The Perfect Content Curation Tool?

Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I’m overly ambitious. Maybe a little bit of both. All I know is. blogging as much as I would like to is a freakin’ lot of work!

I do write original stuff sometimes – and some pretty good stuff at that, I think. I’m also a decent curator of content. For example, Linked Intelligence has grown into the definitive unofficial source for all things LinkedIn.

But being a good curator is tedious and time-consuming. And a lot of the reason for that has to do with a sub-optimal workflow. At the moment I’ve cobbled together several tools, each to handle a little piece of the flow, but I’m really not happy with what I’ve got. And what I really want seems so simple and so obvious, I find it unfathomable that nobody really seems to have built this yet. If someone has, please tell me, because I’ll buy it, I’ll review it, and I’ll tell everyone else how great it is!

What I want is a single tool to:

  1. Find interesting content to share.
  2. Facilitate either sharing it directly or blogging and then sharing.

Wow – does that really seem so difficult?

Let’s get into the specifics of what that means:

  1. Let’s start with an RSS reader.
  2. Then let me combine feeds and filter them by keyword, author, tag, date, etc.
  3. Then let me 1-click share, yet contextualize it for each channel, all in one interface, e.g.:
    • Shorter comment and a link on Twitter, LinkedIn; longer comment and a link (and selectable image thumb) on Facebook; longer comment and a selectable excerpt and link on
    • Refer to the author with their Twitter handle on Twitter, by name on Facebook and LinkedIn, and by their name, linked to their blog, in a blog post
    • If I blog it, give me the option to share my blog post, rather than the direct link, to the other social media channels

I don’t want to completely auto-blog. I believe in the value of human review and commentary. I just want to make the workflow a LOT more efficient. Let me define a narrow set of rules to give me a manageable short list of content to review, that’s likely to have high quality. Queue that up so it’s as close as possible to being ready to publish. Let me review it and modify it – add the human touch. Then go do all the publishing.

Is that really too much to ask? Is there a tool that can do all this? How close to this are you? And what tool(s) are you using to do this?

Images: Will Lion, catspyjamasnz

Happy Birthday to Me, and How Distributed Cognition Enhances Relationships

It’s 9am on my birthday, and already, 65 people have posted birthday wishes on my Facebook wall.

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Several more have Skyped me.

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Sure, it’s just a simple act – some might argue it’s only slightly more social than a poke, but I disagree. Frankly, I think this is really what the social web is all about: using distributed cognition to truly enhance relationships.

How so?

Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Basically, it’s the theory that the size of our social network is limited by the size of our neocortex, and for human beings, the maximum number of “close” relationships we can theoretically have – the number of people whose names and faces you remember easily, who you can remember details about them, like what they do for a living, the last conversation you had with them, etc.

But what happens when our capacity for social relationships is no longer limited by our brain capacity?

Some people think that tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even CRM or contact management systems have created an illusion of having more “real” friends than we actually do. I suppose, for some, that’s true.

I look at it differently, though. I look at these tools as distributed cognition. Essentially, we’re making our brains larger by using external tools to enhance our memory. I can “remember” hundreds of people’s faces, because they’re right there when I interact with them. I can call them by name – one of Dale Carnegie’s most important tips for winning friends and influencing people. I can easily recall the last conversation I had with them with a couple of mouse clicks. I can see what they’re up to and ask specific questions about it rather than wasting my time and theirs with small-talk questions like “So what are you up to these days?”  LinkedIn already knows, so I already know.

Social media isn’t just a way to have a bunch of trivial relationships; used properly, it’s a way to treat more than 150 people that you truly care about like you treat those 150.like you would if you were smarter, or had better memory.

To put it in Virtual Handshake terms, using Information well demonstrates your Character and helps you increase the Strength of your relationships.

This isn’t a new concept, by any means. It’s the same principle behind The Mackay 66, a collection of 66 questions that uber-networker Harvey Mackay used to build the strong relationships that allowed him to build a phenomenally successful company in the face of much larger competitors. It includes information such as the client’s college fraternity/sorority, children’s interests and birthdates, their immediate and long-term business objectives, health conditions, etc. Before every call, Harvey would pull out the client’s file so he could have that information at his fingertips. As he gleaned little bits of information during the course of the conversation, he would note it in their file.

As a result, his customers were constantly amazed at his apparently great memory, and the remarkable personal interest he took in them.

Cynics might say that it’s just a brilliant ploy to manipulate people. Harvey will tell you that it’s just the only way he could keep track of the information that helped him show how much he truly cared about people. And that’s also good business.

So this is why you should wish your Facebook friends happy birthday. Congratulate your LinkedIn contacts on their promotion or new business venture. Comment on their blog about how adorable their new baby or puppy is. It’s not being manipulative. It’s not being trivial. It’s acting like you want to act towards people you truly care about, and like you would on your own, if you were just smarter. Let social media make you socially smarter.

P.S. In the 30 minutes it’s taken to write this post, 7 more people have posted to my Facebook wall and 4 more have Skyped me. What a great way to start the day!

Using LinkedIn to Reach the Right People at the Right Time – Free Webinar 11/30

3229285946_e2e1391972 Wouldn’t it be great if you could connect with your ideal clients before they needed your product or service?  And wouldn’t it be even more amazing if you knew immediately when something occurred that triggered their need for your service?  Imagine running an appliance repair service and receiving an email any time someone in your service area has a broken appliance – before they start the process of finding someone to fix it. Or running a Chinese restaurant and knowing any time one of your regular customers gets a craving for Chinese food.

Science fiction?  Well, yes.  But the reality of what’s currently possible may be closer to that than you think.

Most marketing is focused on creating a message that matches the prospect’s need and attracts them…after they’ve started the buying decision process.  But there’s a window of opportunity before that, between the time that something occurs that causes the need – the "trigger event" – and the time they start the buying process.  If you can connect with people during that window, you can establish yourself as a trusted advisor and perhaps even block out the competition entirely.

image This is known as "trigger-event selling", and Craig Elias, coauthor of SHiFT!  – Harness the Trigger Events That Turn Prospects into Customers, is the world’s leading expert on the topic. He’s also, like me, a very early adopter of LinkedIn and uses it as one of his core business tools.  With in-depth profiles of more than 80 million professionals, LinkedIn is one of the best tools for directly identifying and connecting with people who match your ideal client profile.  It’s also a great place for identifying trigger events – new hires, promotions, new projects, and other company news that may not make it to the usual public channels.

Craig and I will be conducting a free webinar next Tuesday, November 30, at 2pm EST on using LinkedIn to connect with your ideal clients, monitor for trigger events and establish yourself as a trusted advisor to them before they even start the buying process. This webinar will be jam-packed with practical how-to information that you can put into action immediately. Register now to reserve your spot.

P.S. – This is seriously advanced stuff.  I’ve used it with a handful of my high-end clients, but this is the first time I’ve taught it to a group. If you’re serious about using LinkedIn to improve your sales process, you don’t want to miss this.

Top image: Anders Ljungberg

Scanning business cards from your iphone

I just learned that Patrick Questembert has launched Scanbizcards.com, which scans business cards – or any image – and lets you add all the information to your iPhone address book.  I see the value of this app today, but I see it as an interim solution until tools that are purely electronic — e.g., Bump Technologies — become the norm.

Standard Answer Soft Launches Open Beta

SAlogo One of the companies I serve on the advisory board of, Standard Answer, has entered open beta and is gearing up for launch at SXSW Interactive. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell a little about the site and why I thought it was cool enough to get involved, when there’s already a sea of YASNS (Yet Another Social Networking Service) out there. It’s a little rough around the edges still, but I think we’re doing something that’s compelling enough for members to spend some of their time there and marketers to spend some of their budget there.

At first glance, Standard Answer could easily appear to be just another social networking service. It’s built around one of the most popular activities in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook: asking and answering questions of your friends.

We built Standard Answer with the idea of taking this popular activity and 1) making a better experience for users, 2) allowing users to use those questions as the basis for building community, 3) creating a better channel for advertisers and 4) building a really, really cool dataset that’s never been seen before.

So let’s look at how Standard Answer accomplishes each of these objectives.

Better Q&A

Do you ever get tired of answering the same questions over and over again? With Standard Answer, you don’t have to any more. Your “standard answers” are saved, so when someone sends you a new quiz, the questions you’ve already answered can be automatically answered for you. Of course, you’re always allowed to change your mind, and Standard Answer even keeps a history of how you’ve changed your answers over time.

Do you ever take a multiple-choice quiz and the answer you want to give isn’t on the list? No more! With Standard Answer you can add your own answers to the multiple-choice questions.

Standard Answer also does everything it can to help standardize the data, such as looking for similar questions when you enter a question, so as to prevent duplicates. What’s the point of having 100 different people ask “What’s your favorite color?” and having each one have a different set of possible responses?

Building Community

This is where the rubber really hits the road with Standard Answer. One of the problems with most existing social networking sites is that the data is unstructured. You can only do simple text searches to find who you’re looking for. For example, the “pivots”, or hyperlinks on interests, favorite books/movies, etc., in MySpace and Facebook only allow you to find the people who share that one interest.

But one of the things we learned in researching The Virtual Handshake is that one of the best ways to build strong relationships is through the discovery of multiplexity, or in plain English, finding out what you have in common with people. Similarly, if you want to meet new people with whom you have good odds of building strong relationships, then seeking out people who share several common interests is one of the best ways to do that.

So let’s say you want to connect with, say, other people in Austin who love sushi and sci-fi, or people around the world who are fans of both American Idol and American Beauty. Or whatever. Doesn’t matter whether it’s serious or silly. Standard Answer gives you a way to make those connections quickly.

And what’s really cool is that you can either save those searches for your own personal use, to reach out to people one-to-one, or you can create a community around that search and help others with that combination of interests and attitudes connect with each other. We think this will be really compelling for both social and business applications.

Better Advertising Channel

Standard Answer won’t be filled with boring banner advertising. Social media is showing us that companies/brands need to join the conversation. Standard Answer allows them to do that in a fun, interactive way.

What we offer advertisers is sponsored questions, e.g., “Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” Guess what. Our early results show that people love answering these simple, one-off questions in the Standard Answer context, whereas they might be hesitant about responding to longer marketing surveys. Brands are a part of our lives, and people actually enjoy answering questions about them if done correctly. For example, people are loving answering the question I posted: What’s your favorite Doritos flavor? At the moment it’s a toss-up between Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch. Of course, I want to meet the other person who said Fiery Habanero besides me (see how it works?).

Interesting Data

Now this is where I think this thing gets really fun. Just think of the massive data set we build with this. Without ever putting anyone through a painfully long survey, we’re gathering an amazing amount of not just demographic information, but psychographic information, i.e., info about attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

I can tell you that when I talked social network researcher danah boyd into joining the advisory board, she said there was one condition: “I get to get my hands on the data.” So it’s in good hands. Who knows what she’ll find? 🙂

One thing we’re going to look for is interesting correlations in the data that have maybe never been discovered. Maybe we discover something trivially fascinating, like that geeks prefer maple syrup on their pancakes, but suits prefer honey. Or maybe we find that Lexus drinkers prefer Coke, while BMW drinkers prefer Pepsi. Those companies might like to know that, don’t you think?

Of course, we will never sell personally identifiable data to companies. But we will make aggregate data available, for a fee. And while we may not have the volume of data of, say, Facebook any time soon, the quality will be much higher.

I’m excited to be a part of Standard Answer and watch its launch.

Want to learn more? You can…

Review of Act 2009 vs. Salesforce

I recently moved to Act 2009 as my primary contact relationship and calendar system and thought that it would be helpful to share my experiences. (Disclosure: Sage Software gave me a license for review purposes. ) I was particularly interested in comparing Act with its most popular competitors, Microsoft Outlook?s built-in contact manager and Salesforce.com.

I generally like Outlook as an email program, but I strongly dislike it for contact management. In my experience it?s painfully slow, inflexible, poorly structured, and allows for only very limited types of access to your data. I do not recommend using Outlook as your contact manager unless you have very simple contact management needs.

What I like about Act is that it?s fast when used on your local client desktop; extremely customizable, and predictable in cost (because you do not have to pay an ongoing fee to Salesforce). This reflects Act?s heritage as traditional desktop-based software.

However, as soon as you have more one person using your contact database, you?ll run into the complexities of client-side software. Even if you simply have a personal assistant who helps maintain your contact database, that assistant will have to go through the hassle factor of installing the software on his/her machine and syncing with you.

Although I do plan to use Act as my primary contact manager, I was surprised to encounter some bugs and areas for improvement. I have been using Act since 1997, and with a product that has been through so many iterations, it should be rare to identify either significant bugs or very clear areas for improvement. I see this with the Microsoft suite; I can?t think of any obvious bugs (other than the regular crashes…)

(If Microsoft asked me for feedback on the suite, my suggestions would be much more general and require much more work and re-architecting on their part: e.g., they need to incorporate more social functionality that competitors such as Google docs and Zoho are already offering. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly the direction in which Microsoft software is going.)

Some minor bugs:
– When I imported a test file, the system did not properly process some charcters: >, < , ?, ?, and line breaks. - I tried to modify the font size of some fields and received an error. Customer support confirmed that is a bug. - When I merge two contacts, there is no ability to keep the Group membership of each contact valid and merged into the new entity. In addition, the system does not automatically assume that data from one contact?s field should supplant data in the other contact?s same field, if the latter is blank. - When I tested importing some events from Outlook to Act, Act only imported events subsequent to today?s date. However, I was able to get around this bug by temporarily changing my machine?s date to a date in the past. (I later figured out an option that controls this, but that issue was not brought to my attention in the import process.) - I tried doing a search for all Contacts with ?Create Date? = ?Today?, and received an error, even though ?Today? is an option on the menu. - The system sometimes freeze briefly when I make a request. Of course, the same is true with my Microsoft software, sadly. Some obvious functionality improvements: - It took me about 1 person-hour to get the system installed and running on my machine; I kept thinking, ?Salesforce would take me 1 minute to activate.? - The functionality to merge two contacts is much inferior to Salesforce?s. When I tell Salesforce to merge two contacts, Salesforce automatically gets data from each contact, and if a given field is blank, Salesforce will copy data from the other contact. Act is not that smart. Also, merging contacts requires far more keyclicks than with Salesforce, which is ironic given that Act is desktop-based. In sum, for a sole operator I endorse Act, certainly over the dramatically inferior Outlook. For a small or medium-size organization, the advantages of Act include predictable cost and rapid speed when working offline. I do recommend researching such web-based solutions as Salesforce and Zoho as potential alternatives.

Finding Proprietary Deals for Private Equity Funds, Hedge Funds, and Venture Capital Funds

I enjoyed presenting a few weeks ago to the Harvard Business School Club of London on “Best Practices in Deal-Sourcing by Private Equity, Venture Capital, and Hedge Funds“, generously hosted by McKinsey. You can download my slides here. I look forward to learning more about this area at next week’s Capital Roundtable Masterclass on “The Art of Building the Right Deal Flow“, in New York. I would welcome your feedback.

JibberJobber

Jason Alba at JibberJobber added a JibberJobber profile to our social software company wiki. Barbara Safani writes,

A successful job search campaign requires exceptional organizational and follow-up skills. Jibber Jobber provides an easy to use interface that takes the drudgery out of the job search process while improving efficiencies and accelerating search activity.

What I like about Jibber Jobber is that it addresses a clear need among job-searchers: managing their job search and all of the people and companies with whom they interact during the course of their job search. The great majority of people I meet have very primitive personal CRM systems–often as primitive as a shoebox of business cards. So there’s a large opportunity to provide people with more sophisticated tools.

Jibber Jobber’s challenge is that it is so narrowly focused on the job search, whereas every professional needs a personal CRM tool (e.g., Act, Microsoft Business Contact Manager, etc. They may find that they successfully penetrate the job-seeker market, then at some point rebrand and target the broader professional market.

Virtual Handshake Reader Shares E-mail Success Story

I received a message today from a reader of The Virtual Handshake who had a success with one of the techniques presented in the book:

One thing that caught my attention in The Virtual Handshake is when you told the story about the gentleman who didn’t know the person’s email address who he wanted to email. It turned out that the person had all those email addresses, and they were all directed to one email. The executive saw the person’s commitment, and long story short the emailed got what he was looking for.

This recently happened to me. ( inspired by the book) I was trying to get a message to a non-profit org that I thought I could help. I sent an email to the founder of the organization, HR@theorg, and info@theorg. It turned out he got all three emails. He appreciated my enthusiasm. Now I am in!!! I appreciate the great idea.

Benjamin B. Rosenzweig
Detroit Financial Group
O- 248-324-9333
BRosenzweig@finsvcs.com

You know, I always love hearing stories like this. Actually, Benjamin was kind of surprised when I wrote back right away and asked him if I could post it on the blog. I told him, though, that while I hear stories like this all the time, few people take the time to spell it out in enough detail to be usable. So there’s a little PR lesson for you – everyone loves being appreciated. Take the time to write to someone and tell your story of how their product or service made a difference in your life or business and you may earn yourself a little free publicity as well.

Update on Jigsaw, marketplace for business contact information

I enjoyed meeting with Jim Fowler yesterday, CEO of Jigsaw (our wiki profile). Jigsaw is a marketplace for business contact information.

Some noteable data points:

+ We know from our (Nitron Advisors‘) own experience that the problem with most traditional list services is that their data is often out-of-date, whereas Jigsaw has attracted a community who are motivated to cleanse the data on their behalf. 80% of Jigsaw phone numbers are direct dial, in part because of their approach to gathering data.

+ Most Jigsaw revenues come from recruiters and financial advisors. 50% of revenue is from corporate clients, who find the data cleansing service that Jigsaw offers particularly valuable. All of Salesforce’s salesforce uses Jigsaw . Only a small percentage of corporate customers upload data, but Jim sees that percentage increasing over time.

+ 1/4 of revenue is from resellers/partners — you can see a list at http://jigsaw.com/company_information/partners.xhtml .

+ He’s identified several competitors: WillyLoman.com, 7 Chinese competitors. Jim claims that he is the only player with significant traction.

+ As with all social networks, Jigsaw has some users who abuse the system. So like all data vendors, Jigsaw has started to insert dummy records to track abuse, resale, and so on of their data.

+ Jim claims that some corporate sales brokers have stopped selling databases with emails, because of their concern that their lists will end up on Jigsaw.

+ Although many people (Michael Arrington, Rafe Nadleman) are critical of Jigsaw on privacy grounds, to date only 200 people have asked to be removed from Jigsaw, and >2500 people have asked to be added to Jigsaw so they can proactively manage their data.

+ The database is used heavily; 70% of all contacts in the system are "bought" at least once a year.

+ Jim claims that the people who are really hurt by Jigsaw are CEOs like him and me, because it makes executive recruiters more efficient—so that they can steal our employees more readily. He says "As soon as we’re cash flow positive [this year], I’ve told all our employees that we’re giving free lunches every day. We have to do what Google does, because I know that so many people are working hard to recruit our employees."