Here’s an actual transcription of a Voicemail message I received yesterday

Good Morning, Jim. My name is Matt. I’m calling from Northern Virginia. I had spoken with Kevin from the Fairfax office, and he directed me to you. I was referred to Vision Point a few weeks ago. It was actually regarding a couple questions that I had.  I wanted to follow up with the Blacksburg . He said that would probably help a little more versus the Fairfax office so if you can give me a call back, my number is…

Naturally, the suspense was killing me.

I called him back later that afternoon.

Matt: This is Matt.

Me: Hi, This is Jim, you left me a message. How can I help?

Matt: Oh, Hi Jim. Thanks for calling back. I had a few questions. I ran into Vision Point a few weeks ago at a networking event.

Me: I see. Are you wanting to buy something from us or are you trying to sell us something?

Matt: We’re a hosted Voice-Over-IP provider.

Me: I see. So do you do like SIP Trunks or a hosted PBX-type thing?

Matt: All of our data is in the cloud, on the same network as 80% of all the traffic on the east coast.

Me: I still don’t follow. What business problem of mine are you trying to solve?

Matt: Oh, you can have your phone system hosted by us, and if your building burns down, your phone system will still work.

Me: Ah, I get it.

Oh boy. What a disaster. We’re not in the market for that type of thing right now, so we agreed to part ways, but this was an eye-opening event. First, some people just shouldn’t be doing sales. Second, If you can’t just come out and say what you’re trying to sell and how it will help me, then your business has a problem.

My business isn’t the shining example of marketing brilliance (yet), but at least we don’t make cold calls. 2011 is a year of marketing focus for us, and this event is going to be in the back of my mind the whole time as we are formulating our pitch and sales process. We’ve got some exciting new stuff coming up. I apologize for my silence.

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A Southwest VA Swarm?

July 28, 2010

A couple months ago, my friend Anne Clelland, of Handshake 2.0 put together a Foursquare Swarm Badge Party in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, she failed to meet her goal. I’ll blame myself for at least 1/50th of the failure, being that I was out of town for that evening.

I’m a big fan of Foursquare, despite my wife giving me grief every time I pull out my smartphone for a check-in. I’d venture to say she’s not the only who has yet to embrace the service, which is why I think what Anne is trying to do is wonderful.

I see a lot of potential in Foursquare, but it’s still got a way to go. I use it to announce to my social media connections when I’m at someplace cool like my favorite Deli in NJ, or some famous landmark wherever I am. I’ll check in at places that are less interesting if I think there is a chance I could become mayor. I see a lot of people checking in at the local grocery store or gas station… I don’t go that far. I like the game aspect of it. It’s very thrilling to “oust” someone as mayor and tweet about it.

I think the “specials” aspect has huge potential for business use. A example of a special is that I can check into the local Ben and Jerry’s, then show them my phone and get a coupon for my ice cream. It’s a win-win all around. The consumer gets an easy deal on demand, and the business gets trackable data and the social sharing aspect of someone “shouting” that they’ve been to your establishment. Anyone who checks-in at your business is likely to be an advocate of what you’re doing, or at least a promoter.

These types of services work best when “everyone” is on them. Facebook and Twitter reached a critical mass a few years ago, where they’ve got their own gravity well for attracting users. Foursquare isn’t there yet. At least not here in Southwest Virginia. I’d love for there to be tons of opportunities for the Swarm badge around here. Alas, it’s rare.

Badges are another form of competition within the service. The best power users are easily identified with their badges such as “Super-Mayor” and “Bender”, achieved by holding mayorships in 10 locations at once, or having 5 checkins in single night. “Swarm” is a relatively rare one, achieved when you check in at a location where at least 49 others have also checked in on that day. Basically, when there are 50+ foursquare users in one place at one time. How many users have to live in or travel to one place to have a reasonable chance at a swarm? Hopefully, we’ll find out tomorrow.

I got my Swarm badge a few short weeks after Handshake 2.0’s failed effort. In Central Park. On a normal Saturday.

 

Swarm Badge

Foursquare Swarm Badge

 

Feels a little like cheating maybe… Obviously New York is a bigger metro area than Roanoke or Blacksburg. I think there’s a different social culture there as well. I bet the number of Foursquare users per capita in Manhattan is higher than in a typical community like Roanoke. Someday, I’ll have to find some data on that.

I thought maybe a large event in Roanoke might provide a better chance – something like the Music for Americans Fireworks show on the Fourth of July. When I checked in to River’s Edge Park that day, I think there were 4 others checked in. A bit short, and a bit disappointing given that there were probably 30,000 people there.

Which brings us to Wednesday’s Handshake 2.0’s Anniversary 2.0 party and Foursquare Swarm Badge 2.0 party in Blacksburg. I’m excited about the second attempt, and I trust Anne has planted the seeds to meet the goal. The theme for the party is: Let’s figure out Foursquare! I can’t wait to meet with other local users and debate the merits of this hobby/service/addiction. It’s another example of how I really think the value of online social media is to drive “real life” social interactions.

Free beer doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Anne, and congrats on 2 years of business.

I noticed some interesting news this evening on TechCrunch – Twitter is working on formalizing the retweet. For the uninitiated, a retweet is a rebroadcast of some other person’s comment or tweet on Twitter. It usually begins with “RT” followed by the username of the person who originated the comment. I would retweet if I read something interesting and I thought my followers would also find it interesting. The structure ensures attribution of the original thought and I think the whole concept is what really makes Twitter a community.

A typical "Retweet"

A typical "Retweet"

My first reaction is that the formalization would be a shame. I have always appreciated the grassroots nature of this construct. Until now, retweeting was something developed informally by the users, not a tool provided by Twitter itself. Obviously, given the 140 character limit of tweets, the mechanism had to be brief, and I think this ad-hoc system is about as efficient as it could possibly be; which is why the founders are making a change.

On second thought, I’ve warmed up to the idea. It would certainly clean up the content and make it more readable. My Facebook friends love to rag on me for my seemingly unintelligible retweets because I set my Facebook status to my last tweet. I suppose, retweets would no longer be treated like a standard tweet to API users such as the Facebook connect guys, and would be more like replies. This is a collateral impact the founders and the community should start thinking about. Twitter’s value is in the broadcast, so it would unwise to diminish this.

It’s commonly known, at least in business school circles, that the only marketing metric really worth tracking is your promoter score. Every retweet, essentially, is a positive vote of confidence and an endorsement to the originator. The local tech council, the NCTC, clearly realizes this with their “The Great Retweet” promotion for an upcoming event (which my company, Vision Point Systems will be attending). Would this campaign be as fun, effective, or interesting with the new retweet format?

If the new feature helps content creators gather these metrics, it’s worthwhile. If it weakens the effectiveness of the retweet process, it could be disasterous.