Sunday, December 12, 2010

Making the Social Web Space Work Smarter, Not Harder

By: Derek Howard

Gone are the days when companies could pretend that this social web and media phenomenon was just a passing fad. Unfortunately, some are still trying to do just that. This has caused many to play catch-up, which creates new problems. Adopting drastic changes can cause unforeseen issues. So how does a company create effective changes to their social web space with as little disruption as possible? According to Rhonda Lowry, vice president of social media technologies for Turner Broadcasting, the answer is to become a bricoleur. More on that in a bit.

At a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Enterprise 2.0 Society event, Lowry shared her views and advice on solving these issues. In her opinion, it boils down to the human factor being ignored. Many companies have forgotten to treat their people as an individual rather than a label or title. We have to go beyond the hard data. As she observed, it’s not enough to know how many people are on sites such as Facebook, we have to know why. If a company loses track of this information, it loses track of a valuable, existing resource: its people. And it’s not just a social issue; these real-time networks open new markets, and new markets mean profit.

The new social currency

Lowry believes that these new markets run on a new currency (social currency). The information we share or trade is like a gift that helps create and nurture these relationships. And with that gift comes an implied sense of reciprocity. This can create a perpetual cycle of information exchange. However, these new relationships are a bit different. Lowry points out that these days (due to social media), they tend to be defined as friends, fans or followers. So a company must decide what kind of relationship they have. One example she gives is the difference between a symmetrical and asymmetrical model. For instance, Facebook is a symmetrical model (a “who you know”) while Twitter is asymmetrical (a “what you know”).

Four meters to track

Behind all of this change in the social landscape is technology. And though human behavior is the bigger issue, the tech factor cannot be ignored. The problem, as Lowry said, is that the gap between what is technologically possible and socially possible is often miles wide. Because of this, she recommends that companies keep track of the following four meters.

The first meter is social: companies must ask whether or not they are social organizations. Do relationships matter? How much and to what end?

Second is the techno-human factor. Lowry says that there are two types of capabilities: tech-centric and human-centric. A company needs to know where its people are on these knowledge scales. Society tends to be slower than technology and a narrow focus can ultimately create a narrow skill set.

Third, and fourth are organizational and cultural (these two go hand-in-hand). Social software can have unforeseen and often negative effects depending on the structure and the culture of the company. For example, if a company has a rigid hierarchy, social software could allow people to talk that a company doesn’t want talking (i.e. ignoring the chain-of-command).

Two questions companies should ask

Along with the meters, Lowry suggests that companies seriously ask themselves two questions:
1. Can you get out of your own way? And
2. Can you evolve?

The first has to do with recognizing that, with social web space, control can be difficult. Companies must be willing to let go a bit to reap the benefits. The evolution part has to do with content and technology keeping up with one another. As she put it, content without technology is a distinction without merit. Both are needed to be successful, and companies must be both willing and able to grow.

Lowry also advocates what she calls intellectual nudists; basically, people who are willing to share all their work and ideas. Transparency is needed from at least a few of these types. Though these people probably won’t outnumber the non-nudists in most companies, she is confident that the two can coexist. Because of this, companies should always look for win/win strategies of keeping both happy.

Finally, Lowry warns to pay attention to rewards and bonuses. Most of these systems are designed for what she referred to as a “turn-the-crank” work environment, not a knowledge –based work one that many work in today. According to studies, people in knowledge-based environments actually perform worse when given paid incentives. Companies must find intrinsic motivations for their employees or risk the chance that they will just game the system.

In conclusion

So what does it all mean? Back to that word bricoleur. A bricoleur is defined as someone who practices bricolage: invention by using resources from already available material. Lowry believes that companies must learn to practice what she calls techno-socio-cultural bricolage, using the resources they already have. By taking inventory and assessing these resources, and how they all interact, companies can avoid disruption, and ultimately have happier employees and bigger profits. Win/win.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

5 Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - December 2010

2010 is ending with a bang with some great events for learning professionals in the Atlanta area this month, including a visit from Jane Bozarth and the annual ASTD Technology-based Learning SIG's eLearning awards. My only complaint is that almost all of the events are scheduled during the same week (this coming week, in fact); I'm sure this reduces each event's attendance numbers, particularly this time of year. Maybe we can get some calendar coordination going in 2011.

That said, here are five events for the learning industry you shouldn't miss (or at least should strongly consider picking from). Note this doesn't include the Columbus, GA ASTD geographic group feasibility meeting happening on December 7th; if you're in that region, definitely check that out.

December 6, Social Media for Trainers

ASTD Atlanta hosts Jane Bozarth for an exploration of social media in the training industry. The focus will be on recognizing training purposes for social media tools, not just seeing them at face value.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting.

December 7, How to Create a Learning Environment

Author and world-traveling consultant Brent Darnell will speak to the ASTD Atlanta Organizational Development SIG on creating positive change in employees. He'll outline a proven methodology for creating behavioral shifts in employees that positively affect their performance both at work and at home.

Register for the Organizational Development SIG.

December 8, 5th Annual eLearning Excellence Awards

Join the ASTD Atlanta Technology-based Learning SIG for their annual eLearning Awards. Winners will be chosen in multiple categories. Seeing what others are doing is always a good way to learn.

Register for the eLearning awards.

December 9, Innovative Training Tools and Techniques

The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Workplace Learning Society will take a look (Pecha Kucha style) at innovative training tools, techniques, and work samples that represent the future of learning. This should be an interesting look at technologies that can be used for learning.

Register for TAG Workplace Learning.

December 13, Social Networking

ASTD Atlanta's Corporate SIG will follow-up and expand on the information shared in the December 6th ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting with Jane Bozarth. This will be a deeper dive into the hot topics of social media for trainers. The only event in this list not during the week of December 6th, this one can also be attended from the comfort of your office or home.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta Corporate SIG Webinar.

Have a great end of the year! Stay tuned for upcoming events in January, including an ISPI Atlanta panel on January 19th on "Implementing technologies for instruction in your organization." You'll hear lessons learned from companies such as Turner, Orkin, Level 4 Performance, and others.

Monday, November 1, 2010

4 Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - November 2010

As always, there are several great events for learning professionals this month in the Atlanta area.  Here are four in the learning industry you shouldn't miss. Plus one where I'm presenting as well.

November 3, Field Trip to SCAD Atlanta's Digital Media Center

Join the Technology Association of Georgia for a field trip to SCAD Atlanta's state of the art digital media center. Atlanta is the eighth largest media market in the United States and reportedly this educational facility will help push us higher.

Register for the TAG Field Trip.

November 4, eLearning! Summit

OK, this one isn't in Atlanta, but it's a virtual conference about eLearning strategy so we all can attend. And it is free! Over 1600 learning professionals are expected to participate.

Register for the eLearning! Summit.

November 11, 11 Habits for a Highly Successful BPM Program

As I've mentioned before, a great thing about Business Process Management (and the Technology Association of Georgia BPM Society) is that its processes almost always include training as a vital component. IBM WebSphere associates will discuss how the culture of an organization is a collection of habits that affect business performance as well as best practices for eliminating barriers to success.

Register for TAG Business Process Management.

November 17, Exploring Free Web Technologies for Instructional Development

This ISPI Atlanta should be an interesting look to the future in more ways than one. UGA Learning, Design, and Technology Studio graduate students will showcase up-and-coming online learning development tools such as Udutu, Prezi, WizIQ, and others.

Look for details on the ISPI Atlanta website.

And then there's one more this month that hopefully you will also enjoy. 

November 3, Think Small: Creating Effective, Quick Hit eLearning

In this ASTD Atlanta South GIG session, I'll look at methods for creating short, but effective, eLearning curriculums. We'll also discuss ways to position key content into eLearning and how to best utilize the 'nice to know' information that subject matter experts love so that it can be utilized later.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta South GIG.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - October 2010

OK, how did it get to be October 25th already? I hope you found some of the events held earlier this month for learning professionals in the Atlanta area; key events that come to mind were TAG Workplace Learning's highlight of the Web Challenge winners and also the monthly ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting at Intercontinental Hotels Group.

There's still one more event that you shouldn't miss.

October 26, Sales is from Mars; Training is from Venus

Join the new ASTD Atlanta Sales Performance Improvement SIG for its first ever event. A local who's who of experts will discuss tying sales training to business strategy and outcomes.

Visit the newly redesigned ASTD Atlanta website for more information.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

4 Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - September 2010

Some more great events for learning professionals this month in the Atlanta area, though two are competing events on the 28th. Nevertheless, here are four in the learning industry you shouldn't miss.

September 15, Universal Design for Learning: Benefits for All When Designing for All

Join ISPI Atlanta as Dr. Lloyd Rieber discusses the benefits of Universal Design for Learning, including the advantages of using digital media to design instruction that is accessible to everyone.

Go to the ISPI Atlanta website for more information

September 18, Developing Project Leadership Competency

OK, this one is in Macon at the ASTD Atlanta Middle Georgia GIG. But everyone who has heard Doug Gaspardo speak about methods for improving the project management process in training initiatives typically says it's worth the drive.

Register for the Middle Georgia GIG

September 28, Corporate Panel - Why I Hire Independent Trainers and Consultants

This annual event for the ASTD Atlanta Independents SIG always provides some good tips for what local companies seek in learning professionals and how we can better meet their needs.

Register for the Independents SIG

September 28, Looking at Sales, Service and Marketing from a Process Perspective

A great thing about Business Process Management (and the Technology of Georgia BPM Society) is that its processes almost always include training as a vital component.

Register for TAG Business Process Management

Sunday, August 1, 2010

4 Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - August 2010

August 2010 looks to be a great meeting month for learning professionals in the Atlanta area, though it's unfortunate that three of the best events are during the same week of the 23rd. Nevertheless, here are four events for the learning industry you shouldn't miss.

August 11, Your Professional Conference Wants You!

Join ISPI Atlanta for 'Your Professional Conference Wants You! How to Get Your Speaking Proposal Accepted and Get Asked Back Again.'

Many of us might be considering speaking at national conferences, but not sure how to get started. Award-winning speaker and presentation skills expert Kelly Vandever leads a night of tips on writing a winning conference proposal and delivering a successful presentation.

Go to the ISPI Atlanta website for more information.

August 23, ASTD Atlanta UnConference

ASTD Atlanta members voted on submitted topics; those selected will present in 15-minute sessions. Should be a fun, fast-paced night of learning and networking.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta unConference.

August 25, Video-based Training

Thanks to YouTube, Vimeo, the Flip cam, and others, it's never been easier to include video in your training designs. Join the ASTD Atlanta Technology-based Learning SIG as a panel of industry experts discuss the present and future of 'Video-based Training.'

Register for the Technology-based Learning SIG.

August 26, How Technology-enabled Learning meets Business Objectives

The Technology Association of Georgia's (TAG) Workplace Learning Society invited Learning and Development leaders from the 14 Georgia-based companies on this year's Training Magazine’s Top 125 list. Attending panelists will discuss how their company leveraged technology and other tools to earn the ranking. If you're interested in your own company someday making the list, come hear what tips they share.

Georgia companies ranked in the Top 125 include Shaw Industries, Cox Communications, Orkin, Warner Robins Logistics Center, NIIT (USA), Mohawk Industries, Gables Residential, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Cbeyond, Tandus, Aflac, U.S. Security Associates, UPS, and Morrison Management Specialists.

Register for TAG Workplace Learning.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Powering the Future: Smart Grids and Alternative Energy Sources

By: Derek Howard

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our energy supply. We flip a switch and if the light comes on, we go about our day. However, now more than ever, electricity drives our society. We can’t, nor do we want to, live without our lights, computers and appliances; and sooner or later that smart phone is going to have to be recharged. But it’s bigger than just our immediate needs. Electricity powers everything from our street and traffic lights to our food processing plants. Even modern day gas pumps require electricity to function. A recent classroom discussion about how most people these days wouldn’t know how to begin to live without electricity really drove home the importance of this energy source. But no worries- we flip the switch and the light comes and it always will, right? Well…

The Smart Grid

The problem is that our energy supply is not infinite. This coupled with a possible world population growth of 7.5 billion by 2020 has caused many to cast a serious eye towards this issue. One solution that is showing real promise is the concept of the smart grid. Smart grids offer an improvement over traditional energy infrastructures. This new form of power grid can deliver energy in a much more efficient manner. Instead of a constant broadcast of power that the traditional model follows, the smart grid can monitor and route power only when and where it is needed. This can increase both the efficiency and cost of energy supply. One specific problem the smart grid can help with is outages. Outages cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue each year. The smart grid could conceivably be able to reroute power around the problem area to help lessen the impact of the outage.

One of the ways that smart grids work is by taking advantage of alternate energy sources. At a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Smart Grid Society meeting, three experts in this field talked about these sources and their impact on society.

Three alternate energy sources

Wind energy is one such source. Guest speaker Tom Garrity, retired vice-president and general manager for High Voltage Systems, Siemens Energy, Inc., spoke about how energy is the backbone of our society and the market for clean, safe energy has grown significantly. Wind can supply this kind of energy. Technology such as micro-turbines could supply homes and businesses with abundant and green power. One interesting concept he spoke of was the idea of off-shore wind farms. These farms could take advantage of ocean winds to capture and route power to inland locations through the use of smart grids.

Another alternate source of energy is biofuel. Jill Stuckey, the director of the Ga. Center of Innovation- Energy Division, is an expert on renewable energy. Biomass is an abundant and viable energy source, especially in Georgia. The state is second only to Oregon in timber production. As she put it, “We grow trees the way Iowa grows corn.” Using trees to create biomass such as wood pellets can create everything from fuel for electricity to biofuels for our cars. Even waste water can be converted into energy and the smart grids can incorporate all these possibilities.

The final speaker was Walter Brown, the chairman for the Ga. Solar Energy Association. Brown spoke about the rapid increase and growth in the field of solar energy. Over six years, the industry has seen a seven-fold growth in commercial and utility sectors. One of the biggest restraints to this clean source of energy has been the cost of silicon, required for the cells, but this cost is dropping. Solar energy can be harnessed anywhere you can install the panels, from empty fields to building and warehouse rooftops. This energy could be stored, monitored and controlled through the use of smart grids.

Energy tends to be one of those things we don’t think about until we don’t have it. Sadly, the way things are trending, that could be sooner rather than later. We are depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate. Fortunately, the use of smart grids powered by alternate forms of energy like wind, biofuels and solar could really help turn the tide on this growing problem. These creative solutions will ensure that the light comes on not only when we flip the switch but when future generations do as well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Three Digital Trends That Can Impact Business

By: Derek Howard

Trends are funny things. They can slowly smolder, building momentum or flash brightly with a quickness only to crash just as fast. But occasionally, something gains enough ground to stay with us. The trick is knowing the difference. We’ve all, at one time another, jumped on a fad that we thought was going to be the next big thing only to laugh fondly (and a little embarrassingly) after it fades. One fad that has become a major player in the world today is the Internet. Once the purview of only the tech savvy, the Internet has become the playground for, well, everyone- a digital hang-out for all.

This playground has become pervasive. These days, the digital landscape not only impacts society, it defines it. Smart companies are taking note of this fact. If your customers are interested in something, it pays (literally) to know what that something is. Tracking and following trends online can really help a business to connect with its customers in a way that can be less intrusive than standard marketing. With finite money and time, a big part of that is knowing what deserves your attention.

At a recent TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) Enterprise 2.0 Society meeting, guest speaker Jeff Hilimire gave his insights on these digital trends. Hilimire is the chief digital officer for Engauge Digital and heads their digital innovation group- basically it’s his job to watch trends within the digital world. The three digital trends he focused on particularly were Facebook, lifestreaming and checking-in/social gaming.

Facebook, as Hilimire put it, is “the elephant in the room.” These days, it seems hard to find people not logging onto this juggernaut on a regular basis, and the hard data backs this up. The site has over 400 million users and continues to grow. According to Hilimire, a company’s Facebook page could be more important than its website. So why should companies care about Facebook? Well, for starters, the average user spends more than 55 minutes on Facebook at a time. When you compare that to the average time a person spends on a single webpage (about 56 seconds), it’s obvious which has the greater chance for exposure. Plus, Facebook is a peer-centric site. People tend to trust and listen to information from friends more than faceless companies. Facebook lets companies gain that face by offering tools such as “recommend” and “like” plug-ins. These can allow companies the chance to interact with their customers in a relaxed and effective manner. However, the whole peer-centric nature of Facebook can be both good and bad for businesses. Because so much information is shared so quickly and easily, one bad review could blossom quickly. But this kind of forces companies to produce better products. As Hilimire noted, good social media will not fix your bad company or product.

The next trend he spoke of was something he called lifestreaming. “People are getting comfortable broadcasting their lives,” Hilimire said. Blogging, uploading photos and videos, Facebook status updates, etc. - these are all part of a developing trend where people are laying bare their lives in the digital world. Just like companies, people have brands. Lifestreaming is kind of a way for them to stay relevant. Businesses can look at this the same way. Hilimire suggests that companies view lifestreaming as portable content. If you pay attention to all this freely given consumer data, your business could create content that matches and therefore attracts your customers: syncing your brand with the consumer’s brand.

Lastly, Hilimire spoke briefly about the trends of checking-in and social gaming. Check-in sites, like Foursquare, allow users to “check-in” to places they visit, such as restaurants and hotels. The relevancy to businesses is promising. Basically, its location-based marketing and some experts are claiming it’s the next big thing. Companies that are taking advantage of these sites are using rewards and promotions to connect with their customers. Social gaming is all about people playing games online where they interact with other people, usually friends and family. The number of players and the amount of time they play is impressive. One example is Farmville, the most popular app in Facebook’s history. Farmville boasts 90 million players world-wide- that’s a lot of possible customers all connected by the same thing.

Digital trends are becoming more and more important for businesses today. Companies should follow their customers. If people seem really excited about a site or tool, it’s a good idea to understand why. However, understanding the why is not always easy; sometimes it requires looking beyond the trend itself. One of Hilimire’s key principles says it best, “Don’t look at the finger, look where it’s pointing.”

Monday, May 31, 2010

Four Tenets for Engaging the Customer

By: Derek Howard

When it comes to making purchases, we as consumers have numerous reasons we buy stuff. These can range from simple and straight-forward to convoluted and complex. For some consumers, it’s a question of brand loyalty, for others it’s almost a game―searching for the best product through dozens of sites or stores. For some of us, it’s as simple as price. Either way, understanding consumer behavior is important to any business and, unsurprisingly, has become a big business itself.

Companies pay top dollar for research to find out why we prefer one widget over another. Though nowhere near exact, some attempts have been made at turning this into a science. Two examples of this are VALS and PRIZM.

VALS (which stands for Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles) is a system that divides people into various psychographic segments. When participants take the VALS questionnaire, their answers determine which of eight segments they fit into, ranging from Innovator to Survivor. Marketers can then use this information to find out what a product’s target market might be.

The PRIZM segmentation system from Nielsen also divides people into different segments, but it then goes on to show which of these groups are located in a specific geographical area. You simply type in a ZIP code and the system will give you a broad view of its demographics (I warn you, this can be addictive). The segments have such names as Upper Crust, Old Glories and Family Thrift. The site will also give you general info about these groups, from lifestyles to media choices.

However, regardless of any fancy algorithms or costly research, sometimes it’s the simple things that offer the best solutions and insights into what makes a customer tick. And a lot of that has to do with a company’s refocusing on consumer behavior’s close cousin, customer service. As consumers, we like to feel wanted. I don’t necessarily have to believe that my purchase is the most important thing to a company, but a little appreciation is, well, appreciated. Many businesses are finding success with this approach.

One such advocate of this is Jay Greene. In a recent article he wrote for Advertising Age, Greene described what he called four marketing axioms businesses can and should use to engage their customers.

First, he said that companies need to connect on a personal level with their customers. This means getting inside their heads―finding out what and how they think/feel about stuff. Once you know how things look from a consumer’s perspective, you can use those insights to position yourself in the best possible manner.

Next, Greene advised companies to really develop and nurture their core values. If you’re honest and up-front about what you stand for, customers will see and remember you for it. He even suggests linking your brand with a cause or social initiative that best exemplifies your values and allowing your customers the opportunity to get involved.

Then comes the reminder to innovate. As he so eloquently put it, “Innovation is the hallmark of a premium brand.” A company’s ability to constantly improve and adapt to changing market landscapes can really set it apart from its competition.

Finally, Greene ends with what he considers the most important axiom, what he calls “Remember the love.” Companies should always keep in mind those little things that make their product be loved by the customer. This can help not only act as kind of a check-up for a brand, but also remind companies what it is that they love about their customers as well.

Understanding the customer can be a very complicated and costly process for a business; not understanding them has an even higher price. But sometimes it’s the most basic and least costly answers that are the most effective.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Three Major Trends Companies Should Know

By: Derek Howard

Let’s face it - people can be fickle. This is especially true when it comes to being consumers. Our attention spans can be short and capricious. We have a tendency to follow the latest and hottest thing on a whim, craving the newest toy or fashion. A lot of the time, these movements disappear just as quickly as they develop; becoming nothing more than overnight sensations: fads. However, every so often the latest “in-thing” evolves beyond the flavor of the week into a full, blown trend that sticks around and becomes a new part of our culture. Being able to spot these trends before or while they’re growing is vital to many companies.

So the question becomes, how do you spot the difference between a fad and a trend? One man that specializes in doing just that is Michael Tchong. Among his many credits, Tchong is the founder of Ubercool, a business that, to quote their website, is an, “Internet marketing service that develops and produces branded entertainment events that immerse premium audiences in innovative online and offline infotainment.” A major part of how Tchong is able to be so successful at this is by understanding trends and how consumers react to them.

At a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Young Professionals event, I was fortunate enough to hear Tchong speak firsthand about his involvement with the world of trends. Basically, Tchong is a trendwatcher, but it goes a lot deeper than that. He has an incredible knack for looking into the future and gauging what will stick and what will sink- spotting that elusive difference between fad and trend. Why should businesses care? Well, as he puts it, trends have the ability to change consumer values, fads don’t. This is key for companies. If they can get in on the ground-floor of a sweeping, powerful trend, they have the chance to utilize and grow with the trend rather than be eclipsed by it, which can mean big bucks for those with the right insight.

Even greater than the general trend is something that Tchong refers to as the ubertrend. He sees ubertrends as large trends or movements that leave lasting impressions as they move through our society. Often times, they will create patterns or ripples that leave many similar “subtrends” along the way. Regardless of the detail, ubertrends impact consumer lifestyle and behavior. In his presentation titled “I’m Going to Tweet you Up,” Tchong talked about three of the eight ubertrends he regularly tracks: digitalized lifestyle, unwired and time compression.

Tchong describes the digitalized lifestyle as the marriage of man and machine. These days, technology is everywhere, in all places at all times. It is pervasive and the new norm. Tech is the mainstream and touches all parts of our lives, from our food to our computers. Tchong also sees this as the trend of us giving technology a more human face. Though he joked about the possibility of us one day marrying robots, the serious implications exist. It starts with the things like robotic vacuum-cleaners with cute names and continues from there. One example he talked about was how one company that produces customization for laptops now refers to these computers as “My Lappy.” As Tchong said, the laptop has become a digital pet, not a tool. And that customization is important. Another example he gave was the new HP laptops, aesthetically designed by Vivienne Tam; referred to as digital clutches; the laptops focus as much on the fashion as the function.

Unwired represents, as Tchong puts it, the unhooked generation. We, as a culture, don’t want to be tied down in anyway. Unwired equals freedom to us. This has had interesting effects on society, both good and bad. The greater prevalence of citizen journalists is one side-effect. With the technology available to the average person, more and more people are starting to scoop the media on news events around the world. This, coupled with our love and greater reliance on social networks, could effectively change the landscape of the media forever. However, Tchong believes that unwired has created a few problems. One is that it is turning us into control-freaks. A major part of this problem is our obsession with customization- we want everything specific to our tastes and companies are paying attention. From custom-designed laptops to the ability to track packages and pizza each step of the way, we love to feel in control. Tchong sees each possible customization as a chance to engage the customer. As he said, companies need to decide not if, but when and where they want to apply this ubertrend to today’s mobile consumer.

Tchong ended with time compression, what he called the acceleration of life. Today, we don’t/ can’t/ won’t stop moving. We are a culture of multi-taskers seeking instant gratification. And we’re always busy it seems. A very interesting point Tchong made was how the answer to the age, old question, “How are you?” has changed over the years. It started with “good” or “great” and has evolved to “busy.” As he says, “The state of mind has become a state of time.” True and slightly disturbing. As Tchong puts it, it started with the Polaroid camera and microwave oven and blossomed from there. Though the instant meals of the Jetsons aren’t here yet, instant photography is. Tchong presented studies that show everything from our leisure time to our sleep time is shrinking, year after year. Businesses need to realize this ubertrend and act accordingly. Today’s consumer attention span is short and fragmented. With the average person lingering only 56 seconds on a webpage, companies must not only be aware of how fast their sites load but also how much information can be passed along in such a short period of time.

Tchong ended the presentation by talking a little about innovation. Basically, the core idea behind companies recognizing and utilizing these ubertrends is to remain relevant. Companies should adapt to changes in consumer lifestyle. Simply put, he believes companies need to innovate to stay on top. Judging by Tchong’s ability to predict the flux and flow of culture, I’d say that’s solid advice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five Marketing Principles for Better Customer Service

By: Derek Howard

Customer Service is important to any business. Seems like common sense, and yet everyone seems to have that horror story; from languishing in phone-hold purgatory to dealing with apathetic or even aggressive representatives. I honestly don’t think that any business sets out to intentionally have bad service. Sadly, sometimes it ends up that way.

The real danger is that one bad customer experience can cost a business more than just the offended customer. Studies have shown that while the average person will tell only about three people about a good experience, they will tell 10 about a bad one. Those statistics coupled with today’s word-of-mouth marketing culture along with rampant social media can cause one, minor hiccup in service to potentially cost a company a lot of money.

Fortunately, more and more companies are beginning to return
to a more customer-focused method of business. This can be especially crucial in how companies choose to market themselves. Connecting with customers not only can boost initial sales, but it could also create and foster lasting relationships; relationships that could help lead to what Kevin Roberts, the CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, refers to as “loyalty beyond reason.” These customers are an asset to any company’s bottom-line.

One big believer and supporter of customer-focused marketing is Aaron Magness, the marketing chief for Zappos. Magness stresses the importance of customer service as an all-encompassing idea, from hiring the right people and creating a positive working environment to making the customer feel appreciated. As he puts it, “It all comes down to the Golden Rule.” In an interview with’s Brandon Gutman, Magness listed his five principles for marketing:

Customer service is the new marketing. The days of dictating your brand to the public are long gone. There is so much access to information; the customer is actually dictating your brand to you.

• Communicate with your customers, don’t market at them. Customers get bombarded with marketing messages every day (practically every second). Find ways to interact with them. Discussions drive loyalty, not one way messaging.

• Don’t try to be interesting, be interested. I first heard this phrase from our CEO, Tony Hsieh, and thought it was great. It is really spot on. A lot of companies try to launch a really creative campaign, but lack the follow up to the brand promise. Your campaign should highlight what your brand promise is, not try to invent one.

• Try to WOW at every interaction. This goes for working with employees, vendors and customers. Personal relationships and interactions drive everything. You need to capitalize on them. This is obviously something that is very true and important at Zappos. I don’t think I ever put it into words until I worked here, but the importance and implications are great.

• Your culture will dictate your success. This goes back to building your team. Hire great people, treat them like adults and let them do great work. The rest should come naturally on its own.

Basically, customer service should be at the core of any business. Recently, this topic came up while talking with a friend who is a local business owner. His insight was both simple and spot on. He said, “The way I see it, I sell the same product and offer the same service that a dozen other places around here do. If you take away pricing and convenience, the reason people come to my store is me (and my employees).” As a consumer, this rings true to me. The only thing I would add is when a company impresses me, I’m much less likely to care about the first two.

Monday, May 3, 2010

IT Solutions with Microsoft Technology Centers

By: Derek Howard
Recently, I was lucky enough to tour the Microsoft Technology Center in Atlanta with the Technology Association of Georgia’s Young Professionals Society. This was an interesting event for me because though I’m not as much of a “techie” as I would like to be, I’m still fascinated by everything tech; from gadgets to software. My problem is that I love the stuff, but I always end up feeling overwhelmed. It also gave me the opportunity to see what it is that Microsoft does at these centers. Turns out, it’s all about helping other companies that, like me, may be overwhelmed by their technology problems.

These days, information technology (IT) is an important part of most businesses. From company e-mail to flashy software, IT drives the business both inside and out. Great IT can save company money, improve productivity and efficiency, and even help reel in new business. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Sub-par IT can hurt a business in many ways, most of which lead back to big dents in the company wallet.

A big key to success is to make sure that a company’s IT is right for the job. However, this can be tricky and expensive. For most businesses, the prospect of developing and implementing new IT is scary; will it work and if it does, how long will it take and how much will it cost? Custom solutions can be risky. Everything from finding the right starting point to launching it costs a company a lot of time and money, and if it fails, even more.

Microsoft offers a solution to these IT problems with their Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs for short). Basically, MTCs are places where businesses can go to get help with their IT issues. These centers offer everything from consulting to support for companies looking to solve their problems. According to Microsoft, they are able to do this by working with organizations to help them envision, design and deploy their custom solutions. Companies get access to both Microsoft technologies as well as their expertise. The MTC has three critical components: the people, the process and the place.

The people are the MTC’s dedicated employees. The staff are IT experts, well-versed in Microsoft products. They work directly with a company’s own IT team to develop strategies and solutions that fit the problem and the need. These architects help make sure everything runs smoothly from start to finish.

The process is the plan, from A-Z. It starts with a strategy briefing. Basically this is a road map from problem to solution. Next is an architecture design session (ADC). This involves coming up with the design and providing risk analysis. Finally there is a proof-of-concept workshop (POC). This is where the MTC architects work with a company’s IT staff to prove and test the solution in a working environment; any environment. And if the MTC doesn’t have the environment you need to test in, they will work with their partners to create it.

The place is the MTC itself. The MTC facility provides its clients with everything from fully loaded lab environments to fully stocked beverages in the kitchen. Businesses have access to development and design suites that are both private and secure. Clients can come and go freely 24/7 while working at the MTC. Finally, each MTC has an Envisioning Center that acts as a demonstration facility for customers. This facility showcases IT functionality in custom, real-world environments. The room is divided into different vignettes that represent everything from an office setting to a coffeehouse, with customization a possibility.

There are currently 15 MTCs worldwide with eight here in the U.S. Plans are already underway to expand those numbers both here and overseas. Because of the way they are designed to be similar, each coordinates with the others. The idea is that if you worked at one in say, Atlanta, then you would know what to expect at the one in Tokyo.

So, the question is, are MTCs effective? Well, the website ( has plenty of case studies and testimonials that say “yes.” However, it’s ultimately up to a company to decide. Just as each problem and solution can be unique, so can each individual organization’s experience. Either way, Microsoft Technology Centers provide businesses with a creative option to their IT problems.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Five Fundamentals to Building a Better Brand

By Derek Howard
The role of branding is important to every business. It defines not only the product but the company as well. The problem is that sometimes the ideas behind the brand can get a little lost along the way.

At a recent TAG: Recruiting event (Technology Association of Georgia) titled Sharpen Your Brand for Rainmaking, guest-speaker Linda Travis addressed this subject and spoke about how to regain that focus. Travis is the president of The Brand Renovator, a company that specializes in breathing new life into existing companies through rebranding and repackaging. Though her specialty lies in this area, her advice and insights are useful to any company, new or old.

“Everybody has a rainmaking role,” Travis said. In business, rainmaking is basically the ability to attract customers and achieve success. The act of rainmaking is closely tied to that of your brand, and according to Travis, everyone has a brand: personal, company, etc. Travis feels that images such as logos, pictures, even names are not the complete picture of a brand, only evidence. The brand is really a promise; your reputation as a company or individual. Your brand represents not only the product but the perceived value of that product to your customers.

Travis believes that “a strong brand is one that is recognized as delivering a meaningful difference.” People have to have a reason to choose you over your competition. As a company, you must set yourself apart. After all, a stronger brand can demand a higher price. So how do you go about building a strong brand? Travis has created five fundamentals that act as building blocks to better branding.

Fundamental #1: be you-nique. This is a way of saying you need to identify your real difference, your authenticity. This could be anything from a niche market to being first at something; just find it and use it.

Fundamental #2: Focus on your message. People remember specifics. Don’t get bogged down by trying to be good at everything; you’ll just lose your aim. Be specific; find that niche that you do well and focus on it.

Fundamental #3: Address buyer value. This is basically the “So what?” question of your business. Why should a customer care about what you can offer? Rather than just rattle off a list of services, take the time to convey how these services are of value to the customer. If they see the value, they will want you.

Fundamental #4: Tell other people. As Travis said, silence is the death sentence for a brand. You need to be able to explain your product/brand anywhere and anytime, and ultimately to anybody. And keep it as simple as possible. Travis highly recommends imagining explaining your brand to a 10-year-old.

Fundamental #5: Delivering. Be consistent. Once you define what your brand represents, deliver that meaning each and every time you do business or interact with your clients. Consistency is the key to building credibility.

Also remember to balance your personal brand with your company’s. Travis’ advice is to recognize that you have a responsibility to both but the two can work together. By not letting them compete, you can maintain a consistency that benefits you and your business. Your brand, both personal and business is important. It defines who you are and what you are to your customers. As Travis said, “In the end, your brand is what people experience.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

John Janstch - Enable Business Growth

This post contains a few paraphrased notes from Duct Tape Marketing's John Janstch speaking to BMA Atlanta about improving small business marketing.

If your business needs more referrals, then you need to offer a better customer experience.
Your business has to be on the web. To the new generation, if you are not on the web, you don't exist. Having a web presence offers validation.

Service companies need a product, even if it's a small one. Inexpensive products (relative to the service cost) encourage a prospect to try the service. Then if they like it, they'll buy.

The best way to grow your business is through your existing customer base. Once a prospect is a customer, keep their repeat business. Referrals and growth will follow.

The Duct Tape Marketing Funnel / Hourglass (below) illustrates the flow from prospect to growth customer.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

James Andrews - Turn Your Company into a Content Machine

This post contains paraphrased notes from SoCon10 breakout speaker James Andrews on how to turn your company into a social media content machine.

How easy this is; just use the tools. The content will come in many different forms -- your lives, your clients' lives. The uninteresting stuff is content. Really think about everything as content. Have fun with it.

What’s important is the conversation that content creates; you can’t measure these things in pure numbers.

Use crowd sourcing regularly; it gives legs to social media.

Focus on audience backgrounds, then implement content. Produce a show for them. Engaging conversation streams are basically a TV show.

How to get started

Start with listening.

Find influencers through social media. Listen to them; talk to them. Go where the people are already gathered and bring them in. Ask your readers where they are (get their content from) and then post your content there.

Have a goal very specific to what you want to accomplish; if the goal is X, then use the tools to do that. Have the courage to try things, measure them, throw out what doesn’t work, and try new tactics. Constantly reinvent.

Tag and archive everything. Big fan of hash tags (#). They provide the ability to give context. Create your own. Make a story.

The beauty of social media is that the ‘riches are in the niches.’ There is an opportunity to create real activitism.

On email newsletters

Big fan of email newsletters; they give legs to your content. There is too much stuff out there; email newsletters become a deliverer of content, i.e. ‘Here are the 20 things you missed on our blog/YouTube channel/whatever.’

If you are producing content, it is critical to have email; you want people to be able to easily get it and share it.

Some tools to consider
  • Ustream: free, video streaming; uses it all the time.
  • Vokle: free, video production tool
  • Blogtalkradio: create your own radio show; get your thought leadership out.
  • Posterous: the easiest blogging platform; write it, email it, and it’s on your blog formatted. Syndicates where you want it to go. A great tool for new bloggers.
  • iMovie: video editing; mid-level is fine.
Some hardware to consider
  • Blue microphone: sound is critical; make the investment.
  • Flip cam: turn everyone into content creators.
  • Tripod: hold your camera steady.

Be prepared with backups; stuff breaks.

But remember, grainy photos are OK; authenticity gives a dimension.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jon Gatrell - B2B Social Media Activity

"It's about improving; there is no home run, no 140 characters to riches." - Jon Gatrell

This post contains paraphrased notes from SoCon10 breakout speaker Jon Gatrell on how B2B Social Media activity needs to drive results.

Results of recent survey on the influence of Social Media on go-to-market activities was shocking. Only 9% of respondents said Social Media would be a major part of their program. 57% considered it, but not as a significant factor. 40% had no Social Media plan.

Thoughts on B2B Blogging

Company blogs are an easy way to distribute and update content. On his company blog, Jon tries to never mention the product. “Even things that might seem uninteresting about development, wow do customers love it.”

Top reasons for a B2B blog:
  • Prospects have to be aware that you exist
  • You have to provide a solution for these prospects.
  • A blog can help set up the sale.

Blogging platform:
  • Big fan of WordPress and TypePad
  • Blogger is for Mommy bloggers [WOW. Did he say that? Hey, this is a Blogger blog.]

Thoughts on B2B Twitter

Businesses have channels to shout at people, but don’t have a lot of inbound channels for customers to interact with the business. On Twitter, a lot of people are posting, but not listening. Always listen and respond.

You have to be a better writer because of Twitter. Twitter is as much about emotion as writing because it's so personal. It's about your network circle. You want personality; personality requires emotion.

A recent survey found that 62% of product managers don’t use Twitter.

Should you Twitter? Hasn’t translated the business value out of it yet, but at the end of the day, it is another opportunity to practice, experiment, and get better.

But not everyone Tweets. Maybe your customers aren’t there; maybe they are somewhere else. Lots of people still use listservs. Find out where your audience is; that's where you go.

Thoughts on Evaluating Tactics

To evaluate, you need real metrics, but don’t go crazy. Keep it simple. Figure out the one thing that you want to track; know that it has to be something you can learn from. If you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to get somewhere.

Ultimately all you need are goals and objectives.

Thoughts on a B2B Social Media Approach

Be agile with what you are doing. Social Media are things that you do everyday and build upon. Have a daily work list. See how your activity drives results.

The more control you have in your Social Media efforts, the less effective they are going to be. Have many different viewpoints and voices representing your business.

Share something valuable that people other than your prospects will care about.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dan Siroker - Five Lessons Learned in Social Media and Online Tactics

This post contains paraphrased notes from SoCon10 keynote speaker Dan Siroker.

Five lessons learned in Social Media and online tactics during the Obama campaign:
  1. Define quantifiable success metrics (First focus on what your goals are, then prioritize what you can do. A lack of quantifiable success metrics is a big problem; you will only know that your experiments work if you can measure them.)
  2. Question assumptions (Experiment with what you can. Try even simple things. Perform multivaried tests. An ability to experiment and to learn from experiments proves really valuable.)
  3. Divide and conquer (Different things can work based on demographics.)
  4. Take advantage of circumstances (If you can capitalize on something in the news, then do so.)
  5. Always be optimizing (Create an hypothesis and test it. Measure the impact. Take the things that work, put the best ones together, and test again. Build variations in context of your page; always experiment. Think about your audience and what they want.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Olin Wise - Front Row View of Enterprise Innovation

This post contains paraphrased highlights from a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Consulting Society event featuring TSYS CTO Olin Wise.

What is innovation?

Most innovation is very incremental and not planned. It's not always about a grand scheme, but about getting better every day. There is a difference between incremental innovation and disruptive change. Innovation boils down to better, faster, cheaper.

Remember that innovation does not mean "invented here;" there have been huge blunders where organizations tried to build something themselves without the capability.

The smaller a group you are, the easier it is to innovate.

Always try to take a solutions approach to innovation.

Consider your team for the project

Try to pair people together based on their profile so that they will be successful. The five profiles of IT talent are:
  • The passive technologist (uses old school tools and not changing)
  • The patch master (can fix any issue fast, but not the overall problem)
  • The professional (uses whatever tools are available; is not committed to any)
  • The endless innovator (always seeking a better way and never gets finished)
  • The visionary (has the cool ideas that don't always translate back to the business)

What can go wrong
  • Poor or unclear business sponsorship
  • Loose requirements or delivery commitments
  • Poor problem identification
  • Insufficient project and team communication
  • Poor architecture/design

2010 IT outlook for financial services
  • Expect more of the same in 2010
  • Regulatory impacts
  • Limited budgets for clients
  • Slower domestic market vs. growing international market (bullish on international)
  • Focus on efficiency/costs vs. investment
  • Targeted opportunities for functional improvements that are limited in scope