Archive for July, 2009


Yahoo’s New HomePage Integrates Applications –and Dabbles with Social

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Summary:
Yahoo’s new homepage is more like a feedreader and application platform for users to do more without leaving Yahoo.com.  It’s a much needed update as Yahoo keeps up with the modern web, but think of it as evolution –not a revolution.

Last week, a handful of Forrester analysts were briefed and given a demo of Yahoo’s much needed homepage redesign –here are my observations from the demo and conversation.

Outdated Yahoo.com in need of redesign
The old version of Yahoo is in serious need of a refresher as the main page navigation hampers users with two sections of tabs with even more content and links.  For the most part, the content not as personalized, and no integration of social.  Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is the page is designed for people to click through –using it as a pass through only.

The 2009 Yahoo.com keeps users on site with Apps, NewsFeeds, and Real Time Info
Fortunatly, Yahoo, who serves many types of users offers a broad range of content to meet their needs, has moved forward to redesign their homepage to meet the needs of the changing web times.   The new Yahoo page isn’t just about media and news, but is now integrating true functionality on the site by allowing applications to be embedded, and streaming real time searches and status updates, the key features in the redesign are:

  1. Fresh, streamlined design.  The page architecture has less clutter, cleaner lines, less content, and is more focused.
  2. Personalization of media content: Serving a large broad audience is different for any site, so Yahoo has included a slider that lets users choose if they want “fun” or “serious” content in their news feed.  This should also cascade to other elements such as application.
  3. Application Platform: A platform that allows users to integrate applications into the experiences such as default features like Yahoo mail, but also content that is bookmarked automatically becomes an applet that has high level content from RSS in the left nav.  Rolling over these sections exposes the information in snippet formats –increasing a users ability to quickly scan over information.  This also makes Yahoo.com more sticky, as users can get more done –without leaving the page.
  4. Real time content surfaced “Zeitgeist”:  The “Popular Searches” on top right show a living breathing update of what people are looking for.  This is simlar to Twitter’s trending topics –and a great way for the people to define editorial content –not just Yahoo’s content team.
  5. Basic Social Feeds: Although it’s tucked away in a left favorites link, the “updates” link will allow a user to quickly see the content that their friends are producing. These lifestreams could signal latest tweets, Yahoo buzz, or other personal updates.   Users will be able to integrate Twitter status updates,
  6. Mobile integration: Although I’ve not tried it, Yahoo has made promises to integrate this same experience with mobile devices, such as the iPhone.


Old Yahoo Homepage 2009
Above: Yahoo’s outdated redesign was cluttered –click image to see my notes

New Yahoo Homepage (July 2009)
Above: Yahoo’s new has a cleaner, more organized look –click image to see my notes

New Image
Above: Yahoo supplied me this screenshot of Facebook integration in the apps bar

Life Streams: Updates from social graph
Above: Lifestream show updates from your friends and contacts –a trend seen in Facebook, Twitter, and Friendfeed

Key Takeaways:
This redesign, while in the middle of speculation of a potential Microsoft relationship, impacts users, developers and brands, here’s what you should know:

  • Yahoo follows modern web trends –but must evolve: Yahoo is following the trends in this space, where social updates from friends –and applications come front and center with this global redesign.  We see these trends in Microsoft Live, Facebook, and Twitter, among other portal type news sites.  The design isn’t without flaws, the newsfeed should be front and center –not just news and media to really take advantage of what people care about.
  • Brands should use this as opp –as users spend more time on site: As the Yahoo homepage becomes more sticky, and users spend more time interacting on this page, this means new opportunities for brand marketers that want deeper impressions with users –beyond advertising.   Expect brands to create applications designed for interaction on the Yahoo apps left bar –then promote them from a variety of locations.
  • Yahoo must reach to developer community: For Yahoo to be successful, they must foster their developer community, tie into existing application platforms like Facebook developer community or OpenSocial, and integrate more social features.
  • Improvement for users –and Yahoo: For Yahoo this isn’t a revolution, but an evolution it’s long lineage of Yahoo homepages, much deserved, and a step in the right direction.   This redesign should help users sort out the information waterfall –and find the information they need without opening too many tabs.

Love to hear your feedback as a user, what do you notice and experience?  Also, thanks to colleague David Card (Twitter, Blot Posts) who provided insight to this post.

Note: I had a typo, and corrected it, and also removed a screenshot at the request of Yahoo as this feature may not be live for everyone as it’s under testing.

How to Use Interns In Your Social Programs

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Interns are an important part of the team, you’ll be more successful with them –but should not be the core business leader — supplement with seasoned business managers.

I remember being a bright eyed intern during college at Silicon Valley’s premiere web startup Exodus Communication. Filled with enthusiasm some of my seasoned management took to me to learn about how to best understand the web –which was clearly my passion.

Fast forward to 2009, with many companies dabbling in social technologies, it’s easy to assume that social is the domain of the young. In fact, I’d doing research on social media skills for an upcoming report, and am hearing of more cases of brands handing over the social media strategy to interns –I think that’s a bad idea.

While they’re certainly heavy adopters (our data proves this) –it’s not limited to the youth only, take for example this report I did on the active Boomers. Using low cost interns are critical in getting an often unfunded skunk-works project is a good way to get the program up to speed in house –but relying on them for strategic corporate communications is a risk.

How to Use Interns In Your Social Programs:

  • Lean on Interns to learn about technology: Although I’m no longer an intern, I’m one of the younger analysts at the firm, I like&ly represent a new type of behavior that’s emerging in the industry, I’m the first of many to come. When it comes to interns, companies should understand their behaviors and best practices with tools. Allow them to become the tool experts: setting up accounts, rebranding tools, experimenting in a safe place, and teaching others. Let them master the hammers, nails, and tool chest.
  • Pair interns with senior management for reverse training: The folks from Edelman have a program called ROTNEM (the opposite of mentor) that started off with the Chicago office pairing young bright interns with slower seasoned management (tip from Edelman’s Erik Wagner)
  • Develop strategy with senior management: Here’s a critical bullet, don’t turn over the strategy of the program to an intern, ensure that you’re developing plans with business goals in mind that align with the rest of the organization as you put resources and your brand name on the line. Partner up with senior management that’s graduated from the ROTNEM program that ‘get it’ ensuring you’ve top down support, and bottom up tactics. While interns may be master of the toolchest –senior management still owns the architectural blueprints.
  • Give interns a safe place to communicate: Companies often want to suppress the voices of this next generation, often resulting them spilling it their friends in public locations like Facebook. Be like Cisco, who created an internal community for Gen Y employees who were given a safe, sanctioned place to communicate.
  • Get real data: Do not use interns as your model for going to market. They are not representative as a larger segment, and individual personalities won’t always represent the whole. Don’t be like Morgan Stanley who embarrassed themselves by publishing a report on Twitter based on the opinions of one intern —which resulted in Time Magazine saying to “Toss”.

Interns, like every other type of employee set you have are an important part of your company. We must include them, plan for them, and cater to them as the represent our next generation of workers, buyers, and partners. Use them to understand then model their communication habits, as they grow, include them in more strategic elements of planning.

Developing a social program is like building a house: You’ll need experts that understand the tools, but also leaders that craft the blueprints. –often these are two different types of employees, understand who and when to lean on for both needs.

Podcast: Jazz with Jaffe

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Last week I jumped on a call with Joseph Jaffe, who focuses on social media marketing.  Usually in my career, day job, and blogging style, I’m very structured, organized, and well…analytical.  I gave all that up to have an impromtu converation with Joseph to discuss social.  Listen in and tell me what you think.

A few topics we end up talkin about are:  Importance of signal vs noise, PR blackouts, Sponsored Conversations, Mother bloggers.   Let me know in the comments if you think you’d listen again –or why you would not.

Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It

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“Looking at LinkedIn Recommendations, They are Puffery”
I’m currently doing research on what skills marketers are looking for in their social media team, and interviewed one hiring manager yesterday. She told me she didn’t value the references on LinkedIn and told me that “Looking at LinkedIn recommendations, they are puffery”. Instead she was looking for examples of work experience, eagerness to do the job, and of course ability. I agree with her, when I see recommendations on LinkedIn, my alarm goes off, I know most are not objective.

Why These Reccomendations May Not Be Trusted
From time to time, former colleagues ask me to be their reference –or even do recommendations (online references or testimonials) for them on social sites, like LinkedIn. Yet having gone through this process, they aren’t that trustworthy, here’s why:

  • Filter One: I question how honest and authentic recommendations are when the system primarily has features that vet out unwanted reviews. In nearly every experience I’ve been in, a former colleague or someone I’ve worked with requests a recommendation, this means they are expecting a positive review. Since the content is in public, saying something bad about someone else (even if it’s true) isn’t going to help your network, so the the contributor is biased.
  • Filter Two: Then, they can review my submitted review, and then accept or reject. I’ve had someone reject my reference, and ask me to rewrite it once before (I think it may have been because I had a typo). Because these three filters are setup, it’s unlikely that you’ll see reviews that are have objective content, or negative information.

Now it’s not just recommendation systems in business social networks, it’s also case studies from vendors, and customer testimonials. All of this content is cleaned, scrubbed, and presentable in favor the seller.

Potential Solutions
RSomers suggested that LinkedIn reduce the number of recommendations people can give.  Like UserVoice or Deal Ideastorm they give a certain amount of points anyone can use, forcing people to be choosey and selective in where they put their vote.   Also, Get Glue has interesting technology to do this for the media side –maybe they can apply this to job candidates too.

References Will Always Have Their Place
I triggered a discussion on twitter, and had a variety of responses, many who see the positives. At least two people told me they received their jobs from recommendations they’d received on LinkedIn, but not because the content was objective, but because it triggered a notification in the references stream –causing word of mouth to happen.   Luke said he got his job from a LinkedIn recommendation, and says ‘who’ reccomends him is more important.

Recommendations in any form still matter, but become more relevant if they come from someone who are at the top of their game, or have a relationship to the buyer.  This isn’t to say that none of these are helpful, they have their time and place in the marketing process. While a plethora of glowing references on a company or professional profile on LinkedIn may seem like typical marketing –in the end, smart buyers and employers will dig deeper to find where sellers and candidates shine –and need some polishing.

I Won’t be Giving LinkedIn Recommendations
Although I’ve only given honest recommendations in LinkedIn, I won’t be giving anymore recommendations on that platform (at least for the foreseeable future), instead, I’ll use my blog and Twitter to provide them in a more organic area where there aren’t obvious filters –making the recommendations count even more.  The challenge of course is finding them will not be easy.

Takeaways

  • Recommendations that are vetted by the requestor will  never be fully viewed as objective –savvy buyers know that, and can figure out how to get the information through private conversations or other reviews.
  • Reccomendations still matter, but who they come from, and in what context matters ever more, indicating you liked working with someone is still valuable –even if they are filtered.
  • Buyers should look for references (positive and negative) from more organic locations like blogs and Twitter, where the candidate/seller has less control over filtering and scrubbing the content.
  • Canidates and sellers need to prepare for the open reviews of good –and bad–reviews about their company and resume.
  • LinkedIn very valuable, and has many other features of note. This isn’t a knock on them, but instead on the marketing and pitching process in general.

Related:  Impacts of Social Media on Customer Reference Pages

Update: Russ Somers has extended the converation on his blog: Evaluating LinkedIn Reccomendations

LinkedIn’s communications savvy Kay Luo, contacted me and gave some best practices around how recommendations should work, as such, she gave a recommendation to my own account, which I accepted.  If they have any best practices around recommendations, I’ll be happy to link to them from this post –furthering the conversation.

Update: July 24th, LinkedIn has responded from their blog, discussing the benefits of recommendations and the social economy.  They suggest that you give recommendations to five people unsolicited, although I’d suggest don’t feel obligated to meet a number, just do it when you believe in it.  I really appreciate them being part of the conversation –so we can make these systems better.

Breakdown: The Five Ways Companies Let Employees Participate in the Social Web

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Consider this a supplement to my latest report on “How Companies Should Organize for Social Computing“.  I continue to get questions from clients, and have spent time with more large brands are connecting with customers.  Diving in further, I’ve noticed that there are five ways that companies allow employees to participate. Update:  On a related note, I gave my thoughts to CNBC about the roles of social within corporations.


Breakdown: The Five Ways Companies Let Employees Participate in the Social Web

Type One:  We Have No Clue
This model, where brands have no rules, no guidelines, and therefore no resources to help employees –it’s a freefor all.   I often see companies that are just waking up to these impacts be exposed and naked, without any formal process or plan in place.  Listening out names isn’t going to help here, as every company will have gone through this in the preliminary stage, it’s natural.

  • This is similar to: The mid 90s when many employees in a large company were creating the corporate website –often running off a personal computer under a desk.
  • Upside: Ignorance is bliss.
  • Downsides: This is the most risky, as companies are liable with no plan, no resources, that leave brand, employees, and customers exposed.
  • Takeaway: Get out of this phase as quickly as possible, choose types 2-5 accordingly.

Type Two:  Shut it Down
Fear is the primary motivator here, but in some cases, this is to protect employees and the company from liability.  Some brands, often in conservative industries like Finance, Heath Care or Pharma, choose to shut down all social activities from employees.  In some rare cases, I’ve met some Pharma companies that would not allow their employees to read blogs or social networks, as if they read about an adverse effect of a drug, they were liable.  Those employees just ended up surfing the web at home after hours.

  • This is similar to: Not allowing any outside communication including personal email, or accessing non work internet sites
  • Upside: Keeps the brand safe from employees causing risk in the social sphere
  • Downsides: Employees can access the social web from mobile devices (unless those are banned too) or certainly access it from home.  Secondly, opportunities to connect with customers is certainly at risk.
  • Takeaway:  Brands should at a minium listen to their marketplace, and not completely cut off what’s being said.  For those in highly regulated industires, you could be liable for not paying attention to what customers are saying (wisdom from Josh Bernoff) so you should be proactive here.  Slowly move into type 3 as you evolve.

Type Three: The Corporate Represenative
Some companies setup only small groups within corporate communications, or polished executives to be on blogs. Sony Electronics has their CMO as a blogger, SUN’s CEO is a blogger, as is GM’s chairman, and often the corporate communications teams are involved in the content process, curation, and editing. I was part of the team that did this at Hitachi Data Systems, where the CTO, CSO, and other corporate spokespersons are blogging

  • This is simlar to: The formalized corporate representative, the only difference is they’re using social tools.
  • Upside: It’s safe. These are often trusted members of the company who can give their thought leadership using social tools
  • Downside: Questionable if it’s authentic. We already know that consumers don’t trust corporate blogs (data) –as many just rehash corp-speak
  • Takeway: There’s a time and place for corporate social media: to help give official stances on issues, product releases, and fact. There’s also a need for more granular conversations that customers are already having at conferences, online, and at cafes –you gotta be in both places.

Type Four: Common Employees Blessed For Social
Last night, I shared the stage with Intel’s Michael Brito at Stanford’s continuing education program on web 2.0, he shared that Intel has a SMP program, which stands for Social Media Practioner. The different from the ‘tower’ model listed as type 3, is that this can include other regular employees beyond the refined executive. This is a formal training program where those that want to represent the Intel brand in their social media activities have to undergo. Likely, there are guidelines, best practices, and hopefully a support network setup that gives them the tools they need to be successful. Programs like this are go

  • This is similar to: Formalized executive speaker and company representative programs that corp comm teams have setup for decades (type three) the difference is: they can now be employees from any walk or level.
  • Upside: Formalized social media programs for employees who want to represent the company are a great resource to help companies. In some cases, engineers and developers may be more trusted than executives.
  • Downside: What about the rest of the employees? from support, to engineers to the janitor, given the direction our technographics are measuring, many will participate –not just the savvy communicators. (BTW: We’re going to update the data with 2009 data soon)
  • Takeaway: This is also a good weeding ground to see who has the real fortitude to stay committed to the conversation. There’s nothing worse than engaging customers in any location then walking away.

Type Five: Everyone Is Encouraged To Be Involved
Some companies that have active employees in the social sphere can benefit from having every employee involved. Sun, HP, IBM, are tech companies that encourage their employees to get involved. They have guidelines, some strategy, and some resources to encourage this behavior. Take Best Buy for example, that even has a “CMS” system called Connect that let’s verified employees tweet on behalf of the corporate Twitter account. As a result, all employees become an army in the social sphere –the goal? to reach with customers in as many touchpoints as possible.

  • This is similar to: Teaching employees to sell, evangelize, products and the brand to friends, family, and strangers
  • Upside: Empowering the entire workforce, a collective voice and scale.
  • Downsides: This could create confusion in messaging and a unified customer experience. Employess could become confused as personal and work content could be mixed, and legal ramifications from the mixture of work and personal.
  • Takeaway: This is ultimately going to be the future, but having a free for all isn’t an excuse for having a strategy, guidelines, and resources to support the brand and employees.

Culture impacts how companies choose
So which model is right for your brand? It really depends on your industry, culture, and employee behavior.  While many companies may select the third or fourth in the next few years, in the long run –as Generation Y enters into the workforce, it’s undeniable that the fifth model where everyone is a participant of some form is most likely.

Update: Hutch Carpenter, who I’ve met and really enjoy is thinking way ahead of me. He’s graphed out a similar way of thinking about this, in fact, he sees the same exact 5 types. I didn’t copy him, swear.

Get Ready As Corporate Sites and Social Networks Start To Connect

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To Increase Engagement, Brands to Allow Users To Login With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter
In a recent report titled the “Future of the Social Web” we found that we are entering the era of social colonization, every webpage and experience will be social–even if brands choose not to participate.  I spent time with Palo Alto startup Gigya who now has a product that enables brands to quickly allow users to login using third party identities (like Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook) quickly to a corporate web experience.  Right now, brands are “Pollinating” the social web by letting their corporate created content spread to social networks. As a result, companies are going to start aggregating conversations –the natural reaction to centralize trusted discussions.

  • Problem Situation: Users are bombarded with brands trying to entice them to sign up and registered to a variety of websites, and new technologies are going to make registration pages are a dying breed,
  • Opportunities: To increase the changes that users will interact with brands, they will easiest way for them to engage by allowing users to interact with their existing identities on social networks.
  • Potential Solutions: Tools that aggregate the conversation, brands may lean on Gigya’s Socialize whose aim is to easily manage the complicated APIs and authentication of identies from 3rd party social networks. On a related note I’m going to test JSKit’s Echo who on Friday, announced they will aggregate conversations from multiple social networks
  • ExampleGigya showed me examples of Turner Broadcasting who aggregated conversations about the online Final Four Basketball championship and integrated conversations from Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. This means that the online viewers of the Final Four could interact with their Facebook and Twitter friends in real time on the Turner broadcasting site.  Gigya shared data with me about the engagement of each network, during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals Message Distribution by Platform (average of all games) showing that MySpace users created 53%
of all messages Facebook: 35%
and Twitterr just 12%.
  • Who’s it for? This is for brands that want to aggregate multiple social graphs and eventually life streams onto their site or experience.  The most obvious use cases are real time events, but this will soon become helpful all digital media, and will likely start to happen on TV.  Which vendors should talk to them?  Any Community Platform vendor, a CMS vendor moving into this space, or media company or their agency.
  • Challenges: For brands in particular this comes with some considerable challenges –beyond just the technical implementation. At the business level, expect brands to slam up to:
    • Difficult for brands to grasp. This is a complicated and daunting strategy for brands, who don’t know how to approach the changes as the social web envelopes other online experiences. 
    • Privacy Concerns: Secondly, brands that are going to allow this need to figure out how to later segment specific social graphs of users, and ensure privacy expectations of the users are communicated up front.  I could write a whole blog post on how corporate security  groups in IT and legal will justly try to stonewall this.
    • Lead Generation Changed For Brands: Because brands will let users login using their social network identity (like Facebook or Twitter) they are increasing their chances of user interaction and engagement –but miss out on lead generation in the traditional sense.
    • Daunting for Vendors: For Gigya, and other vendors, they’ll need to move fast. while they manage the multiple identity protocols (it’s a complex task as they are moving targets, so it’s often best to outsource this) this eventually will be a commodity technology.   For any platform (community or CMS) who wants to venture into this space, managing this will be a costly venture.
  • Key Takeaways: Brands need to quickly recognize that every web experience will be a social experience –there’s no way to stop it.  Savvy brands will get ahead of the curve and be proactive by allowing users to login and experience their corporate web experiences in the context of their existing social networks.   While this comes with inherent risks about lead generation (control) and privacy, the opportunity to increase engagement and let content spread ever further is at hand. Get started by:
    • 1) Do research in existing social networks to find out what communities are talking about the most in context of your brand
    • 2) Match that with your own corporate website and enable users to login with their existing social identies
    • 3) Start with a real time event or conference that gives you a limited period of time to trial and experiment.  5) Realize the way brands measure leads in the future won’t be by name and email rows in databases –but perhaps by friends, fans, and followers.
    • 4) Demand that your community or CMS vendor provide the tools needed for this to work, or work with vendors that provide this service rather than manage yourself.