Archive for February, 2011

Will the real social media please stand up?


Photo courtesy of Leeks on Flickr Some rights reserved

The world is in some weird social spiral.

Social means interacting and engaging with other people. Going to dinner with friends is social. Reading about where my friends went to dinner last night is not. Chatting with a group of people is social. Leaving someone a note is not. Confusing these behaviors is going to create a more disconnected and passive society rather than a more connected and active one.

So called “social” platforms and applications have been sprouting up everywhere over the past decade. But very few improve an individual’s level of social engagement with the rest of the world – which is where the internet becomes really powerful. Twitter does. Facebook does. But Farmville doesn’t (asynchronous seed planting will never be social in my book). And Yelp doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong…services like Yelp are incredible. I just wouldn’t call them social. It’s like sticking post it notes somewhere to broadcast your likes and dislikes. That’s not social engagement.

To harness the power of the internet while we head into Web 3.0 (or whatever it will be called) we need to move away from passive communication. Crowdsourcing my friends and long-lost acquaintances may provide me with more relevant search results, but that’s still not social. Social requires real-time, or at least semi-real-time, interaction. We can use Facebook and Twitter for this purpose, but let’s not do it in a passive way.

To stick with the search example, let’s say there was a search feed in Facebook. I go to [insert your favorite search engine here] and type in “tango lessons san francisco.” This then gets blasted to Twitter, Facebook, and maybe something like a Quora or Hunch. My friends, followers, etc see this and respond with suggestions. You get the idea. This is not the most elegant UX for social search, but this would actually be social search.

The web is a dynamic, interconnected place that can be leveraged to bring the world closer together. It’s not meant to be purely consumed. It’s meant to be fed, engaged, and interacted with.

I’m excited for where the social web could go, but it’s sad to see where it seems to be going.

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February 19, 2011 at 10:38 am 1 comment

Put your onions in the freezer


MIRIAM: Oh, Barney, put it in the freezer.
BARNEY: What?
MIRIAM: Put the onion in the freezer for a few minutes before you chop it. Then it won’t make you cry.

Barney’s Version, 2010

People love pain. Christina Harbridge of Allegory Training once told me “people naturally do what’s in their worst interest.” Sad, but true.

A few weeks ago I went to see Barney’s Version with my girlfriend. I’m a fan of Paul Giamatti so I expected a great performance. Even still the movie was beyond my expecations. Terrific piece of work and I highly recommend it.

A great scene comes about halfway through when Barney (Giamatti) is cutting an onion in the kitchen with onion-induced tears streaming down his face. His wife, Miriam, comes into the kitchen and feeds him some classic advice: if you put an onion in the freezer before cutting it, then you’ll be tear free. Barney seems amazed and impressed by this discovery. However, a few scenes later, we find Barney chopping onions again, still crying…he didn’t do the freezer trick.

How many times do we find ourselves in the situation where we know how to stop the pain, but for some reason we go with what we know, even if we know it’s the wrong choice?

A former colleague articulated the business version of this to me a few years ago: “It’s like we’ve lost our keys, and we know we left them in the kitchen, but we keep checking the garage because the light’s on out there and it’s just easier.” Classic line. There was so much truth there.

While working with Jim Collins I found that, in most cases, this type of corporate behavior wasn’t an issue of vision, but rather one of execution…or maybe just the willingness to execute.

The trick: create a stop doing list. These serve as a consistent reminder of specific actions that hinder our advancement. They fight against our natural inclination to stick with comfortable, rather than successful, behaviors. Jim talks about it here, and it works wonders.

The common practice for building strategies for work (or for life) is to write down a plan of what action we have to take to hit our objectives. Makes sense. The problem is that this has strong potential to tack additional responsibilities on top of previous bad habits. Not a recipe for sustainable success. A stop doing list forces you to be explicit in what you’re no longer doing so that you can focus on, and likely achieve, your new goals.

Try it with yourself, and try it with your team. They will appreciate you taking some work off their plate, especially in cases where that work is no longer relevant. It’s a great exercise with huge payoffs.

Be SMaC (Systematic, Methodical and Consistent) with your stop doing lists. This way you can throw your onions in the freezer and clear some space for more rewarding behaviors.

February 18, 2011 at 7:37 am 18 comments

Sell what your customers value

A quality user experience is the most talked about but under-executed functionality of a product or service. It’s also the most important.

It’s true that many users will step through broken glass to use your product if the value proposition is strong enough to them, but this isn’t sustainable and will only a create a niche market of users with no visible growth prospects (granted these users will likely be more dedicated than most). Trust me, this is where my company has sat for quite some time, and it’s a struggle that we fight every day.

I was recently helping my girlfriend think through growth options for her printing company, and it all came back to two questions:

  1. Why do new customers purchase your service?
  2. Why do existing customers come back to buy again?

Simply put, understand what value new customers seek as well as what value returning customers want again.

An example of failure here is with hotel.com’s iOS app. The app’s main function is “Find Hotels Near Me.” I’ve used hotels.com for years. It’s my first stop when booking a hotel for an upcoming vacation. I could be wrong, but I would guess that most of hotel.com’s audience has the same use case that I do – upcoming vacations…not real-time bookings. Creating an app for the purpose that it serves makes no sense given the value that the site provides to its average user.

When thinking through the placement, price and delivery of your product or service you have to think about what value the user is buying, which may or may not be the same as what you’re trying to sell.

At Second Life we make a good chunk of our revenue by selling 3D land (kinda like 3D web pages). However, most of our users are buying 1) the ability to meet and engage with people that share common interests or mindsets and/or 2) the ability to create a world limited only by their imagination.

In many cases, buying land is the best way for our users get this value, but the land itself isn’t actually what they’re trying to buy. There is a fundamental disconnect. A tough problem to solve, but we know that this disconnect can’t persist.

In a recent TechCrunch article Alex Rampell provides a great framework for thinking through the value that your service offers. I’m going to be using it for a presentation I’m putting together this week, so thanks Alex!

Here are his 5 attributes to consider:

  1. Price (actual price to consumer + “friction” in ordering process)
  2. Geography (proximity to consumer)
  3. Selection (do they have X in my size, or sell rare item Y?)
  4. Service/Brand (do I trust/like them?)
  5. Experience (is it easy/designed to shop for X?)

Product or service value must be perceived first and foremost from the eyes of the consumer. Match what you’re selling to what your customers want to buy and other pieces of the business puzzle will come more naturally.

February 13, 2011 at 5:24 am Leave a comment


About Me

I'm a San Francisco-based strategic thinker who believes that life is only as great as the people you choose to interact with. I love people, and studying business has given me greater insight into how to most effectively develop myself, and my personal relationships. I look forward to discussing people and business with those that find this area as fascinating as I do.

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