Open Source Everything

One of the big changes building on the Web over the past years has been the availability of increasingly sophisticated applications - for free. Some web developers who at one time invented from scratch are now becoming expert integrators of open source applications. It's an exciting development because it means more of us can be creative and inventive. You'd be amazed by the number of really impressive websites are built using open source applications like WordPress, Joomla, or SilverStripe. Or the incredible knowledge-sharing possibilities of wiki-based intranets and extranets.

Open source software isn't quite the same thing as social networking sites or web-based APIs such as Google Maps. Facebook, Myspace or even Blogger offer users free access, but are supported by data mining and advertising to pay for the servers, development and technical support. Open source systems are hosted on your own servers (or the servers you pay for), and stand apart from other installations of the same system.

Conceptually, though, open source and social networking sites share a basic principle: pooling knowledge and sharing expertise create value. Many open source systems are designed by individuals and groups who believe in collaboration (and the possibility that their system will catch on and they can go to IPO). I am constantly amazed and impressed by the dedication of core developers and the more casual contributors who bring tools into the digital commons.

Some links:
Top 10 Wiki Engines:


Sweet Canadian design of yesteryear

Catalogue for Amercians wishing to order 16 mm films : '76 -'77

CP Air carry-on bag... not sure exactly when...70's?

Logo for the 1976 Montr
éal Summer Olympics

Postcards for Expo '67


Web 2.0 on the Inside

In past blog postings we've talked about grassroots marketing as part of Web 2.0. A recent McKinsey report talks about adoption of Web 2.0 as part of a grassroots initiative within a company, and for a company. I find it interesting that Web 2.0 applications are not only changing the relationship between customers and companies, they are also changing the relationships among employees within a company.

Among Web 2.0 technologies, collaboration and communications technologies are the clear winners. I’ve “snipped” some interesting stuff from the McKinsey report (which you can see in full
here, once you subscribe for free):

Wikis, which involves software enabling a group of people to contribute to an online document, encourage collaboration within companies, in particular for developing shared knowledge. One executive noted that they are particularly useful to develop a commonly agreed-upon terminology set - starting from the centre and translated into terms that are meaningful in specific end users' contexts. Wikis are also appealing because they capture anecdotal or unstructured information that might otherwise be lost, either because there was no way to capture it or the organization has outgrown its ability to gather and share knowledge informally.

Blogs were mentioned by many executives, as a way to communicate with customers and engage with critics, and therefore performing a productive discursive role. Some companies were also using mash-ups (combinations of two technologies to create a new application), such as displaying locations or photographs on maps, to address customer demands. Mash-ups using Google maps are one of my particular favourites because they are so easy to implement and they visually create a de-facto sense of community.

In an online discussion meant to derive insight from the quantitative results in the McKinsey report, it became clear that the ease of adoption of Web 2.0 was driving the grassroots push for communication and collaboration tools. One discussion participant claimed: "These projects started at the grassroots level, however the value was rapidly demonstrated."

The ease of exploring and adapting Web 2.0 technologies are elements that help advocates avoid typical implementation barriers. Among many respondents (described as Senior Executives), top-down management was seen as a hindrance, and that the best role for senior management was one of enabling adoption and setting of boundaries.

Measuring the impact of newly implemented Web 2.0 initiatives is not so straightforward, however. Some respondents were unable to claim that the use of Web 2.0 was providing clear competitive advantages. Other respondents claimed more qualitative effects such as engaging customers for product-development ideas and encouraging interest in collaboration and a stronger sense of community.

This last point brings us back to where I began. Web 2.0 is about enabling participation from all quarters, and this is the crux of how it is changing communications, business and communities.


Social Media Marketing: A Six Step Program

Recently, I have noticed a flurry of activity in my inbox from the usual e-newsletter suspects about what to make of the new social media.

Here are just a few of the e-mails I received this week: "How to Use YouTube to Generate Leads: 7 Video Posting Strategies & Tagging Tips" and "How to Use Social Networking Sites for Lead Generation" - both from Marketing Sherpa; "Social Media - Not Just for Kids" - from IMedia Connection; "The Build-it Yourself Approach to Social Marketing" - from IT Business Edge.

These newsletters attempt to answer a great question: as a marketer, how can you use, benefit from, and not get burned by sites like Facebook, MySpace or any of the more targeted social networking sites out there. Now is an appropriate time to share some answers, as we have been turning increasingly to social media (often with great success) on behalf of our clients.

Here is a six-step program for success in marketing with social media:

1. Research appropriate sites and groups to market to…
At the end of this article, I have put together a list of social media sites to get you started.

2. Or create your own.
If you can't find a group that meets your needs, create one on any of the more popular sites (Facebook is very popular - with about one in five Canadians using it).

3. Understand your target and create personas.
Due diligence requires that you a) Understand your target market and what they’re interested in by spending time reading what's being said, and b)Develop personas that fit in the reality of the social media group you’ve chosen.

In social media, every site is an expression of an individual’s "persona". In the context of social media personas sites sit somewhere between the literary definition and the user experience methodology definition of the word.

In literature, a persona is a "second self" through whom the narrative can develop. While they may share many characteristics, this persona should not be confused with the actual author.

In user-centred design, we create personas to help us understand the likes and dislikes of typical users and to define their goals and expectations.

Having a persona doesn't mean you need to say much. You may decide, having done your research, that your persona builds connections and mostly remains anonymous. Or, you may decide that your persona is quite gregarious, and will comment or offer insight on a regular basis. The most important thing about your online persona is authenticity. Be genuine or nobody will listen to you. The second most important thing is to remember you have to give something to get something.

4. Tread very carefully and post generously.
Marketing Sherpa describes a successful business-to-business intitiative1 using social media in which the company developed a mix of white paper titles to meet various expectations of the social media audience. These white papers spanned recommendations from the very specific to the very general. Each title resonated with different audiences, and was designed to generate leads.

5. Use a variety of channels for expression.
On many social media sites, there are many "media" being used, such as RSS feeds, blogs, and discussion forums. In sites like Facebook, many add-ons have been created to extend your presence (My Travels, photo galleries, event calendars, etc.). Facebook has received a lot of well-justified praise for enabling users to build applications that anybody can use.

6. Measure and follow-up.
Develop mechanisms to measure and enhance success. If you are using social media to generate leads, it is important to establish what information you want to receive, and to develop mechanisms to act on those leads. For more on social media and lead generation, click here.

As promised, here is a list of social media sites (other than Facebook and MySpace):
www.eons.com (a lifestyle portal for those over 50)
www.boomj.com (lifestyle portal aimed at boomers and "Generation Jones" (those between the boomers and Generation X)
prime.lavalife.com/ (dating for boomers)
http://www.cafemom.com(for active new moms)
http://www.mothersclick.com(for wired and active moms)

1 Marketing Sherpa referred to

Customer Experience and Branding

The other day I had to do some banking with a bank I don't normally deal with. I was speaking with a customer service person, who said to me: "Well, I don't know what YOUR bank's hours are; but we're open till 8 o'clock."(it sounded nicer when she said it).

It struck me that this person had internalized her bank's new brand expression and had personalized and expressed the brand differentiator in a very concrete way. Put simply: her bank's brand is all about extending operating hours to meet the needs of customers. She is evidently proud of this fact. She communicated this to me. In addition to seeing the bank's big green chairs on billboards around the city, I got the brand message first-hand from a customer service person. This is effective branding.

It speaks to the power of the customer experience and how pride in your company's customer service motivates staff to be brand messengers. It's human nature: you're proud of what your organization does, so you shout it out. And it means that knowledge of the brand and the notion that customer experience is important, have to run deep in your organization. As a marketer, you can't simply state, "We offer excellent customer service". You need to back it up with real action. The nice thing is, once you do, the message has a way of getting out, from the ground up.