Keep It Simple – Coke’s New Social Media Principles

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Andy Serovitz posted a very interesting blog post on how Coca Cola have devised a new set of social media principles. Coke have developed 10 “Principles for Online Spokespeople” which make good sense for other brands to follow.  You can read the main set below.

  1. Be Certified in the [Coca Cola] Social Media Certification Program.
  2. Follow our Code of Business Conduct and all other Company policies.
  3. Be mindful that you are representing the Company.
  4. Fully disclose your affiliation with the Company.
  5. Keep records.
  6. When in doubt, do not post.
  7. Give credit where credit is due and don’t violate others’ rights.
  8. Be responsible to your work.
  9. Remember that your local posts can have global significance.
  10. Know that the Internet is permanent.

Watch Andy’s interview with Coca Cola’s Adam Brown, on how they developed the social media principles.

    Coke’s complete policy document can be found below. At three pages, I like this a lot!


Coca Cola’s Online Social Media Principles

Biz Stone Interviewed!

 

As Steve mentions on his blog, Microsoft’s Mel Carson was lucky enough to interview Twitter co-founder Biz Stone in Cannes last week.  Mel does a great job on the interview. Watch the video above to learn:

  • What is Biz’s favourite Twitter app?
  • How many registered apps use the Twitter API?
  • Why is Biz Stone in Cannes with lots of advertising people?

Rory Cellan-Jones interviews Steve Ballmer

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones does a through job of interviewing Ballmer in London yesterday. Ballmer is very frank with his answers to the failed Yahoo bid and how the company is still playing catch up in the search and advertising business.  Ballmer, sounds like he enjoys a good challenge and a fight.  Personally, I think it’s a good thing for the borg. Despite, the public perception, the borg does and is capable of innovating. Through tough times of competition, those who innovate succeed, which is great for the industry and ultimately the consumers and businesses. Microsoft have concentrated their efforts in recent years on the Enterprise, somewhat at the expense of the consumer market.

However, having heard Ballmer speak yesterday, my views on his leadership have changed.  He is an amazing, passionate  and a strong leader with a sound business plan for the future. The question is, whether there is a silver lining in the ‘cloud’ for Microsoft, only time will tell.

Twitter co-founders interviewed by Shel Israel

Shel Israel interviews Twitter’s co-founders and shares some interesting insights into how people are using the service. Twitter can be described as, “a social utility which connects with people who they already know, or are interested in”.

Of all the emerging tools of social media, Twitter is the most conversational. The mobile SMS service allows people to chat in compact bite sized 140-character blocks. Some use it 20-30 times or more per day and some even have thousands of followers. But the average user only posts three times a day and chats only with a few friends.

Some businesses are also using Twitter too. For example, employees are using Twitter to  communicate and share their information. Other businesses, are using the service to keep in touch with their customers, or using it for customer support.

Interestingly, Twitter’s global traffic can be broken down into four segments:

Web, SMS, Instant Messaging (IM) and API usage

Usage of Twitter’s API is 20 times than that of the Twitter.com web service.

The pie chart below, show’s Twitter’s International Web traffic usage.

NB. Remember this is just web traffic. It doesn’t include any of the other popular ways that people use Twitter. For example, this figure does not include: m.twitter.com, and API applications such as Twhirl and Twitterrific.

Interestingly, 60% of Twitter users are non US users and of that 39% are Japanese!  Spain and the UK are also strong Twitter users.   Good Stuff!

                       Click on the image to see a larger pie chart

Hugh discusses how "social gestures beget social objects"

During the last year, I have learned a lot from Hugh Macleod. New Marketing, Social Objects, Social Markers and Social Gestures.

In the video above, Shel Israel interviews Hugh. The video does a fantastic job in explaining Hugh’s thoughts on Social Objects and Social Markers. After watching the video, I want you to think!  How can you apply the key learnings to your business?

Nick Carr interviewed – "The Big Switch"

Nick Carr being interviewed about his great new book, The Big Switch.  Grab a copy of one of the most important books of the year.

 

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The Blogging Tailor: An interview with Tom Mahon of English Cut

 

Savile Row is home to some of the greatest tailoring of gentleman’s suits in the world. The blogging tailor, also known as Tom Mahon is an ambassador for the craft with an honest and insightful blog known as English Cut. Initially, I read about English Cut from Scoble and Israel’s excellent book called Naked Conversations. I really wanted to interview Tom and I was lucky enough to do so a little while ago. Tom is truly a great bloke, the type of guy you’d happily have a pint with at the local pub. Tom blends charisma and elegance and was completely unlike my pre-conceived stuffy images of Savile Row tailors! What makes Tom so different? He’s a wonderful, passionate story teller.

Tom launched English Cut back in 2005 and operates from both Saville Row and his Cumbrian workshook. Tom and English Cut set a great example for others to follow. On his blog, he shares with us about his business trips, he talks about the cutting process of the suits he makes, his past searches for an apprentice as well as the best pubs in and around the Row. I can’t see Gieves and Hawkes doing this, can you? English Cut has helped Tom build his business and for many years he has been showered with work. Tom is an advocate of blogging and firms believes that blogging can help any business, as long as you are passionate and have a great story to tell.

Please find below a mini excerpt of my interview with Tom Mahon

What difference has technology made in communicating business messages?

“In the distant past everyone had a horse and cart and everyone was living by candles. How did you find out about things and get things done? You had to talk. The only way was to find somebody and ask them, where can find this? There was two-way communication going on. There’s wasn’t a book you could open up in the 17th Century to find where to find people you needed. In those days, people communicated through talking. Then, in the 20th Century we were bombarded with billboards and signs and effectively, people stopped talking and started telling! This is the best drink in the world! Why? Because that’s what the sign says”

“All of a sudden technology comes along allowing for people to communicate faster and quicker than ever before and nobody is aware of it. You suddenly realise that everybody is talking again. So, the sign isn’t going to tell me that Guinness is good for me, I’d rather ask someone if Guinness is good for me. Today, I can ask millions of people quickly and efficiently and that’s all it is. It’s a bit weird, its using technology but its gone back to communicating in the old way!”.

How did the other Savile Row tailors take to you blogging?

“They think its good, though some of them think I’m mad! The thing about blogs is, that you’ve got to tell the truth. I don’t say anything bad about anyone, because that’s a pointless exercise, I just tell the truth. So, there’s never any criticism, because there’s nothing to criticise You can’t criticise the truth can you? It might upset you, but you can’t criticise it, you just have to accept it. If blogging has worked for us, it will work any business as long as you have the right ingredients. Passion, devotion, honesty and a great story to tell. It’s probably especially well for me, because I’ve revealed how lovely the bespoke tailoring business is. I can put hand on heart and recommend all of the people I work with. That in itself adds an extra string to Savile Row’s bow”.

What benefits do you find from blogging?

“Blogging is a very good way of subconsciously examining your business. Because you talk and write about things, all sorts of things. People say to me, why do you do that? Sometimes you’ll say, I don’t know really. So, in a very informal way, I think you can actually improve the business because you are getting feedback. Not only customer feedback but from outsiders too, who can act as ‘sterile inputs’ into your business. In the past, it was difficult to answer all the feedback because I was always trapped in a realm of customers and tailors. So, blogging is quite a fine tuning tool. In simple terms it’s the best market research tool ever”.

“Often, I’m thinking about a new country or a city and I’ll say, I wonder if I could sell any suits there? The old way was to get all the results on which businesses were there? What their turnover was and what the average person earns there etc etc. Today, it’s totally different. I’ll write a post that I might go to Wichita Falls, anybody fancy a suit? If I get a response from people who say yeah, then I go! If they say no, then I don’t go. How fantastic is that? The blog gives me such a big voice”.

“I was traveling abroad on a particular occasion and was sitting in a hotel room updating a blog entry. I found an old post that I had written a year or so earlier. I started reading it and became fascinated! When I wrote that post, I was different person to whom I am now. The business was also in a different place. It was interesting to see how my thoughts had developed over the months and how the business had also grown. It was both weird and exciting in reading that post that I had written earlier. I didn’t want to go to bed!”

“With a blog, you can write if you feel like writing, or don’t write if you don’t feel like writing. Believe it or not, my blog was never written to impress anybody. It was not written to gain more sales. Hugh [MacLeod] said to me, just write down all your great stories Tom. Once you soon start blogging, you’ll find that you want to share your thoughts with everyone”.

“Blogging does have its dangers. You can start a blog and say all sorts of things. But sooner or later, if you tell any porky’s, oh boy are they going to be found out and your business will be destroyed! So it keeps you walking a very straight line. We had a tailor once who was a bit of a rogue on the road. He thought he had a command over the Internet as many of the other tailors were older and didn’t use the Internet. He thought no one was paying any attention. He thought he had this captive audience and basically he was telling lots of lies. He lied about other tailors, about his own business and his own credentials. It lasted for a while but then he came down with such a crash because the truth will always out in the end, he’s bankrupt now”.

 

English Cut has taken a unique approach to marketing by using a blog. Tom has broken with tradition, developed new customers from around the world and has changed the norms of the bespoke tailoring industry. It is essential for small businesses to develop a marketing strategy that corresponds with the changes taking place in the marketplace today. This is why English Cut sees continued success.

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When gardening meets Web 2.0 – An interview with Heather Gorringe

 

I interviewed Heather Gorringe from a delightful company called Wiggly Wigglers a little while ago. Heather and her team are avid podcasters and blend a unique mix of home gardening and online promotion through podcasting and blogging. 

I highly recommend that you have a listen to the podcast. Subscribe to the iTunes link here! The highlights of the interview are blogged below.

Q. Why does your business blog and what benefits do you see from blogging?

"Wiggly Wigglers blogs as a direct result of starting a podcast in September 2005. We originally started a conversation via an audio file, and felt that a blog would be a really good backup to our podcast. The blog allows our listeners to post questions and also to get involved with the company. In fact, it brings us innumerable benefits. First of all, it raises our Google rankings. Secondly, we have people connecting to us from all over the world, which gives us global word of mouth marketing. But also, it enables us to update our website really easily, efficiently and helps us to be much more user friendly. So, we can put up answers to questions that would previously have been dealt with on an individual basis and still can be. But there’s the added resource online for people to delve into. Perhaps, for those who aren’t likely to ask questions but who do actually want to know the answers".

Q. How has the Web today changed for small businesses?

"I think the web has often been used as a tool to disguise the size of your business. For example, when I first started online in 1996, we missed off the word farm in our promotion. In those days, it was all about small companies being able to compete on a level playing field with the corporates. Almost as if, to be big made you better. But I think it’s now completely around the other way now. I think that niche, is the way that people want you to be and it’s perfectly acceptable however small you are. In fact, transparency and honesty to me are the revelations of Web 2.0, compared to what I call the ‘conventional web’. It makes everybody level on the playing field. You know all about the company and where they are. But, you don’t necessarily judge it on size any more. You are judged on customer service, communication and great products. So, we have come full circle and instead of not mentioning farm as we did in the early days. Now, the farm is used as a serious marketing tool. Mainly because its part of us and people want to buy from people, not just buy products as far as I can see".

Q. How do you measure podcast downloads that translate into direct sales?

"Everyone always asks this question! What I do know is that my podcast is being downloaded all the time and I figure that if you are going to download it, you are probably likely to be interested in what I’m doing. So I already have a warm relationship and a warm prospect there. Regarding direct sales, I just can’t tell you. Mainly, because our customers reach us from a variety of different ways. So for instance, they’ll say I listened to your podcast, but I read about you in the Daily Telegraph. Over the past two years, I’ve smashed my advertising budget and my job is to get between two and half to three thousands prospects a month. I’m still achieving that without spending much extra money. I’m spending time, effort, ingenuity and having genuine conversations with people like you".

"I’m trying to engage people, so that our customers go out and tell other people about our business. I know that what we are doing, is working very well for us. Maybe it will dry up? Maybe it will change? But I think the way people buy, is to get them to be enthusiastic. I’ve always thought, people don’t buy on price. They buy on whether or not they care about what you are doing. So, all I have to do is to make you care and hopefully we will get your business! I don’t think people care about advertising anymore".

"What used to make products great used to be the advertising budget you had. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I do think it’s all about goodwill. Our job is to keep goodwill with our customers, readers and listeners. Not only does that involve encouraging a conversation to find out what others think. But also, to make sure that if we have got that goodwill, that they bother to tell other people and that’s the difficult thing".

Q. Apart from podcasting and blogging, what other tools do you use?

"We use Google Adwords to promote the company. Over the past two years, I have gradually reduced our conventional advertising budget to virtually nil. It did stand at over £110,000 per year, which is a very considerable change for this company. We’ve achieved this process very gradually, month by month. People say to us that must have put £110,000 on your bottom line. I wish I could say it had, but it hasn’t. Its not like we’ve saved that money completely, but we’ve certainly made major differences to our profit and also our spend. It’s completely changed the way we operate".

"With regards to the other tools that we use, a lot of what we do is to comment on other people’s blogs and use social networking in that way. But, we also send out a regular e-newsletter. I haven’t got a Squidoo lens but that is next on my list. I think they are wonderful. We have recently setup a Facebook group and we are in the very early days with that. I have found that to be really exciting! We have just started our first two videocasts, the most recent one has so far had about 7,000 viewings, which I’m really pleased about".

"Regarding the expense, compared to any other form of marketing that I can think of including normal word of mouth marketing. This new media, just doesn’t even compare. It’s so inexpensive compared to other forms of communication because it’s just so efficient. Our commitment to this form of media is such, that from next week we’ll have one of our team dedicating three hours of her day to blogging".

Q. How much feedback do you get from your readers/listeners?

"I think we are probably the first company who put their podcasts on their answer phone. So, if you are on hold to Wiggly Wigglers, you will hear a little bit of the podcast. We have over thirty reviews on Apple’s iTunes UK podcast page and they are all 5 five stars. So, we do get feedback but personally, I don’t take too much notice of it".

"I figure that the feedback you are going to get is probably from one extreme. I don’t want us to become diluted by the loudest voice. So, we carry on in our own sweet way really. We are on a mission rather than trying to react to every bit of feedback. We do generally try to acknowledge it however".

Q. What have been the major barriers in the adoption of Web 2.0 tools?

"I’m the founder of the company. So when I listen to my first podcast that was in June 2005. I found out about the Podcast conference in September 2005. I went on the Saturday, I made the podcast on the following Wednesday and I put it out on the Friday. So it was within days. I got the help from our web guy, who had been a sound engineer in a former life. Therefore, there were no technical problems for me to overcome. If I hadn’t had him, I would have had no clue about how to work out the RSS feeds etc. I guess I was lucky in that sense. I then went to the team and said, I want to divert some money from our advertising budget to this, because I believe that it will be miles better. So we did ten shows, I figured I needed to give it a proper chance. So there wasn’t really a barrier".

"The barriers that I find now are getting people to understand the importance of social media within the company. I find it is important for me to keep up with it all. But things like Facebook are so user friendly, that it gives me a real heart. Because I think that those things will win through. If I can work them, then it’s likely my audience and my customers can also work them. If I can’t work them, I figure they probably can’t either".

Q. What are your concerns in using Web 2.0 tools?

"Well, as in everything else in life, if you put yourself up, you are more likely to get shouted down. If there was someone who wasn’t in agreement with what you were doing, there may be a risk of exposing yourself and your business globally to nutters. My concerns regarding Facebook as a platform, are that the people who run Facebook have got a lot of statistics regarding people’s political views etc".

"As a company and as a leader, your whole point is to change the way people think. My passion is to change the way people think about their gardens and the spaces outside their houses. So, the more ways I can change people’s thinking, the better. I guess if you Google Wiggly Wigglers, you’ll probably get perhaps a thousand positives and maybe one negative about something. A further concern is that there’s so much good stuff out there. I have to cut down the podcasts I listen to, because of time".

"I don’t worry about competitors because I figure, as we have a fairly loyal base, they will always stick up for you and so I don’t worry about that at all. If a competitor starts blogging, that will just raise the profile of the whole thing. Rural businesses and farms have a great story to tell. There are tons of ways now to get your message across, whether it’s through a podcast or a YouTube video".

"It makes me laugh so much when the corporates say we don’t believe in it, we’ve got nothing to say, it’s too difficult to do, we have to get approval or, we’ve got the lawyers to think of. I think fantastic, don’t do it! Because there are tons of small businesses out there that are better than you, but haven’t got the large corporate advertising spend. Small businesses can use Web 2.0 tools cheaply and get a foothold in the market. I don’t care about the corporates, I care about people who have a passion for their business and that’s usually the smaller people. So, I just think that its completely going to change that way that we operate, as long as the small business gets to understand it quickly enough".

Interview with the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones

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As part of my research into small firms that are using Web 2.0 technologies. I have interviewed people from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds. However, I had an opportunity this week to interview the BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones. Rory, is not only one of the UK’s top journalists but he covered the “dotbomb” crash during the late 1990’s. In recent times, Rory has become passionate about Social Networking sites, such as Bebo and Facebook.  In fact, in the Interview highlights below, Rory explains why he started using Facebook!

Thanks Rory, for a very stimulating interview!  

Interview Highlights

Q. What is your understanding of Web 2.0?

“My understanding of Web 2.0, is that it concerns content which is user generated. I interviewed Tim Berners-Lee in the past and his original idea for the web was really what we understand today as Web 2.0. When Tim developed the browser, the whole idea was that it would be a tool for its users to upload content that could be easily shared. It was designed not to be a passive medium. However Web 1.0 turned out to be a passive medium. Whereas, Web 2.0 is an active medium and more closer to Tim’s original vision of the Web”.

“Online discussion areas have been around on the Internet for many years. But they were not categorised and they were not mass market. The arrival of added Internet bandwidth has meant that video and audio content becomes practical in that area and that’s all that happened. The original vision of the web has been made possible by greater bandwidth and greater presence online”.

Q. What motivated you to use Facebook?

“I did a story about a year ago on Bebo, the social networking site. I had signed up with a variety of different social networking sites, such as MySpace. I was curious to understand why on earth anyone who was my age would want to use them!”.

“My sixteen year old son, who was also using MySpace at the time, had just signed up to Facebook. He never liked MySpace all that much. He found Facebook much more ‘grown up’, which I thought was interesting. I then decided to join Facebook, and find out if it could be used by the over forties. As as father, I became very aware that every teenager was using social networking sites to communicate with their friends. Teenagers seem to have given up  e-mail”.

“E-mail, doesn’t seem to exist for teenagers. So, I thought there was a phenomenal out there that was worth investigating. But the interesting question was, would it be something that kids did for a brief period, very intensively and then dumped?. E-mail, started with early adopters and then spread up to the very older generation. Was it going to be the same with social networking, or was it very much a teen/student phenomenon? I wrote the piece and it really struck a chord. I suddenly got thousands of messages on Facebook and “friend” requests. It now says infinity on my Facebook homepage!”.

“One of the interesting things about Facebook and it’s a big issue for corporate users as well as individuals is, what kind of public profile are you presenting? Is it a social network, or is it a professional tool? I’m still playing around with what it is and I’m working out where the boundaries are”.

“I was different from most people in that I accepted a lot of ‘friend’ requests. I automatically accepted them at first and then began to think about who were all of these people! Stephen Fry has just gone through the same kind of thing over the last few days”.

“I’ve just written a piece on identity on Facebook. Partly, because I got a really interesting e-mail from an old friend, who runs a new media business. He told me that he met a new media guy, who said he thought social networking was really important and that blogging was also important but he didn’t have time for it. So, he employed somebody and is paying them £1,000 a month to be him online!”

“What happens when your boss, wants to be your Facebook friend? Two of my bosses are my Facebook friends which I’m okay with. However, for some people accepting a “friend” request from a boss could cause a problem. What happens, if they don’t accept it? Could that cause more problems?”

“I’ve been lobbying to have a blog on the BBC technology website for the last six months. There is interest internally. However, the costs of running the blog are too expensive because it has to be pre-moderated. So, one of the reasons I set up the Adventures of Technology group on Facebook, is a way of talking to people about the stores we are covering”.

Q. Apart from Facebook do you, or the BBC use any other Web 2.0 based tools?

“As with many large organisations, the BBC’s employees must adhere to strict I.T. policies that limit software being downloaded from the Internet. Firewalls, prevent us from using of many of the applications on the Web. Recently, there have been some concerns regarding our computer network, as more and more people are spending time online resulting in bandwidth issues”.

“However, the BBC is moving to use more Web 2.0 applications in the future. We now have three BBC channels on YouTube, delivering content to our online viewers”.  

“The BBC have also been working for many years on the online delivery of its content through Video on Demand. The Corporation has developed its own software called the iPlayer, which has just passed through the regulatory process and will be launched on the 27th July. The iPlayer will allow a way of delivering online programming content in a limited time window”.

Q. Are there any BBC journalists who blogs?

“There are actually quite a few of them with blogs which are hosted out of the BBC website. Nick Robinson the BBC’s political editor has a blog. Robert Peston, the BBC’s Business Editor has a blog. Evan Davis, the BBC’s Economics Editor also has a blog“.

Q. Are there any internal polices on what can be blogged and what cannot?

“Absolutely, and that’s one of the great big issues. I’m a very BBC person, I believe in the guidelines and in impartiality. All the BBC guidelines equally apply to blogs as well. In fact, we just had a big report on impartiality of business coverage. In the report it made a point for an equal need for impartiality, whether it be in an online blog, or a broadcast on the Ten O’Clock news. The BBC has particular sets of issues, in that we are licence fee funded. This does affect how ‘Web 2.0’ we can be”.

Q. Are there concerns on user published content?

“A concern I have, is that one can get over obsessed with what people read online. Especially, with a small, self-defined audience. The people who phone the Five Live phone in, may not be the nation. But sometimes we think they are. There’s a very interesting blog called, The Editors Blog here which talks about issues in journalism. A blog post which got the most responses ever, was on the 9/11 conspiracy theory”.

“If you read The Editors Blog and the responses on the 9/11 conspiracy. You would probably end up believing that most of our audience think that 9/11, was a conspiracy set up by the American government and that the BBC was somehow involved as part of that conspiracy! So, there are dangers in reading user generated content. We all have to be aware of that and that we don’t necessarily take the ‘Web 2.0’ type of response as being how we should shape our journalism”.

“The BBC is one of the biggest news broadcasting organisations you can imagine. But, on the technology news reporting side, there are amateur blog enthusiast sites, such as Engadget, TechCrunch, and GigaOm. These sites will publish their news stories very quickly and in a big hurry. Occasionally, with inaccuracies and it will be up there. Where, do we pitch ourselves? That’s a large part of the debate. Do our readers want the big, formal, four hundred word, accurate and considered piece with some nice photos? Or, do they want the, Oh Blimey! I just got an iPhone look at this, type of story?”.  

“So, there is a big debate to be had about how you pitch yourself and how you use these techniques. You then have to ask yourself as a public sector organisation, is it worthwhile? There are very small numbers of people who are going to look at that. If you are a commercial organisation, would it be worthwhile? Would you be able to sell advertising space around that?”.

“This is the year of mega change in media organisations. Recently, The Daily Telegraph has gone multimedia in a big way. They have got a bright, young, new editor who has poured a lot of money into the paper and told all of his journalists they’ve got to be multimedia. So they’ve launched lots of video and podcasting. The next thing you have to ask is, will that pay for itself?. The jury is still out that one. Offline advertising is decreasing sharply, and online advertising is growing slowly, but its not compensating at the moment for offline advertising”.

Q. How do you view amateurs, or wannabe journalists who are using multifunctional devices, with inbuilt cameras and voice recorders to create online content?

“Scared. Actually, I’m a bit agnostic about it. Is it a bit of added noise? Or, will it be a real threat to professional journalism?. I think again, the jury is still out on this one”.

“A few small firms, are successfully using multimedia techniques in promoting their businesses, such as Wiggly Wigglers. Small firms are not going to have big advertising budgets. But, by using fairly cheap multimedia devices to create content, which can be published online. Small firms who exploit this, will have a path to market that they would not have had before. The question for small businesses and larger ones is, how much of your time do you devote that may not be business focused?”

“I’m still slightly agnostic about Web 2.0 and whether the evangelists are right about the complete democratisation of news. I think there will still be gatekeepers who will decide what gets posted out there”.

“For example, will an enthusiast who starts a podcast about up and coming new bands in Birmingham, really going to affect the radio market in Birmingham? This kind of enthusiast would be doing something ‘ultra specialist’, that no professional radio station could afford to do. Should a professional Birmingham radio station change its broadcasting policy in answer to the enthusiast?”.

Q. What do you think are the big challenges for small firms who want to adopt Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and podcasts?

“The big challenges are time, and working out the business justification for it. I do think that very small firms, or individuals present an entirely different case compared to SME’s. For individuals, and very small micro firms, Web 2.0 technologies can give you ‘seriousness and credibility’. Once you grow to ten or twenty people, it can still do that. But, you have to ask yourself, how much of your staff’s time are you are going to invest in updating blogs, or creating podcasts, or other content?”.

“Going back to the early nineties, before the dotcom bubble burst, many small firms bought into the idea of having a web site. At the time, I wondered what value would say, Fred the butcher gain in having a web presence?. He probably wasn’t getting value out of it at that stage. Would Fred get value today? Well, perhaps. How much energy should Fred be devoting to it? Fred could have a blog, for instance he could discuss about this week’s favourite sausage recipe!”

“The very early adopters, sometimes get quite a lot of value out of it. Anybody who comes in six months in, possibly doesn’t for quite a long time. Eventually, it will become established and everyone’s got to do it”.

“At the end of the day, we are talking about relationships with customers. In particular, small businesses that want to have a closer relationships with customers. Yes, I can see it being worth their while. However, there are plenty of small businesses whose relationships with their customers are never going to be that close. You are not really going to need to have relationship with a plumber for example”.

“For, Fred the butcher? Possibly. Especially, if he became a character and wanted to promote himself as a character and instill a bit of loyalty with his customers, there may be a case for it”.

Q. What do you think about the role of social networking in business?

“I think the trouble is people find value in things like social networking when the market is rising. But, I think a lot of businesses will be very short term about this. The relationships won’t be real and therefore people won’t find a compelling reason to go back there”. The question is, what relationship are we talking about?”

“It comes down to a blurring between social networking and professional networking. The whole idea of social networking does suggest a degree of intimacy. Unless, you really believe you want to have that kind of online intimacy in business. I’m not sure if its going be worth it. You’ve got to work out who you want to be intimate as a business with, before you go into it. Are you talking to your customers? Or, are you talking to your peer group?”

Q. Are we heading for a bubble burst 2.0?

“There is a big difference, between now and the 1999 bubble. Last time around, there was a  huge excitement over valuations but not on revenues. In the case of Freeserve.com, valuations were very high but the company had virtually zero revenues and the company still floated on the stock market which was crazy. Lastminute.com floated on revenues which I compared at the time to the revenues of a large country pub!”

“This time around, we are getting scary valuations again. However, this time its on revenue. Also, there are not that many startup’s that are being funded on crazy valuations. A lot of the bubble is in big stocks of big established companies. Companies such as Google and Apple are not fly by night companies. Google is being valued on incredibly fast growing revenues and not on fast growing user numbers”.

“The slightly worrying thing about Web 2.0 startups is that there is revenue, but it’s all advertising. Every Web 2.0 business model out there on the Internet is advertising based. Under the advertising model, people decided to give their applications away for nothing. Whereas, the mobile phone world is completely different. The mobile model is based on people spending real money in a variety of different ways”.

“Web 2.0 revenue is based on the principle, that you can have whatever you want, as long as you watch a few ads. There’s got to be a point somewhere where the advertising revenue will not fund anything more”.

 “Lastminute.com floated on a valuation at the end of its IPO day for nearly a billion. Last.fm which has been going for four or five years, sold out recently for $280 million. CBS, would have looked at what people said when Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace. Murdoch bought MySpace for $580 million and everyone said that he was completely barking mad! However, six months or so later, Google then came in with a $900 million advertising deal. In the end, it turned out to be a great deal for Murdoch”.

Q. What advice would you give to small firms who were looking to take the plunge and use Web 2.0 technologies in their own businesses?

“Firstly, I would say go and talk to your customers and see what they are doing and whether they want a closer relationship with you. A small firm needs to think about what it wants to achieve. Is it trying to develop a better relationship with its existing customers? Is it trying to change its customer base? Or, is it trying to change its external  image to its customers?”

“Do that first, before plunging into social networking transparency.  Does your customer, really want to know what you got up to on the weekend, or your personal musical tastes? It is probably a good idea to check with your customers first! Also, take a look at what other firms are doing, e.g. firms such as Wiggly Wigglers“.

“Think about whether your market is going to be interested in your content. Also, look into whether you have the time to invest into creating podcasts and updating blogs. Decide how important your personality is to your business. Web 2.0 is amazingly ego driven. Are you an ego business? There is nothing wrong in being an ego business. However, if you haven’t got the personality for it, you should be careful about doing it!”

Steve Clayton and his Blue Monster

 The Blue Monster

I was lucky enough to interview Steve Clayton at Microsoft’s UK headquarters at Reading on Monday. Steve is the Chief Technical Officer for the Microsoft Partner Group. Along with his team, he manages Microsoft’s relationship with 35,000 partners across the UK. Maintaining an excellent relationship with so many Partners is a key priority on Steve’s list, I was interested in how he manages this challenge. 

I was also interested to hear Steve’s insights into the challenges and issues faced by SME’s in the UK today. In particular, how the new breed of web technologies can help to raise small business profiles. The highlights of the interview are detailed below. Steve is also an active blogger. However, his blog is somewhat different from other Microsoft blogs in that its not product specific, more a general overview of the industry.

In reading his posts, you’ll discover he’s an avid Liverpool FC supporter, a big fan of BBC’s Dragon’s Den and one of his top five CD’s is Blue Lines from Massive Attack. The blog balances his Microsoft and personal interests in such a way that is both informative, interesting and stimulates a conversation. How many people reading this post, would expect that from a Microsoft employee?

Steve’s approach is not to force a Microsoft sale upon his readers. Instead, he promotes goodwill. Across Steve’s team there are 14 active bloggers with a combined readership view of over two million. Therefore, I’m not the only one that sees the ‘goodwill’ approach as compelling. In fact, a large proportion of the readers of his blog are not Microsoft Partners at all. Readers, (including myself), enjoy reading his daily thoughts on technology.

Having spent over an hour with Steve on Monday, I truly believe that he is a hidden gem at Microsoft UK.  In fact, in my opinion he is Microsoft UK’s answer to Robert Scoble.

Of course, he is passionate about technology. However, his passion strives further. He is equally passionate in helping SME’s and Partners to be more successful. In an open message to Microsoft UK’s Managing Director, Gordon Frazer. Can we have more bloggers like Steve Clayton please? 

The Blue Monster campaign (read below) grabs my attention, sparks a conversation and builds a bridge. As a Microsoft end user and as a customer, I would like to see more of this.

Interview Highlights

Q. What is the Blue Monster and how did its story come about?

“I met Hugh MacLeod at a Girl Geek Dinner in London around 8 months ago. We got into a discussion about Microsoft and Robert Scoble. Hugh, expressed the opinion that Microsoft needed a new way to tell its story to the public. Hugh comes from an advertising background and in the wake of Microsoft’s Department of Justice troubles, he felt that the company could benefit from a new way to reach out to consumers”.

“Hugh enjoys drawing cartoons and one day, he sent the Blue Monster cartoon to a few Microsoft guys, including me and Robert Scoble. Hugh’s vision was that the Blue Monster signalled a rebirth and re-growth of company, that was taking on another complete change within the I.T. industry. The I.T. landscape had evolved with Software as a Service and the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon. Looking at it from the outside, could Microsoft go into another round with a different set of competitors and come out and do well?”

“Hugh stated that the cartoon was something that we could either use, or discard. Well, I decided to use it and hence why it is now on my business card. When I first got these [Blue Monster] cards printed, I used to hand them out together with my standard Microsoft business card. However, I quickly discovered that people would keep the Blue Monster card and give me back my standard Microsoft business card!”

“The beauty of the Blue Monster is that it is open to interpretation. It could represent Microsoft saying that we are going to change the world, or we are going to go home. Or, it could represent customers saying, Microsoft you do change the world, if you don’t get that then go home! It can be seen from so many different angles. If Blue Monster had been launched as a corporate campaign, it would have likely died a death. People, would have said that Microsoft is just trying to be cool. Its just not about that. It comes from the grass roots level and hopefully, that’s where it will stay”.

“Blue Monster and its slogan of, change the world or go home drives a lot of the thinking on my blog. What I really want to do, is change people’s perception of Microsoft. At the end of the day, these 4 buildings [Microsoft HQ] that we are sat in, are home to a bunch of regular people who care about their job, passionate about what they do and are passionate about this company. Unfortunately, not many people get to see that. So that’s what my blog has been about, exposing these 4 grey buildings out to a public that actually, I think wants to get to know us a little bit better”.

Q. Can you share any insights of SME’s today?

“What we have have seen is that technology is allowing smaller companies into more places more often. An internal phrase we use at Microsoft is, ‘making your business look bigger than it is’. The advances in technologies such as Wi-Fi, broadband and mobile devices means that SME’s can do their business anywhere. However, it appears as if they are in more places than they actually are. We have a number of good examples of small businesses that are doing just that”.

Q. What techniques have worked best for you to get your message out there?

“Blogging has been the biggest thing to get the message out there. That has driven other things like the Blue Monster cards. I also get involved in community events. For example, Chinwag run a series of monthly events in London and I also attend Sarah Blow’s London Girl Geek Dinners where I meet lots of different people. I’ve recently joined the Board of the British Interactive Media Association. Getting out into the community and public speaking all help to stimulate the conversation”.

“From the feedback I receive, there is a clear interest in the stuff I talk about and the way we talk about it. I’m convinced that people want to have a relationship with Microsoft. There are other prolific Microsoft bloggers such as Eileen Brown, who is driving a really strong message to get more women into I.T. Then there’s Darren Strange, also known as the Office Rocker! Darren is our Product Manager for Microsoft Office, very well known and a great blogger”.

“I would say there are about a core group in the UK of about 20 really good, almost Professional Microsoft bloggers, who have similar mantra to me. Blogging allows us to put a public face to the company, whether its about us talking about a Microsoft product, division or a particular aim”.

Q. What communication techniques did you try that didn’t work?

“When I first started my blog it didn’t work. I’m fortunate that I’ve got some good friends, particularly in the Partner community. They told me honestly that they did not enjoy reading my blog. Right at the start, I was writing about things that always had a Microsoft angle, a product or a piece of technology. Ultimately it took me some time to find my voice during blogging”.

“Whilst out for a pint, I asked a friend about what he thought about my blog. He said it was okay but he wasn’t reading it all that much. When I asked why? He replied that he felt that I was trying to push the product a bit too much. I then asked what he wanted from my blog? He replied, What I want, is the conversation that we usually have down at our local pub. That is probably what most of your readers want and would quite enjoy. An open, frank and fairly random conversation at times. This is where my blog is now. At times, it makes me nervous because there’s quite a lot on my blog which has nothing to do with Microsoft”.

Q. What do you think are the major problems faced by small businesses in the UK today?

“Time and awareness. There’s a huge amount of things a small business can do. Such as, promoting themselves on the web, Search Engine Optimisation and having a blog. Most businesses are too busy trying to run their business and have little about what I.T. can truly do for them. Web 2.0 is a good phrase for the I.T. industry, but most people do not understand what it represents. My mother has no clue as to what Web 2.0 is. However, she knows what a blog is. Actually, she didn’t know what a blog was but when I told her it was my online diary, she then started to read it”.

“So, our challenge is really, time and putting this Web 2.0 stuff in a language that everyone can easily understand”.

Q. If you could offer an SME once piece of advice, what would it be?

“My one simple piece of advice to a small business is simple. ‘Go Blogging’! I’ve seen what it can do for companies. My favourite example is English Cut, which is discussed in Naked Conversations. If a small tailor on Saville Row can go on to build a business through blogging, then anyone can. Go Blogging, is about differentiating your business and telling your story. In essence, it is about imparting some knowledge and adding some value to your reader and potential customer”.

The Long Tail has proved that no matter how bizarre your niche, there is a market out there. The important thing to realise is that as long as you have something interesting to say, are not over selling and your message is consistent, honest and authentic, it will work. I’m absolutely convinced it will work for any business”.

Thank you Steve.