Category Archives: Networked Marketplace

Social Graphs and Vanilla Networks

Jyri Engestrom has an extremely interesting post on where social networks are headed. In this post, he points out Brad Fitzpatrick’s views on how the social graph (the map of how users are connected to each other) should be made universal.

Brad’s solution is to create a service where people go to aggregate all their networks into a master network, and then let other services check against that to automate friend discovery. The outcome to the user who signs up to a new service should be “These 8 friends of yours are already users here, would you like to share your books / music / pictures / trips / etc. with them?”

I’m not so convinced due to the following reasons:

1. Firstly, ‘friends’ is a nebulous concept and it varies from network to network (my Linkedin friends may not be the same as my Orkut friends), thereby making the whole idea of having a universal social graph quite impractical.

2. Secondly, Brad assumes that all the competing services will actually cooperate with each other to share their respective social graphs. I doubt that will happen. If it did, then it would be equivalent to voluntarily reducing exit barriers for its users.

But it looks like the problem that Brad is addressing is one of singular identity (say a Google Account or a Hotmail Passport) that uniquely maps people across applications. That’s a separate problem in itself. Anyway, here is what I think will be the future of social graphs and networks.

Where I see this heading
I forsee that in the future there will be two kinds of ‘social network’ services:
1. A plain vanilla social network with the usual friend of friend and profile features.
2. Satellite social applications like say a photo sharing service, a book sharing service etc.

My guess is that there would be about 3-4 major plain vanilla networks. The satellite services would then sit on top of these networks and share their social graphs. So say I signup on Facebook (the plain vanilla network), and then I feel like signing up at Shelfari.com to share books with friends. I would just activate Shelfari inside Facebook. The Shelfari-Facebook tieup would not be exclusive. Shelfari could go and signup with all the other vanilla providers too. Facebook has already moved in this direction by allowing ‘applications’ by independent developers to hook into Facebook. The next level is for all these ‘applications’ to have their separate identity in the world outside Facebook, thereby allowing users of other vanilla networks to use them too. The following image should help clarify what I’m trying to say.

Thus, the vanilla networks would serve the purpose of being repositories of social graphs that independent developers of services can tap into.


An arrangement like this would be very useful for all web applications with a social dimension to them. The major vanilla networks house the social graphs, and the independent guys hook in as satellites and share revenues with the parent network.

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The PS3 Song – a Web 2.0 rant

Interesting Web 2.0 approach to telling a brand that it sucks. Check it out!

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Web 2.0 marketing

Former India cricketer Krishnamachari Srikkanth seems to believe in the networked marketplace. He is promoting his cricket website Krish Cricket on an Orkut community. He has an Orkut profile too, and is glad to add friends! His website targets cricket fans through mobile games, and other interactive content. What better place to find young people than Orkut?

What’s more Srikkanth is also promoting Google’s cricket blogging contest, and has his own blog too.

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Interactive Brands – featured in The Hindu Business Line

Today, The Hindu Business Line’s Brand Line supplement carried this article written by me. Link to website: Interactive Brands

Full text follows:

Today’s young adult spends significant amounts of her time using the Internet. The Internet has become the dominant medium of keeping in touch, networking, sharing views with people all over the world, researching and getting work done (if you are a knowledge worker). The membership figures of prominent social networking sites such as Orkut and Facebook is indicative of this undeniable trend.

The young adult of today’s world is hyper-networked, interlinked to many more people than before, and part of many more conversations than ever before. Marketers who are today selling their brands to a spectrum of target groups of which such hyper-networked individuals constitute a small but significant chunk will realise (as these individuals age) over the next 10 years that the entire marketplace has turned hyper-networked.

Are brick-and-mortar companies prepared for this change? I doubt it. The difficulty of `selling’ to such hyper-networked individuals is that they are highly sceptical of advertising, branding gimmicks and PR spiel. This group tends to form and create opinions through n-way conversations that take place on the Internet through blogs, social networking sites and e-mail. Such communication is not just text-based – it could even take place through videos (YouTube), images (Flickr) and voice (podcasts).

The important feature of these conversations is that the information they contain is viewed with much more trust, primarily because such conversations do not have a hidden profit motive. The equivalent to this global conversation is the `word of mouth’ benefits that brands earlier enjoyed in the brick-and-mortar era.

Join the conversation

The solution that one foresees in such a scenario is for brands to turn interactive, and actually join the conversation. Interactive brands would be those that effectively conduct two-way conversations with their defined marketplace. The earlier era was one of uni-directional communication, which involved running advertisements and other branding initiatives on one-way communication media such as the television, radio and billboards. Potential customers were expected to passively absorb messages from such media, and consume the advertised product or service. Occasionally positive word-of-mouth contributed to brand choice in addition to the creative message. However, with the emergence of the Internet, word of mouth assumes a much more significant and globe-spanning role in brand choice.

Corporate blogs

How then do brands engage in two-way interactions with their defined marketplace? One effective way to do this is a corporate blog, which incidentally finds itself in Bain Company’s list of top 25 management tools of 2007. A key benefit of a corporate blog is that it enables an organisation to communicate in an honest, human voice to the world at large.

This honest voice would involve such former taboos as publicly acknowledging mistakes as and when they occur, honest promises on customer service levels, transparent communication on future product launches and internal thought processes. In addition to this, customers can use this forum to openly talk to the company, and about their experiences with the company’s offering. A static corporate Web site can never create the kind of interactivity and richness that a corporate blog can offer.

Community of users

Another way for brands to get involved in the conversation is to create communities of users. Two examples come to mind – The Royal Enfield owners club of the UK, and closer to home, Sunsilk’s `Gang of Girls’ Web site. Such communities allow customers to interact with other users of a product or service, and have conversations that have the incidental benefit of providing inputs to product development initiatives. Additionally, they would also help companies observe the evolution of their customers, and respond much faster than ever before.

It appears that brands will have no choice but to be part of the conversation between users, or risk being left out completely. This is not to say that traditional brand building approaches are no longer valid. They still have a role to play, but that role is more likely to help in reinforcing the brand’s message, rather than creating it from scratch. Additionally, smart brands will no longer view people as `target groups’ but start viewing them as people whom they can best understand through conversations.

Iconic brands tend to tap into a customer’s self-actualisation needs on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. People get emotionally involved with brands when they can relate to the brand in a manner that goes beyond mere price or quality. It is equally important for brands to get emotionally involved with their users by joining the conversation, or risk commoditisation. The choice is clear!

(The writer, an alumnus of XLRI, is with a multinational financial services firm.)

Some of my previously published articles.

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Corporate blogging – my thoughts

Over at Abhilasha’s blog I found some interesting questions raised by her on corporate blogging. In this post I attempt to answer a few of them:

1. Why should my organization blog?
For starters, if you are a consumer facing company (B2C), it helps to have an open conversation with your customer. Customers love to know what their favourite companies are upto. This is more so in the case of products that early adopters love (tech products, gadgets etc). A corporate blog can also become a very human touch point for customers, when compared to a boring website or even worse, a call center!

2. What realistic expectations can my organization have about the benefits of blogging, and what
obvious pitfalls or shortcomings should we be wary of?
A great, engaging blog does a lot more PR than a press release ever will. A great corporate blog can also help develop a loyal community of users around a product. Human beings love to be connnected to causes – sometimes, merely promoting a great product (like the I-pod) can be a cause. A blog can help create such a cause.

3. Who in the organization should blog?
I would say, the most important decision makers should. That way promises made on the blog will carry much more credibility.

4. What role does PR/ Corporate Communications have in this?
None! Blogs are the new age response to that tiring, sugar coated thing called the press relase.

5. What guidelines/policy should govern corporates bloggers?
Preferably none. However office bitching could be avoided!! A broad guideline coule be – say anything you want, as long as it is something that the customer is interested in knowing.

6. How can my organization measure the impact effectiveness of corporate blogging?
There is no need to really measure effectiveness. Think of it this way – what is the impact of a CEO talking one to one with millions of customers everyday? Its difficult to put a number to that. That’s because the revenue you earn from a corporate blog is goodwill.

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Kawasaki on market adoption

The top ten stupid ways to hinder market adoption

Guy includes one of my pet peeves – enforced immediate registration – as one of the barriers. Couldn’t agree with him more. I don’t understand what the additional value ‘registration’ brings in in an Internet scenario, where identities can easily be faked. I’d rather have a million anonymous users than 100 users about whom I know everything, and whom I can later target for promotional offers.

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Corporate blogs

What kind of companies should start blogs to communicate with their customers? My thoughts:

1. Smallish startups that don’t have marketing budgets
2. Companies that have very few product lines, or even better just one product. That way the conversation can be 1 to N. N to N conversations are just noise!
3. Companies whose brands directly touch individual customers. I wouldn’t recommend a steel maker to start a blog for instance. I would certainly like to see, say, a winemaker with a blog (like this one). People would like to talk to or listen to brands that they directly relate to.
4. Large organizations that have people who are mini-celebrities in their own right – Steve Jobs, Robert Scoble etc.

At the end of the day, a blog is just a medium. The message is always more important than the medium. So, unless you have something compelling to say to your customer don’t start a blog!

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