Real-World Opportunities for Virtual-World Project Management

This summary was proudly provided by Carina…

“A virtual world (VW) is an instantiation of a metaverse – a fully immersive 3D virtual space in which people interact with one another through avatars and software agents”.

VWs are gaining attention because they provide technology capabilities that can transform education, learning, organizational communication, and even VPM. The goal of the paper is to highlight the technology capabilities in those new environments.

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Collaboration Engineering with ThinkLets

Collaboration Engineering with ThinkLets to Pursue Sustained Success with Group Support Systems (GSS)

A GSS is a suite of collaborative software tools that can be used to focus and structure a team’s deliberation while reducing cognitive costs of communication and information access and minimizing distraction among teams working collaboratively toward a goal.

The issue with big GSS is that they are mostly fairly expensive. GSS have great potential but surveys show that they very often do not diffuse beyond the initial installation. GSS facilities are self-extinguishing. The paper explains why GSS diffuses so slow and what other approaches there are (self-sustaining… – wait for it: ThinkLets). The paper uses TTM (Technology Transition Model) to explain why GSS is self-extinguishing and introduces ThinkLets as a “better” concept.

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A Seven-Layer Model of Collaboration

Separation of concerns for designers of collaboration systems

The subtitle tells us what it’s all about. The whole model is about separating the concerns. This model enables a design of a collaboration system without the necessity to be fully aware of the whole system at any time. The goals dictate the products, the products demand certain activities, collaboration techniques use specific tools etc.

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Master’s Program

Hello everybody!

As we still have some time left – yet – to the final examination of the master’s program at the MCI, I thought about summarizing and clarifying some topics we addressed during our studies. I think most of the topics are pretty exciting and therefore want to discuss them briefly. Moreover, I think the discussion form at the bottom of each topic can be used to exchange ideas and thoughts and help each other out!

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Tirol Werbung

You know where Tyrol is right? It’s in Austria – not the country with the kangaroos but the one with Mozart and the Wiener Schnitzel

Tyrol, Austria

Image taken from Google Maps

The tourism industry in Austria and especially in Tyrol is very dominant and important. According to the Austrian National Tourist Office (TourMIS) there were approximately 126m overnight stays in Austria, whereof 42.7m took place in Tyrol, in 2011. Tyrol has a population of about 718,000 people and 23,700 accommodations with 348,000 beds (Statistik Austria). However, the tourism industry is bigger than the mere amount of accommodations. Of course you have to consider public transportation, skiing regions, museums, casinos and so forth if you want to have a complete picture of who profits of tourism. Despite the fact that Tyrol is one of the most beatiful regions in the world (I live here – I know that), there has to be some sort of destination marketing done. Not only by the companies and towns/villages themselves, but Tyrol-wide.

This is where Tirol Werbung comes into play!

Tirol

Official “Tirol” logo

Tirol Werbung GmbH is a company founded 1989 and located in Innsbruck. Its overall mission is to strengthen the brand “Tirol”. Tirol Werbung develops the destination and the brand through communication and network within and beyond the Tyrolean borders.

Tirol Werbung Organization Chart

Tirol Werbung Organization Chart

In order to improve the domestic (tourism) industry they created several branches with different approaches to boost the brand (Sponsoring, Cine Tirol, PR, Marketing, Digital Media -> Facebook & Twitter, Tirol Shops, …). They are creative, innovative, and enthusiastic and collaborate intensively with regional business partners.

Why do I write a post about Tirol Werbung? Well, it is the company I write my master’s thesis for and this sort of brand and destination marketing brings up a very exciting question: What is the return for my social media ROI calculation? There is the investment of money from various sources put into social media marketing (among others). Ok. But how can the effectiveness be measured when the return is increased the revenue of tourism companies – which isn’t measurable within Tirol Werbung? How can the budget be justified when Tirol Werbung cannot come up with conversion rates linked to their efforts? I don’t have an answer to this – yet!

Characteristics of the Tourism Industry

My thesis focuses on the tourism industry – or more specific the tourism industry in Tyrol, Austria. There are certain important characteristics about that industry which make it necessary and exciting for companies when planning a marketing/social media strategy. What is so special about tourism compared to the producing or trading industries?

Perishability

Perishability is one of the most important characteristics of the tourism industry. The products/services in the tourism and travel industry are consumed as they are produced. Hotel rooms and cable car seats cannot be warehoused for futures sales. When a hotel room is not booked tonight, you cannot take ‘tonight’ and sell it tomorrow. Once the train left the station, unused capacity cannot be sold afterwards – provided that it was no time-traveling train.

As an uncertainty in customer demand leverages this issue, hotels and travel agencies tend to overbook available rooms and seats. Finding an alternative product for the customer and living with the consequences of overbooking is statistically more economical.

Inconsistency

Noise

Image by Andy Carvin

Products of the tourism industry always differ. Even the same hotel room in the same week with the same weather can be perceived differently due to the mood of the chef. It is always about the experience that the customer makes. Rational product attributes like price, nights of stay, and additional services can only be compared to a minor degree. It is challenging to deal with the customer perception of the product (the perceived quality) as it is highly affected by numerous uninfluenceable aspects such as weather, construction sites, other customers etc. Hence, the product is very inconsistent and cannot be standardized.

Investment and immobility

Ball and Chain

Image by Travis S.

Talking about hotels and other accommodations there is usually a big capital lockup in the assets. Hotels have furniture, restaurants, TV-sets, laundry-service, pools, saunas etc. – invested capital that has to pay off.

And that’s not all – all those investments are attached to one locality which means that those tourism companies are to a huge extent dependent on the attractiveness of the region, the country, its surroundings and so forth.

People-oriented

The tourism industry builds entirely upon people. The interaction between the staff and the customer determines the perceived product quality. Unlike tangible products where the customer buys certain features, production quality, durability etc. the holiday quality results from personal interactions starting with the information and booking process over the stay up to the journey home.

Inseparability

Sleigh Ride

Image by Peter E. Lee

Most travel products are first sold and the produced and consumed at the same time. This is an aspect which clearly sets tourism apart from tangible products. When you buy a new computer it is produced and shipped before you see it on the website or at the retailer’s premise. The consumption of that computer – using it – takes place after purchase at your home. You cannot take the hotel room home – only the small bottles of shampoo and toothpaste. And you cannot enjoy the alpine sleigh ride in your living room. Tourism products can only be consumed at the supplier’s premise.

Intangibility

Tirol

Image by Tirol Werbung

Tourism products are intangible. A night in a hotel, a day in a ski-resort, the calm flight with the nice attendant, and the smiling tour-guide taking you to the peak of an alpine mountain – all this cannot be touched. Tourism is all about the time spent and the experience made. The products sold by tourism companies both can’t be reproduced or reused. Nor can the feeling of consumption be captured to its full extent. There are merely attempts with photographs and video cameras. Probably everybody was already in the situation where you showed your holiday pictures to your family or friends and said “Well, it looked better when I was there. The picture cannot really reproduce the sentiment)… Tourism is a subjective picture planted into the customers’ minds.

Inflexibility

Travel products are fairly inflexible in terms of fluctuation. Hotels cannot change their capacities quickly enough to react on spontaneous fluctuations in demand. Hence, such companies try to balance between high and low demands, so that it’s not too much of a pain for the company when restaurant tables remain empty and for customers when there are no more tables available.

Imitability

Offers and products by tourism companies are generally easy to copy. When the neighbor hotel adds a masseur to its SPA offer you more or less only need somebody with a firm grip and here you go. So how can hotels build a unique selling proposition? Originality, consistency, location etc. – but not by hoping that their services are not imitable.

These are all relevant characteristics, which have to be taken into consideration for marketing activities.  In my further posts I will discuss traditional marketing measures and social media marketing for this industry and I will slowly approach the ubiquitous ROI. So stay with me!

Measuring Social Value with Google Analytics?

Google just launched a new way to measure social network conversions in depth – which is pretty exciting. Implemented in the regular Google Analytics, businesses can now monitor in more detail what the conversion rates from social networks to transactions is.

Social Media Conversions in Google Analytics

(image source: Google)

It is now easier to follow specific networks and campaigns. The figure above illustrates the ratio between total conversions (Conversions), conversions through interaction – people who came to your site from a social network and transacted during that visit (Last Interaction Social Conversions), and those transactions, which have been prepared by your social media activities but didn’t take place on that visit but on a later one (Assisted Social Conversions). You surely have to be careful and critical interpreting the figures, but that analysis greatly facilitates the calculation of social media effectiveness. The distance from nonfinancial quantitative social media data toward financial return decreased a bit through this new feature.

But this new area of Google Analytics is not limited by sophisticated referrer-analysis but also monitors social media interaction originating from your site. This activity stream takes a look into the social networks and shows public posts and shares.

Social Activity Stream

(image source: Google)

All in all, Google makes it easier for marketers, SM managers, and other analysts to monitor the social media activities, to measure the influence inbound and outbound, and to quantify the effectiveness of social media investments – all in one place. Great tool.

How to go social?

One of the first questions of companies starting to use social media is: “What is our contribution?” – “What content do we want to share?” – “What information is worth sharing?”.

I am currently accompanying a company, which recently launched an online shop and just signed up for facebook and twitter. There are many websites talking about the positive effect of “rich” information shared over the corporate social media channels. This company had exactly those above mentioned questions:  “Great opportunity, yes. But what do we share?”. (Potential) Customers want to receive valuable content instead of mere product information. We want to hear companies talking about helpful manuals and additional services instead of proudly pasting product descriptions.

So what can a company do? How should the first steps of a company look like in the world of social media? Olivier Blanchard has an appropriate explanation in his book “Social Media ROI“. Listen! Listen to those who are or can become relevant for your company. Gather information from those who have information for your competitive advantage. Customers can talk about problems on twitter, complain in communities, discuss product developments or search for solutions.

Studying the social networks you want to use, defining the environment and scope and listening to the people is the first and a crucial step towards a successful social media presence. Listen and monitor, gather and connect, become informed and intelligent about what is going on around your company.

Why is Social Media ROI such a big deal?

There are lots of books about marketing techniques, about how to measure campaign effectiveness, about when to use which broadcasting channel and so forth. When you read those books, you end up thinking: Ok, this can become pretty straight forward. Let’s define 4P, use this and that tool, define metrics for measurements and we’re set! And it works!

Traditional advertisementOf course it does! Traditional marketing in all its facets matured over the last many decades. Traditional marketing retains validity and its “raison d’être” – I don’t claim anything different here. However, there is a fundamental shift happening at the moment. And lots of people apparently do not recognize this shift in its entirety. Social media is something different than just another communication channel. I think this is a commonly shared opinion. In fact, it is a lot more than a channel. It is a new dimension of interconnectedness with customers, suppliers, society etc. necessitating a refurbished thinking of companies’ marketing.

Furthermore, a lot of companies simply cannot keep up to the rapid emergence of this new concept and technical possibilities of getting connected (even intertwined) with stakeholders. This is comprehensible as the progression of our culture, behavior or habits keeps getting slower relative to the speed of technological development and its opportunities. Or in other words: Technology grows faster and faster and we remain human. Being confronted with this rapidness, some companies literally rush into social networks, treat them like further one-way channels, and asking for the ROI of their mere participation.

Why is the discussion about social media effectiveness so sweeping and why is there so much dissent? It is clear that marketers have to justify expenditures. Hence they have to know the profitability of money invested for marketing campaigns. So you have metrics and figures at hand like spread losses, media costs, turnover, customer satisfaction, whatever. But what are you measuring? No one measures the medium. You never calculate the return of television or billboards – those are the “vehicles”. You measure the campaign and the specific marketing activity. Olivier Blanchard wrote a superb summary about having the right perspective and asking the right questions.

You cannot take metrics like followers, comments, facebook fans, number of various networks, and the subtlety of your posts, put them into an equation and calculate your rate of return. ROI is not medium-specific! You ask for the effectiveness of certain marketing activities. And this is the core of the whole discussion. It is about the things that you do in social media and not about the presence itself. You calculate the campaigns and activities that you run on facebook and twitter and so on … And of course there are answers to executives who ask for the ROI of their general social media efforts. But you have to alter the perspective. You have to approach it in a different and measurable way and you got the answer for social media effectiveness. It is a challenging task – but the major confusion keeps arising because of the same old story of apples and oranges.

There will be lots of posts coming up dealing with the measurement of effectiveness, though, I first will discuss the very basics surrounding this topic, literature and internet sources, my empirical approach of the thesis, and … you name it – (literally, name it!)

Stay tuned, please be critical with what I am writing, and engage yourself!

Best, Sebastian

(picture by barto @ flickr)

Let’s get it going!

I want to tell you about my personal motivation for writing the thesis about this specific topic. It’s not only a necessity for my thesis’ exposé, but I want to make things as transparent as possible here, in order to get you engaged!

I came along social media in many matters of my professional and personal life so far. In my opinion, and I am not alone, you have to be in social networks if you want to stay alive and be visible on the job market. Nearly a billion people are on facebook nowadays. Of course, facebook it entertaining and a lot of people are signed up there for nothing but entertainment. However, it gives everybody so many opportunites which are seen by so few. Lots of people and companies I spoke with did not link economical advantages with social networks yet. When social networks are used in the right way, it can accelerate carreers and businesses in dramatic scales.

Since I entered a commercial college with the age of thirteen, I am involved in the accounting and the management of the small family-run business of my parents. Also, I am very enthusiastic about most IT topics and used to program a lot of websites. Therefore I see myself as a true digital native and witnessed the development of the internet as a user and developer. Realizing the opportunities of social media by utilizing it for the family business, is one of the most convincing aspects and reasons for me being so excited about this topic.

Furthermore, social media in a business context, and escpecially social media marketing and the measurement of its effectiveness are cutting-edge topics. There are so many people on the internet discussing this topic and developing guidelines and thought patterns to approach this. Hence, another reason and possessive thought why I want to write about this topic is that I want to be part of this movement. I am very eager to contribute my motivation to the field and want to share my insights with you.

One point that really fascinates me, is the picture of having not just the opinions of experts embedded in my thesis, but also your opinions to validate my direction, thoughts and progress. A lot of theses’ empirical studies are conducted in cooperation with few experts. This is unquestionably valuable and scientifical, though, it is sometimes problematic when you want to achieve practical and generalizable results. I encountered this problem when I wrote my bachelor’s thesis about eCollaboration for process improvements in SMEs. I want and will get you engaged throughout the writing process as I want to know what you think and if my findings are compatible with your practice.

The last point that fueled my enthusiasm is that I write the thesis in collaboration with Tirol Werbung. Tyrol is a federal state of Austria with a huge tourism industry (in case you didn’t know). Tirol Werbung is a marketing organization in Tyrol which improves and strengthens the brand “Tirol” every day. I never wanted to write my thesis for the shelve in my living room. I want to contribute my efforts to the market and boost the business of companies. Having this set-up implies practical and hands-on results for my thesis. I love results that are obviously useful!

Please feel free to add me on facebook, on LinkedIn, and follow me on twitter. This journey will be exciting and I invite everyone that is new in this field, every practitioner and expert to join me, discuss and develop!

Best, Sebastian