Economy – Pickup in 2H09?

As I continue, like so many others, to look  for a job, the report from the National Association for Business Economics yesterday morning came as music to my ears.  The panel of 45 economics expects economic growth to rebound in the second half of 2009. And almost 75% of the survey respondents expect the recession to end by the end of 2009.  I thought I would provide a quick summary of their predictions in the table below:

GDP Growth

-1.8% in 2Q09, +1.2% for 2H09, -3.7% for FY09, +2.7% for FY10


$1.7T in 2009 falling to $1.4T in 2010


9.8% unemployment in 2009 down to 9.3% in 2010


Sales and housing starts to hit bottom in 1H09

Disagreement about timing of price bottoming out


Thrifty behavior to stay


Obtaining credit remains difficult despite actions from the FED to alleviate crunch

Next 5 years

Potential economic growth between 2.5% and 3%


Five Major Changes to American Life By 2020

James Hughes Ph.D., author of Citizen Cyborg and executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) recently responded to a journalist's question about what he thought would be the five biggest changes to American life and society between now and 2020.

1) Radical Life Extension.   Dr. Hughes suggested that emerging technologies applied to healthcare will cure/prevent diseases and slow the aging process.  There will be a growing realization that radical life extension is possible.

2) Retirement Reform.   As a result of Trend Number 1 happening, we’ll eventually need to see large changes in retirement, work, pensions and taxation to take into account the extended life expectancy.  

3) Unemployment/Workforce Retraining.  Advancements in automation, robots, artificial intelligence, etc. will lead to an increase in machines being used instead of human labor.  The workforce will need to undergo massive retraining.

4) Sustainability.    Hughes says that the growing application of emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering of crops and nanotechnology, will be applied to the challenges of ecological sustainability.   Hughes mentions that the investments begun under President Obama to expand the development of renewable energies will greatly reduce our consumption of coal and oil.  Nanomaterials will allow us to reduce our use of resources in manufacturing.

5) Impact of Telecom/IT Convergence.  The merger of computing and telecommunications will result in a ubiquitous interactive intelligence environment, for those with access to it. 

Dr. Hughes sums his predictions up by saying "unfortunately for us futurists, the most important trend will be the rapid acceleration and completely unpredictable cross-fertilization of technologies.  So 2020 will probably take the five trends above for granted, and be consumed with the issues raised by technologies we can't even imagine today."

To read the original article, go to

More on the Impact of Social Media for Marketers

As Facebook is also dominating my kids’ Internet interactions,  I wanted to follow up on Bill’s blog about social media among consumers with some information from an additional survey on social networking led by Nielsen.   The key point of this study is that participation in “member communities” which include social networking and blogging venues now exceeds email participation and is growing over three times the rate of overall Internet growth.   Two thirds of the world’s internet users visited a social networking site in 2008.  Social media now accounts for almost 10 percent of Internet time, leading by Facebook.   Interestingly, Facebook greatest growth has come from 35-49 year olds and it has added twice as many 50-64 year olds as those under 18.  Growth is strong outside the US as well.  The study goes one step futher, showing the consequences of this shift for marketers:

Publishers need to understand that the willingness of consumers to generate opinion and co-create content represents a big opportunity to increase audience and engagement on their own sites.  They should instigate functionality that enables communities and conversation and participate in the conversation on social network sites. 

For Advertisers, the rise of social media is decreasing portals importance as the value of online real estate is increasingly measured by time spent, rather than pages viewed.   A key reason why advertising on social networks has not been as successful as on the more “traditional” publishers is because social networks serve a dual role as both the suppliers and consumers of content – advertising should not be about interrupting or invading to the social network experience so it should be part of the conversation and messaging should become more authentic and be about adding value.    The search for a model is even more urgent now that social media has broken out of the youth demographic.  The messaging will have to be built on the principle of two way conversation rather than a push model.

For more information:

APF: Top Ten Published Futures Works

Looking for some books to read this summer?  Well, the books on the list below are not necessarily the type of books you would take on that beach vacation you are planning.  No thrilling mysteries on this list.

However, the books on this list were voted the top ten classic works in the area of Futures Work.  So if you are interested in learning more about how to understand the future, you might want to check out one or more on the following ‘classics’.

The Association of Professional Futurists ( is a community of professional futurists who are all interested in understanding and influencing the future.   Recently, the membership voted on a list of what they called ‘classics’ in the topic of Futures related work.  Here is the “top ten” in order of votes received, along with a description of the work.

  1. Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz.  Amazon description:  “Presenting a revolutionary approach to developing strategic vision in business and in life, a guide for managers, entrepreneurs, and investors explains how to apply creative and intuitive skills to corporate practices.”
  2. Foundations of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era by Wendell Bell.  Amazon description: “Author Wendell Bell brings together futurist intellectual tools, describing and explaining not only the methods, but also the nature, concepts, theories, and exemplars of the field.  Bell illustrates how this sphere of intellectual activity offers hope for the future of humanity and concrete ways of realizing that hope in the real world of everyday life. His book will appeal to all interested in futures studies, sociology, economics, political science, and history.”
  3. The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, edited by Richard Slaughter.  Website description:  “This CD ROM presents an up-to-date international overview of futures studies and applied foresight.  Readers can access some of the core material of the field produced not only by well-known authors but also by many who live beyond the main centers in Europe and the USA.”
  4. Limits to Growth by Donnella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jergen L. Randers and William H. Behrens.  Amazon description:  “offers a pessimistic view of the natural resources available for the world's population. Using extensive computer models based on population, food production, pollution and other data, the authors demonstrate why the world is in a potentially dangerous "overshoot" situation.  Put simply, overshoot means people have been steadily using up more of the Earth's resources without replenishing its supplies.”
  5. The State of the World (series) by The Worldwatch Institute.  Website description:  “State of the World is the authoritative and comprehensive series that is mapping out what an environmentally sustainable society will look like.  Produced by the award-winning Worldwatch Institute, it has become an indispensable guide for national leaders as well as concerned citizens everywhere.   The topics in the 1998 volume include an assessment of the world's forests, an analysis of the decline of fisheries around the world, a survey of all five major groups of vertebrate fauna that are facing severe stress, and the financial aspects of sustainable development.”
  6. The State of the Future by Jerome Glenn and Ted Gordon.   Website description:  “Produced by the Millennium Project, under the auspices of the World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA), the State of the Future report contains insights into the Project’s work from a variety of creative and knowledgeable people, obtaining information from and getting feed back on emerging crises, opportunities, strategic priorities and the feasibility of actions.”
  7. The Art of Conjecture by Bertrand de Jouvenel   Website description:  “Originally written in French, this is a classic work on the topic of probability.  It was published in 1713 and shows how de Jouvenel derived the form of the binomial distribution.”
  8. Futures Research Methodology by Jerome Glenn and Ted Gordon   Amazon description:  “Comprehensive and internationally peer-reviewed handbook on tools and methods for forecasting and analysis of global change.  Each chapter in this series gives an executive overview of each method's history, description, primary and alternative usages, strengths and weaknesses, use in combination with other methods, and speculation about future usage.”
  9. The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil   Amazon description:   “Kurzweil, artificial intelligence expert shows that technological evolution moves at an exponential pace.  Further, he asserts, in a sort of swirling postulate, time speeds up as order increases, and vice versa.  He calls this the "Law of Time and Chaos," and it means that although entropy is slowing the stream of time down for the universe overall, and thus vastly increasing the amount of time between major events, in the eddy of technological evolution the exact opposite is happening, and events will soon be coming faster and more furiously.”
  10. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond   Amazon description.  “The book examines why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart.  Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an eco-meltdown is often the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined with society's response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster.”

Well, like I said, these are not for light reading.  For those of you who are building your library of futures related books, I hope this list helps you get started.

Friday Gadget: Microsoft Photosynth

Microsoft Photosynth is a free software application that analyzes a multitude of photos to create a browsable 3D model by identifying overlapping points in the images.  The tool allows you to stitch together dozens of photos to allow a place or event to be viewed from multiple angles. 

Photosynth works by analyzing each photo for similarities to the others, and uses that data to estimate where a photo was taken. It then re-creates the environment and uses that as a canvas on which to display the photos.   The result is a fresh way to organize and share photography — opening up new possibilities for a 180-year-old art form.   The potential uses of Photosynth can range from sharing experiences to storytelling and documentation

It takes 75 photos or more to get the optimal experience, but, with big events, one can also rely on crowdsourcing.  As an example CNN asked viewers to send in their photos of Barack Obama's swearing in.  See the resulting Inagural Photosynth.  You can check out other examples at the Photosynth website. 

The original announcement (last August) press release is here and some background is available at MS Live Labs

Microsoft has recently announced (May 2009) that they have integrated their PhotoSynth software into Virtual Earth, allowing users to flip between overhead satellite imagery and photographic stitches.  You can check that announcement out here

Accenture: Future of the Communications Industry

I saw that Accenture recently released a report titled “Communications Industry Trajectory:  On Track for High Performance?”.  The report discusses the blurred boundaries of the telecommunications industry as technology, business and consumer trends redefine the digital services marketplace.  

There is no doubt that convergence is now an accurate description of the current business model of the communications services industry.   Carriers, software companies, high-tech firms, media enterprises, entertainment conglomerates all may find themselves collaborating and partnering one day and competing against each other the next.

Accenture reports that industry executives they talked to for this research report indicate that the future of the communications industry has many opportunities and possibilities.  Future competition will be fierce and most companies will look quite different 10 years from now.   Accenture expects a number of significant mergers, acquisitions and alliances are on the horizon that will change the terms of the playing field in dramatic ways.

Some of the themes that emerged from the research Accenture conducted for the report.

  • Carriers are confident, but their vision may be insufficiently transformative
  • Seamless delivery of content across multiple platforms will be crucial
  • Other players are looking to leverage the distinctive strengths of service providers
  • Carriers must learn to use their brand in the right way
  • Support for open innovation and collaboration is critical to achieving high performance

According to the report there are potential weaknesses in the carriers' current approach: 

  • lack of a powerful vision for managing the customer experience,
  • some softness in overall brand value, and
  • an inadequate support structure for planning and managing the collaborative and partnering relationships necessary to spur innovation and improve time to market.

For more information, you can read the report or listen to an 8 minute Podcast

Netpop: Consumer Use of Social Networks Exploding

Are you finding you are spending more time after work hours on the Internet instead of seeking other forms of entertainment?   More time on the Internet instead of watching TV or renting a DVD? 

In my household, we are all spending more time online and less time watching TV shows and DVDs.  Less time playing board games and more time playing online games.  My two teenage daughters are texting, ‘Facebooking’ (is facebooking a verb?), and visiting all other sorts of social sites.  I have dramtically increased my time with Linked In, Facebook ,and Twitter more the last 6 months.  My wife has not made the transition to social media yet, but I do see her on her laptop using email to communicate, instead of watching her favorite TV shows.  As our family spends more and more time on the computer, I am thinking more and more about stripping the digital TV cable services down to bare minimum.  We can always access TV shows from sites like NBC direct, Hulu, and YouTube.

Curious, I did some research to find if there were any research studies on this. 

Netpop Research recently released a study, "Netpop | Connect: Media Shifts to Social", that shows that the amount of time U.S. broadband users spend online has risen significantly in the last couple of years.   Netpop's study found that time spent social networking has grown 93% since 2006.  This rise means that around a third (32%) of U.S. Internet users' online time is spent communicating. 

So what are consumers spending less time doing if they're tied up in virtual conversation?  According to the study, communication has increased at the cost of time spent on traditional forms of online entertainment, which has fallen 29% over the last two years to just 19% of total online time.  

In an another report “Connect:  Social Networkers 2008” from Netpop published in late 2008, findings indicated that 76% of all U.S. broadband users actively contribute to social media sites in one form or another, and 29% contribute regularly to social

It seems the definition of entertainment online is changing from an "entertain me" standpoint to include hanging out with friends online and sharing opinions and information – socializing.    You could surmise that the boundaries between entertainment and communication are blurring.

This is a disruptive force to those companies that relied totally on traditional broadcast advertising.  Companies must now rethink how they reach consumers.   They must commit more of their online "space" to user-generated content and social media that enables direct communication with consumers.   If companies don't provide these spaces, they will find it harder to track and engage consumers because, suggests Netpop, they will simply go off and create their own elsewhere.  

So companies must figure out how to engage with users on social media sites, give consumers/customers a voice, spend time learning how to listen and learn on these sites, and figure out how to enable their 'fans' to influence others.  With over 40 million Americans now contributing to social networking sites in one form or another, this is clearly a lucrative market for advertisers, but also one that is very different from more traditional online and offline media sources. 

The other question in all of this is how is this transition of family time to social sites impacting the family structure?  How will the families of the future bond if they are all off on their computers socializing with others, instead socializing with family members (playing board games, watching TV shows, etc.).  The burden will be on parents to force family time into everyone’s schedule….and it will be a tough task at that!!

For more information…

A Primer on Smarter Water

The HorizonWatch Community (this is the internal community at IBM I lead) recently had a conference call on the topic of Water Management trends and issues.  We reviewed the results of the recent IBM Global Innovation Outlook Study on Water and we also reviewed what IBM is doing to provide innovative solutions to our water management issues.   We had two speakers for that call Amy Hermes, from IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook team and Mike Sullivan, from IBM’s Big Green Innovations team.  

This post represents some notes I took from that call along with some additional research I conducted.  For those of you interested in learning about Water Management issues, I hope this is a good introduction and resource for you.

Most of us reading this post take our access to water for granted.  However, I would imagine that we all realize that water is critical to sustaining life on our planet.  Water makes up 60 to 70% by weight of all living organisms and is essential for photosynthesis.  If the Earth’s water supply vanished, there would be no plants, no animals, and no people. 

While the Earth’s water is not vanishing, many scientists believe that our global water supply is in crisis.  We may or may not be at the crisis stage, but we definitely need to take action to solve our water management issues.

Some Quick Facts About WaterWater Wasted

  • Water covers 75% of the earth's surface.  Nearly 98% of the earth's water is in the oceans.  Fresh water makes up less than 3% of water on earth, over two thirds of this is tied up in polar ice caps and glaciers.  Fresh water lakes and rivers make up only 0.009% of water on Earth and ground water makes up 0.28%.
  • It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt, 2,000 gallons to make one gallon of milk, and 39,000 gallons to make a car.
  • Global agriculture wastes an estimated 60% of the 2,500 trillion liters it uses each year. 
  • Municipalities lose as much as 50% of their water supply through leaky infrastructure.  
  • More than one trillion gallons of water are wasted in U.S. homes each year from easy-to-fix leaks.
  • 1 in 5 of the word’s population still lacks access to clean, safe drinking water. 
  • The United Nations predicts that nearly half the world’s population will experience critical water shortages by the year 2080.
  • There are nearly 53,000 different water agencies in the United States alone, each managing a short stretch of river or a handful of reservoirs. 
  • In the last 100 years global water usage has increased at twice the rate of population growth.

For those of us living in developed nations, our water infrastructure is many decades old.  In fact, in some places it is centuries old.  As our demand for water is increasing, we need to modernize the existing infrastructure.  One way to do that is to apply information technology.

Today’s water management systems are operating without enough data and insights.   The planet needs new water management systems, based on smart technology that can collect and analyze real-time data.  These new systems will provide water authorities with the insights they need to supply more water to more people with lower energy-use and cost. 

How Can Technology Help?

What is needed are water management systems that can provide real time collection and analysis of all sources of data.  This includes integrating disparate sensor technologies that produce disparate data formats along with other data from an array of partners.  Information technology solutions are needed that can take data that’s coming in fast and turn it into intelligence that augments the ability to improve decision making about water distribution.  These solutions need to connect the folks in the central control room with those working in the field building bridges, dams, dykes to the sensor experts and sophisticated modelers.

  • Technology can monitor, measure and analyze entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes.
  • The latest water meters, combined with appropriate Water Management solutions can provide a single, reliable, up-to-the minute and actionable view of water use for a government, a business, or a home.   These ‘smart’ water meters can provide real-time insight into water use, raising awareness, locating inefficiencies and decreasing demand.
  • Advanced sensors can help us collect all sorts of new data on water usage.  For example, sensors on levees can monitor changing flood conditions and respond accordingly.  Sensor based systems can provide the agriculture industry with detailed information on air quality, soil moisture content and temperature to calculate optimal irrigation schedules.
  • Advanced computing, analytics, and simulations can help us all move beyond “real time” to prediction, supporting better-informed policy and management decisions.
  • Technology can also be applied to our oceans to gather data on water temperature, currents, wave strength, salinity and marine life, and applying algorithms that can forecast everything from wave patterns over 24 hours to the right time to harvest mussels.

IBM Water Management Solution Areas

IBM is taking a leadership role among technology vendors in researching, piloting and developing a whole suite of water management solutions.  Here is a sample of what  IBM is doing…

  • Natural Water Resources – Provides sensor data integration, analysis and visualization to enable the measurement, modeling and management of water levels, usage and quality in natural water resources.
  • Water Utilities – Enables water providers to make rapid decisions regarding business processes and operational efficiency to maximize their return on investments as well as foresee and quickly respond to contamination issues and emergencies.
  • Water Infrastructure – Provides sensing systems for managing water infrastructure, such as levee oversight management and flood control.
  • Water Metering – Improves management of water supply and demand by integrating data between the dozens of stakeholders involved. Provides all stakeholders with consistent, real-time information to help them work together to make critical decisions about water supply in a geographic region.
  • Green Sigma for Water™ – is a business consulting service that identifies where water is being used, measures and monitors usage, and creates process improvements to reduce water use. IBM pilots have achieved reductions in water usage of 30%.
  • SmartBay Sensor System – Monitors wave conditions, marine life and pollution levels.  Provide real-time information to stakeholders in the Irish maritime economy, runs on a cloud computing platform, and is able to predict water conditions critical to those stakeholders.

Ten Innovative Vendors in the Water Management Industry

The Artemis Project recently announced winners of its first annual Top 50 Water Companies Competition.  The list provides us insights into who the advanced water and water-related technology companies are as this industry is on the verge of becoming one of the great high-growth industries of the 21st Century.

The companies on the list were selected by a panel of experts based on an integrated matrix of four criteria:  technology, intellectual property and know-how, team and market potential.  Here’s the top ten on the Artemis list along with a description of what each company is doing.

1.  AbTech Industries, Inc. (Arizona, USA)  To combat nonpoint source water pollution, AbTech developed the Smart Sponge®, a patented technology that effectively removes pollutants from stormwater.

2.  Oasys Water, Inc. (Massachusetts, USA)  Oasys (Osmotic Application Systems) is a Cambridge MA based company developing a suite of proprietary water treatment products to address the growing global water crisis.  The Company’s Engineered Osmosis (EOTM) technology is a novel treatment platform that can produce clean, potable water at significantly lower cost than current desalination methods.

3.  Seldon Technologies, Inc. (Vermont, USA)  Seldon has developed a new nanostructured material which includes carbon nanotubes: “nanomesh™” that can be produced in large scale and used for purification applications.  This new fused nanomesh material forms the basis for safe, tested and proven products in three major fluid filtration applications: ground water, fuel and air purification.

4.  Emefcy (Caesarea, Israel)  Emefcy’s MEGAWATTER™ platform is a bio-electro-chemical process for electricity and hydrogen production using wastewater as a fuel. This technology addresses an enormous market of industrial wastewater treatment plants in which anaerobic treatment is not applicable, thus expensive-to-operate aerobic treatment is applied.

5.  NanoH2O (California, USA)  NanoH2O has applied nanotechnology to create advanced membrane materials for desalination and water reuse.  With freshwater scarcity an increasingly worldwide issue, desalination is a vital treatment method to provide freshwater for industrial users and a growing world population from fresh, brackish and seawater sources.  Despite recent advances, desalination remains an expensive source of freshwater because it is energy intensive.  NanoH2O’s next generation energy-efficient and fouling resistant membranes dramatically improve the baseline economics of desalination and water reuse.

6.  SolarBee, Inc. (North Dakota, USA)  SolarBee, Inc. manufactures and installs solar-powered, long-distance water circulators.  The floating, up-flow circulators can move up to 10,000 gallons per minute from depths of more than 100 feet with a solar-powered pump.  SolarBee’s circulators help solve water-quality problems worldwide in freshwater lakes, wastewater lagoons, storm-water ponds, estuaries, potable and recycled water storage tanks and other reservoirs.

7.  AquaPure (Upper Galilee, Israel)  Aquapure’s mission is to play a pivotal role in the groundwater and municipal treatment industry by offering an ozone-hydrogen peroxide-UV In Situ Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP) water treatment solution, allowing for effective purification of water contaminants.  Aquapure’s technology has provides advanced purification over other existing technologies for a variety wide refractory pollutants characterized by high solubility in water and high toxicity

8.  HydroPoint (California, USA)  HydroPoint is focused on reducing water wasted when used for landscape irrigation.  Proven in 23 independent studies, including the EPA, the WeatherTRAK solution saves water, reduces energy demand and protects water quality while it minimizes liability and expense exposure.  Drawing on information delivered wirelessly from 40,000 weather stations, the WeatherTRAK ET Everywhere service automatically schedules irrigation based on individual landscape needs and local weather conditions.  The result is higher property values, lower water bills and a healthier environment.

9.  MIOX Corporation (New Mexico, USA)  MIOX is focused on applying technology to help solve the need for affordable, safe, and healthy water.  Its patented technology can purify water without dangerous chemicals and enables significant cost and energy savings versus traditional treatment methods.  MIOX technology uses a process referred to as on-site generation (OSG) – the use of salt, water and electricity to produce a powerful chlorine-based disinfectant, “mixed oxidants”, on demand.

10.  ScFi (Cork, Ireland)  ScFi provides a solution to disposing of wet waste (sewage sludge, putrescible waste and other organic materials) safely, quickly and efficiently while minimizing cost.  ScFi’s technology, AquaCritox®, destructs wet waste without the generation of any hazardous waste or emissions and in addition can be a source of renewable energy.

The 10 companies on the list above look like they are positioned well to participate in this growth.

Recommended Next Steps

More work is needed as we transform the water infrastructure to digital technology:

  • Continue to Build Awareness for Water Issues.  Many in leadership positions are not aware of the critical need for water management information technology solutions.
  • Continue Market Testing & Solutions Platform Development.  Technology vendors need to continue to build assets and test solution platforms.  Stronger linkages are needed across the growing ecosystem.
  • Continue to Build Thought Leadership Deliverables.  Tech vendors need to develop content highlighting case studies, references, demonstrations, and white papers.

For More Information

There is a bunch of more reading material available.  Here some links…

Marketing Through Social Media

I have the opportunity to take a few marketing classes and while looking at different programs, I realized that digital marketing has become very trendy.  Before enrolling , I decided to get some tidbits on this new trend with the help of a few analysts who published their 2009 social media predictions.

 Growth: Social media will continue pushing beyond the current buzz to more operational functions  like customer services and HR.   Empathy is playing an increasing role in  social media initiatives supported by live employees or reps who respond to tweets or other messages – empowering employees and agencies to have direct contact with customers.  In difficult times, customer satisfaction, product guarantee and purchasing experience have become key. 

New strategies:   As companies realize the benefits of humanizing their relationships with online communities, they are grappling with the how.    Marketers need to figure out how to integrate social media programs into broader marketing efforts.  Responsiveness, transparency and humanity of social media are of no less value to B2Bmarketing.  Companies are starting to see clients ask for private social networks that they can deploy among business partners. 

New processes:  Social media will result in role changes.  Everyone becomes a marketer as companies debate who should win community efforts with the organization front line workers quietly interacting.  Ad agencies could be desintermediated by media companies.  For example, brand marketers are bypassing their agencies and working directly with media companies to create out of the box marketing programs. 

Revenue opportunities:  Ecommerce widgets and applications now appear in social networks.   Shopping is becoming more social, and after poor recent retail sales, retailers are seeking a way to improve results with deeper discounts and are now inserting people and social connections into the  buying process. 

Social Media Marketing Survey Findings

A research study surveying 900 marketers attending the upcoming Social Media Success Summit 2009 shows that marketers are heavily invested in social media, to the tune of 88 percent using at least one social outlet.

What is a little surprising is that when asked to rate their experience level using social media marketing for their businesses, 72% of marketers say they have either just started or have been using social media for only a few months.

According to the survey, respondents report that the #1 benefit of social media marketing is gaining attention for the business.  The majority of marketers say they have undertaken social media activities for this reason and they appear to be paying off:  Some 81% of all marketers indicate that their social media efforts have generated exposure for their businesses.  Improving traffic and growing lists was the second major benefit, followed by building new partnerships.


(Graphic from "How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow their Businesses" )

The study also found more than half of participants reported that a major benefit of social media marketing is the resultant rise in search engine rankings that often comes with increased efforts.  Improved search engine rankings were most prevalent among those who've been using social media for years, with nearly 80% reporting a rise.

According to the study, the top social sites in use by marketers are Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, and Facebook, in that order.  This suggests that long-standing rumors are true, that Twitter is flooded with marketers marketing to other marketers.  While there are plenty of "normal" users out there, this is something to keep in mind when developing a Twitter strategy.

When marketers were asked which social media tools they most want to learn more about, social bookmarking sites slightly edged out Twitter as the #1 response. A four-way tie for third place occurred between LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Facebook and Digg/Reddit/Mixx.

For more information, check out the study, "How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow their Businesses"

Flu Vaccine Process – Opportunities for Improvement

I was surprised – more than scared – by a recent NY Times article titled "Swine Flu Vaccine may be Months away." Although production is much faster than it would have been even a few years ago, it still may not be on time to avert illness if the virus starts spreading widely and becomes more virulent. However, the virus might also mutate in the coming month while the northern hemisphere enjoys a brief warm weather pause and then come back in a more virulent form in the cooler autumn weather. A few more articles helped me understand the process to create the vaccine and the opportunity for accelerating it and making it more efficient.

Despite years of effort, the world is still relying on half century old technology to make the flu vaccines. The first step is to turn the flu virus into seed stock – an essential first step, so the CDC has sent samples of the new strain to about 10 governments and academic labs in the US, Australia, GB, Hungary, and Russia. The vaccine is made by growing samples of flu virus inside fertilized chicken eggs then breaking out the key proteins that provoke an immune response. The process is time consuming as each egg is injected with repeated rounds of virus, each round of virus growth takes about 42 hours. The ultimate goal is to create a uniform seed stock from a single virus and to produce 80 vials of it, each containing millions of viruses. Then they are purified tested, and packaged into syringes. Once production is started, four months are needed for the vaccine to be ready.

In parallel, there is also a process for selecting which strains will be in the next few vaccines that started in February when a Government advisory committee selected three flu vaccines based on surveillance data indicating which strains are more likely to be circulating in the fall and winter. The Swine flu strain could be swapped for one of the other strains or added as a fourth. A second vaccine could also be developed, which would raise capacity issues.

Scientists are working on technology that would allow flu vaccines to be manufactured somewhat faster as the egg method is ill suited for a potential pandemie. The vaccine industry is in a much stronger position to respond now than it was five years ago when the US had only two flu vaccine suppliers and was hit by a severe shortage. Now, there are five suppliers to the domestic markets and the vaccine is attracting new investment lured by Government subsidies and higher prices. The Government is encouraging manufacturers to set up production in the US since all companies but Sanofi Aventis now import their flu vaccines. The government also gave $1.3B to develop ways of producing the vaccines in vats of animal cells rather than in eggs. Novartis is building a cell culture flu vaccine factory in NC which by be ready for use in 2010. By contrast, Solvay decided it was too risky to build a flu vaccine plant in the US and Sanofi Aventis put its efforts to develop the flu vaccine on a back burner. It seems that great opportunities for improvement exists not only at the technology level (capacity and productivity), but also at the supply chain level (delocalization, prioritization). Which industry is still relying on 50 year old technology anyway?