Monday, February 21, 2011

Are Social Sites Indeed Making Blogs Irrelevant?

I came across an interesting blog today courtesy of LinkedIn (linked below), that basically asks the question, are social sites indeed making blogs irrelevant? I had never really thought it about it that much, but then I began to think about my own user behavior.
Maybe Others Don’t Act Like Me
I used to read blogs all the time and still do, occasionally. But, I’m much more active on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, because the barrier to accessing and interacting seems much less painful.
For example, in one application (Tweetdeck), I can manage all three of my accounts on those sites. If I want to post something, I can enter it once and post it out to any or all of the sites. If my post exceeds a known character limit, the program is smart enough to let me know. Plus, just about anyone I interact with has access to my posts and those that don’t, can easily search and find me/my posts. Pretty easy, huh?
But I’m Reading Your Blog
Very true. Those of you reading this BLOG are likely acknowledging that I’m a HYPOCRITE, but that further lends to my point. How did you find it? Likely, you came in from one of those other sites where this blog was posted (and the blog’s analytics support this). So, the real question is, can social media replace the need for a blog or will we get to a point where 140 characters is more than enough space to share our message.
A Simple, But Possible Example
The blog I mentioned in the opening paragraph (that’s also linked below) spends almost a full page talking about how today’s youth is becoming less and less likely to blog. But, after reading the blog, couldn’t the entire thing be shortened to this: Youth less likely to blog, doesn't have attention span for it. Favoring FB, LinkedIn, Twitter and other channels. I mean, when is the last time you were recapping an article or blog to a friend and it took longer than a sentence or two tell them what it’s about?
The Future, in 140 Characters or Less
In the late 90’s, many sites had message boards and discussion forums. But, in the early 00’s, many of those disappeared in favor of blogs and chat technologies. Why? Because forums can be difficult to navigate, cumbersome to moderate, and nightmarish from a UI perspective. Aren’t some of these complaints being made about blogs nowadays?
Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider the idea that social media could be the one replacing blogs, the way they replaced discussion forums.
I’m not saying that we’re approaching the end of modern literature because there will always be a place for that. However, I am beginning to think that maybe the usefulness of blogs is starting to wind down. What do you think?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Adapt or Die. Welcome to the Adaptive Web

Ektron's new partnership with Baynote is extremely exciting. Therefore, I wanted to make sure everyone in the Midwest had a chance to learn about it via a recent blog by Tom Wentworth, Ektron's VP of Web Solutions. Enjoy!

You have seven seconds to engage a visitor before they leave your site.  Or maybe it’s ten seconds.  Or three.  Whatever the exact number is for your site, you’ve got a finite amount of time to engage a visitor before they’re gone.  Content is the cornerstone of visitor engagement on the corporate website.  It entertains, educates, and sometimes even inspires your customers.  The challenge faced by marketers is to get the right content to the right visitor, in the right context, across every customer channel.  Managing content was so much easier when you could create and publish content without putting much thought into how the content generated business outcomes like new customer acquisition, retention, lead generation, etc.  Today, companies look to web content management systems like Ektron to serve as the foundation for their web strategy.  While content management remains a core challenge for marketing teams, the ultimate goal is engagement, not management.  So how do companies use content to engage site visitors?  Enter personalization.

Web content management systems typically address personalization through rules-based content targeting.  Content targeting allows marketers to define business rules to personalize content delivery.  For example, a promotion on a landing page might be tied to a specific search engine keyword.  Or a site might deliver promotion to existing customers based on their prior purchase history.  Content targeting is often combined with multivariate testing to uncover the best combination of copy, layout, imagery, and other factors to drive conversion.  Content targeting works well when marketing teams have a fixed number of customer segments and are able to clearly define those segments based on behavioral, environmental, or user profile data.  But often marketers want to evolve beyond a customer segmentation strategy to reach the Holy Grail, 1-1, real time, intent-driven personalization.  Welcome to the adaptive web, powered by Baynote.

Baynote’s Adaptive Web suite compliments rules-based targeting, where companies need to deliver a personalized web experience to each visitor in real time based on context and intent.  Baynote operates using the collective intelligence gained from the interaction patterns of site visitors.  Each page on the website automatically adapts itself to provide the right recommendation, the best content, or the most helpful search result, all based on the collective intelligence learned across hundreds of thousands of visitor interactions.

Content, Meet Context

In my predictions for Web CMS in 2011, I proclaimed that content is king, context is queen and together, they rule the fiefdom of web engagement.  Today, Ektron announced a new partnership with Baynote to address the expanding market need for better website engagement.  As Mick MacComascaigh at Gartner said in our joint press release, “Companies across all verticals and geographies are looking to deliver more business value from their online presence.  Next-generation web content management systems must evolve to become context-aware, delivering highly targeted and personal content based on real-time visitor intent.”  Like Ektron, Baynote understands the value of context, and together we now provide a complete solution for organizations looking to better engage their customers across all touch points- including landing pages, microsites, customer support, and more.  Baynote and Ektron worked together to create an integration that allows customers to quickly deploy Baynote on their Ektron-powered sites using Ektron PageBuilder.  Our joint customer Wolters Kluwer had the following to say about the new partnership:  “As a joint customer, we see the value of combining Ektron with the Baynote Collective Intelligence Platform.  Ektron provides us with an enterprise-class web content management system while Baynote lets us adapt the web experience by understanding exactly what customers need.  By combining these previously separate technologies, Wolters Kluwer is able to better service our customers who rely on our websites to manage their businesses more effectively.” 

I’ve long admired Baynote, and now I’m thrilled to be working together to advance the agenda of the adaptive web.  We share a similar vision for the future of the web, and now its time to start helping customers deliver on that vision. Adapt or die. 

Tom Wentworth is an experienced, versatile, and passionate technology executive with over 15 years experience selling, marketing, and designing enterprise software. In his current role, Tom is the VP of Web Solutions for Ektron, where he's responsible for corporate strategy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is Your Project Facing a Third-and-One?

Football fans know that third-and-one (both on offense and defense) is one of the toughest situations to be in. You’ve got to find a way to pick up a yard (on offense) to keep the ball or stop the other team from gaining a yard (on defense) to get the ball.

So with the Super Bowl approaching, I thought it was appropriate to use this analogy as it relates to projects (full disclosure: this blog post idea was triggered by a quote by Indiana basketball Tom Crean (below), relating third-and-one to basketball).

Why Does Vendor Selection Take So Long?
I’ve spent nearly a decade working with web projects across all verticals and everywhere from SMB to the enterprise, and one trend that I’m seeing is that it’s taking longer and longer to identify and select a vendor. And it makes no sense, honestly. Yes, there are more qualified vendors to choose from these days, but because of technological advances, our ability to evaluate and score them has been accelerated as well.

So, what can we do to make the vendor selection process more efficient:
  • Don’t ask 20 firms to bid on a project; Find a list of three to five quality firms that you’ve identified, and ask them to participate.
  • Identify any major technological preferences/requirements ahead of time; If your development team is dead set on a .NET based solution, don’t involve firms that only work in open source.
  • Meet with every vendor; It’s so simple, but is often ignored. I can only put so much into a proposal for you to look at; but, if we sit down, we can have a productive conversation that will give you a much better idea as to my experience and capabilities. This can vastly reduce the amount of time it takes for you to evaluate a vendor. And, this leads right into my next point…
  • Look em in the eye; It’s easy to hide behind technology these days. Emails can be cleverly crafted. Phone calls can be planned out (or unanswered). Even instant messages allow vendors to digest the question and carefully prepare a response. But nothing is as effective as meeting in person and being able to look someone in the eye to determine if they’re someone you can work with. In many cases, you’re looking at a multi-year engagement, so don’t you need to know that you can trust this person before you sign on the dotted line?
  • Who do you do; Problems will pop up during the course of the project, they always do. Be sure to choose a vendor that has experience working on projects of a similar magnitude so that they know how to navigate through these unforeseen changes during the course of the project.
Following those steps can help speed up the selection process, but what happens when you get to a third-and-one with your actual project?

Why Isn’t My Project Moving Faster?
Similar to the course of a football game, there are certain points in every project that are tougher/more critical than others (the third-and-ones if you will). It’s these milestones that often are the cause of delays, whether they’re on the part of the vendor or on the part of the client. While many vendors are smart enough to build padding into their timeline to accommodate unanticipated delays, others will try to win bids by simply proposing the tightest of deadlines.

In either case, here are some things we can do to power through those third-and-one situations:
  • Establish guidelines; When establishing the project timeline, outline both development time and client review time so that everyone has a clear understanding of their responsibilities and the consequences if deadlines are missed.
  • Identify stakeholders; Knowing who needs to sign off on what allows your primary point of contact to set expectations in terms of client review.
  • Don’t call FEMA; Identify a resolution path in the event that scope changes are necessary or the direction of the project changes midstream – this does happen and being prepared for it makes it smoother for everyone involved.
  • Talk, talk, talk; Email/IM/Skype/etc. are nice tools, but none can replace picking up the phone or traveling to meet with your client/vendor. Talking is still the best way to communicate, so do it early and often.
  • Remember, you’re working together; Even the best marriages can end in divorce. It’s important to remember that you’re both working towards the same goal – a successful project where both parties are happy, and that ideally, leads to a long-term relationship. So many projects fail because one side becomes upset with the other and rather than the project experience being an interactive and collaborative one, it becomes one-sided and resentful.
So there you have it, some good plays to call on third-and-one. I know that adhering to these guidelines is in no way a guarantee for success, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

Be sure to let me know what you do to help reduce vendor selection time and reduce project delays by commenting below.

The Tom Crean quote referenced above, when talking about his young Indiana team needing to get tougher:
"My father-in-law equates it to third-and-one in football. Third-and-one on defense, it's the hardest play. Third-and-one on offense, it's the hardest play. Well, there are certain plays at the rim that are like that in the course of a game. But third-and-one or third-and-two, however you want to look at it, when it's 2:28 and it's a four point game, we still have to believe that we're going to win the game. And that's what we've got to grow through." -- Tom Crean on the Hoosiers' reaction to crunch time vs. Penn State. Crean's father-in-law is Jack Harbaugh, father of NFL coaches Jim and John Harbaugh. (source: