Getting Started with Google Sidewiki

The announcement about Google Sidewiki surprised me last Thursday when I found out about it via a Twitter link to Jeremiah Owyang’s blog post.  In simple terms, Sidewiki lets anyone to contribute useful information next to any webpage.  Sidewiki appears as a collapsible browser sidebar where you can read and post comments.

Being an early adopter, I decided to testdrive Sidewiki last week.

First, you need to install and activate the plug-in for your either your Firefox or Internet Explorer browser.  Unfortunately, Sidewiki is not supported in Google Chrome which is my preferred browser.  And you need to have a Google email account and profile in order to leave a comment.  This prohibits anonymous users from leaving comments and ‘forces’ anyone who wants to use Sidewiki to get a Gmail email account.

Then, you can visit any website and click on the Sidewiki toolbar and enter your comment.  Comments you make are shown at the top of the stream, and you can vote for whether comments are useful or not.

Adding a Comment to Sidewiki

Adding a Comment to Sidewiki

When you hover over a person’s name in Sidewiki, you can see how many Sidewiki entries have been authored by that person along with an option to view the person’s full profile.

Hovering Over Person's Name in Sidewiki

Hovering Over Person's Name in Sidewiki

And when you go to the Google profile, you can see all of the Sidewiki comments that have been made by that user along with other user information.

Sidewiki Comments on my Google Profile

Sidewiki Comments on my Google Profile

Advice for individual users – If you are into social media or marketing,  you definitely need to experiment with Sidewiki because you cannot ignore any offering from Google.  This is also a good time to make sure that your Google profile is up-to-date and complete.

Advice for companies – Sidewiki is yet another social media channel that needs to be listened to and monitored by savvy companies.  At a minimum, companies need to be aware that their websites could now be a) enhanced by happy and helpful users and customers or b) hijacked by unhappy customers.  Right now, there is no way for companies to control the message other than by clicking on the Report Abuse link at the bottom of each comment.

Jeremiah offered 3 great tips for companies in his blog post:

  1. Accept that you no longer ‘own’ your corporate website
  2. Develop a strategy or process to monitor and respond to conversations on Sidewiki
  3. Embrace social content now and don’t be reactive to negative content

Advice for Google – While the first shot out of the box on Sidewiki is pretty good, you have to come up with a way to give us a way to search and sort comments in Sidewiki.  Otherwise comments past the first page or two are going to get lost or become irrelevant.  I know you are trying to show the most relevant comments first, but there is no transparency around how your real-time engine works.  For example, I cannot even find the comment I made on the Twitter homepage last Thursday as there are now pages of comments.  On the other hand, the comments I made on the iRise corporate website are the only comments so they definitely stand out.

Reactions in the Blogosphere – There has also been both positive and negative reactions for the Sidewiki service.

Here are a few of the recent blog posts about Sidewiki:

Sidewiki: What Google Should Do by Jeff Jarvis

Google Sidewiki: Danger by Silicon Valley Insider

Google Steps Where Others Have Stumbled by Techcrunch

Google Sidewiki Extorts Google Network Participation by Search Engine Journal

Google Sidewiki – Benefits, Dangers and Concerns by SEO.com

Definitely pay attention in this space as there are others who have recently released similar services or have plans to do so including DotSpots.

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Social Software in Business Survey

BabsonMzingaMzinga and Babson Executive Education recently conducted a survey on social software in business and the results became available this month.

The highlight of the survey for me was that 61% of the companies in the survey use social technologies as an ongoing part of their business.

However, several challenges emerged in terms of budget, resources and ROI.

Only 55% of the companies reported that they devote part-time or full-time resources to manage and drive their social media initiatives and only 40% have devoted budget dollars to social media efforts.   To me, this seems like many companies are paying lip service to social media or implementing it haphazardly instead of fully embracing social media and making it an integral part of their corporate DNA.

Measuring ROI remains a challenge for most companies as only 16% are able to measure ROI for their social media programs.  This means that software vendors and analytics vendors need to do a better job of making it easier to capture, measure and analyze metrics from social media.

When you look at how businesses are using social technologies, Marketing tops the chart at 57% penetration.  There remain significant opportunities for growth in the customer service and sales areas which only have 29% and 21% penetration respectively.  These areas are also where the ROI numbers should be more concrete and easier to measure too.

"What Areas of Your Business Are Using Social Media" -- Mzinga-Babson Social Media Survey -

"What Areas of Your Business Are Using Social Media" -- Mzinga-Babson Social Media Survey

I was pleased to see that the most mentioned social media applications and technologies matched my own list.  The survey respondents listed blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, chat and standalone community sites as their most used technologies.

Mzinga Chairman Barry Libert (@blibert) also added his own commentary and predictions in his blog on the Mzinga website.

Barry predicts that:

1.  Brands will strive for deeper user engagement within social networks and online communities.

2. Strategy and metrics will become more closely integrated

3. Bigger budgets will be devoted to social media initiatives

You can read a summary of of the report from eMarketer or visit the Mzinga website to download the entire seven-page Social Software in Business report.

Reflections on 50

US 50 Sign Courtesy of Ohio DOT

US 50 Sign Courtesy of Ohio DOT

Today is my 50th birthday and so far, being 50 is not so bad.

In fact, I feel it is actually a good thing to reach what I consider to be the half-way checkpoint on my way to one hundred.  And because I have an almost 3-year old daughter, I am definitely taking the long term view of life events.

By the way, did you know that Wikipedia has articles that track events and births by year?

For example, check out what happened in 1959 and see the people who share 1959 as a birth year with me.

Among the who were born in 1959, there is a lot of pretty good company including John McEnroe, Matthew Modine, David Hyde Pierce, Kevin SpaceyBrian Williams, Magic Johnson, Jason Alexander, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Fred CouplesIsrael Kamakawiwo’ole and my lovely wife.  What is interesting is that me and all of the other ’59-ers probably have had similar life experiences from a historical perspective.  Our first memories were probably of JFK’s funeral and how it disrupted our TV shows for several days.  We were all enamored with space travel and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.  We all watched the same sitcoms while growing up and still recall our favorite episodes.  And while we experienced Vietnam, hippies and rock-n-roll, it was somewhat from a distance and not from direct exposure.

So what have I learned in the past half century and what advice do I want to share on this milestone day?

Hair is overrated – this is easy for me to say, because I haven’t had any (or much) for the last 15 years.  What I really mean by this advice is that it is sometimes best to accept things as they are.  Or put another way, sometimes simple is actually better.

Be patient – patience is definitely a virtue that I learned from having children.  For instance, how can you not be patient when you read the same book for the 99th time or watch the same TV show for the 47th time (in the same week).  Whether you learn patience from your children or in another way, being patient is a trait that will bode me well as I reach for that 100 year milestone.  Plus, we all know that “good things come to those who wait”.

Take time to exercise as much as possible – there are a myriad of reasons why exercise is important, but the most important reason for me is that I want to enjoy the ride over the next 50 years.  In my mind, why live to be 100 if you’re not going to be healthy and feel good about it?  Since I am an early morning runner, I am also lucky to watch the world wake up each morning and experience the beauty of our earth before it starts getting hectic.  I expect to make the most of the more than 18,250 sunrises I have left before I reach my 100th birthday.

Do good things – whether it is in your career, in your community or in your family, it is important to be remembered for doing good things.  Sometimes good deeds are simple gestures and others take 18 years or more to come to fruition (like sending children off to college).  Whatever you do, do it good (or well).  And I cannot believe that I still have at least 50 more years to do good things!

With that, Happy Birthday to me and to the rest of the ’59-ers out there!

Me - In One of My Superman Phases (1962)

Me - In One of My Superman Phases (1962)

Yogi Berra on Social Media

Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee by Alan Barra

Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee by Alan Barra

Last week, I started reading a book called “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee” and am amazed by how much I have learned about Yogi so far.  I am only up to page 70 in the book, but I am already convinced that Yogi is (was) the best catcher who played the game (sorry Bill Dickey and Johnny Bench).

While I am not a Yankees fan, I am a baseball fan and the book is a fascinating read so far as it traces Yogi’s roots from a boyhood in St. Louis (Joe Garagiola grew across the street from him) to minor league baseball teams in Norfolk and Newark to a short stint in the U.S. Navy (he was at Omaha Beach on D-Day) and then as a 21-year-old rookie for the New York Yankees in 1947.

So, who knew his real name is Lawrence Peter Berra?

And can you believe that his first year salary with the Yankees was only $5000 (doesn’t A-Rod make that in 5 minutes?) and he had to work in the hardware department of Sears in his off-season?

While thinking about the impact Yogi has made on the sport of baseball, I imagined the impact that Yogi would have if he had been talking about social media instead.  Yogi was and still is a colorful personality who is well known for his malapropisms and for fracturing the English language.  So, I have taken a few of his famous quotes or “Yogisms” and interpreted them as if Yogi was really talking about social media.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

This Yogism is a perfect analogy to social media.  Implementing social media successfully requires a lot of experimentation to test what will work in a specific situation and what won’t work.  With the social media landscape changing so rapidly, Yogi is urging us to remain flexible as something that worked last month may not work next month.  So, if you come to a fork in the social media road – take both forks and keep trying.

In baseball, you don’t know nothing.

And in social media, most people don’t know nothing either.  There are many people who claim to know it all and there are many people who say they are practicing social media when they aren’t.  Yogi is telling us to keep learning and pushing the envelope.  If you think you know it all, then you have stopped thinking.

Social media (or baseball) is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.

Implementing social media is not just something you think about or do once and move on.  In other words, social media is like putting Rogaine on a bald man’s head – you have to keep at it on a daily basis.  Yogi is telling us to put in a strong effort on the strategy and pre-game preparation, but then you must actually put in the same or greater effort on a daily basis out on the playing field.

If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?

Likewise, you can’t stop people from not visiting your website or participating in your community.  Baseball teams have to field a compelling product (i.e. a winning team) if they want fans to come to the ballpark.  In the same manner, Yogi’s advice is that companies need to provide a compelling reason for customers to visit their website and to interact with them in today’s competitive environment.  Are you interacting with your customers and prospects – or just talking at them?  Are you providing multiple ways for customers to find you online?

You can observe a lot by watching

There is a lot to be said for lurking.  Most of what I have learned about social media came from seeing what worked for other people and then testing it myself.  Social media is so new and is transforming so quickly that most people have learned their craft through on-the-job-training.  Yogi compels us to keep observing and pay attention to what is working (or not working) for others.

Finally, I want to leave you with a final Yogism and with a few links to explore:

And remember…

The game isn’t over until it’s over.

…so play hard all nine innings!

Highlights from McKinsey’s Global Study on How Companies are Benefiting from Web 2.0

McKinsey & Company Logo

The management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company has been tracking and analyzing the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies for the last three years.  In this year’s study, they wanted to determine if companies were getting measurable business benefits from their investments in Web 2.0 technologies.

The short answer is YES as noted in this excerpt from the executive summary:

69 percent of respondents report that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues.

As part of the study, they released an an interactive tool that lets users explore and customize three years of survey results.  For example, two areas where I have an interest – blogging and social media – have shown significant increases from 2007 to 2009.  In 2007, only 17% of companies maintained a blog and that grew to 46% in 2009.  Similarly, social media usage at the survey companies has grown from 19% in 2007 to 42% in 2009.

Another great insight is how companies are achieving measurable gains for Internal Purposes, Customer-related Purposes and Working with External Partners/Suppliers.  For example, 52% of companies say that they have increased their marketing effectiveness and the two most important technologies for this segment are blogs and social networks:

McKinsey Global Web 2.0 Study - Excerpt from Exhibit 1

McKinsey Global Web 2.0 Study – Excerpt from Exhibit 1

The Survey also suggested 2 additional points of good news for us involved in social media and Web 2.0 initiatives:

  1. More than 1/2 of the companies in this year’s survey plan to increase their investment and 1/4 expect their investments to stay the same
  2. Among companies who have gained measureable benefits, the current economic downturn has only increased their interest

Here is the link to the complete survey results along with some other suggested links with some great information – you may have to register for a free account at McKinsey, but it’s definitely worth it:

Social Media Update from Forrester Groundswell

Forrester’s Groundswell Interactive Marketing team published their 3rd annual Social Technographics Profile in a report last week in a document called “The Broad Reach of Social Technologies” (costs $499 if you want to read the whole report).  The results show that more than 80% of online Americans are active in either creating, participating in, or reading some form of social content at least onece per month.

As a reminder, here is how Forrester categorizes the participation of various online users based on their behaviors of Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives.

Forrester - Social Technographic Profiles

Forrester - Social Technographic Profiles from Blogs.Forrester.com/Groundswell

The biggest growth in 2009 occurred in the Joiner category which grew from 35% to 51% of online Americans.  Much of this growth comes from the large numbers of people joining the top social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  The other big finding is that social media Spectators now represent 73% of all online Americans which means that you cannot ignore social media as a phenomena.

As Josh Bernoff stated in his blog post announcing the study’s results:

Marketers, if you’re not doing social technology applications now, you’re officially behind. We expect a wave of Web site reorgs and redesigns to include social activity.

Forrester also created an interactive Consumer Profile tool that lets you analyze the results by Age, Country and Gender.  Below are the results for all online US Consumers.

2009 Forrester Consumer Profile Tool

2009 Forrester Groundswell Consumer Profile Tool

The profile tool is available at http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/profile_tool.html

introNetworks – The “Quiet” Social Network Software Company

My friend Derek Showerman introduced me to Mark Sylvester, CEO of introNetworks last week because Mark and I both live on the West Coast, and Derek thought I would be intrigued with the introNetworks social network and community software platform.  It also turned out that introNetworks was hosting a web chat on community management with my friends Jim Storer and Rachel Happe from The Community Roundtable last week – so it turned into a perfect storm for me to get acquainted with the introNetworks platform.

Needless to say, I was suitably impressed with the introNetworks platform.

What is interesting is that I have conducted fairly exhaustive surveys of the ‘white label’ community software landscape on two occasions over the last 4 years, and since I am fairly plugged in on the social media front thought I was current on all of the major players.  But somehow, introNetworks managed to sneak under my radar despite their fairly impressive roster of customers.   Part of this is due to the fact that introNetworks is a fairly small company and they rely on word-of-mouth for sales while devoting most resources to making their product better.  The other reason is that most (if not all) of introNetwork’s customers have their social networks hidden behind a firewall so it was unlikely that I would stumble across an installation.

However, there is a Test Drive link on their homepage which lets you register for their Test Drive network community, and check it out for yourself.

introNetworks came onto the scene about 8 years ago when they designed a custom social networking site for 2003 TED conference.  (sidenote – TED is an exclusive conference that brings together ‘high-powered’ people with ideas to share and spread.)  The original site was built in just 8 weeks and the founders realized that they could create a business out of creating networks for others.  Since then, introNetworks has deployed over 200 implementations.

Based on my quick hands-on review, I like two things about the introNetworks platform:

  • Profiling and networking – introNetworks has a different focus on profiles than most other white label vendors.  In fact, profiles play such an important role in that you cannot even get into an introNetworks community site until you have completed a fairly extensive profile.  Based on my experience as a community manager, it is hard to get people to share their profile information with you – and once shared, it is not always easy for members to find others with similar interests and backgrounds.  But the introNetwork approach makes this process fairly painless to complete and makes it easy to find members who share your interests.  To  give you a sense of what this part of their solutions looks like, I have copied some screen shots below.  And it would be interesting to see their technology applied to job profiling or skill matching solutions.
  • Flash interface – Their platform is built using Adobe Flex 3 software so the implementation looks great and is snappy to boot.  It definitely has a Web 2.0/3.0 feel to it and seems to be rather intuitive.

When you create a profile for an introNetworks community, you must complete a detailed profile that identifies what you have in common with other members on 4 different axes – My Focuses, My Background, My Experiences and My Business Challenges.  While the profile takes longer to complete than many other platforms I’ve experienced, the results are well worth it.  Plus, the flash technology used by introNetworks makes it ‘fun’ to complete your profile as you drag-and-drop your choices.   The choices are totally customizable for each implementation

My introNetworks Profile

My introNetworks Profile

The power of completing the profile comes about when you look at the profile map as detailed in my profile map below.  Using the profile map, I can easily see who has interests and background most aligned with my own.  There is also a list view and map view of the members as well.

My introNetwork Profile Map

My introNetwork Profile Map

If you are in the market for a white label social network or community platform you definitely need to check out introNetworks.   They create networks around events, members and e-learning.  Pricing for their SaaS solution is not disclosed on their site, but based on my brief conversation with Mark Sylvester it appears to be very reasonable and significantly less than many other solutions that I’ve seen in the market.

Recommendation: While the introNetwork approach may not be for all situations, definitely add them to your shortlist of vendors when shopping for a new or upgraded platform