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Social Media Maturity Model

July 24, 2011

Live Angry Birds at SXSW

March 10, 2011

Live Angry Birds at SXSW

Angry Birds

This year’s Alcatel-Lucent ElevenAPI Lounge at SXSW is going to be enormous fun and a great place for developers to connect with some of the best API development programs around - please stop by if you are in Austin! Amongst other amazing events, make sure you come by to play “Live Angry Birds” — in conjunction with Rovio we have created an amazingly fun game with a full-size slingshot, birds, pigs, prizes…

The Fall of Brick and Mortar

February 23, 2011

SD Forum hosted the “Mobile Tsunami” conference on Friday, December 10, 2010 at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus. Open-First founder and CEO Ted Shelton hosted a panel entitled “The Fall of Brick and Mortar” which you can enjoy here:

API 101: A Brief Introduction

October 5, 2010

Have you ever wondered what an API is?  Here is a quick video explaining the basics.

Here is the presentation deck used in the video, feel free to use it:


Android Marketplace: Our Second Mobile Apps Marketplace Report

September 10, 2010

Why are Android mobile application developers happier when they are developing for Apple’s iPhone? To find the answer just “follow the money.”

With the fastest growing smart phone user population in the world, a growing list of devices from multiple manufacturers, and increasing number of mobile operators promoting the platform, why should top Google Android developers have anything to complain about? Yet in our first quarterly satisfaction survey of Android developers they expressed unhappiness about the support they are receiving, how hard it is for customers to find their applications in the store, and in total revenue earned.

To be sure, Google’s developers are much happier than those we surveyed last month using Nokia’s Ovi Store (see our separate research note; Android Marketplace and Ovi Store Head to Head). Google has done many things well and developers are generally happy with the way the store functions, happy with the app submissions process, and with the reports they receive from Google. As a result, Android is second only to Apple in total applications and in the number of active developers.

But there are a set of issues that Google could easily address that would quickly increase the success of top developers in building and selling applications to Android users. Doing so would increase developer’s focus on Android — currently mindshare of even these top developers is shared with Apple. It would also encourage more of the top developers from other platforms to move to Android rather than iPhone.

Number one amongst developer complaints is that the store has filled with “low quality” applications, making it difficult for good applications to be discovered by customers. A dramatic change in the way Google highlights its best developers and applications is needed for Android Marketplace to achieve the level of satisfaction that top iPhone developers feel toward the Apple App Store.

Improvements in developer support and communication are also needed if Android Marketplace will replace Apple’s AppStore as the top mobile applications marketplace.

TO SEE A SAMPLE FROM THIS REPORT click here to visit

Our research reports are available on a subscription basis. If you’d like more information, write us at:

[email protected]

What Does ROI Mean to You?

August 21, 2010

When you use the term ROI or “return on investment” what do you mean? Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group speaking on her new book, “Open Leadership” recently said (and tweeted) “…there’s too much emphasis on “ROI” as metric of social media.” But Charlene went on to add that she has a whole chapter on measuring the VALUE of social media in her new book. So what is the difference between ROI and value? Its all in the semantics of how we use the term ROI.

from the Solution Matrix article on ROI


“Return on Investment” has a very straight-forward financial meaning when evaluating the results of an investment into a process or an asset that yields direct returns. Entrepreneur Magazine offers the following definition: “A profitability measure that evaluates the performance of a business by dividing net profit by net worth,” and goes on to explain:

Return on investment, or ROI, is the most common profitability ratio. There are several ways to determine ROI, but the most frequently used method is to divide net profit by total assets. So if your net profit is $100,000 and your total assets are $300,000, your ROI would be .33 or 33 percent.

A terrific article from Boston based management consulting firm Solution Matrix takes up ROI calculation in detail, looking at how organizations can measure investment decisions against direct financial results. But this narrow definition is not what most business people mean when use the phrase ROI.


When business people ask the question “what is the ROI of social media” they are usually using the term ROI as a shorthand for asking “how can I value social media” and not about how to make a direct calculation of the expense of a tactic against the direct revenue that might result. As James Lenskold observed in his 2003 book Marketing ROI, “There is no magic formula to convert soft marketing metrics such as awareness and satisfaction into an ROI equation…” But understanding any marketing activity, social media or otherwise, as an investment instead of as an expense is crucial to making the right decisions on how to allocate scarce resources in an organization. As Lenskold goes on to say

Every strategy and tactical decision should be intended to increase profits. It is completely reasonable, and highly beneficial, to expect a return on investment for each incremental marketing dollar spent… Ultimately, broad goals for quality, customer satisfaction, new product development, and employee satisfaction should all lead back to sustaining and growing long-term profits.

This last passage illustrates the key distinction in the classical financial use of the term and the more nuanced and difficult use when applying ROI to marketing activities — looking at effects over time.


In a simple financial ROI calculation, an investment is bound in a specific time interval to some direct return so that a ratio can be calculated. But the problem with marketing activities, social media or otherwise, is that the result of these activities often impacts a business through many other processes, Lenskold having listed a few in the quote above. Charlene Li agrees and calls this “the benefits of dialog” in her book. Some of the items she lists in calculating the value of social media include: increased awareness, improve reputation of the organization, avoid potential PR blow up, hire better people… A terrific set of resources accompanying Charlene’s book are provided on her website, including a “benefits and lifetime value calculator.” Using these tools in a methodical way will allow an organization to associate the value of social media activities against their expense, even when the association is indirect. So isn’t this ROI??


Avinash Kaushik in his terrific Occam’s Razor blog (and in his books) argues that we must use the creation of economic value as the ultimate objective when evaluating any of our activities, but recognizes the complexity of doing so when some of those activities have an indirect impact. In a recent post, “Ensure a Clear Line of Site to Net Income,” Avinash provides an explanation of what he calls “macro conversion” and “micro conversions.” To paraphrase his excellent article, it is crucial for us to understand how the small things we do ultimately relate to our larger goals. At Open-First we call this analysis “goal decomposition” and apply this discipline to understand the ROI of marketing activities that have long term results. For example, what is the ROI of attending a conference? Knowing how often attending conferences leads to winning new customers allows you to associate the expense of attending with the value of the customer. You can even set an objective of a minimum number of prospect introductions at the conference and evaluate how well a particular conference performs against others.


Ultimately this thinking should lead companies to the concept of OKR (objectives and key results), an essential discipline in businesses committed to a developing a data driven culture. Implementing OKR across an organization will clarify the objectives that the entire organization should be focused upon and connect everyone’s activities to those objectives. Loosely defined, objectives are the ultimate outcomes that an organization is hoping to achieve. Key results are the means to achieving those objectives. Goal decomposition is the method by which objectives are defined through goals that can in turn be broken down into realistic, measurable, time-related key results. A result of this discipline is the ability to evaluate the contributions made by each part of an organization, in each of their activities. An open set of cascading management dashboards can allow every member of an organization to both contribute and comprehend the organization’s focus and progress. With these tools in place, companies can determine the value of social media or any other indirect contribution toward economic value — ROI.

Ultimately Charlene Li’s attention to the importance of evaluating the value of social media is not in conflict with the frequently asked question about ROI. But rather than trying to dissuade business people from asking this question it is perhaps more important to emphasize the long term contributions that social media makes to achieving a company’s objectives. In fact any calculation of marketing ROI must take into account those long term contributions and cannot simply examine a direct transactional connection between actions and income.

Data Driven Businesses (Case Study: Zynga)

August 11, 2010

A recent TechCrunch article on Google’s alleged investment in Zynga reported that

…Zynga’s revenues for the first half of 2010 will be a stunning $350 million, half of which is operating profit. Zynga is projecting at least $1.0 billion in revenue in 2011…

While these numbers have not been confirmed by Zynga, it is clear that since its founding in mid-2007 it has grown meteorically by every externally observable measure — number of employees, traffic to their games, general brand awareness, etc. If the reported revenue numbers are close to accurate, Zynga will eclipse Google as the fastest growing company in history (Google earned a profit of $105.6 million on revenues of $961.8 million during 2003 after 5 years in business). So what is Zynga doing right?

The answer can be found in what Andrew McAfee of MIT’s Center for Digital Business calls “IT’s Three Key Organizational Transformations.” McAfee writes

I see companies in all industries using computers to accomplish three broad and deep transformations: they’re becoming more scientific, more orchestrated, and more self-organizing.

Zynga, perhaps better than any other company, has built these ideas into the way they are growing their business.

Scientific — The key in this new approach to business is in adopting an experimental approach to every decision making process in an organization. McAfee uses the word “scientific” to associate the ideas behind the scientific method with this emerging model of a data driven business. At Open-First we call this PHAME — state a problem, develop a hypothesis, define actions which will test the hypothesis, establish metrics around the test, and run the experiment.

Making your business more scientific requires both technology and behavioral change. Zynga has achieved both — every aspect of their interactions with customers generates data. A team of experts provides analytical tools to present this data to employees. Every employee learns that decisions must be made based on the data, and not on “intuition.”

At Open-First we are studying companies like Best Buy and Zynga amongst others to understand how a new set of mobile, social, and data intensive technologies and practices are changing business. Our OPEN 2020 collaborative research initiative is exploring how business practices are changing in the 21st century as technology affects employee and consumer behavior. We welcome additional companies to join this project, please contact us via email: [email protected]


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