The Rise and Resurrection of LinkedIn

Thoughts on the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition

Last week the world was surprised with Microsoft’s announcement that it would acquire the company for a price well above its recent share price.  This was met with a mix of reactions and articles proclaiming to know the future plans of Microsoft for the social network.
I admittedly was very excited, for two reasons:
  1. Microsoft is cool again!  It has been on a spree buying some incredible technology products and retaining those brands in its portfolio (for the most part).
  2. LinkedIn has a tremendous number of assets, but I think it was starting to suffer in financial performance because had lost site of its own north star.
live-or-dead

Is it live, or is it dead?

 
LinkedIn is dead, or dying. At least that’s what many of my friends and colleagues were saying over the last 12 months.  Now we know that’s an exaggeration, of course, but they were basing their opinion on some very visible actions the company has been taking.
If you’ve been a power user of LinkedIn for some time, you will have taken note of one or more of these:
  1. The diversion of power user features from the core service into paid plans like Sales Navigator and Job Seeker.
  2. The creation of very different, CRM-style experiences of the premium services.
  3. An increasingly non-transparent set of paid advertising options.
  4. Corralling an impressive set of content marketing resources (read: Pulse, Slideshare and Lynda.com) but failing to promote any joined up vision for how they co-exist.

My long-standing love affair with LinkedIn

I started early. I think that I was really intrigued with the idea of having a place for professional networking that was inherently social.  I initially earned quite a bit of harassment from my colleagues who didn’t seem to understand the value in those early years.  They eventually came around, seeing the power that an extended network could bring to sales, marketing and recruiting efforts.
Even when I was on and off with my Twitter use, and restricting my Facebook visibility to close friends, my LinkedIn profile was always a place that I shared things of interest to me professionally.  My network has become a massive asset for recruiting new team members, for job searches and for business deals. We use it for persona research, testing and amplifying content.  It’s become an essential part of business life.
That said, perhaps that’s why the acquisition makes so much sense.  Microsoft’s products are by and large synonymous with and (for some) essential parts of business.

Exciting opportunities all around

Depending upon where you sit, you are bound to see lots of very interesting potential opportunities coming out of the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal.  A few folks were quick to point out that Microsoft products take a few of the top 10 Lynda.com course slots.
The Return of Author Rank
Google’s introduction of Author Rank in its search engine was a pretty big deal and many website owners were miffed when it went away. That said, LinkedIn, via Pulse, does provide a great way to attribute and “score” authority without relying on an obscure social network profile. Because it will be Microsoft owned, this presents an opportunity for Bing to have a very unique point of differentiation from Google search.
Data Enrichment
Within the B2B technology space, there are a large number of data providers that provide data enrichment services for businesses to augment their customer and recruiting databases.  LinkedIn now has the most well groomed data set of company, industry and individual contact information (including job history) on the planet.   This could be a Dun and Bradstreet sized opportunity.
Ads  Everywhere
Let’s not forget, LinkedIn has a wide range of established ad products that include display, retargeting, email and more.  Granted their high price points and complex sales model have made them slower in growth than their Google and Facebook counterparts, however, Microsoft has an opportunity to change all of that. The web enabled Windows desktop is now potentially the most coveted destination for B2B buyers to buy their ad impressions.

Experts on Demand

 

 

Just having a little fun, let’s suppose that Microsoft really started to look at how to combine its new services in exciting new ways.  What about asking Cortana, Microsoft’s voice enabled personal assistant, to find you an expert on content marketing strategies in the life sciences space, having LinkedIn locate the expert, book the meeting in your calendar and Skype ring them up for a video conference when its time to chat.

Now that’s the future of work. It would also seem to be a fun time to work at LinkedIn and Microsoft.
Looking forward to see what happens.
Note:  This post was a play on the title of a book by the late, great Ed Yourdon, “The Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer”. I was a big fan of his books, most of which were on my Dad’s bookshelf, when I started my I/T career. Ed became a pretty great photographer in his later years and sadly passed away in January of this year.

Natural Language Processing and SEO

 

As you know, I have a strong interest in the future of search. This is particularly true of new software developments that help people find what they are looking for.  I recently had an opportunity to write a piece for the TrackMaven Marketing Blog on natural language processing (NLP) and its impact on search engine optimization (SEO).

nlp-seoThe premise of the article is that natural language processing has come to change the way the web works in a fundamental way: shifting discovery of content from an explicit keyword based search to discovery based on context and intent.

I argue that NLP will change life for the SEO professional in some significant ways, from the strategies they develop to the tactics they recommend you implement on your site.  If you have strong opinions on the topic, I hope you will leave a comment for me here or reach out to me on Twitter.

I encourage you to read the entire article over at the TrackMaven Marketing Blog:

How Natural Language Processing Has Changed SEO

Speaking at #ERE16 in April on Recruiting and Digital Marketing

It looks like this month cannot possibly get any busier. In addition to selling one house, buying another, starting a new job and moving across country,  I am speaking at a conference in Las Vegas in early April.  #ERE16 is one of the leading conferences for Talent Acquisition Leaders, and I’m flattered to have been invited.

 

The main theme of the conference is data-driven talent acquisition. My talk is called, “Data-Driven Digital Strategies for Recruitment Marketing”.  In it I will talk about how we defined our strategy beginning with a customer-journey mapping approach, using numerous sources of analytics to determine the potential value of the goals we set for ourselves.

For a taste of what I’ll be talking about, take a look at this fun article I put together for the ERE Blog, called 5 Secret Techniques to Transform Your Recruiters Into Digital Marketers.

See you in Las Vegas!

Pastures New

Today I’m breaking from my typical routine of writing about digital marketing and strategy trends to talk a bit about a big personal milestone.  It is with much excitement that I share the news of some big changes for me and my family: I have left ThoughtWorks to head for new pastures.

My next career challenge:  I am joining TrackMaven in Washington, DC, as their Senior Director of Professional Services and Customer Success.  I am starting this month and soon after, I will also be looking into moving the family back east as well.

What I Am Most Looking Forward To

I am excited to be joining my fellow Mavens on many levels, but I’ll elaborate on a few specific reasons here.

  1. TrackMaven has a great product that fills a universal need for omni-channel marketers: the benchmarking, monitoring and trending of competitive analytics across all digital channels.   I’ve been a customer/user for a couple of years now, and we continue to find new ways to use the data that the service provides. I cannot wait to help build new levels of awareness around the product, help our customers get better insights into its use and potentially craft new forms of marketing education and services using it as a platform.
  2. A fun-loving culture. There is a love of the craft of marketing, and that of helping customers solve problems that comes from every member of the team.  This spills onto customers as well, not solely through Corgi photos and cupcakes, but also by creating unique quality content.
  3. Building relationships with marketing leaders. If you know me well, you also know that I am a connector, and lover of people. As a part of my role, I will be able to forge new bonds with marketers in organizations of many different shapes and sizes.

The Extra Benefits

  1. Proximity to friends and family. Being based in DC, I’ll now get to visit many more of our closest friends within a few hour drive.
  2. DC is such a  great city.  Filled with so many amazing free things to do and see and eat, I cannot wait to share it with the boys.

What’s Next?

During the last several weeks, I’ve had a chance to reflect on many life themes from the last decade. Specifically, these include life in northern California, product management, health and wellness and career changes.  I’ll be sharing some of those thoughts here, in addition to my typical areas of focus, digital marketing and strategy. I would be very thankful if you subscribed and offered feedback on anything that resonates with you.

 

The Future of Podcasting Is You

The future of podcasting is looking bright. I think it might be the next major wave of personal publishing.  It could become the darling of advertisers who will see it as a way to reach legions of new buyers. I’m going to explain how we got here, and what you can do to ride that wave with your business.

 

When Did Podcasting Start, Anyway?

 

I became a fan of podcasting before it was such a thing. Initially, it was mp3 audio recordings of my favorite late night radio show, Idiot’s Delight with Vin Scelsa.  Pretty soon, some folks that were smarter than me, like Dave Winer, changed things. They released a set of open technologies to publish and share audio just like other blog articles.  Thus podcasting was born.
What’s interesting is that it never slowed down.  Podcasting has grown more modestly than other media formats, but grown nonetheless.   If you were an NPR listener, you most definitely hooked up with some of their podcasts over the years.   Certain author and Tech communities loved them as well.  Even @ev, created a podcast oriented company called Odeo on the heels of Blogger. He and his team got the idea for Twitter during that time and moved on with its development instead.  That said, podcasting had lots of great mind power, but no huge breakout hits.
Percent of Americans (12+) listening to podcasts monthly
Source: Digiday, The Second Coming of Podcasts http://digiday.com/platforms/podcasts-5-chars/
Over the last couple of years, podcasting has returned to popular conversation. It seems like someone is always talking about a new podcast they are listening to or coming up with an idea for a new one.  It feels like there is a new swell in podcast activity.  Not to mention resources for podcast creators and brand advertisers.
As it turns out, the swell had been building over the last decade. The audiences are now starting to become large enough for advertisers to care. All it took was a couple of hit shows, like Serial to inspire a new generation of content creators. Consider the content marketing boom, and it is the perfect storm for a medium like podcasting.

 

Why Are Podcasts So Successful?

 

1. Podcasts fans love to collect podcasts.

 

Collecting, you say?  Like baseball cards?  Sort of. More like having a favorite band or author.  Once you fall in love with one of their works, you want to hear their whole discography.  You then graduate to listening to the bands that inspired them. Podcast listeners are no different. They like to set their pod catchers to download a mix of regular favorites and new finds.

 

2. Episodic Content

Podcasts are sticky. The short storylines allow for quick immersion into a new topic without being comprehensive.  A regular publishing cadence keeps listeners returning; much like our favorite television shows.

 

3. They are tribal.

Podcasts provide a way to bond with fans of your respective niche. A familiar host is an old friend that you get to spend time with.  New ideas are available on demand. No more waiting months until your favorite conference comes to town.

 

Will Podcasts Lead to A New Wave of Personal Publishing?

 

I think so. Increased mobility has positioned smartphones as the control panel of our lives. They are becoming the center of entertainment and workplace interactions.  They provide the single thread that weaves these experiences together.

 

Beyond this, I see two benefits for people with something to say (content creators):

1. The Tools to Create Great Podcasts Are Plentiful and Often Free

 

There is a high probability that if you are reading this, you own a smartphone. If you do, you likely have access to a high quality piece of recording software for audio.  Do you use Skype to talk to colleagues? Skype is helps produce many of your favorite podcasts today.  Need to edit those recordings?  Tools like Auphonic make it possible for a small fee.

 

2. Podcasting Has An Ecosystem of Democratic Distribution Tools

 

For some time, the main option for podcast distribution was iTunes. That not the case anymore.  SoundcloudStitcherPodbean and many more offer hosting for creators. Some provide tools for listeners to find your show via topic affinities.  Others like ACast, include rich analytics and monetization tools for creators.

 

What’s Next?

 

Individuals creating specialized content are a threat to big brand dominance of the airwaves.  Smart brands will try to create environments for content creators to build a platform.  Streaming leaders like Spotify and Amazon have the opportunity to take the lead here. They could also get overtaken by more focused upstarts like Acast.  Our new “radio” stations will be custom built and travel with us, in our pockets, on our wrists and in our cars.
With this in mind, what is stopping you from creating a podcast focused on your area of expertise? You could become the next star of my morning commute.

 

Notes:

 

Over the last two years or so, I’ve had a hankering to write this article.  The title of this article is also a nod to the great Chris Brogan, who included it on a list called “Top 100 Blog Topics I Hope You Write.”

 

Recommended Reads:

 

Have any favorite podcasts or thoughts on podcasting?  Share in the comments below or on Twitter.

When Brand Messaging Misses The Mark

Today a friend pointed out this great example of messaging gone awry.  In the image below, from a recent RiteAid circular, you can see their familiar “Welcome to Wellness” tagline is followed by a listing of items on sale, specifically: chips, soda, ice cream and candy!

rite-aid-welcome-to-welnessNow, as a fellow marketer, I want to give RiteAid the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure that the masthead was designed to be constant, no matter what the contents of the page were.  Still, in today’s market, is it excusable to have such a bold tagline with such a weak follow through?  After all, CVS boldly removed all tobacco products from stores to support its wellness agenda.

Let’s explore the tagline a bit further. As far as I can tell, this is a part of a greater Wellness program that the brand has been rolling out. The Wellness program includes products and services designed to promote long term health and well being of individuals and communities.  There are some incredible aspects to this program, including the placement of Wellness Ambassadors in individual stores.   More benefits are found for members of the Wellness+ Loyalty Program, including specialized products and services for Diabetes patients.

RiteAid is not alone. These examples are all around us. It is up to us to call these brands out for false promises and mixed messages. I can recall another example from Budweiser just a few months ago where they released cans with messaging that claimed their beer helped “remove no from your vocabulary“.  That one didn’t go over so well either.

I do not think there was intent to mislead customers in RiteAid’s marketing, rather a neglect to test the content with the overall presentation. The net result was that the overall brand messaging rings hollow. That and the fact that I have no trust that RiteAid cares about my wellness while it promotes me junk food at cheap prices.  Hopefully someone at the brand will see this error and have a chance to run it up the flagpole.

Until then, I’ll just assume this circular is a promotion targeted at future Wellness Plus for Diabetes customers.

Many thanks to @KWeischadle for sharing this example today.

Stay Gold, Twitter. Why the 140 Character Limit Must Remain.

In S.E. Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders, the dying Johnny Cade speaks the words, “Stay Gold” to his friend Ponyboy Curtis.  He’s trying to tell him to keep his special spark, his interest in literature and poetry, that separates him from everyone else they know.  In the larger scheme of things, its a reference to a Robert Frost poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, that the two read together while hiding out.  The poem itself talks about the end of innocence and inevitable changes that happen with time.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

This week, Recode reported that Twitter is considering expanding Tweets to handle major essay lengths (10,000 words).  Jack Dorsey of Twitter chimed in to the ongoing dialogue on the topic with a history of the character limit on the service, but basically affirming the experiment.

I’m here to ask Twitter to reconsider and here are my main reasons:

  1. The 140 character limit makes Twitter unique.  Do we really want to see Twitter conform to a Facebook standard? Heck no.
  2. We don’t need another blog engine.  10,000 words is white paper length. To me, this suggests that Twitter is trying to expand its scope to allow people to compose blogs and other long-form prose. This means competing with Medium, Facebook, WordPress and many more.  It’s already an overcrowded market.
  3. Twitter is about news and happenings in real-time.  The new moments feature works because it’s built on top of that notion.  The ad products work because they’re built on top of that concept as well.  Let’s look for ways to focus on that.

All of that said, I see tons of ways that Twitter can be improved by loosening the rules to make the 140 character rule far less encumbering.  I would recommend starting by seeing what other items in the Tweet payload could be removed from the actual 140-character message limit. For example, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t [email protected] in the 140 character limit
  2. Don’t include hashtags
  3. Don’t include links
  4. Don’t include images
  5. Don’t include videos

I’ve had a long relationship with Twitter as an early user who took a while to fall in love with the service. Now that I have, it’s become an integral part of my business and personal life.  I’d like to see it forget following Facebook and staying true to its roots.

Stay gold, Twitter.

Stay Gold, Twitter
Stay Gold, Twitter

Thanks to the incredible David Meerman Scott for speaking out against this change quickly!

A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Digital Vision

Why Empathy Maps Are Your Secret Weapon

This article is part 3 of an ongoing series on Digital Strategy Development.  (Read Part 1: Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing and Part 2: How to Develop A Digital Strategy)

Your digital vision needs to start with real people. If you’ve been following along with me in previous articles, you may have already done some work around assessing the current state of your digital presence. The purpose of the assessment to inventory your existing digital assets, tools and processes. Your vision needs to be oriented around your organization’s audiences and presented in terms of how they will have their expectations met.

Many people will tell you that the next thing to do is to create personas. I’m not going to do that, and it’s not because I do not like personas nor because I don’t think they work. It really has to do with efficiency. Personas and archetypes can be really helpful when designing software applications. Doing them right requires proper research and a fair amount of work and therefore time; even then, many people take shortcuts and end up just basing the personas on their opinions. There are more efficient tools to learning enough about your audience to frame out your vision without getting bogged down in persona work that may or may not be correct.

If you would like to learn more about the pros and cons of persona use, here is some further reading from around the web for and against the use of personas:

  • https://signalvnoise.com/posts/690-ask-37signals-personas
  • http://yourbrandvox.com/blog/2013/8/1/why-your-personas-dont-work
  • http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/01/are-personas-still-relevant-to-ux-strategy.php
  • https://medium.com/daily-ui-ux-inspirations/why-your-personas-dont-work-for-you-75c1abfcec94#.3ynb8xv6s
  • http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-1/

Who is Your Audience, Really?

Meet Emily. Emily is a Technical Lead at a growing start-up, with a “particular fondness for Javascript” and ironic t-shirts. She happens to follow one of our ThoughtWorks colleagues, Laura, on Twitter, which is how she noticed when Laura shared the news about the latest version of our Technology Radar.

When Emily follows the link in Laura’s tweet to the Radar, she notices that Javascript has been highlighted as a theme. Curious, she uses the search function within the Radar to learn more about what ThoughtWorks has to say about Javascript frameworks. Emily was unaware that the radar went so deep and wide; being interested in mobile testing frameworks, she also uses the site search to peruse some of the articles ThoughtWorks developers have written about Android and iOS development for low-connectivity situations.

Just then, Emily receives a push notification on her phone indicating that she has a meeting starting in 15 minutes. In order to keep reading later, Emily uses the context menu on her phone to push the link for the article she was reading into her Pocket account for later. Emily suspects she will have time to read the article on her 90 minute commute home on the train. She is hoping it gives her some ideas to share with the team during their off-site next week; they have been struggling with the fact that their mobile application performs poorly over slow internet connections. Emily knows that the team is talented and driven enough to solve this problem, but they seem to need a push from the outside to let them know that it’s OK to reach for some new inspiration.

Emily is not scattered. Her life, like many of ours, is complicated. She is trying to balance a fast-paced career with the realities of commuting and family life. She appreciates a technology firm that can get her smart answers but even more, she appreciates a company that appreciates her pain. She wants empathy.

Introducing Empathy Mapping

The empathy map is one example of a useful technique for getting to the heart of your audience concerns, without the overhead. Developed by Dave Gray and his colleagues at XPLANE, empathy mapping offers a low-fidelity mechanism for aligning your digital team around the needs of specific individuals in your audience.

There are many resources and adaptations of the empathy map provided online. I’ve included one basic template below that is available under Creative Commons. It’s intended to be an illustration of the model, although we tend to run the exercise with sticky notes and flip chart pages so that we can hang the results around our team room. If you have a distributed team, you might enjoy this online empathy mapping game from the folks at Conteneo.

Empathy-Map-Example
Empathy Map Example

In its simplest form, the empathy map asks that we consider the customer through five different dimensions:

1. Thinking and feeling – what is important to them: hopes, dreams and fears
2. Seeing – what their environment looks like
3. Hearing – what influences them
4. Pains – obstacles and challenges they have
5. Gains – what they hope to achieve and how they might measure success

I like to look at these dimensions as guidelines that allow you and your digital team to put yourself into the mindset of the customer. Depending upon your industry and problem space you may need more than this. As an example, consider how we used empathy mapping when developing our strategy for recruiting at ThoughtWorks.

We applied the technique as a part of a larger strategy to develop longer term talent sources for our business. Our hypothesis was that we might be able to apply some of the strategies we used for communicating with potential sales leads to those who might one day be interested in a career with us. To test this, we brought together a cross-functional set of stakeholders that we thought could be useful in building out our empathy map.

Our stakeholders included:

  • Our head of recruiting
  • Recruiters and Talent Sourcers
  • Marketers
  • Head of operations
  • Content strategists
  • Social media strategists

What we brought to the sessions

There are a number of supplies you will want to ensure you have for the sessions. I’ve detailed those below. In addition, you’ll want to look at what sort of data you can bring that will give the working team insights into the mindset of your customers during the workshop. Some of the reference data we used included insights from online recruiting communities where interviewees posted reviews of our company.

Our supplies and reference data:

  • Large print-out of the empathy map (nice to have – lots of big sticky flip-chart paper will do also)
  • A prioritized list of our most important roles for each of our hiring locations
  • A mix of colored sticky notes
  • Dry erase marketers
  • White board
  • Data from candidate interviews
  • Testimonials
  • Glassdoor (online recruiting site) reviews
  • Insights from our web analytics about conversion rates, popular pages and blog articles
  • Social media mentions

Mechanics of the empathy-mapping sessions

We started off the sessions with a “Hopes and Fears” exercise, a favorite of ours in many workshops that we run. If you have not run this before, it’s a variation on the Speed-boat technique popularized in Luke Hohmann’s Innovation Games book. This session nicely kicks off the mapping workshop as it gets the group directly focused on the “thinking and feeling” dimension of the map and typically raises a few outliers that help us as a group designate items to the more appropriate segment of the map.

Once we have “thinking and feeling” out of the way, we’re able to move onto the other sections of the map. The beauty of the empathy mapping technique is that the rules are relatively simple. The group would put ourselves into the targeted role, discussing the segment of the map we were concerned with (e.g. Hearing, seeing, thinking, etc). Once we did a couple of rounds we moved to a time-boxed “capture and post” format in which we passed out post-it notes, set the timer, and allowed ourselves to capture as many items as we could until time ran out or we were all done.

Once we got into a rhythm, we found things flowed quickly and we soon had a large number of sticky notes. We also learned that we were starting to uncover a bit more of a shape to the data we were collecting. The items we captured started to form a picture of the lifecycle for recruiting prospects. The lifecycle looked something like the map below, with stages from awareness through commitment. We even identified post-hire phases of advocacy that could include concepts such as referral and recruitment, but decided to put those out of scope for our initial exercises.

Note that if you run this exercise, the stages are going to need to be specific to your business. In our case, we considered these stages to be similar to a sales funnel:

Awareness – General awareness of us as a company
Discovery – That point when there might be some curiosity as to what we might be like as an employer
Consideration – Thinking of exploring a new role with a number of companies
Commitment – When the prospect decides to actually apply

Note that we not only captured these phases, but we annotated our map with a brief definition for all to see.

Recruitment Life Cycle
Phases of the Recruitment Life Cycle

 

Building a customer journey canvas using our empathy mapping outputs

Your data will start to tell a story of the journey your customers take through your business. You need a visual format that accommodates this. I recommend using a very useful visualization called the customer journey canvas, developed by the folks at This Is Service Design Thinking.

customer-journey-canvas
The Original Customer Journey Canvas

 

The canvas can be a bit overwhelming when you’re first introduced to it, but after a bit of research about the technique, you’ll learned that it really has become a successful open-source technique for mapping your business in a visual manner.

The essential elements of your canvas:

  • Your roles/personas/archetypes
  • The lifecycle stages
  • The questions you would like to answer for the roles in each stage
  • The experience you would like to deliver for the roles in each stage. Note: As you flesh this out, you’ll typically want to denote what items are “Front Stage” (read: seen by the customer) and which are “Back Stage” (read: internal activities that are not intended to be seen by the customer).
  • Content needed to deliver the experience for the role in each stage

There is no one way to create a customer journey canvas.  Once you are familiar with the basics of the exercise, you may want to explore modifying the canvas to suit your team.  To that end, I have assembled a Pinterest Board of Workflows, Journey Maps and Canvases so you can borrow from the work of others.

As you can see within the graphic below, these elements can be arranged on the canvas using some simple swim lanes. We found that this made it very easy to construct the board on the wall using flip charts, sticky notes and sharpies. As we moved through the workshop, we liked that we could quickly arrange our outputs in a way that visually made sense to the other participants. You can also probably get a sense of where you might want to use more or less detail as appropriate for your team. For example, I think some teams might feel comfortable with a separate swim lane for the channels involved, whereas we were comfortable without it.

proposed-canvas
Our Proposed Canvas

 

5 Things we learned from empathy mapping

1. Process over results

Completeness is not what we’re going for in these exercises. I’ve expressed it in earlier articles, but its worth repeating: your digital strategy is never done and it’s always out of date. The value you get from running these exercises with your team is the discussions that happen along the way, as they provide the understanding as to why you are prioritizing the work you are.

2. Customer feedback often contains the answers you are looking for

I cannot underestimate the value of customer and community data when running these exercises. We found so much rich data right within our interviewee reviews on Glassdoor that became central to our group discussions. Much of it was corroborated by our web analytics and post-interview feedback as well. As an example, we found that we simply

I love a term created by John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) and expounded on by Ann Handley (MarketingProfs): FUQ’s (Frequently Unasked Questions). These are things that people don’t know enough to ask when they are beginning their search for information, but ultimately do want to know! You can see Ann talk about FUQs much more eloquently than I do in her talk from Wistiafest 2015 (jump to 24:04).

3. Your goals are often different than you thought they were when you started

We tend to be such a growth focused culture that it’s almost natural to always be thinking of how we create more leads, more recruits, more content! There’s just no end to our desire for more sometimes. Well, somewhere along the way, we realized that we could definitely provide the information to excite more potential hires about careers with ThoughtWorks, but we could also dramatically reduce the number of interviews we would have to conduct with people who actually would not be interested in jobs with us. If we provided the right information to people before the interview process that previously they only learned during the interview process, that might help folks qualify themselves out.

4. Non-marketers can be passionate about content too
Those of us in the content business often lament that stakeholders within our business think they can order up content as if its a cheeseburger and fries. They’re not interested in how its made or if its even good for them; they just want it fast. We found this process raised so many great discussions about the best way to deliver a message. We even found that as the workshop moved into later stages where we had to prioritize what we really wanted to work on, people really were willing to advocate for certain content ideas and look for creative ways to make them happen.

5. Prioritize your segments before you start empathy mapping

You will want to consider the segments of the audience that you have prioritized as your focus area. You may be tempted to try to rationalize all of the combinations that you need to consider at this point in time. I urge you not to get bogged down with this. We actually found ourselves starting to map out all of the life stages (graduates, lateral hires, alumni), possible roles we might hire for (developers, testers, designers, etc) in all of the possible geographies (US, UK, Africa, Australia, etc); it became clear we would never get our work done. I recommend picking the one that is the most immediate priority for the business. You can always circle back through the model later to do the exercise for another audience segment.

To simplify our process we decided to focus on experienced developers and designers (lateral hires) within our US market for our first pass. This covered a large population of our recruiting goals and allowed us to get a hang of the process we were going to use in our workshop. We later did a second pass for graduates, as they helped us consider a whole other range of questions.

Pack up your vision and take it on the road

sheep-on-the-road

I have found that there is no substitute for a good, old-fashioned roadshow to get people behind your vision after you’ve created it. It certainly won’t survive the first meeting, but many elements of it will, and the plan will be the better for it. From this point forward it will be a living breathing strategy. We have experimented with a number of strategies for communicating vision and keeping it fresh and I will be working on a post to talk through some of those successes and failures soon.

In subsequent articles, I am going to touch on a couple of core areas that you will need to think about as you begin to operationalize your vision. One will be deciding on your channel mix: this is an area that sorely needs attention, as marketers continue to get bombarded with so many new channels that they feel they need to address all of them. The other is governance. Project and program management on the marketing side of digital often does not get enough attention and leads to a great deal of inconsistency and lack of progress as compared to our comrades in I/T. I look forward to sharing these pieces as they are available.


This article is part 3 of an ongoing series on Digital Strategy Development. Did you miss the other  parts? Read Part 1: Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing and Part 2: How to Develop A Digital Strategy.

Facebook Notify is a Big Deal for the Future of Search

Today, Facebook finally launched a long-awaited stand-alone iOS application called Notify.  Contrary to much of the hype, the application is not a newsreader, rather, it’s a push notification manager for your iPhone.

If you’ve read the blog, you know that I am actively contemplating what the future of search looks like. I think this development could actually be a big one in Facebook’s ongoing quest to become your favorite search engine.

facebook-notify

If you think about it, unlike traditional push notifications for status updates, every notification will now be coming through with a link. Some of those links may live on Facebook, but most will not.  We know that earlier this year, Facebook started indexing public links inside of its index, and recently started surfacing them to users in search results.

So, in my opinion, the discovery is this:  what better way to build an index of search listings and rank criteria than by having all the links pass through your Facebook proxy? Every time you click on a result, it’s like an automatic scoring mechanism for Facebook to be able to understand how many publishers are really living up to their subscribers’ expectations.

 

I think that this data presents some commercial opportunities for Facebook in terms of working with advertisers and publishers. It also provides them with a tremendous resource in overall search and discovery.

I suppose that there is little from preventing Apple from using the same strategy for enriching its Spotlight search engine, however, I don’t think it gets the add-on benefits that Facebook does in terms of advertisers.

Under the hood of Notify, you’ll find a manager where you can basically control the updates you receive from participating publishers. I would imagine that as they ramp more publishers up, we might see some changes in how many publish to the news feed, but perhaps not. That’s definitely one of these things that I think we will only know as it starts playing out.

You’ll be able to learn more about Notify including publishers at the Notify website.

Looking forward to see how this technology evolves. Please share your experience and thoughts in the comments.

 

How to Develop a Digital Strategy

Miles Law:  Where you stand depends on where you sit. – Rufus E. Miles, Jr. (1910-1996)  

This article is part two of an ongoing series. Read Part One: Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing and Part Three: A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Digital Vision.

With all of the current chatter about “going digital” we are surprisingly deficient in a solid approach towards building a digital strategy.  In this article,  I propose a hybrid approach towards defining a digital strategy that is informed by marketing, technology, design and product thinking. First I will offer some background on why this is needed.

If you are looking for a solid definition of what makes a digital strategy, you are likely to get a different answer based on who is writing it. In fact, the term has relatively recently started becoming a big deal. Advertising agencies were telling brands 10 years ago that everything was now digital and they should adapt accordingly.  So what’s different now?

Within Digital Strategy Starts With Marketing  we talked about the historic role of marketing in establishing the digital beachheads for many organizations.  Agencies were there to help them lay this groundwork. This is starting to change though; there are a greater number of players helping brands transform themselves now.  

In a recent Forrester Research report, “Wanted: Digital Engagement Providers”, the authors describe how the digital space is being approached by a few distinct groups of firms:  strategy consultancies, systems integrators, product development service shops, and interactive agencies. Each of these classes of firms has their own strengths and are rapidly acquiring other specialty firms to round-out their offerings.

What is the output of a digital strategy?

Digital strategy can take many forms, but ultimately it should be focused on the relationships between three things:  Audiences, Channels and Capabilities.

  • Audiences can include your customers, employees, influencers and partners.
  • Channels include your owned (website, social media, email), paid and earned media, but also emerging areas such as devices (mobile, tablet, watch) where syndication plays a huge role.  
  • Capabilities represent the skills brought to bear in delivering experience to your audiences

Digital Ecosystem Components  

aud-chan-cap

Your strategy will lead to delivering a set of desired outcomes for one or more of your audiences.

Ok. I know. You’re  about to say, “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that my organization should have multiple digital strategies?”

I’m glad you asked that.  The answer is yes.  More on that later.

To that effect, let’s define digital strategy as: An organization’s plan for delivering valuable outcomes to its audience by way of digital channels.

The capabilities are informed by a number of different disciplines and will affect how the organization goes about building and delivering on its plan.

Now that we’ve defined it. Let’s talk about putting it together.

A Roadmap for Building Your Strategy

Digital strategy has some essential components which we will discuss. Because channels and consumers are constantly evolving, our strategy needs to be focused on short timescales and revisited frequently. The journey to building the strategy is non-linear.

stages-strategy-creation

Getting to a digital strategy requires some upfront work, followed by a number of iterative parts. The  main stages of creating a digital strategy are:  

  • Assessment – This is where your research of the problem space takes place
  • Imagination – Consider this your visioning space, where you bring your best minds together to dream of the possible
  • Do – This is the factory where your work happens. A bit of planning and scope definition, governance and project management, the execution of your digital projects, and your testing to ensure they work as intended. Do is continuous.
  • Engagement – Getting feedback from your community. This should be happening all of the time.
  • MeasurementBecause strategy needs to evolve on an ongoing basis, you need to have members of your team whose job is to continuously sample and track your progress. Understanding of the data will change over time, so it is important to focus measurements on things that matter and that are actionable  in the ‘now’.
  • Learning – It might seem obvious because great teams are always learning, but you need to expressly build in time to digest, discuss and act upon these learnings.
  • Telling – Managing change well is all about communications. You could be building the biggest and best mousetrap in town, but if no one hears about it, it didn’t happen.

Key Components of a Digital Strategy Assessment

Assessment sounds like a fancy thing, but it is just getting the lay of the land. We want to do enough research here to determine if there is a worthwhile effort waiting for us, or just a waste of time.  Competitor, industry and audience research all begin during this phase and should continue

A digital strategy assessment should include a look at the following broad areas and questions:

  1. Brand
  • Have we established our brand voice and tone?
  • Do we consistently express the brand across our various channels, while speaking in the native tone of the channel? Are we more formal in our speech on LinkedIn versus Facebook, as an example.
  • Do we empower our key employees and advocates to help build the brand in their social interactions?
  1. Sales and Marketing
  • Do we have a documented and functioning demand generation business process?
  • Is it well-understood how marketing and sales work together to generate, qualify and nurture leads into sales opportunities?
  • Do we educate our sales people how to use digital technologies in personal interactions (e.g. Social selling programs)?
  1. Channels (Includes your website, social media, email, advertising, pr, and also devices like mobile, tablet, and watches.)
  • Do we have a channel strategy in place?
  • Have we documented what channels we participate in and why?
  • Do we have the tone of voice in place for each of our channels? Note the dependency on #1.
  • Have we prioritized our channels?
  1. Capabilities
  • Have we mapped out what skills are required for our digital journey?
  • Have we done a skills gap assessment in terms of our overall digital team?
  • Is there an understanding of what skills can and should be acquired via agency relationships and which should be developed in-house?
  1. Talent
  • Do we have the right people within our organization? Who should we be hiring?
  • What type of investment will it take to reach the level of talent we need?
  1. Technology
  • What software platforms are used to support the digital business?
  • Who are the experts in these technologies and how are they supported?
  1. Content
  • What are the major forms of content created to support the organization’s initiatives?
  • On what channels are they published and promoted?
  1. Governance
  • What structure does the organization have in place to coordinate the above and measure the outputs?
  • How is project management done?
  • Does digital have its own budget? How is budgeting done?

As you are developing this research, you will want to package and distribute it in a way that is accessible to people joining the effort in the future.  Even though it will evolve and change, this can provide a great deal of context around why decisions were made.

brand-hub

Our team developed a content hub using our organization’s intranet software (Jive). You can just as easily utilize a wiki or any other web-based collaboration software that you have.  Depending on the scope of your organization, a more public-facing repository, such as those employed by GOV.UK and the US Digital Service, might be appropriate.

Moving Beyond Your Assessment

As mentioned earlier, digital strategies should be actively maintained, and so your assessment will not necessarily ever be 100% finished. Once you feel that your assessment is “good enough”, you’ll have what amounts to a baseline for refinements to your strategy. At this point, it is critical to begin to get your team aligned around where it wants to go, thus creating a shared vision for your team is the next priority.

In the next article in the series, we will discuss effective methods for creating your “digital vision” and defining the scope of your efforts. Read Part Three: A Step by Step Guide to Building Your Digital Vision.