not surprising. People like people, and given the chance will help when needed. This trait crosses all social, economic, and ethnic barriers. These figures provide a broad stroke look at the charity sector. For a look at how a given charity utilizes social media I chose the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

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The hard figures in the charts preceding suggest that for the MDA to utilize social media for fundraising will increase it’s revenue by about 2%. This figure is to be taken advisedly as the economic constraints people may have felt during the period covered by this report. The potential savings for the charity in staffing, and advertising costs are likewise not factored in to these numbers.

The MDA has a broad awareness and fundraising base with coverage of in conventional media such as newspapers, radio, and television. The association promotes individuals engaging in challenging feats to garner coverage and public awareness, all with an eye to increasing that brand awareness. As the challenge of living from day today for sufferers of this disease is in itself a challenge of no small measure, they have no shortage of positive role models, and indeed have some spectacular examples of will over hardship.

The MDA utilizes facebook, twitter, youtube, and google+ as well as having their own website. These tools are used for fundraising, community news, support, and more. The benefits for both the association and those intimately involved in dealing with the disease defy the scope of this post to cover. Suffice I think to say that a 2% increase in the revenue income of the association is the least of  benefits gained.

To quote Aristotle: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more then human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

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The use of social media can and does increase the size of the community in which we as humans live. I worked with a young woman last year which required contact through facebook, she as a throwaway comment remarked that she had some 800 friends on her list. It is inconceivable that she would know each of them personally, but to feel a common connection with them?

A more intimate example comes from my home town, a small town in rural Victoria called Cobram. When I say small, I do mean small, the population of the town itself was less than 2,000, so about the same as one suburb in this city, a small suburb ūüôā I knew a young man there named Ashley, he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age 16. Ashley was average, not athletic, not a natural leader, just below average height, average. The most remarkable thing about Ashley would be that he was unremarkable. Yet he taught me a lesson I have carried with me ever since.

Two years after his initial diagnosis Ashley was confined to a wheelchair. His ability to speak was severely reduced, he could mumble and slur his way through a sentence, but it was a challenge. The outlook for Ashley was bleak at best, the doctors gave him less than a year of life, a prediction that proved only too accurate as he never saw his nineteenth birthday. Yet Ashley was the inspiration of an act of charity by a group of guys who nobody would have suspected of having the least charity in them. This group of six guys could be described as troubled teenagers, all of them guilty of assault, public vandalism, theft, and an assortment of anti social offenses. Later life would see one of them spend most of his adult life behind bars, another shot in a drive by (he not only survived, he drove some 30 k’s to chase down the shooter and driver, assaulted them both, then went to the hospital), two others died young in car accidents, and another overdosed. But for Ashley’s eighteenth birthday these guys demonstrated something else. Ashley was, like many teenagers, a bit of a car nut. His personal favorite was the Holden FJ, at the time it was the ambition of many youngsters to own, and either restore, or modify one of these Australian classics.¬† He would never have the physical ability, let alone the time to undertake such a project. The group of six I mentioned had both, the will, and the skill to act on the impulse to do a favor for someone they barely knew. I was at the party when they arrived and presented Ashley with the car keys. Ashley was not the only person with tears on their cheeks.

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This is a way of introducing the other lever applied by the MDA through social media. Public awareness, community engagement, or if your prefer, value added services. Most specifically in the area of e learning, to hear and read the stories of those who live with Muscular Dystrophy, and their families of course, is to feel sympathy. That can and does lead to offers of time, and money being made to the charity from often surprising quarters.

Conventional marketing, awareness programs can miss the mark by being mistaken for advertising, or panhandling. As an example; I had to go to JB HiFi for a network cable, as I walked down the street, a distance of two city blocks, I was stopped three times by three different charities. My initial response on seeing a smiling face over a logo encrusted t shirt was annoyance at this intrusion on my time, that was at the first stop, by the third I was getting flippant. Confronted by a determined clipboard wielding young woman pressing for support for some environmental charity, I ran out of patience. So as her sales pitch ran down I pressed her for details, on how the charity planned to combat the economy vs ecology challenge, how they planned to secure long term political commitment, you get the idea, questions without good answers. No, that is not right, without acceptable answers would be closer to the truth. Conventional marketing can be, and often is intrusive, this does not engage peoples empathy, it often is counter productive. Social media suffers less from this backlash, the majority of people exposed to the charities message over this medium either sought it out themselves, or encouraged such contact through their own social network.

Music to the People

As this week the task presented is to post about the legal risks of social media, I thought to make use of a media giant in Apples Itunes.

For the sake of the few, Itunes is an web site where it is possible to purchase movies, music, TV shows, Ebooks, and apps for Apple products. These do not exhaust the product and promotion list available through the Istore portal, but they are prominent. The social media presence of Apples Istore, Itunes, is spread across the usual suspects. They maintain Facebook, and Twitter sites, blogs promote their products. Type Apple, or Itunes into a search engine,(dealers choice) and you will find them all over the web. They dominate downloadable music sales.

This dominance puts Apple in a curious position, not unfamiliar to IBM or Microsoft. Not only do Apple face the legal complications of anti-competition charges within America and Europe. 

Page Tearing Apple

Trade mark infringement, copyright violations,confidentiality, and reputation loss are the big four for Apple in my opinion. Yes I know the link above is the same one used earlier, but it does support the point being made. Confidentiality is always going to be a problem for a company of Apples size and talent pool. It is not inconceivable that some employees could “leak”, confidential information¬†

The hardest for any company with dominance in the marketplace to avoid is reputation loss. The “tall poppy” syndrome is hardly unique to Australia, large targets attract attention. For the strategic planning people in large companies the risk of doing one thing or another must be a balancing act of the negatives, or so it seems. Take for instance the open letter released by Steve Jobs to the music industry regarding DRM.

Irregardless of the motives behind Mr Job’s letter it became a target for criticism, there are far too many examples for me to link to many so I will make do with the preceding one. Suffice to say I think that any move made by a market leading company can, and will attract criticism. The news worthiness of those criticisms is driven as much by the very forces companies fight to protect, their brand, as they are by the issues raised in the news item itself.

 

Is it all about marketing?

Firstly I should apologize that this post is overly late in arriving, as mitigation, rather than excuse I will offer the following news. During  the last week I have received notice from both of my daughters that they are pregnant. My eldest is expecting her first, the younger her sixth. If I gave you two guesses as to which got congratulations, an which got the talk about family planning would you need both? I thought not. The drama of these two events, neither was planned incidentally, have seen me spending hours on the phone with one or the other venting her concerns, and hopes. These concerns and hopes are of course not a subject for public forums, or indeed private conversation between any save the primaries. Suffice to say, I think, that my focus  of attention has been far removed from social media or deadlines for posts.

We have been asked to look at a given company and evaluate their use of social media. On impulse, perhaps driven by their presence in news, and political discussion, to have a look at Ford. I expected to find webpages promoting Ford and it’s products, and was not disappointed. Ford runs their own homepage as well as major franchises linking under the company banner, as well as running separate pages. Two examples of franchise sites would be Metro Ford and Byrne Ford, these are chosen by courtesy of being the first two sites listed on google, no other reason. I include these two web pages only to demonstrate a commonality between the franchises in marketing. It is safe to assume that the direction of brand marketing is driven by a centralized marketing department.

On the face of it Ford appears to utilize social media extensively for marketing and customer insight. Though the amount of customer insight is a more open question. Briefly and by no means extensively Ford uses these media outlets:

In these examples Ford utilizes social media for product promotion, and to generate sales leads. There is facility for online sales request so potential customers can customize their purchase, within a preset set of options anyway. There is the option of customer feedback through twitter and facebook, as well as posting responses to official, and sponsored blogs. There is even an example of Ford America working in conjunction with boing boing to develop an android app using an open source api. Thereby engaging the public in product development.

All fine and well so far is goes, but does Ford make best use of the information available in marketing, and product development? In my opinion, no. This opinion is based upon two things in main, the first being Ford’s own decision to close manufacturing facilities in Australia, not a decision driven by a rising profit margin. The second is the following chart, which really does little more than inform the former with some dry statistics.

2012    Vehicle    Sold   2011  Vehicle Sold
1.   Mazda3   44,128      1.  Mazda3 41,429
2.   Toyota HiLux   40,646   2.  Holden Commodore 40,617
3.   Toyota Corolla   38,799   3.  Toyota Hilux 36,124
4.   Holden Commodore   30,532   4.  Toyota Corolla 36,087
5.   Holden Cruze   29,161   5.  Holden Cruze 33,784
6.   Hyundai i30   28,348   6.  Hyundai i30 28,869
7.   Toyota Camry   27,230   7.  Nissan Navara 21,675
8.   Nissan Navara   26,045   8.  Toyota Camry 19,169
9.   Toyota Yaris   18,808   9.  Ford Falcon 18,741
10.   Ford Focus   18,586   10. Mitsubishi Lancer 18,717

These figures can be found here, as well as the full article they are parsed from.

Given that these figures would be fairly common knowledge in the decision making circles of Ford, it begs the question, why would Ford focus their marketing on a large 4WD? I believe Ford would be well served by utilizing the collective knowledge available through social media to better effect. Why not extend the experiment in software development, to hardware? Engage the public in feedback for proposed models, or even to design a “peoples” car. Henry Ford would probably approve of that.

 

 

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Some random thoughts:

As my post this week is based on the option 1 offered. To utilize features of social media that I don’t currently use. Which will be of as much interest to most of you as watching paint dry on a park bench I thought to offer a couple of things that may amuse.

Whilst looking about on the net I stumbled across a site dedicated to quotes by famous people. One in particular caught my attention, so here it is. A quote by Alfred Hitchkock.

‚ÄúThese are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equaled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.‚ÄĚ

As my ancestry is Scottish, and my mother a true fan of bagpipe music, I was exposed to many fine examples of pipers doing their worst. In fairness I should add that I do not mind listening to the instrument being played well….just not every day.

Okay, secondly are there any anarchists in the crowd? We have an election coming up for the Federal Parliament. For those who have an interest in protesting the behavior of either of the major parties this is your only real chance. In order to get political change you have to get the attention of the policy makers. Did I hear a “duh” from the rear there? Yes, it is an obvious statement, but the how may not so obvious. Get most politicians a bit drunk and listen to his/her conversation, you will find that his/her concerns in life, other than those that concern us all, are margins. What margin of votes will get him/her into, or out of his/her seat. Again you may say “obviously”, that is why politicians campaign, to attract votes. This is not exactly true for the major parties, they campaign not just for seats, important as they are, they campaign for primary votes.

So you can hold demonstrations, march, writes protests, collect petitions, etc, and you may get the attention of a given politician. You may even get a dozen or so onside, but in this country, unless you can get the attention of one of the major parties, you have little chance of achieving your desired change. If you want to get the attention of the parties the most effective way, short of a large contribution, or being related to the party leadership, is to take money off them. As a primary vote is worth about $2.30, both parties want you to put them at the top of your voting slip, if you actually want them to listen to the concerns of you the voter, put them last! Use your social contacts, pass on the message, encourage a bit of anarchy, as non-violent protest goes, this is about as effective a means as you can get. Remember, $2.30 multiplied by a million voters is a large voice.

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The rest of this post is taken up by my getting acquainted with RSS, so if that sounds dull to you I would suggest this is a good place to sign off.

My first thought was to use the Google reader, but found that like the European Cave bear, and the Dodo, Google’s reader was extinct. Looking over the available readers, and looking at a few reviews led me to chose Digg as the RSS reader for me.

It was only after going through the registration, remarkably complicated, must have had to click on three different responses! Not really all that difficult was it. Next was the linking of blogs and stuff to the reader, there is a YouTube video showing just how complicated that is so I won’t do a blow by blow description.

It was only after that was done that I discovered following posts on WordPress is even more complicated if the post itself is on WordPress you only have to click on the follow option on the pages task bar. 

Linking the two to feed the content to Outlook has proved every bit as difficult. I am rather impressed by the thought and functionality brought to the table by these programs. Nice work by the people who designed and coded the interface.

That will do for this week, thanks for letting me waste some of your time. ūüôā