The Message We Do Not Hear

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Image Credit: David Mulder

Over the last few days I’ve attempted to write a post here explaining why data driven analysis and action is so important in relation to recent events. It isn’t hard to find data and high quality analytical analysis that speaks to the tragic events in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge and yesterday in Dallas.

It also isn’t hard to connect the resistance to analytical analysis in corporations to the same phenomena in recent events.

Having said all that, however, I can’t make myself complete or publish that post; because it as correct and timely as it may be I can not help but feel any such post would be inappropriate at this time.

So, for now I will simply say:

  • Reality and your world view are not the same thing.
  • Reality exists in both the antecdote and the aggregate – respect both.
  • Bias exists with and without intent.
  • The solutions will come through understanding, not tribalism, hostility and violence.

 

Being On Top, Safety and the King Of the Hill Conundrum

imgres-2.jpeg Did you play king of the hill when you were a kid? Of course you did. You remember what happened once you got to the top right? Everyone’s mission became to knock you off. Two kids who wouldn’t help each other out of a burning building would suddenly join forces to knock you off that hill. You want to be safe? Get the hell off the hill.

You are all grown up now… you think it is any different?

Ironically we are obsessed with both being on top of the hill and being safe. We want our country, our company, or just us, personally to be at the absolute pinnacle of success – and at the same time be absolutely safe. Seems like we never learned the lesson we should have from all those back yard games of king of the hill.

You want to be on top?

  • Expect to be attacked.

You think if you are really, really big and strong you can stay on top?

  • Eventually, someone bigger and stronger always gets in the game.
  • The biggest and strongest will join forces to take you down.
  • Cheap shots (knee to the groin, hair pulling, etc) are to be expected.

You want to be safe?

  • Get the hell off the hill.

I’m not suggesting you (or we) aim for mediocrity – just the opposite. I’m just suggesting you be realistic about what comes with the territory.

Living in Public – Facebook, Privacy and Frictionless Distribution

shhhhh.jpegYou already live in public. You always have. All that has changed is how easy it is to distribute the evidence.

We used to take for granted that the stupid things we did (we’ve all done them) would only live in the connections we had with friends and family. The photos were printed on paper and stuck in a scrapbook. The story was told… and re-told, but stayed safely within the confines of our local, limited group of friends.

Everyone is annoyed with Facebook because of their erosion of privacy – and not without reason. But the fact is, Facebook is right. Just like the RIAA, MPAA, Print Media and Brands are learning – distribution of content is cheap and easy – frictionless. The RIAA, MPAA, and Print Media relied on the inherent friction in distribution to create a business model. Brands relied on that same friction to give them a more powerful voice in the marketplace.

And you relied on that same friction in distribution to keep the evidence of your foibles – if not secret – closely confined.

Facebook is right. The change is inevitable. You can’t hide anymore. You aren’t living more in public, the evidence is just easier to distribute to whomever in the “public” is looking.

Some people will say – “we will just have to live better”. Cut out all the mistakes, foolish moments, wardrobe malfunctions, and drunken escapades. After all, your future dream job may hang in the balance.

I say – to hell with that. You learn from your mistakes. If you live your life trying so desperately hard not to make any… you won’t learn much.

Maybe, just maybe, we will learn to accept that we all have foibles and engage in occasional missteps. Maybe our future employers – being human themselves – will realize that it isn’t the photo of you wearing ladies underpants on your head that should worry them – but the public profile devoid of any mistakes, any foolish moments, any human-ness.

In Arizona – Education is now an Option

If you’d like to see an example of the extreme “no taxes” political persuasion – you need to look no further than Arizona.

In Arizona taxes are evil, for years our politicians have built their reputations on one simple idea – taxes kill growth, so let’s not have any. They’ve perpetuated a myth… and now we are going to pay for it.

Arizona is full of people and companies that are here for one reason – they don’t want to pay taxes. Our economic structure is built on developers putting up planned communities and strip malls. Our tax base is based on people buying all the things they need to fill their new McMansions. The problem is, that model isn’t sustainable – never has been. An effective government would have begun making the investments years ago to allow our economy to smoothly transition from population growth to a sustainable industry based model.

Instead our government (and quite frankly, we) ignored a simple reality – you can’t build a sustainable economic base on a foundation of tax cuts.

Sustainable economies don’t occur by magic – and much of what is required by companies will never be invested in by those companies:

  • Education
  • Public Infrastructure
  • The Arts

So here we are – and it is time to pay the piper. And for all the conservative bluster about not saddling the next generation with debt or higher taxes they will instead be saddled with something much worse – a woefully substandard education and with it hugely diminished lifetime earnings.

While I do not believe that money alone can solve the problems we see in the state’s education system – I also know that reducing school funding to roughly the level of high quality daycare won’t result in better educated citizens.

And sadly, Arizona has already reached rock bottom – 50th in the US in graduating high school seniors going on to higher education, 50th in the nation in education spending, bottom third of US in high school graduation rate.

Now, it is time for the next round of cuts – and (no surprise here) education leads the way:

  • Reduced Funding for Charter Schools
  • Elimination of “non-Formula” K-12 Programs
  • Elimination of all day Kindergarten
  • Reduce funding to 2005-2006 levels
  • Elimination of Building Renewal funding

Link to Govenor Brewer’s Budget Proposal

What does all this mean? No art, no gifted programs, no music, closing charter schools, no restoration of dilapidated schools, all day kindergarten eliminated.

The worst part is, there will be more to come. Why? Because our elected representatives do not have the moral character required to admit that you can’t sustain anything on a platform of:

  • Times are Good!!! Lower Taxes!
  • Times are Bad!!! We can’t Raise Taxes!

At some point you hit the logical limits of that line of thinking – and we are there. It is time for the citizens of Arizona to realize that there is no sustainable future for this state (or our country) if we fail to invest in the future. There is no more important investment than an investment in our children’s education.

As the owner of an Arizona Based business – and as a father, I am happy to pay more taxes in order to ensure the education of our states children. Sure, I could just spend my money on my kids – send them to private schools, but that doesn’t improve our state or our nation. Essentially it will just allow my children the opportunity to one day leave Arizona for a college or a job that is appropriate for them.

It is time for all of us to start thinking about the future. It is time for us to demand our local and state governments implement sound taxation policy (the temporary sales tax increase is a band-aid and a poor one at that). In short, it is time for Arizona to grow up…

Let’s Get Serious – Social Media ROI

I’m honestly heartened by the sudden rash of efforts to create a methodology to determine ROI (return on investment) for Social Media efforts. It signals something very important for Social Media – the return of rationality to the debate.

head scratch.pngWhen you consider that a few short months ago the prevailing meme was that creating a basis for your Social Media efforts in terms of ROI was “doing it wrong” – it is impressive how far we’ve come. The realization that moral arguments and scare tactics will only get you so far – and in many cases backfire – has led to an overwhelming need to create an ROI model.

Unfortunately many of these efforts are not really after ROI – they are seeking to justify an already formed point of view.

The reality is we simply don’t know if Social Media has a analytical, fact based ROI. That may sound odd coming from a guy who has bet his personal savings starting a Social Media Engagement and Analytics company – so let me explain both why the ROI hasn’t been proven and why I’m betting it will be.

Social Media is a Niche Opportunity – Today

If you want to know why there is no fact based proven ROI for Social Media investments today, all you need to understand is that Social Media has been adopted in niches. It may be in the Marketing department, or used by your Digital Agency, or perhaps in your Customer Service department. Each of these adoptions was driven out of fear (we have to monitor this and deal with the negative) or the moral (we love our customers – so we are going to do this). The investment was negligible – and in most cases I’d bet it was funded right out of the operating budget of the organization where it was used.

These organizations are beginning to declare victory and are being challenged to prove it. This presents unique challenges, because Social Media runs on anecdotes, not analysis. Dell sells 3 million in product from Dell Outlet after offering those products on Twitter. That is a great anecdote – but it isn’t analysis. When you ask the critical questions:

  • What would you have sold without Twitter?
  • Was that a 3MM increase in sales – or just 3MM net sales from those links?
  • How much did it cost to generate the 3MM in sales and how does that compare to email?
  • Is this repeatable – can it be replicated in other parts of the business – and how do you know?

you quickly find that the anecdote doesn’t equate to ROI. It might… but it isn’t there yet.

These types of anecdotes are justifications. They are about proving the correctness of an already made assumption.

I’ve seen this movie before – it exactly parallels the pattern for CRM in the late 1990’s.

technology-adoption-enterprise.png

NOTE: For simplicity I’ve omitted the case where a technology/methodology has a niche ROI without broader adoption.

We are squarely in the middle of the justification phase for Social Media. This roughly corresponds to the height of the expectations (the big peak on the Gartner Magic Quadrant) and always directly precedes the Trough of Disillusionment. This is a recognizable and predictable pattern for adoption of new technologies and methodologies – and here is why.

The initial opportunity is too good to stay on the sidelines for some early adopter group. They – almost always within existing operating budgets and using the promise as a bulwark defense – adopt the technology/methodology. Once they believe they have seen tangible results they attempt to socialize the “win” outside the organization by creating justifications for what they’ve already done. These justifications bring broader scrutiny.

That scrutiny happens in two phases:

  1. Was it worth it?
  2. Can it be done systemically – can I forecast a x% increase in metric z if I do this again.

The second is ROI. A systemic way of proving that adoption generates a return. If, and only if, that can be proven will the technology escape the niche application and be applied on a broad scale.

Why does it work this way – because enterprises are first and foremost risk management systems. They systemically avoid large risks.

Why Will Social Media Attain Broad Adoption

The primary reasons I believe Social Media will in fact generate a valid ROI and attain broad adoption:

  1. It is measurable.
  2. The unrecognized value far exceeds the recognized value.

Measurability

As you might imagine, it is very difficult to justify and create a systemic ROI for something that is exceptionally difficult to measure. Social Media is – in contrast – eminently measurable. Rational decisions must be made about what to measure – and we need more focus on connecting those measures to the core business metrics – but there is no fundamental barrier to creating valuable measures.

The Value Proposition

Today, we’ve put all our Social Media eggs in the PR/Marketing basket. Even the small amount of credibility given to customer service via Social Media has been driven by the (C-Level Down) idea that customer service should “avert disasters” by monitoring Social Media and addressing customer issues. Make no mistake, this is customer service acting in a PR role – the goal isn’t to provide service so much as to avoid negative perceptions.

However, if you take one large step back and think about the opportunity Social Media presents – you can quickly see that the value proposition is in having a huge, open back channel to your market. We’ve had channels to our customers, and sometimes even our prospects – but this is bigger. It is the entire market for your product or service. You get to listen in on what they have to say about what they want and need. You can engage them to better understand their motivations. You can apply what you learn to create incremental improvements in every phase of your business.

Yes, you can send out special offers. Yes, you can address customer concerns. But the real return will come from having a robust back channel with your entire market; and the resulting market intelligence can – if you apply it – help you make every part of your business more appealing to your target market.

So let’s get serious about ROI. Let’s talk about how companies operate and win by continually tuning their processes to better address the needs of their target market. Let’s talk about how Social Media provides them a back channel to that market, a back channel that is an invaluable source of intelligence about the market.

Let’s talk about how a business that applies the intelligence gained via Social Media to all of their decision making processes is faster and more agile in addressing the needs of their market – and thereby wins market share.


What the Hell is a Wombat – and Why Are We Tracking Them?

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My interest in Twitter/FriendFeed and all things social media is so like my interest and involvement with VoIP it sometimes keeps me up at night.

VoIP for me was never about the technology – and it certainly wasn’t about “making a phone call”, we could already do that. It was about the possibly. The possibility of being able to communicate with friends, family and strangers who have a common interest in the context of what we wanted to talk to them about.

It was always the power of context. It was always about moving our communication into the contexts that mattered to us right then.

Twitter/FriendFeed and social media resonate with me for that reason. And more. We now have the ability to merge the private and the public. To, not only bring the communication into the context (like, for example, a UStream Chat Room does), but also to extend the conversation beyond that venue.

The context then becomes the subject, topic or event – like Peter Himmelman’s Furious World – and that event can live outside the venue in which it takes place (Peter’s studio in CA). UStream extends the walls of Peter’s studio and allows him the ability to invite us all in. Peter gets to do what he’d be doing anyway… and we’re invited.

The Wombat Tracker does the same thing for the conversation about Peter and the Furious World. It tears down the walls of the UStream chat room and let’s the conversation live. Because what we are interested in is talking about Peter, his music, and the Furious World – and that isn’t limited to the venue – just like freeing Peter to tear down the walls of his studio via UStream and invite us in… we tear down the walls that separate the conversation from the rest of the world.

Which brings us back to the cocktail party principle. Have you every been at a cocktail party and just hung back? Stood off to the side and observed everything, all at once? There are dozens of conversations going on, some people are talking to each other, some people are talking at each other, while others appear to be in the conversation, but are really just observing.

You are in a room of people, each making their individual noises – and if you try to take it in all at once all you register is noise. But if you get up, and join a conversation, all that noise recedes into the background. Voices emerge, thoughts are exchanged, friends are made. From a room full of noise we are able to discern the signal – and in doing so participate in conversation with those that share our interests and – if you are lucky – connect with people you’ll maintain a relationship with.

That is what JustSignal is for – and what the Wombat Tracker does. It filters out the noise, turns up the signal and allows those of us interested in Peter, his music and the Furious World to become Wombats.

You’re a Wombat, and you can’t watch Furious World live – grab the Wombat Tracker and we’ll keep you updated. And when a Himmelman fan has yet to discover Furious World and their inner Wombat – we can see that and invite them in. Because the Furious World isn’t a place, it isn’t a webcast, and it isn’t separate from the world – it is you, me, and every one of us – in the world, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

An Open Letter to the Arizona State Legistature and Gov. Brewer

Shame on you. Shame on each and every one of you. You are not accountants… your job is NOT to balance the state’s checkbook. Your job is to use the tax revenue you collect to provide the services that make Arizona better… every day, every year, for us and our children.

You de-funded environmental protections. You de-funded a program to foster bio-science and technology growth, you de-funded education. You’ve crippled our future.

You assume that leaving debt to the next generation is the ultimate wrong. And in order to avoid that you strip them of the education, growth and environment that will allow them to prosper. You haven’t saved the state… you’ve set it marching down a path that inexorably leads to future budget cuts. Who will start the next great AZ business? Who will move their high value/high pay jobs here? Who will invest in a state that refuses to invest in itself?

You believe that any tax is a bad tax and you laud your ability to cut, slash and refuse to pass any taxation. You tell us you are putting money back in our pockets. But the truth is you are simply stripping us of the services we want from our government. You tell us that we can choose private schools, home school or find the best education alternative for us and our children. What you do not tell us is that you are relegating our children to demonstrably inferior educational alternatives unless we are wealthy. We can not afford to live in a state which educates the children of the wealthy and relegates the rest to menial labor.

I’m not a socialist, or a liberal. I’m a businessman. I know what you do not and can not seem to understand. Prosperity is a result of investment. If you will not invest, you will not prosper. If you will not invest I will no longer invest in AZ either.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are things worth paying for. There are things worth sacrifice and, yes, even higher taxation. If our children, and our future are not worth that sacrifice what, I ask you, is?

Disgustedly Yours,

Brian Roy

President and Founder

cosinity

602.635.1013

UPDATE: This letter is my reaction to the state budget signed into law today by Gov. Brewer – http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/01/31/20090131azbudget-ON.html