Why so much research about Twitter is flat-out wrong

Every week it seems there is some fresh research establishing that Twitter is irrelevant to businesses and/or brands. Bloggers gnaw endlessly on reports dismissing the marketing possibilities of micro-blogging, calling for the death of Twitter.

I’d like to suggest these debates are largely meaningless because so many of these reports are hopelessly flawed.  I’ll demonstrate this point by asking you a simple question:

If you took a survey asking you to name the brands you follow on Twitter, would you name me?

I’m guessing that you wouldn’t, because you relate to me as a person and possibly even a friend, and yet I am certainly also a personification of my company and its “brand” on Twitter.  I would be overlooked in any research report looking for how people relate to “brands” on Twitter, wouldn’t I?  And lots of other companies would be missed, too.

For example,  Amy Howell is the personification of Howell Marketing of Memphis, but I am following Amy because I like AmyMegan Parker is paid to be a voice of GE on Twitter.  I love her irreverent spins on corporate news and sometimes don’t even connect that in fact, I am following one of the largest companies in the world.  Everyone knows how fun and effective Chris Brogan is on Twitter yet make no mistake that he is the personification of his growing new media fiefdom. When you follow Chris, do you even think about him as a B2B company?

Here’s the deal. If research focuses on the benefits of Twitter for “business-to-business” or “business-to-consumer” it’s doomed because this channel is ultimately about P2P — person to person.  In fact I would suggest that with few exceptions, ONLY “personal” brands thrive on this platform.  I can’t imagine following a bottle of beer or a restaurant chain on Twitter yet I would eagerly follow real marketing professionals from those companies who can enlighten, teach, and entertain me.

And that’s why so many of these research reports are missing the point.  They’re asking the WRONG QUESTION.  In fact I think it would be very difficult to measure the complete business value of Twitter across the social web quantitatively — many of the successes are “stories” of connection or qualitative data points.  But I’m sure companies will keep trying to reduce Twitter to a list of survey questions because it’s easy to do, it’s a hot topic, and it’s a way to get their name at the top of the wave for a moment. And so many of these reports are being rushed to a data-hungry blogosphere without regard for statistical validity!

So, how many of the individuals I follow on Twitter represent brands or companies?  Just about every one of them!   And THAT’S the point!

Does this make sense to you?

Can’t find work? Maybe you’re part of the “Unserviced Workforce”

I would like to introduce Stuart Mease of Virginia Tech University to all of you. Stuart is a member of the {grow} community and flat-out one of the brightest guys I know. He made a name for himself with creative applications of social media to economic development and I’m pleased to present this timely guest post today:

This recent headline in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye: “Some firms struggle to hire despite unemployment.”

So let’s dispel this unemployment myth right now. There are jobs out there and plenty of them … unless you’re part of the Unserviced Workforce.

That may be an unfamiliar term to you.  There are three distinct job seekers in today’s labor market – white collar professional workers, blue collar skilled workers, and the Unserviced Workforce.

Unemployed white collar professional workers are being serviced by private third-party groups (headhunters). Their skill sets may be in high demand and companies are paying a premium for their services. Professions such as health care, engineering, information technology, and accounting are all in high demand regardless of region.

The blue collar skilled workers are being serviced by public third-party agencies (community colleges, workforce investment boards, employment commissions, staffing agencies, etc.). Typically their skill sets are also in high demand because companies try train a constant pool of candidates for these jobs. Professions such as manufacturing, trades, technicians are all in high demand.

The Unserviced Workforce is caught in the middle. Neither the public nor private sector is helping this group find jobs.  This segment is characterized by younger people with potential or upside; has some  higher education; good (but not billable) skill sets, and are looking for a “professional” job paying a salary between $25k-$50k, depending on the region. This is the critical mass of knowledge workers who are underemployed, over-educated, or who are leaving smaller regions for larger metropolitan areas in search of better employment opportunities.

Here are seven possible outcomes for the Unserviced Workforce:

1) Acquire new skills and move up

This will require continuing education and a commitment to the acquisition of demanded skills.

2) Humble yourself and move down

This will require accepting a lower standard of living and the realization that there is a surplus of people with the same skills sets in the market.

3) Start a business

This will require taking risk by starting small while still looking for a job, going to school, or working a platform job, and identifying government programs to assist you.

4) Move laterally between jobs in the Unserviced Workforce

These people will most likely not make an investment in continuing education or start a business. They may think they are better than blue collar jobs. Typically younger, these workers will bounce from job to job and never “get ahead.”

5) Remain unemployed

These people are still not humbled or motivated to get out of the unserviced workforce because they are waiting for the economy to turnaround and/or family/spouse supported.

6) Leave the region

These people believe “it’s not me” but the place I live that’s the problem. They are typically unattached or younger and are more capable of leaving or are forced to leave due to the severity of the regional economy.

7) Retire

These people are focused on years of work experience rather than result-based metrics. They are frustrated by perceived age discrimination in the recruiting process. They will re-enter workforce at a later time, perhaps working only part-time. Their decision depends on their nest egg and lifestyle.

If you are a job seeker and are reading this post, I challenge you to get out of the Unserviced Workforce by seeking Outcomes #1, #2 or #3. Inaction will leave you in Outcomes #4 and #5 and poor attitudes results in Outcomes #6 and #7.

There are jobs out there.  No public or private-sector program is going to create a job market equilibrium. It’s solely up to YOU — the job seeker — to stay out of the Unserviced Workforce.

Stuart Mease’s mission is “connecting people” to create mutually beneficial relationships. He is currently serving as the Director of Undergraduate Career Services in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @stuartmease.

Ten social media and technology mega-trends to watch

I just read a fascinating (and lengthy!) report from McKinsey on tech-enabled business trends to watch and thought it was important enough to summarize for our community.  Here are some highlights from this excellent report:

1. Crowd-sourcing moves into the mainstream

In the past few years, the ability to organize communities of Web participants to develop, market, and support products and services has moved from the margins of business practice to the mainstream. Wikipedia and a handful of open-source software developers were the pioneers. But in signs of the steady march forward, 70 percent of executives recently surveyed said that their companies regularly created value through Web communities.

  • Intuit hosts customer support communities for its financial and tax return products to lower customer service costs by 90 percent.
  • P&G created a social network of influential mothers (Vocalpoint) to drive word-of-mouth marketing. In markets where Vocalpoint influencers are active, product revenues have doubled.
  • Facebook has marshaled its community for product development, recruiting 300,000 users to translate its site into 70 language. The entire French Facebook site was translated in one day.

2. Making the network the organization

Companies are pushing substantially beyond crowdsourcing to build and manage flexible employee networks that extend across internal and external borders. The recession underscored the value of such flexibility in managing volatility.

  • At one global energy services company, geographic and business unit boundaries prevented managers from accessing the best talent across the organization to solve client problems. Help desks supported engineers, for example, but rarely provided creative solutions for the most difficult issues. Using social-network analysis, the company mapped information flows and knowledge resources among its worldwide staff. The analysis identified several bottlenecks but also pointed to a set of solutions. Using Web technologies to expand access to experts around the world, the company set up new innovation communities across siloed business units. These networks have helped speed up service delivery while improving quality by 48 percent.
  • Dow Chemical set up its own social network to help managers identify the talent they need to execute projects across different business units and functions. To broaden the pool of talent, Dow has even extended the network to include former employees, such as retirees.
  • Other companies are using networks to tap external talent pools. These networks include online labor markets (such as Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk) and contest services (such as Innocentive and Zooppa) that help solve business problems.

3. Knowledge worker productivity

Knowledge workers typically are highly-paid employees, so increasing their productivity is critical.  Collaboration technologies are emerging to do just that.

  • Video and web conferencing are expected to grow at a rate of 20 percent annually.
  • At one high-tech enterprise, the sales force became a crucible for testing collaboration tools. The savings on travel were four times the company’s technology investment. Customer contacts per salesperson rose by 45 percent, while 80 percent of the sales staff reported higher productivity and a better lifestyle.
  • The US intelligence community made wikis, documents, and blogs available to analysts across agencies (with appropriate security controls, of course).
  • Bechtel established a centralized, open-collaboration database of design and engineering information to support global projects. Engineers starting new ones found that the database, which contained up to 25 percent of the material they needed, lowered launch costs and sped up times to completion.

The next leap forward in the productivity of knowledge workers will come from interactive technologies combined with complementary investments in process innovations and training.

4. Growing the ‘Internet of Things’

With RFID technologies, products themselves are becoming elements of an information system, with the ability to capture, compute, communicate, and collaborate around information — something that has come to be known as the “Internet of Things.”

Embedded with sensors, actuators, and communications capabilities, such objects will soon be able to absorb and transmit information on a massive scale and, in some cases, to adapt and react to changes in the environment automatically. These “smart” assets can make processes more efficient, give products new capabilities, and spark novel business models.

  • Auto insurers in Europe and the United States are installing sensors in customer’s vehicles. The result is new pricing models that base charges for risk on driving behavior rather than on a driver’s demographic characteristics.
  • In medicine, sensors embedded in patients continuously report changes in health conditions to physicians, who can adjust treatments when necessary.
  • Sensors in manufacturing lines for products as diverse as computer chips and pulp and paper take detailed readings on process conditions and automatically make adjustments to reduce waste, downtime, and costly human interventions.

5. Experimentation and big data

Data are flooding in at rates never seen before — doubling every 18 months— as a result of greater access to customer data from public, proprietary, and purchased sources, as well as new information gathered from the social web and these newly-deployed smart assets. These trends are broadly known as “big data.” Companies are taking data use to new levels, using IT to support rigorous, constant business experimentation that guides decisions and to test new products, business models, and innovations in customer experience. This trend has the potential to drive a radical transformation in research, innovation, and marketing.

  • Web-based companies, such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google, have been early leaders, testing factors that drive performance — from where to place buttons on a website to the sequence of content displayed — to determine what will increase sales and user engagement.
  • Capital One continues to refine its methods for segmenting credit card customers and for tailoring products to individual risk profiles. Financial analysts, IT specialists, and marketers conduct more than 65,000 tests each year, experimenting with combinations of market segments and new products.
  • Tesco gathers transaction data on its 10 million customers through a loyalty card program. It then uses the information to analyze new business opportunities—for example, how to create the most effective promotions for specific customer segments — and to inform decisions on pricing, promotions, and shelf allocation.
  • Ford, Pepsi, and Southwest Airlines analyze social web data in real-time to gauge the immediate impact of their marketing campaigns and to understand how consumer sentiment about their brands is changing.

6. Wiring for a sustainable world

Information technology’s share of the world’s environmental footprint is growing because of the ever-increasing demand for IT capacity and services. Electricity produced to power the world’s data centers generates greenhouse gases on the scale of countries such as Argentina or the Netherlands, and these emissions could increase fourfold by 2020. The use of IT in areas such as smart power grids, efficient buildings, and better logistics planning could eliminate five times the carbon emissions that the IT industry produces.

  • Businesses are adopting “green data center” technologies to reduce sharply the energy demand of the ever-multiplying numbers of servers.
  • IT manufacturers are organizing programs to collect and recycle hazardous electronics.
  • Smart buildings embedded with IT that monitors and optimizes energy use could be one of the most important ways of reducing energy consumption in developed economies. And powerful analytic software that improves logistics and routing for planes, trains, and trucks is already reducing the transportation industry’s environmental footprint.

7. Imagining anything as a service

Technology now enables companies to monitor, measure, customize, and bill for asset use at a more granular level than ever before. Asset owners can therefore create services around what have traditionally been sold as products, or even by-products. B2B customers enjoy these service offerings because they allow companies to purchase units of a service and to account for them as a variable cost rather than undertake large capital investments. Consumers also like this “paying only for what you use” model, which helps them avoid large expenditures, as well as the hassles of buying and maintaining a product.

  • In the IT industry, the growth of “cloud computing” exemplifies this shift. Software as a service (SaaS), which enables organizations to access services such as customer relationship management, is growing at a 17 percent annual rate.
  • The biotechnology company Genentech, uses Google Apps for e-mail and to create documents and spreadsheets, bypassing capital investments in servers and software licenses.
  • Many urban consumers are drawn to the idea of buying transportation services by the hour from companies like CarShare and ZipCar rather than purchasing autos.  This service is growing 25% annually.
  • A number of companies are employing technology to market salable services from business capabilities they first developed for their own purposes. British Airways and GE, for instance, have spun off their successful business-process-outsourcing businesses, based in India, as separate corporations.

8. The age of the multi-sided business model

Multi-sided business models create value through interactions among multiple players rather than traditional one-on-one transactions or information exchanges.

  • Spiceworks offers IT-management applications to 950,000 users at no cost, while it collects advertising from B2B companies that want access to IT professionals.
  • Sermo, an online community of physicians who join (free of charge) to pose questions to other members, participate in discussion groups, and read medical articles. Third parties such as pharmaceutical companies, health care organizations, financial institutions, and government bodies pay for access to the anonymous interactions and polls of Sermo’s members.
  • Flickr, Pandora (online music), and Skype not only use this kind of cross-subsidization but also demonstrate the leveraging effect of networks — the greater the number of free users, the more valuable the service becomes for all customers. Pandora harnesses the massive amounts of data from its free users to refine its music recommendations. All Flickr users benefit from a larger photo-posting community, all Skype members from an expanded universe of people with whom to connect.
  • MasterCard analyzes consumer purchasing patterns and sells aggregated findings to merchants.

9. Innovating from Third World countries

Disruptive business models arise when technology combines with extreme market conditions, such as customer demand for very low price points, poor infrastructure, hard-to-access suppliers, and low cost curves for talent. In other words, developing nations may be a wellspring of innovation. Some of these “extreme” business models are spreading to traditional markets thereby creating new global competitors.

  • In parts of rural Africa, traditional retail-banking models have difficulty taking root. But Safaricom, a telecom provider, offers banking services to 8 million Africans by allowing a network of shops and gas stations to load virtual cash onto cell phones.
  • Alibaba, China’s leading B2B exchange, helps more than 30 million members share data on their manufacturing services with potential customers — in effect, offering Chinese manufacturing capacity as a service, enabling small businesses anywhere in the world to identify suppliers quickly.
  • Hundreds of companies are now appearing on the global scene from emerging markets, with offerings ranging from a low-cost tutoring service to the remote monitoring of sophisticated air-conditioning systems around the world.
  • Some global companies, such as GE, are locating research centers in these cauldrons of creativity to spur their own innovations there. Others, such as Philips and SAP, are now investing in local companies to nurture new, innovative products for export that complement their core businesses.

10. Producing public good on the grid

The role of governments in shaping global economic policy will expand in coming years.  Technology will be an important factor in this evolution by facilitating the creation of new types of public goods while helping to manage them more effectively. This last trend is broad in scope and draws upon many of the other trends described above.

  • “Wired” cities such as London, Singapore, and Stockholm have used smart assets to manage traffic congestion in their urban cores, and many cities are deploying these technologies to improve the reliability and predictability of mass-transit systems. Sensors in buses and trains provide transportation planners with real-time status reports to optimize routing and give riders tools to adjust their commuting plans.
  • Networked smart water grids will be critical to address the need for clean water. Embedded sensors can not only ensure that the water flowing through systems is uncontaminated and safe to drink but also sense leaks.
  • Law-enforcement agencies are using smart assets—video cameras and data analytics—to create maps that define high-crime zones and direct additional police resources to them.
  • Cloud computing and collaboration technologies can improve educational services, giving young and adult students alike access to low-cost content, online instructors, and communities of fellow learners.
  • Through the Web, governments are improving access to many other services, such as tax filing, vehicle registration, benefits administration, and employment services.

Whew. That was quite a long post!  Let’s turn it over to you and your thoughts on these megatrends …

The ultimate blogging smack-down: Schaefer versus Mitch Joel

A few weeks ago Mitch Joel, blogger and founder of Twist Image, aggressively disagreed with me on my blog post Why it’s Ridiculous to Argue About Ghost Blogging.

He was so pumped up about this topic that he challenged me to a duel. So I practiced my very best Mitch Joel “blue steel” sexy-glare (above) and accepted.

Mitch just posted our rambunctious discussion on his Six Pixels of Separation podcast. This turned out to be an absolutely fascinating debate and a lot of fun. Check it out to see what happens when we lock horns on the subject of ghost blogging and social media philosophy in general.

Mitch says ghost blogging is fundamentally wrong and that this is force-fitting old thinking into a new media. My perspective is, get over it — it’s already happening and it’s an important way to give voice to an executive’s passion and ideas.

We also delve into subjects like:  Is social media changing corporate culture or does corporate culture determine social strategy?

Come along for a wild ride by listening here.

And if you don’t follow Mitch’s excellent blog, you’re really missing out. He’s a solid business consultant and an important voice on the social web.

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