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Wrap-up: Business and technology strategy changes in the Age of Social Networks

First and foremost, we had great attendance (twice the registered attendance–an excellent achievement given that it was the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend) and lots of excellent questions. Second–and equally great–the attendees and panelists spent over 90% of the time discussing the business implications of social networking (rather than dwelling on the latest technology widget or social-network-of-the-week). This was a strong confirmation that social networking is now a mainstream business concern, rather than an experimental concept. (Again, it reminds me of 1999 all over again…)

Here are the top five items that came up over and over in our discussion:

#1. What is the business model for social networking?

I could tell I was at a business school as this was the first question out of nearly everyone’s mouths. It is a very valid question (especially in light of wide swings in valuation of social networking companies).

A key theme I highlighted here was viewing social networking not as a ends unto itself but as a new medium to interact with your customers, staff, stakeholders and partners. Specifically, I discussed how Rodalle (Men’s Health Belly-off and Ink Link), Kodak (Idea Center — now ShutterFly) and a Blue Chip Financial Services Company (I cannot name for at least four more weeks) have incorporated social media into how they interact with their customers to build loyalty and revenue.

#2. What data do you collect, how do you use it?

Here is where I could see EMTM’s strength in showing its students and alumni how to harness technology for business use. Everyone knew that understanding data was key to demonstrating business value.

We discussed the challenges of slicing and mining data that come from many users (UGC, user-generated content) and from understanding these peer-to-peer relationships. Ultimately, we all shared the concept that you need the ability to dimensionally mine data (not just run reports) and integrate these data with the rest of your enterprise’s data warehouses on customers, commerce, direct marketing response, etc. Not enough people are doing this today. Personally, I believe creation of social networking data mining capabilities this will be the biggest expansion area over the next 12-15 months.

#3. How do you reward people for providing UGC?

Basically, when will sharing your information for the fun of it fall out of fashion and become a fad. Some of our panelists thought this would never happen (indicating that Web 2.0 brought on the Age of Online Individualism). I fell back to the classic microeconomic arguement:

People will stop sharing online content and information when the value they obtain from this is no longer worth the effort and risk.

Right now we still have a “in fashion effect” that encourages this sharing. However, the key (as an enterprise) is to use this sharing and interaction to create value for both the enteprise and the network participants. I highlighted who I knew was doing this well: HGTV’s Rate My Space, the same Blue Chip Financial Services Company (I cannot name for at least four more weeks) and the SINdicate (to name a few)…

#4. How do you use this for work with the federal government?

This was the surprise topic. I definitely reflects the state of the economy and reliance on TARP and stimulus spending.

This was the “softball” for me (as the only panelist with public sector social networking experience). I mentioned that the best way to work in the public sector is to align your social networking strategy with the nine modes of public engagement and interagency interaction (identified by Kim Patrick Kobza through his years of experience in this area and discussed in my recent white paper) common at the Federal, State and Local levels of government.

#5. How Does Anyone Make Money Using Twitter?

Twitter was less of the elephant in the room than I expected. However, it came up both in our panelist discussion and the keynote presentation by Guy Kawasaki later in the evening. Guy summed it up well (not surprising, given his presence on Twitter):

Twitter is not about making friends or building relationships. Twitter is a marketing and business development tool. Use it to share your message, search for people discussing similar topics, and direct message them to build and develop business connections. No other technology (outside of those employed by NSA) lets you see what people are talking about and to reach our to people talking about your reason for existence.

Not everyone uses Twitter this effectively (I was happy for the lesson). I will be curious–however–to see what happens when enough people catch on and stop using Twitter to simply talk about themselves: this will reduce the opportunity to see what people are discussing and directly market to them.

Again, it was a great discussion. We had enough questions to go beyond our allotted two hours. It definitely let me know there is a need for these types of panel discussions at more places than Wharton. My thanks to Steve Ennen and Dwight Jaggard for a great day.