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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Net Neutrality Matters to Online Marketers

Net neutrality is back in the news as the US Federal Communications Commisson (FCC) grapples with the issue. Not surprisingly, the FCC commissioners are polarized along political/ideological lines, with the Democratic commissioners, including chairman Julius Genachowski, committed to writing regulations ensuring net neutrality, and the Republican commissioners committed to keeping government from regulating business in any way, shape or form.

But what is "net neutrality," and why should we care?

Basically, it comes down to quality and equality of service. Net neutrality proponents believe that data streams on the Internet should be treated on a first-come-first-served basis, and that telecom companies should not be allowed to prioritize traffic or discriminate using techniques such as deep packet inspection. What they want, in a nutshell, is for the Internet to continue as it is now.

On the other hand, some opponents to net neutrality regulations think this may be a solution looking for a problem, while other opponents actually believe that such discrimination is a good thing.

Internet marketers should be concerned about net neutrality, because it poses the danger of turning the Internet into a tiered service. In a world without net neutrality, small- to medium-sized businesses could lose the ability to compete cost-effectively against larger companies, because the larger companies could simply buy prioritization for their data streams.

The principle of net neutrality has made the Internet a great leveler. Without net neutrality, the Internet would become just another tiered medium like television, where large corporations and wealthy special interest groups control the messaging, and small- to medium-sized businesses can't afford to compete.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Social Media in the Workplace

A recent survey by Robert Half Technology asked CIOs about policies regarding the use of social media in the workplace and found that over half (54%) prohibited the use of social media in the workplace completely.

Now, I can understand the impulse to ban the use of social media. It's easy to assume that Twitter and Facebook will cut into worker productivity.  I can remember the same thing happening in the early days of the Internet, and there's a lesson to be learned there. Today, the Internet is an extremely important productivity tool in most organizations.

A pleasant memory came back to me when I read the survey. A number of years ago, I was touring a well known European brewery. The tour guide told the story of a policy change concerning workers drinking during their shifts. The old policy: each worker was allowed 6 beers per shift. The new policy: each worker could drink as many beers as they wanted per shift. The result: beer consumption at the brewery went down.

So what's the relevance of this story to social media? Well, of course, beer drinking should be a social activity, but that's not it.

The real relevance is in the empowerment of your employees.

When you ban social media in the workplace, you're telling your employees that you don't trust them. But if you want all your employees to be ambassadors for your company, then you have to empower them to communicate your company's message by all available media. If your customers use social media, so should your employees. If you want to begin a conversation with your customers (because a
conversation is exactly what marketing should be), then you need to empower everyone within the company to be part of that conversation, to be a marketer.

Sure, there will likely be abuse, as there still is with Internet use in the office, but that's a question of motivation, not technology. Twenty years ago, people played solitaire on their computers more than they worked. It seemed like a total waste of time, but in reality it was a way for users to become proficient with a mouse. Twitter and Facebook may not seem to have much relevance for your employees' productivity, but the social media skills learned there are transferable to business applications, and if your employees are going to make social media mistakes, it's better that those mistakes are at their personal expense, rather than the company's.

If you don't have any nails, you'll never learn to use a hammer properly.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If You're Not Part of the Solution...

Marketers are often the butt of jokes, and it's good, maybe essential, to be able to laugh at yourself. I can remember being with a friend in an auto supply store reading flowery product description brochures. My reaction was visceral: "Who writes this s**t." My friend started laughing at me, eyebrows raised, and I realized, oh yeah, I do.

At its best, marketing communicates value; at its worst, it obscures value.

Peter Drucker once wrote that the only things that generate value are innovation and marketing.

Harry Beckwith noted that the typical Japanese company does not have a marketing department, because the whole company has a marketing mindset.

Until your company has achieved such an omnipresent marketing mindset, it's up to your marketing professionals to provide leadership. To paraphrase Drucker, good management is doing things right, but good leadership is doing the right things. Are you managing or leading?

I know some good engineer jokes too.