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What’s missing in realtime

A picture named mangoMaiTai.jpgI was at breakfast this morning with a friend from the tech industry, and the subject got around to Facebook vs Google, and the way Twitter is kind of in the middle of the two giants.

I’ve felt for a long time that Twitter should have welcomed federation early-on, when the competition wasn’t so fierce. While it wasn’t a slam-dunk, I thought there was a decent chance our Twitter log-ins could be the default username for many other sites on the net. Now Facebook is making a strong bid to be that, and if Twitter were to try that now it would likely be seen as too-little-too-late.

Then my friend, who asked not to be named, wondered why WordPress isn’t in the same place as Twitter. I answered with an analogy — Twitter is riding a bicycle on Interstate 95, and Facebook and Google are two semis about to have a head-on collision. Twitter may not be directly competing with either of them, and Google probably doesn’t care much about Twitter one way or another, but the collision is going to do some serious damage to all who are in the vicinity. WordPress isn’t riding a bike and they are nowhere near the freeway. Picture Matt sitting on the beach sipping a Mai Tai.

It sure feels this way but then I wondered — why?

And if WordPress is on the beach sipping drinks with little umbrellas, how can Ev and Biz get some of that action? Then I figured it out.

Two bits (and they may be very hard for Twitter to do):

1. I don’t mind hosting sites on because I know if I ever want to get them off I can run them on my own server. I need to be able to do that with Twitter (or Tumblr for that matter). In other words, there must be an open source, easily installable Twitter that’s the same thing that is running, so I can just move my presence there and not skip a beat. People are going to say I can do that with, but I can’t — when I move my WordPress blog my domain points to the new location and all my links still work. To really trust Twitter, they have to enable competition at this level.

2. I must be able to completely control the look and feel of my presence. This is something Matt & Company could do much better too, but Twitter hardly does it at all. This is something Ev should understand, as one of the early blogging tool vendors, he should remember how important a role designers played in the evolution of blogging. Given that Twitter and the other services in this space (e.g. Facebook) don’t allow the user any control over the HTML of their presence, it should be easy to improve this. But I want power over everything. More important, I want designers to have power over everything so I can use the product of their work.

So in summary: I need to be able to isntall my own Twitter and move my presence to my own server, easily. And I need control over the look and feel of my site. Those two things would do enough to shake up the market and give Twitter a new way forward and make what Facebook and Google do in their battle-of-the-titans-to-death mostly irrlevant to them.


Extreme Film Photography

Two things for this quick bit of news — the first is a crazy DIY pinhole film camera that shoots 3 rolls of 35mm film at the same time. The resulting shot is a 4×5″ exposure.
There’s a bit of a back story on this one… on March 22, my pal Udi (the guy that […]

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Competitive Intelligence: Purpose & Process

Posted by JoannaLord

When it comes to marketing your brand online there is just so much to do. We spend our days researching, creating, implementing, and then measuring the success of our efforts. There are dozens of channels to participate in, and obviously thousands of ways to go about marketing your brand, but however you slice it—online marketing comes down to introducing new audiences to your brand, keeping your current brand users happy, and evolving the brand/company itself. outline strategy

Unfortunately I think the first two steps often overshadow that third step to the process—evolving the brand/company itself, probably because to grow as a company you really need to take a pause and evaluate where you are currently standing. As marketers, the idea of pausing is equated with losing momentum which scares the hell out of us all. This industry moves too quickly, and pausing to reflect on where your brand is compared to your competitors seems like time poorly spent.

I am here to argue just the opposite. A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at PubCon South on “Competitive Intelligence on the Social Web,” and I wanted to extract a few of my key arguments and offer them up the SEOmoz audience both as thought provokers and for feedback. In my opinion competitive intelligence is one of those marketing steps we all say we did, but few of us rarely do. It’s true. Most of us are big fat liars when it comes to “doing competitive intelligence.”

For example, competitive intelligence IS NOT:

  • Sitting in a room and ranting about your competitor’s latest marketing move
  • Grabbing lunch with your Product Manager and creating a roadmap based on what your competitors have that you don’t.
  • Putting together a grid of you and your competitor’s website’s traffic stats, never to be looked at again.
  • Googling your competitor’s brand name to see what latest things are noted in the SERP’s

Sorry friends that is not competitive intelligence.

However, competitive intelligence IS:

  • Understanding what direction your competitor’s are headed & how that might intersect or parallel your own
  • Knowing what products you are pushing out and how they match up or differ from your competitor’s
  • Mapping out a list of key differentials and attributes for your biggest competitors and yourself
  • Researching & monitoring a variety of platforms to better understand your competitors

Okay now that we all have a better sense of what it is, let’s talk about how to do it.  Instead of throwing a 20-slide PowerPoint at you I thought I would dilute it down to a few key steps toward understanding your competitive landscape, and perhaps more importantly I want to tie those into how you can use this information for company gains.

The Grid of Awesomeness:
Okay maybe that name is a bit of an exaggeration, but either way, the first key step toward understanding your competitors is getting them all down on paper and forcing yourself to research key attributes. I have included below an example grid that you can use to get you started.

You might ask yourself—how do I know which competitors to include? This can differ depending on the size of your company and the scope of your industry but a great place to start is the “3-1-1 rule”. I usually suggest you pick 3 brands that are often grouped with yours, either in roundup articles, or in conversation. Those are your primary competitors. Then choose one “dreamer,” which would be the brand in your vertical you hope to be one day. Lastly, I suggest including one “newbie” in your competitive analysis, this is assuming that isn’t you of course. By picking a newbie in your industry you can often gain perspective into where your industry is moving, and key marketing channels to consider since they tend to operate pretty lean.

After you have chosen your competitors I suggest filling out the following for them: name, size, products, features, price points, affiliate program description (do they have one? What are the key attributes?), playing grounds (what channels, platforms, communities are they dominating?), advocates/influencers (who is lobbying for them?), notes. Don’t forget to fill this out for your company as well!

Example Grid:
Competitive Analysis Grid

Product Growth & Benchmarking:
This is perhaps the most time consuming element to competitive intelligence when it is done well. There needs to be someone in charge of competitive intelligence maintenance. This person should subscribe to your competitor’s blog so you are hearing about product launches as they happen, and all company announcements in real time. You can also gain a lot of insight from reading the comments to those posts.

In addition to this you should set up Google Alerts for your competitor’s brand plus the words “launches” and “announces.” We all know that Google Alerts are limited and somewhat unreliable, but you should have a daily digest set to notify you of any big moves your competitor’s are making. You never know which could be a real momentum changer.

The last step to this is really to keep a pulse on the traffic growth to their sites by checking Alexa or Compete monthly. While it may seem a strain on your time and resources it’s beneficial for you to know what momentum trajectory your competitor’s are on.

Monitoring Mentions:
This is what most people think competitive intelligence is. While it’s not the only piece to the competitive intelligence puzzle, it certainly is an important one. There are so many tools available to us (most free) that help us keep an eye on what our competitors do…it’s actually a bit creepy how many tools and sites are out there to help us be shady. I personally support this shadiness.

Some examples would include sites like: Whostalkin, SocialMention, Backtype, etc. All of these allow you to search a competitor’s brand or products and find out the latest things said about them. These social web aggregators search a number of channels like images, videos, blogs, new feeds, etc. They are great for understanding how a product launch might have gone for a competitor or how any other announcement was received.

Other ways to spy on your competitor’s in the social web—create private twitter lists and monitor their brand and employee’s feeds, sign up for competitor’s newsletters, etc. The key is know where they are pushing out the most crucial information and then making sure you have someone dabbling in that space.

Hiring Espionage:
Now that you have a sense of where your competitor’s currently stand and what they are doing right now, it’s time to spy on them and try to figure out their next moves. Hiring espionage is a great way to do this. You can gain a great sense of where your competitors are moving by looking at who they are investing in from an employee perspective.

A great way to do this is to keep an eye on their company job listings, and occasionally throw their brand into a job meta-engine. The best possible place to spy on hiring moves is by going to LinkedIn and finding their company profile page. There is a section down at the bottom that shows recent hires. You can defer tons of information from this section—are they hiring a bunch of sales people? Top-level engineers? Whatever team they are stacking up is probably the team they are focusing on.

The Takeaway:
The important thing to remember is that competitive intelligence isn’t something you do once and never revisit again. It also isn’t something that you can base on intuition or informal conversations with coworkers. Competitive intelligence is a key process that can be used to inform instrumental decisions you make. The better you understand your competitors the clearer perspective you have on your industry and audience as a whole. Competitive intelligence enables you to better speak on your strengths, brainstorm ideas for quick gains, and make more data-driven decisions all around.

Plus you get to pretend you are a spy which is just all sorts of fun (please note trench coat and night vision goggles are optional).

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