Month: September 2011

Guest Post: 9 Ways NOT to Present Your Company or Product Via Social Media

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by Natalie Hunter. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

There are nearly 150 million active Facebook users in the United States, and about 70 percent log in at least once a day. Social media are powerful business tools that can be extremely effective when used correctly. Social media use accounts for nearly 25 percent of all time spent online. 64 percent of Facebook users have “liked” a particular brand they encountered through the website.

It’s estimated that by 2012, half of the world’s population will use some form of social media. It is easy to see why social media are important in promoting a product, business, or even online college. However, using social media the wrong ways can deal a severe blow to a company’s image.

1. Ignore Feedback

Not all feedback is going to be positive or even valid, but choosing to ignore all feedback is counterproductive and gives the impression that a business is out of touch or simply doesn’t care about its customers. Responses can be simple messages just thanking people for their feedback or acknowledging an issue. Some recognition of input is necessary.

2. Ignore Statistics

It’s not enough to just create an online presence. Businesses should track incoming traffic from links and social networks. Keep track of the number of people in social media groups and fan pages. Businesses should consider how many people are following them on Twitter and Facebook to be vital marketing data.

3. Send Mixed Messages

A business should have the same basic identify online and offline. This doesn’t mean there can’t be special perks offered to online customers, but keep the overall message the same. In other words, if a business is serious, responsible, and reliable offline, don’t try to present is as fun, hip, and spontaneous online. A confusing or mixed message is an instant turnoff. Keep it consistent.

4. Have Multiple Social Personalities

This is related to #3 but different. Creating one identify for Facebook and another for Twitter and yet another for LinkedIn leads to confusion. Maintain the same basic profile information across the board. This helps create and reinforce brand identify. The same goes for company logos and images. These should follow a similar theme used in all business-related postings. While some products may sell better with different approaches, or some messages better on some networks vs. others, the corporate personality should remain consistent.

5. Try to Go It Alone

Groups and communities are core when engaging in social media.  An individual web page is great for personal use, but the goal of a business is to be a part of a group. Creating a group or fan page is an excellent way to engage existing customers and bring in new ones. Consider having some real employees be a part of the mix to add credibility.

6. Always Make Assumptions

Sometimes reality is different from perception. Before jumping into the world of social media, businesses should take time to see what others are saying about their brands. Some adjustments may be necessary to create a consistent message.

7. Sharing Everything You Can

While it is important to engage customers and communicate, not everything needs to be shared. Social media use for business is about return on engagement. It’s important to share information and address concerns, but some issues (such as lawsuits) are best left off the table.

8. Engage in Online Battles

It’s not wise to go after competitors by engaging in personal attacks through social media. Leave  tackling the competition directly to advertisers.

9. Jump Into Every Service

It’s tempting to just create a profile on every social media service, but doing so has a few drawbacks. First, it’s not realistic to keep up with everything on every separate service, especially for businesses. A better approach is to make a list of what social networks work best for a particular business. More time can be better devoted to each of these social websites rather than trying to keep up with everything everywhere. Social websites that are rarely updated quickly loose customer interest, and even some that start out hot quickly become flops.

Like any other form of communication, some approaches work and some don’t work when it comes to social media. Carefully selected strategies and a coherent, unified message and online persona are the way to make social media effective business assets.

Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result, she is grateful for the invention of the Internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education.

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Worth Repeating: The Value of Simplicity

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Here’s an oldie but a goodie, and certainly even more relevant today than it was over 2 years ago when I first posted it. The benefits of simple solutions, reduced complexity, and eliminating unnecessary choices are starting to sink into our product development culture.

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We  have 3 different types of food blenders in our house. They are pictured below. I’ve tried to show them roughly to scale with one another.

blenders

The first is a “traditional” blender with a base, a large 56 oz. (1.75 L) pitcher-style container and several speed settings for the blades.

The second is an immersion blender with a number of attachments for mixing, blending, chopping etc.

The third is known as the Magic Bullet blender. It has a small 16 oz. (.45 L) container for the contents being blended and a simple on/off mechanism for the blades.

While they all have benefits and are clearly different, guess which one gets the most use in our household? Given the title of this post, it should be pretty obvious.

Yes, it’s blender #3, the Magic Bullet. And why?

Simplicity in all aspects of usage. Most blending jobs are very simple quick tasks. e.g. making a smoothie, or blending some sauce or something similar. The usage scenario goes something like this:

  1. Place the contents to be blended into the blending container
  2. Blend for 10-15 seconds (maybe 20 seconds in extreme cases)
  3. Pour the contents out of the container

There’s not much more than that. In *most* cases, the amounts are small (< 16 oz) so I don’t need the large blender which is both heavy and a bit of pain to clean. Also the immersion blender is pretty good for a lot of tasks, but I find it inefficient unless I truly have to immerse it into a pot or other container for “in place” blending.

In short, for the majority of my blending tasks, the Magic Bullet addresses the needs well. There is a lesson here for software and technology PMs, and I think you know what that is:

A simple solution that addresses a use case well is likely to be used often by your target audience.

Of course, most technology products do a lot more than a blender, but that doesn’t mean they have to be complex to use.

Saeed

NOTE: 2 years later, I still use the Magic Bullet regularly. I can’t remember the last time I used either the large blender or the immersion blender.

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Guest Post: 5 Innovation Lessons from Steve Jobs

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by Adam Costa. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.


Steve Jobs has been at the forefront of innovation for well over 30 years. But how did he build one of the most successful companies in history starting with only about $1,000 and an idea?

Put simply: innovation.

I’ve outlined five key lessons – with quotes from the man himself – that product managers can use to cultivate inspiration in their development.

The first step is to…

Always Look For Connections

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were stuck. They had an idea for a personal computer, but didn’t have a brand people could relate to. It was a new idea, and new ideas are often difficult for people to understand.

Jobs wanted a simple name that was in stark contrast to the corporate standard of the time, IBM. Jobs had previously worked in an apple orchard and – in a later discussion with Wozniak – Jobs pulled from the experience and named the company Apple. The process of coming up with the Apple logo is also worth reading.

The combination of new product and familiar name was a huge success. It’s a prime example of meshing together two unrelated concepts to create something unique and memorable.

Jobs himself has said “Creativity is just connecting things.”

He also cited LSD as “one of the two or three most important things I’ve done in life” because it helped him see things differently.

Of course, you don’t need LSD to see connections. But you must train yourself to see them.

Or better still, you can leverage your employees knowledge and experiences. Lee-Clark Sellers, Executive Programs Director for NC State University, says companies need to encourage employees to explore new, seemingly unrelated activities.

As she mentions in this post, employers must “provide new experiences for your teams that will motivate them to continue to look beyond their current boundaries for new and profitable ideas.”

To encourage this, host a lunch-and-learn series where different disciplines are represented. For example, have your head of marketing speak to your engineers, or an accountant speak to your sales people. By exposing employees to different frameworks, you greatly increase the chance of breakthrough innovations.

The next lesson from Jobs is to…

Treat Failure For What It Is…

A lesson. Coming from a man who has lost more money than most companies make in a lifetime, Jobs’ take on failure remains optimistic. As he once famously said:

“I’m the only person I know that’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year…. It’s very character-building.”

Instead of lamenting setbacks (and losing a quarter of a billion dollars is a setback by any standard), Jobs learned from his mistakes. They must have paid off. Jobs quickly regained his losses and, after Disney bought Pixar, became the largest individual shareholder in Disney.

Failure – according to Jobs – is a way to build character. To learn what doesn’t work. Product managers often face issues with product development; embracing failure will help you improve your end design, make you a better manager and open your mind to new, previously unexplored possibilities.

Of course, the necessary ingredient to weather any storm is…

Be Passionate About What You Do

Steve Jobs has said:

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”

With product management, your heart’s got to be either in the product and/or the process. If you don’t have passion, you’ll never do great work.

The truth is: passion shows. Plus, it helps you to…

Set High Standards… And Meet Them

Everyone has their own standards. Some are higher than others. This explains why many products never fully take off: either issues with research and development, product testing, price points or faulty relationships with suppliers can all lead to failure.

The solution to this, argues Jobs is to “be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

There are many ways to create a culture of greatness. For example, you could print a large poster like this and ask your employees to sign it. Or better still, ask them what they are “the best at” and incorporate those skills into their everyday routine.

This can work wonders. By branding yourself (or your company culture) as the best, your employees and business partners will act accordingly.

Customers on the other hand, may not. Which leads us to Jobs’ final lesson:

Don’t Create Products for People

This may seem contradictory at first. Isn’t the whole purpose of creating a product to serve a need?

As an end result… yes. But it’s far easier to show someone a finished product, rather than ask their opinion along the way. Or as Jobs points out…

“It’s hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show them.”

If you truly want innovation, you need to create things people aren’t aware of yet. You need to go beyond not just what they know, but what they think is possible.

Adam

Adam Costa is a business consultant who helps companies develop marketing materials, including sell sheets and product brochures. He can be reached via his website or on Twitter @ mradamcosta

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5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Performing Market Validation

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By Saeed Khan

Seek Truth Travis Jensen, over at the Software Maven blog has a post covering 5 ways you can get into trouble when performing market validation activities. He compares these activities to scientific experiments, where the outcomes depend on what you’re trying to prove (or disprove) as well as how you go about conducting your experiment.

In high school, most of us probably learned about, or at least heard of the Scientific Method. For over a thousand years, starting with the Arab scientist Ibn Al-Haytham, who is widely credited with establishing the scientific method, the focus of science has been seeking the truth. That should be our focus as well when performing market validation. As Jensen writes:

“Scientists and philosophers have spent countless years understanding how to make rational decisions. Knowing some of the common traps that lead us to make irrational conclusions is the first step.”

Jensen lists 5 ways that we can get ourselves into trouble.

  • Confirmation bias
  • Appeals to authority
  • Misaligned motivations
  • Overconfidence
  • Familiarity

He explains each of these with examples. Overall, a good read and a great reminder that there is indeed real discipline required as we do that part of our jobs.

Check out the full article: Software Maven – Fallacious Product Management.

Saeed

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That Product Owner (er…Backlog Manager) debate again….

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By Saeed Khan

There was a vibrant discussion on the Twitter Product Management Talk yesterday. The topic, a common one for Product Management types – the roles of Product Manager and Product Owner.

The discussion was lead by John Peltier who writes on Agile Product Management. Geoff Anderson who also participated, wrote a post on his blog – Tralfaz - about an exchange he and I had.

Geoff wrote about some of the issues he’s seen when companies add the Product Owner role.

These issues can be summarized as:

  • Putting very junior people in as Product Owners.  How junior? They “almost need to ask permission to use the bathroom”.
  • Organizational problems with Product Owners being part of Engineering. i.e. Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
  • The required frequency of communication needed between a Product Owner and Product Manager.

Here’s my take on these topics.

What is the right level of experience for Product Owners (or as I’ve advocated – Backlog Managers)

This one is easy. Put an inexperienced person in any role, and prepare to be underwhelmed. There is a trend to create junior “transition” titles — e.g. Associate Product Manager, Technical Product Manager — for people who are entering Product Management. Now there is nothing wrong with these types of titles, but the problems occur when there is a mismatch between the skills and the responsibilities for those roles.

Given the responsibilities of a Backlog Manager, such as ensuring the Eng teams stay focused on the right functionality, facilitating information flow, helping resolve problems as they are encountered, providing technical guidance when needed etc.  a junior person is the last person you’d want in this role.

The role needs a strong technical background, good judgement and decision making abilities, a persuasive attitude :-), and good communication skills. Doesn’t sound like a junior person to me. IMHO, the best person for this role, particularly in a company with a strong technical team, is an experienced ex-Engineer who wants to move into Product Management.

Where should the Backlog Manager reside

Without question, this role DOES NOT belong in Engineering. Plain and simple, it should be part of the Product Management organization, seated along with the corresponding Product Managers and Product Marketers who work on the same product.

Being part of the same team and sitting with them leads to the next point.

What is the right communication frequency

I’m always amazed at how much of a sticking point this can become in online discussions. What is the right frequency of communication between a Product Manager and a Backlog Manager? Well it’s quite simply the right frequency of communication. :-) i.e. whatever is required.

Sometimes it could be several times in a day. Other times it could be a few times a week. Other times, it could be once per week or even less. The reality is that there is always ebb and flow with information demand. But the question is how mature is the Engineering team and what kinds of day-to-day decisions are they making? Immature teams need constant care and feeding. Mature teams with experienced development management can work without daily guidance.

I personally have worked with remote teams (e.g. team is in India with me in North America) and aside from a weekly synchup call, other communications were primarily handled via email or if needed, a mid week phone call. And guess what, those teams delivered great products and didn’t lose their way because of any lack of communication.

So in short, what can companies do to succeed when implementing a Backlog Manager (or Product Owner)?

Get the right people, with the right level of experience, in the right organizational model and communicating the right amount and everything will work out fine. Easy!

Saeed

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