7 Things I Learned at Hult International Business School

As I’m preparing to teach 119 MBA and Masters in International Business students next week, I’m reflecting back on my students of last year, and some of the ways in which they surprised – and taught – me. Here are some of my takeaways:

  1. Facebook is not fab: Although almost all of them used Facebook, they weren’t emotionally attached to it. They agreed that they could easily leave it if something more attractive came along – with the caveat that it would have to be easy to rebuild their network (which of course is the main reason cited for the under performance of Google Plus).
  2. Social media is generally suspect: There was a lot of skepticism about the power of social media, in terms of its reliability and credibility. One of the students talked about how his girlfriend constantly received free offers from Klout for products that she really had no interest in – pretty much on the basis of one posting!
  3. Email is not dead: Despite all the rumours, tomorrow’s business leaders still believe that they’ll be using email for business purposes, even if they’ve left it behind in their personal lives.
  4. Print is still preferable: This one really floored me – a clear majority of students wanted physical books rather than ebooks – even if they had to wait for the print version to arrive instead of an instant gratification download (unless they were trying to postpone their reading assignments!)
  5. Intellectual property issues go further than you’d think: One student came up with a really thought-provoking idea – that we should own the copyright to our searches rather than Google (or any other search engine that we might use).
  6. International tensions can be confined to football: My classroom contained students from every continent, yet the only tensions that I saw were during the Euro 2012 (soccer) tournament which was played during our course. I decided that there was hope for the world . . .
  7. You can’t compete with the Olympics: Every teacher these days knows the challenge of “digital distractions” – and there’s a lot of debate about how to handle appropriate use of laptops / tablets / mobile devices. I tried – but keeping them off Facebook for a couple of hours is one thing – the Olympics (and Michael Phelps) had me beat ;-(

I’m very much looking forward to what I learn this year – luckily it’s an off-year for major international sporting events (although I’ll be grading during the start of Wimbledon!)

Is LinkedIn Slowly Self-Destructing?

I realise to my shame that it’s been over a year since I last posted to my blog, but what’s been going on at LinkedIn has me so riled that I need to vent . . .

The powers that be at LinkedIn have recently made three moves which I believe seriously dilute the power of this pre-eminent business networking tool:

  1. They Created Endorsements: While recommendations take time and thought to write, it’s way too easy to press the “endorsement” button. I’ve seen countless complaints that the endorsements are largely worthless, and many people (including myself) have received them from folks that we don’t even know! Caveat: I have been endorsed by a few connections for whom I have great respect, and I’m honoured – but I’m really addressing the larger picture here.
  2. They Killed Answers: The Q&A section of LinkedIn was incredibly valuable both for finding information, and for marketing oneself as an expert – I used both aspects with very positive results. Their recommendation to use group discussions instead is no substitute – it can often be pretty difficult to know which group to search in – and anyway, until I get some free time to sort myself out, I’ve maxed out my group memberships.
  3. And now the final straw:

  4. They Send Corporate Marketing-Speak Email That Promotes Spam: Have you noticed how many groups are being taken over by postings that say “Hurray! I have one of the top 2% most viewed @LinkedIn profiles for 2012.” These announcements aren’t in the Promotions section – they’re discussions. What part of this self-congratulation is a discussion???

    For the record, I did receive one of these emails, and I’m in the top 1% – which made me feel really special, until I figured out that since this is celebrating LinkedIn’s achievement of 200 million members, that puts me in the august company of 1,999,999 other distinguished profiles!

LinkedIn is by far my favourite and most productive social networking tool, and I still see return on the investment of time that I put into it. Just last night, it saved me from looking really stupid by sending an email to an old client, copied to his boss, without knowing that he had moved on. Now I have a new person to talk with at the previous client, and a connection at an entirely different company.

But I’m concerned about these recent developments – concerned that the changes being made are not thought through with business professionals in mind, and concerned that as the quality of the content is diluted, the quality of the connections will be too.

What do you think?

Seven Contrarian Resolutions for a Web Presence That Wins

Last week, I issued a press release suggesting that business and nonprofit owners and executives could benefit from some contrarian thinking when creating their web and social media strategies for 2012. My “contrarian” stance was prompted by Vint Cerf’s wonderful comment on my recent book:

“Some of the anecdotes are counter-intuitive . . .”

I took that as a great compliment!

Here are my counter-intuitive suggestions for your 2012 web strategy, based on some of my favorite rules:

  1. Avoid Industry Best Practices: unless you’re sure that you’re using valid comparisons, these can give you a false impression of your specific situation.
    Read more in Rule 4: Beware of Benchmarking and Best Practices

  2. Counter the Competition: many businesses are wary of giving away their “secrets” online – but not showing your expertise and track record can hamper your growth.
    Read more in Rule 12: Consider the Competition (available in full in the free sampler)

  3. Stop Taking “One Size Fits All” Advice: many “experts” hype their online marketing results – yet there are few really effective short cuts. Make sure that their tactics apply to your online markets and goals.
    Read more in Rule 15: One Size Does Not Fit All

  4. Ignore your Search Engine Rankings: – until you’ve figured out which of your keywords really pay off in leads and quality traffic, and then focus on those.
    Read more in Rule 22: Rankings Don’t Matter

  5. Attract Invisible Buyers: think about your behind-the-scenes influencers and decision makers, and create copy that engages them too.
    Read more in Rule 28: Talk to the Buyer Behind the Buyer (available in full in the free sampler)

  6. Beware of “Feel-Good” Numbers: “dashboard” summaries of web analytics reports are convenient for busy managers, but rarely tell the whole story – and can be quite misleading.
    Read more in Rule 35: Drill Below the Dashboard

  7. Feed the HiPPO: sometimes the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” (which can be both wrong and strongly held) should be overcome with proven web metrics data.
    Read more in Rule 37: Numbers and Testing Trump Politics (available in full in the free sampler)

Since it’s now halfway through January, these are probably the last set of resolutions that you’ll consider adopting. But do give them some thought – after all, last is not necessarily least!

Should We Be Worried about Privacy Trends in Web Analytics?

Big changes are afoot in the availability of web analytics data. Some are already happening, and some are on the horizon:

  1. Google has stopped providing organic search term keywords for visitors who are logged into their Google account while browsing (these now show as “not provided” in your reports).

    Although when this was announced, Google predicted that this would affect only about 10% of site visitors, I’m already seeing over 30% of incoming keyword searches blocked, both on my website and those of my clients. Not knowing the keywords that attract our visitors has major implications for our ability to evaluate how well we’re meeting users’ needs and expectations.

    Avinash Kaushik provides some great advice, and some workarounds in a recent blog post. Yet even he talks about “impossible analysis . . . in the complete absence of data :) And his suggestions are wonderful for web analytics gurus, but I’m concerned that many small business owners simply won’t have the time or the mindspace to dive into custom reports at the level that he’s talking about.

  2. In Europe, the European Commission cookie directive requiring that all sites allow users to opt out of cookies completely is being implemented. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office website includes a link to the Google page where people can opt out of being tracked by any Google Analytics implementation. If this is widely adopted, many site owners will no longer be able to obtain accurate visitor numbers, making it very difficult to evaluate the return on their online investment.

Both of these measures are ostensibly being driven by privacy concerns, although it’s not clear to me how much of the expressed fear is legitimate, and how much is largely driven by hype.

Obviously, since we’ve come to expect good and useful analytics information, some alternatives and other solutions will need to be created. Perhaps in Google’s case that will require business owners to pay for data that was previously free to them. Perhaps we’ll find some way to distinguish unique visitors that is more acceptable than cookies.

Either way, 2012 is going to be interesting to watch for developments in web analytics, both in data developments and in regulatory trends. I’ll be interested to see what the analytics world looks like this time next year.

Three Key Drivers of Web Marketing Strategy

David Aaker, Vice Chairman of Prophet, wrote an interesting post last week for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.

The piece was titled Five Challenges Facing Marketing. Aakers suggests that marketing should own three key drivers of strategy:

  1. The brand strategy which should both inform and enable the business strategy.
  2. Customer insights
  3. The firm’s value proposition

I found this very interesting because I’ve been thinking along similar lines with regards to an organization’s web presence. In fact, each of Aakers’ drivers is directly reflected in one of the rules in my recently published book 42 Rules for a Web Presence That Wins:

  1. Rule 2: Appoint your Web Ambassador – this should be an executive level position so that this person is directly involved in creating strategy and advising on implications for and leverage of the web presence
  2. Rule 18: Personify your Visitors – an in-depth understanding of customers’ needs and emotions is crucial to online success
  3. Rule 29: Blow Your Own Trumpet – Differently! – well defined positioning and differentiation can significantly impact visitor engagement and outcomes.

Sadly in my experience, most organizations are still not effectively implementing these drivers. But it’s great to see proven ways to rectify this being discussed.

3 Twitter Marketing Tips for Authors

I just came back from an amazing retreat for Berrett-Koehler authors.
Note: in full disclosure, I’m not currently published by BK, but I spoke for them recently, and had such a great time that I asked to join the authors’ co-op.

At the event, we talked a lot about how to use social media for both research and marketing. Here are a few tips for using Twitter that I found useful while working on my upcoming book:

  1. Use keyword hashtags. There are a lot of folks now producing daily digests and online newspapers (using paper.li for example), who find material by looking for hashtags (e.g. “#hiring” or “#leadership”.) If you tag your tweets with suitable keywords, you stand a much better chance of being picked up and retweeted.
  2. Track your own mentions. Make sure that you have two columns in your Hootsuite or Tweetdeck that track tweets about you – one column for your twitter handle, and one for your actual name. Then you can see all the places where you get picked up or retweeted as per #1 above, and thank / connect with those folks since they’re clearly interested in your content and hopefully looking for more.
  3. Look for possible LinkedIn connections. This one takes a little more time, but used judiciously has paid off for me. When someone follows me on Twitter I quickly check their profile to see if they look interesting. If so, I check them out on LinkedIn where there’ll probably be a much more robust profile, and on a selective basis, invite them to connect on LinkedIn too. I’ve met some very worthwhile people this way.

Several people at the retreat questioned whether other authors had received actual business from participating in social media. I have, which is why I continue to follow tips such as these!

Twitter Unfollow Tools – Does Automation Work?

Last year, I wrote a post called Social Media Mentions – Do Negative Seeming Words Harm You? In it, I argued that automated tools which calculate your online reputation can produce very misleading results.

Recently, a colleague with a major Twitter following told me that she’s used Twit Cleaner to purge her account. She thought it was very useful.

So, I decided to try it, and ran a report on my followers.

Apparently, 46% of the 703 Tweeps that I’m currently following are “potentially garbage.” Yikes!!

So, who are these people? Turns out that they include:

  • @GuyKawasaki – named because he mainly posts links, does very few retweets, and mentions very few others.
  • @CorbinBall (noted expert in the meetings technology field), for link spamming 55% of the time
  • @TerryBrock and @PFripp (both great and popular speakers), because they don’t interact with any of their followers
  • @SCSentinel (the Santa Cruz Sentinel – my local paper) because it’s largely an RSS feed
  • @BentleyGTCSpeed (Alan Weiss, my consulting mentor) because he doesn’t follow anyone back

Twitclean will unfollow all these “dodgy” Tweeps for me automatically, at the press of a button.

Now in fairness, there’s a host of other far less famous Tweeps in these, and more, categories. I’d probably never notice that I’d stopped following them.

But in the cases that I’ve highlighted, there are either some good reasons for their actions, or I don’t see the problem.

Guy Kawasaki (who in full disclosure has just given me a great endorsement for my upcoming book) uses Twitter to share all the online content that he and his associates curate. Alan Weiss has always been clear that he has no intention of following people back, but is a great source of ongoing pithy advice. Of course a newspaper is going to produce a news feed . . .

Automated tools can be very helpful up to a point – but they have to be programmed with certain criteria, and they’re not good at nuance. So by all means use them, but add your own review and judgement – otherwise you might miss out on some valuable resources.

20% of Daily Google Searches Never Done Before?

Yesterday, Hubspot put out a new whitepaper called “How to Spot Bad SEO Services”. It’s free, as is much of Hubspot’s great information.

However, in the promo for it that I received in my email was the claim that “Each day, 20% of Google searches consist of terms that have never been searched before!

Really? That seems like a huge number to me, and I wondered where it came from.

I checked in Hubspot’s paper, but couldn’t find a source for this assertion. So, I turned to Google, where I found a similar statistic cited in a UK conference back in April, 2007. I also found lots of other posts repeating the Hubspot claim, but no other information.

Which left me wondering whether it’s still true today that 20% of Google search terms every day have never been searched before. I know that there are a lot of people searching, but 20% is a large proportion, and to have that number of completely new and unique terms every day at this point in the usage of the Internet seems unlikely to me.

Of course, as Hubspot points out, if it’s true, there are still huge opportunities for anyone who can figure out the right keywords to be at the forefront of the results when someone finally searches for them ;-)

I’m not saying that Hubspot are wrong, just that I’d love to find out where they got the numbers from. Does anyone know?

Google vs. Zappos Customer Service – Who Wins?

In preparation for my forthcoming book, I had the honor of interviewing Rob Siefker, Director of the Customer Loyalty Team for Zappos. Rob told me a lot about Zappos values, and how those define their customer service model. It was a really fascinating conversation.

In mid-June, I decided to use a $75 promotion coupon from Google Adwords. I haven’t used Adwords for myself for a long time, and I’m frankly not convinced that it’s worth the spend for professional service companies (which I also discuss in the book). But since they’d sent me some free money, I thought I’d give it another try.

Not so fast! The experience that I had was so appalling, and such a polar opposite from what I’d heard from Rob, that I decided to write a compare and contrast piece.

What did I experience?

  1. I had an Adwords account linked to the one that I use for my Google Analytics, but it is blocked with the helpful message “Before you can access AdWords, the person who invited you needs to make sure the right person received and accepted the invitation.” I have no idea what this is about, so I called the new account support number to make it go away.
    No go. The account representative told me that I had no alternative to opening a new account just for Adwords. She agreed that this is frustrating, and mentioned that she’d just finished helping someone with an equally annoying problem, which she also couldn’t do anything about.
    So I asked her: “Can you at least give someone over there feedback about these issues so that your services can be improved?” She laughed ruefully . . .
    Rob told me that Zappos always wants to know about their customers’ needs and expectations. They never want to be seen as having the attitude that people will buy from them anyway.

  2. Having created the new account, I attempted to enter my credit card details, which were declined 3 times. Meanwhile, it was close to 5pm when service closes, so the rep said: “I have to go now, but I will call you in the morning.”
    I contacted my credit card company, which is thankfully still willing to speak to me after 5pm. They could see 3 authorization attempts from Google, each of which was accepted. There was nothing wrong with my card. I emailed the Google rep to let her know and asked her to call me in the morning as promised.
    Zappos has 24/7 phone support. I asked Rob if people really do call at 3am, and he said: “A few do, and we want to be available.”

  3. Next day, Adwords was still reporting that my card was declined, so I called Support again, to be told that I could only deal with the rep who had been “helping” me. Four days later, I’ve had no response to voice mail or email to this person.
    Rob told me that Zappos don’t give out phone extensions or email addresses for their team, because they want everyone to be able to help any customer, precisely so that the customer isn’t tied to one rep who might be unavailable.

I haven’t used my coupon, or spent any more money with Adwords because I can’t – and I can’t get anyone at Google to help me. Meanwhile, I’m still talking about my interview with Rob, and how he says that Zappos wants to “wow every customer in every situation.” I hear that Google’s share price and the spending on Adwords is dropping – perhaps they should study the Zappos model!

Update: On June 27th, I received a call from the Adwords rep. She wanted to help me select appropriate keywords. I told her that my credit card was still declined, and that I had given up on using the account. She had no access to my billing details, but promised to contact Customer Service, and to get back to me the next day.

As of July 10th, two weeks later, I have yet to hear from her again. Anyone surprised??

Recognizing Event Wifi Sponsors – What’s the Best Way?

There’s an interesting discussion taking place on the Meetings and Expositions listserv of the American Society of Association Executives.

Someone asked: “How can we best recognize our sponsor for wireless internet during the meeting?”

There were several suggestions for doing this online as users connect to the internet:

  • Create a splash page for the sponsor that’s the first thing they see
  • Get users to complete a brief survey around the sponsor’s products and services
  • Show a brief video from the sponsor

Frankly, I think these are all terrible suggestions! Rule 33 of my new book is “Avoid Unexpected Roadblocks.” It deals with the negative emotional impact of sudden and / or annoying obstacles in the visitor’s online experience.

People accessing the Internet at a conference are doing many things at once, and generally want to get to what they need as quickly as possible. I understand the importance of sponsor recognition, but forcing people to take a survey or watch a video may backfire in that you’re taking their valuable time, and they’re not happy. This could have an ultimate negative effect on the sponsor’s image.

The least annoying of these in terms of the amount of delay is the splash page – if it loads quickly, and if there’s an obvious “get me out of here” link. But think about it – how many times have you used the wireless connection at a hotel, and been forced through the hotel’s home page? Did you stop to look at it? Of course not – you’re already staying there, and you’ve got better things to do.

Another suggestion on the listserv was to have attendees visit the sponsor’s exhibit booth to obtain the password for the wireless connection. But what if someone is really in a hurry and doesn’t have time to visit the booth? What if it’s a huge show and they spend a lot of time trying to find the booth? What if they’re trying to access the internet out of exhibit hall hours?

My preferred solution is to provide each attendee with a card or something in the program materials with the sponsor’s logo and the password for internet access. That way, participants will see the sponsor in a positive light because they’re helping them to get their needs met, and not getting in the way at the same time!