Archive for January, 2004

Blogging in the news–and at school

Friday, January 30th, 2004

John Battelle, writing for Business 2.0, describes a critical attitude of today’s successful business professionals:

“People who have strong and well-informed opinions command respect and become influencers; they win deals, drive decisions, and ultimately determine the fate of companies. The thirst for high-end business information — the kind that makes people feel like influencers — has created a $15 billion professional publishing market in the United States alone. “

Very true. The lightning pace of change in our world makes constant/instant learners of all of us. Most of us don’t have time to scan even just the major business publications, let alone learn all the new software and keep up with developments in our industry.

But the most interesting part about Battelle’s article is the headline: Why Blogs Mean Business. His cogent observation: “…blogs work because people have something to say and others find what they say valuable.”

That’s what it’s about. You have value to offer. The people who need what you offer will value you for offering it.

Go get your blog on.

P.S. If you’d like a little help and you happen to be in the Northeast Ohio area on March 12, sign up for my class at Cleveland State University. Blog for Business: The Power of the Internet on Steroids. Call 216.687.2144 or register online.

Stumbling blocks

Thursday, January 29th, 2004

Stumbled on this entry as I was clicking on links in various of the personal blogs. This guy works at Microsoft and started blogging–built a very large audience and is now followed by major magazines like Business 2.0 and Fast Company.

As his audience changes, so did his approach. And his regular readers are complaining. If the business blog becomes impersonal, nothing more than another marketing tool–see Steve Goldberg’s complaint on this topic in his guest blog on HeartatWork–it has defeated its own purpose and sold itself down the river.

Check out the ideas below and use them as a guide to help avoid those mistakes when you start your business blog. Scobleizer speaks:

“Sebastien Lambla was IM’ing with me tonight. He was at the blogger dinner with Chris Anderson and Don Box and a few others in London the other night. He asked the folks who came to the dinner a couple of questions:

“Who here reads Scoble?”

Every hand went up.

“Who here enjoys it?”

Far fewer hands went up.

Sebastien’s theories? “Your blog is more of a marketing blog and not of the old Scoble and it sounds sometimes less personal.”

That got me thinking and I wrote down these excuses:

1) I’m reading too many feeds. It’s overloading my brain and I’m not able to focus on any one issue the way I used to.

2) I’m not getting much sleep lately. Partly cause my wife is away. Partly cause I feel this pressure to keep up with everyone (internally generated).

3) I have even more internal pressure going on to be perfect. In the old days no one read me except for a small group of people. Now Fast Company and Business 2.0 are doing articles on me. Makes me a bit more self aware.

4) I have too many audiences. I know execs are reading. Coworkers. Family members. Competitors. Influentials. Customers. Press. It’s hard to write well for any one audience when you’re trying to please them all. In the old days I didn’t have disparate audiences, I just was talking to my blogger friends.

5) Microsoft example. A lot of people inside Microsoft are looking at me as a guinea pig. A proof of concept, if you will. So I don’t want to screw it up.

6) Teams are now calling on me to help them out with marketing. Now that I’m getting a traffic flow, and that blogging is getting more and more visibility, teams are asking me for help in learning the new world. Not to mention that I’m getting invited to speak at industry conferences like Demo.

7) I really am losing touch with technology. I used to use one piece of software all day long. But now I’m doing far more, and not able to specialize as much. It’s making me lose my voice on specific pieces of software.
8) I used to only have one or two thoughts per day that I wanted to get across. Now I have dozens. Just today I had two very interesting meetings, then went out to dinner with Chris Wilson and Tantek Celik, two of Microsoft’s top people. When you’re around people of that caliber your brain gets pulled like taffy in all sorts of interesting directions.

9) I’m getting tainted. I was talking with someone about some of the problems that my readers were asking to get fixed and I asked him why he doesn’t blog and he said “I’m tainted, I know just how hard it is to do that, but people on the outside think it’s easy.” Some call this “drinking the Koolaid.” It happens naturally, even if you try to resist it. Why? Because when you talk with the people who’ve been doing things that make you mad they all have very rational reasons for why it was done that way. It makes it hard to write provocatively when you know that there are real humans you’re aiming your words at.

So, what do you hate about my blog?

In fact, make it broader: what do you hate about all the Microsoft employee blogs you’ve read?”

Customer service – not

Wednesday, January 28th, 2004

Here’s a good one. Change the cartridge on my HP deskjet printer this morning. I notice the cartridge light keeps blinking. I reread the directions. Yeah, looks like I did it right. I take it out and put it in. No go. I do this about 5 times, lest I should not be pushing it hard enough or something. Clearly this just ain’t gonna happen.

I call HP support. They’ve changed the number in their packaging. Call our new toll-free number they say cheerfully. Great, I’m thinking. Love that no-charge stuff. Call them. Voice-recognition answering stuff takes a while, tells me when I “speak” my model number that my item is out of warranty; some more rigamarole and at last I get to a person…

He wants me to give him the serial number. Where is it, I ask? On the back. I l say okay, I have to unstack my stuff (my fax sits on top of the printer quite nicely), pull the thing out from its cubby and turn it around. No. it’s not on the back. Then, juggling the phone while this guy waits I have to turn the thing upside down and hold it that way–I’m stretched quite ungracefully across my desk–to get him the S/N.

I give it and I ask him, so what do you need the S/N for? Oh, so we can confirm this is an HP printer and whether it is definitely out of warranty.

Huh?

He then explains again that item is out of warranty and proceeds to launch into a lengthy explanation of my support options–several of which require payment. I don’t have the patience to let him drone on, so I say, you’ve heard this problem a thousand times I bet, you know the answer, don’t you, and they’re making you read this thing? He didn’t respond.

I ask what’s the website address? He gives it and I log on as I say my last words to him: Okay, Joe, I’ll see what I can find on your website but if I can’t solve this pretty quickly, I’m throwing the damn printer out because it’s not worth this hassle.

Fortunately, I find the answer to my clearly-well-known problem without too much trouble–though the instructions are not all that helpful–and finally get the thing working. That’s when I start telling a friend my experience in response to his email–when I realize this is something I should share with others so they can be prepared for this sort of encounter when they call HP for help.

This reminds me of a customer service experience I had with Dell two years ago. They asked me what programs I wanted on my new computer–and proceeded to sell me a copy of Microsoft Office that didn’t even contain PowerPoint!! It was back and forth before they got finished getting me what I should have had in the first place–all because they didn’t train their front line people to ask what the customer wanted to DO with their new Dell Computer.

I laugh now because a year later they’ve initiated their new sales campaign: “We ASK you what you want to do with your computer and make sure you get what you need.” Hallelujah. Guess it was costing too much money to take orders without thinking…

Manufacturers blog for business? You bet…

Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

A manager at a first-class manufacturing company says blogging is powerful. Read below. Buy the review.

At every presentation I have done on blogging I get the question: “What about manufacturers? What could they possibly blog about? They can’t give away their R&D, too much competition, etc., etc.” Some people–the big skeptics–actually are pretty aggressive with this question.

I am delighted one night when one of my highly respected sources about what’s worthwhile in the blogosphere (yes, that’s what diehard bloggers call it), Bagger, posts something about this guy who analyzes why the military teaches people to salute. I feel immediately compelled to check this out (the military mind has always been an endless source of interest–and confusion–to me).

So imagine my surprise and delight when I find this military reference is just one of a multitude of intelligent observations this blogger makes about responsibility, conducting business ethically, communicating with your supply chain, sharing observations about effective processes, and so on.

Joe Ely runs a blog about Lean Manufacturing. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for this review–and it took considerable time to distill his prolific thoughts into the hopefully useful and easy-to-use format I’ve developed for BIZblog reviews. Today, at last, you can hear from the horse’s mouth why a manufacturing guy would blog–and how he approaches it and what results he’s getting.

Because we spend a considerable amount of time and effort interviewing good candidates and constructing these reviews, we are introducing the idea of having you purchase this review (initial reviews were free). For a reasonable price of $7 here’s what you get:

  • insight into why a manufacturer would blog
  • ideas about what a manufacturer would blog about
  • an idea of the kind of results a manufacturer might get from blogging
  • encouragement to make the plunge from a pro who’s doing it–and finds it a gratifying business tool.

We’re also giving you the option of disagreeing–if you don’t think you ought to have to pay to hear what Joe has to say, email us and tell us so.

Either way, listen to what Joe says. In case you don’t believe in this blog stuff, you’ll find that Joe really gets it–and has some intriguing thoughts to share.

P.S. On a personal note, it’s really pathetic to have to re-set the date and time on your blog entry because you can’t get to it before midnight…

Stone age practices at MicroCenter

Monday, January 26th, 2004

Here’s an updated version of a post I started the other day but didn’t get to finish.

I visited my local branch of MicroCenter last Friday to purchase an additional infrared/roll button mouse. Ended up spending way more and getting a wireless one–cool. Because I happened to know one of the employees, I ended up in an interesting conversation.

Since I write regularly about how companies succeed best by respecting their employees as real people–with regular lives–rather than cogs in the corporate machinery, I was startled at what I heard about one of the practices going on at MicroCenter.

MicroCenter has to hire some fairly tech-savvy folks–whose job is to help people of all talents/experience choose and feel comfortable with almost every imaginable kind of tech stuff—hardware, software, peripherals, etc. So right away you know these are not dummies.

Shockingly, it seems these bright people are being told that if they are even one minute late, they will be docked. If they are one or more minutes late more than three times, they will be fired. This sounds like a throwback to another era–Theory X Management with capital letters. Talk about not valuing your talent. Not treating your employees like human beings with real lives…

Anyway, one of the employees said he looked up federal law and found it states that employers must legally give all employees up to a 6-minute leeway on arrival time–without punitive consequences. How long will these bright people want to continue working at a place that treats them like a rigid parent handling misbehaving children?

MicroCenter, you are missing the boat. Watch out the one you’re using doesn’t spring a leak and sink you. Love to hear your reactions to this, readers. Email us.

Sort and find…

Monday, January 26th, 2004

You know the old saw about “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?” I used to believe there was no question: it did. And if the squirrels and bugs and other life in the forest are there at the time, yes, the tree makes a noise. But quantum physics tells us that only the act of observing an event makes the event happen. So for those of us not within earshot, the tree in fact does not make a noise.

Yes, scientists can prove that everything is only potentiality until someone observes it. The implications are astounding…but I get carried away about that kind of stuff mainly in my personal blog. So let’s just say that one service we can all give each other in this mad-rush-busy world is to point out to each other things in which we find value. So…

Some cool sites have come to my attention recently.

  • A listing of excellent small-press newsletters on advertising/marketing topics can be found here. Browse through some of them when you get a chance.
  • The owner of a very with-it marketing blog asked me to review his DuctTapeMarketing. I did, and it’s snappy and fun and links to lots of good ideas, especially for small business. Check it out here.
  • The Cleveland chapter of the Northeast Ohio Software Association has created a site designed to make it easy to local companies to find and buy from other local companies. The point, says Jim Cookinham, NEOSA E.D., is that maybe not everybody knows of local companies that can do what they need done. Need something done in NEO? Visit this classy looking site and fill out an RFI here.

When you see cool stuff, please let us know. We’ll do a post and link to it from here.

Shy not away

Thursday, January 22nd, 2004

CIO Insight recently issued its 2003 Vendor Value Survey. The idea is to measure how well products and services meet the needs/desires of IT executives–and of course how happy those folks are with those services.

They are careful to go into excruciating detail about how they chose their respondents and who they tapped for stats: Gartner, the Fortune 1000 list, the Forbes Private 500 list, Hoover’s Online and annual and financial reports of individual companies.

The whole point was to measure the perceived performance of 50 of the most widely used vendors–hardware, software, etc. They go on and on about the various vendors etc. in an effort to describe in minute detail who they asked–lest you should make some billion dollar decision solely on the strength of their survey results and mistakenly hold them responsible…

The exact wording of the survey questions is as follows:

Please indicate which of the following vendors your company has had or continues to have an ongoing business relationship with during the last twelve months

Please indicate the nature of the relationship your company has (or had) with ______ in the last 12 months.
· We have used them as consultants on business and IT strategy and/or internal IT projects
· We have used their services to outsource IT systems and projects
· We have used their hardware products
· We have used their software products

Please rate _____ on how well their products and services help your company achieve the following goals and expectations:
· Meeting my company’s expectations for increasing revenues (or achieving mission, if not-for-profit)
· Meeting my company’s expectations for lowering business or IT costs
· Solving the business problem their products or services were purchased or engaged to solve
· Meeting my company’s ROI (business value) expectations
· Meeting commitments to my company on time and budget
· Being flexible and responsive to my company’s needs
· Meeting my company’s quality expectations for their products and services

If you had a choice, would you continue to do business with ______?

Interesting questions. So what do you think of the idea of conducting such a survey among your customers and prospects? Are you terrified to contemplate what the results might be about your own company’s performance?

If you can’t face the prospect of knowing how you’re performing now, how will you ever be able to correct your course if and when you discover that the answers to these questions weren’t what you hoped for?

A blog’ll keep you honest, see? Then you never have to be afraid…

Grief gets in the way for a while…

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

Business. It’s the stuff of our lives. It’s our living. It’s our passion. It’s our dailyness.

But when you call a business associate and her world is falling apart because her friend and business partner’s dear father just died unexpectedly, business takes a back seat.

Do you still have both your parents? Even if you didn’t get along well with them, there’s something special about just having them still around. New levels of meaning emerge to characterize our lives when those who gave birth to us pass on.

If you’ve already reached this point in your life, we congratulate you for taking the next required steps–indeed, it’s part of the game that there are always new steps that must be taken.

If you are just suffering one of these difficult blows, you have our heartfelt sympathies and support.

Car 54, I know where you are–exactly

Tuesday, January 20th, 2004

In case you and they are not blogging, how about this: Would you want to be able to locate and contact the president of your biggest supplier anytime? How about your sales reps or your warehouse manager? Who might want to be able to find you?

Today’s New York Times reports this: Cell phones that let you see where someone is. Cool stuff, or big brother? Maybe some of both…

It started off with the feds mandating that cell carriers must be able to track the location of any customer who calls 911 during an emergency. Wireless companies have sunk big bucks into upgrading to that capability–and now they’re eager to find ways to use it for a profit.

Think about this one. You’re in New York and you’ve just left your meeting. Suddenly–just because you wandered into their broadcast area–your cell phone text messages you with little ads for a couple of nearby restaurants. You’re hungry, they sound good, so you pick one and go. Who knows what little gem of a place you might discover?

Let’s face it. Most of us would rather not have everyone we know be able to see exactly where we were 24/7. So they’re talking about fine-tuning it–say, you could let your wife know your exact location, but your office would only know within 10 miles.

Heading toward commercial deployment next year, Bell Labs is negotiating with wireless companies to run tests–research will be available at the 2004 IEEE International Conference on Mobile Data Management in Berkeley, Calif.

Cautiously full speed ahead

Monday, January 19th, 2004

The WiFi revolution is happening–faster than anybody dreamed. The Internet will be almost everywhere–cities, country roads, tunnels–and business will have access to a whole new media. As soon as this year the world’s highways could begin serving as the base network. So says an article in The Register online. Courtesy of Valdis once more.

“It’s a very simple concept. “Take a lamp post, put electronics in it, send messages to other wireless devices, including other lamp posts.” You can link the lamp post to the Internet directly, if there’s an internet connection available – any sort of connection at all will do. High speed fibre is best, but if that’s not available, then a satellite, or maybe a phone line nearby can be used. And if there’s nothing at all, then ask the next lamp post if it has any Internet connection. It may do. If it doesn’t, the next one may do; and so you go along the road until you find one that does. It takes fractions of a second to complete the chain; and once the chain is complete, any data you like can be sent down it.

Wow. Endless continual connectivity. Inanimate carriers able to talk to each other. The power to share whatever’s on your mind wherever you are. There’s something to be used responsibly…

How could your business use this kind of communication?