Archive for September, 2008

Who Controls Your Brand?

My last few posts I have been talking about how using social media and communitiy development tools can help companies establish and/or grow their brands. So, I was reading Groundswell, a relatively new book, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Josh is a Vice President and Principal Analyst with Forrester Research and Charlene was with Forrester when this book was written and released. She has since left the company to pursue other things.

Groundswell talks about how to find out more about what customers are talking about and how to capitalize on the conversations. They use 25 case studies to make their points.

What caught my attention was paragraph titled “your brand is what your customers say it is”  Now a lot of companies and their marketing departments think that they own their brand. Afterall, it’s their business, and their money they are spending talking about their products and business. Makes perfect sense to them that they own and control it.

Well, the team at Groundswell makes a great case that it is your customers and how they talk about you and your company that controls your brand. That being the case, you can use the old techniques of market and customer satisfaction surveys and studies and find out what your customers SAID about you (hint: the data that you get back is probably six months old or more).

Alternatively, you can take the new media approach and open direct and continuous communication channels with your customers and find out what they are SAYING about your company. (bigger hint: the data you back is current and may be hours or days old).

Think about, in the first scenario, you can attempt to fix something that might not even be a problem still or has gone on so long that customer are too frustrated. On the other hand, you can address problems whilte they are still fresh in your customers minds.

OK, this doesn’t mean to react to every issue as it comes up before you completely understand whether something is really a problem and how to best address it.

So, the tools are available, easy to use once someone sets them up for you, and you can get into conversation immediately. By the way, if your customers are talking and your not listening, I wonder who is? Maybe it’s your current or future competition. Now that should be a scary thought!!!

Drupal and Startups is there a Connection?

Over the past few years, I have been trying to make the connection between startups and some of the new web based tools that are in the news. Unfortunately, blogging or social media tools just don’t resonate with many entrepreneurs. They just didn’t make the connection to their usefulness.

Now coming from a technology background where I was always looking at future products, I realize that it is not the users job to figure out why they should be using a technology. Whoever is offering the technology as a solution has that responsibility. Oh yeah, that would be me.

Every startup is challenged by restricted financial resources, extreme time limitations and the need to build their brand in order to get the traction they need and, by association, grow their businesses.

In the old days, say five years ago, you needed tons of cash to build your brochureware web site, hire a PR agency, and a marketing firm who would go out and help you defining your market and then research your target demographics and tell you what your customers are looking for. It also costs lots of money to keep your brochureware web site updated with fresh content since you really didn’t want to take the time to learn all the web languages needed to provide updates. Even the list of acronyms were daunting, HTML, XML, PHP, CSS, Dreamweaver, Contribute…

In today’s world, there a number of new content management tools that also have the capabilities of incorporating communities and, best of all, the are Open Source; implication, FREE! Not entirely free unless you want to learn how to develop the community sites on your own. Drupal is just such an environment.

Now you can have a site put up in no time at all and start conversations with your customers or market targets, which means that you have direct contact with your customer base, not filtered through some third party marketing firm. More importantly, once you get the conversations started, the data is current not 18 months old like in the old days.

Another important consideration is the number additional applications that can be easily added as you grow. You want video, there is an open source application with player. How about e-commerce. Download one and begin using it. Take a minute at look at what’s available over at Drupal.

You probably have all the equipment you need. A computer and Internet Access is a starting point. Don’t have your own server to host, no problem. There are lots of providers and the hosting fees have gone through the floor.

So, if you are getting your business together and wondering how you are going to get started, look at the possibilities of using tools like Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress as the way to offload the hard work of getting your name out and building your brand. Take a little time to see what’s available and then find somebody that knows about these technologies and can help you decide what’s possible and will work for you.

Why Was I at Drupal Camp LA?

For those of you who know me, I have spent a career looking at new technologies and understanding how they are used especially in business. For the past few years, I have been using some of the new social networking, social media tools like blogging, vlogging and podcasting. I have also been looking at the evolution of community building as a method for small and medium size businesses to build their brands. Not only are these new tools more effective but many of the more significant tools are open source, which means that the software is essentially free or very inexpensive.

A couple of years ago at Resonnect, we wanted to update the look and feel of the site. Additionally, we want to have the capability of adding or changing content without either learning Dreamweaver, Contribute or Front Page or paying a web developer to make the changes on their time frame. We talked to a few companies that we either knew or had used, and found out a content management system would cost around $10K. Three years later, you can download one for free!

That brings me to Drupal, which is an open source content management system with lots of additional modules, also open source, that allow you to create just about any type of site you want. Blogs, Wikis, multimedia, e-commerce whatever you need.

Now, this blog site uses WordPress and has met my blogging needs for almost three years. However, I find that I want to do more. I want to not just blog but build a community, have more people contribute content and join the conversation. So, I looked at a number of possibilities, and settled on Drupal. The new site that we are developing, Startup Coast, is written using Drupal and it is packed with capabilities.

Now to get started, we contracted a developer who is thoroughly grounded in Drupal and he created a great site that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. What’s more, it is very easy to add, change of delete content.

So, I decided to learn some more about Drupal and discovered Drupal Camp LA and thought it would be good to rub elbows with some Drupal techies and learn new. So, that is how I ended up at Drupal Camp.

So, now my interest is really piqued and I am looking to learn a lot more. I am also hoping to start convincing startups to use these social networking tools and applications to build communities as a technique to establish and grow their brands. They are very powerful and, generally, fit within the limited budgets that most startups are faced with.

My Big Surprise at Drupal Camp LA 2008? Dmitri Gaskin!

So, those who know me might be asking why I was at Drupal Camp, or, more importantly, what exactly is Drupal camp. Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS) and also a content management framework. In a discussion about the hot CMS’, three are at the top of the pile, Drupal, WordPress and Joomla. One of the really great things about open source applications is that there are thousands of individuals who contribute to building, testing and furthering the software. Drupal has just such a community with thousands of contributors. Here is where Dmitri Gaskin comes in. But first…

I was walking around the conference, in Drupal terms large at around 430 attendees, but rather small for conferences held at the LA Convention Center, and noticed a young boy who seemed to be attending with a relative and maybe just hanging around waiting for the sessions to finish. As I was sitting at a table in the break room checking my emails, this boy sits down and pulls out a Mac with a ton of stickers and does some work.

A short time later I see him as the next sessions are starting and I am walking into the Beginners track and he is entering the Developers track with his laptop under his arm. I figured he was in the wrong place.

During my session, the presenter starts talking about one of the contributed modules as being developed by Dmitri and then she starts talking about the very talented 12 year old. That’s right, twelve years old. I’m thinking this can’t be, 12? During the next break session, they mention that Dmitri is one of the real powerhouses in the Drupal development world! More importantly, they mention that there is an Awesome Testing Party scheduled that is being moderated by, you guessed it, Dmitri Gaskin!

I think it is great to know that there are still wunderkids out there. I have to admit this is the first one I have seen up close. At another time, it might have bothered me that me, the adult, was walking into the Beginners track while the 12 year old was going into the techie Developers track.

In any event, kudos to Dmitri. Kudos also to his family for supporting and encouraging him. I think we are going to continue to see some great things from him over the next, 60 or 70 years. When I was twelve, my biggest accomplishment was learning to hit a curve ball. Technology is great!

In my next post, I’ll explain why I was at Drupal Camp.


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