Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

I went to Oracle OpenWorld as a guest of Oracle and came away with a variety of observations that I can share.  Some of what I saw was under NDA and that will remain undisclosed though I have to tell you that I did not see any labs or next generation products beyond what my colleagues saw at the show.  My secret experiences revolved around customer stories.  I also went to an America’s Cup qualifying race as a guest and had a great time on San Francisco Bay.  The only reason that matters is in case you think I’m cutting Oracle some slack.  I won’t do that but I will say that I was treated well all week, thanks to the efforts of Susie Penner, who runs the influencers program and does a bang-up job, and others.

Some of my colleagues were grumbling, and perhaps have done so in print, that they didn’t get enough time with executives — or any at all in many cases (me included) — and that their experience was diminished by the lack of a good séance.  I can only observe that with 50,000 or so customers and press in town your executives can only be spread so thin.  More importantly, I have always found that when I call up I can speak with the person I need to find plus or minus some obeisance to the gods of Wall Street and the public company’s quiet period.  My take on meeting with executives is to make a call when I need information and not to expect so much from a conference like this.  To that point we had a good meeting with executives and product managers in May when Oracle held an analyst day.

I must also say though that the company makes an unnecessary distinction (my humble belief) between an analyst and an influencer.  Analysts seem to get greater access and are sequestered from the influencers in part because they work for brick and mortar analyst firms while people like me who are analysts, bloggers and occasionally journalists, get lumped into a separate but equal program.  But, as I say, I can always pick up the phone.

As a CRM guy, the show was a bit light on information and the impression I have is that Oracle is only two or three years into a transformation that starts at hardware and moves steadily up its stack to applications.  The hardware announcements at OpenWorld were superb and I can see a bright future for all of computingdom (a new technical term to be sure and evidence of continuing innovation in Silicon Valley) with Oracle’s devices.  But I have been saying this for three years.

Each year the Exa-hardware line (Exadata, Exalogic, Exalytics) gets more robust. This year the company finally aimed Exa-hardware squarely at cloud computing to claim a spot as a serious infrastructure supplier.  It also announced a new version of the database (Oracle 12c) for its public/private/hybrid cloud strategy to complete the picture.  I am not much of a fan of private clouds because they seem oxymoronic, like jumbo shrimp as Steve Martin used to say.  But for many, the idea of a private cloud is what will finally get them to cloud computing and sooner or later true cloud computing will break out as hybrids die a natural death.  But also, I see great gains for sustainable computing with these announcements and with them lower operating costs for users.

The private cloud, seen for what it is, is a transition state.  Neither fish nor reptile, it is an amphibian capable of adjusting to multiple surroundings and it will be the parent of something better adapted to an energetically more stringent environment.  This is the greatest differentiator between Oracle and all of its much further progressed competitors in the cloud in my opinion.

Oracle has hundreds of thousands of customers and most of the biggest companies in the world use its products.  It will not turn on a dime and it will need to support its customers and their older products for many years as they transition to cloud computing.  So, Oracle’s strategy cannot be the same as a pure SaaS player and I believe the two should not be directly compared without caveat.  In fact, I think Oracle’s next big innovation will not be hardware or software related.  It will focus on the high-wire act of changing its business model to subscriptions while encouraging its customers to do the same all while running full tilt into the future — just what you’d expect from a company headed by a yachtsman captivated by speed.

I was not impressed by the front office applications and they fell into three buckets – new product acquisitions, existing products i.e. those bought in 2005 and Fusion.  The products that Oracle bought last year are all up and running as they were when they were purchased but they are only lightly integrated, I think.  The glue that is supposed to hold them together was hardly in evidence.  I am talking about Fusion.  Whatever Fusion is going to be is still in the future as far as I can see and I can’t say much more than that because I didn’t get to see much.  The older applications are quite literally getting older and the race is on between them and the new acquisitions to see if the new apps can spin up quickly enough.  Fusion is a very important of that dance.

On the other hand the company has adopted RightNow’s customer experience or CX mantra completely and did a reasonably good job of introducing its customers to those social ideas.  Unfortunately for me — and many of my colleagues who have been swimming in the social soup for many years now — Oracle’s CX Summit was aimed at its legion of neophyte customers.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It accurately shows where everything and everyone is relative to social. But the net effect of it all is that we didn’t see behind the curtain and didn’t get a glimpse of what’s ahead in social for Oracle.

We did hear about the importance of social networking and collaborating and how Oracle Social Network (OSN) fills a void etc., etc.  But I have profound doubts.  I consider social as a recently blank canvass, which has been filled by things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and, yes, Chatter.  In each case, creative types tried to paint it with transcendence and visions of what can be.  Then consider OSN, a plow horse of a name that says “we checked off another box,” and you get an inkling of where Oracle is in its social rollout.

On applications, my net impression is that Oracle has not yet generated a lot of thought leadership.  There are times when thought leadership is not as valuable but we are at a crossroads and the signs point to cloud, social, mobile and all of the above.  The Oracle messaging was long on “here are the facts about our new products” but relatively short on the part that says “and here’s why that’s important to you in today’s economy/market place/world” pick one.  Oracle wants to be the go-to technology business partner but to achieve that goal in a new generation they need to throw some fastballs down the middle of the plate.  Every year I see progress and maybe next year they’ll get the thought leadership.  It will be vitally important as the company moves not just into the cloud but more and more into the subscription economy and expects its huge customer base to follow suit.

There’s been a lot of activity on the Web and in our industry in the last week and I thought it might be fun to try and tie at least some of it together.  Much of it in one way or another involves Facebook—or FB as the proposed ticker symbol suggests.

Part of an email from John Borkowski of WebiMax reads:

“Kenneth Wisnefski, online marketing expert, and founder / CEO of WebiMax, suggests Facebook will not be worth the investment.  “In the first few days of trading, I expect the stock price will soar due to social-media hungry investors,” states Wisnefski.  (We saw this with LinkedIn’s IPO).  “However, once the market absorbs the emotions and begins to invest based-on fundamentals, it is clear Facebook will not be a solid investment.”

“Wisnefski refers to Facebook’s few revenue streams.  Given the fact that 85% of their revenue is dependent on ads, the company is not diversified enough to generate income from additional streams.  EMarketer reported that Facebook’s ad sales grew 104% in 2011, but are only expected to climb 58% in 2012, and 21% in 2013.  The diminishing growth stems from intense competition from Google and Bing and suggests advertising on Facebook may be – simply put – a fad.

Facebook a fad?  You mean like CocaCola and cheeseburgers?  I wrote back:

“Thanks for this information.  There’s a lot to agree with but I am not sure I agree with your conclusions.  In any investment scenario you have to consider the time horizon.  FB will be an interesting flip for those lucky enough to buy at the offering price and if history is a guide it will settle down as more value conscious investors refuse to pay the premium and pick it up after it settles.

“Longer term you are right, the company has a structural issue with its markets but the thing your analysis omits is the potential the company has for growing new markets as well as for capturing share of what’s there already.  It’s risky in investments to take into account futures that are not even or barely imagined but I suspect that someone buying FB after the hoopla and who holds the stock for a number of years will discover they’ve bought the next Apple and they will be amply rewarded.

Reasonable people can disagree.  They should too because I am not licensed to give financial advice—keep that in mind.

Salesforce announced, a rewrite of Assistly on, which the company bought in September. is Salesforce’s entry into SMB support.  It’s quite a trick and I like the idea, especially the innovative pricing model, which is custom tuned to SMBs.  For more of my analysis, you can go here.

Then there’s the broader world, there always is.

In Friday’s New York Times (I should say that I will always be a Red Sox fan, but the Times rocks) there was a lead article that brought social media into the public square for the second time in a couple of weeks.  The breast cancer advocacy organization (I guess that’s really anti-breast cancer if you want to get technical) Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced it was no longer funding breast exams through Planned Parenthood.

A viral digital uproar ensued.

Apparently the Komen people were getting nervous about being singled out for supporting Planned Parenthood by Republican presidential candidates and their mysterious Super PACs that Mitt Romney seems to think are people too.  There’s precedent for this case of jitters.  Look what happened to the community-organizing group, Acorn, in the last election when it was linked to that radical socialist Barak Obama.

But four years is a long time in politics and it is practically a geological era in tech.  Four years later we have FB, Twitter, LinkedIn as mature products and as I wrote recently, ordinary people are regaining a sense of the commons and commonwealth as a result.  The people have their soapbox now.  It’s electronic, digital, mobile and global.

And speaking of global, back in the Middle East Iran actually tried to rebrand Arab Spring for its own purposes.  In a ham-handed effort reported in the Times, “More than a thousand young activists were flown here earlier this week (at government expense) for a conference on “the Islamic Awakening,” Tehran’s effort to rebrand the popular Arab uprisings of the past year.

Didn’t work.  Not even close.  Thumbs were typing and unless the clerics in Teheran wise up they could be next.

Finally, by now the Super Bowl is old news but as I write it, everything is in the future.  One thing that’s not in the future and which is again brought to us by a combo of social media and YouTube are the Super Bowl ads, which started leaking out weeks ago.  Another article from the Times  discusses them and more importantly, references many a big agency that brought them to life.  It seems you can’t swing a proverbial dead cat without finding some social media expert these days.

Good on them all.  What did we do before social media?  It’s now embedded in our lives with no sign of going back.  It’s certainly made our lives richer and more productive and it’s brought us together on important issues.  But now we need to stay vigilant to prevent it from being completely co-opted.  The attempt to rebrand Arab Spring might have been ham-handed but it could happen anywhere.  And as far as the FB IPO naysayers are concerned, we’ll have to wait and see.  But I’ll sleep well.

David Nour, the founder of Relationship Economics, publishes an interesting and articulate newsletter.  I don’t always agree with him but even when I don’t we aren’t that far apart.  His latest post on “Tomorrow’s Social CEO” is an example.

Nour correctly observes (and laments) that few of the current batch of corporate leaders is socially connected.  According to his post, “Eric Schmidt (Google) is an infrequent Twitterer and not a blogger; Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) does not blog or have a Twitter account; Michael Dell is on Twitter but is not an external blogger.  It is also remarkable that neither Steve Jobs (Apple) nor Larry Ellison (Oracle) have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or blog presence that we could find.”

My facile observation: Yes, and look where it’s gotten them.

Seriously, though, I agree that the executive of tomorrow will be much more of a social animal but as they say in court rooms from time to time, absence of proof is not proof of absence.  What I mean, and this is almost pure hypothesis, is that organizations are becoming more social but perhaps the right application hasn’t come along yet to enable a CEO to be more social in a professional setting.

To borrow a regrettable phrase, the CEO is the decider.  He or she spends the day making decisions for the organization so that it can continue on its mission of maximizing shareholder value and serving the customer.  Other people in the enterprise do the social work for the organization for a very obvious reason—doing it right requires capturing a mountain of data, analyzing it and only then taking action.  CEOs don’t have the time.

CEOs are great at analyzing data once it’s captured and presented to them.  I once knew a guy who could scan a balance sheet, no matter how complex, and in a matter of moments begin making cogent observations and recommendations.  He was murder on finding misspellings on a lunch menu too.

I think the blog might be the natural social medium for today’s CEO.  Since Reagan, even U.S. presidents have made weekly radio broadcasts—a social outreach, albeit one way—a standard part of the job.  My preference would be to change that to a weekly newspaper column though.  Written words are more accessible and longer lasting and enable you to elaborate a complex idea but that’s a subject for another time.

So, why aren’t CEO’s more social?  If it’s because the right social medium hasn’t come along yet, there’s good news on the horizon in the form of a new generation of collaboration software and I think of Chatter from as the example.  Though currently only available as a tool for filtering the social stream within an enterprise, I can see a day when that restriction is lifted.

A collaboration product like Chatter does the necessary work of filtering the social stream so that only what’s most important to the decider gets in front of him or her.  That makes socializing the CEO possible.

Eric Schmidt is on friendly terms with Marc Benioff, who is very much socially adept, and I don’t know if Schmidt has tried Chatter.  Michael Dell already has a Chatter deployment measured in the tens of thousands at Dell, which is a big Salesforce customer.  It’s hard to say if there’s a possibility of Steve Jobs adopting Chatter and, of course, Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer will likely have their own brands of collaboration software before they’d use Salesforce.

So my mild disagreement with Nour is really one of timing.  Yes tomorrow’s CEO will need to be social and maybe collaboration software is the way they’ll get there.

SAS Unveils New Analytics Apps

Posted: October 28, 2010 in CRM, Technology
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It’s often hard to maintain high visibility in the marketplace if you happen to be a private company and for good reason.  Private companies tend to be small and they often do not attract the attention of the financial press precisely because the financial press thrives on the transparency and numbers that small companies prefer to keep to themselves.

But some of the most interesting large companies can also be privately held and while they might be known to the press and analyst community they give the finance guys little to write about.  Too bad too, because you can miss a lot if all you’re looking for is numbers for the shareholders.

Take SAS Institute for example.  Founded in 1976, SAS is a pioneer of the analytics market, has a thirty four percent share—more than any other vendor—generates about $2.3 billion in revenues, never had a down year and has always made a profit.  But they’re private so the numbers don’t get the same attention a public company’s numbers would get because you can’t buy the stock.

According to the company, SAS spends about twenty-four percent of its considerable revenues on research and development, and their eleven-thousand plus employees in over four hundred global offices treat customers like customers think they should be treated.  This alone should be enough to draw some attention but then if you add in the recent award from Fortune magazine for being the best company in the U.S. to work for you get serious wow factor.

James Goodnight co-founded the company with three other people, two of whom left the party early, too bad for them.  Goodnight is the CEO and technical soul of the operation and this week I had the good fortune to attend an analyst and media briefing at their headquarters in Cary, NC.  That was followed by something called the Premier Business Leadership Series event in Las Vegas, a business conference presented by SAS that brings together more than 600 attendees from the public and private sectors to share ideas on critical business issues.

I know what you’re thinking, but it’s been more than three hardware generations since I’ve been to Vegas and I routinely avoid conferences there but I went this time because SAS had some interesting things to say.  First off, they made two product announcements that I can resonate with because they involve social media and more importantly, they make great strides in helping people use social technologies for business purposes.

I’ve been a fan of social networking since 2003 when I wrote about the the Kevin Bacon game and the original research by Harvard University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960’s that began it all.  But social networking and its enabler, social media, entered a lag period at about that time and they didn’t emerge from it until Facebook overtook MySpace.  Meanwhile blogs became popular and we learned to wiki, which begat an orgy of tweeting and the rest as they say is history.

Lost in the social frenzy, in my humble… is the idea that social technology is a good listening tool, or ought to be.  Social technology after all is a surrogate for an interaction with someone, a way to be present when you are not.  In short it is a way to gather input from other people before launching our latest discourse about our favorite subject—us.  SAS gives me hope that this might actually happen.

Exhibits A and B come in the form of two SAS product announcements—SAS Conversation Center and SAS for Customer Experience Analytics.

SAS Conversation Center most interests me.  The conversation center measures the level of influence that a Tweeter has by analyzing the volume of content the person generates as well as how often the person is included in conversations.  It then compares this information with a company’s taxonomy of topics to determine which area of the business the tweet is aligned with.

This analysis can help a company to determine what’s being said about it and determine which topics to pay attention to and to address.  It may not be as good as a direct conversation but doesn’t have to be.  It need only filter out the majority of tweets that are not relevant and it will be a powerful tool.

I would like to see the conversation center quickly evolve to track other social media, especially Facebook and it would be nice if a control center evolved with it so that a single interface could monitor the social sphere.  We’ll see.

The second announcement, SAS for Customer Experience Analytics is a cloud based application aimed at providing predictive analytics to help companies present customers with the best offers at the right time.  That sounds easy but it is not. Customers, especially when surfing have short attention spans and one chance may be all a vendor gets so the stakes are high.  While other companies have similar offerings, one that has the SAS analytics engine behind it will be an interesting addition.

SAS for Customer Experience Analytics is the latest addition to the SAS cloud suite which includes 19 other analytic applications including SAS Social Media Analytics and SAS OnDemand: Campaign Management.

These products come along at a good time for the evolution of social technologies.  In addition to new products SAS announced the results of a significant study it sponsored.  Conducted with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the study’s findings are too long to list here so check the company’s web site.  One example will have to suffice till the next time.  Despite social media’s potential to enable companies to listen to and understand their customers, 75 percent of the companies surveyed did not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them, or what was said.

More than anything, these results show that social media is still clearly still in its infancy but solutions like these may be the killer apps that turn social curiosities into the tools we always believed they could be.

In addition to knowing about the demographic make up of your community members and making sure they participate in your community not just hang around reading other people’s contributions you need to know something about the demographics of the social sites you want to work with.

I just read an article by Tom Stein about how small companies are giving up on Facebook as a marketing tool because they haven’t seen any returns on their efforts and some of the companies cited had been at it for a year or two.  So is Facebook’s time in the sun ending?  Maybe, but it will take more than a few anecdotes to make that call.

Consider this.  According to a resent survey by Pingdom ( concluded that 16 out of 19 (84%) of the most popular social sites have more women populating them than men.  The super geek sites Digg, Reddit and Slashdot have more men on them but the more popular sites including Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter all have more women visiting them.  The average ratio of all sites surveyed according to Pingdom was 47% male, 53% female.

That’s fine as far as I am concerned because women spend the bulk of family budgets.  But this neatly illustrates the flaw in the assumption that social media is a universal good.  One of the companies that Stein references as being dissatisfied with Facebook happens to be Blank Label, a company specializing in custom shirts designed and bought over the web.

So, the question that leaps to mind now that we know all this is how many custom shirts does the average woman buy annually?  Go ahead, think about it, I can wait.  Bingo!

So at least in the case of the shirt maker, the over reliance on Facebook is an example of not understanding the delivery medium.  It used to be so easy with print.  Magazines publish detailed statistics on readership, subscriptions, demographics and more so that potential advertisers can make educated decisions on their marketing spend.  The same kind of information is available from other sources on the web but you’ll need to do some work to find it and maybe collate it.

The point is that social media is just a tool.  There are many kinds of social media some tools are great at blasting out messages to friends but other tools focus on collecting information from your community.  The focus on inbound data often gets lost with the result that we continue to “spray and pray” using social media as if it were direct mail or email marketing.  Social media is powerful and easy to use but we still need to pay attention to how we use it.

The shirt maker might have a friend list of only men but and here’s the difficult part men might not go to Facebook looking for information specific to shirts.  The fact that so many women use it suggests to me that men who go there have other things on their minds.  So we see that just as in print advertising, lead generation is a fine art partly made up of the offer but much consideration should also go to placement.

It had to happen sooner or later, the only question in my mind is why it has taken so long.  It appears that the backlash against social media is beginning.  All I can say is yippee!

With trends like social media or almost any trend we tend to over imbue the idea or offering with our own expectations of what’s possible and inevitably we are disappointed when we learn that nothing could do all that.  I think the old Saturday Night Live line “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!” nicely illustrates the point and social media has traveled a very typical path.

When I started writing about social media in CRM in 2002, few people saw its potential and it took several years before the concept gained critical mass.  Then for a period of a couple years it was all that anyone wanted to talk about.  People wrote books about it and gave speeches and many out of work PR and marketing pros became experts overnight talking about it from their blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The other day I ran across an article by Tom Stein titled “The ugly truth about Facebook for business” in which he documented multiple small business owners who said that Facebook had been a total waste of time and these owners had stayed with the technology, in some cases, for two years.  The article goes on to talk about how much effort and time these businesses put into developing content for their accounts daily and how frustrated the owners were.

The only answer I can give to all this is, duh!  It might be painful to hear this and hard to swallow but the reason for the lack of success can be boiled down to operator error.  A year an a half ago Clara Shih wrote “The Facebook Era” (a good book, by the way) in which she plainly showed that Facebook and other forms of social media are good at keeping tabs on acquaintances, people we know casually or through a mutual association just the kind of people who could be called customers.  Our best friends might interact with us through social media but they also email, pick up the phone or eat and drink with us.

The difference is huge because the sum of all those interactions is bi-lateral communication in which we give information but we also get information too.  The problem with using Facebook or any other outbound social media exclusively is that when used this way it is no more revolutionary than a dumb direct mail blast and we all know how well that works.

As I have written before, to be effective at using social media you need a social media strategy that incorporates both the outbound messaging that we love as well as ways that prompt user or customer input.  It is the input that makes social media valuable and it is seeking input that we seem to have trouble with.

I don’t know why this is.  Perhaps it has to do with the incessant need marketers have to justify their existence to the CFO.  The usual approach is to heap up some statistics like the size of the base you market to, the number of impressions and similar things.  We consider that real work but when it comes to asking open-ended questions to come up with a good idea that had been hidden and that we can use to refine products and messaging we don’t see the same value.

On other occasions I’ve suggested that the ratio of inbound social media use to outbound should approximate the 80/20 rule.  I might go 70/30 but the point is that the preponderance of effort should be on listening and understanding or as Stephen Covey said in Rule 5 of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”  Your messaging should be so chock full of knowledge and information that the recipient is compelled to act and that doesn’t happen if you’re spending a couple of hours a day just trying to dream up something relevant to say.

Now that we are getting over the phase in the social media bubble when we think it’s the answer to every affliction known to humankind, perhaps we can begin the process of understanding its uses better as well as the nuances between different types.  Social media is a rich toolbox with many interesting and effective gadgets and knowing which ones to use and when is more than half the battle.  We’re at least over the idea that all we need is a hammer and that’s progress.

Tweeting reality

Posted: April 27, 2010 in CRM
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My father-in-law is a study in concentration when he watches sports on TV.  In his den he sits before a massive HD TV with the sound off, just watching.  In a way it’s as close to being there as you can get, minus the crowd noise and a breeze if he’s watching golf or more serious elements if he’s watching football or baseball.

Being a New Englander, I guess he gets the habit from too many years of watching the Celtics.  If you followed the C’s in their glory years from the late 1950s to the 1980s, the only way to watch was with the sound turned off and the radio tuned to the radio play-by-play from the legendary Johnny Most.

Most earned his spurs in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals against Philadelphia.  The game was tied in the last seconds and John Havlicek stole an in-bounds pass from Hal Greer.  In a matter of seconds it was over.  The call went something like this: “Greer is putting the ball in play.  He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it!  Over to Sam Jones…Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over…It’s all over!!”

What this recounting cannot convey is the adrenalin rush, the euphoria of winning a close contest, made more dramatic by Most just about losing his voice as he repeatedly screams “It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball and it’s all over!”  That moment made generations of sports fans radio fans too and to this day, if we can get a radio broadcast of an important game we’ll turn it on.  Second best is turning off the announcers and watching alone without the constant din of someone telling us what to think.

I have been thinking about Johnny Most and John Havlicek ever since tweeting became a competitive sport at live CRM events.  When the analyst tribe attends a major announcement you can count on us to agree on a hash tag (unless the vendor has already suggested one) and the tribe goes wild transmitting minute by minute descriptions and analysis of the event to the world.  Some of the transmissions are banal repetitions of what the speaker is saying, others attempt to provide spot analysis and still others re-tweet prior tweets that the writer agrees with.

Some people take this activity deadly seriously and keep score of how many tweets they make and how their score compares with others and I have participated in the tweet fest along with everyone else.

Today I am in San Francisco and in a little while Marc Benioff will announce an alliance with VMWare.  There will be many analysts and press invited for the event and most will be tweeting the news as it happens.  I am going to try something different today.  I’m going to turn off my sound and listen to the whole presentation while taking notes.  Then I will spend some amount of time figuring out the meaning of what I heard and once that’s done I will write my analysis of the announcement and publish it.

This may sound funny and incredibly retro but I am doing it to make a point.  There may be good news reasons to tweet the play by play but I am not here as a news person.  I am an analyst and my job is to dig into the news to interpret it and draw some conclusions.  My conclusions may not be perfect, they may not stand the test of time, but analysis requires careful consideration of all the facts.

So good luck to the tweeters.  I hope they all set world records for number of tweets.  I’ll see you after the game.

New research from Harvard Business School and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project give new perspective to the social media and social CRM phenomenon and raise a yellow flag for all those people proclaiming social media the second coming.  First Harvard.

The Economist ran one of its special report sections this week (the issue with Steven Jobs dressed as Moses on the cover) on social networking.  While generally laudatory of the technology’s promise — headlines include “Profiting from friendship” and “A peach of an opportunity” — the report also delivered the unvarnished and synamic truth about adoption.

A section titled “Twitter’s transmitters, The magic of 140 characters” quoted the work of Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a Harvard Business School professor, and one of his MBA students Bill Heil.  According to The Economist, the researchers surveyed more than 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 and reported results that include:

  • More than half said they tweeted less than once every 74 days (not quite twice per quarter).
  • The most active 10% of twitter users published 90% of all Tweets.

By comparison, the article says that on other social networks, “the most active users typically produce 30% of all content.”  Holy #$%^ Batman!

So who are these people?  According to Pew, they’re the kind of people you might want to have a beer with — when they’re older.  As reported in “Fast Company” Ninety-three percent of teens between 12 and 17 go online, 66% say they text.  The 18 to 29 group also has a 93 percent rank of online users and though the numbers slip for real adults — 81% of those 30 to 49 and 70% of those 50 to 64 — the numbers are very healthy.

Get more numbers here:

The question though is what are these people doing when they are online?  Teens are giving up on blogging, their numbers are about half what they were a few years ago.  Facebook is the big winner for kids and time-starved parents like Twitter.  Only 15% of young adults bother to blog, down nine points over two years.

What’s it all mean?

The Fast Company article ends with this, “Meanwhile, blogging is on the rise for adults over 30, who increased to 11% from 7% in 2007.  And 47% of adults now use social networking sites, up 10% from a year ago.”

It seems the most economically viable demographic is getting its act together but there are caveats.  There are many more readers than writers — that’s not surprising, it’s human nature.  But I think you need to be wary here.  Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, likes to remind me that in social networking, participation is very important and knowing the demographics of participation is vital.

The ten percent of Twitter users contributing ninety percent of tweets with more than half logging on very occasionally is a red flag for anyone contemplating social media marketing because it exposes an important truth that membership is not participation.  There is no t enough data on the Twitter users who tweet once per quarter.  Do they go to Twitter daily to read stuff?  I am sure some do, but I wouldn’t want to base a marketing campaign on it.

The decline in blogging is a clear indication that there is, or soon will be, less to read on blogs and less to comment on, though there will be more personal stuff to see on Facebook, if you have a lot of friends.

I have recently seen a number of CRM products that capture such valuable information as a person’s Twitter, Facebook and Blog account information.  The vendors are certain that this information is the source of new insight and business opportunity, even in the B2B space.  I am not.  This data suggests that just as vendors are ramping up, the raw material that they expect to mine may be drying up.  Notwithstanding the 11% of adults over 30 who are blogging more, it seems to me that people are moving to personal expression that may not have a great deal of business utility.

Some of the explanation for this may be the rotten economy but we’re about four months into a turnaround, and numbers complied last May are already becoming obsolete.  Business activity is picking up but it is unclear if people are turning to social media to do their business networking.

The lesson from this, for me, hews close to Hessan’s advice.  You need to understand who is participating — not their names and other identifying data but participation per person or organization, demographic data and the like.  A lot of 17 year old boys might be attracted to the new models on an exotic car site for instance, but you wouldn’t want to develop a marketing campaign for them.

Clara Shih is a friend I met through  She recently published The Facebook Era, which looks at the relationship of social networking to front office computing.  She is really busy these days promoting the book and she recently left Salesforce to pursue new ideas in social networking and to form a company dedicated to the task. 

Shih is bright and articulate and she’s been involved in social networking and social media for several years.  She even wrote a little code — the first integration of Salesforce and Facebook (Faceforce now Faceconnector).  I caught up with her in an airport as she was leaving to visit family in China.  I wanted to congratulate her on the book and learn about her thinking on some important issues surrounding front office computing and social networking. 

I think we’re in violent agreement on most points and I have to respect the fact that she spent a year researching social media — especially Facebook — and writing her book.  One thing Shih makes clear in the book as well as in conversation is the disruptive nature of social media, “As disruptive as the Internet was for any industry,” she says.  “Who knows who and how will be critical in sales going forward.” 

True enough. 

As the market continues to move from one where innovators sell to early adopters toward one with more stability, we can expect that personal relationships will become increasingly important, that only makes sense.  When early adopters buy something it’s to gain a competitive advantage by being the first to implement a new technology.  Early adopters are like the one eyed man in the land of the blind.  They buy stuff and play with it to find a profitable use.  They don’t need a lot of hand holding and often the most basic documentation is fine so it’s no surprise that selling to early adopters is pretty easy.

Most of us today have lived through a long series of new waves not just in technology but throughout the economy and we have all been early adopters.  The new economy is a lot more about mainstream buyers and many of us might have forgotten (or never learned) how to sell to them.  That’s where social media comes in and it’s why the amalgamation of CRM and social networking is such a big deal — if it gets done right.

What exactly is meant by doing things right is a tricky question.  According to Shih, if you think about a maturity model for the space, “We’re about at phased 1.5.  In phase one people didn’t understand what it (social networking) was or why it mattered.  We’re at the stage now where people know Facebook and Twitter but they don’t necessarily know what to do with them in business.”

Shih makes the analogy to the early Internet when no one knew how to monetize their investments in Web sites.  In a lot of cases companies simply “…tried to apply old models to new media,” it sort of worked but today we’ve moved on in many respects.  Whenever you apply old models to new media you are basically trying to extend the old paradigm, getting the most you can out of it before you have to invest in something new and expensive.  It also gives you time to see which models are most likely to be the winners because no one wants to go down the wrong path and end up spending twice.  Not that that ever happens in the software market.

There is also the issue of developing the right metrics for measuring success and to do that the business objectives need to be in place.  So what are the business objectives and which social networking tools are right for each objective?  “It depends,” Shih says diplomatically.  “There are different tools for different environments,” and her book goes into more detail.  But suffice it to say that a blog has a different purpose and orientation than Twitter with a 140 character limit.

It might seem that several social media are carving out niches for themselves.  Facebook for sales, Linked-in for personal networking and Twitter for quick bursts, Shih is the first to acknowledge that things are very fluid.  “We’re in an exponential growth phase,” she says, “ Everything can change in a year.” 

Right you are.  In a year we could have more clarity or simply more companies contending for hearts and minds (and wallets) as the social networking boom takes over in full force.  If things work out as Shih expects, there will also be a company headed by her to advise companies about social networking and its uses.  WE could all use the help.