Archives For October 2013

diversity

The tech community has demonstrated that it is at best confused about what type of diversity businesses should aim for, in order to advance well.  It is one thing to curb discrimination, but on the topic of diversity, I think we should be looking for “diversity in perspectives”.  

Diversity has hardly been an easy topic to understand.  For centuries, the human civilization has been trying to deal with just what diversity is and how best to handle it.  So, it is no surprise that it leads to exhaustion as Dick Costolo gets hammered on the lack of women on the Twitter board.  Those who followed the NYTimes article and the less than ideal exchange that happened on Twitter following a harsh comment by @dickc know that the situation is getting so much attention.

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On the topic of “women as minority”, I have very conflicted views.  I’ve written earlier on this topic, advocating that women need to be confident and trust in their abilities to be as good or better as their male counterparts.  So, this question of “should an organization be compelled to have a woman on their board” makes me very uncomfortable.  If you are a woman, would you like to be hired because you are a woman (of course you’d be subject to a minimum bar) or would you like to be hired because there isn’t a better candidate than you for the job?  I’d prefer the latter myself.

For what it’s worth, I think we are hung up on the wrong question!  We are implicitly making this be about discrimination rather than diversity in a meaningful sense.  Have you hired the best candidate you could find for the job?  Of course, there are all kinds of other factors – a reasonable timeline for one – but, in general, if you answered yes to that question, you are done!

Diversity In Perspectives

Now, diversity in perspectives, however, is a completely different thing.  A company like Twitter needs creativity in multiple dimensions.  Arguably, understanding female users is one area.  But, I have a hard time professing that you need a woman to understand female users.  Would you hire a teenager to the board so you can understand teenage users?  Not necessarily.  In a similar manner, the key is that you have a board that can bring in diverse perspectives that are important to your business.  The real problem lies in the fact that most leaders are not necessarily excellent judges of other people’s strengths.  So, it is generally hard for someone to understand who is bringing the right set of perspectives in which area.  How do you know that a male director you just hired understands female users?  It is much easier to believe that hiring a woman will bring that perspective.  All the noise about how Twitter has so many female users and hence desperately needs a woman on the board relate to exactly that!

It is true that it is often difficult for people to understand how their real users behave and what they need.  The solution to this is not that they go find themselves a representative from each segment of their user population.  First of all, there is no guarantee that a 40-year old woman can bring the perspective of a teenage girl.  So, unless you got your segments exactly right, that would not be an ideal fit.  Second, not only do you need the right perspectives from different user segments, you also need these people to be able to connect the dots together and create a cohesive strategy.  Not to mention be able to identify user segments of future relevance.

The bottomline is that diversity in perspectives is what is most important and you need creative people who can understand that they are not necessarily the representative user, can understand the actual users and project their future wants and needs and equally critically, can work together!

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It used to be that the primary medium of advertising were billboards, televisions and newspapers.  As more and more audience shifted to the Internet as the medium of receiving content that used to be served by print and TV, advertising gained momentum on the Internet.  First popularized using the “clicks” model, it continues to evolve and is the dominant source of revenue for most of the Internet stakeholders.  The social media frenzy now cannot be overstated – there are numerous sources of buying “likes” and “followers” that we have heard of.  Alex Rampell wrote about the danger of the intermediate metric on TechCrunch and highlighted that while marketing folks are busy setting milestones based on the number of likes and followers they can accumulate for their brands on social media, this may not in fact be translating into actual sales.  

This is obviously true.  What is a “like” worth?  Especially in light of fake or paid likes?  It is not a directly measurable metric and it can be quite fuzzy as to whether it translates to any direct sales at all.  There are conflicting theories on this, even though brands continue to pour money into social media, accumulating followers, likes, repins and what not.  

But I contend that the situation with social media metrics is no different than with any other metric the advertising world has ever known.  Without going to the beginning of time here, let’s start with newspapers and televisions.  What decided the net worth of an ad on such media?  The number of potential viewers more or less decided why Superbowl ads were worth a lot more than ads on any other day.  Or why a popular newspaper’s front page was worth more than something else.  Was there a direct conversion between sales and a viewed imprint? No!  

Of course, direct conversions are slightly more measurable when a promotion from an ad makes its way into a sale (say, using a coupon in a store or a code in an online purchase).  Then again, this situation is no different from any online intermediate metric we have today.  

Let’s take another widely used marketing channel – email.  What is an email address worth to marketers?  It is as debatable as anything else – but it is common to see offers for simply signing up to receive email.  Each brand has an indirect conversion mechanism that tells them approximately how much an email is worth.  Here is one example – but it is only a small representative of what can be done.  

About the only aspect that makes social media metrics a bit more challenging than any other metric the advertising world has dealt with before is the thriving underground economy that allows social media interactions to be traded.  But, that is to be absorbed as a cost for now, while algorithms get the better of it.  Trolls on the Internet aren’t new.  From fake reviews on Yelp (did you know 20% of Yelp reviews are potentially paid reviews?) to cheap social media interactions (see what a search on “buy social media likes” yields), this is an obvious problem. But, just like email fueled technologies in spam detection (and Yelp’s algorithms filter out what are possibly fake reviews), technology will catch up to extracting the signal from social media interactions.  

The bottomline is that the advertising world is no doubt being morphed by the introduction of new metrics and the shift to online media and sales. But, the philosophy behind computing the net worth of an advertisement is not quite changing – it has always been about “potential impressions” or “potential views” and it still is!