Guardian NSA content strategy

For anyone following the “NSA Whistleblower” story over the past couple of weeks, eConsultancy published a good analysis of The Guardian’s online editorial strategy for managing the story this week.

What’s particularly interesting – and where I think this case is relevant for content strategy in a corporate environment – is the way in which The Guardian aligned lots of different pieces of content in a range of formats across different sections of its web presence, then managed the release of the content as a series of “episodes” over several days.

The Guardian’s ability to manage and control the story – providing angles that cater to its diverse range of current and potential readers – offers a lesson to corporates about how to grow the relevance of a web presence over time by providing regular content around consistent themes relevant to the audience.

Particularly interesting given The Guardian is clearly using this story as an opportunity to grow its global brand.

Digital Content in Financial Services

If you work in financial services, Ernst & Young released a study this week about the state of Corporate Banking which identified some interesting trends.

In particular it indicates the growing importance of the strength and quality of the relationship between service providers and client in maintaining and growing the business. It also emphasises the importance of personalisation and pro-activity to clients – demonstrated for me by the value placed on “Innovation” by survey respondents.

Given some of the macro economic factors that the survey suggests are influencing clients at the moment I suspect many of the themes here are consistent across the financial services sector. They probably even percolate through to shape consumer attitudes as well.

Especially in a corporate and business-to-business context, this raises some interesting questions about the role social technologies can play in helping service providers nurture better relationships with clients. For service providers that follow a relationship-based business model, social technologies give client relationship managers and consultants the opportunity to share content through their own networks, increasing its consumption.

This may mean evolving content strategy to create content segmented into “bite-sized” portions that are easy to share. But by doing so it enables the service provider to be much more personal and proactive in the way it use digital channels to nurture relationships.

My colleague David Armano points to a solution in his post of Responsive Marketing – using digital platforms to create a more responsive, proactive and personalised experience for customers.


Social Business & Innovation

Originally published 20 June 2012

Innovation is the life blood of businesses large and small. Without the ability to innovate with new products and services, or adapt existing ones to suit changing markets, the business will simply stagnate.

So how is innovation enabled in the social business model? The Internet of course has been the catalyst for one the most potent forms of innovation – disruptive innovation – across a variety of industries. However, for businesses exploring how to integrate social practices and technologies, I don’t believe it is possible to actively make innovation happen. Instead you need to concentrate on creating the right conditions for it to emerge and flourish in its own right.

The essential requirement is openness. In simple terms, social technology provides a means for different groups inside and outside the organisation – from employees to customers – to input into the business.

A great example of openness in practice is SmartOcean – an ocean technologies innovation cluster in Ireland. Launched in 2010, the initiative brings together expertise in marine science and technology with the aim of establishing Ireland as a leader in the development of products and services for the global marine sector. Currently there are over 50 companies from a variety of disciplines involved, all collaborating to develop new marine technologies in areas ranging from renewable energy to environmental monitoring.

To establish the conditions for open innovation to flourish, creating an environment where people are confident and motivated to share and collaborate on the development of ideas must be the foundation. But this front-end innovation is only part of the story; businesses also need the back-end workflows and systems in place to manage the outputs of the creative process and turn them into revenue streams. This is one of the great opportunities of the social business – in an integrated, collaborative environment an idea could emerge from IT, Sales, Marketing, Customer Support, HR, Communications, specialist Business Units, or of course from someone outside of the organisation.

Take Quirky for example. This firm is taking social principles and applying them to manufacturing. Based in New York, its design studio houses a small factory complete with a whole range of equipment, including 3D printers, a laser cutter, milling machines and a spray-painting booth. From here, Quirky is able to produce a couple of new consumer products every week, with the help of a growing online community. The process begins with an idea submitted by a would-be inventor. If enough people like the idea by voting on Facebook and the website, then Quirky’s product development team will manufacture a prototype. Community members can then contribute reviews of the product online, helping to refine the design, packaging, marketing and pricing. Quirky then looks for suitable manufacturers to scale production if the prototype is well-received. Initially the product will be sold on Quirky’s website. This is then expanded to retail chains if demand grows. As the product establishes a customer base, revenue is shared between Quirky, the inventor and others who have helped in the process.

By using its community as a sounding board, Quirky can quickly establish if there is a market for a product and set the right price before committing itself to a major production run with a large-scale manufacturer. The speed with which they can source ideas, turn them into designs, test them for robustness and produce a prototype with confidence is hard to match. And it’s the firm’s open approach to innovation that’s crucial to making this possible.

The experiences of SmartOcean and Quirky in very different industries and environments go to show that by having the right processes and technology infrastructure in place, it’s possible for people inside and outside the organisation to connect and make innovation happen. Taken as a whole it’s a complex challenge, but in a truly integrated environment it becomes possible for ideas to emerge that can be transformed into successful products or services.

Social Media Business versus Social Business

Originally published 5 March 2012

Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations with clients about social commerce as an aspect of social business.

With social networking, and Facebook in particular, such a dominant activity online, it would seem like a logical next step for any brand with a well-established community. Yet recent stories of high profile brands shutting up shop on Facebook are bound to make businesses think carefully about whether or not it’s the right thing to do.

Social networks, by their very nature, exist to facilitate relationships between people. This means any business that wants to introduce a commercial aspect to its presence on a platform, must ask what role the transactions it is asking the community to participate in have to play in the relationships being established online.

In other words, it’s a matter of thinking beyond creating a storefront and instead identifying the social value of the brand – the innate quality that inspires people to talk to you, talk about you and make you a part of their social experiences. The implication is that brands need to revaluate the essential principles of their business models for a more social context. This is no easy challenge and those brands that have concluded social commerce experiments over the past few months have most likely been asking themselves similar questions in evaluation.

This is where the difference lies between a social media business and a social business. To be successful, a brand must think beyond launching an established retail model on a social platform and instead be prepared to be transformative in its approach to business.

Faisel Rahman set up Fairer Finance – a social business in the truest sense of the term – to help people who are financially excluded get access to financial services in his native East London. He has been able to successfully apply the principles of microfinance he implemented in Bangladesh for the World Bank, to help poor communities in the developed world – an innovative solution to an old and seemingly intractable problem.

Key to Faisel’s success is being present in, and connected to, the communities where the business operates. By doing so, Fairer Finance can truly understand the needs of its customers and the factors affecting their lives and then develop services accordingly.

It’s this kind of innovative thinking, willingness to question accepted ways of doing business and commitment to community that will make established businesses successful in creating a new, social dimension to their commercial activities, whether online or off.

Social commerce is in its infancy. It takes a long time to establish a successful bricks and mortar store and even longer to grow a thriving marketplace. With continued experimentation and innovation I expect we’ll soon see new models emerge.