April 2008 Archives

Relevantly Speaking, a SXSX Interview

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While at South by South West I was interviewed on Social Media by Relevantly Speaking. They have some great interviews on their website too.

Headlight blog sheds light on auto trends

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headlight.jpgA few years back I was the lone Avenue A | Razorfish blogger with the Workplace blog. A lot has changed in a short while. Every second day we now have a new blogger in our midst. It is exciting to see so many more employees take to blogging and experiment with styles and formats. The latest entrants are Grant and Mary with the Headlight blog covering the auto industry on a monthly basis. It covers digital automative trends and insights and the first few posts focus on going green. Don't miss the article on Green Social Networking tools and topics which discusses Goloco.

Bringing the Social Web to the Financial Services Space

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spendspace.jpgThere hasn't been too much social innovation in the financial services sector. Most large banks have taken hesitant steps into the social web. Their reluctance to do so is understandable. As a sector, they have a lot to worry about and the last thing that they'd want to do is take on more risk - especially when their brands are taking such a beating. As a result, the most innovation is happening among the startups. Two in particular really impress me and an internal email chain about social media and financial services got me thinking about them again.

The first is MINT. It aggregates all my financial information from my different accounts whether it be brokerage, retirement or bank accounts. It tells me the categories of my expenditures, my spending trends and gives me pointers on ways to save. But the feature that I find most interesting is the SpendSpace at the bottom of the Trends tab. It lets me compare my spending trends to other people in similar (or different) locations as me. For example, I can compare expenditures in restaurants to other New Yorkers (lower). And more than that, it tells me whether my shopping at specific retailers in a given time period matched others in my location. Apparently, I spent a lot more at Best Buy than others in February. Similarly, my wireless phone bill was lower than other New Yorkers. It is fascinating social information.

The other interesting website is Covester. It is a social investing website that tells me how other people are investing their money. Harnessing wisdom of the crowds concepts, Covester lets you link your brokerage account to other individual investors and fund managers so that you can see how your portfolio performs in relation to theirs. The idea is that you can discover the most successful investors from within the community and start learning and benefiting from their investment choices. Part of the idea is to enable those with the best portfolio to get some financial return by making their investment decisions public. The only problem - investing is about beating the market. If Covester become so successful that everyone knows who you are and what you're investing in, you won't be able to beat the market in the future. 

Nevertheless, Covester is a perfect example of a startup that harnesses the power of the social web. Now just imagine if MINT and Covester were to merge. Wouldn't that be neat? Better still, a major bank in the consumer banking business should acquire MINT and someone like Etrade should pick up Covester.

UPA Presentation on Social Influence

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Last night I addressed the New York Chapter of the Usability Professional's Association in our Avenue A | Razorfish New York offices. The subject of my presentation was Social Influence: Social Media and the Enterprise. The event was sold out with over a 150 people in attendance. 

It was a fun experience with a lot of great questions being asked during and after the presentation. In fact some are still trickling into my email inbox. The audience seemed to have enjoyed the talk and no one questioned the fundamental premises behind Social Influence Marketing. Looks like I found a few more believers in the concepts. Thank you for attending.

A special thanks to the UPA for giving me the opportunity to speak and to my peers Elliot and Mary-Lynne who helped organize the event.

Office Depot gets Social Influence

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officedepot.jpgThere's one obvious area where Office Depot is definitely ahead of Staples and that's in recognizing the power of social influence. Take a look at the Office Depot Planner product page above. Notice the little Facebook, Digg and del.icio.us icons? Yes, I can easily share an image of the product I'm thinking of buying on my social network or add it to my bookmark list. On clicking on the Facebook icon, a window opens asking me whether I want to post the image of the Planner to my profile or send it to a friend. See below for how this looks.

Office Depot recognizes that I'd probably need to solicit the advice of a few others when making a purchasing decision. The website makes it easier for me to harness those influences. What Office Depot does is the bare minimum, but its a start. Expect Staples and other retailers to start doing this soon too. In the case of Office Depot, I wish it let me share the product information with my LinkedIn network - they're the people who I sometimes get advice from when making office purchases.

Amazon starts Customer Discussions

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Few e-retailers understand the power of social influence the way Amazon does. From its wildly successful customer reviews to the more recent customer images, Amazon tries hard to take advantage of the notion that when it comes to purchasing books we are heavily influenced by one another. Probably my favorite feature on Amazon has been the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" one. It tells me what other books I'd be interested in based on my interest in a specific book and what other customers bought. Those recommended books can be filtered by category and scroll horizontally like the Apple Album Cover Flow interface.

But there's a new feature that I like too. And that's the customer discussions. They connect customers to each other to share questions, insights and views about products available on Amazon.com. In other words, they're discussion boards for each product on Amazon. What's refreshing is that Amazon recognizes that I'm not as interested in meeting people on its site as I am in finding books. So rather than design the feature a social network and encourage me to make friends, Amazon focuses on the reason that I'm on the site in the first place. To find good books to read and to learn more about them. Take a look at the guidelines to learn how Amazon thinks about these discussion boards.

If only other companies paid more attention to what we as consumers are trying to do on their websites. We'd have fewer social networks and just more relevant and useful interactive features.

My Starbucks Idea. The Future of the Contact Us page

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starbucksideac.jpgThey're so close and yet so far. I watched with increasing interest the launch, promotion and growth of My Starbucks Idea. On the surface, I really like it. It is an enthusiastic effort by a social brand to be more social. If there's anyone who should be really embracing social media, its Starbucks because the brand is about community and people.

It's a simple concept - users are invited to tell Starbucks what they should be doing. Users publish their ideas and others comment and vote on them. Every now and then Starbucks takes an idea and moves it to the "See" section. Acknowledgment that the idea has legs and is being turned in to reality. I like it.

But its missing a few things. The first is best represented by this user comment in the Idea section.

I don't know how long this ideas website will be up for, but I hope this idea is reviewed soon by the ideas people in the company.
Starbucks doesn't participate in the conversation. It doesn't respond to comments directly rather it responds more broadly in the "See" section when they're making reality out of an idea. That's disappointing. If you expect your customers to help you, you should be willing to participate in their conversation. Not stand by silently or only speak from a pulpit.

What's also missing is there's no form of reward for ideas turned into reality. Imagine if every person who participated in the discussion around a frequency card, were added to a beta list for that card? That would be a great way to thank those customers for their thoughts. It would seed the concept with passionate consumers too. Opportunity missed.

On the whole though, I'm impressed. It borrows from the Dell Ideastorm concept and applies it to the Starbucks world. I believe that concepts like these are the future of the contact us page. Every site will need to have an area like this - a place where the brand solicits feedback from its customers and responds to their comments. If a brand doesn't want to be social in this manner, it shouldn't really be on the web at all.

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