Austin Breakfast Places FTW

The other day, our family decided we wanted to break out of our normal habits of eating breakfast at Magnolia and Torchy’s so I asked my Austin friends where they suggested we should try next. The original thread on Facebook is here.

In the spirit of sharing, I have created a blog post with each of the restaurants suggested, a link to the Yelp review (and menu where available). I’ve also included any notes provided by the recommender like “great brunch place” or  ”good for “Bloody Marys.” If you have others you want to add in the comments, go for it. If you leave the link to the Yelp review and menu, I will go back and include them in the original list. Here goes:

Location Based Marketing for Business

This was originally posted on WCG’s blog.

This morning, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel titled “On the Location-Based Services Horizon” at the second annual Foodservice Social Media Universe (FSMU for short). Joining me on the panel were three of the smartest folks not only in the restaurant industry but also in the world of location-based services. This group included Rick Wion, director of social media at McDonalds, BJ Emerson, VP of Technology at Tasti D-lite and Lauren Barash, director of corporate communications at Moe’s Southwest Grill.

  • During the hour long conversation, I kicked us off with a few relevant mobile/location-based facts including:
  • Smart phone penetration has reached 50% in the U.S. (mobithinking.com)
  • As of May 2012, 74% of smart phone users claimed having used a location-based service. This includes things like Google Maps. (Pew Internet Study)
  • According that same report, 18% of smart phone users claimed to have checked into a venue like a movie theater using a service like foursquare. That number is up from 12% year over year. (Pew Internet Study)
  • The leading location-based service, foursquare, has approximately 24 million users (LBMA September, 2012)
  • Photo sharing service, Instagram (now part of Facebook), has grown to 80 million users in just 18 months (C|Net)

Following the industry stats, each panelist took some time to talk about what their companies were doing on the location-based marketing front. Here are a few of the key take aways from each:

McDonalds: 1) during key pilots, they have gotten good traction with foursquare in driving increased checkins. 1) After analyzing their mobile web traffic, they realized that a) store locations with details about drive thrus and playscapes b) nutritional information and c) job applications are the top three most visited areas of their site. Their mobile app features those three items. 3) In order to train franchise owners, they have used location-based scavenger hunts (check into a bar/get a tip/complete an action). This has worked well in helping their franchisees understand foursquare and how it works better).

Moes: 1) They have a check-in club that allows customers to connect their foursquare accounts to Moe’s loyalty program. Customers earn points through check-ins and can achieve “rock star” status on Moe’s leaderboard. 2) Changing offers requires a lot of training for staff which sometimes slows the pace of innovation at many retail locations. 3) Moe’s is also working together with their cheese vendor to sponsor a free queso day tomorrow.

Tasti Dlite: 1) BJ and this CEO just wrote/published a book called The Tasti D-lite Way that document’s the companies location-based and social media journey. 2) An early innovator in the location-based space, Tasti D has created a way to connect foursquare, Facebook and Twitter to their loyalty card. When the card is swiped, it auto posts across the customer’s social networks and gives the customer points for each purchase/check-in. 3) BJ thinks that one way retail stores/restaurants can create higher engagement/check-in activity with their customers is to put a customer-facing camera at each register that would capture any willing customers as they checked in.

There were a lot of great tweets from our session as well as from the conference. You can see them here.

  • I said that I believed that Google would ultimately win the race given the recent UI change it made by allowing users from the mobile Google.com page to “use your current location” and then suggest nearby bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
  • BJ thought that a great focus on value exchange from brands and more “celebrating” of mayorships should take place
  • Lauren disagreed with me that Google would win (while agreeing that having one’s place page(s) correct was critical. For her, it’s about more check-ins and better offers/value.
  • Rick suggested that based on activity they are seeing from Radian6 whether or not photos are the new check-ins (McDonalds sees far more customer photo uploads than checkins — to the tune of thousands/day)

Last but not least, here is a list of some resources that I’ve pulled together for the last few LBM sessions I’ve done. Included on that list are links to BJ’s book and a few of the reports referenced in the report. Enjoy!

 

Search Inside Yourself [Book Review]

Several weeks ago, I was asked to review the book, Search Inside Yourself, written by long-time Google engineer, Chade Meng-Tan (Meng for short). His official title at Google is “Jolly Good Fellow,” and after reading a couple of chapters of his book, it’s easy to see how he earned his title. Most impressive is that the lessons Meng shares in this book — essentially how to develop a greater sense of mindfulness — have been codified into a course that is offered to all Google employees. Given the success of the company over the last ten plus years… I’d say he (and they) are doing something right.

Before diving into some of the core elements of the book, it’s worth noting that I am a fairly spiritual person. And while I’ve grown up in organized religion, I am a great respecter of all religions, particularly those that focus on the positive elements of man, God and the universe. Because of that attitude, a lot of Meng’s book made total sense to me and I can honestly say that I’ve been unofficially practicing/living many of the tenets of the book without knowing it. With that said, you don’t need to be a religious person to appreciate Search Inside Yourself. However, before you decide whether you want to read the book, it’s worth asking yourself a simple question. Do you believe that you can become a better person by being more introspective, mindful, empathetic and humble? If the answer is no, then you are probably better off skipping this book (and the rest of the post).

Two things in particular struck me about this book that validate its credibility well beyond anything I could offer:

  • The pull quotes are arguably the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Case in point, when you get a former U.S. President (Jimmy Carter), the Dalai Lama and John Mackey, the co-CEO and co-founder of well respected, Whole Foods, that says something.
  • Meng knew that in writing this book he would have a number of skeptics questioning his methodology and possibly writing off his innovative course as quackery steeped in eastern religion and philosophy. Instead, Meng backs up all of his research with 3rd party studies and research and digs into the scientific and physiological reasons behind what he’s advocating.

Five pragmatic things that I took away from the book were:

  1. Strengthening one’s mind and getting good at focus and mindfulness is akin to riding a bike. The first several times you do it, your balance (focus) falters and the corrections to stabilize yourself are exaggerated. Over time, the adjustments become less noticeable and riding evolves into a subconscious and often, calming, activity.
  2. One of the important steps in the book is learning how to better focus in order to be more mindful and thus more in control of one’s own emotions. On page 55 of the book, Meng teaches us a simple exercise that takes place during walking.
  3. On page 57, Meng also provides details on an exercise that anyone in business could benefit from and that is mindful listening. As someone that has spent the last 15 years of my life getting better at listening, this easy-to-implement advice was a welcome recommendation.
  4. For anyone that lacks the empathy gene, the exercise on page 169 is straightforward yet transformational in its ability to remind us to be a better human being.
  5. Who in life hasn’t had to have a difficult conversation with a boss, child, client, vendor, spouse or employee at some point in their life? In many cases, some of us are unlucky enough to have several difficult conversations a month. The process Meng spells out on page on 223 is one that I plan to start using immediately.

The good and bad of this book is that the concept is relatively simple. It is singleminded in its approach. But it can only be effective to those that are willing to spend time putting it into practice. It’s hard to say whether or not business people will adopt the smart lessons and philosophies Meng shares in this book. Taking a look at the pervasiveness of the company that Meng works for — Google — I’d say he’s got better than a fighting chance.

Reluctantly Pinning My Way Around Another Social World

Guest Post by Laura Beck

Last month, I finally broke down and joined Pinterest. I didn’t want to. I held off for as long as I could, for a few reasons: I have a hard enough time keeping up with Facebook and Twitter, my two social means of choice; I heard Pinterest is a time sink hole, hours suddenly vanish and you are still pinning away; and I heard Pinterest is for housewives with lots of time on their hands: that cannot be me!

But you see, it is exactly my customer. Now at nearly 1.4 million users DAILY, Pinterest users are nearly 70% women, 50% with kids, most in that coveted 25-35 year old age bracket, and most with upper middle class or above household incomes.

THAT is exactly my customer, my target. You see, not only am I personally almost exactly that demographic (thought aged out now at 40), but this is who I market my business to. I couldn’t afford to miss Pinterest, for my brand, especially now with the opportunity to get in and “get pinning,” while it is still evolving.

My business, stripedshirt.com, focuses on fan-wear for women, kids and babies. Two color combination striped shirts to support a team, school, cause, organization. Women, aged 25-35, with kids and with disposable income are my ideal target. Pinterest gathers them all for me. OH AND my product is extremely visual – multi color shirts. Pinterest is built for beauty, color, great images, physical goods, pretty products, designs.

I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter for my business since day one, simultaneously setting up these business table stakes while getting my URL and building a website. But, I had not yet taken the Pinterest leap as of a month ago, honestly, out of fear that I’d get personally sucked in and lose more precious hours of my already-too-short days to yet another online social time suck.

I was intrigued, of course, especially by the recent “tipping point” for Pinterest. See, Pinterest is hardly new. It started Thanksgiving 2009. It’s been around over two years now. But this one is a strange one: it took off very slowly, plodding along really until something magical happened that other startups would likely kill to replicate. Somewhere around September 2011, Pinterest started taking off like a rocket ship. (Was it truly the power of PR? Pinterest was included in a Time Magazine Top 50 Best Websites of 2011 list in August. Who knows. Again, if the magic trigger could be identified, oh, how others would jump on board!)

Per Wikipedia, in January 2012, comScore reported Pinterest had 11.7 million unique users, making it the fastest site in history to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark. And founder Ben is now a beloved name and face to thousands of Mommy Bloggers and average middle aged American women. I heard he was mobbed, rockstar-style, when speaking at the AltSummit conference in January.

Somehow, refreshingly, Pinterest ignored the latest start up mantra of “Fail Quickly” and stuck with it until that magic moment when it went viral about six months ago. Shouldn’t be a surprise, Pinterest was BUILT to be viral – pinning and repinning is all about the “network effect” and, like Twitter, you don’t have to be friends to follow, or like, or pin. Also like Twitter, search in Pinterest is great (unlike Facebook), to find what you like, dig into topics of interest, find other inspirations.

And, a bit like Etsy, Pinterest is super easy, and all-inclusive about “selling” – simply add a dollar sign ($) to your image description and it beautifully tags the image as something for purchase. And you can post and pin your own stuff with ease, pimp your own goods! (Please, Pinterest, take your time in monetizing this feature, I know you will, but for the poor start ups out there, take your time!)

For all these reasons, I broke down and personally joined Pinterest, to be able to promote stripedshirt, my ecommerce business, THROUGH my own personal account. That’s deliberate. I do believe there will be strict rules for businesses on Pinterest, soon, regarding ecommerce and affiliate programs, percentages of sales to Pinterest and others. And I know soon we’ll be hearing a lot more about trademark and copyright rules with images. The big guys, and brands killing it on Pinterest like Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living can roll with those punches. Little startup me wanted to be more cautious.

For now, I’m one of the 12 million pinning away in Pinterest, and my business images, my products to shill, are clearly featured on my own boards, with information, URLs, pricing details indicating they are products for purchase, easy clicks to transactions. My friends are repinning my stuff and the images are starting to spread beyond my personal network to the wider Pinterest world.

Have I gotten a sale yet directly from Pinterest? Not that I can tell. But brand building and visibility is king. And again, if I’m a brand that cares most about Moms with kids, it would be dangerous to dismiss the power of Pinterest and be absent from it. It’s where my customers are, it’s where I need to be.

How about you? Have you also reluctantly pinned your way into a new social corner?

Laura Beck IS Pinterest. She’s a 40 year old Mom of two with a disposable income that could easily be blown on the gorgeous products featured on Pinterest. With 20 years of PR experience, she threw it all to the wind and started www.stripedshirt.com May 2010. stripedshirt is two color combination shirts to support a team, school, cause, organization, worn by exactly the kind of women – and their kiddos – who are loving and living in Pinterest today.

April 16 is Foursquare Day: Are you in?

Do you love foursquare? Wesley Faulkner and I do. And we want to show our pride by celebrating foursquare day on April 16 in Austin with a party and a little charity while we’re at it.

If you’re interested, the first step is to sign up on Meetup here.

More details will be released on that page over the next week. If you would like to be one of four team captains please leave a comment below.

Digby Localpoint: The Future of Location-based Marketing?

As an enthusiast about the mobile/location-based services space, I’m always excited to hear about ground-breaking new technologies and services, particularly those that are built with businesses in mind. To that end, I couldn’t resist sitting down (virtually) with my friend and director of product and development at Digby, Doug Wick. During our conversation, Doug and I discussed Digby’s latest location-based offering called Localpoint.

<Aaron> What is Localpoint?
<Doug> Digby Localpoint is a SaaS mobile technology platform designed to help retailers deliver a best-in-class mobile app experience for their loyal customers, focused on location-based marketing, analytics, and commerce. It has four components: Venue, Outreach, Analytics, and Storefront. A mobile team simply drops our libraries into their existing app and can then deploy geofence-based notification and rich message campaigns through Localpoint Venue and Localpoint Outreach, and derive powerful insight through Localpoint Analytics. If a retailer doesn’t have a mobile team, we can help them build an app using Localpoint Storefront, which comes pre-wired with the other three components of Localpoint.

<Aaron> Tell me more about Localpoint’s four modules.
<Doug> Sure, let’s start with Venue. This is the ability to drop a geofence around a specific store or public venue like a park, airport, or sports stadium and use that geofence to identify and communicate with people who are there. Campaigns can be set up to either be triggered by an event (like a check-in, product scan, store entry, or store exit) or can be set up to launch at specific times to one or more specific locations. We call those messages “announcements.” Think “blue light special” but much more powerful.

<Aaron> Localpoint Venue is essentially the ability to create your own white label location-based app ala foursquare or Shopkick. Why should retailers do this instead of spending with one of those apps, which have pre-built audiences?
<Doug> Ideally they would do both. Network apps like foursquare and Shopkick are paid media opportunities, which allow retailers to potentially access new audiences. However, a retailer’s own app represents an opportunity to get much closer – literally in the pocket – of their best customers. Retailers who invest in this way won’t be disintermediated and won’t face repeat acquisition costs, lowered share of voice, and lack of data ownership. The best mobile strategies will access new audiences through mediums like network apps, mobile SEM, mobile ads, and other paid opportunities, and convert them to app owners.

<Aaron> What does Outreach Do?
<Doug> The idea with Outreach is large-scale or “market size” geofences that allow you to localize a push notification to drive app engagement and store traffic to a local store. This is to activate loyalists, and can be used in a very complementary fashion with Venue. This particular component is especially interesting for local high-frequency retail models like grocery, convenience, and drug stores as well as quick-serve restaurants. But really, every app should have the ability to get your attention with a message that is location-based.

<Aaron> What about something that is also near and dear to my heart, i.e. analytics?
<Doug> Most mobile analytics out there treat an app like a website and simply track user activity to the app – download, opens, clicks. The true opportunity for mobile analytics is the ability to measure app activity relative to location. Localpoint Analytics allows you to set up geofences that give you web-style analytics for the physical world. Imagine knowing the same things about your retail stores that you do about your website – how many people visited, how long they stayed, what they did on the app while they were there. These are the types of insights that simply aren’t available through any other technology, and will lead to extremely powerful, business-changing insight.

<Aaron> Doesn’t this have the potential to be a little Big Brother-esque?
<Doug> An excellent point and touches on a unique characteristic of Digby’s technology. First, Localpoint Analytics only uses venue-sized geofences for measurement, and our technology only measures the activity of an app installed by an opted-in user in and around those geofences. The rest of the time, the device knows where it is but we don’t. Localpoint simply waits for the device to tell us when it’s close to something we care about. We’ve spent a lot of time and resources investing in patent-pending location detection technology that maximizes accuracy while protecting users by keeping power-draining GPS use at a minimum and ensuring user privacy.

<Aaron> Loaded question here but why do you believe location is such an important part of consumer mobile?
<Doug> We feel that no other single thing you can learn about a mobile user unlocks the unique power of the mobile platform like location. Not only does it help you be contextually relevant, but location also tells you more about a consumer’s intent than anything else. Our goal is simply to help retailers be “where their customers are.” This statement is meant to be taken literally and figuratively.

<Aaron> Tell me more about the Storefront module.
<Doug> Storefront is our most retail-specific Localpoint module, and allows us to quickly bring to life an app that features everything a consumer expects from a retailer: Rich, full-featured product catalog, commerce, and store locator. It is a best-in-class search, browse, and buy experience. And out of the box it is wired to communicate with and leverage the other three Localpoint modules. Many retailers still don’t have apps, and we feel like they might want one when they see what the entire Localpoint platform can allow them to do.

<Aaron> Yes, many retailers still don’t have their own apps. Why should they?
<Doug> I think many business, especially retailers, approach building an app like they are building a website. That is why many retail apps that do exist, even some of the most well-designed ones, look a lot like a miniature version of the full web experience. The fact is that the most important thing that apps can do is something most of them aren’t doing: communicate with the consumer. Communication is still the primary purpose of the phone, and by downloading an app the consumer has already told you they want you to be a part of their daily life. By not taking advantage of that opportunity, businesses are missing out. Our goal is not only to put that opportunity within arms reach, but also do it the right way, with the highly relevant location context that consumers expect.

<Aaron> Doug, Localpoint sounds really interesting, I look forward to seeing a demo soon!
<Doug> My pleasure Aaron. Anyone that’s interested can see more details on our website but I’d be happy to give you a demo soon! And thanks for taking the time to learn more about Localpoint.

I (Still) See You

A couple of years back I wrote a blog post called I See You. It was based on a concept borrowed from numerous groups of indigenous tribes world wide but re-presented in the runaway hit movie, Avatar, where the native inhabitants of planet Pandora used the term to acknowledge one another in a deeper way than just saying “hi” or “what’s up.”

What reminded me of this post and thus this concept were interactions I had recently with several different companies across a few different industries. Some of these customer service interactions were better than others but in each case, there is a key take away that I would suggest other companies — big and small — take note of.

JetBlue – I fly JetBlue about 50% of the time I fly. This has a lot to do with the fact that they service many of the direct flights from my hometown of Austin, TX to places like New York, San Francisco and Boston. However, I also like JetBlue because of their friendly service, snacks, built in televisions and comfortable seating. Two weeks ago, I was flying home on a fairly packed flight from SFO to Austin. It’s not a long flight (3 hours) but a little tricky to try and use my laptop when stuck in a middle row. After unsuccessfully asking the kind woman at the ticket counter if I could switch to an aisle or window seat post-check-in, I reached out to Twitter. Believe it or not, I wasn’t expecting anything as I really try to not be “one of those people.” If anything, I like to use my social channels and reach for good versus anything negative. And in this case, I used a little of both by saying, “@JetBlue, you know I love you but not looking forward to the middle seat from SFO >> AUS. ;(”  Much to my surprise, JetBlue tweeted me back within minutes and asked me to direct message them my flight info to see if they could do anything about it. Unfortunately, the flight was so full, even the social media folks couldn’t pull strings but as you can see from this blog post (and my ensuing tweet), just the fact that they acknowledged me and made an attempt to help went a long way toward making me feel like I was a valued customer. Now other people in my social graph know that too.

Key take away: sometimes just reaching out and trying to help (in a meaningful way) goes a long way toward surprising and delighting customers

Lexus – if you’ve never owned a Lexus, it’s worth buying one some day just for the service (and trust me, they are damn good cars). This past weekend, I needed to drop my car off to be serviced. In addition to arranging a loaner car for me, Lexus walked me through all the work that needed to be done (new breaks and a tire replacement). What I appreciated most was that they presented me with all the information, the pricing and the pros and cons of waiting versus doing certain things sooner rather than later. And in particular, I was very impressed when after letting me know that my tire wasn’t in stock but that they could have it within two days, the service representative agreed with me that taking my car to a tire specialist was actually a better idea than waiting and letting them do the work. You can bet that I tweeted positive feedback about my experience with Lexus.

Key take away: Being transparent and providing your customers options, especially when big price tags are involved is much appreciated.

American Express – While reviewing my online statement, I realized that I had been errantly charged for four purchases that I hadn’t made during a recent trip to JFK airport. After trying to remedy the situation directly with the vendor in question, I called Amex (business account) and immediately got in touch with a customer service rep. Within three minutes, they had taken all the necessary information they needed from me, walked me verbally through what the next steps looked like and let me know that they would take things from there. On top of that, they thanked me for my business (in a genuine “I’m not reading off a script” kind of way). They also reminded me of a valuable service they offered every time I used the card to purchase airline tickets (something I do regularly).

Key take away: Quick access to a customer service rep, minimal operational nonsense and then a well-informed acknowledgment of my relationship and a genuine thank you for my business.

Bank of America – In stark contrast to my experience with American Express, this one was a little rocky. Similar to my American Express story, I also had an errant charge on my BofA Visa card (tried paying for food at the same broken kiosk with a different credit card). After calling BofA and entering all my pertinent information into the system, the first customer service rep I spoke with asked me to provide significantly more information. That wasn’t a huge deal except after giving her all the necessary information, she let me know that she was going to have to transfer me to another specialist rep. While I wasn’t thrilled with this, I expected that she would hand all of the information I had provided (in addition to the fact that I had been “validated”) to the new rep. Not so. Instead, I had to provide all of my information again from scratch, a fact I let the rep know I was not happy about. Here’s where BofA scored a few points back. The rep apologized several times and acknowledged my frustration. It didn’t make it go away but I appreciated that she at least tried to smooth things over.

Key take away: Create smoother hands offs between systems and reps. And when you put an 800 number on your website (particularly, the logged in portion where you know what my relationship is with you) for a particular type of call, you should be better about actually getting me to the right place. Oh, did I mention that I’ve been a customer since 1993?

So which company has “seen you” recently? Which company didn’t that should have?

Bring on the Content at SXSW 2012!

The guts of this post were cross-posted from colleague, Meredith Owen’s, fabulous write up on the WCG blog. Big thanks to her for doing the heavy lifting on this.

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. Yes the time where all of your social media friends flood your Twitter stream and Facebook walls with pleas to vote for this panel or that panel at the grand daddy of all digital/social media conferences, South by Southwest (SXSW). While some people look at this as a nuisance, I take it as an opportunity to look at trends in the space. I also like to keep my eye out for new faces and voices in the world of digital/social.

To that end, a number of my colleagues at WCG have submitted panels this year. All of them look great on paper and having listened to most of them present, I can tell you that it would be worth your while to vote any/all of them through. I’ve also included my panel in the mix. In addition to the one I’ve submitted below, I am also lucky enough to be in the running with friends, Tim Walker, Kate Brodock and Troy Nalls for a panel titled, Down in Front! How to Control Bad Fans. While SXSW only allows panelists to sit on one session, I’m hedging my bets to increase my odds. I’d be thrilled to get the thumbs up on either of the two panels.

Without further ado, here are the eight panels submitted by us WCG-ers:

  • Ultimate Healthcare Reform – Reshaping Our World – Bob Pearson, WCG’s Chief Technology & Media Officer, sits down with Jeff Arnold, founder of WebMD and Sharecare, for an epic discussion on how the technology leaders at SXSW can take people from information to action to create healthier world.
  • Social Media…A Responsibility of WHICH Department? –Matt Snodgrass tackles the elephant in the room during this solo presentation that will dissect various industries and companies to examine where social media responsibility should lie.
  • Friending Pharma: Patients, Industry & New Media – Last Monday was a big day for pharma too. WCG Director Brian Reid joins a sundry team of health influencers including Pfizer VP Ray Kerins, Cancer Health Activist and Patient Expert Alicia Staley, and diabetes bloggers and patient advocates Kerri Sparling and Allison Blass as they examine the risks and benefits of connecting patients and biopharma companies online.
  • My Doctor Poked Me. Giggidy! – Anecdotal evidence suggests that health care providers’ use of social media is in the early stages of an explosion.  Social media analysts Andy Booth and Naimul Huq sit down with long-time MD and leading blogger Dr. Bryan Vartabedian to explore how social media is changing the future of the doctor-patient relationship.
  • Social Networks are Killing the Company Org Chart – Every company has an org chart – but we all know intuitively that work is done based on relationships and connections across the organization.  Mapping those connections can reveal a whole new world to smart corporations. Greg Matthews (a former HR exectutive) and Humana’s Director Learning Innovation Brian Foye explain how social media can map and measure the real corporation underneath the org chart.
  • Inside Out: Internal Social Media & Big Business – Industry leaders Brian Snyder, Jonathan Mast and Blair Klein join WCG Director Brad Mays to bring together the collective insight of some of the biggest corporate brands on best practices for using social media for internal collaboration and productivity.
  • Future of Location Marketing: Dummies Perspective – 2012 marks the three-year anniversary of Foursquare’s launch at SXSW.  Location-based gurus Aaron Strout and Mike Schneider will walk through the 5 golden rules of location-based marketing and how to leverage the “there” there.
  • Social Media Strategies of Top Tweeting Businesses – WCG’s Ricardo Guerrero understands the business of Twitter- if fact, he created most of Dell’s Twitter accounts, which generated $6.5M of revenue in their first 2.5 years.  During this panel Ricardo will examines the top 1,000 business Twitter accounts to analyze whether or not Twitter success translates across social media channels.
In addition to some of these potentially awesome panel submissions, I also have another seven I am excited to see. In no particular order, here they are:
  • The community revolving door: staying a step aheadWelcome to the biggest challenge presented by community. From continuing to seek out new members, to finding the next evangelist, membership evolution can be an unexpected challenge, but so is content evolution and most importantly, strategy evolution (Heather Strout, Farland Group, Jim Storer, The Community Round Table, Mark Wallace, EDR and Mike Pascucci, Ektron).
  • Aristotle Shops @WalMart | CSR, Ethics & CommunityToday, Aristotle would be a Wal-Mart greeter, or perhaps manage its online community. What happened? The company changed their vision when CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. launched a massive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaign to, in his words, “…create a better story”. (Kyle Flaherty, Breaking Point Systems & Alex Hahn, Vox Global)
  • The Facebook Customer Service Challenge for Brands Managing customer service on a Facebook Page is a messy proposition, particularly for large businesses and brands. Increasingly impatient customers and fans are flocking to the Facebook Wall to fire off specific questions or complaints about product and service issues, with the expectation of receiving a rapid-fire satisfactory response and the threat of making a big stink across their social networks if they don’t.  (Bryan Person, David Berkowitz, 360i, Molly DeMaagd ‐ AT&T, Eric Ludwig, Rosetta Stone).
  • No Wallet? No Problem. Enter Mobile Payments.The days of having that lump of a wallet in your back pocket or forgetting your wallet at home are over. Consumers around the world could generate as much as $50 billion in sales through NFC-based mobile payments by 2014, according to Juniper Research. Google already has merchants like Macy’s and The Container Store are using Google Wallet, powered by NXP’s secure NFC chips, to increase engagement and offer deals to consumers (Allen Tsai, David Berkowitz, 360i, Rob von Behren, Google, Jeff Miles, NXP Semiconductors, David Messenger, American Express).
  • Will the social web build a world we want? - Social media is transforming politics, the Middle East, corporate behavior and social activism. But how far can it go? Can citizens and customers, armed with social media and connected by shared values, create the movement for change that our world needs? Or will political manipulation, corporate self-interest and consumer fatigue overwhelm them?  (Simon Mainwaring, We First)
  • Can growing a moustache change the world? -  Join Adam Garone, CEO/co-founder of Movember, as he discusses how Movember leveraged the support of a few daring partners and pockets of loyal fans to generate a global movement that saw 450,000 moustache growers in 2010. Learn how Movember captivated the attention of a demographic infamous for not discussing their health, converted them into evangelists by turning the brand over to them, and sent them off to build the campaign. (Adam Garone, Movember)
Did you submit a panel this year? Or is there one that you know of that should absolutely make it to the next round? If so, feel free to include the link in the comments along with a little plug.

 

The Process of “Ideation” and Validation before Starting a Company

This is a guest post from Mukund Mohan, CEO of Jivity, a social commerce and brand merchandising company.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs (I fall in this bucket), who want to start a company, you probably get 100 exciting ideas in one day and none that excite you for the next 100 days. I know enough entrepreneurs who will wait for the right idea and spend months agonizing over if it will be the one that “changes the world order”. That made me think and question my personal process of coming up with ideas and what steps I follow to get my idea to see light of the day.

First a caveat: I fall into the “good ideas, good execution, but not world changing” bucket. If I were a baseball player, I’d be the “safe bet” to get singles and doubles, and a rare home run. My ideas won’t work for everyone. They are purely in the “discipline, structure and process bucket”, not the stroke-of-genius bucket. So here is a condensed version of the process I follow:

  1. Keep asking questions: It’s been well documented that good entrepreneurs are perennially curious. They like asking questions. Most of my questions have come because I have the discipline to train myself to have a heightened sense of observation. I like to notice everything around me and think. A combination of reading (blogs, books) and listening (to anyone, starting with the person sitting next to me at the airport, to my dad) helps me constantly formulate and process things around. I send text messages to myself with good questions and save other questions in the drafts folder of my cell phone. I try to keep a constant list of questions that bother me daily, many I have no answers to, but would like to ask others.

    My questions fall into 2 buckets: a) “Why” questions and 2) “What if” questions. e.g. When I was thinking of BuzzGain the question was “Why does engaging a PR firm cost so much for a startup and how can I reduce the cost”? With Jivity it was “Why does it cost so much to build a brand and can we do it in a less expensive fashion”? With my first company Interfinity it was “What if we could reduce the time to configure a Cisco router by 2 hours”?

    These questions usually translate into ideas that can help answer the question.

  2. Formulating ideas and seeking answers: I found that I get the most ideas from others, while asking them their opinion on a question that vexes me. They may not hand me the ideas on a platter, but many have helped me by asking the question differently or looking at the problem in a very different way. Many questions I asked were ones that were incorrect in the first place or those that I don’t really care about getting answers to.

    For BuzzGain the outsiders were practically any entrepreneur or small business owner. I talked to about 200+ people over 2 months primarily by attending 4 events – a BarCamp at SocialText, a Demo event at AdMob, Web 2.0 SF and lunch 2.0 at Oodle. I was not pitching the idea to outsiders, but asking the question that I was seeking ideas for.

    Usually at this stage I develop a set of “filters”. I tend to write down 5-7 filters and they are the lens I use to determine if the question is worth answering and if the idea is worth pursuing. A filter might be “Are others also thinking these are questions worth answering”, or “Can I get someone to help me understand how prevalent this problem is” or “Is this an idea that answers the question in a very different way”? At this stage none of the questions are really about market size or determining the size of the opportunity, but more about whether I am asking the right question and if the idea is the one worth pursuing. Another good technique I followed was I sent a 5 question summary using a free online survey tool to 200+ entrepreneurs and people I knew. I even offered a few Starbucks gift card to 5 winners who participated in the survey. It provided enough incentive to get a 53% response rate.

  3. Validation: As opposed to the previous stage where I reach out to practically anyone, the validation process is usually one that I test with experts. I have found that it is always better to go to experts after I go to the “outsiders” since they tend to give me more simple answers. Outsiders don’t necessarily think of the idea in the context of existing solutions, whereas experts or “insiders” do.

    I pitch only those ideas that have passed my filter criteria and it was not unusual to have 3-5 different ideas that I would tell the insider and ask them which one had “legs”. For BuzzGain, I had the opportunity to speak to over 20 insiders. Many immediately shot down 3 of the ideas but told me to refine 2 of them that they thought had potential.

    When I did talk to the “insiders” I went with a mockup. Initially a set of 7 PowerPoint slides, which I had a friend convert into HTML (he later taught me how to do it with Dreamweaver) and took 3-5 minutes to walk them through it. I had 3 mockups for each of those ideas and showed all 3 to my insiders. They ended up picking some components from each to help me draw a new idea that was what felt was different and really addressing question in a unique way.

The questions I initially kept asking needed serious “thinking time”. I found a routine that works for me. Thinking time for me tends to be “alone”. I have heard several people ponder and think while they are in the shower and others when they go for long walks. I have tried the approach to set aside time for thinking and have enough questions to think about. The time that works best for me is while doing laundry or doing dishes (yes I did that when I was in America), and back in India, since I have a lot more time, travel time or while playing tennis is my best time for thinking. I also like to talk to others when I am advanced stages of thinking, so many times, I will take someone that works with me on a walk to discuss questions that need some ideas.

Think Before you Speak!

No, this isn’t another post about Google + although the rapid rise and excitement of Google’s latest and greatest social network is the impetus for this post (that was originally to be titled, “Shut the F*ck Already with the MySpace Comparisons). However, with all of the recent tweets, status updates and blog posts predicting the demise of either Facebook, Twitter or both a la MySpace, I couldn’t not share my thoughts in a space that allowed for more than 140 characters. What I can tell you is that while I have seen too many big companies fail over my lifetime to not know that it can always happen again, if Facebook and Twitter fail, it won’t be for the reasons that MySpace did.

For starters, let’s clarify that MySpace did NOT fail because a newer, shinier object came along in the form of Facebook OR Twitter. MySpace failed because of several fundamental flaws in the way it operated, particularly once it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch (btw, Businessweek wrote a great article that goes into all the details of the rise and fall of MySpace).

In particular:

  • Once Murdoch purchased MySpace, there was significant pressure to deliver revenue (not necessarily a bad thing). Unfortunately, this forced MySpace to ramp up the advertising opportunities on the site which led to a lot of spammy ads for unsavory products. As a corollary to this, Twitter and Facebook are both venture backed and private. While both are feeling pressure to deliver more revenue, innovation has taken precedence over money.
  • MySpace made the fatal mistake (I’ll call this the AngelFire Boner) by allowing users to customize the background, fonts, layouts of their pages. While creativity is good, allowing for 8 billion different user interfaces (UI) across 350 million pages is not. UI 101 calls for putting things in the places where users expect to find them. Some people are good at this. Most people are not.
  • Demographics – while most companies love to attract the 18-35 set (male-skewed), there is a downside to this strategy. This demographic tends to be technology-savvy and fickle. The combination of the two allows them to pick up their “ball” and take it to a different ballpark whenever they like. You’ll notice that Twitter’s demographic came out of the gate closer to 32 than 22 and Facebook’s fastest growing (and most dedicated) segment right now are women over 40.
  • Lack of developer commitment. While Twitter and Facebook have both fostered rich ecosystems of developers, MySpace never went down this path.
  • After a few months of MySpace being the apple of Murdoch’s eye, a new “jewel” in the crown emerged when Murdoch opted to court and ultimately purchase the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Does this mean that the rise of Googe + (which is still has only 5 million more users than photo sharing site, Instagram, and the same number of users as location-based service, foursquare) won’t kill either Twitter or Facebook? No. But if it does, it will be for different reasons than those that dethroned MySpace. To that end, I responded to a tweet by Edelman EVP and uber-blogger, Steve Rubel, regarding a post that tech-blogger, Robert Scoble, wrote the other day about how Twitter had become boring and what it could do to fix that problem. My message to Steve was that “Twitter has become like electricity. Boring but critical.” Facebook will be around for a while longer because of the “barriers to exit” it’s created with the over 40 set. What this means is that Facebook owns most people’s social graph and it has taught most parents and grand parents how to post, comment and share. For this reason, it will take a pretty significant change to get these people to leave (privacy be damned!)
What do you think?