Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Has the M-Wallet Finally Arrived?

A cliché in the technology markets is that you’re never wrong, just early.

There have been periodic episodes of “buzz” for mobile commerce applications, often referred to as the m-wallet. In the past, the hype soon died along with the vendors promoting related technologies.

Well, it looks like a first of its kind trial is starting up in San Francisco in which riders of the transit system can pay for their fares with a specially configured phone from Sprint.

(Oh yeah, they can also buy lunch at participating Jack in the Box restaurants with that very same phone.)

BART to Trial Mobile Payments with First Data, Sprint

A select group of BART riders is helping to launch a first-in-the-nation technological trial that will allow participants to walk up to any BART fare gate with a specially-equipped Sprint wireless phone and pay for their ride by tapping the phone on a reader located on top of the gate.

Data Portability and the PR Counselor

The issue of data portability as it relates to social networks is a timely topic that will influence the product development strategies of Web 2.0 vendors. Computerworld published an article this morning about Digg joining the new industry consortium created to address this issue.

Digg joins Microsoft, Facebook and Google in data portability group

How will this shape the policies of vendor-created personalized social networks? For instance, who owns the data that comprises my profile in Oracle’s new Customer Collective (

The role of a public relations counselor involves an expertise in communications, as well as an understanding of the business and technical considerations that can impact the success of a PR program.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

InfoWeek's List of High Impact Blogs

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we continue to work with our clients to evaluate the blogosphere as a channel to message the market. It’s quite a challenge though to determine which bloggers have real influence and credibility, as well as a large enough readership base to justify an investment in resources.

There is simply not enough time in the week to talk to everyone. It’s all about prioritization.

An article this morning in Informationweek features an excellent selection of informative and high-impact blogs. The list covers areas including security, wireless, hardware and technology finance/investor relations.

If respected journalists such as Charles Babcock, Antone Gonsalves and John Foley are turning to these bloggers as credible sources, than there is a strong business case to reach out to them as part of your next campaign.

Top 60 Little-Known Technology Web Sites

Monday, January 28, 2008

Exec Visibility in Professional Services

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has the good fortune of representing a number of professional services firms in the IT, software implementation, telecom, business advisory and commercial real estate markets.

Unlike a product or technology development client in which you can play up features and functionality, the differentiation for a professional services firm is people-driven. Yet, the “our people are smarter than their people” argument is difficult to validate.

That’s why public relations for services firms is so critical. The resulting visibility from third parties such as the media, analysts, conferences, etc. provides important credibility, validating the smarter people argument.

Social media provides yet another channel for professional services firms to promote the thought leadership of their executives. While executive blogs are a great place to start, we’re now in the process of exploring the creation of personalized social communities using Web-based platforms from vendors like Ning and Bumpzee.

Here are two online communities that I found to be well done (neither was created by Strategic): (for executives in the wireless industry) (for sales/marketing professionals)

Both are vendor created, yet very much educational in their content. Additionally, these communities are promoted using other communications channels. For instance, I learned for The Customer Collective (from Oracle) from an ad in BusinessWeek.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Publishing's Sad Song

It is no secret the traditional publishing business model is under great duress.

Across business/financial and trade media the reaction has been to cut editorial staff and push more content to the Web, often requiring the remaining journalists to produce a greater number of stories, more quickly.

For the media savvy company with experienced thought leaders as spokespersons this does create PR opportunities. Build relationships with the editors and writers on staff, be responsive and provide an interesting perspective when interviewed. You’ll get called on more frequently to contribute to their reporting.

Additionally, the resulting content will be pushed to the market in a myriad of ways (i.e. print publication, Web site, e-newsletters, editor blogs, etc.).

Yet, the ramifications of a failing publishing industry are extensive. It’s a topic that pundits are currently debating. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington just weighed in with an interesting take on whether government should step in to provide financial support.

If "Real Journalism" Fails as a Business, Should Government Step In?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Social Media's Credibility Stamp

In mid-December, LinkedIn announced a partnership with BusinessWeek that I viewed as an important step in the integration of traditional and social media.

BusinessWeek Strikes Up Partnership with LinkedIn

This morning, Informationweek editor Alexander Wolfe introduced the publication’s first two Facebook applications – InformationWeek Blog Update and the InformationWeek News Update. These apps will allow users to place headlines and blurbs from the publication’s content on their Facebook page.

Informationweek Adds First Facebook Apps

For some time, I’ve felt the business ROI on the adoption of social media technologies as part of an integrated public relations program was murky at best. That’s changing in a big time way. What traditional media brings to the table is a peer review process that confers important credibility on a company. There are now more opportunities for PR professionals to extend the reach of their programs into social media channels to increase exposure, while retaining that stamp of credibility from influential journalists like InformationWeek’s Wolfe.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MySpace's Competitive Strike

Brian Stelter's article in today's NY Times about MySpace is an excellent read. It overviews the company's product development initiatives, including:

  • a mobile version of the site
  • the ability to customize a profile based on audience (i.e. your co-workers will see a different version than your college buddies)
  • industry promotion of MySpace TV
  • creation of a separate incubator called Slingshot Labs
In addition to creating the perception of innovation, this article also serves as a competitive strike against Facebook and other social networks. They have to move from proactive to reactive, investing time and resources to counter MySpace's development and promotion.

Public relations is an effective way to go on the offensive, leveraging channels like the media, analysts and bloggers to deliver a strong message to competitors.

From MySpace to YourSpace
A Web blockbuster is evolving to try to stay ahead of rivals.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Great SaaS Debate

I had dinner with GovDelivery’s ( Scott Burns the evening before his keynote presentation at the SaaS/GOV 2008 Conference ( We chatted about a wide range of industry issues and trends, yet Scott really got me thinking when he asked, “What do you think the difference is between SaaS and ASP?”

They were basically the same, I said. In fact, no different than the utility computing solutions IBM hypes. Software as a Service (SaaS)…application service provider (ASP)…utility computing…all vendor-invented marketing speak designed to help customers compare different offerings and make a buy decision.

Scott had a different take. He explained that Software as a Service companies subscribe to a multi-tenant approach. They offer the same features and functionality to all users, who then benefit from a better managed, maintained and supported solution.

On the other hand, ASPs are a single-tenant offering. The solution is still hosted by the vendor and paid for by the customer via a monthly fee or on an as-used basis. However, the specific feature set is unique to the user.

OK…I get it. And I recognize the approach taken by a vendor (SaaS versus ASP) dramatically influences their product development strategy, as well as resources they need to invest in customer service and support. It’s why so many software firms introduce a SaaS solution to move away from customer-requested customization.

Do customers understand this difference? Do they even care? My experience tells me “no.”

Several years back Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) promoted American Management System’s Momentum financial management solution in the federal government market. We competed against ERP offerings from SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft.

Time and time again, government RFPs were issued specifically requesting ERP software. Yet, the project requirements were exclusively financial management. It didn’t matter. ERP had buzz and the perception of delivering greater value. That’s what the customer was going to buy.

It’s important for every technology vendor to clearly define its market positioning and then remain steadfast in how it promotes itself. SaaS…ASP…utility computing provider? Before deciding on what to call your product talk with customers and prospects. What do they want to buy? It’s often easier (and less expensive) to adjust your business approach than to convince a prospect they need a different type of solution.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yahoo's Fine Tuning

The NY Times published an interesting article this week about Yahoo's efforts to revamp their strategy in light of intense competitive threats from Google, Facebook and MySpace.

Trying to Fine Tune Yahoo

What I find interesting is that Yahoo has clearly lost the perception of leadership and momentum in the market. Yet they remain the most popular destination on the Internet for consumers.

"With 136 million people in the United States visiting its sites in November, Yahoo remains the most popular property on the Web, according to comScore, a company that tracks Internet traffic."

I see this as much as a public relations challenge for Yahoo, as it is a strategy, features and functionality issue. They need to be aggressive in explaining to the market how the site is evolving and then consistently demonstrate how they're making good on the promise.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Buyer Beware with Analyst Research

It is no secret industry analyst firms continue to be influential in the market. A positive review in a report or good standing on a Gartner magic quadrant can propel a company's sales and partnership programs, while contributing to corporate valuation.

Yet, it's also acknowledged that much of the research produced by analyst firms is influenced by the sponsoring vendor(s).

I wonder if this is the case with Forrester's report on the anticipated impact of virtual worlds like Second Life on business collaboration and operations.

Virtual worlds will soon be as important as Web to companies

My take: analyst research remains valuable and a great source of intelligence. Yet, it should just be one of the factors a prospect, potential partner or investor considers when evaluating a vendor. In other words -- buyer beware.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feds Move on Social Media

Federal Computer Week's Jason Miller just wrote an interesting article about the continued adoption of social media by the current administration as a means of connecting more directly with key constitutencies.

White House to Blog about Middle East Trip
Federal Computer Week

What does this mean for systems integrators, professional services providers and technology vendors selling into the public sector? For starters, the ability to post comments on these government executive blogs is a good way to increase visibility and demonstrate thought leadership with a particular agency. A good first step to incorporate a social media program in your marketing mix is to identify a list of target blogs, monitor their content using a service like Bloglines and provide comment, as appropriate.

It also presents a business case for government-focused organizations to consider launching an executive blog. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we're working with a provider of professional services to federal agencies to stand up a blog in support of a corporate launch campaign.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mending Media Mistakes

It eventually happens to all public relations professionals. A corporate executive is misquoted in an article or a media outlet inadvertently reports an inaccurate fact or statistic. With traditional print media, your best hope was for a correction to be published in a future issue.

It’s different with Web-based media. Check out how the influential bloggers at GigaOM corrected a fact in their assessment of’s acquisition of Affinity Labs.

The take-away here: it’s important to quickly take action if your company is misrepresented in an article. Contact the journalist, point out the inaccuracy and validate your suggested correction with supporting facts and/or a third-party resource. Pays $61M to Get into Social Networking
Posted: 04 Jan 2008 02:57 PM CST

Career site Monster Worldwide has bought social networking startup Affinity Labs for $61 million in cash, the two companies said today. A jobs site getting into business networking makes a little more sense than, for example, Cisco buying and Five Across, but the purchase price seems rather high. Affinity was just getting off the ground and had raised only $6 million from Mayfield Fund and Trinity Ventures.

Affinity Labs’ products consists of seven recently launched sites aimed at various professions, among them the informatively named NursingLink, PoliceLink and ArtBistro. None of them are seeing traction yet — VentureBeat reports fewer than 500,000 visitors per month in total.

Update: The company contacted us to say it has 800,000 visitors per month and about a million registered members. Affinity CEO Christopher Michel contended that the acquisition price was appropriate given Affinity was generating “not a small amount of revenue” through highly targeted advertising including email newsletters and lead-generation. He also pointed out that Goldman Sachs released an analyst note praising the acquisition.

At the same time, shares of Monster hit a two-year low today due to forecasted online recruitment declines.

There is some history here — Monster was already providing advertising to Affinity and Affinity was giving Monster account holders access to its sites. Further, Affinity CEO Christopher Michel had sold Military Advantage, also a Mayfield investment, to Monster for $39.5 million in 2004 after raising $31 million in funding, so maybe the shareholders were able to defer a better return to a few years later.

At last check, shares of Monster (MNST) were down $1.14 at $27.79.