Social Competitive Intelligence

competitive intelligence in the age of social  by bloomthink
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user davitydave

The flip side of all the advances is social media marketing is a substantial increase in competitive intelligence capability.

First 3 facts for foundation:

1) It should be clear by now that social media is not a technology fad.  It’s not just about Facebook or Twitter.  Otherwise we’d see those technologies leading the social adoption in locations around the world.  Yet we see services like VKontakte in Russia and QZone in China and a host of other social media services and sites proliferating around the world.  Instead, it is about a way of communicating as human beings.  We respond to and engage with each other in ways facilitated by the technology.  That’s why we see so many different flavors of the same kind of services popping up all over the world.

2) Social media technology adoption in business is accelerating. In 2008 just 23% of businesses had adopted social technologies in some way.  In 2011 that number was 50%.  This year it is even higher.  The top two reasons for the adoption are to meet user / customer expectations and to be more innovative.

3) Users want 4 things: To share product information, To share news – especially the ‘scoop’ – new or unique news that few know at the time, To co-create products, services & experiences along side companies (Doritos commercials for the Superbowl are a great example – it was big business for Frito-Lay), and finally users want to have their opinion and feedback matter.

So put those all together and what do you get?  Social media technology taps into the ways we communicate as human beings.  Humans also communicate at work therefore the boundary between business user and personal user has blurred.  Users (whether at work or at play) want and expect to share product information, have an appetite for new news, have a desire to be involved and want their opinions to matter.

This has created an ecosystem in which users expect news & product info from companies, consumers want to “help” to “weigh in” to be in the loop.  If companies “reward” them with info they will be respond and be appreciated.  This is social media marketing – Pushing out information for adoption and amplification by users.

But we also operate in an attention economy where attention is traded for information.  This economy is bi-directional as any economy must be.  So if I, a user, provide you, a company with information,  especially new or unique information, I expect to be rewarded with your attention.   This is Social Media Intelligence – Gathering in information and signal from many sources; made all the easier because the sources want to be heard.

Social media lets us cast an extremely wide net to find someone or some business who will give us attention and reaffirm that we (or at least our tip, insight or scoop) matter! This gets back to some extremely basic human characteristics – namely the meeting of core Maslovian needs reinforced in a very Pavolvian manner!

Combine the features of this social business ecosystem – where users are hungry for engagement and businesses are hungry for unique information – and you have a nearly perfect synergy of supply and demand.

Applied to marketing, “engaged” users, brand “advocates” and consumer “insight”.  These are truly wonderful advances in marketing and consumer experience management.

But turn that marketing coin over and apply the same sophisticated information gathering, trend spotting and information derivation to your competitors (or imagine them turning it on you).  You have the framework, technology and process to delve deep into competitive intelligence.

  • You can find out who are your competitor’s clients and employees by correlating Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • You can find out what conferences and topics your competitors are interested in by tracking conferences they attend and announce on Twitter.
  • You can see who are influential by tracking who follows and RTs certain company staff.
  • You can see what topics, keywords and SEO that your competition is using by looking at their Facebook performance and their SEO performance with google tools.
  • You can create topic and trend maps by using simple linguistic analysis tools on their blog posts, forum comments and even traditional press releases.
  • You can spot issues and challenges or delays by looking at the questions a competitors technicians post on forums, complaints employees post on sites like glassdoor, monster or indeed.
  • You can even get great information from conference presentations posted online at sides like SlideShare.net or on corporate blogs.

Once you have gathered all this content, Big Data tools and BI tools help tease out patterns and trends from the structured data you’ve collected. Meanwhile, experienced staff create profiles of specific users for close monitoring.  While approaching individuals directly and asking for confidential information is likely against the law, many industry specific news sites (e.g. Gizmodo for tech news) have “tip us” functions where users can anonymously offer up juicy tidbits of information.  Keeping a watch on sites like that for your industry is vital.

This is not pie-in-the-sky theorizing either.  Massive law firm Patton Boggs said this earlier this year,

Since January, we’ve used a business and social intelligence platform for issue spotting, trend analysis, and monitoring clients. The program scans blogs and Twitter feeds to identify issues our clients may be facing and uncover possible problems before they hit the mainstream media and news outlets…It’s allowed us to get ahead of potential problems and to proactively pose solutions before our clients may even know these problems exist.

They are using these procedures to spot issues and deliver solutions before clients are aware of the issues.  Now imagine they’re not monitoring clients, they’re monitoring competitors.

So how can you adopt a defensive threat assessment posture to help protect your own intellectual property?

Ask yourself this:  “With everything you know about your area of expertise, about the market and about what’s coming; if you found the information you just posted except it was from your competitor would you be sad or glad?” 

Engage BloomThink to craft a social competitive intelligence program you can use to help you get ahead and a social business plan that allows you to advance your brand and awareness in the market without giving up what makes you special.

The Red Cloud

Red Clouds - Oracle Red Stack in the Cloud by BloomThink
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user tipiro

It is Oracle Open World 2012 and this year the theme is cloud.  There are the obligatory 12″c” (the c is for cloud) release announcements.  There are the staggering statistics (10,000 Oracle Cloud customers already).  At Oracle Open World 2012, the cloud is red.

Over the last year Oracle has acquired no fewer than 5 cloud companies (and their customers!) and there is a reasonable argument that at least 3 more of the last year’s acquisitions at least play in the cloud.  Oracle would have us believe that they are the defacto leader in the cloud space and have always been there.

While there is certainly geek credibility to the cloud technology Oracle has acquired, their claim to the lofty king of the cloud crown they covet is a bit premature.

Oracle must prove that they’re doing more than following trends and buying market share by gaining new native cloud customers and addressing specific business challenges in uniquely cloudy ways.  If there is no net benefit to using Oracle’s HCM in the cloud, crowing about it lacks impact.  It’s like being excited you rent midsize cars from Avis now instead of Hertz.  Yawn.

R Ray Wang Tweets About The Cloud image captured by BloomThinkPartners can take advantage of the wealth of techno-api-gadgetry that all falls under the Oracle Red Cloud Stack now and build some truly amazing business solutions.  But it is still a bit early to see those taking hold in the market place.

R Ray Wang of Constellation Research has been tweeting up a storm and has this forward looking statement about the cloud, “MyPOV: Prediction: enter the cloud suites. we’ll have made the Cloud Best of Breed hell to Cloud suite journey by 2015”  Right now it is my POV that Oracle has gathered some of the best of breed capabilities under one corporate banner, but we’re still a long way away from a suite.  After all, a collection of rooms spread out across different geographies, in different styles and with little coordinated “flow” between them does not a suite make.  This is why I believe it is up to the developers and partners to spur outcomes.

It is the focus on outcomes, not “stacks”, not “solutions”, not brochure ware.  So keep an eye out for outcomes…from partners…that use part or all of the Oracle Something-as-a-Service.  Meanwhile, contact BloomThink for help with your social business strategy.

Here are important Oracle and Related Links:

Oracle Cloud Homepage

Oracle Cloud Services Portfolio

Social Networks and the Cloud

The Oracle Apps, Mobile & Cloud Strategy

Wired’s take on the Oracle Cloud

GigaOM’s take on the Oracle Cloud vs Amazon

3 Steps To Great Content Marketing

great content marketing with bloomthink
Creative Commons By Flickr user orangeacid

Content marketing is an absolutely immense topic.  It can span everything from social media to traditional print and mass media and even event marketing. Great content marketing is a grind.  Doing it well requires patience, persistence & productivity. To me and my BloomThink customers, content marketing means giving away high quality information, insight & tools to boost awareness, spur a transaction & deepen relationships.  Your goals vary depending on where the customer is along her journey with your brand.  But ultimately, content marketing helps organizations guide, speed & shortcut that journey rather than only showing up at the finish line.

1) Great content marketing requires patience.  You must be patient to understand the needs, wants and motivations at different stages of the customer journey.  That means paying attention, listening and showing up in all those places where your customers hang out.  Are they on bulletin boards or Pinterest? Are they looking up answers on StackOverflow or Recipes on foodnetwork.com.  It takes a bit of “customer anthropology” to figure this out.  Then realize that different kinds of customers are in different places and each have separate needs.

2) Great content marketing requires persistence.  Your early stage prospects are likely researching you along with competitors.  You want to delight & entertain them with insightful content.  Infographics, videos and content with a “cool factor” will help you get their attention.   Fresh content is important. But remember that freshness is in the eye of the customer.  This gives you a key ability to re-use and re-mix your content and get it out there.  So definitely re-use but never overwhelm.  And please don’t make the all-too-common mistake of simply re-blasting content that contains dated material.  Statistics, URLs, and events are especially dangerous.  So get into the grind and update, update, update.

3) Great content marketing requires that you are productive.  When customers are ready, provide some more detailed content.  Case studies, whitepapers, customer testimonials and user generated content really shine here.  This informs them of the deeper value you provide.  When you include user generated content (like Facebook comments, ratings and user group threads) you let your current happy customers persuade.  Their voice is always trusted more than yours.  But your happy customers are also more willing to listen/read/watch your content.  So make sure you are productive with getting great content into their hands and empowering and encouraging them to share it as well.  This helps to drive decisions.

Good content can be a grind.  Doing it well requires patience, persistence & productivity.  Consumers require value not gimmicks. Make lives, transactions & decisions easier.  Provide genuine, unique insight. Give to get.

This post originally appeared as part of CMSWire’s Discussion Point.

This is an awesome roundup of content  marketing wisdom.

Social Listening vs Traditional Marketing – Understanding The Oracle Acquisition of Collective Intellect

Social Listening with BloomThink
Creative Commons Attribution via Flickr User Visualpanic

In the world of impulse consumerism you can attempt to stay top of mind through saturation marketing (expensive) or you can compel a transaction with artificial limits on deals, quantities or geographies (difficult) or you can become top of mind by entering with a splash at the right time (data-intensive).

The first approach is the traditional media marketing approach.  Big spending gets eyeballs some of those eyeballs belong to people who will want your product.  But you have got to gain volume and maintain attention with no way to actually track a sale.  Look at the image.  The first approach tells the world that they have tetris tiles available and hopes that someone needs one.

The second is the coupon / contest approach. Getting people off the couch to get to an event or to change buying habits is difficult.  The payoff of the contest or the discount on the product has to be extremely steep in order to compel the desired behavior.  It’s the Black Friday deal which gains awareness and attention but the profits are often slim if there at all.  Hope is placed in down-stream purchases from newly loyal customers.  Look at the image again.  The second approach tells the world to stock up now during their 2-for-1 tetris tiles sale…you know, in case you ever need a tetris tile piece.

The third approach is the engagement approach.  Understand what the consumer needs and when they are almost ready to make a decision then present your deal, your product, your offer.  This is the intelligence-drive approach. With enough data in aggregate about consumer trends and the ability to engage with individual consumers via social channels businesses are able to deliver compelling and persuasive information at the right time.  The third approach listens and watches for when people share that they’re remodeling and repairing their bathroom and need some tetris tiles.  They then let that prospective consumer know that they have exactly what is needed and that it is convenient to buy.  The hope-based approach of market saturation is traded for precise targeting.  The profit-gutting approach of behavior modification marketing is traded for persuasive and timely information delivery

This third approach is behind all good social media campaigns and it is a big reason why there has been a mass of acquisitions in the social media monitoring space.

Social media monitoring is all about “listening” to what is being said about you, your products and the market space in why your business exists.  Oracle’s most recent acquisition of Collective Intellect directly supports this social listening and BI approach.  Collective Intellect brings deep textual and semantic analysis to social conversations.  By gaining the ability to mine social conversations for sentiment, trends and names, they deliver extremely rich contextual business intelligence.  Collective  Intellect has focused their software on the social media spaces.

Way back in 2008 while working at Oracle I wrote:

A BI engine can create a concept map based on term frequencies, term proximities and term usage. When combined with metadata classifications and transactional data, an organic classification structure begins to surface. Mapped against topics, groups, or classification phyla, specific semantic ontologies begin to emerge. These organic ontologies can then be used as the basis for BI inferences that produce predictions for users.” In B-eye Network Magazine

Four years later, my prediction has been borne out and I am excited to see where it goes.  Added to their recent acquisition of Vitrue and being similarly placed in the Oracle cloud, Collective Intellect looks to position Oracle as a premier source for social media business intelligence.  This is the critical ingredient in the third, and best, approach outlined above.

But Oracle is not alone in recognizing this space.  SalesForce.com, already owning Radian6 has recently acquired Buddy Media. And Adobe is still blazing the trail with their prescient acquisition of Efficient Frontier which completed early this year.

This space is hot and more innovation and acquisition is likely as businesses and brands realize that understanding the customer (whether B2C or B2B) is the most effective way to engage the customer.

Resources & Links:

Oracle announcement of the acquisition

TechCrunch review

Collective Intellect on SlideShare

This article originally appeared on SocialBusinessNews.com

Social Strategy Services for Oracle WebCenter

bloomthink social strategy for oracle webcenter The BloomThink social strategy services for Oracle customers help to bridge the gap between internal collaboration managed by Oracle WebCenter and external engagement manged by 3rd party social software like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others.  Click on the image to download the brochure or just get it here (PDF). Contact BloomThink for a quote.

Oracle To Buy Vitrue – In Depth

Oracle Buys Vitrue
screen grab from Oracle’s presentation on the Vitrue acquisition

Oracle buys Vitrue (pronounced Vi-true)

It seems Oracle is getting religion on social…again.  This time they have acquired a multi-tenant SaaS social media management platform firm named Vitrue for a reported but unconfirmed $300M.  The big news with this acquisition is that Vitrue provides the software and analytics for big B2C businesses to management engagement across their various social properties.  You know, the ones we all use like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+.  This is a big deal for B2B oriented Oracle who usually likes to force customers onto their platform – WebCenter, PeopleSoft, Siebel etc..   Native Oracle products like WebCenter “Social Network” are squarely focused inward at the organization rather than outward.  Recent acquisitions like Fat Wire, Taleo, InQuira, ATG, RightNow all have an outward social, consumer/customer engagment or listening component to them but all (so far) fall into the familiar Oracle model.  Roll it into the Oracle product stack, sell the stack to customers to use internally or as middleware for pretty front-end systems, repeat.

The Vitrue acquisition is different.  First, Vitrue provides a completely cloud based product with no on-site software.  Second, Vitrue enhances, *other* platforms and it does so in bite-sized pieces (see the list at the end of the article or just take a look at Vitrue’s website).  Third their product is a high-touch, high-service product. This is something that brand managers and marketers keep coming back to use for each campaign.  It is something that, try as they might, Oracle could never achieve with Siebel, Real-Time-Decisions, WCM, Sites or WebCenter.  In short, Vitrue would be the first outward focused offering available from Oracle.

According to Oracle’s published FAQ (PDF), they intend to, “…add Vitrue’s products to the Oracle Cloud to deliver the most comprehensive, integrated social relationship platform that can support social marketing, sales, commerce, service, data and analytics.”  This is huge.  All of the other Oracle public cloud offerings, from CRM, to HCM to “Social Network” are inward focused.  They are SaaS versions of back office utilities.  If Vitrue lands in the Oracle cloud it could become a useful tool from Oracle that helps businesses do better interacting with customers and constituents rather than with their own employees data processes.  Of course, Vitrue’s interest and development into social analytics and reporting is a natural draw for Oracle’s data business.  Think about what Oracle could do with all that aggregated Vitrue social analytics data if the SaaS offering takes off!  They could become to social data what SalesForce’s Data.com is to CRM & Contact data.  Of course, the reported $300M price Oracle paid for Vitrue is hardly considered huge.  But the recurring subscription revenue model is a big shift for Oracle who usually relies on heavy-handed maintenance payments from one-time big sales.  They’ve been beaten up in the past for their less-than-friendly tactics.  But a SaaS model where people opt-in to pay for a service gives Oracle the recurring revenue and puts a friendly face on it.  It could be a very good move for Oracle’s image.

I am eager to hear what competitors in this space think.  SalesForce’s Radian6, Lithium, Buddy Media, Zuberance, Adobe’s Efficient Frontier and others all have a stake in this game.  Contact me with your personal opinions – billy.cripe AT bloomthink.com

Vitrue has several different price points but according to their CEO, a typical starter package is reported to be at about $4000/month (PDF) for management of a Facebook page and Twitter account.  They are focused on big B2C organizations since lower end social management is teeming with free/freemium services like Buffer and Shortstack.

Virtue provides the following kinds of services:

  • Analytics – Social analytics for things like social listening (what are people saying about us, who has problems, who is cheering our product right now)
  • Publisher – Status and update queuing (think scheduling tweets and Facebook wall posts but coordinating it with blog posts, marketing campaigns etc for a holistic social marketing drip campaign management)
  • Tabs – Vitrue’s CEO Reggie Bradford describes these as “…content management system across your social properties.” (PDF) They incorporate translations/geo-aware targeting and scheduling.  The WebCenter Sites and Content as well as ATG and InQuira teams may want to sit up and take notice here.  Enterprising Oracle partners might want to build a connector to leverage content from one of Oracle’s many content management systems for Vitrue’s social scheduling tabs.  While tabs as such have been pushed to the background in the new Facebook Timeline layout, they still exist and are still important for things like landing pages, contests, contact forms and events.  Even more important is having coordinated messaging, themes, timing and content between  the social and traditional email, physical and event-driven marketing campaigns.
  • Social commerce – this is their ability to help businesses sell goods through facebook (and maybe Google+) which they do through partners.
  • They also have a program of offerings and tool sets enabling social media agencies to implement the strategy they create for their clients.
  • You can watch a demo of their product on their facebook page

This blog post is my own opinion.  I received no information from anyone from Oracle or Vitrue.

The Talent Code – Cracking Social Business Requirements

The Talent Code
Creative Commons Attribution Creative Commons ATTRIBUTION by: NeoGaboX acquired from Flickr

Creating “sustained value” is the purpose of social business according to Gartner.  The mechanisms to achieve this goal are numerous.  They all are focused on pulling together “talent, interests, experience, insights and knowledge” of people throughout an organization according to Gartner’s Mark McDonald.  But accessing those ‘pulled together’ is just as important.  Getting the information at the point it is needed, whether in the information supply chain or a production chain is what makes the aggregated talent, experience and knowledge useful.  Otherwise it devolves into arm-chair quarterbacking, recriminations and too-late expert I-Told-You-Sos.

Gartner outlines the concept of “sustained value” as being able to consistently apply social business technology to achieve goals. This is a good and true definition but it is hiding some important features.  Some social archeology is in order to uncover features of social business buried underneath each of Gartner’s social business characteristics.

In order to consistently pull together talent, interests, experience, insights and knowledge in a social business that will deliver sustained value, social business systems, processes and people must have access to that information.

Talent means the proven ability to deliver results in a way that is above average.  This is more than typical HRMS (human resources management system) or IDM (identity management) systems deliver.  It is not a list of keywords culled from the resumes of current employees and partners.  If social business technology is going to pull together talent, it must be equipped to identify talent.  This means a combination of quantifiable business results and qualitative peer recognition.  Social suites that incorporate gamification systems to reward people who provide unique and useful help to the community are starters in this area (check out Lithium’s products that identify and cultivate “superfans” for an example).  Social reputation scoring systems like Klout and PeerIndex are starting to help identify talent – or at least influence.  HR focused systems like SuccessFactors that incorporate 360 reviews and behavioral anchors benchmark talent and provide a basis for identification.   Enterprise content management (ECM) systems have the ability to track and measure talent by combining topic and category metadata with downloads and accesses and then providing a topic talent score to the author.  However, few if any of the big ECM vendors are actively pursuing this important social vector.

Notice though that all the products listed above inhabit completely different parts of the organization.  Lithium’s social suite focuses on customer and partner participation in a community.  Klout and PeerIndex are focused on the individual person.  SuccessFactors is focused on HR management and business execution.  ECM systems are more about providing a safe place to store and publish documents than leveraging their data to provide talent insight for business.

Gartner is silent on how to achieve a Gartner-esque social business that is able to pull together talent along with the other important characteristics of a social business.  Pulling together sounds suspiciously like integration.  But first, all the places where talent can be found and measured must be pulled together to create something like a talent portrait.  Anything less risks being incomplete at best and skewed at worst.  Remember, the point of the entire exercise is to get the best person working on the problem at hand.  An incomplete or skewed talent profile risks bringing the wrong person to bear on a task.  So it is important to get this right.

It is one thing to say that a social business provides sustained value by pulling together talent, interests, experience, insights and knowledge.  It is another thing to actually map out how to do it.