Posts Tagged 'business and social networks'

I Giorni Migliori

It is an irony of the internet age that its biggest enabler, the telecommunications industry, is often perceived as being dormant as those around it have disrupted, innovated and reinvented themselves.

To be fair, few industries have escaped ridicule when evaluating the merits of their internet strategies.  Consider the much maligned print media industry which has had its fair share of criticism over the years, but only because the web so dramatically levelled the playing field for every armchair wannabe journalist.  Or the financial services industry, where the most innovative ideas have come not from bellwether financial institutions, but from new entrants – think PayPal, Mint, and Kiva.

And yet, within both the print media and financial services industries, old world players have made significant progress towards meeting their customer’s ever-evolving expectations.  Old world brands who’ve survived the transition from a pure bricks-and-mortar existence to providing services in the Cloud may lack creativity and rarely excite you, but chances are you know how to navigate your favourite online newspaper site to get the scoop on your favourite sports team, and can schedule monthly payments for all your household utilities using internet banking with aplomb.

So when I read on my Twitter feed that eBay was “offloading” Skype – not to a pipes-and-tubes Telco, but a venture capital firm – it got me thinking.  Are Telco’s truly content playing plumber to the Googles of this world?

Here are five things that should start to change, as Telco’s work hard to earn online cred with customers –

  1. Transition focus from “dotcom” to “platform” – It matters not how many websites we build and maintain, it’s platforms that deliver a complete customer experience across channels (think Google Applications and iTunes), and provide opportunities to monetize in spades.
  2. Build a strong social media competence within the enterprise – Social media is being recognised as less of a fad, and more as a way of interacting, collaborating and building communities, not just with customers, but also within an organisation.
  3. Offer real-time experiences – The immediacy afforded by the internet has meant that businesses can anticipate and respond to customer needs like never before.  LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are not websites, but platforms that allow businesses to tap the stream of conversations across social connections for targeted offers, incentives and myriad value-adding services.
  4. Develop new customer personas around unique experiences – Existing market segmentation strategies quite often take a myopic view of customer circumstances and preferences.  Today’s customers are evolving, and existing segmentation profiles are becoming less valid.
  5. Pursue disruptive innovation – Services like Google Voice will significantly impact how traditional Telco’s market their products and services.  Telco’s will start to revaluate what their cost and revenue drivers are, and challenge existing theory on how they provide value to customers.

The future is anything but bleak for Telco’s.  In fact, now is the time to leverage the gains across other industries – to learn from their foibles and glean insights from their successes.

Finally, apropos of nothing, I should mention that as I type, I’ve been listening to an Italian song by the group Taramancino called “I Giorni Migliori”.  A Google translation reveals it roughly means “Best Days”.  It’s a song I first heard on an internet radio station, and subsequently bought via Apple’s iTunes store. I did all this on my iPhone.  It’s one helluva platform – really.

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The Long Tail and social networks

In Chris Anderson’s best-selling thesis “The Long Tail” , he lauded online businesses that go to market with niche offerings, positing that a sizeable (and profitable) opportunity exists that mainstream businesses typically ignore.  Last week, Anita Elberse, in her HBR article titled “Should you invest in the Long Tail?” countered that argument, citing data that showed that mainstream demand continues to trump obscure, niche interests for wallet share.

While a healthy debate has ensued online between the authors, clearly both notions are plausible. Indeed, their relevance even impacts the strategies corporate decision makers pursue when deciding on how best to participate in online social networks.

At mainstream social networks like Facebook, My Space and Orkut, millions of members connect with friends to communicate and share experiences, forming clusters of people who have either something they identify with, or someone they know, in common.  Individual clusters expand and combine to form thriving online communities, where, as in the case of Facebook, over 250,000 new users sign up every day to participate.  The network effect inherent in sites like Facebook has challenged marketeers to embed their brands in the social experiences of their members.

The Long Tail theory applies spectacularly to online social networks too.  No matter how obscure your interest, idea, or obsession, there is likely a niche social network waiting to sign you up.  And where none exists, it is effortless to start one of your own, thanks to open platforms such like Ning (which had over 275,000 social networks as of May this year).

Niche online social networks can become a potent force, when they transition to full-fledged multi-sided platforms.  Consider LinkedIn, a professional networking site with more than 19 million members that renders the traditional Rolodex obsolete. Adding people to your LinkedIn network is akin to collecting business cards, except you get to view the person’s work history, and get a sneak peak at their network of contacts. And, whereas a business card is useless the moment a contact changes jobs, LinkedIn profiles are assiduously updated to ensure no achievement or career transition goes unnoticed. LinkedIn is well positioned to transform into a multi-sided platform serving the needs of individuals, recruitment firms, and employers.

As in the euphoric dotcom years, it is once again web start-ups who are rewriting the rules across industries. Still, significant opportunities do exist for traditional brands to extend their reach by embracing social networks, whether they participate in a mainstream social network like Facebook, or create their very own niche network. Last year, I posted a blog on how Choice magazine (a not-for-profit consumer reviews publication based in Australia) had squandered an opportunity to extend its brand online and tap into the collective wisdom of online Australians.

An equally compelling opportunity exists for another Australian publication – Vive magazine. This bi-monthly magazine for “women who mean business” has carefully cultivated it’s brand. Ambitious, sophisticated, and an astute sense of balance aren’t just Vive’s brand attributes -they could just as easily be traits their niche audience aspires to. The publishers of Vive have a tremendous opportunity to extend their brand values online, and to become an influential online destination for their key demographic. A hypothetical Vive online social network for women could allow members to comment on articles; authors and contributors could blog more frequently and initiate discussions on various topics; and, clusters of interest could emerge around subjects as varied as ‘working mothers’ to ‘starting my own business’.  Even the potential for advertising revenues would be amplified given the target audience at the site. 

There have been attempts by incumbent industry leaders – albeit limited in scale and ambition –  to extend their brands online via social networks (examples include Ernst & Young’s Facebook group to start a conversation with new grads, the HSBC Business Network, and Amex’s Open Forum). Perhaps the debate ignited by Elberse’s rebuttal of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail will inspire corporate decision makers to revisit their own online social networking ambitions, and, who knows, maybe the next LinkedIn or Facebook will be the wilful foray of an old world company, attempting to rewrite the rules online.


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