Thursday, February 24, 2011

Online, Interactive Digital Engagement Governance – Building a Content Governance 2.0 Strategy and Community

This will be the first in an ongoing set of entries about Interactive Digital Engagement Governance. Contact me or Navigation Arts in McLean, VA for more information, or for ideas regarding planning and implementing such a methodology at your organization.

The concept of governance isn’t new at all to organizations building websites, whether inside (as with intranets and corporate portals) or exposed to the public. Simply put, the creation and management of web-enabled content requires everyday guidance for those who manage the content, and a process for assessing impact and making decisions about website and content issues. This guidance can come from roles-based training, online help and instruction, content management processes and policies. But how to you start an online governance effort in a Web 2.0 context - what’s the methodology?

Let’s be clear on the scope – we’re talking about governing the entirety of your online presence and digital engagement with constituents; i.e. all the people and systems (i.e. “Actors”) who engage with your content, through various channels. This includes employees, through use of your internal websites as well as their activities on the Internet, participating in social media, uploading content, creating bookmarks. This includes the content management lifecyle, not only as content is authored, reviewed and published – but also as the content is subject to feedback, discussion, monetization, syndication, repurposing and other extended use.

Governing your online digital assets can get very complex and expensive, very fast – especially as it’s released on the Internet, where it’s subject to countless forms of intended or unintended use. Blogs, RSS feeds, iFrames, email, content scraping, URL shorteners – list goes on and on with respect to the devices of torture your content might be subjected to, in public.

The repercussions of NOT governing your online content, both behind and outside of the firewall, can be equally complex and expensive. Therefore, we need a reasonably affordable, though comprehensive and scalable online digital engagement governance methodology – to build a repeatable, executable governance model that actually works.

Some of the background for this emerging methodology, in its various flavors, comes from many years of Intranet and Public Portal, Content Management and Social Media implementation for various Government Agencies and commercial entities. Common issues emerge from all of these past implementations, as they’re faced with intersection of the Web 2.0 channels.

Here’s a proposed methodology in a nutshell:
  • Create the Governance Business Case
  • Confirm the Governance Model
  • Create a Governance Plan
  • Establish Governance Requirements
  • Establish Governance Authorities
  • Validate and Socialize
  • Implement and Monitor
  • Evolve

“Governance” is essentially an integrated capability, i.e. something that an organization uses for its benefit that has a defined scope in terms of roles and organization, processes, information assets, tools and investment. Compare to other capabilities an organization might establish, like “Information Assurance”, “Application Development” or “IT Support”. Governance is a multi-faceted capability, implemented in different ways according to the context. For example, the context of “IT Support” has its own set of governance requirements; a good methodology and set of models exists with ITIL. The context here is the management of web-enabled digital content as it’s exposed to people, systems and their online dialogue. Interactive Digital Engagement.

To successfully create the Governance capability, a Business Case is required. This documents the scope of the capability, lays out the resource needs and estimates, aligns the investment requirements with the rest of the organization, and most importantly, describes how benefits are recognized and reported. The business case will help support reasonable investment, within corporate constraints, and clearly indicate how performance will be assessed.

Note that there are two main scopes of performance for the Governance program. First are the benefits it conveys to other programs; for example, “reduction of risk profile indicators” (Program Management), “reduction of negative complaints” (Customer Support), “increase in search engine visibility” (Online Marketing). Second is the performance of the actual Governance capability, i.e. “decrease in number of content policy violations” and “decrease in number of policy-related decision escalations”.

What’s the “Governance Model”, then, that will support the Business Case, and will drive implementation of the capability? It’s an organized set of governance components and relationships that need to be created, and that will function in an integrated manner. While your governance model will obviously be customized to your environment, the high-level facets should include:
  • The Authorities (i.e. Policies, Guidelines, Business Rules, etc.)
  • The Organization & Roles (i.e. the Governance Executives, Content Managers, etc.)
  • The Processes (i.e. Escalation, Impact Assessment, Decision-Making, Policy Updates, etc.)
  • The Governed Elements (i.e. what is governed; Actors, Content, Processes, Interfaces, Functions)
  • Governance Tools (i.e. what do people use within processes to help achieve governance, like forums, libraries, guides, FAQs, workflow monitors, etc.)

So, to execute the methodology and implement this capability, we need a Governance Plan. The Plan basically outlines how, when and with what resources the methodology will be invoked. Straightforward project planning, and it’s obviously important the project plan align with the overall organization investment planning. It’s also equally important that a portion of the Plan is aligned with implementation or management of a “Governed Element”; for example, rolling out governance with implementation of a new web channel, or aligned with release of a set of new content.

This essentially enables “prototyping” of the governance model with real feedback; there’s really not a good way to test a governance capability like this without engagement of actual stakeholders in an uncontrolled setting.

The beginning of the Plan will focus on Governance Requirements – these are functional and non-functional (i.e. performance, availability, security) requirements for the building and operation of the governance model – obviously traceable back to the Business Case. Requirements should also include some Use Cases and perhaps a Test Approach – i.e., examples of how this governance model will actually work, in real-life settings. As well, requirements should provide some focus on the specific kinds of “governed elements” addressed – like blog comments, uploaded documents, 3rd-party forums, content distribution processes, community groups. This exercise will help shape and detail the Plan for implementation, and inform other stakeholders (like the IT Community, the HR Department, Legal, etc.) – that that their help and input can be appropriately harnessed.

Governance Requirements will shape and help create new Governance Authorities. While the Requirements drive implementation of the Governance Model, the Authorities express the limits, rules, guidance that people need to operate effectively within it. Many existing authorities probably are relevant (like corporate legal, communications, security or systems lifecycle policies), but many will likely need to be updated or created as a result of this initiative. Types of authorities include:
  • Mission Statement
  • Copyright Laws
  • Laws regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines
  • Community Principles
  • Policies
  • Mandates
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Terms of Service
  • Business Rules
  • Training Guides
  • Online FAQs/Help
  • Voting

Future postings will continue to explore this Interactive Digital Engagement Governance Methodology, focusing on Validating and Socializing the Governance Model, Implementing and Monitoring it, and ultimately Evolving it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Socialized Coupons in DC - Classified Advertising Living in Groups

Groupon and Living Social and What's the Deal are all the rage on the frontier of online advertising, representing the most successful of the quickly-growing pack of "social group coupon" merchants. They're a very popular mashup of a number of well-known online marketing techniques, implemented in a way that clearly separates them from traditional banner ads, coupon clubs or classified advertising - they're fun, feel exclusive, count on social buzz and absolutely real savings to succeed. No doubt these kinds of coupons are valuable to the users (50% off a nice dinner out? - pretty good deal); but are they beneficial to the merchants? While the ROI jury has initially spoken regarding the value of the business plan (see Google's recent offer for Groupon, and the global waves of "copycat" enterprises popping up quicker than the last wave of eBay lookalikes) - the Jury's still out with respect to reliable ROI for the merchants actually offering these "deals".

A "social group coupon" is basically a highly-discounted deal that's available typically for limited amounts and time, is highly focused and advertised online to a target demographic, and is available only after a certain threshold of people commit to buy. The value to consumers is inescapable - by simply joining a group of like-minded coupon-clippers (providing your email, and some optional demographic info), and perhaps "spreading the word" a bit while chit-chatting in Facebook or Twitter, your virtual "flash virtual coupon mob" wins the deal - ostensibly a deal that's real, since the groupthink deems it so. Who else wins?

Taking Groupon as an example, the Dealmakers and their investors win - they'll get over 50% of the amount paid by consumers for the deal, along with continued "word of mouth" free advertising among a growing, "opt-in" fan base and email list (very valuable). These deals show up not only in emails and the Groupon site, but also on affiliate sites and networks - other popular websites whose owners get paid a little to show the deals. To orchestrate the affiliate activity, "affiliate merchants" are involved (like Commission Junction), who take a little from the Dealmaker for this service - so they win, too. The affiliates win - deals that show up on websites, in twitter feeds and other advertising channels (promoted by the affiliates themselves) can be attractive enough and promoted smartly (these 2 factors aren't given) as to draw new traffic and cross-selling opportunities to the affiliates. The payment gateways win - obviously most payments occur online through Visa, PayPal, Google Checkout, whatever - all of whom take another little cut (as do some of the Dealmakers).

Here's an example of a local affiliate channel in DC/Northern Virginia - Northern Virginia Business Deals.

What about the Merchant, offering the deal? Death of a deal by a thousand cuts, or is it really helpful?

The deals are carefully constructed business transactions, pure and simple, implemented in a way that above all else maximizes ROI for the Dealmaker, and takes advantage of any market advantages that come available - like "clout" and unique reach among demographics, first-to-market positioning and exclusivity, efficiencies in affiliate management, etc. It's really pure business, no play - regardless of the "community spin" that's promoted (though there are some local entrants that do actually give back, like Amy's Offers in Loudoun County, VA, giving back some of their proceeds to the local "Unsung Educators Scholarship"). The bigger players offer less to individual merchants, presumably because their services are worth so much more - while the newer entrants may offer more, at lower cost - since they're willing to do more to build their base of attractive merchants, offers and community traffic.

The prize is many hundreds of immediate purchases of the coupon, with volume revenue overcoming the profit discount, hopefully at a price-point for fulfillment that is both expected and can be absorbed without "crashing the system", so to speak. In other words, lots of new repeat customers for perhaps a little profit or maybe just more guarantee of future profit - and you've got enough stock to cover the one-time deal.

Let's consider the benefits to merchants of some of the primay social group coupon dealmakers in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area (note that these are vendor-supplied statistics at this time, and generalizations based on a variety of merchant-driven interactions; actual negotiations and final contracts will be very unique to the deal - KME Internet Marketing in Northern Virginia can help sort these out).

Groupon's deals with local merchants go out through an email list of over 650,000 subscribers and its affiliate network, the deal must be at least 50% of original retail, redemption rates exceed 80% and the revenue is split 50-50. The heavyweight in this area, they drive a strong non-compete agreement, waits can be long to get "in-cycle", and their approval of the actual deal may be inflexible, as it's driven by their own very detailed analytics for success.

LivingSocial.com has about 1/6th the number of subscribers, a slightly higher redemption rate, and the negotiation tends to be more flexible - quicker merchant payment, less exclusivity required without "non-compete" agreement, more likely to try new deals with new demographics (while all of these sites typically started with the young, urban tech-savvy set - they all seem to be quickly adopted by the soccer-moms and suburbanites - the same kind of trending for most new social media tools).

SoWhatstheDeal.com (by the Washingtonian magazine folks) is very local, has about 1/3 of Living Social's subscribers, but seems extremely flexible in competing for business - they are, however, still very focused on the very young, urban set (20-30), with all kinds of additional social interaction to support the marketing, including raffles and weekly events.

There are also many other new variations of "Groupon clones" out there, like Homerun, Deals for Deeds, Specialicious (from the Northern Virginia Magazine folks), Eversave and Socially Ideal. Heck, you can start your own group buying initiative, for less than a thousand dollars (to buy clone scripting software, optimize it, and get started on the marketing).

There also exist a flurry of "pseudo-clones", that aren't quite social group coupons, but social-media marketed traditional coupons - for example "CheapLocalDeals" as displayed on local media like the Loudoun Times, which is simply a traditional affiliate pay-per-click (PPC) banner ad channel (like Google's Adsense), for which the Merchant pays a fee per click or conversion (i.e. somewhat like Google's Adwords), and the affiliate network (i.e. CheapLocalDeals and the Times) each get their cut. "Socializing" the deal includes the efforts by the affiliate network to boost word-of-mouth advertising and visibility through SEO, email subscription-list building, and other online marketing tactics - all to ensure a more qualified and durable set of eyeballs who will likely click, purchase, enjoy and tell their friends about it.

Local merchants can certainly succeed, and succeed wildly by leveraging this new advertising medium - but also fail badly in overall ROI if it isn't considered an integrated portion of the overall online marketing effort. Within a planned online marketing budget, how should use of social group coupons be included? Consider the major online marketing expenses to be balanced:
  • social group coupons
  • paid banner ads and links
  • paid article and contextual ad placements, on websites, games, mobile, etc.
  • paid press releases (i.e. ads in news clothing)
  • paid classified ads and community-centric notices
  • paid online engagement marketing, i.e. onsite and offsite social media ads & presence (like in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • paid search engine optimization (SEO)
  • paid search engine marketing (SEM), i.e. pay-per-click (PPC) via search engines
  • paid multimedia ad placement (i.e. in Videos)
  • online marketing web design and content for your own site, mobile apps, landing pages and offsite interactive profiles and presence (check out NavigationArts in DC for help here)
  • ...and so on

It's enough to make the owner of the marketing budget's head spin - especially for a small merchant, without the effective resources to track integrated performance across all these advertising channels, and balance investment against outcome. Sometimes jumping on the hype-cycle is simply a one-time investment necessary to test it out or join the game...but the hype-cycle is probably past for social group coupons, and a more methodical approach is warranted to drive the right kind of value. This applies not only to the Merchant advertisers, but also to media publishers (i.e. website owners, like Newspapers) who must balance their own coupon/classifieds community-building efforts with syndication of others that might add value, like Groupon and Living Social.

If you're a Merchant seeking help to sort out these online advertising options, including the new wave of social group coupons, drop a line here...