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Sami Ben Gharbia passed along a good link on Twitter about how you can never have too many graphics in your data representations.  The CNN article focuses on government and organizational data, which, to date, has been considered highly useful, but pretty boring.  Where is this trend going?

“A booming interest in data visualization, which can transform boring stats into compelling graphical presentations explaining our world.”

This concept obviously translates into any environment, and I couldn’t agree more.

You know how important first impressions are?  How wearing your best suit matters in a business meeting?  Same goes for your content.  The more visually appealing, the more digestible it is.

This is especially important when you’re offering publicly available data for the masses, whether from a governmental standpoint or a corporate standpoint.  With the increased focus on content production, and making large amounts of free content for the masses, if you want to be effective in your overall strategy (often this means to drive readers back to your brand in some way), you’ve got to make that content accessible in more ways than just words.

“Pretty” graphics indicate the following (at least to me):

  • You’ve spent time on your overall presentation
  • You’ve thought about how to most effectively present your data
  • You remember that, in many cases, a picture is worth a thousand words - you get one shot at the picture part
  • You’ve invested in “buttoning your data up”
  • You’ve taken into account your audience, and that some people may not understand your numbers - and therefore your presentation of those numbers - as well as you do
  • You care about how well people can interact with, play with and learn more about your data

6 November episode of HubSpot TV discussing social media news, DigiActive/digital activism and Girls in Tech.

You can get the full show notes on the HubSpot Blog.

I’ll be on HubSpotTV this Friday as a guest.  We’ll spend a few minutes talking about digital activism before diving into a week of news.

You can either view online or, even better, if you’re in Cambridge, come on down to HubSpot (see site for details).  There’ll be food from Lansdowne Pub as well!

(Note, this piece assumes that an organization has created a strategic plan for using social media, rather than having someone in a cube in the back office posting to a blog once a week).

I got into an interesting discussion in the comments section of a post about social media success over on B2B Voices with Mark W Schaefer, wherein I came to the conclusion that we were both basically saying the same thing, but looking at the process differently.

It really emphasized the importance of segmenting your overall Program in order to accurately identify success - or failure. This could be your business program, your marketing program, your sales program… in this case it’s the program that you’ve decided to supplement with social media.

It goes without saying that you should be setting measurable goals for your Program, and that they should all point towards money, whether it’s in a corporate setting or a non-profit setting or what have you. The dough may come in different forms, but let’s be honest, without it, you really don’t exist. However, the ability to bring in this money more often than not does not rest on one single mechanism, it rests on many.

All of this may seem blatantly obvious when I say it, but it really surprises me how many times I hear that social media is a failure because it didn’t sell something, or how many times people expect that a Twitter following is directly related to ROI.

The conversation should go more like this:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  Additionally, the number of sales that resulted from our website increased by 30%.  We can draw the conclusion that our Twitter program is bringing in valuable traffic to our website, which has always had a great conversion rate.”

Or, perhaps more telling:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  However, the number of sales that resulted from our website didn’t change.  Either our Social Media Program is not bringing in valuable website traffic, or our website is not structured in a way to convert viewers to customers.”

This conversation is entirely dependent on the goals you’ve set out for your Social Media Program, and then how they are linked to your other programs.  The process looks like this:

  1. Identify overall Program Goals
  2. Identify Components that will go into this Program to achieve those goals
  3. Determine the goals of each separate Component and how each of those goals is connect to your overall Program Goals.

So, if our social media program brought in more qualified leaders to our website (Component Goal), which was restructured to funnel any traffic to a new sales team (Component Goal), who would then convert them to users (Component Goal), we profit (Program Goal).  If one of these fails, it doesn’t mean all of them are failures.

Of course, if you set up your social media program to get direct sales, and that’s not happening, then yes, social media is a failure.  But just because your sales are not increasing when you start using social media doesn’t categorically mean that your Social Media Program is a failure.  If you haven’t touched your website in 5 years and you were never getting sales from it, and you’re hoping to increase website traffic with social media, your problem is probably not social media, it’s your website.

A couple of scenarios to consider:

Social Media Success + Sales Team Success = Program Success

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Failure IF the website was in place to convert viewers to buyers

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Success IF the website was in place to actually convert without the website (therefore you’re really running two separate programs)

Social Media Success + Customer Service Success = Program Success (this is an implicit one that addresses the Lifetime Value of the Customer, and assuming that with happier customers, you will get continual long-term share-of-wallet from them)

Social Media Failure + Sales Team Success = Program Failure IF social media was meant to bring increased leads to the Sales Team

Social Media Success + Product Failure = Program Failure (more accurately, this would be Business Failure, since nothing can support a lousy product)

I could go on with various scenarios, but I’ll stop….

The focus here is on the Component level and the fact that, far too often, people draw too-direct a connection between a Social Media Program (which, at first glance, can seem quite qualitative) and money coming in the door.  By highlighting a series of connections, you’ll be much better equipped to account for success, measure for it, and build an effective overall Program that is illustrated in stages, rather than “If I build a Facebook, when should I expect to see money in the door.”

This is why it’s so important to think strategically about what a social media program really means for your company, and how it fits into a Program that has been well thought out, and is well-measured.  Don’t go out and hire social media guru and expect him to move mountains unless you plan on allowing them access to your overall business processes and make darn sure that he is capable of making the above links and laying out effective goals that support your Program.

This article was written for PINK Magazine, published today.
How do you grow when consumers and clients are spending less?  Maintain or increase marketing your business spending to get ahead of competitors who don’t, adjust your product portfolio, support your distributors, adjust pricing – all risky and challenging when cash flow is down.

Thanks to Web 2.0 and social media, your customers are giving you a perfect opportunity to put minimal dollars to find out what they’re saying about your company. And if they’re not, ask them…..

[For the full article, please visit the PINK Magazine site]

We’ve interviewed Matt Johnston, VP of Marketing and Community at uTest, to discuss some of the concepts around the use of crowdsourcing.  This is the first installment of that discussion.

uTest provides software testing services for web, desktop and mobile apps.  The company offers this testing to companies of all sizes – from five-person startups to Fortune 500 enterprises – by leveraging its community of 20,000+ QA professionals from 157 countries around the globe.

You have a pretty well-defined explanation of what crowdsourcing is to you - and what it isn’t.  In fact, I think you said that you had two big criteria that have to met for a process to be considered crowdsourcing.  Can you talk a bit about what this definition includes?  What doesn’t it include?

That’s a good question – and one that’s hotly debated in crowdsourcing circles.  From my perspective, the first criteria is that something of substance needs to be sourced. I’ve heard people say that they’re going to “crowdsource a question” and then simply publish a one-time poll with a single question – that’s not crowdsourcing to me, it’s glomming onto a media-friendly term.

Whether it’s for professional services like copywriting, photography, design, development or software testing, I think there’s some minimum level of contribution and value-add that’s required before you can say that something has been “sourced” (whether it be in-sourced, outsourced or crowdsourced).  I’m not trying to define what this minimum criteria is, but I know that there’s a line.

The second criteria is that the output comes from a “crowd”, not just a single individual.  There are many outstanding companies that use “onesourcing” models to great success (eg: Elance, Guru, OnForce).  And in many categories, what the customer wants may be to find that one person who precisely matches their needs, as opposed to a team of people or collaborators.  I simply don’t consider that crowdsourcing.  In other categories and companies, the deliverable requires a team of people making a contribution (eg: uTest, Trada) and the overall deliverable is the sum of the contributions.

When it comes to implementing the crowdsourcing model, there are a lot of things to think about: control issues, organization, data gathering etc.  What were some of the things uTest felt were the most important to address and how did you address them?

That’s the right question, because a common misconception is that crowdsourcing is easy… just build a crowd, add water, and watch the revenues roll in!   A few hard-earned, hard-learned lessons that I’ve picked up:

  1. This will sound odd coming from a marketing guy, but the first key to building a successful crowdsourcing model is structured data.  The truth is that it’s not too tough to build a loosely assembled, unstructured crowd – what we call a “mob”.  uTest’s plan, however, was to advance far beyond that and to create a rated, ranked community of professional testers.   We use structured data to ensure that we can precisely match each customer’s project with the right testers, based upon location, languages spoken, hardware, software, expertise and, above all else, past performance.  If you’re thinking about a crowdsourced model, structured data is the foundation upon which you’ll build it.
  2. Recognize that you have two sets of customers – in our case, we have software companies and we have our community of testers. Most businesses are hardwired to think of their customer base as their lone stakeholders.  The other constituencies (like vendors, employees, etc.) are there to serve the customer.  In a crowdsourcing model, you must realize that you have two distinct sets of customers to whom you need to cater.  Serving both audiences well on an ongoing basis is a difficult, but wholly necessary, balancing act.
  3. There are two types of currency in an online community: money and reputation. Of course, money serves as a primary motivator, but the transparency and accountability of crowdsourcing motivates community members to build strong reputations. The net effect is that top performers get promoted and poor performers get demoted.  In both the near- and long-term, this means that you’re simultaneously rewarding your best community members and better serving your clients.
  4. The final lesson is that crowdsourcing is a model – an approach to solving a problem.  It’s not a solution in and of itself.  There are some verticals where it’s a great fit, and others where it’s not.  If you’re considering incorporating crowdsourcing into your existing business (or launching a new business based upon this model), make sure that the space and the problem you’re solving are a good fit.

Management of the crowdsourcing model can seem - well - unwieldy and chaotic to people thinking about starting it out.  How have you handled this aspect of the process?  What are some key things to do or not to do?

This question made me laugh, because I was just debating this with a friend who runs a crowdsourcing company on the west coast.  Ultimately your clients aren’t coming to you because they want crowdsourcing (really, they’re not).  They’re coming to you because they have a problem to be solved and the traditional, status quo solutions aren’t cutting it and they’re exploring alternatives.

When it comes to managing crowdsourcing solutions, it can seem unfamiliar to clients.  In those cases, it’s critical that the crowdsourcing company offers services and tools to help clients climb the learning curve.  In cases like these, you’re really competing with muscle memory of the client (“I’m used to doing things in a certain way and vendors need to adapt to my needs …”).

Here are the steps that I’d follow if I was thinking about creating a crowdsourcing company or offering:

  1. Start by looking carefully at the problem you’re trying to solve and the audience for whom you’re trying to solve it.
  2. Understand how they’ve historically solved this problem.
  3. Discover what works and doesn’t work for them with these traditional solutions
  4. At this point, you have a decision to make:
    1. Reduce the management burden on your customers to the point that using crowdsourcing is no more time-consuming than managing the traditional solutions
    2. Convince the world that your crowdsourcing solution is vastly more effective (aka: better) or efficient (aka: cheaper) to the point that it’s worthwhile for them to learn a new motion.

More specifically, uTest has identified and leveraged the “reputation” system in their model.  How have you done that and how has it worked to your advantage in having an effective community?

The reputation system behind a crowdsourcing model – or any community/marketplace model – is critically important.  As stated previously, there are two types of currency in a healthy crowdsourcing model:  money and reputation.

Of course, money serves as a primary motivator, but a well-designed reputation system creates effective incentives (and disincentives) for community behavior.  Among a community of peers, how one is perceived is a powerful driver.  For example, if everyone can see that I’ve achieved silver status, then I’m proud of my accomplishments AND I’m driven to achieve gold status.

As for the particulars of a reputation system (invisible vs. visible, stars vs. points, etc), there is no single right answer.  Ultimately, it depends upon the space that you occupy and the make-up of your community.  For example, eBay reveals the reputations of buyers and sellers in order to promote good behavior.  Conversely, Google’s search algorithm (which is really just a reputation system for websites that tries to match the right sites with each query) is kept secret in order to prevent people from gaming the system.

The real key is to align your incentives (both monetary and reputation) with the desired behaviors.  Before we ever build a new feature or make a change in our policies or pricing, we talk a great deal about what behavior are we incenting or disincenting.

We’ll be posting up the second half of our interview in the coming days, so be sure to check back!  Do you have any experiences in crowdsourcing?

[Update: The second half of our interview is up]

About uTest

uTest is the world’s largest marketplace for software testing services. The company provides real-world testing services through its community of 20,000+ professional testers from 158 countries around the world. Hundreds of companies - from web startups to global software leaders - have joined the uTest marketplace to get their web, desktop and mobile applications tested. More information can be found at or the company’s Software Testing Blog at

I did a quick talk at Emerson College today on using social networks to research companies, network, job search etc.  I focused a lot of the presentation on personal branding, as I think that’s the crux of this whole equation: if you can demonstrate your value easily and in a more robust fashion than on your resume, you’ll be that much more attractive in the “real world.”

View more presentations from JustKate.

Illustration by Henry Blackburn in the New York GRAPHIC, Nov. 5, 1873 from the Dave Thomson collection.

I was explaining how to think about framing blog content as a thought leader to someone the other day and used the following analogy, which, at least in this particular case, proved effective.

Think of being able to have two different speaking opportunities, each one with a different section of your core audience, and each one with different goals. Allow me to elaborate.

Audience One:

Larger sized audience of people with a broader range of interests.  Your role is to offer education at a level that many people will be able to find value in it, and most of them will want to hear more about it.

Audience Two:

Smaller sized audience of well-informed individuals and decision-makers.  Your role here is to demonstrate your leadership in an area directly related to their needs, and to your solution.  Your subject matter will be much more focused and in-depth.

Example: You offer a tool that greatly enhances the online fundraising capability for non-profits specifically on Twitter.

  • To Audience One you might talk about the role that social media plays in increasing support for your organization and allowing for more opportunities to donate.
  • To Audience Two you would talk specifically about the power of Twitter in general, and how that tool can be leveraged to enhance fundraising efforts. [Please note, I'm not discussing whether your language is sales-y or not... it never should be, but that's for another discussion].

Ideally, you have a series of speeches to Audience One, educating large numbers of people enough that you can convert them to a position where they might join Audience Two, and address Audience Two (converts from Audience One along with those who would have already been Audience Two candidates) in a few targeted speeches.

Translation? In general, a blog strategy works pretty well if you have your overall direction be focused on Audience One (most of your posts) and have a few posts strategically placed that target Audience Two.

How do you think of your blog strategy?

Over on the Econsultancy blog, they interviewed Jeremiah Owyang (who I’m a big fan of), who had a lot of really great answers to questions on his new role at the Altimeter Group what a personal brand means to him.  I had a quick thought that I wanted to share with you.

One of the questions - or rather, his answer - that popped out at me was:

So you don’t want to use the ’social’ word anymore?
Social is here today, and brands are wrestling with how to harness it.  However, there are more technologies coming, and we don’t want our clients to be blindsided by the next wave of tools that will empower customers and leave brands behind. Mobile, location based cloud services are all on the horizon. It’s more than social.
There was a knee-jerk reaction with social: “Quick, establish a work team.” But social is just one tool set. We’re looking at the broader set of emerging technologies and on boarding these technologies. We want to get companies ready with the roles and process to onboard these new technologies and conduct experiments where failure is acceptable. Rather than having the knee jerk reaction like they did in social. It used to be that all of a sudden, a CEO would mandate they must have a blog but not truly understand why and how it fits in to the corporate strategy. Most companies don’t have a way to allow new technology to come in. Most importantly, employees and customers can adopt these technologies without the CIO involved at all. If management allows for experimentation to happen, the successful elements will come through. Right now they happen in skunk works that are not sanctioned by management.

I love this answer because it’s how I and the rest of the crew here at the Other Side feels about using the word “social.”  We don’t consider ourselves to be a social media firm, and never have.  While we certainly do most of our work in that space, we also consider the “social media” part to be a set of tools.

We do marketing.  We feel strongly that marketing is a larger function in which social media components exist.  Online is a  channel that marketing should be developed in, and, as Jeremiah points out, not a knee-jerk reaction to an industry trend.  Facebook could be gone tomorrow.  Strong development of your brand in a place that people - your customers - are going to continue to go to is where the long-term value resides, and being able to navigate that landscape is the important part.

Anya and I have been excessively excited for the “small” change that Facebook made the other day that allows you to use the Twitter-esque “@” symbol to add contacts, pages, groups etc to a conversation pretty much anywhere you would normal post content on Facebook.

For example, on our Facebook page, you’ll see that once I inputted “@,” a drop-down menu pops up where you can choose from your contacts, your groups, your pages, etc.  I was posting up Anya’s post on academics having open access to scholarly work and wanted to attribute it to her, and I also got to let her know that I did so.  You’ll then see the prior post, citing Adam’s thoughts on social media ROI, and his name has been tagged.

Since I’m pretty interested in what this means for viral capabilities, I was playing around with the Walls today.  Here’s what I’ve seen so far  just using Wall postings.

Personal Profile:

  • You can post a status update with a contact name and/or a public profile (businesses/organizations) and your update will show up on their or its news feed.  [Note: It does not seem to update on a group page]
  • If it’s a contact, they will be notified via email, just as they would if you had tagged them in a photo in your own album (assuming they’re set up for email notifications). [Update: if you go to our FB page now, you'll see that Adam has already commented on the link we posted.  Most likely because he was notified that we posted it.]
  • Your tagging allows people to click on the contact/group/etc directly from your newsfeed, or their own home feed.
  • You can only link to contacts that you’re friends with, groups that you’re a member of or pages that you’re a fan of.

Business Public Profile/Page:

  • Much the same as a Personal Profile.
  • You can post an update or a link with the same information as above, and tag someone you’ve mentioned. Again, groups do not seem to be affected.
  • It it’s a contact, they will be notified that they’ve been tagged.
  • Other fans of the page are able to click directly through to the tagged party, whether it’s the author of a posted link or a group that was mentioned.
  • Any fan can post something that is tagged with a contact/page/group that they are connected to.

Implications for business:

  1. You are in front of more people, in places more removed than your page. Being tagged allows you to reach people one layer out, by being able to be mentioned in a way that’s interactive on profiles and pages that are not your own. Because your fans also have these capabilities, anytime you’re mentioned by them, you’re exposed to all of their contacts in the same way.
  2. It draws people back to your page more easily. If your page is tagged “somewhere else” it is much easier for new eyes to connect to your page, click, and be there.  No one has to actually interact with your page directly for that to happen now. If a person is tagged on your page, they’re notified of that discussion, which isn’t directly on their profile.  This will ideally bring them to your page.  All-in-all, you’re drawing people back to your content from further away and in an easier manner.

Still playing around, I’ll update when/if I find new features.

Did I miss anything? Any other cool features you’ve come across that increase virality?  Do I have anything wrong?

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