Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

VRM in London

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A couple of weeks ago, on October 15th there was a VRM meeting at our Chelsea HQ. The group was diverse, a CRM expert turned VRM , a marketing/branding strategist , a media analyst from the City, security gurus and uber-geeks from Google and Sun respectively, public sector & government IT expert . And me, although god knows how I would describe myself these days. Our objective was to discuss practical applications of VRM and what each of us can do. Both in business and technical terms, so the diversity of people at the meeting was deliberate.

You can read more general things about VRM here and over the next few weeks and months I will be writing more about it here. Here is William’s account of the meeting and his impressions of first encounter with VRM. The money quote:

VRM opens up all sorts of new markets as people articulate their requirements. The long tail finds its voice and states its needs. It’s counter-intuitive model, and a fundamental shift in how they do business.

Good stuff.

I want to note one issue that emerged from the discussion. When people hear about VRM, the idea that they are in control of the data is very easy to grasp and accept. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes to get that across. I note with some wonder that it is easier to explain VRM to a cab driver than to a marketing director.

Once people mentally flip the ownership of data on its head i.e. your data (purchase history, notes on products, recommendations) is owned by you, not captured and locked in inside a vendor’s silo, they see the power flowing from the control, management and sharing of information about themselves. But looking ahead and building on that ability, it is interesting that most people assume their market power will come from aggregation. Along the lines of.. if enough people want something they can get together and exert some influence over vendors. Similar to this perhaps.

I don’t think this is about aggregation. It will be a result of people’s behaviour as facilitated by VRM tools – the demand side as the sum of informed and networked individuals will have continuous impact on the supply. But I do not believe that is where we start when building VRM applications.

I am rather fond of saying ‘the network is always stronger than a node’ – so much so it appears in my email signature. But the context is that the stronger the node, the more robust and better the network. It starts from the understanding the human need for identity, ownership and a degree of autonomy or sovereignty. VRM needs to help create a framework where many tools and applications, modular or integrated, will help people to achieve just that and let the Web again work its magic.

Where this is not about pure power play is in accepting that businesses also need to be nodes in the network. We need to work with businesses that understand having customers on their side is much better than herding them into their silos for the all important, money-making Lock-In.

VRM for business then is flipping the mass customisation on its head, where it belongs. Businesses know individualisation is expensive now. And yet expected by their customers more and more as they are learning to behave and treat each other as individuals. The pressure on the industrial age mindset that sees standardisation as cost reduction is increasing. All existing processes are forcing one route, the best way to achieve efficiency is to streamline that one way. Scaling is god. Processes are the priesthood. In this context, focusing on the individual is about providing above and beyond that standard. And that can cost a lot. What we need to do is demonstrate it is not necessarily the case, when customers are genuinely part of the ‘process’. We will need both tools and change of mindset for that.

Quote to remember

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“I have a theory that ‘user generated content’ is a last-gasp of the regal outlook of silicon valley, where we’re all chumps or slaves.” (Before UGC we were just supposed to be eyeballs, consuming their shovelware, buying stuff we see in ads. They had to adjust their thinking when it became apparent that we were also interested in creating, though we’re positioned as generators not creators.)
- Dave Winer, The regal Silicon Valley

The rest of the post is equally worth noting! Or what the hell, here’s another important bit from Dave’s post:

“If you’re scared to hear what people really think you’re not prepared for the world you live in.” (I finally figured this one out. The reason so many people in SV say I can’t be trusted (it’s observable) is because I’m equally likely to say your product sucks as I am to say it’s great. This is a culture raised on Gee Whiz editorial coverage, the adulation of MSM. When blogs came along they had to hear that not everyone thinks they’re so wonderful all the time. Who would you hate most but the guy who pushed the tools that made everyone with an opinion so audible. And would you expect such a person to keep his opinion to himself? Heh.)

Metrics schmetrics

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Google’s Avinash Kaushik on Google Analytics for non-commerce sites:

This is why I am anti-metrics, although not necessarily anti-measurement. The killer line – averages is hide the truth very effectively.

KM endangered species

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Patrick Lambe of Green Chameleon has some serious concerns about KM profession.

…I’m starting to get disheartened about knowledge management’s ability to mature and even survive as a profession. We’re just not serious enough about learning for learning’s sake, to improve the practice in organisations, to advance the cause. The people who seem most disposed to learn and share are consultants, who float between contexts but rarely have sustained impact in one context. And sustained impact is essential for collective learning in knowledge management, because the feedback loop is a long one, it can take years of sustained effort for an intervention to show results. We’re in a vicious cycle of stop-start interventions conducted in silos, where nobody stays long enough to learn what really works and doesn’t work in the long run, where nobody is willing to propagate that learning as it happens. It seems to me (exceptional individuals notwithstanding) we are not bold enough, not brave enough, not generous enough, to survive as a profession. Tell me I’m wrong.

Strong (and necessary) words. I recognise the symptoms so I would just add that the same applies to a few other professions and industries…

Toyota tailGate

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Toyota owners are revolting… Yes, another example of customer power.

Toyota has been fiercely protective of their brand image, specifically their historically high vehicle quality ratings. But as companies today have no control over the marketplace conversation about their products, Toyota is finding itself in an uncomfortable position to say the least.

Even just a few years ago this story would largely have been buried at the dealer level as straightforward warranty repairs and outside of government safety regulators (not likely to represent a safety risk). Today the rise of owner forums is serving as a vehicle, no pun intended, for owners to band together and force manufacturers to address issues.

This is not really news – people have been complaining about companies for as long as the web existed. For now, there are still relatively few product or service ‘-gates’. It still takes a confluence of circumstances. A web-savvy audience or customer-base, a community around the product, service or the screwed-around customer, a large-ish blog or online publication picking up the story etc. However, their frequency and reach is growing and it seems that such confluences are becoming less coincidental and possibly even more orchestrated (see the suggestion that Toyota competitors might be fanning the flames). What is news is that there has never been a movement like this begun and carried out by owners themselves to have an automaker address a grievance.

Companies cannot and will not be able control such ‘outbursts’ of customer power. They had their go at blasting messages, burying unfavourable stories, creating warranties with small print that any demon from the soul-signing department would be proud of. Now it’s not just the market’s turn but the individual customer’s turn to network with others with similar grievances. It is not merely strength in numbers though, it is the strength of the voices that now can be registered, amplified and freely distributed.

So, there is the hard way and then there is the easy way for businesses to deal with the ‘empowered consumer’. A good start would dropping the term consumer. The hard way is to:

a) stick head in the sand and pretend nothing’s happening
b) alright, something’s happening but those people don’t matter
c) hm, they do seem to create some noise/buzz/trouble but our lawyers/PR firm/brand or marketing agency can handle them
d) oh shit, it doesn’t seem to be working as it used to, let’s find a lawyer/PR firm/brand or marketing agency that says can handle this
e) thousands of $$$ or £££ later, someone notices that some employee(s) are living the social web stuff and communicating with people out there. Some of them might even be customers – shock, horror! Quick, call the communications/PR/marketing people to do something about it!
f) this is where things fork:
i. throttle the communication and that’s the end of it until the next meteor hits and dinosaurs scatter.
ii. someone in possession of sufficient authority and common sense examines what’s going on and gets a clue.

The easy way is to go straight to f) ii., have some fun discovering that it is not so hard for companies to get people on their side once they start behaving as people, not as a faceless corporate entity. Er, fairly honest and communicative people that is.

Customers can ‘fight back’ because there are now ways to connect and amplify their grievances, feedback and wishes. Looking at the past 5-10 years, the net has become a world of its own, not separate from the offline one but defined by a lot of human behaviour that couldn’t find expression in a hierarchical world. In many ways, the net is an expression of non-hierarchical power. And, of course, much more besides but it is this power that seems to befuddle companies.

Something they teach even at business schools is that markets do not stand still. This is especially true in a space where demand supplies itself. So here’s another one to watch.

Quote to remember

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People are starting to understand that their interest in, and even their raw attention toward a product has a value. And deciding to expose any data to a potential vendor is a customer choice, not a marketers right.
- echovar in Why Marketing is Broken

Quote to remember

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“Innovation happens elsewhere”… there are always more smart people outside a company than inside it. So the question is how to somehow harness the innovation that these other people are creating. Open source turns out to be an excellent way to do so.
- Bill Joy mentioned by Ron Goldman in Part Two of a Conversation With Sun Microsystems Laboratories’

BBC, iPlayer and Microsoft

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From Grocklaw interview with Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium in the UK.

…it’s a Verisign Kontiki architecture, it’s peer-to-peer, and in fact one of the more worrying aspects is that you have no control over your node. It loads at boot time under Windows, the BBC can use as much of your bandwidth as they please (laughter), in fact I think OFCOM, you know, made some kind of estimate as to how many hundreds of millions of pounds that would cost everyone [Ed: see this video interview with Verisign Kontiki executive, and this one], there is a hidden directory called “My Deliveries” which pre-caches large preview files, it phones home to the Microsoft DRM servers of course, it logs all the iPlayer activity and errors with identifiers in an unencrypted file.

there’s a lot of pain going on in the user forums, and some of the main technical support questions in there are “how do I remove Kontiki from my computer?” See, it’s not just while iPlayer is running that Kontiki is going, it’s booted up. When the machine boots up, it runs in the background, and it’s eating people’s bandwidth all the time. (laughter) In the UK we still have massive amounts of people who’ve got bandwidth capping from their ISPs and we’ve got poor users on the online forums saying, “Well, my internet connection has just finished, my ISP tells me I’ve used up all of my bandwidth.”

No, they can’t throttle it. It really is. It’s malware as well as spyware.

Before you start wondering about BBC conspiracies, which would undoubtedly require the level of efficiency that the BBC Trust has been aiming for, let’s see who’s behind the iPlayer.

…the BBC management team who are responsible for the iPlayer are a checklist of senior employees from Microsoft who were involved with Windows Media. A gentleman called Erik Huggers who’s responsible for the iPlayer project in the BBC, his immediately previous job was director at Microsoft for Europe, Middle East & Africa responsible for Windows Media. He presided over the division of Windows Media when it was the subject of the European Commission’s antitrust case. He was the senior director responsible. He’s now shown up responsible for the iPlayer project.

This is getting worn out by now, Windows-only platform alone is asking for trouble, then there is the ET-phone-home behaviour of the iPlayer itself, then the caving-in of the BBC to the ‘rights holders requirements’ regarding DRM that read like a checklist of Microsoft DRM (I am shocked! shocked! at the DRM abuse going on here!) and finally the lack of clarity and rationale of the whole process. Oh, and fraternisation with a corporate monopolist to the tune of £130 million over the four years, paid by the taxpayer licence fee payer.

via Ben

Bonus link: Use MacOS? Linux? Solaris? Stop the BBC becoming Microsoft slaves!

There is no “top” to the World-Wide Web

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This is a must-watch. Brilliant. Just passing it on…

Via Johnnie and Euan etc

Dell made up with bloggers

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Jeff Jarvis on the end of Dell Hell.

They reached out to bloggers; they blogged; they found ways to listen to and follow the advice of their customers. They joined the conversation. That’s all we asked.

Absolutely. I particularly like this:

…note Dell’s compliance with the manifesto’s first three theses:

1. Markets are conversations.
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

Had I not have my blog(s) to say this, I have gone hoarse from repeating this over the last 4 years. And this is just one of the many benefits of listening:

Dell realized that engaging in the conversation wasn’t just a way to stop blogging customers like me from harming the brand. We, the customers, bring them great value besides our money: We alert them to problem. We will tell them what products we want. We share our knowledge about their products. We help fellow customers solve problems. We will sell their products. But this happens only if you have a decent product and service and only if you listen to us.

I also agree with Stuart Henshall’s interpretation:

If you want a conversation to really take hold in a company you have to teach the CEO how to listen. Today it’s never been easier to innovate in this area. From my perspective every VP Marketing should be enabling a social media listening program.

Businesses are such a top down organisations that even if you manage to start conversations inside the company, there comes a point where those people run into a wall. The organisation reacts to new ways and there is a clash of cultures, if not more. And without a clear understanding and support from the CEO, it is unlikely to be resolved. Sun Microsystem’s Jonathan Schwartz had to line up the lawyers and the comms people and tell them in no uncertain terms that blogging is going to happen within and outside Sun. I am told that without such a push, the company would have never grown such a powerful and dynamic blogging community.

So it is foolish to assume that one blog makes a conversation, just like one swallow does not makes a summer. But it just may inform people about a change of season…

You let the enemy in…

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There is a storm in one of the blogosphere’s corners – the pharma one. It makes a change from the ‘upheavals’ of the usual social media or the political digerati. It is also interesting to see that similar issues are affecting them all – transparency, credibility, reputation and monetisation. Once communities and networks get some traction and visibility the onslaught of marketers or advertisers begins.

Sermo, the two-year-old online forum where 30,000 docs love to dish, has inked a deal to collaborate with Pfizer, which can now freely access the site and post, post, post.

This is what doctors in the Sermo community have to say about it.

“I am not a fan of PhRMA…and I am especially not thrilled at the idea that they will now have one more way to ‘get at’ physicians via Sermo.”

“Any influence from Pfizer has to be absolutely marked and labeled loud and clear! I am sick and tired of industry people sneaking in their subtle, hard-to-detect influences into everything and every media corner money can buy.”

“No Pfizer docs acting like reps in here!”

“There is no way Pfizer is interested in anything but marketing in this ‘partnership.’ ”

“I’ll add this to my list at”

“Daniel, you let the enemy in. Shame on you.”

It is never possible to please everyone, so picking the negative voices is not fair, one might say. But let’s see what they are saying, not just put a minus or plus sign next to them. They all react against the intrusion – for different reasons.

The first comment is about Pfizer getting to a space that docs see as their own. It is about their autonomy, in this case, the ability to control and manage who and how is ‘getting’ at you, if you are a doctor. The second comment is about transparency. It show just how delusional the industry methods of ‘influencing’ are. People don’t fall for it, only the agencies and their clients who seem to believe their own BS. The third and fourth comments are about business practices – companies’ main objectives is to sell, sell, sell. It is a sad truth that some people wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. But it is. A doctor also wants to make money but if you believed that his only motivation for treating you is to earn more money, you’d be a) a fool and b) couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. Yes, some doctors can be motivated by money but that is what often makes a bad doctor is, not a good one. The same goes for companies. If people believe that the only motivation for a company’s existence and activities is to make more money, there is no trust, just transaction. And a pushback every time the company crosses a certain line or people find new ways to push back its intrusive manners. Hence the label ‘enemy’.

And this is what Craigslist people understand:

In what turned out to be a culture clash of near-epic proportions, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to the investment community this morning at the UBS global media conference in New York. UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked Buckmaster a standard financial world question: How does the site plan to maximize revenue? The CEO of the online classifieds site answered as follows: “That definitely is not part of the equation. It’s not part of the goal.” “I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” responded Schachter, as the crowd absorbed Buckmaster’s remarks.

The difference between the doctor and a company is the one between an individual and an institution. When you meet a doctor you can decide whether you trust him or not. It is much harder with a company, there is no-one to meet or talk to. No-one to deal with directly. No-one who could give you a real clue as to the motivations and goings on within the company. Marketing and advertising campaigns can’t do that and even the successful ones rarely survive the passage of time.

Commerce these days is focused on transactions and transactions only. Sell, sell, sell. But the best salesmen tell you that it is about the relationship. And a relationship begins with a conversation, where both parties have independence and freedom to start or end it at will.

Lesson number one – don’t build or take over communities for marketing purposes. This is because monetisation of a community will never work if you do something that the community doesn’t like. In case of Sermo it’s letting Pfizer in. In case of others, it’s advertising or some other disturbance. There are plenty of bad examples but I can think of only one good one. Yes, Craigslist again…

Buckmaster acknowledged that Craigslist had been approached about placing text ads on the site. “We’ve had the numbers crunched for us,” he said. “The numbers are quite staggering.” But, no, the site wasn’t interested. “No users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that’s the end of the story,” he said to the befuddlement of the crowd. “If users start calling out for text ads, we’ll listen.”

Lesson number two – communication is a one-to-one affair, not one-to-many. (The net has enabled many-to-many as a way of network scaling). If you are a large company, don’t behave like one. Your brand is worth very little if you cannot communicate with people. And you can do that only as people. So fracture the brand, let people talk to people, your employees to each other and to those outside the company. Instead of fearing your employees expression, be grateful for their ability and willingness to lend the company their voices. Treat them with respect and they’ll reciprocate. After all, if you can’t trust your own employees, why do you expect your customers to trust you?

Lesson number three – transparency starts at home. Decide what you are about and why you are in business. Don’t bother with missions and strategic visions, they are not fooling anyone, so they shouldn’t fool you. Once you find what it is that gets you to work every day, get on with it and communicate that on your own terms. Then watch and listen to what others think and say and then communicate some more. It can be a beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Microsoft double-standards

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A few month’s back I noted Microsoft’s failure to get approval for their Open Office XML standard by a sub-group of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The plot thickens:

During the voting period, more and more countries joined SC 34, the committee within ISO/IEC’s Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) that addresses document formats, at the Observer (O) level. Then, in the final weeks and days before the voting closed, many of these new members as well as many longer term members suddenly upgraded their status to Principal ((P) membership, thereby gaining greater influence in the final vote under the complex rules under which the committee operates.

The countries in question were for example, Malta, Venezuela, Pakistan, Poland, Egypt, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, Romania, Sri Lanka and Chile. So good to see them taking interest. There is a problem though, none of them is taking an interest to maintain even the minimal obligations of their membership.

…since the OOXML ballot closed on September 2, not a single ballot has received enough votes to count in this important committee. Why? Because the last minute arrivals to SC 34 are not bothering to vote.

It seems that those countries took extraordinary interest in Microsoft OOXML and once the vote failed, there is nothing else that motivates them. I wonder what that means?

The resulting gridlock of this committee was as predictable as it is unfortunate. The extraordinarily large number of upgrades in the final months, and particularly in the final days, therefore seemed attributable not to an abiding investment and interest in the work of SC 34, but in the outcome of a single standards vote. That conclusion is now certain, given the voting performance of the upgraded members since they cast their votes on OOXML.

Since the recent influx of new P-members to our committee, not a single ballot has had a sufficient number of responses to be considered.

So if anybody tells me that Microsoft is playing fair, I don’t think I will listen until they can beat this explanation:

1. committee to vote on important matter which is strategic to large company
2. committee suddenly gets packed with yes-men, one cannot imagine who’s funding them
3. committee vote fails anyway — but is a close-run thing
4. yes-men all spontaneously get bored and walk away from their commitments
5. committee becomes dead in water due to voting procedure requiring input from now-vanished yes-men
6. committee dies?

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