David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 2, Issue 4

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Thoughts On Strategy: Back Channels and Event Management

Back channel communications among event attendees, primarily using Twitter, is rapidly becoming common at association industry events. Every ASAE event this year has had a back channel, with traffic and usage increasing. This is likely to impact meetings and events more broadly throughout this year and going forward.

A definition:

  • A conference backchannel is a communication channel where attendees, and anyone else who wants to follow along, can exchange messages via mobile devices and laptops.
  • The most popular way to do this today is to use Twitter. Updates to Twitter intended for the back channel will include a hash tag. ASAE’s Marketing & Membership Conference, kicking off today, is using a hash tag that looks like this: #mmcon09.
  • Searching for the hash tag on Twitter will show you all the messages with that tag. Here is a search result for #mmcon09.
  • Attendees use the channel to share ideas as well as general commentary on the event. It’s also often used to organize happy hour meetings, which should be no surprise!
  • Back channels will often include negative comments as well. Speakers who are overly commercial or boring will get razzed live as they speak. Run out of coffee when attendees are running low on energy? You’ll hear about it in the back channel.

The strategic impact for event management:

There are several things to consider for managing your events with a back channel:

  • You cannot prevent one from forming. Sorry.
  • You can choose to engage with your attendees via the back channel. If so, make sure you have staff monitoring it and acting as needed.
  • Speakers should be educated about the back channel. One tip when you do have a back channel going: ask an audience member who is following the comments to share questions and feedback for the speaker to discuss.
  • A back channel can be a live testimonial for the value of your conference for all those who are following along online.
  • Leading the creation and promotion of a back channel will help you to maximize the positive benefits of the channel for your meeting.

The bottom line:

I think this is something meeting planners and association executives have to get up to speed on quickly and get out in front of with their events. Twitter is growing fast and is often monitored by media and other opinion setters. Full engagement with a back channel can create great buzz and you want to avoid being surprised by a back channel you didn’t know existed!

Offerings from David

New Coaching Club!
David Gammel’s Coaching Club on Social Media
Want to achieve breakthrough results with social media for your organization? Sign up for my exclusive coaching club. Act now, we get started on May 15!

On Twitter?
Follow me @davidgammel.

Case Study: Flu Crisis Response

Associations are grappling with how to respond to the emergent issue of the Swine Flu that is spreading from Mexico. Health organizations in particular have been ramping up their communications. The Massachusetts Medical Society web site provides an excellent example this week.

MMS recently redesigned their site and have a feature position on the home page that can easily be dedicated to specific topics. Frank Fortin, who leads the web team at MMS, had his team create a custom graphic that leads to a clearinghouse of information on the flu for members and patients.

MMS Home Page

There are three things that enable MMS or any organization to use their home page flexibly and quickly like this.

Process: They have a defined management process in place for identifying emergent issues and how to decide when they should be featured. This doesn’t have to be very formal or detailed but you do need to know who has to be part of the discussion and who will make the call.

People: Not only do you need to know who the decision maker is and have access to them, you also need to know what technical or design talent you will need in such a case and how you will access them. Who will you use to design the graphic and how quickly can you access them and get something done? This is more critical when you rely on outside vendors for your web design.

Technology: Your web template must make it easy to pop in a feature like MMS did for their home page. Your content management system should also make it easy to put this kind of alert into place.

If you don’t have a handle on those three factors in advance and how they relate to crisis communication you’ll be behind the news on your home page just when everyone expects you to be out front.

Frank provides more details on their approach to the flu on his blog.

High Geekery: LinkedIn Applications

LinkedIn is rapidly evolving as they play catch up with the interactivity offered by sites such as Facebook and Twitter without losing their original business-friendly roots. One such innovation is the rollout of LinkedIn applications that add more dynamic content to your profile. This page lists all the available applications.

If you or your organization publishes a blog, you can use one of several applications to add your recent blog posts to your profile. The WordPress Application can actually be used to link to any blog that provides an RSS feed. There are other applications for specific blogging tools as well.

SlideShare has released an application for LinkedIn that allows you to display your slide shows on their service as part of your profile. If you have a slideshow that summarizes your professional experience or the offerings of your company or organization, this may be a good addition for you.

Check out the applications and add those that will help you achieve the goals you have for LinkedIn.

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 2, Issue 3

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Thoughts On Strategy: Changing Web Strategy without a Redesign

Did you know that you can adjust and implement your web strategy without a complete web site redesign? It’s true!

That’s just what Kevin Holland at Air Conditioning Contractors of America did when he shifted a webinar series from individual registration events to a monthly subscription. A few tweaks to their content and functionality and they launched a revamp program that is easier to market and creating a greater return for the organization. You can read Kevin’s write up on what they did here.

My boldest clients are forging ahead and repositioning themselves to be prepared to provide maximum value when better times inevitably occur. Even if your budgets are tight this year you can still make modest changes to your online presence to bring it in line with your operational goals without starting from square one. (In fact, this is ideal since you get the most return on your investment if it’s feasible.)

Your next question is probably, well, how do I get there? Here are three steps to take:

1. Review your primary web site outcomes and audiences.

Your web site exists to serve higher level business goals. Have those goals changed? If so, are there different outcomes your site should be contributing?

The audiences for your site are driven by your overall market. Has that market changed? Are the people behaving differently? Are there entire new people or groups that have dropped out? Determine what has changed about your existing audience’s needs, desired and perceptions as well as new audiences you should add into the mix.

Getting a handle on changes to your online outcomes and audiences enables you to take the next step.

2. Which strategic web site outcomes serve those business needs and audiences?

There are seven potential strategic outcomes for any web site. (You can download a white paper on these strategies here.) The trick is to pick the right mix to best serve your desired web site outcomes and anticipated audiences. Compare your current strategies to your outcomes and audiences. How should the mix change to better serve our needs?

If your outcomes are the same, how can you shift strategies to better serve them? The ACCA example above is a great sample of shifting strategy in pursuit of the same outcome.

With those answers, you can then go on to the next step of making changes to your site.

3. Adjust the content, design and functionality of your site to better support your strategy.

A good web strategy helps you decide what content, design and functionality will best serve your needs and create the most value for your organization. While avoiding a full redesign, consider what tweaks and changes you can make to what you have that will incrementally move you in the direction set by your updated strategies.

At all costs, avoid what I like to call ‘big projectitis’ where the web site is placed into stasis while you wait for the budget and capacity to free up for a full redesign. It’s unnecessary and counter productive in the extreme.

Be bold! Shake things up and try something new to goose the value your site is contributing to your efforts. If you don’t do it, who will? If you would like to discuss likely areas to improve your site, drop me a line.

Case Study: Expanding Webinars Beyond the Event with Podcasts

I have been conducting a lot of webinar events over the past six months or so. Lately I have tried something new that I want to share with you in this issue of the newsletter.

Boston Conferencing invited me to conduct a webinar for them on increasing participation in association social media programs. I recorded a short piece of audio promoting the event that BC placed on their site and that I posted to my site as a podcast. The week before the event, a person I know on Twitter who had signed up for the event let me know they were looking forward to a particular part of the content listed in the promo. The event was such a success and drew so many questions that I was unable to get to that bit of content by the end of the program.

I promised, live at the end of the webinar, to record that part of the content and post it as a podcast to my site. We also had dozens of unanswered questions we couldn’t get to, so I answered those in a podcast as well. Both were posted on my site, promoted on Twitter and attendees were notified by the organizer to access them.

The podcasts probably took less than an hour total for me to put together. The benefits of creating them include:

  • I kept my promise about the content we announced we were going to deliver;
  • Every question was answered;
  • People who didn’t attend the event could sample some of it via these podcasts and follow a link to get the archive if they wanted more;
  • Approximately 50 people signed up for my newsletter, which they saw after coming to my site for the podcasts.

You can achieve even greater value for your online educational events by applying similar techniques. Be nimble, be creative, and don’t hesitate.

I’m now receiving regular requests for Q&A podcasts from people who didn’t even attend the event. Nice buzz!

You can find all of the podcasts mentioned in this article here.

High Geekery: Two Cool Tools and One Great Process

Here are two tools I’ve learned of recently that are very useful in their own right but even more so when used together.

First up, is UserFly. This service lets you track how someone interacts with your site, down to the level of where their mouse is pointing and how they scroll the page. Each session can be replayed as a movie, making it very easy to see how they used your site. In my experience, viewing real people using your site rapidly identifies numerous improvements. With UserFly, you can do this with anyone coming to your site without scheduling an appointment or them even being aware of it. (Be sure the terms of use on your site covers data collection and analysis.)

Next, is an interface mock-up tool called Balsamiq Mockups. Mockups makes it dead simple to create mock-ups of application interfaces for the desktop or web. This kind of activity is great when determining how to brainstorm interface design before developers code it. This often saves a lot of time and expense because it takes seconds to change the interface in a mock-up while it can take hours after it is actually coded in an application.

Here is how to leverage the two together. Review several UserFly sessions on a critical web application (such as a membership application) with your programmers and designers. Note where users tend to hesitate or generate errors or simply give up. Based on those issues, work together with Mockups to sketch out a new interface that solves those issues. Get agreement right there on the changes you’ll make and then your technical folks can go forth and make it happen. This could dramatically improve key parts of your site while shaving a few weeks off of more traditional processes.

Offerings from David

Webinar Archive Available!
They Built It and We Were There
Is your social network anything but? Do your blog entries draw more crickets than comments? Are you tweetless on Twitter?

If so, purchase the archive of my webinar with Boston Conferencing on how to best achieve participation and member value with association social media programs. This session will zero in on topics such as:

  • How you can use social media to engage with members anywhere online, not just on your own site
  • How to use social media to create valuable outcomes for members and the organization
  • The power of social media when used as a long term engagement strategy
  • The top three ways to accidentally kill an online community and the one key requirement for success

Purchase the archived audio and slides here.

New Service
Achieving Breakthrough Results with Social Media
I am launching a new service for membership executives who want to create breakthrough results with social media for their organization and members. You will receive an e-mail announcement about the service next Monday. Stay tuned!

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 2 Issue 2

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Thoughts On Strategy: If you can’t innovate now…

If you are unable to innovate your web presence now you never will.

This may sound harsh, but, honestly, if the dramatic changes all around us are not prompting you to consider your online opportunities, I’m not sure what will!

Improving your organization’s web presence is of greater value today than ever before. The economy is hitting meeting revenue hard in some sectors while programs such as certifications and distance learning are booming for the same organizations. Your online offerings must shift to take advantage of the world of today, not what you planned for last year.

There is good news: anyone can improve her web site.

There are ideas you haven’t tried yet all around you, if you are willing to open your eyes to them.

  • What are your members’ problems and opportunities today?
  • What features of your existing technology are you not using?
  • What are wildly different companies from you doing in similar activities?
  • Can social media be applied to your core strategies?

You get the picture.

There are three keys to successfully creating and implementing new ideas for your site:

  1. Give you and your staff permission to create new ideas. Too many people think they can’t because they aren’t a ‘tech’ person. Untrue! If you can read and write, you can improve your site.
  2. Open your eyes to the ideas that are all around us. They are literally everywhere.
  3. Be optimistic about the value you can provide. Innovators are inherently optimistic people, which will really make you stand out from the crowd these days!

I presented recently on how to generate you own web site ideas at an association industry conference. You can see my slides from the speech here.

If you or your staff could use a boost in the web site innovation department, drop me a line. I offer a range of mentoring, coaching and workshop options to help my clients help themselves online.

Case Study: Subscriptions vs. Sales

Joel Spolsky, in a column this month in Inc. magazine, discussed how he accidentally shot the revenues of his CoPilot service through the roof. CoPilot is a service that allows you to remotely control someone else’s computer, the primary use of which is to help your parents to fix a configuration problem on their PC.

Joel’s company used to require a payment of $10 a day to use the service, with customers having to make a payment transaction each time. If you look at the chart he links to in the column, you’ll see relatively flat revenue.

Then one of his developers added a subscription option, so customers were billed monthly without having to re-enter any credit card information. Same chart with huge growth in revenue for subscriptions compared to the pay as you go method. Convenience and anticipation of new need (you know your Mom won’t need your help just once!) led to a powerful result.

I know of an association that changed a webinar education series from individual registration events to a subscription model and have realized significantly more revenue from the change.

How can you offer continual value in exchange for continual revenue? It’s a good question to explore.

High Geekery: Netbooks

The latest rage in laptop computers has come out of the cheap end of the market: ultra-light, ultra-efficient, low powered laptops called netbooks. These wee little laptops are designed to get you online with a portable device that costs much less than your annual latte habit.

Innovation in laptop computers has traditional come from the high end of the market. New screens, input devices, more powerful chips start out expensive and only available in premium laptop computers and gradually work their way down the market over time as new tech comes to the fore and economies of scale come into play.

That was up-ended by a foundation that wanted to provide an inexpensive laptop computer to every child in Africa. As they developed these computers with the primary purpose of connecting to the Internet for e-mail and Web access in a portable and energy efficient model for next to no money, they kicked off a new trend.

According to this post on Wired, netbooks are the fastest growing computer segment in Europe and are just beginning to break into the U.S. market in a significant way.

This is a new platform to watch. There are many potential applications for these computers designed to just access the cloud of services available online. Cheaply empowered remote workers, on-site support staff at meetings and events, your own children, there are lots of potential uses.

Offerings from David

Webinar on March 12!
They Built It and We Were There
Is your social network anything but? Do your blog entries draw more crickets than comments? Are you tweetless on Twitter?

If so, join me for a webinar with Boston Conferencing on how to best achieve participation and member value with association social media programs. This session will zero in on topics such as:

  • How you can use social media to engage with members anywhere online, not just on your own site
  • How to use social media to create valuable outcomes for members and the organization
  • The power of social media when used as a long term engagement strategy
  • The top three ways to accidentally kill an online community and the one key requirement for success

Listen to my audio introduction to the program here and learn how to register.

Announcing a new Book in Development
Bringing Your Mission to Life Online: A Practical Guide to Web Strategy for Associations, Foundations and Charities
I am in the process of writing a book on practical web strategy for practical results. It will be published by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership later this year. The book will explore the seven strategic outcomes for non-profit organization web sites, how to determine which best serves your overall goals, and what that will then mean for implementing your web presence.

Send me an email if you would like to receive a brief white paper on the seven strategic outcomes.

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 2, Issue 1

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Thoughts On Strategy: E-commerce Performance

Everyone is focused on revenue these days. How can we grow it, how can we protect it, how can we slow down a decline? Your online revenue flows offer many opportunities to address these highly relevant questions. If online revenue is a key focus of your site, here are three things to consider:

  • Make it insanely easy to give you money.
    All too many online stores that I review have multiple unpleasant bits of interface that get in the way of the customer completing her transaction. This can include collecting data beyond what is required for the transaction, poorly designed interfaces, unclear error messages and many other factors. If your customers or members are hesitant to spend, don’t give them time to think better of it while wallowing through your e-commerce process!
  • Accept all reasonable payments.
    Accept all major credit cards. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish by refusing to accept American Express because the transactions fees are a bit higher. Enough said on that.
  • Test, test, test. Then test a bit more.
    Make sure your web analytics package is tracking progress through your e-commerce system and look for where you are losing people. Fix those points, measure, assess improvement and repeat. You will be shocked at how much improvement this simple process can create. I know of one association that had a six-figure improvement in revenue from removing one step in an e-commerce process.

I work with many association executives on improving their e-commerce performance. The beauty of this kind of effort is that the results are immediate! You don’t have to wait for a full campaign to conclude to measure impact. You know right away and reap the benefits from day one.

If you would like to explore how you can best protect and grow your online revenue, contact me to schedule a call.

Case Study: Giving a Lifeline

I want to show you two examples of providing a lifeline to site visitors going through a critical web site process. Both of these are e-commerce related.

First up, the AARP online membership application. The application has three steps, which are clearly identified at the top of the page. To the right of this is box with a heading of “Having Trouble?” This box offers a tollfree phone number to call for assistance in joining. They are happy to take your membership online but make it very easy to call them to complete the transaction over the phone instead. We’ve all experienced sites where they make calling them the hardest thing in the world. Not AARP!

Second, we look at Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh describes his company as a customer-service organization that just happens to sell shoes. This is evident on the Zappos web site as well. Almost every page (and every step of the shopping cart check out) has prominent contact information plus a button with which to start a live online chat with a customer service representative. Studies have shown that live chat support on e-commerce sites can dramatically increase your conversion rate. It is also highly customer friendly. This is not a coincidence.

What are you doing to give your members, customers and others a helping hand online for key processes?

High Geekery: A Lesson from Flash Photography

What one factor, more than any other, differentiates most professional photography from the billions of snapshots taken by regular people? You might be tempted to say the composition of the image or inate talent for seeing what other don’t.

The answer to why the pro work looks better, in many cases, is simply because the flash used to light the subject is positioned anywhere other than on top of the camera. The subject being lit from a direction other than the forehead of the photographer creates an image that subconsciously tells us, “this is different and must be of higher quality.”

This same thing holds true across many endeavors. Very simple changes can have a profound impact on how a design, product or service is perceived. How can you light the value you offer to your members, clients or customers so that it appears slightly different from the usual fare, making it stand out from all the others?

Offerings from David

Creating High-value Partnerships with Technology Providers
The key to successful technology implementations often comes down to the quality of your partnership with your vendors and service providers.

This teleconference recording discusses how to create and nurture these critical relationships. I also share what to do when things go wrong, based on my years of experience as an executive and consultant.

This one program could save your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. None of us can afford key relationships with our technology providers to go sour in this economy.

The recording is available for immediate download after purchase.

Learn More

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 1, Issue 8

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Thoughts On Strategy: Shopping vs. Buying

I just finished reading Clotaire Rapaille’s The Culture Code, in which he marks a key distinction about how Americans perceive shopping compared to buying. His book is about identifying and employing specific codes that represent commonly shared perceptions within a culture.

Rapaille says that in the United States the code for shopping is ‘reconnecting’ while buying is about completing a task. The distinction is that shopping is all about the experience while buying is focused on completing a given task efficiently. Consider how you think about going holiday shopping vs. going to buy a gallon of milk.

Bringing this idea to the Web, is your web site designed to heighten the experience for shoppers while maximizing efficiency for those ready to buy? Should your site be targeted at those out to buy while your in-person opportunities are about the experience? I think either or both could be pursued online. The key question is: What path is more closely aligned with your overall goals and strategy as an organization?

I’ll touch on this theme below in the case about Heifer International’s web site.

Case Study: Heifer International

A special treat for you this month: a screencast case study! Follow this link to YouTube to listen to my review of giving money to Heifer International online.

A few questions to consider, once you have watched the screencast:

  • How can you mix both logical and emotional appeals in your fundraising? (logic gets people to think, emotion gets them to act)
  • What media do you already have that tends to have an emotional impact on your givers?
  • Can that media be merged into your appeals for funds and other donations?
  • What new media can you capture that will have even more impact?

High Geekery: Anatomy of a Screencast

A screencast is typically a video recording of a computer screen showing an interaction with an application or web site on a computer with an audio voice over. It has become very easy to create these over the last few years as tools for making them have evolved and platforms for sharing (most notably YouTube) have become widely available.

How to make one like I did for this month’s newsletter? Read on…

First, how I did this screencast on a Mac. I will then follow-up with what I recommend on Windows.

The first thing I do for a screencast is to make some notes on what I want to discuss and key points to make. I don’t script it closely but I do run through the application or site a couple times before I start the recording.

When I’m ready to record, I use a program called SnapZ Pro X to record the video and audio on my Mac. SnapZ allows me to position a frame on the screen and it then captures anything that happens in that frame while recording. It also captures audio for the voice over via a Snowball mic I have attached to my laptop.

Once done with the recording, SnapZ saves it as a .mov file. I review the recording in QuickTime and do another take if I’m not happy with the results. I usually do at least 2 versions before I’m happy with it.

I then import the file of the final take into iMovie, an Apple application for editing videos, and cut off dead space and add intro and outro titles. iMovie then exports the finished product directly to my YouTube account. I upload it as a private video to give me a chance to preview it and tweak the description and title before it goes live for the public.

On Windows, there is a superior product, called Camtasia, that can do that entire process in one application. Frustratingly, I’m not aware of a similar class of product on the Mac for creating screencasts.

And that is how I create screencasts! They are an underused tool by many organizations for things such as training on internal applications, introductions to new interfaces on your web site, demos for key stakeholders, you name it.

Here are links to the software, tools and sites mentioned above:

SnapZ Pro X
Snowball Mic

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 1, Issue 3

Thoughts On Strategy: Web Site Governance is Not the Answer

  • Web site governance is the process of implementing policies and standards for managing the content published on an organization’s web site.
  • Complex organizations tend to generate complex and unresponsive web site governance practices.
  • Here is the problem with web site governance:
    • Governance is about control, not success.
    • Governance is about limiting, not enabling.
    • Governance is about rules rather than innovation.
  • Some governance processes are required to manage any web site.
  • However, an overly governance-oriented mindset ensures mediocrity as your best possible outcome.
  • So what is the answer?
    • Your web team should be vested in helping your other units to succeed in their goals rather than comply with rules.
    • Your web staff should be valued as critical business advisors rather than denigrated as fussy bureaucrats.
    • Your web team should be positioned more as an in-house professional services firm than as a traffic cop.

Case Study: Managing a Memo

For this month’s case, I’ll share a web site governance experience I had when I led the web team for a large membership society. This organization had many committees and Boards, each of which had their own needs and desires for the organizations web site. This is the typical cat herding kind of management task.

One day I received a printed memo via snail mail from the chair of one of the boards, copied to the top executives on staff and a good part of the Board of Directors. The memo demanded a large button on the home page to feature content related to their activities.

So, I’m faced with a memo copied to half the leadership of the association demanding a specific change to the home page of the site, which we manage very carefully. My options in this scenario included:

  • Caving to the demand and just doing it;
  • Refusing outright (which would an uphill battle), or;
  • Figure out what prompted the memo and try to address that need.

You can guess which I did based on the first part of this newsletter. I called the Chair and we discussed what her Board does and what she hoped would be different for them by adding a button to the home page. This friendly discussion revealed that searches on key phrases in the local search engine did not turn up their content in the first page of results. I was able to replicate this problem immediately.

We had several tools with which to tune search results. I asked if they would be satisfied if I could improve the search results dramatically for their key phrases. They said they would, so I did, and they were.

An overly governance driven management process for the web site would have likely resulted in no button on the home page but it would not have delved into the actual need that this group had.

The Web is there to help the rest of the organization to succeed, not to fulfill content management policies. If you always keep that in mind you will create much more value than you do frustration.

High Geekery: Any sufficiently advanced technology…

I recently needed to use Internet Explorer in order to access some systems for one of my clients. This is not as much of a challenge as it used to be for someone based on a Mac now that Apple uses Intel chips in their hardware.

I am using Windows XP on VMWare Fusion, which allows windows applications to run as if they were native to the Apple operating system.

The following scenario made me think of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I dragged a file from Apple’s Finder into a folder in Windows Explorer. The directory in Windows Explorer was actually on a remote server I had connected to via WebDAV in Windows Explorer. So this file went from my native Mac filesystem to a simulated Windows operating system which then transmitted it to a directory on Windows Server hundreds of miles away from me.

All via a single drag-and-drop of the file.

That description is definitely high geekery but, believe me, so many different things have to be solved for that kind of operation to be feasible that I was awed.

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 1, Issue 2

Thoughts On Strategy: Facilitating Customer Innovation Online

  • Innovation is nothing more than doing something new or something you have already done in a different way.
  • Customer-driven innovation is the creation of ideas for doing something new from your customers.
  • This has obvious applicability to online communication, community and collaboration!
  • Track what people are saying about your company, organization, products and services online. Many ideas and new perspectives can be surfaced this way alone.
  • Leverage existing customer communities anywhere on the Web when they are discussing how to improve your business.
  • Determine how you can best engage your employees in this online conversation that is going on all around you. The more staff you have paying attention, the better a chance for new ideas to break through to you.
  • Consider facilitating the generation, discussion, and evaluation of new ideas from your customers via interactive web sites. The case study below provides an example.
  • Publicly calling for ideas from your customers conveys a promise: that you will genuinely consider them, indicate which you are going to pursue, and give credit where credit is due for the successes.
  • The hardest part of sourcing innovation from customers is not going to be your customers. It is going to be getting your staff and organizational culture to incorporate them. Lay the groundwork and infrastructure to adopt great ideas before you ask for them from your customers.

Case Study: : Dell and Starbucks Customer Innovation Web Sites

Both Dell and Starbucks have launched web sites that ask their customers to suggest, rate, and discuss ideas on how to improve in any aspect of their company, operations, or products and services. Suggestions range from adding an extra shot to Venti sized lattes to ideas on being a more socially responsible global citizen. Both sites use Ideas, a service of Salesforce.com.

How are these sites different from a glorified suggestion box? Both are sponsored by the CEOs of each company, making them high profile projects internally. Each has staff dedicated to monitoring the site, responding to each entry, and taking ideas into the company for exploration. These are not trivial, feel-good, marketing campaigns. They have been designed as a key element of the overall innovation process for each company.

Dell has a dedicated blog, called Ideas in Action, where they report on the progress of ideas within the company and solicit feedback from the community of customers involved in the IdeaStorm web site. This is a great example of how the company shows its commitment to listening to their customers. It was also a critical step, given how Dell’s billion-dollar brand was bloodied by bloggers in the not-too-distant past.

This leads us to the key to success for this kind of effort: it starts within the company, rather than on the Web. If staff incentives and business processes are not redesigned to value and nurture this form of customer innovation, it will fail. Worse, publishing such a site without the organization firmly behind it reneges on the implicit promise to take the customer’s contributions seriously.

High Geekery: Occam’s Razor 2.0

The simplest solution online is often the best when interacting with customers. All you need to do to illustrate this is to complete a transaction on Amazon.com and then try to do the same on the web site of your telephone service provider. It’s rather obvious which company focuses on customer value and which does not, isn’t it?

This is even more important when you are trying to facilitate customer-driven innovation.

Take, for example, Proctor & Gamble’s effort in the late 90’s to use the web to allow customers to create their own custom cosmetics via a web site tied directly to an automated factory built just for this purpose. This was a very elaborate system to allow customers to innovate their own cosmetic colors and properties. It fell flat and was shut down at a huge loss a few years later. There were simply too many options for a normal person to pick from when all they wanted was good product from a brand they trust.

Now compare this to the simplicity of the Ideas application from Salesforce.com highlighted in the case above. Ideas are easily suggested, rated, and discussed. The company publicly responds to them, and everyone moves on, with the best ideas being implemented. The cost of a bad idea in this system is very low and good ideas are surfaced without strenuous effort. All with a simple, easy-to-use interface. This is Occam’s Razor 2.0 in action.

David Gammel's Web Strategy Report, Volume 1, Issue 1

Thoughts On Strategy: Going International

  • A Brit, working in Switzerland at a multinational scientific research organization, invented the Web to help his colleagues easily share the results of their research from anywhere on the globe. The Web has been, and always will be, a global communications platform.
  • 20% of the world’s population has access to the Web as of December 2007.
  • 50% of the world’s population has cell phones.
  • Asia (including India and China) has the lowest percentage of population online but the greatest number currently online.
  • Internationalized systems support deploying content and services in multiple languages and support gathering data and payment in different formats and currencies.
  • Localization is the process of applying content, design and functionality to an internationalized system in order to address the needs of a country or region whose people share common cultural, economic, and linguistic attributes.
  • Not all web site audiences are created equal. Focus your efforts on serving those with the highest potential value to your outcomes.
  • Being truly global means being local everywhere. Do your homework, focus on your highest value audiences and build your international offerings over time.

Case Study: The Chinese Olympic Committee

The Chinese Olympic Committee is the body that won the 2008 Summer Olympics for China. They have deployed two sites as the country prepares for the big event later this year. One is in English and the other, naturally enough, in Chinese. They provide a good example of an organization developing two different presentations of their brand and information to two broadly differing audiences.

The English language site, en.olympic.cn, is clearly targeted to the entire world outside of China. It is in English and provides links to resources, information and headlines for anyone interested in the Olympics in China. Notice that the colors, although featuring some red, use more orange, blue and white.

The Chinese site, www.olympic.cn, is completely written in Chinese except for a link to the English language site and some roman numerals that count down the days until the Games begin. The color red is predominant and Communist Party iconography is much more in evidence. It is also a much more polished presentation and design compared to the English language site.

A few things to note:

  • The two sites have different designs and content, tailored to the outcomes and audiences for which they were created.
  • The navigation bars had to be structured differently, even if the sections were the same, due to the varying sizes of Chinese and English characters.
  • The one consistency between the two sites is the branding of the Chinese flag, Olympic Rings and the name of the organization in Chinese and English. This is the one visual element that ties the two together as part of the same organization.

By bifurcating their audience in this way the Committee is able to provide tailored information and design to their domestic audience and a different presentation and language to everyone else. This simple approach allows the home country visitors to have a culturally (and politically, I’m sure) tailored experience while the rest of the world can access foreign-targeted content in a generally more accessible language. However, the English language content still carries a very identifiable political spin to news and events, as the torch relay of the past month has triggered protests around the world.

High Geekery: Machine Translation

Machine translation of language is not anywhere near ready for prime time use. Executives everywhere are tempted by the low cost of machine translation when compared to hiring a human to do it. However, as in so many cases, you get what you pay for when you take the road less costly.
For example, using the venerable Babel fish web site to translate the home page of the Chinese Olympic Committee leads to the following headline in English:

“The badminton champion lucky new huge mythical bird and the numerous stars sings refuels China.”

Who knew badminton birdies have a role in the energy markets?

If it’s worth translating, it’s worth hiring a human to do it. If you cannot justify the expense, increase the value of what you are trying to achieve online or simply stick with your native language.

New Offerings from David

Here are a few new resources and events from C. David Gammel: