Category Archives: Social Networks

A Perfect Storm in Barcelona

At the Mobile World Congress last week in Barcelona, three companies dominated the show.  The mobile industry is on fire, yet two of those companies weren’t there, though their presence was felt everywhere.

Apple – doesn’t do shows like MWC – but what they have done to the industry is provide a tremendous catalyst for innovation.   Apple’s iPhone, introduced only three years ago, has transformed how handhelds look and function.   They have given the industry a kick up the backside and smartphone innovation has accelerated.  LG’s 3D Optimus phone is an example.  No Blues Brothers glasses needed to view stunning 3D videos.  Apple’s iPad, introduced just 8 months ago, has legitimized the tablet, and though the Far Eastern manufacturers had plenty of tablets before, suddenly there was a buzz on their stands as punters were eager to get their hands on the latest tablet wares.  Tablets stand astride the traditional PC channel and the mobile channel and the two industries have now collided.

Google.  Though Android was only released as an open source license mobile operating system just over two years ago, Android smartphones now have the largest share of all smartphone O/S’s.  Smartphone and tablet demand is driven by whether or not the latest version of Android is supported on devices.  The Android section off Hall 8 was heaving. It was by far, the noisiest, most crowded area of the entire show, and that buzz didn’t let up until the final whistle.  Apple should take note.

Facebook wasn’t there, though Google’s YouTube was.  Both have transformed the mobile industry.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a service provider, a phone manufacturer, a backhaul equipment vendor or a manufacturer of power equipment. You are feeling the effects of consumers capsizing the capacity of networks .  YouTube is boosting data traffic and Facebook and IM are driving signalling traffic as well as data traffic.

Whether you are a farmer in Kenya or an executive in the City, few would argue that mobile communications is transforming lives and the mobile industry is being transformed faster than ever.



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Filed under Apple, Google, Social Networks

Linkedin and Sales Channels

As technology partners tend to be early adopters of some types of social media, I thought it might be interesting to look at how some individuals working in technology partners are using social media.  Now, I have railed on about small samples with big pretentions, but I thought I would share with you some crude observations of the  first 109 individuals I looked at.  They were from around the world working in various job functions in companies varying in size from large enterprises to medium sized businesses, with an even split between those with technical, sales and line management roles. There were 17 individuals from APAC, 48 from EMEA, 1 from Latin America and 43 from the US.  I only looked at whether they had a LinkedIn profile and how many contacts they had.  I may broaden this to 500 individuals, time permitting, to get more a accurate picture.  Though some individuals on LinkedIn keep their profiles hidden, revealing only their job function, I knew enough about these people’s responsibilities  to know there were none like that in this sample.

In the US, 23% had no profile, whilst in Europe that figure rose to 40%.  Of the 6 Germans in the sample, none had LinkedIn profiles.  Checking on Xing, which originated in Germany, I could not find them there either.  Likewise of the 9 people from Singapore, China, Japan and Korea, none had LinkedIn profiles.  In India, France and the US there was much evidence of use.  In the US, of those who had profiles, there were on average 64 contacts, whilst in EMEA it was 65.  The crude observations are these – LinkedIn is popular in India, some European countries and the US.  Penetration is low in most Asian countries and Germany.

How is LinkedIn being used? One can surmise that the most obvious reason contact lists are built  is because people wish to feather their nest in preparation for a company switch, but many people use it as a glorified contact list. As with Plaxo, you can be fairly certain that if someone changes company, you will still be able to get in touch.  But are they using it, as headhunters do, to prospect – to look for contacts of contacts?  I am told that is how it is being used by some partners.  A recommendation from an existing client is a powerful endorsement – but why not just ask the client directly instead?   Perhaps the best endorsement they make will be a phone call to another decision maker not on LinkedIn.

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Filed under Indirect, Social Networks

Channel Advocacy

Advocacy is a hot topic in marketing circles not least because social networks have increased the speed and spread of advocacy effects.  Company reputations are built more rapidly and eroded even faster. Pockets of ignorance, which buffered companies in the past, are dwindling. A whole new branch of marketing is emerging – social media marketing. At its core are well understood principles of advocacy and loyalty.

Advocacy is so powerful, it can be used as a leading indicator of sales, as shown in Marsden, Samson & Upton’s 2005 paper, “Advocacy Drives Growth“.  Using a survey of UK adult consumers, they found that a 2% reduction in negative word of mouth correlated with just under 1% growth in sales, whilst a 7% increase in word of mouth advocacy correlated with a 1% growth in sales. Perhaps companies should put over 3 times the resource in trying to satisfy the unhappy as they do in making those who are satisfied, happier. The squeaky wheel gets the oil should be the operative phrase.

With social networks, squeaky wheels are amplified, but only heard by corporates if their ears are tuned to multiple frequencies. A watchful ear to social media wires isn’t enough. Honest conversation over a variety of media is required. In B2B, that often means frequent, in depth, probing conversations with channel partners, something that can’t be derived from a web survey that bounds and stifles conversation.  Ask the question,  pioneered by Fred Reichheld, “How likely would you be to recommend…?” in such a way that you get an honest answer from a partner.  Then ask them why they said that.

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LinkedIn and Selling

Recently I came across a paper written almost two years ago by Tony MacKelworth, Social Networks: Evolution of the Marketing Paradigm. It must have been his masters thesis because there is a lot of meat that would impress most marketing academics.  MacKelworth now works for Microsoft UK but at the time he wrote the paper, he worked for AMaC,  a 2.0 company if there ever was one.  By doing so, he had an excellent set of contacts to work with, and managed to get 897 fully completed questionnaires from senior executives worldwide, asking them to rate the various ways they get information that might influence their decision on a business offering. 

MacKelworth set out to prove that credence is related to the source of information, though that seems a no brainer. The work is distinguished by spread of its sample and the range of questions he asked.  It is particularly difficult to get senior executives to participate in any online survey, so one usually finds that iffy conclusions are drawn on small samples.  This study’s implications for B2B marketing are significant.

Telemarketing, SMS ads, banner ads, unsolicited emails – in other words, push communication were discounted by most people and even disdained.  It found that recommendations from friends were regarded by most people as the most authorative sources of information regarding external products or services.  A company’s web site, and recommendations from individuals’ LinkedIn networks were also respected.  The importance of getting a company web site in shape is well understood, but leveraging LinkedIn is more complex. 

Would encouraging employees to get to the 500+ level in LinkedIn help a company or increase its staff turnover?   Or should it merely encourage the evangelists?  My favourite IBM software evangelist, Ed Brill , no matter what his job description, has blogged and fought for IBM for many years and as a result maintains a loyal following of people who also have large LinkedIn networks.   My favourite Microsoft evangelist, Eileen Brown has done a similar thing for that company for many years and, sadly, has been laid off.  The trouble with such social networks is their value cannot be measured, but as MacKelworth has shown, they are vital. Perhaps his new employers should read his paper.

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Filed under Social Networks


Stowe Boyd, a noted commentator on social networking yesterday wrote:

“We have become used to living secretive lives, rather than open ones. Our ethics and codes of conduct are constructed around principles of default secrecy.

From my perspective, a large swath of everyday business communication would greatly benefit from being conducted in the open, or dramatically shifted in tone and purpose.

So it’s not just that the sorts and styles of communication we are involved in now would shift to a public context, but the very nature of what and how we are communicating would change if we were to operate under the premise of openness.

There is still a place for privacy and even secrecy, but the notion that all communication defaults to secret and is only made private or public after some examination seems to me to be the opposite of sensible. On the contrary, secrecy should be the exclusive province of only a small fraction of the world’s dealings.”

Should secrecy be the norm in communication?  I hold that is how we are wired.  We communicate, as all animals do, for a clear purpose,  interacting with an audience.  By secrecy I mean, communication is directed and enclosed.   To do otherwise is a waste of energy at best, and at worst, an endangerment to safety for many. We are not wired to be 360 degree, 24×7 billboards.  Does the use of social networking tools and concepts in a business context preclude secrecy?  Of course not.  It encompasses a set of media that can bind and enhance a community. Information can either free flow to the outside world, or not in varying degrees towards total seclusion.  Within the sales channel community as in any community are sub communities.  Though there may be greater inclusion in decisions due to the increased richness of communication and collaboration – that does not necessarily mean there are far fewer secrets. 

Those who have worked outside large businesses might be surprised at the degree of openness that already exists between corporations in areas such as research, manufacturing, customer service and channel ecosystems, openness that has increased due to globalisation and the growth of communication technologies.  Social networking enhances those business relationships and creates wider peripheral vision in customer service. It can enhance resilience, and if privacy is not well understood , endanger it as well.

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Channels, Virtual Teams and a Carnegie Hall Concert

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra as a huge virtual team. The reason was because sales channels are also huge virtual teams.  They may not work collaboratively as lateral peers as you find in an orchestra, but there is a strong need for them to work effectively as a vertical chain. Companies heavily rely on web conferencing, email, IM and support forums to communicate up and down that vertical line to serve an end customer. Business flows best when there is a high degree of trust along those lines, so if trust can be built virtually, at distance more quickly, companies with complex channels should take note. Now that the YouTube Symphony “summit” is over, on reflection it revealed at least one tool that is not being used widely that could build trust in a channel, in fact in any virtual team, very quickly.

With only three days to prepare for this orchestra’s one and only live concert at Carnegie Hall on April 15th, YouTube and the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), needed to use unconventional tools (for musicians) beforehand to create team work. The competition was open to the world and winners stemmed from 30 countries. We had never met before, let alone worked together. From the UK, there was only a young timpani player at the Royal College of Music, and me, on horn. First, YouTube and MTT needed to communicate with this group of 96 en masse, and allow them to communicate with each other, so a Google mail group was used. Also a secure Google site was used as a document library. That included the parts for each player – a first for classical music since publishers have in the past prohibited this for copyright reasons. In hind sight, a discussion forum should have been added since the email clutter grew as the event approached.

None of those tools are new to you. What created the pre-event bonding was very new to most people. YouTube being YouTube relied heavily on video. One of the firsts was the use of 24 tutorials made by the London Symphony Orchestra for people wishing to enter the contest. For the winners, MTT made specific videos and had one of the world’s top bassoon players give a video master class on one of the pieces we were to play. As opposed to formal whitepapers or manuals, videos can be put together quickly by an expert and hosted easily by YouTube. They convey more information, hold a viewer’s attention and importantly, they show a real human being. I am reminded of the old sales adage that “People buy from people.” Having another human being explain an issue or technique is a much more satisfying way to enable a channel than any text based tool. Armed with the parts and some video guidance, YTSO participants arrived in New York prepared to play their part.

Being an orchestra, ensemble is everything. People have to be willing to listen and have to want to go with the flow. We could not have any prima donnas. We had to bond quickly. The other significant first was the use of introductory videos, and it was used on a larger scale than in any virtual team I have ever encountered before. For many people, an avatar or picture of themselves in a directory is embarrassing enough. The YTSO members were each asked to upload a short video about themselves, telling people what it was like being part of the world’s first online collaborative orchestra and how they got there. It asked people to be creative and have fun. Those videos were not just available to YTSO members, they were open to the entire world.

Taking the creative and fun directive to the max, I dashed around the sights of London with my horn. By the time of the Carnegie performance my video had over 16,000 views. Naturally we wanted to know who would be with us in New York, so most of us viewed everyone else’s video. Some of them were outstanding examples of videography. It is a big leap from posting an audition video plying your craft, to uploading an autobiographical video, especially for musicians more comfortable expressing themselves through music. In the end, only half posted.  A dozen of us were also lucky to have extra videos posted about our involvement by a company making a documentary. Those that didn’t post one missed some of what happened when we finally met each other on Easter Sunday, April 12th in a New York hotel.

Never in my life have I met so many strangers whom I already knew. For years I have worked with some colleagues and never knew the level of personal details I now knew about these people. Waiting for the hotel elevator, for the first time in 3D I spotted Titus, our Romanian concert master who loves Volkswagen Beetles. He pointed at me, I pointed at him and we hugged.  One amusing effect for many us was that we are shorter in real life than we appear on camera. Being a reserved chap, with other musicians our first encounter was usually a warm handshake, but the feeling that we were an orchestra, a team, and not just a random gaggle, was overwhelming. This was a powerful lesson for me and for anyone seeking to motivate a virtual team.   Business lessons can come from any walk of life.  Encourage video!

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Filed under Social Networks, Virtual Teams

A Huge Virtual Team

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

jimytsocallMy phone rings during a filmed interview. The crew oblige and I take the call, and though it was a little contrived, I was still delightfully surprised to hear the caller tell me I had made it as a member of the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO). As probably the only one in that group with a background in the collaborative software industry, I view this grand experiment in YouTube’s brand upscaling from several perspectives. At the moment, the orchestra is a very large, diverse, global virtual team. Routes to market, the channels through which products and services are delivered to end customer – direct sales, resellers, distributors, OEMs and the like, are large, global, and usually diverse teams. In trying to enable, motivate and coordinate the activities of these audiences, vendors often feel as though they are trying to herd kittens down a beach. There are lessons to be learnt by vendors with such complex routes from other complex virtual teams. Before I offer some firsthand insight into how the YouTube Symphony team is gelling, for those not familiar with the project, permit me to offer you some background detail.

The idea for an orchestra auditioned entirely via YouTube was cooked up by two Google product managers. YouTube, home to pimples and the puerile wasn’t attracting the demographics that excite advertisers. Classical music on the other hand has a high brow brand image, but judging by dwindling live attendances worldwide, may be losing its pulling power to old age. Could a marriage of the two attract higher disposable income types to YouTube, increase equity for Google and provide a shot in the arm to a sclerotic art form? Google seemed to think so, though I am certain those product managers had little idea how the idea would snowball.

The first grand idea of one year ago was to audition an entire orchestra exclusively through YouTube videos. Now you can’t audition an orchestra without showing them off at some point. Unlike many projects, those you find in sports and the performing arts most often have immoveable deadlines which help to focus the mind. A stake was put in the ground – April 15th 2009 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Then make prospects create a sub five minute audition video from familiar, out of copyright repertoire. On YouTube, people could be submitting from any country, so Google had to be prepared to fund the flights of musicians from any part of the globe and put them up in New York long enough to get over jet lag and to rehearse. Also they had to find a conductor and soloists – people usually booked two or more years in advance which was well outside the window they had allowed themselves.

The second grand idea was to create a performance solely out of downloaded performances, a huge mashup. For that you need a piece to play, so why not commission one? Better still, commission a well known composer with international appeal, and get the London Symphony Orchestra to record it as a YouTube video. Google chose the Oscar winning Chinese composer, Tan Dun. Competitors had to submit a second video, playing their chosen part from the commissioned piece, “Internet Symphony #1 “Eroica”.” To keep them in synch, have them play along with a silent video of the conductor, in this case also Tan Dun. To assist the players, make a couple dozen master class videos by the London Symphony’s principal players, and get the support of music conservatoires and leading orchestras around the world, some sponsors to help underwrite the cost of the venture and engage a world class conductor who leads in outreach and music education, Michael Tilson Thomas.

By now you get the drift that the complexity of this idea was escalating rapidly. A large press launch in New York at the beginning of December 2008 marked the call for musicians to submit audition videos by January 28th, 2009. There must have been some nervous people in Google, because most of the submissions were loaded in the two days before the deadline. Once that deadline had passed, professional musicians filtered the candidates down to a final 200. Those finalists were subjected to a week-long public vote in February. Following that stage, Michael Tilson Thomas made the final decision of who would be in or out,  taking the public vote into account.  That is as good as democracy gets when picking a team in the arts or sports. This isn’t X Factor or American Idol. And this was to be no small chamber ensemble either. It is a full scale symphony orchestra of 96 members, plus a team of ten professionals from leading orchestras and conservatoires who will act as section coaches during live rehearsals in New York s beginning April 13th.

The orchestra has from April 13th to April 15th – three days – to rehearse for the live Carnegie Hall concert on the evening of April 15th. Members come from 30 different countries. Some, understandably, do not speak English very well. Many will still be jet lagged for the first couple of days. Crucially, hardly anyone knows anyone else, let alone has ever performed with anyone else. So the rehearsals have to concentrate on two main things – playing together in time and in tune. Orchestras in different parts of the world have a different sense of where they should play when the conductor’s baton or hand reaches the bottom to signify the first beat of a bar. Some play “on the beat” – the bottom of the curve means start now – and some play up to half a second later or “off the beat”. Then there is issue of finding a common pitch. Some people play concert A at 440Hz, the most common pitch in North America, whilst some European orchestras can be as high as A445Hz. For most instruments, it is not too much of an issue, but for oboists things are more problematic, which is why an orchestra tunes to an oboe, piano or organ before a concert.

The question left for Google once the orchestra members were announced at the beginning of March was this – “What could Google do during the six week run up to the live concert to motivate and prepare the winners and increase the chances of a successful concert?” They had 96 winners, mentors, a film crew creating a documentary, soloists and an enthusiastic conductor with an ambitious repertoire in mind scattered across 30 different countries. These people when they got together in person would have to work as a tight team, but for the period leading up to that point, they must work as individuals, without group rehearsals, entirely on their own. For six weeks, the YTSO is a large virtual team. For the first three weeks of that period, team members had to fulfil a number of tasks, and for the last three weeks, when they were given access to their parts, they would have to master the music. Success in Carnegie Hall and the overall brand elevation project is dependent on how well each individual winner prepares for the event.  And, as my high school music teacher once said, a band is only as good as its three worst players. 

Karen Sobel Lojeski has written and spoken extensively on virtual teams and introduced the concept of Virtual Distance – an index of how far apart a team is – not in terms of distance but in their degree of separateness which affects their ability to work as a cohesive team. When Virtual Distance is low, trust increases, organizational citizenship behaviours rise, innovation increases, and projects are completed faster, with greater job satisfaction. There are serious implications for organizational costs. She maintains that Virtual Distance is affected by three main variables each with three or four sub variables: Physical Distance; Operational Distance and Affinity Distance. How well would the YTSO score on each during the six week period before it has to play together in New York?

Physical Distance is made up of three main components: geographic distance; temporal (time zone) difference; and organizational distance (the sense of separateness as a result of differences in organizational affiliations). With Google, conductor, soloists, mentors and orchestra members sitting in 30 different countries on all major continents, working for different organizations, the physical distance index for this virtual team could not have been much higher. That was anticipated, so social network tools are being used to build a sense of community in the orchestra.

Operational Distance is the sense that you are playing in a different game from everyone else in the team. It is made up of four components. The first is communications distance – the ability to communicate effectively between members. Over half the orchestra are not native English speakers and they range in age from 17 to 55 so the communications distance is bound to be high. During week one of the virtual team, a mail group list was created for winners. It was clear that from some of those who replied to emails (by cc’ing the entire list) that there were communications misunderstandings. So “communications distance” is high for the YTSO.

The second component of operational distance is “multitasking”, the degree to which members are overloaded with work. As some are students preparing for exams during this period and presumably most of the rest are in full time employment, this project is an afterhours extra. Though they may have been in shape for their audition video, will they maintain or even improve on that form, with their normal demands in the six week space? It is safe to assume that multitasking distance is high. This was clear due to the number of people missing deadlines. When asked to do an autobiographical video to help the public get to know the winners, less than half responded positively in the given period.

 The third operational distance component is readiness, the degree to which the technology works. Though Google brought up a dedicated site with plenty of information on it for winners, probably due to the factors above, some people were still not accessing that site several weeks into the six week period. However the site that Google did make is comprehensive and it certainly does work well, as does the YouTube platform, the mail list and the Facebook group (with only 22 members). To be a winner, someone had to have mastered the skills needed to upload YouTube videos, yet someone might have done that on their behalf. Because there is no control of the participants’ infrastructure, the risk of some members being incommunicado for some time during the six week period is high. I would assume that operational distance is therefore medium to high.

Distribution asymmetry, the final component arises when there is an uneven distribution of the team e.g. when some members are clustered together in an office and others are scattered. Because everyone is isolated as individuals in the YTSO team and everyone is seen to be scattered, within the YTSO this index is low.

So far things are not looking good, but the last variable in virtual distance is “Affinity Distance” and it is the most important one. Affinity distance depends upon the strength of the social relationships within the team. It too has four components.

Cultural distance is the first component of Affinity Distance and it is based on shared values. Whereas one might assume that this multinational, multicultural team made up of people from diverse ages, languages and organizations would normally have a very high cultural distance, the common language of music is a powerful cultural adhesive. All the winners reached this stage of the competition because of their skill within the field of classical music. Most would have had a great deal of experience playing in ensembles similar to the YTSO. They know what is required of them to make the team work in live rehearsals and performances. A good classical musician is a seasoned, responsive and flexible team player. And it is safe to assume they have a great deal of passion for classical music. Music has its own culture and so the YTSO has a low cultural distance.

The second component of affinity distance is social distance – the gaps between those of high status and low status. Compared to some well established orchestras where there is a definite pecking order, this nascent band has a open feel and that is partly due to the disposition of its conductor who is an advocate of music education and the culture of California. Social distance in the YTSO is very low.

Relationship distance, the third component is related to the history of the relationships between team members. When members have worked together in the past, it is lower. Clearly this started out very high, yet by encouraging the use of social networking within the group, Google are trying to lower it. Nevertheless, no matter how many email exchanges, Tweets, or video comments are made, it still won’t compensate for the fact that these people have never worked together before. So the relationship distance of the YTSO is high.

The final component of affinity distance is interdependence distance – people’s commitment to one another. This will be no small event in a rehearsal studio without an audience. With a Carnegie Hall performance attended by many relatives and YouTube recording the proceedings, this is a high stakes game. Though thrilled to be there, everyone understands their individual reputations are on the line. This distance is very low, and together with the lack of cultural and social distances should be enough to ensure that the orchestra produces a professional performance that is satisfying for the performers as well as for attendees and viewers.

There are implications for sales channels. Annual partner conferences held by vendors do work, provided they are not seen to be money making exercises in their own right. Social networking tools for partners do help create cross pollination opportunities and improve communication. Tapping into and feeding the common passions of channel partners will lower that ecosystem’s virtual distance making it easier to reach sales targets and unlock the innovation that exists beyond a vendor’s walls. And now, with only nine days to go, I have to get into shape!ibm-connection-banner1


Filed under Social Networks, Virtual Teams