real influencers in social media may not be those who you think! – #blogbus

On day 3 of the blogger bus tour we had the opportunity to meet face to face with two young start-up managers from San Francisco based Social Chorus an “influence marketing” company named Social Chorus. We were able to spend a whole hour with them and discuss influence, influencers, people-powered marketing and … “the power of the middle”, a concept which I have found particularly appealing.

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Nicole Alvino (above) is SVP and co-founder of Social Chorus, she was “employee number two” in the company. Bobby Isaacson (below), senior Manager, implementation has been as Social Chorus for about three years now (he admitted “feeling like a dinosaur” which sounds strange for such a young man) and does business development that is to say that he sets up partnerships with other companies, in order to be part of their ecosystem.

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Social Chorus (the company was in fact renamed in February 2012 and is the result of the merger of youcast  and the halogen media group) is a social marketing/influencer platform. The main problem the company is solving is that it is virtually impossible for customers to figure out whether influencers are really influential.  This is in essence, what Social Chorus is about: it provides both a tool and service for finding influencers (they might not just be bloggers, but also power twitter users  for instance. There are two offices, one in New York City and one in San Francisco.

NYC and SF: a world of difference…

To European eyes, those two cities might appear very similar but in fact, according to Bobby and Nicole, they are very different. New York is more about media and advertising and agencies, whereas Silicon Valley and San Francisco have always been, at least since the seventies onwards, more about high tech. But this is not all. Mentalities are also very different. Bonding is more difficult in NYC, a very large metropolis where, according to our discussion, people and companies tend to keep things for themselves, rather than share and get together in Californian fashion. And this is what makes all the difference. As I described in my post about Rocketplace, a lot of what happens in Silicon Valley is down to the ecosystem. San Francisco has a leg up in that game. Only Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas are adopting the West Coast spirit our hosts both declared.

social media at the forefront of investment

Start-up investment has changed too according to Nicole. “2 years ago, investment was more into media and advertising, now it’s a lot more about social media” she said. This is changing the ball game, Nicole said, “now that agencies are becoming more social they are tending to move over to SF”.

topical and brand influencers … not who you think

Social Choris is aiming at “brands wanting to become more human and having relationships with influencers” Bobby added. But how do you identify them and how can you tell they are really influential? “it’s a combination of art and science” Bobby went on. “There are topical and brand influencers” he said. Social Chorus will traditionally tap into its 1.5 million influencers database but they might also use Kred and Klout. Sometimes the best influencers are niche bloggers through .

social media influence: the pyramid metaphor

“Imagine a pyramid” Bobby went on: “PR handles the celebs, super fans and topical bloggers are in the middle and at the bottom, you have the vast majority of fans and readers who click and comment”. They might not be bloggers, they could just be twitteres for instance. Social Chorus’s focus of the solution is measuring the impact of a conversation with influencers. Manage the relationship over time.

the “power of the middle”

As soon as I can, I will also post a video interview of Nicole in which she explains that most brands are wrong to focus on just the top celebrities. “This can become pretty expensive soon” she said. I would also add that celebrities are often too self-centred in order to be generous. All middle tier influencers on the contrary are more open and more prone to become brand advocates because they will want to develop a relationship in the long term with the brand.

only 10-20% of agencies are ready to do that for themselves

Social Chorus is working with agencies like Edelman, Ketchum and others. It’s mostly agencies who are delivering this service to clients, but there are a few clients like Gatorade for instance who do this for themselves. “What we find is that the interest in that space exceeds the knowledge of how it works” Bobby declared. As a result, only 10-20% of the brand on average are willing to do this by themselves.

One of Social Chorus’s biggest challenges though is to hire developers; there is a lot of competition for developers. A very skilled developer in the valley can be paid $100 k and even up to $ 200 k if he has very special skills it’s commonly said here. As a matter of fact, as an entrepreneur told me at an after work party last night: “the developer in question might even be paid more than the project manager he reports to!”.

Social Chorus can operate over 3 different countries: UK, US and Germany. They will soon launch a new version in 2013, which will extend the service to other countries.

Air France super business lounge welcomes our bloggers – #blogbus

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On our way to San Francisco, all our French bloggers had a pit stop at the Air France super lounge at the end of terminal E in Charles de Gaulle Airport, as a matter of fact, Air France’s biggest in the whole world. And when I say big, I mean what I say!

The lounge was opened at the very end of June 2012 and we were part of the happy few who are allowed to relax, read, eat and even take a nap on location. When I write happy few, this isn’t quite right though, because the new Air France lounge at the end of the so-called ‘K.L.M’ satellite of terminal E is in fact massive (with its 3,483 square metres and close to 700 seats!). The brand new extension of the Air France hub was opened recently in order to accommodate all internal long-haul flights passengers of the airline. The ‘K.L.M’ moniker is intended as a pun and “a way to celebrate the Franco-Dutch alliance” the Air France lounge manager told me.

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Photo 1: the lofty Air France lounge with plenty of leg-room and beautifully crafted designer spaces

I was shown around by the personnel who gave us a very warm welcome and I had a chance to take these pictures which are now available on our online live.orange.com gallery thanks to the Orange Wifi service conveniently placed at the users’ disposal.

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Photo album: a visit of the exclusive super Air France lounge at CDG airport (all photos by Yann Gourvennec for the Live Orange Blog)

CDG’ – as the airport is known to be called by airline professionals – is in constant reconfiguration since it is one of the only European airports in Europe with space available around it. Terminals A, B, C have been left by the French company and D will be closed by October 2012. All of Air France is now moving to terminals E and F, from which all their international flights now depart. Terminal E is now dedicated to both the US and Africa. “€ 560m went into the new development and more than 7.5 million passengers will be transiting via the airport each year!” the lounge staff told me. This is the reason why Air France decided to build that second-to-none business lounge for its ‘elite’ customers. The lounge, so far, is only opened from 5.00 am till 2.00 pm CET but opening hours will be extended later, the staff told me.

The lounge is not only beautifully designed (by Noé Duchauffour Lawrance), it can also boast wide-ranging kinds of foods (Asian visitors will feast on Chinese noodles for instance), a broad selection of newspapers and various amenities such as free showers (something like 14 booths are made available to clients!), Desktop and Tablet computers, relaxing couches, a customer service desk, and even complimentary massages and other beauty services by Air France partner Clarins.

No wonder that early visitors to the lounge have covered the guest book in praises about the service, comparing it to that of Emirates’s. A well deserved compliment in my mind and that of the blogger bus tour bloggers who were with me today.

Plugandplaytechcenter’s Wu: “We want to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox”– #blogbus

On day two of our Blogger Bus Tour in Silicon Valley, we went to Sunnyvale, California in order to pay a visit to the Plugandplaytechcenter. This wasn’t my first time at this location for I had already visited the start-up accelerator more than two years ago (see that interview with one of their executive in residence, Howard Greenfield). I had found the visit so inspiring that I had decided to put it back on the agenda in 2012. We received a warm welcome from the staff and even the President of the centre, Canice Wu. Here is what I saw and heard based on the notes I took during that visit [post originally composed for my business  live.orange.com blog]:

clip_image002Saeed Amidi wasn’t meant to become a business angel, let alone the founder of a start-up accelerator. As often, and especially in Silicon Valley, businesses are started with a particular objective, and then things shift and move to the next iteration of a business model. Amidi started with real estate as he was renting space to entrepreneurs. His love affair with start-ups and high tech started with “danger“, a smartphone (see the danger hiptop model on the right) company founded by Andy Rubin. As Amidi developed an interest in technology, he even decided to invest in danger, then PayPal and others. A new business was born.

[Canice Wu, President of the Plugandplaytechcenter]

In 2006, the US entrepreneur purchased the current Sunnyvale building, an “old Philips Semiconductor facility” according to Robin Ardeshir, Corporate development manager at the centre; yet, “old” is a very relative adjective in Silicon Valley! The building’s big, with its 17,000 m² and it can host up to 350 start-ups, from early two growth stages. On average, the start-ups employ five people. There are also “virtual members” who have no fixed space but can enjoy all of the services. This building is one of several buildings which are owned by the Plugandplaytechcenter company.

5 things that plug-in plaintext centre offers

The centre is a start-up accelerator, not an incubator, and they work with partners such as Y-combinator for instance: “our focus is not on competition but partnership with people like that” Plugandplaytechcenter President Canice Wu added. So here is what the centre does, in just five points:

  1. office space: that includes pretty much everything, from facilities, Internet access, conference rooms to data centre on premises. This is the legacy business of Saeed Amidi.
  2. events and networking: the centre puts together 120 events per annum, that is one every 3 days!
  3. access to capital: this is typically done via the so-called “deal flow sessions”. The centre receives 3000 resumes each year, 200 are pre-screened, 10 are selected and 4 to 5 go through the whole process until they eventually are offered to see the VCs. Out of these 4 or 5, there is a 50% follow-up rate, the centre representative told us. As one can see, this process is fairly strict; this is a means of ensuring quality and, eventually, success.
  4. access to large corporations: is also one of the main ingredients of success at the Plugandplaytechcenter. Large enterprises like IBM and others are present onsite even though some of them are not in high-tech at all. The automotive industry is particularly well represented.
  5. last but not least, mentorship is delivered thanks to the centres executive in residence, while former sea level execs either in between jobs or even retired. They might even join start-up for a while in order to monitor its takeoff.

the centre abroad

Towards the end of 2010, while on visit to the Egyptian version of Silicon Valley I had noticed a booth which bore the logo of the centre. Unfortunately, Plugandplaytechcenter was launched in Cairo for only 3 days, right before the Arab spring Canice Wu told us. Yet, there many other locations in which a Plugandplaytechcenter can be found such as Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia

beyond Facebook

“This is definitely not the end of innovation” Canice Wu told us while we were there. “There is more than just Facebook going on here!” he said, “there are a lot of things going on in B2C and B2B alike”. “We even have a 15 year-old entrepreneur in the center” Wu added.

giving birth to the next big thing…

“We are looking for big things. We are ready to screw up a few, to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox” Wu declared in front of our bloggers. We don’t encourage failure, we encourage them to try, sometimes they fail but they manage the third time round! We can tell when we have found a good guy and then we encourage him” he concluded.

my views on the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus tour – #blogbus (2/2)

For those who don’t know yet, I (as Director, Web & Social Media at Orange), I will be part of the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus Tour 2012, which will take place in September (17-22) as a blogger … and the organiser of that tour. Here is my take on why I am participating and what I am expecting to do/see there:

I’m a Jack of all trades. I’m not just a blogger, I’m also the organizer of the Tour. On this Tour we’re dealing with blogger PR in a different way than it usually is done in big companies like this.

What we do here is we partner with the bloggers : we work together as a team, and the fact that I’m also a blogger makes it possible. It’s a matter of us going over there together, reporting and sharing our enthusiasm and content.

To me this is very important : it’s how good content is produced and engrossing stories started. And I’m not even talking about the friendships that are being initiated between members. Undoubtedly those who are taking part in these tours are invited to other tours, depending on their skills and focus.

my views on the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus tour 20    12 as an organiser

We also want to look at the way we organise the tour. A member of my team is going to have a subjective look at what other bloggers are seeing, through their blogs and contents. So we’ll be able to tell a story about the story as well.

And finally, how are we going to tackle the main subject, which is innovation in the Valley? I really wanted to give a different angle about this SoLoMo (social,local,mobile) approach in the Valley, so we’re going to see many innovators to understand whether or not innovation is still thriving in the Valley although I don’t have much doubt about that, knowing how it is over there.

It’s my 7th time there and I’m sure we’re going to have an exciting time. So stay tuned to the live.orange.com and don’t miss a thing about the Orange Blogger Bus tour 2012.