Stalked by your Mobile

October 9, 2007 | Topics:

Jeremy writes an excellent post on Jaiku's purchase by Google. Stowe noted it's ramifications for telephony and others being blindsided (I agree with this and Google is being underestimated). Aswath takes another angle in referring to OAuth. Identity is certainly in the mix. I'll only be happy when it is under my control; networked, searched or not...

loose wire blog: Google Jaiku: It's About Mobility

All this information outlined above would be available to Google, to let them fire ads at us. For the first time, as far as I know, an advertising company not only has access to what we're doing (our presence message), they have access to where we're doing it (the cell ID etc), what we're doing next (the calendar), how long we'll be doing it for (the duration of the event), whether we're focused on something else (indication of whether we're on a call), as well as the usual preferences we may have registered in our profile (gender, age, interests, etc.)

The point here is that Jaiku is one of the first of such tools to shift the social web to the mobile social web......... But perhaps now is the time to ponder just how much personal information we either consciously or unconsciously hand over when we use them, and how comfortable we are about it.

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Andy Abramson - PR & Blogging

October 8, 2007 | Topics:

Andy writes about his clients many of which I read and says Clients Who Are Blogging-Makes My Heart Go Pitter Patter

Blogging has given each company a chance to tell their stories in real time, and with as much detail is needed. Some choose to write mostly about their own exploits, while others write about the space they play in. Regardless of which tact they all take the key to this is that viewpoints are getting to the public faster now than ever before, and for that reason blogging clearly is making it better for the end user because when it comes to audience and numbers in the blogosphere "its not how many, its who," I always like to say.
I cannot think of another PR firm that can put this claim and support it with so many blogging related activities (eg the Nokia program).  If your firm is in this position then I'd like to know who you are. I suspect (although I have never read it) that Andy will no longer take a client that doesn't have or want to have a blogging strategy. I see this as a "massive shift" in how one PR co can pitch vs another. I'd also see it shaping the type of services provided and the education services that may overlap or be a prerequisite to creating the business relationship.

I'd like to add to Andy's post and I'm sure even some of his "blogger" comrades may pick up on it.  I believe his blogging clients have learned to:

1) listen more effectively
2) track what users are saying and wade into the conversations
3) reach out to people... sometimes I think with surprising supportive results.
4) build beta beta test programs.
5) speed their response rates and know where to take action

I'm betting that:
a) their dollars have gone way further
b) they are seen as more authentic industry leaders - builds profile
c) better prepared for any crisis should it come / happen.

The best recognition is the results that his clients have had within the VoIP arena, visibility, sale, etc. I have used both Truphone and Nokia as workshop case studies to illustrate some starting points.

Andy, I'd love to see you share more on Blogging and PR.

  • The fall of traditional media,
  • blogger outreach programs,
  • what makes a good blogging client,
  • pitfalls to watch out for
If you are a demanding corporate blogger --- what should you demand from your PR firm?

  • What category strategies are you and your PR firm jointly enabling?

  • What collective bookmarking may be available to you?

  • How are you collectively shaping Industry direction?

  • What metric are you applying?

  • What search criteria are you using?

  • What's your tagging strategy?

A blog doesn't always start and end exactly the way you expected. I find that blogs often shape themselves; depending on the day and what else one's seen. As I've recently been talking to more and more brand marketers in traditional firms I'm seeing that their PR and Advertising firms generally are not serving them well. These firms are not staffed to handle the new environment, while the clients are usually not accountable for "conversational marketing", conversations or the impact of social media. As such it remains no mans land for many organizations.

Dina is on Wordpress

October 8, 2007 | Topics: Blogging | General Interest

My blog buddy Dina has used a Radio Blog from the very beginning. Sometime after setting her up I went on to MT and we've run projects there over the years. Still, it is hard to change a blog platform once you are wedded to it. In that way it is a little like a bank account... it seems like a lot of hassle to change and then finally you have to bite the bullet. I personally think this is even worse with hosted services which will continue to take your money so you can keep your blog and history there.

So Dina has a new blog and I will shortly move mine too; again to Wordpress; using many of the plug-ins that we have been experimenting with on Mosoci.

I will blog separately on the plug-ins, what we've learned works, what new things we can do. I know we are taking our use of these tools to a new level.  Separately, when you have blogged for four years at the same URL; have feeds etc. you have some trepidation about moving to a new location. Despite all the "you can import and export" your content often it isn't easy to retain your URL's and thus a change breaks links. One way we have dealt with this is to create Google custom search engines which merge the search for new and old content.

Conversations with Dina (old) Conversations with Dina (new)

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/ Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/ Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/ Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/
So update your reader.

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Brand Conversations - PR Clippings

October 8, 2007 | Topics: Brand Futures

This is a perfect story for a brand to pick up on or at least tag. If I was a Skype brand manager today I'd want to capture at least a link or a bookmark. I'd also want this capture visible to all (on the Skype website or my BM link blog), and a comment left on the blog. The Skyper in this post is a brand advocate and I'd wager introduced more than a few people to the joys of Skyping. Clarence Fisher is a teacher in Canada, he is writing about Classroom 2.0 and New Literacies in Action. His post represents what we look for in facilitating "conversational marketing". Skype's brand was built on a combination of conversational marketing and simply viral uptake. However, it was the stories that created it.

Many brands have stories like these. It is easy to demonstrate for almost any organization in minutes; certainly not hours. The majority of companies don't see them, if they do they don't recognize them or use them as an asset which they are.

Remote Access: Expectations

I have realized that my kids have the expectation, the realization, that this type of communication is even possible. Even though they live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, they will constantly look at my Skype list and ask me where people are from. They understand that this type of full, two way audio and video communication is easy enough that it can be done while I am doing dishes or cutting up vegetables, getting ready for supper.
Note: this post just appeared in my Technorati "Skype" newsfeed. Just scrolling down I see two more that reflect positively. Earlier today I furled a link to Your Brand is not my Friend. In the context of social networking sites the author was correct; and yet I'm sure "Skype" is Clarence's friend.

Some questions:
How are you consuming / receiving information content like this?
Do you recognize it?
Are you still just satisfied with PR clippings once per month? (What does that cost?!)
Do you have customized feeds?
Who is responsible?
Are you getting real-time updates?

I'm convinced that conversational marketing starts with listening. Listening enables the conversation. Bookmarking content empowers the need and the understanding to wade in and learn more.

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Social Tools - Reinventing the Communications Hub

October 8, 2007 | Topics:

Lee Bryant writes an excellent post on Social Tools for Internal Communications. Includes adding value by "social filtering", the "social stack" and how social tools are adding value. It's a must read. I've pulled out a quote from it below that relates to what I have come to think of as typical aggregator management, reading and bookmarking behavior. (Lot of posts on this topic recently.) Points I'd like to add

1) Consider Lee's comments overall in terms of the impact on communication within the enterprise and how social bookmarking is becoming an increasingly important communications hub.

2) Explore how use of these tools relaxes control and yet speeds up the flow of input and assessment in real-time. Similarly how their impact on attention data can expose "things" that otherwise may be missed in the more traditional silos and KM pyramids.

3) LISTENING: For me all of conversational marketing; getting PR and Ad agencies on board starts with listening. I'm certain most companies do a lousy job of listening. RSS / Newsreaders and a social bookmarking strategy are you first steps in learning how and where to listen.

Headshift :: Social tools for Internal Communications

From my 300+ sources, I may skim read 1000+ items every day, of which I might bookmark 10; if something really newsworthy is going on then I might write one blog post or internal analysis based on one or more of these signals. That means that as an individual, I am rigorously filtering my information inputs by amplifying the signals of 10 stories and perhaps adding my own insight and analysis to one key development in any given day. Imagine for a moment that a significant proportion of 5000 person knowledge organisation do this every day. The resulting social signals about what is important would be incredibly useful to the organisation as a whole, and would provide a far greater return for the overall investment of time and attention than unconnected reading and research. Creating this kind of flow for signals, information and insight is one of the key objectives of a social knowledge sharing strategy.
Net Net. What I'm seeing. We are again in exciting times. The social tools, and meta data are going to continue to reinvent the communications hub. This will have important ramifications for both directories and "click to connect" futures.

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Facebook Profiles

October 8, 2007 | Topics: Rich Profiles | Social Networks

I hope this isn't true! Structuring profiles eg (business or professional vs personal) is so limiting and isn't representative of the flow that exists between different relationships. If elements of a profile are to be limited then the controls must be much more precise. To go from one to two profiles leaves me with the same problem. Are they both on... is one on, are they both off. Profiles are outputs of how we group and tag information... and then grant access to it.

This issue is another facet of Stowe's message re groupings. You must enable it so I can assign more than one tag. Group Tags may have different access to different information. If you are a member of more than one group you may have access to more or less profile information. Eg you can be my Friend and my Colleague.  This may also relate to time of day, my state (what I'm doing) and how I perceive my relationship with you. In reality we can't manage every piece of information on a per user / per relationship basic. However, we should also remember that just because we make it available... others may choose not to subscribe.

Laughing at Facebook’s “older” users « Scobleizer

IBM has about 20,000 employees on Facebook. We’ve explored how that can be used for internal communications/engagement objectives, and have discovered that there’s real potential - though many prefer to keep their “personal” and “professional” lives separate (I call it the “do I want my boss to see me in my bathing suit?” problem.) If Facebook can solve this - and the reports from last week that they’re developing a way for users to have dual profiles suggests they’re trying - FB’s value for networking will increase considerably.
Where Facebook can really innovate is in the controls area. Tags should also have controls that determine what's shared, how long, privacy, expiry, etc.

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Why VoIP Innovation Died with Skype

October 1, 2007 | Topics:

This post reflects on eBays stewardship of Skype, the failure of Skype to remain the innovator in VoIP, Skype Marketings failure to maintain momentum, and some challenges for the new CEO.

Andy Abramson's blog woke me up to the Management Shake Up At Skype this morning. I'm happy to leave all the money posts to Bloomberg, WSJ, Skype Journal, GigaOM Valleywag etc. For me, my interest today is not about the money. It's also not about Meg Whitman / megatwork either although I wonder why no one comments on her ability to continue holding her job after such a write down and payout. The numbers say the eBay strategy has failed.

I blogged Skype from the very beginning, I followed it, I founded Skype Journal (as other eg Inside Facebook and similar today) for two years I was completely committed to "What's your Skype strategy?". Then eBay purchased Skype. I know I felt I had lost something that day. It also shook my beliefs. So watch out Zuckerberg; careful what you do with Facebook!

Skype started out in 2003 like a Web2.0 startup today. Niklas and co managed without the blogs although put in a Forum very early on. There early adopters solved problems, told stories, and requested new features. Janus Friis who wrote today about the earnout and the history has applied all the lessons from Skype, getting users, developing a dialogue, beta, etc to Joost and the companies Atomico is investing in are similarly Web2.0 centric.

(not) just another monday » Janus Friis

The other project is Atomico. Atomico is our new risk capital group where we invest our own capital. We have already, quietly, invested in many companies such as Technorati, FON and Last.FM, and now we are going to take it to the next level.

So why didn't Skype become another Web2.0 powerhouse? Simply the money! The VC's choose to sellout (given Skype's apparently under performing record since on revenues - remember this was the models the VC's pitched and sold) just as Skype was beginning to emerge in a Web2.0 vein. Efforts to start a formal developer program were rushed; however, by that time Skype already had their API; really cracking open new opportunities for devices, and software enhancements. Concurrently, an element of conservatism stepped in. Call Transfer, Headless Skypes all talked widely prior to the sale remain limited even today two years later.

Impact on VoIP:
Skype  failure to perform has directly impacted on the VoIP category. Skype made a mistake by not selling up the category; talking the category (search google today VoIP and Skype isn't mentioned) or more broadly communications. In fact if you look at the Skype homepage today all links to forums, blogs etc are unavailable or deleted. The homepage says nothing about what it is other than cheap phone calls. VoIP was always about more than this. It was also about the revolution in communications and what happens when the cost of a call goes to zero. When I see this, when I look at a page like this there is only one place to point the finger. It's at marketing. It should be noted that Niklas stepped down and Marketing was the department that lost its head.

Failure is Marketings:

The real problem at Skype after the initial launch and growth has been marketing. Niklas and Janus are not marketers. In fact they were always surprised that Skype took off as quickly as it did. Some may beg to differ with my conclusion saying Niklas was the most brilliant marketer; look at what he sold etc. In this regards the team VC's and Niklas and Janus were. I have always thought the problem was "marketing" which for the most part has remained faceless for four years. I cannot rest all responsibility for this at Niklas's door; rather I'd point to the VC's and more importantly eBay which has had two years to get it right with their own people in charge.

eBay marketing took Skype from what was on the cusp of being one of the first Web2.O companies and made certain that it embraced 1.0 mediocrity. I would have thought they would have known better with their community background; the problem was the types of people they talk to. eBay isn't about consumer marketing; it is about marketing and supporting small business. Skype is about you and me. Ebay never managed this. They couldn't understand why skypers never asked for more than a great calling experience and lower rates. Concurrently, they didn't listen or provide feedback to the people and community that could. They turned their back on the innovation engine and tellingly more and more engineers left.

The problem is marketing product leadership, capability to engage users, and ability to keep innovating around new services. Example today, Skype has an active user base that is much larger than Facebook's for a service that is much more mission critical. And yet Facebook could usurp Skype and the Skype network tomorrow if they so choose. Those that tend to be most passionate about Facebook today, were once most passionate about Skype. The apps this same group are now developing are directed to Facebook not Skype. That's a shame. Skype's strategy timeframe also isn't six months. They don't have the luxury in looking and spending months finding a new CEO. In six months they could be irrelevant.

In a world of rapid change Skype doesn't yet have the network affect working for them. Unlike eBay, and less so PayPal, Skype is not a universal channel for communications. I still believe it could be. The actions that could have thwarted competitors, accelerated growth still remain; however are now too risky because of eBay, ownerships and money. Skype has four possible plays which it failed to capitalize on 1)Directory, 2)SIP & Identity, 3)API 4)Presence. All of these possibilities were well known to evangelising Skype users and early beta testers. I've certainly written about them all on more than one occassion.

In the beginning Skype had a launch program with news every two weeks . PR Before eBay - An Era Over. This was in place until eBay took over and since then the PR program has been all downhill. Kelly Larabee was marketing and the Skype PR queen before it all went wrong. PR is a Marketing responsibility. It failed again on the recent Skype Outage; the outage wasn't so serious... the response and management was.

Skype is not longer creating new stories. Stories of intimacy launched Skype. Today these stories aren't even told on the home page. You simply cannot have viral growth without stories and new reasons for delight. Januus Kase launched blogs at Skype and left some time ago. Still why would you stay when your company won't let your passions spill over into the real world? In this quote Niklas celebrates what Skype has achieved: SCOOP: Zennstrom defends Skype while stepping down

“Beyond creating a business, Skype literally touches millions of lives and this is something to be proud of,” Zennstrom said. “I would like to think that we have contributed to making the world a little bit flatter.”

I concur!

Skype Choices:
Skype must face up to either competing as a telecom or becoming the 21st century communications company it started out to be.... getting lost along the way. With eBay ownership I don't give much credence to the latter; and I'm no longer sure or close enough to the company to know what they could do if challenged with new directions. When they were many times smaller it was obvious. They could and did change the world. Few companies get absorbed by large ones and continue to innovate at the same rate.

Skype CEO? 
You would hope the search has been on quietly for months. (Nah... I never got a call!) Who gets the shot will tell the world many things about  what Skype will become.  Some criteria.

  • Visibility: The new CEO will / must be very visible. They will either hold or lose the confidence of remaining developers. Learning to talk Skype will be a problem. Skype is less than four years old. As there are no internal candidates finding someone that can talk Skype (not as telephony) is a major challenge.

  • Guts: They will have to be a hard ass on the numbers. Skype is already in a price war, it's time to take home the advantage while creating new value which will take some imagination and real pressure on the organization. That's may or may not be a problem for eBay. Depending on the "agreement" it will have an impact on the new CEO, their flexibility, and the time given to finish the job that Niklas started

  • Beliefs: They have to have deep seated beliefs. Winning in this world will not come from quantitative research; rather it needs a higher level of experimentation, more transparency, and the building or a real open community. Skype is closed. Skype must be opened up. Few candidates will know how to do this.

  • Facilitate: Skype still learning has a young team and some good old fashioned recognition and encouragement is required. Skype cannot grow bigger without growing responsibilities of those that are there today. Any new CEO must know how to put in place an accelerated listening program.

  • London: the Red Herring choice. Should the new CEO simply move the company to Estonia? Politics and autocratic rule have still to be overcome. There are always hard choices to be made. Marketing is the first area to address. Adding to the marketing team will help to re-shape it without killing the gems that remain. Eg User Design.

  • Product Acumen: Skype wins or loses not based on the US, rather on India, China, Brazil in the longer term. It cannot win at all without a mobile strategy, in fact a Presence, View, Talk, Text, or Post strategy. Communications is multi-modal today and multiple devices. Skype has understood this better than most; however is yet to press the advantage home. New competitors are also increasingly everywhere... It is not the IM clients, or the telecoms anymore. Facebook and Google remain the real challenges.

  • Power of Three: Does he/she say bullshit? eBay appears to be incapable of integrating communications into their selling process. How much management attention and time will eBay require of the new CEO? Anything over 10% and we know that nothing will change.

Note I wrote this post just after the sale to eBay. Skype Chapter 2. I cannot be more disappointed today. Almost all the reasons I wrote for the deal to be done... have not been done under eBay's stewardship. The one thing I learned later and did not know at the time was that eBay had never bought the video rights or capabilities. That in itself shows the real lack of foresight and understanding behind what they were getting in to. Perhaps eBay will never be able to extend their market to conversations. Long term that's an error.

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Brand Champions and the Brand Lifestream

September 28, 2007 | Topics: Blogging | Brand Futures | Conversational Blogging

I had a challenging comment from Dan Woodward on my latest search post. He asks whether these Small Business Owners should take the time to learn it themselves:

Search - Still the best reason to blog your company (Unbound Spiral)

But, when it comes to fairly advanced marketing/search engine manipulation, where do they go? Are you suggesting they should take the time to really learn all of this for themselves? Do they hire it out? It's a question that does arise (from those who DO have websites) and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about how to answer them (being no Internet marketer myself).

My point is directed to the brand owner. If the small business owner is the brand champion then they should have a strategy. I've  been spelling it out for traditional brand managers in consumer products companies recently. Simplistically, traditionally they were only interested in advertising (reach and frequency) and promotion.  If you look at a  Brand plan  there is no line in it to address Search or social media. All media is now social; all brand plans should now address social media; strategy and tactics.

Recognizing you need a strategy is the first step. Small business owners get it.. just like brand managers do when you suggest they Google their business, google their name, google categories they compete in etc. Concurrently with these searches look at the paid search results. Who's paying and why? Are they competitors? etc.

On should they do it themselves?
I'd argue that all brand managers should have some tests they check on. From search engines to buzzmetrics and others. At this stage it is not a science they need. Science and "social media optimization" can come later. At this point its important to accept this is how customers search for your company. This is just part of how internet savvy customers learn about your business. (It goes too far to show them Facebook, or Twitter references at this stage, or introduce additional ways we share information about a business).

As brand champion one of your tasks is to assemble or enable the monitoring of the "brand lifestream" that exists around your brand. Traditionally this was PR clippings, however the social and accelerated nature of media today means that this action can't wait till the end of the month. The manager today needs it in real time at their fingertips. It's just part of understanding conversational marketing. Time for many to learn new tools!

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Tourism Missing the Boat on Blogging & Tags

September 27, 2007 | Topics:

This is another experience post.  It reflects on how a small business in a small corner of the world with limited resource could significantly enhance their business by engaging with and using social media.

While in Kerala I had a wonderful trip though the Backwaters (Wikipedia) on a Canal boat. These are grand vehicles almost 100 feet long, more floating barge, with a slow cruising speed. They come staffed with a captain, guide and cook. There are hundreds of these majestic ships out cruising this very beautiful corner of the world. The Backwaters are stuck back in time, with a life that still centers around fishing, and rice farming.

I found myself on a trip with Rainbow Cruises. They don't have an obvious website although this appears to be it. They also get representation by various travel agents; which again for an Internet traveler raises issues of trust. From the captain I learned that they have 22 boats although may run more than a 100 (200?) via charters during the season raising issues of how they manage quality control. They are apparently the biggest company in the area. The majority of their business in season is foreign, English, European etc. Communication with clients onboard boats is via limited English for the most part.

While I loved my trip it fell down on key details. These are easily fixed and yet they are lessons learned.

  • On arrival at what I thought was the loading point (confirmed in the email booking) I let my driver go. Turned out it was 5km to the boat pickup spot. They didn't have transport. This could have become very messy. Luckily I could call him back. However, introductory communication was poor / no existent. There was no "this is what to expect" in the email.
  • There was no suggestion that you should arrive between 12 and 1 to pick up your boat and maximize cruising time or that lunch was included on the first day. As it was a 5+ hour drive to get there I wasn't cruising until after 3:00. I have no idea what I missed out on and how this changed the sight seeeing plan.
  • There was no discussion of the route we would take or key stopping point when I first arrived in the office. I'd read Lonely Planet and left it behind. I may well have missed some sites in the backwaters I could have seen. When I got on board the boat I had to ask the captain for a map. His explanation and the level of detail on the map was pretty much a trust me. If there had been posters on the wall, descriptions of key places to visit it would have been much better.
  • Turns out they basically had no liquor on board. (I think the staff run a scam on beers and they will happily get more). BYOB is probably a good idea.
  • Watching all the locals washing in the lake I asked about swimming; I found i didn't want to go in. However, again some details re water, swimming, etc would be helpful.
  • I froze under air conditioning on the first night as there was no blanket only a sheet provided. The pre sailing check didn't uncover this omission. Lists and standard checks are something that is easy to implement and also get the guest to check too prior to sailing; so it is fixed there and then.
  • They missed out on a whole group of simple up-sell opportunities. Examples like traditional fishing rods (bamboo poles), small boat or kayak for going down a side canal. I had to prod for shore side visits and arranging a kayak to go down the side canals. These trips or excursions should be made much more explicit. Empower the guest to ask for more by leaving information around. Up sell is completely missed on the web site.
  • Onboard I'd expect to see (like you do in almost any hotel) a book of how and where everything is, services etc. I'd also expect a Captains log or guestbook for feedback at the end of the trip. These weren't onboard or provided.

The captain had a cell phone for ship to shore communications. I'm sure there was no radio on board. Cell phones with prepaid cards would provide another simple up sell opportunity. As most guests are foreign and may well want to call home (the rates on prepaid are so so so much cheaper) that they would pay and the driver could execute a recharge as required. Probably in 500 rupee recharges. Basically, the balance left over at the end of the tour is profit. 

This group as a charter operator has many times the potential my friend John had at Windermere Estate to create a conversation around guest travels. Managing his own business and the expectations of guests would be enabled by sharing more about what to expect, and what you can expect from your charter. Most of the information above is required on the web and in hardcopy on board.  It's important that you recognize you are chartering a boat for no doubt each is unique although many will be similar.

We really should consider how travel has changed and our expectations with it. We fly with electronic tickets, most bookings are confirmed by email (will varying levels of useful detail) and the gestures and security around this paper / paperless system feels less tangible than ever. I believe travelers expect more from their hosts today. Our desire for more information can only be met in two ways. The host can write it... or the host can encourage his guests to contribute. The benefit of the latter course of action is similar to Wikipedia.

This trip is so picturesque that I found myself taking hundreds of snaps. I just searched flickr for "backwaters" and it returned 9000+ photos. The first page were all India. Like my observations on Munnar, if you are in tourism today you must start sharing the tags for your operation and locale.  In fact you can share links to searches like these in your original correspondence (e-mail) on confirmation of the booking.

Example create a postcard and in the description use the tags that return searches appropriate to the area. Send you guests away with a pack on how to get and keep in touch, share the experience etc. Let them know how to get in touch with you. Enable them to upload and share photo's or memories with you on your site. Create a group on Flickr for pictures of Backwaters etc. My friend John should search Flickr and find more photo's like this. Similarly YouTube

I have perhaps diverged from my key points. A blog post has power and a well written and linked one may stick to a small company and not go away easily. This post was not meant to be a negative for Rainbow Cruises, I had a tremendous crew, the boat was clean and it was very enjoyable. I'd love the opportunity to go back; particularly as part of a larger group. However, I have had no real point of contact with Rainbow Cruises, I barely have enough details to provide a proper referral. That's costing them dollars.

After this trip I'm convinced that tourism, hoteliers, and small business owners are missing the boat. I'm never impressed with tourism sites like this one. They just say we will sell you anything. I'd much prefer blogrolls that tie to other establishments; that create a sense of all marketing tourism for an area or locale together. The real life example is finding a B&B booked out and asking the owner who they would recommend. If tourism was to adopt blogging, conversations and community then this information would soon dwarf the flyby night type sites. Enabling guests and past visitors to contribute to the tourism experience will keep it vibrant and newsy. Content that is really useful might then find it's way into my search returns.

I accept that the small hotel, even the small charter company has limited resources particularly for marketing. Too often the marketing is a periodic effort; print brochures, update a website, get new listings, trial some advertising, etc. The benefit of creating an open guest and visitor centric site means that this communication is less about marketing and more about connecting and developing relationships with customers. Concurrently management moves from periodic to daily. One hour per day sharing your business would provide a very healthy investment over the course of the year. The tools are accessible and or low cost to get started.

There is definitely a market need out there. It's also clear that all the hosting services (Typepad, Wordpress, etc) are doing a lousy job of framing the how to get started and what to do. While there is a learning curve required I also think it has never been easier. This blogger created a list A cruise through the canals of Alappuzha but failed to link the information.

What do you think? Should hoteliers consider blogging and turn to conversational marketing? Do you think the CEO of Rainbow Cruises should see this blog? What would he have to do to find it? Should he respond? Btw there are a number of Travel Diary sites. Most are poorly done. Travelblog, Travelpod, Travel-Diaries.

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Search - Still the best reason to blog your company

September 27, 2007 | Topics:

What and how are you managing the conversation points around your business?

When I first started blogging I focused on two words strategy + innovation. I got a kick out of having Google return me ahead of consultancies like McKinsey and BCG. Similarly I monitored search words like conversational + blogging (listed blog post) and re purposed blogging ideas like team+brief (listed blog post).  These last two searches return posts from 2003 that are still listed in the top 10 returns.  Listing like these provide authority and I could provide many other examples. I still watch for new word combinations to see how they list and what impact it means for your visibility. Eg Manifesto Social Networking.

Yesterday I blogged about a small exclusive hotel. This morning anyone that looks up this hotel and does a little searching will return and read my post. This can be proven and apply to almost any small business. So my question today is... What and where are the Conversation Points around your business and how are you participating?

Similarly, my tags obviously return on technorati. As tagging become more common place unique tags and how you talk about your business become more important. Look at this view of technorati today for Windermere Estate. My blog post appears. So does a picture and perhaps if I'd uploaded a video that too. Review returns like this and you can review how you may be able to participate in the conversation.

Being part of the conversation starts with search. Jeremiah Owyang (btw google "web+strategy") had a beautifully detailed post Web Strategy (Advanced): Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle. which starts with

the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, as these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace!

For a small business or even a large one the philosophy is right the problem is most companies aren't there yet. Listening starts with search. However smart companies are manipulating search (see below)

Today when we search for a new product or even to find out more about an old one we go to Google. Search the product or the category. More often than not it turns up blogs and for some retailers that are selling it. I looked up a coffee machine yesterday, got lots of retail option and some consumer comments. They immediately effect my buying decision. The hotel and travel examples are very similar.

It's products, services and small businesses that are really going to get social media first. They will understand and want to leverage the talking and conversation points around their business. It can be done for not much effort. For example in the Hotel Blog I could do a list blog of all the other hotels in the area; simply helping people with choice. Similarly for the travel services in the region. etc. Each of these potentially provides more points of search that link back to my business. List blogs, like aggregated content blogs tend to be higher up on Google rankings. Example VoIP Bloggers. This is also no different than local Rotary member supporting each other within a local community.

I'd also like to contrast this approach with one that I'm seeing increasingly done by large companies. Googling IBM, Dell or Skype today will not return conversations around these brands. It returns a power list of their content. For example when Skype first  launched you would always see my blog listed on Google and later Skype Journal. Today you won't find Skype Journal until you get to page three of search. I'm sure that has had an impact on SJ traffic as well. Did Skype follow a strategy to get Skype Journal off the Google search for Skype? (Look at Dell or IBM etc. same story). I don't know (and don't care) although I don't believe such a strategy adds value to the brand. 

Now we must be careful not to confuse a few things.

Category Management & Tags:

  • If I search for "VoIP" I don't return anything for Skype. So someone else is likely to be writing and professing conversation points about Skype.  Similarly if you look to "telephony" Skype has no role in developing the conversation here. The short example is... If I go to a retailer to sell them a new product (eg a coffee) then I must talk about how that product will grow the category and where the product should be put on the shelf... and how this makes more money for them too. The objective is to facilitate the conversation. You cannot do that without knowing what associations you want to have.
  • This is closer to Jeramiah's post and point. Perhaps a question for Google returns is: Are Searchers really getting the conversational data they are looking for? I do know that if I want to learn more about a company or product I will qualify my search with more details. That usually brings me the "other" content. Data that I'm going to take into account in my assessment.

Associations with our Name and Tag: 

  • I suggested that John let guests know what tags he wants photos tagged with; in time it will build a portfolio of content with that association. In the future he will want a more unique tag. Still this is a daily if not hourly or even minute by minute search term. Increasingly you need the early warning radar out. Without knowledge of tags, and search engines you aren't even close to playing. In my hotel example --- how long will it take John to know I've blogged about it? How quickly should he respond? What conversations are happening around the tags he has defined for his business? What points are being made today?
  • In the Skype example their strategy has the search "skype" covered. However there is nothing to suggest that they are participating in a broader conversation, aggregating Skype related content, enabling the conversation, participating in VoIP development, Telephony, or voip regulation etc. When we search terms like these Skype's presence is not there. I don't think it is Skype's intention to have a conversation. The message is just one way. Not to appear as an old nemesis for Skype if you look at Dell you won't find Direct2Dell - Dell's blog when searching "Dell" today. If these companies really want to communicate conversation then they must ensure a "conversation points" link in Google's return on their tag.

In conclusion, searching your company increasingly defines the type of business you are and the conversations you want to participate in. The small proprietary hotel that is interested in the community around them, the guests that have visited, the pride in what they do makes it easy to enable a conversation points and gain trust. By contrast the large business has to work harder at making their conversations visible when you just Google their name. The web has never been more personal and the tone more transparent. This is a fact that ultimately cannot be buried. For companies large and small they should be active in their categories. Examples "Hotels Munnar", "Travel Munnar", Munnar, "Munnar Transport", Google can even help you find which words / tags really matter. Growing category conversations and talking points is the best way to positively facilitate and frame where conversations are going.

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Windermere Estate - Hotel Blogs?

September 26, 2007 | Topics:

Does any hotelier really blog yet? While tripping though the Madupatty Tea Plantation in Munnar I stayed at a very small resort catering to 30 people. Given the season it was almost deserted with a small tour group of Brit's staying there. This cottages style inn was a perfect quiet getaway and as the Innkeeper told me they sort of like to keep it that way. Partially because the property with 60 acres of Cardamom and Coffee was more a labor of love than a business. As I know from New Zealand lodges; this size of venue can make big profits difficult. Still we got to talking about blogs and marketing.

I'm convinced that a blog would serve this small establishment well. With limited online presence today (listed on a couple of travel sites) their business is coming primarily via referrals. As it should be, the food and atmosphere was fantastic. In fact one of these sites allowed comments and one related to this establishment was very negative while others like me are resoundingly positive. So as part of a little brainstorming we discussed some options and opportunities for blog content that would create a perfect conversational opportunity.

John's question to me was where would the content come from... we are only a simple hotel. I quickly replied:

Content you have... Menu's, a favorite recipe (the desserts were very British and quaint) updates on their building plans and new rooms / cottages. News about the staff, news around the surrounding area. It doesn't need that many posts; just a way to keep it fresh. Note the seasons, the weather patterns etc. Plus most importantly... do what he was doing with me. Talk to visitors. That's why he's now building cottages with larger decks. It was requested by guests. Tell the visitors stories of Top Station, Masala Chai, the local town etc. Keep it simple and keep it short.

Guestbook entries. Turn a comments blog into guestbook updates. It's common practice in these resorts to ask you to sign the guestbook and leave some feedback about your stay. In fact I'd go further. Ask visitors if I could take their picture (plenty of great back drops there). Then just upload to flickr, tag with windermeremunnar. These too can be brought back into the blog.

It really made me think about creating a simple "post visit" handout... how you can share your pictures, share your visit and keep up to date on Munnar etc. Let them know how to subscribe etc. Create a Facebook group for who's visited etc. Great method for marketing later on. I've never gotten one of these from any hotel. I think it is time.

I'd understood that many of their visitors were in the retired state however all those I saw had digital cameras. I'm sure many of these visitors are already sharing photos. If so... it is time to give them the "tag" windermeremunnar so it's easy to find pictures of the surrounding area. It already returns pictures. See Google.

Which brought our discussion around to Google. I'm a big fan of search results. While John wants to stay under the radar there is already plenty about Hotel Windermere Estate on the web. It's slightly buried. Anyone with some diligent search skills who's looking for a place like this will turn it up. Still the booking was sight unseen. What was persuasive were the comments from others. Like this one:

"The place was a true find right in the heart of tea country. It was an incredible experience complete with the owner personally saying goodbye. " Bernadette, United States (12.01.06)

That would be so much more powerful on their site. These are comments picked up by the booking agency after the stay. Just imagine what is already in their guestbook. The comment above really captured for me the "owner" saying goodbye. We also discussed how you can check for tags, posts, links etc. Subscribe to Google news, the local news, technorati etc. Easy to set up, it probably is worth paying more attention. If you are the hotelier and I've blogged you you probably want to follow-up with a comment. It's that personal touch that really matters. Linking blogs to their stories will create an even better rating and ranking.

In the end the best reason I have for them creating a blog is to provide me with the opportunity to say... Go to www.windermeremunnar.com you will see what I'm talking about. That would help me evangelize them and result no doubt in more referrals. I frankly think it is time for almost every little hotel to have some form of blog. More many a good blog would probably mean I can't afford to stay there any longer. Anyway, I think John was choosey about his guests. It was a pleasure to stay there.

It's worth commenting on Hotel blogs in general. Googling Hotel Blogs gets you Bill Marriott who writes Why Do I Blog?

When your family's name is on the building or you are the person clearly identified with the company, everything you say or do affects the business, good or bad. In this fascinating information age, you certainly have to be transparent.

I can't get too excited about his blog; it's to do with the tone and I don't think it is really designed to engage in conversations, or capture the experiences of people that stay in Marriotts. With the coming explosion of geo-tagging of photos and more, there is a huge opportunity to be bring our stories and images back into where it happened. Example I was at Airlie last year. We tagged our photos all the same. It created a great group collection. I'd think many conferences would run the same. It's easy to create examples of public content. It's being created in venues like this everyday. The challenge for organizations like this is to bring the content and the content back in to a hub of experiences and then help us get the gist of it.

Part of this blog post was to prove that blogs matter to small hotels. I told John I'd get a listing and visibility on Google. I checked today on Madupatty Tea and found all my pictures uploaded yesterday now outranked the tatatea.com/madupatty site.

Also a word of caution. Munnar is off the beaten track. 120 km from Cochin it took almost 5 hours slow and twisty drive to get there. While there you can take a quick tour of a micro working tea plant at the tea museum. Don't forget to get a genuine Masala Chai. There is trekking in the environs although my guess is a two or three days is all you will need. Although it could be a perfect place to go and write a book for a few months

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Flow! Requires Voice Messaging not Voice Mail

September 26, 2007 | Topics:

Dan York writes a thoughtful piece on how we use telephony today; particularly voice. He looks at the flow and concudes that communications seldom start with a voice call anymore. I've written similarly on these pages before. He also notes the importance of presence. What I'd add to this piece is the question. Why do we need voice mail?

I have written extensively about the difference between voice messaging and voice mail and here in "The Future is Voice Messaging", etc. Voice mail as Dan points out is effectively a failure case. What needs to be done? Allow me to turn off my voice mail. Allow me to redirect the caller to the communications medium that my current state and thus context are preferred by me for this caller.

When communications becomes flow then the flow must be controlled by the receiver not by the caller / sender etc. It's no different to answering your front door. It's time for a more effective gateway.

Disruptive Telephony: Telephony is disrupted because voice no longer matters... (as much)

The fact that voice is no longer quite as critical gives us the freedom to explore how it can be used in different ways. Plus, we need to answer the question - if voice isn't the most critical way to communicate, what is? How do we integrate it all together? What do you think? What is your communication flow?

So, let me today turn off my voice mail on my cellphone. It's the perfect signal for I'm not available right now - please send me an SMS... which is frankly many times more efficient at kicking off and framing the conversation. It also may only need a quick SMS back. Then let me begin to use Voice Messaging.

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India Online - in the palm of your hand.

September 25, 2007 | Topics: Mobility | VoIP | Wireless

What's your strategy for India? Would you rethink it if you thought that in less than 3 years 250 million could be online, with an email account, networking on Orkut and responding to localized ads? This is not completely far fetched. Even if the number is only half that, it's quite possible if we look at the mobile as the computer in the palm of your hand.

When I first went to India 18 months ago it was still unusual to see an auto-rickshaw driver with a cellphone. This trip every driver / cabbie that drove me around had a phone. The houseboat captain had a phone etc. Today even in the smaller villages you can recharge your prepaid mobile. I've experienced Indian "broadband" (256kbps if you are lucky) in the home and noted that it is hard to buy routers and Wi-Fi accessories from the local electronics store. Concurrently,VoIP lines are going into homes; most of the infrastructure seems to be creaking from the pace of growth; customer service is often lousy and billing may be a mess. Phones will always come before PC's.

I know the big players in mobile (eg Vodaphone and Nokia) already understand why India is "THE" market they must win in. Many other tech players understand this. Eg Orkut and Google, probably HP etc. I also believe many companies don't or many not be managing it well. Eg Yahoo, Dell, Motorola and many more.

I keep returning to India because I believe successful global companies and startups must all have an India strategy and you won't understand it from 12000 miles away. The impact of mobile growth is only one of the reasons and the focus of this post. The "numbers" simply dwarf other markets (other than China). As these new users come on line they will tip product development, reshape the web and teach us new ways to interact. Real innovations in mobile are likely to come out of India.

The rough numbers:

Internet: Approx: 40 million online of which 25 million are active (weekly). Of that 10 to 12 million are on Orkut and most probably have a Gmail account. Note in India there is only 40 million landlines. Internet access is dialup or a choice of DSL and Cable. Speeds remain slow. A Reliance wireless network connection remains a viable or only option for some.

Mobile. The number ranges from about 180m to 240m. The article below uses 185m of which 39.46m are rural. Thus approx 20% of the user base in India is now rural. Penetration in major cities is approaching 50% while rural penetration ranges from 3% to just over 20%. Of the next 250 million users that go mobile at least 100m will be rural!

Growth: Mobile dwarfs Internet / PC market. In two to three years India will have doubled the current number of users. I have a suspicion that many Internet users are "Users at work"; Orkutting as soon as they arrive at the office. They may not have a connection at home. Internet in the home is likely to remain disappointing.

Other leading indicators that are important!

Airtel recently announced and has been promoting Prepaid for Life. This means you buy a prepaid SIM 495rp and the number never expires (requires 200rp spend every 180 days). It's clever as it provides phones for those that can't even afford to make calls.

Vodaphone which bought Hutch back in Feb 2007 has recently changed the name and is has announced new links to Orkut. Concurrently Google is offering an Adsense like program for Mobile. See this article for Google details. Nokia is also active in this space (see enpocket).


What we really do today with computers can be done on mobile. email, directories, networking, search, maps etc. Enable all these mobile phones with email accounts / Orkut accounts and you are looking at 100+ million users in no time flat. Given the price differential for mobile advertising rates and it is easy to see how Google can potentially arrange a revenue split with carriers. It's not too far fetched to see limited mobile data connections being "free" as a result.

Broadband to the home in India will remain disappointing. It will lag behind mobile growth. Already programs like Reliance NetConnet (USB to PC or PCCard) are popular 3G programs and the coverage is reaching deep into rural areas. The speed can be variable and is often not much better than a dialup connection. I am fairly sure GPRS can not scale to the data requirements of hundreds of millions going online. Thus only the infrastructure and its installation is likely to stall or frustrate the growth of online mobile web users.

It needs to be free: They aren't going to pay for it as they don't understand the value. They want email but it must be free etc. They will happily view an ad while an email is downloaded. Ads can be ajaxed down earlier and retained in the background.

Big Education Job: Only a combined effort by Mobile operators, perhaps Google and businesses can make this happen. It's not impossible. Just a few years ago almost no one had a cellphone in India. Most people in India still don't really have an address (street address). Given the speed of adoption of the mobile - they will want these!

Whether you are a marketer, run commerce, trade, provide services etc. it is time to prepare your strategy for India. The numbers are just too huge. The companies that learn how to reach these new communicators and create the channels for conversation will create powerful platforms for growth. The battle will move to the handset and will never be for the desktop in India.

India Photos - Latest Trip

September 24, 2007 | Topics:

I've just returned from three weeks in India.  Two working hard and one week of vacation traveling through the southern state of Kerala; a most beautiful part of India. I have lots of observations and I took hundreds of pictures. I learnt about tea and tea plantations, and took a trip through the backwaters and canals of Kerala on a houseboat. The food is awesome and different. This is a part of the world which I love to go back to. I'd take two or three weeks next time.  It was all very offline! The pictures should be enough to convince anyone.

There are times I still lust for a "real camera" you know SLR big lens, etc. Then I'm glad I no longer lug them all around. I'd still like more camera than my current Nokia N95 provides and yet it more than meets my expectations of a good snap camera. It also integrates nicely with iPhoto and the Nokia Multimedia transfer. As a result I've given up on the Nokia Lifeblog and moved all my photos into iPhoto. As for my camera... it is like the Amercan Express saying. I never leave home without it.

You can find more photos here. Note it is just coming into season; Monsoon season is just finishing. There were few tourists around now. It meant grey skys for the most part and some rain. The temperature was perfect around 80 during the day.

I keep asking myself what's more camera when in a mobile. Sometime I should try and answer that.

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Redefining Communications

September 13, 2007 | Topics:

I've been using the Jeff Jarvis - Dell Hell case for years; so I was interested today when I saw Andy Lark had taken a job with Dell as VP Global Marketing & Communications. Let's hope we see more companies announcing roles like this interpreted in this way.

Andrew Lark: The Larks Are On The Move

Some other things excited me about the opportunity. Communications is being transformed as a profession and practice – we’re entering a new era in which content, conversations and community are becoming defining forces. As they do, transparency, evidence and corporate journalism really matter. Technology enables us to directly engage our audiences and deliver an unfiltered view – in return we get critical conversations and feedback. I will be able to combine my passion for social media and marketing with that I have for communications on a massive playing field.
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