Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How Cool is Social Media?

Now that’s a great question! Check this out… I was on my way home this evening and I was listening to my car radio, only because I don’t have the “All Blues, All the Time,” Satellite radio hooked up yet. And I heard the same-old stock report about local big businesses in our back yard. You know, the ones they always talk about. I guess because they’re publically traded or something like that. As if that gives them some kind of status or prestige... Frankly, from where I’m sitting, that counts against them these days!

Anyway, I heard the same old BS about the pathetic results that all of them were putting up, but one company in particular, Eastman Kodak, and it made me wonder. I wondered how those people who work for Kodak must feel knowing the company’s contributions to their 401Ks have been frozen for at least the next year, due largely to the mismanagement of the company. Or, the fact that executives can expect no raises (not that they deserve any) for at least the next year.

Hmm, how about this? Time to look for another job maybe? Ooh bummer. Without good workers they can’t innovate or produce good products. Without innovation or good products, they have no customers. Without customers they have no… yeah, you get the picture (place pun here)!

Now, I’ve been in the Rochester, NY area for the better part of 20 years. I remember when Kodak’s share price was right around $100 per share (it’s below $6.50 per share these days). For anyone who’s been around here for a while they know that’s been a while. I even owned some Kodak stock. I also remember when George Fisher, former CEO cashed in his options for some sick amount of money ($100MM+ comes to mind) just before it went below $100/share, and he got away with it! As if he didn’t know it was going to tank… He’s the same guy who went to Congress and whined because the Japanese were kicking his ass on his home turf. They told him to go pound salt, by the way. Exactly what they should tell the American Auto makers…

So anyway, with that in my mind I jumped on Twitter tonight. Just for kicks, I wrote the following tweet: “Kodak CMO I know you're out there... Share price <$6.50. Wazup? I still remember $98! Consumer products... what a bitch.” Within minutes, Jeff Hayzlett, Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO or some such thing) along with one of his Mar Com lackeys was following me.

I have to say, back in the day, you couldn’t get a guy like that’s attention without fireworks. And now, using a totally free social networking utility, available to anyone in the world on the web, I not only got his attention but, I’m sure, caused him some consternation along the way as well. That friends, is the power of Social Media. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to know that this blog post is available to a worldwide audience too.

Final note: Jeff hasn’t contacted me directly yet to make me an offer to buy my company (hush money), not that I would sell it to him, but it’s still early. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s hoping that Kodak can get their collective stuff together and put it in one sock, and make a useful product out of it.

Oh, and Jeff, we’d prefer if you didn’t make it in China. Maybe that’s why you guys are so geeked about the WalMart ads. Hmmm.

CCI -- Customer Composite Index

If you are going to succeed on the web, be it as a manufacturer, retailer, dealer / distributor, consultant, coach or whatever, it is essential that you identify, as specifically as you possibly can, who your prospective customers are. This is the foundation upon which Target Marketing is based.

An easy way to tackle this problem is through the development of a Customer Composite Index (CCI). Your CCI is a detailed list of characteristics that very specifically and succinctly defines your customers. Ask yourself the following questions: who, what, where, when, how and why.

An example of some of these types of questions are; who are our customers, what do they do, where do they live, (in the case of consumer products)? Or, where are they located (in the case of businesses)? Does their location have any significance to the product or service I’m offering? Does how they live have any bearing? What business are they in – product, service, specialty, commodity? What’s their annual income or revenue? How many employees do they have?

Additionally, are there customer personality or lifestyle traits that are important to your business? And, who are their customers? This is especially important, because if you understand their customer’s needs, you truly know what makes them tick! What are their interests and hobbies? I am sure you can come up with many more relevant questions that will help you to define your CCI. The point is, if you know who your customers are, by virtue of your CCI, then you know what you are looking for in a new customer.

If you have trouble with this exercise, visit an existing customer (or five) and ask them these questions. This gives you the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. 1) You will meet with them and get some face-time, for a very legitimate reason. Which means you can continue to build your relationship. 2) In your questioning, you will inevitably communicate your concern through your interest in understanding your customer better. You never know, you may just uncover an unmet need or two that you can convert into a sale!

“No” – The Most Critical Word in your Vocabulary
Get comfortable with saying “No.” It is the most important word in your small business vocabulary. One of the predominant issues that small businesses face, due largely to the absence of a CCI, is their inability to say “No” to a prospect or customer when they should.

Here’s how it works; they (small business) have a sales opportunity but it’s really not what they do. But, the customers or prospect trusts them, perhaps due to a pre-existing relationship. And that prospect or customer really needs whatever “it” is. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry, we don’t do that. But, I’d be happy to help you find someone who does.” Or, “I know exactly who to point you to, let me make a phone call...” The small business decides that there’s an opportunity to make a quick buck, and “it” really isn’t that far-afield…

Well, I think you probably know the rest of the story (thank you Paul Harvey). The small business takes the job and ends up scrambling (i.e., jumping through hoops) to get it done. They don’t really understand what they are doing so the quality isn’t there. They won’t deliver on time and they spent too much money building or delivering “it.”

Net, net…
Net result? A big looser! Not only did they alienate everyone within their own their small business, they lost money on the job, (they would know this if they kept track of such things). And most egregious of all, they broke the trust of a customer who may very well tell all her friends and neighbors about what a pathetic job the small business did her.

I wish I could say this doesn’t happen very often but I can pretty much guarantee if you are reading this you have either been involved in such a debacle, been on the receiveing end or, you know of one first hand. Solution? Do what you do best and forget the rest! Your customers, your employees and your banker will love you for it!

There is Nothing New Under the Sun -- Solomon

The best way to begin the discussion of Success on the Internet is with a brief historical review about what exactly the Internet is and why it came into being in the first place. This may seem like an exercise in futility to some but, I assure you knowing the origins of “the Web” will help in understanding the dynamics of all of the Social Media dialogue that’s flying at us these days.

Often times the basic premises upon which the Internet was established are overlooked by companies and individuals seeking their fortunes online. This is unfortunate and often leads to disappointment with their less than stellar results. A brief review of e-History will serve you well as you approach the Internet as a means to your success.

Going Back to Where it All Began
In 1962 (That’s 46 years ago. I know this because I was born in ’62.) Dr. J.C.R. Licklider, who at the time was working at MIT as a research scientist on a project funded and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), came up with the concept, what he referred to as the Inter-Galactic Network. You see, the defense research work of DARPA at that time involved several desperately and remotely located research facilities, located at several different major universities, MIT and Stanford being among them, as well as several military installations across the country.

Communication And Collaboration
Dr. Licklider (his friends called him “Lick” for short) realized that to effectively work together on co-development projects the research teams located in these various centers needed a way to effectively communicate with each other. Ultimately, they needed to develop a means by which they could collaborate on various aspects of their research activities. Is this starting to sound familiar based on where you see the web going these days?

Where the Internet Came From
Dr. Licklider is most often credited as the man with the original vision of the Internet. In two of his most influential papers, Man-Computer Symbiosis (PDF document), which he wrote in 1960, and The Computer as a Communications Device (PDF document), which was co-authored with Robert Taylor in 1968, he describes his vision of computing, which at the time of his writing was a mere concept, a good idea at best. He also goes into some detail about the purpose of the Internet, and why it was built.

Remarkably, “Lick” also predicted the future by stating that by the year 2000 millions of people would be online, connected by a global network. Isn’t it interesting that Dr. Licklider was absolutely correct?! He also set the table for the types of Social Media interaction that we as users of the “Inter Galactic Network” are having these days.

The Future - Now
As a futurist, he foretold of modern computing conveniences like the graphical point and click interface, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and technology independent software that exists on a network (the web) and migrates to wherever it’s needed. He was also known as the “Johnny Appleseed" of computing. This is a well-deserved nickname for a man who planted the seeds of computing, and in many respects got the digital age started.

My point in this post is this, the Internet was, is and shall ever more be a communications medium designed to bring “people” together, regardless of whether we call it Social Media or Corn Flakes. No doubt about it, we have more ways to communicate with desperately located people than ever before. As I said earlier, that’s not anything new. Speaking personally, I'm having a direct (albeit cryptic = 140 characters at a time) conversation with any number of people from around the globe on Twitter as I write this. Now that is COOL!

I wish I could have met Dr. Licklider but, unfortunately he has since passed away. I consider myself a futurist too and would love to compare notes with him. There are many other contributors to the development of the web that deserve mention but, that’s for another day and another post.