Twitter meets Corporate America

I'm posting this to find people working on cracking the same nut -- I need to share ideas and I need to share my pain.

I work for the Man.

I'm selling Twitter internally as a solution to some enterprise channel needs and it's a slog. First, it's free -- very hard to sell. Second, it's outside -- what if it stops? Third, it's hard to understand -- what are you talking about? or worse, they listen hard and still don't get it but think they do and start talking about it in a way that just won't be successful. But god bless em, they're trying.

Underlying these small barriers is the big, intransigent one: the people I need to persuade don't understand the concept of Channels.

Oh, BTW, here's a magnificent discussion of Twitter on the threshold -- if you're interested in Twitter, you should not miss this. I am a big Blue Whale Labs fan. But, hey, Stowe and Greg, your wonderful PDF White Papers do me more harm than good in the corner offices. I need less truth and elegance and more "ROI solutioning." (I kid you not - When I hear it, I imagine the speaker slowly dissolving entirely into a liquid medium: I took Chemistry at Berkeley and I know what a v.t. form of "solution" is likely to mean. I took Linguistics there also. )

I'm telling open-minded people to think of Twitter as a kit of Zoobs. It's a bundle of tubes that can be connected to many types of junction (one to one, broadcast, many to many, back and forth, etc.), ending up at most types of communication hatches (phone, web, SMS, RSS). And it's pretty non-denominational.

It's too open and too free for the corporate person, however smart, to grok -- at least right away. There must be a catch. It's clearly something that IT should approve, but if they don' t need to be involved...or do they. People get fearful.

Anyone else trying to do this?


A Fabulous Thread: Parts is Parts

I'm about to give you a link to a magnificant discussion now underway -- you can actually hear the egg cracking open. Thank you, Leslie Elledge, for the alert.

Watch him challenge entrenched concepts and categories: and watch him be right. It's rare and it's great. Here he is: JeffCroft.com and "the new layers of web development"

-- if you're not technical, hang in there anyway because this discussion provides you with a nicely compact tutorial on the component parts of a working web site -- and you do need to understand that model if you're going to work here.

I remember opening a copy of InfoWeek and having a folded up poster tumble out into my lap -- it was an illustration for an article outlining the ISO layers: what they were called, what they were for, what the alternatives within each were. I grabbed it like a shipwrecked moviestar grabs a piece of floating furniture. I tacked it on the wall. I studied it often. I cribbed from it. I put my lunch in front of it every day as an offering.

When my husband started selling training programs to network hub companies and their neighbors in Silicon Valley (business training, not technical training), I gave him a tour of my wall poster and ceremonially handed it over to him. He tacked it on his wall. He's been using it to amaze his routerhead clients with his astonishing grasp of their business environment.

Sometimes you find the one perspective that makes everything easier -- and I think this is another one.

Newsletters in the Inbox

I was editing a "real" magazine when the tidal wave of desktop publishing hit the consumer market. The newsletter as we know it was born. Early ancestors of the blog, the newsletter suffered from that most hideous of curses -- design flexibility. And believe me, it was flexed. Until its spine broke. Okay, so newsletters got a bad reputation as a result. Like one notch above the mass-produced Christmas letter in terms of egotistical editorial endeavor -- and that Christmas letter had suddenly become -- what? -- the Rognar Family Newsletter!

My editorial co-conspiritor at that time, Les Cowan, actually went on to be editor of a magazine called -- oh so self-referential! -- "Desktop Publishing." (With the editorial stance of: "We do this so you don't have to" I suppose.) Here's a newsflash: novelty happily wears off pretty soon.

But newsletters remain. And I found myself sucked into a project that required me to puzzle out this question: where does the newsletter end and the email marketing begin? What exactly is a subscription when I'm more incented to send it to you than you are to read it? Seems like a fruitful topic for examination. After three years of practicing and testing, I'm still examining it.

So I met a fellow online (properly introduced) who has the right stuff and has some experience with the magazine/newsletter/email/subscription nexus, and we got into a conversation about it. His name is Vince Golla, and I'm still waiting for his next comment, but I wanted to talk about it here a bit.

Here's what I said to Vince:

"I'm interested in finding a better way to present a "magazine" style experience via a web browser -- or something that takes the essence of that special experience and improves upon it - have you done any thinking about this? Our solution was to handle each issue as a standalone microsite, to minimize distractions from the key messages that were most important at that moment in time -- using a stripped down web format to really suppress the interconnectivity of the web presesntation and force it into a more focused box -- it made for a 10 minute monthly bite of info for the audience (which helped with repeat visits), and the glories of cross-links were right under the surface -- one link down. (See, I don't think a website is the same animal as a magazine -- and I see the same sort of thinking in your online magazines). I'm pleased with how that worked, but am still interested in other approaches.

I've also been thinking about the interesting interface bumptop (bumptop.com) -- which is presented as a desktop, of course -- but what about if it wasn't used for a desktop (I already have a desktop that works pretty well right in front of me) but was used instead as a form of magazine presentation? I'm really interested in this -- I'm sure you've been at editorial meetings where the issue's articles are being sorted, sequenced, rearranged, deferred to next issues -- needs for sidebars are uncovered in these discussions, and in general the group does a mashup on the issue's projected content.

How about if the online magazine offered this type of "push it around and arrange it as you like" interface, in addition to the more formal serial interface? For a very conservative model, I've been interested in the eBook concept for digital magazines for years, but SO clunky and prioprietary -- have you seen the web site: http://www.websitemagazine.com/ look on the low left side for the "sample digital issue" -- they've applied the eBook model to a flash presentation -- one big drawback, though -- could it possibly load more slowly?

And what about offering both interfaces for the same magazine and letting the reader choose? Why not?"

Why not, indeed? But Vince is busy right now, so I'm waiting for his next comment. In the meantime, I decided that it was time to look at the face of the world beyond my own inbox. I sent out a call for help via LinkedIn's new question feature:

Constructing a list of very good and very bad online magazines/newsletters/subscription sends -- do you have any examples to share?

I got 17 direct replies and about 150 examples sent to my inbox. All the examples sent were in the good category -- I can say categorically that no one remembers the name of a bad email newsletter. It's kind of the opposite of the Anna Karanina definition of families (remember? All good families are the same, all bad families are different?) In this case, all the good ones were very different from each other in any way you can think of, and the bad ones were all the same: "They were bad -- I don't remember them."

I'm still paging through the examples, but I promise an analysis at some point soon -- Oh, and in a tidy coincidence, a v. smilar topic has just popped up in Ask E.T: Recommended Magazine Layouts...

Oh, and I can tell all question-responders to knock it off on the "it depends" answer, designed to show off your own excellent analytic skills. Of course it depends, you nitwits, why do you think I'm asking for concrete examples? I bet their spouses are delighted that they're addicted to the internet. I can hear them now: "Honey, do you think we should talk to Sara's teacher about her appalling grades?" "Well, now..." pause for puff on pipe "I think it really depends, dear." rich chuckle "You have to consider what the teacher is trying to tell us when she sends those grades home -- of course our response would depend on our understanding her motivations." He'd be killed if it were me the mother of Sara -- but no, she's taken the easy way out and pushed him out of bed and towards his computer in the family room and here he is answering my question with the same kind of self-insulating, conditional, nonsense.

This passion has roots in that primal self-loathing -- it's the preening type of answer I was guilty of before I caught myself in a little self-examination. The answer you should be writing is to "tell" not to "show."

More on newsletters soon.


Online Ephemera

Darryl Siry writes about a wish for exploding emails in his blog, Marketing 2.0. I started thinking about how very limited our settings are for the email communication channel, and also how rigid the walls are between different types of online communication channels. I started writing about this in a response to his post, and just to be really annoying, I'm going to copy it here:

"You're talking about establishing a set of "types" for email, I think, and the one you describe is the "ephemeral" or perhaps "touchback" email -- yeah, I wish they would just dissolve after a day or so -- I'd put subscriptions that arrive in email in the same type.

LinkedIn has recognized the issue of time value in a communication by offering the sender the option of withdrawing a message -- but you know they're not digging into someone's email inbox to extract a sent message.

It's an information architecture for electronic messages -- you're asking for type-specific features: Dissolve, for instance, or I can add, file or strip attachment or announce yourself in red -- some of these are built in to email clients now, but they're all receiver-set. Your innovation here is to recognize that this is a mature enough medium to drive some standards that we can all agree on and so can set up some new sender-set categories (aside from URGENT and DO NOT FORWARD)that help us all with inbox overload.

My husband teaches this stuff day in and day out so it's a nearby concept for me. Yeah, it's a great idea -- I'm sending you an email and I know because I'm smart that the message is ephemeral and should fade if not read in an hour, so I have that setting on my email client -- and the mail will disappear if not read in that time.

I'm sure there are other useful categories that we can all agree on -- and here's the inevitable question -- Is it technology or training? or a combination? Maybe this is finally the time for the etiquette of electronic messaging.

The messages you describe probably ought to be delivered in an IM type interface, rather than the lockbox of email -- or twitter perhaps. Isn't it time for all our messaging systems to start to integrate with each other based on our communications intentions rather than the type of application interface I happen to have open at the moment?

I send a lot of IMs into email inboxes, and I send messages that should be leaving an audit trail into an IM conversation, just because that's where the conversation started...I think this is a cresting issue."

I'm still thinking about this. I spend some minutes each week explaining to some colleague what Twitter is. I've come to decide that it's just a pipe with a very small diameter -- and you can set up the pipe to send from or receive to a wide variety of -- what? -- sinks? clients? It's so fun because it's like Legos or Hot Wheels tracks or Zoobs. For a while,you can amuse yourself just setting it up and taking it down again. (Reminds me of the ancient Kliban cartoon that was captioned, "Henry could amuse himself for hours with a pencil," and it showed a dazed looking fellow standing up and holding out a pencil for inspection.)

But the concept that sticks in my head is this: we're very hide-bound about the ways things work right now when it comes to communication channels, very conservative.

The phone rings, you answer it. People tell my husband all the time that they'll be fired if they don't answer all their e-mail. (It's probably for a different reason, BTW) I've watched my pre-teen daughter try to juggle tens of IM sessions at the same time, growing increasingly frantic as I hear the dings and the doors. When I looked over her shoulder, every single one of them was dull to the point of absurdity -- to me at least. She did not seem to enjoy the experience much, but she never turned a chat away that I ever saw. You poke me,I answer?

Surely one of the things that will change as we move towards universal instantaneous connection is this one: At some point, the receiver gets to say, "No, Thank You." I think manners is going to have this one turned around: It will be rude to get all snitty when you don't get an immediate reply.

My godmother, Mary, is like that, and I love her very much for her understanding. "Oh, heavens!" She says, "I don't know how you young people manage these days. But do stay in touch."


Why Can't You Start Building the Web Site?

For any site, basic target audience definitions (personas), content goals, and site-specific content categories mark a starting point for the development of content strategies, information architecture, and a site’s content plan.

Are all these things necessary? No, they are not necessary to build a site.

But they are necessary to build a successful site.

Without these elements, the site has no defined role in the business strategy. There is nothing material to measure that would demonstrate the success of the site. The task of collecting content for the site will always be an exhausting and demoralizing scramble.

The first step in planning for a web content strategy (or any web strategy), is to invest in the development of these elements in sequence:

  • Business goals with respect to the target audience,
  • Target audience definitions (personas),
  • Content goals that support the business goals, and
  • The content categories that will create a connection between the voice of the web site and the person who represents the target audience for the site.

These elements are also the first step in assessing a site’s ROI, both for investment in content development and all other investments in the site.

The most crippling gap in this sequence of planning elements is this: Specific business objectives.

If the site’s sponsors have not identified specific enough business objectives, it will not be possible to determine how they relate to the target audience – and that connection must be clear before anyone can create clear and specific content goals for the site. As a result, the site will fail.

Some Specific Examples

Chances are good that your subject matter experts already have a good idea of the audience persona (keep in mind that their assumptions ought to be tested with some validating research.

For instance, a starting point might be:

Real Estate Product Persona

Real estate owners and property managers who control a medium to small portfolio of non-habitational real estate. Their primary concerns are maximizing revenue, minimizing expenses and providing services to tenants. They make the buying decision or have significant input.

  • We assume that this person really knows the business.
  • This person is over-extended, always responding to emergencies.
  • They are managing staff in several locations and may frequently face the loss of a key employee, like a building manager.
  • They choose the timing of maintenance and renovation investments.
  • They may not have the daily structure to schedule maintenance and inspections as systematically as they would like.
  • They are concerned about interest rates, the quality of their tenants, their contracts and changes in laws that affect them.
  • If they report to investors, they spend time developing these reports.

(And now you have something you can really work with as you think about how to build and populate the site)

Once the persona is defined, you must develop one or more specific business goals with respect to this target audience. “They will buy our product again” is not specific enough to drive a content strategy. “They will buy again out of loyalty” is an example of a specific enough business goal (though it's pretty minimal) – to support this business goal we can develop a content goal like:

“The Real Estate Tycoon will strongly identify with the voice of the site and will see and come to trust that the site’s voice is always sympathetic to his primary worries and that the site’s content will provide an immediate, usable action plan against his primary worries so that he can sleep better that night.”

Loyalty is an emotional quality, so the responsive content goal is likewise oriented to an emotional response.

A content goal that clearly states the nature of the connection between the specific business goal and the audience’s actual reality will permit the creation of a site content strategy and content development plan that is likely to succeed.

For instance, in the example above, the resulting content plan might call for the creation of an industry team persona (a sort of real estate Betty Crocker) who speaks to the site visitor as a person talking to another person. This is not hard to do, and if it is likely to create a sense of personal loyalty at the time of renewal, then it’s an idea worth testing. The content plan will include many such ideas:

  • The tone of the article headlines and intros is sympathetic rather than matter-of-fact.
  • Loss Control content for this site must include immediately usable action plans and must not include long-term maintenance advice.
  • Content must be focused on the top of the mind worries of this person, and must not include content that he would consider trivial (even if our Loss Control experts disagree).
  • Since we’re assuming he’s plagued with worries, we don’t want to publish the “gotcha!” Lessons Learned on this site – these are the stories of tiny errors creating large losses.

The selection or commissioning of content itself should be easy with an adequate content plan.

A more business-like example of a persona-specific business goal that can feed a useful content goal is: “They will renew because they know that the loss-control tools that this vendors has supplied have saved them money in the past year and they expect the savings to continue.” This goal is not emotional – the responsive content goals will feature cost savings in the lead position.

What I refer to as content goals here are closely related to High Value Scenarios (HVS) in the world of interaction design.

For a site to be successful, its developers must see at least one specific business goal with respect to the target audience that can be accomplished, supported, or influenced by the intelligent use of web content or a web-based application. Further investment in content for a site for which we cannot articulate this connection does not make any sense.

Oh, and without the objective or goal, how in the world will anyone even know if it's been successful?

B to B Participation