Today’s media newsmaker interview is a little different. I don’t expect many people will know either my guest, David Bankston, or the company he represents, Neighborhood America.
It’s very likely, though, that you may have already encountered a Neighborhood America program and not even realized it. The Naples, Florida, based company does enterprise-social networks for CBS, Fox, the Scripps Network, and HDTV, among others, and David Bankston is the co-founder and chief technology officer for Neighborhood America, a leading provider of solutions for online engagement and interaction via all forms of content.
Specializing in software integration and technical innovation, David has devoted much of his career to creating next-generation technologies specifically designed to solve real-world business problems.
Under his leadership, Neighborhood America’s solutions have been successfully adopted nationwide by various organizations, and media companies are turning to Neighborhood America in order to harness the power of the Web to effectively engage audiences. Prior to Neighborhood America, David’s technology career included fifteen years at Lexis/Nexis, where he was responsible for many innovations that are still in use today.
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: David, I suspect a lot of people are scratching their heads right now. Enterprise social networks? What the hell are you talking about?
DAVID BANKSTON: Basically, an enterprise social network is a network that is really focused to the enterprise. Now, let’s break that “social network” apart. I think people have pretty well got that figured out. It’s the MySpaces, it’s the YouTubes, even some of the photo-sharing sites, like Flickr and so forth. The term social network now has become, it’s almost ubiquitous. It’s almost anything that lets you get together and share content and start to meet others and have profiles and discuss your issues. It’s a way to bring together people who are interested in a specific community, and it’s a community of interest. We’ve really been working at this over seven years, we have taken that social network premise and focused it and built a platform, a net made of software as a service solution that tailors a social network to the enterprise, the enterprise being a business in the public sector, a government organization or an agency, and of course, in the media sector, a network. We have many networks, some of which you’ve mentioned, so these are communities that are purpose-built to create a new source of revenue for these individual businesses. Then specifically in the case of the public, it may be to be engage the public in a conversation, the equivalent of the old public comment ways. This is the new way to do public comment. So that is what an enterprise social network is.
ANDELMAN: So one example of what you’re doing might be Springboard, which you are doing for CBS, right?
ANDELMAN: The difference here, I want to point this out, because I have actually given this some thought, you tell me if I’m wrong here. MySpace is a social network, and people think of it as they are going in and they are having fun. It’s not enterprise-specific. However, it is certainly generating revenue for Rupert Murdoch and the Fox companies.
BANKSTON: Yes, but how could it generate revenue for CBS, for Johnson & Johnson, or some other brand? The problem with today’s social networks is that they are very much like the Wild West in that you really don’t know what you’re going to see from click to click or from page to page. There is no regulation, there is no moderation, very little, if any, and so when you are a business and you are looking for an ROI, you are looking a way to tap into your customer base, which then equals your social network, so you want to improve on things such as your R&D process, your product release process, your customer loyalty programs, etc., those are things that you want to have control over as you communicate with the social network or with your stakeholders in that social network.
ANDELMAN: It all sounds positive for the enterprise, for the company, but where does the independent user benefit from being part of an enterprise network as opposed to a social network?
BANKSTON: The consumer.
ANDELMAN: The consumer.
BANKSTON: Yes. Well, let’s take the example of like the Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler is looking to build or would love to have a social network built around their products and services, so what are the problems that they are trying to solve? Well, they are trying to improve their market share, they are trying to understand why they keep having so many misses in the market. Today, whatever they are doing isn’t quite working to tap into the new generation of car buyers. By using a social network, they can engage on a very personal level with these individuals who have bought their products in the past, who have an affinity for a Chrysler product, and who desperately want to provide that feedback to Chrysler in a way that it will be constructively listened to and acted upon, and then to have the full circle to actually see that that comment and that feedback was indeed incorporated into the next generation of product. So imagine you are a Chrysler 300 owner, and you are saying, “I really wish this armrest just was a little lower, because I keep bumping into it.” Well, you give that feedback and others like you then potentially give that feedback to Chrysler. The next generation car has a redesigned armrest because the people are then helping the corporation, who has done this in a vacuum in the past, to improve their products and services. Then I’m the consumer, I’m going to go buy another one because Chrysler heard me, and they did something about it, and they care about me, and that’s something I’ve gotten out of it. So that’s just one example.
ANDELMAN: I kind of sidetracked us there, but let’s talk about CBS and Springboard. First of all, what is Springboard?
BANKSTON: Springboard – it was actually a specific initiative. It was a contest, so in the case of CBS, they were looking to find an intern for Katie Couric this summer. They sent out a request to all of the main journalism schools saying, “Go to CBS.com, and you can submit a video of some of your work or a document, a white paper if that’s all you have, and you can have the chance of being considered for Katie Couric’s intern.” That may include on-air spots, that may include all sorts of really career-making opportunity for that individual. Using our social network and platform, they created this place where these journalism students then were able to create an account, submit their own media, and also comment, rate, and rank others’ content, and all of that feedback, then, is managed by our back-end solution again, which is software as a service. We were able to provide very comprehensive reports and actually, using the software you generate your own reports, and so from the data that they got, Katie was able to pick her intern, and they haven’t announced that yet, but they have picked an intern from that particular program.
ANDELMAN: And how many videos were contributed? How many people participated?
BANKSTON: You know, I can’t release that, because it’s CBS’s information.
ANDELMAN: All right, but was there advertising put on these pages?
ANDELMAN: No advertising?
BANKSTON: Well, there was advertising on the first login page, and then on some of the subsequent pages, there was less advertising until one of the upload pages had no advertising. So that’s a combo answer there.
ANDELMAN: This was not necessarily an effort to earn revenue as to maybe….
ANDELMAN: Were they more interested in testing it as a medium?
BANKSTON: They were testing it as a medium, number one. Number two, they were putting their toe in for just building social networks around the concept of journalism, and so it was a way to “Hey, can we just sort of put our toe in the water here and look at this concept?”
ANDELMAN: Interesting. Now, you guys did something else with Katie Couric, right?
BANKSTON: Yeah, we’ve done a couple things in the past. When she first took over the “CBS Evening News,” she actually sent out a request on the first evening of her program, she said to America, “I’m looking to figure out what my sign-off should be. Should it be, good night, good luck? Should it be, that’s all, folks?” Whatever it may be. And she played some famous sign-offs from other anchors, and so she asked America, “Well, what should it be?” Well, within really about, it was actually about twenty-four hours, we had over 50,000 responses on what your sign-off should be. Now, that’s one little simple question, and we had 50,000 people giving their comments on what that should be. And what was really interesting is all that was broken up by time zones, so you could see geographic locations of where people were listening and where they were commenting from or watching, and it was very interesting data that was obtained from that.
ANDELMAN: And what kind of feedback have you gotten from CBS about this? What have they liked, what have they wanted to tweak, and where is it going from this point forward?
BANKSTON: Well, I have to be cautious, as we are under NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with them, but they are very pleased. They were very pleased about the Springboard results, and they are looking to do much more engaging social networks in the future, and that’s really probably as far as I can go on this specific customer.
ANDELMAN: How is this different than on the CBS.com Web site where they might have forums for people to participate? What’s the difference?
BANKSTON: Today’s world on many of the media sites is specifically forums and/or forum post uploads or things like that. It’s not a place that you are really a community member of. In the future, expect to see places where, when you go to a network, and I will speak in generalities here, when you go to a place, you’ll be able then to have your profile, and there will be much more of a two-way conversation between you and that network. So you then are an extension of their staff. You are an extension of their citizens’ journalism network, and so as you then grow in your relationship, then perhaps you get ranked higher than others, and then perhaps your content then, as it becomes newsworthy and becomes relevant and people understand you, then at that point, your content goes to the top of the list and gets reviewed first. It has potential ability to drive a lot of what is going on and what is reported on. So you really have the ability to affect the news.
ANDELMAN: This is kind of like, I’m thinking of e-pinions.
BANKSTON: To some degree, yeah.
ANDELMAN: Or maybe reader reviews on Amazon, that kind of thing.
BANKSTON: Exactly. That was product-based specifically. I read the reader reviews on Amazon to see what others have thought and what others have bought. That is a component of social networking. Social networking doesn’t have to be real-time by any means. It can be the past.
ANDELMAN: Let’s talk about another media client. This is Mr. Media; we have to stick to the media. You’ve done work with Fox as well.
BANKSTON: Yes, Fox News and then HGTV. We are the mechanism which powers the Fox News “uReport.” So if you go to Foxnews.com and you can click around on many of their shows, everything from “Hannity” to “Fox News Now” and so forth, you can click around on all their shows, and on most all of their shows, there is a section dedicated to the uReport. The uReport is a first step at having the public, the viewers, join into their community and affect news and affect what we’re reporting on and comment on what we’re reporting on. As you go to that site, you can even just search on it, and you’ll find that once you are in the uReport, you’ll see that all roads in there lead to Neighborhood America, so you’ll see Neighborhood America branding.
ANDELMAN: Oh, you do have branding on that site?
BANKSTON: Yes, there is.
ANDELMAN: Again, tell me about where is the revenue generation in this?
BANKSTON: In this particular case, it is very much advertising-focused for just the intros, just getting more people to look at the site, which then creates more page news, which creates more revenue opportunity. In this case, it is specifically looking at getting people to come back. It’s okay, you know, like today when you go and you are looking at news, do you constantly pull up Fox as your news channel, or do you pull up CBS, or do you pull up… Who do you pull up? So what they’re trying to do is increase viewer loyalty, and they are looking to say, “You’re a part of our team, and we want to hear what you have to say.” And that then will equate revenue, so as you are getting consistent viewership, that goes into ratings, that goes into revenues, etc. So there are several rows to it.
ANDELMAN: It’s that “stickiness” term.
ANDELMAN: They want more eyeballs, they want you to stick around longer.
BANKSTON: Absolutely. And if you’re uploading your content, you’re sticking around longer.
ANDELMAN: Am I the only one who finds it just kind of amusing that you are doing these things for CBS and Fox?
BANKSTON: It is rather amusing, and then you throw ABC in there, too.
ANDELMAN: Are you doing ABC as well?
BANKSTON: We are.
ANDELMAN: Oh, I didn’t realize that.
BANKSTON: If you go to ABC, we power what they are calling the “Be Seen, Be Heard” program, which is again citizen journalism. So you have the big three there, or the big three out of four, and it’s quite interesting that we are powering them all, and they are very different organizations, as we all know.
ANDELMAN: I imagine there must be a rival out there who’s going, “We’ve got to go after one of these. They shouldn’t have all of those.”
BANKSTON: Yes, and that is the competitive market that we are in. So we have to constantly push the envelope and try to stay ahead.
ANDELMAN: There is one more example, and I love this one in particular because the others are generally news driven. You are doing something for HGTV. I think it’s “Rate My Space.”
ANDELMAN: I love this, because it’s consumer friendly, but it’s got a great revenue model, and it’s been very successful, right?
BANKSTON: Absolutely. It’s been extremely successful, and we’ve actually published some white papers on how to build a community from scratch. In this particular case, HGTV’s “Rate My Space” was launched about nine weeks ago, and it was launched with zero members essentially. It was a new community. And within those nine weeks, we’ve got over 40,000 new members, all new, and this is new eyeballs and new page views, etc. We’ve had over 10 million page views, and we’ve have hundreds of thousands of comments from these individuals. On top of that, there’s thousands of rooms and photos and things like that. So it is a fully fledged living, breathing community that launched nine weeks ago and has already created a new source of revenue, and this is where we are going with enterprise social networks again. We create a new source of revenue that you didn’t have before. And I can share this with you, too: Before the launch of “Rate My Space,” HGTV.com was pretty much sold out with inventory for the next few months.
ANDELMAN: On its Web site.
BANKSTON: On it’s Web site, yeah, so they had sold all of their page views, so they couldn’t sell any more ads, so after the launch of this, they now have plenty of inventory, and they’ve done a nice job selling that, and they’ve already made quite a bit of money.
ANDELMAN: It seems like the HGTV is a true win-win. It’s very clear what the revenue model is and that it generates revenue, so that’s the enterprise side. But on the other side of it, the consumer side, it’s a lot of fun. If you have an interest in this, interior design and homes, this is something you are going to go back and go back, and the show may only be only the air for six months a year, but the Web site can go indefinitely.
BANKSTON: Absolutely. And it’s only going to get bigger and better. The Web site is actually creating the show instead of the other way around. Additionally, the Web site now is even being used for things that they hadn’t thought of. For example, if you are a designer and you post some of your rooms on “Rate My Space” and they get ranked very highly, well, what better portfolio can you make for yourself to point your prospective customers to?
ANDELMAN: David, how will these enterprise social networks — and I’m assuming that people who are listening to this podcast are comfortable with that term now, now that we’ve explained it about as well as could be explained — how will they continue to evolve the relationship between TV programs and their viewers and TV programs and their Web sites and their viewers?
BANKSTON: Very good question. What we’re seeing is that as you mentioned earlier, the TV program is only on one time a week, generally. Now, there are lots of exceptions, but if you take that premise, that’s one time a week that you are engaging with the people who are your viewers, and we’ll call them stakeholders in that TV program. Why wouldn’t you want to have 24-by-7 engagement in that TV program? And then, once you’ve done that, now the network or the social network that you’ve created has much more interactivity and is fresher than you could ever get in that once a week touch. If you say your TV program is coming on Tuesday, well, then, the social network by Friday, that’s current information which then should drive the Tuesday program of next week. It basically should reverse what has been the traditional way of the TV program, creating the content and then saying, go look at our Web if you want more information or if you want tape two and all that sort of thing. I see it totally reversing the way TV programs and programming is made in general.
ANDELMAN: David, we are having this conversation the early part of summer. For TV, fall is usually when they launch new shows. What’s ahead for Neighborhood America? Do you have new shows that you are attached to? Are there new networks? What’s ahead? What’s your fall preview?
BANKSTON: Well, I can tell you that there are plenty of new shows and plenty of new networks from many of the customers we’ve already talked about. There’s a lot of great stuff coming out this fall, some of which I can’t comment on. One thing actually I can comment on is as of today, a new customer just launched. It’s actually Men’s Health, and I can’t really go much further into it. But if you go to the Men’s Health site, they’ve launched a new community, and it’s powered by Neighborhood America, and so it would be quite interesting. But what you’ll find is, so in addition to on-air, there is also paper media that we’re working with and all forms of really just communication that we’re really digging into. Specifically, we’re focusing on heavy innovations when it comes to what we’re calling a new concept, another one we’re introducing, called Video Comment, and so look for that showing up in some of these customers that we’ve talked about. Really state of the art stuff.
ANDELMAN: We talked about enterprise social networks in terms of branding. Does Neighborhood America have to be careful to keep its name out there as a brand on some of these networks in some subtle way so that people know that there is a company behind it so you keep getting this business?
BANKSTON: Yes. That’s the short answer to that. We want to keep our branding out in a subtle way. We are not by any means looking to steal the show in any type of form, but we do want to let people that this isn’t an in-house solution. We are selling a net-native software as a service solution. So as you buy the software, it is essentially plugged into your existing Web site, and it’s on; it’s on quickly. We turn social networks on in a matter of a week, even, and so it’s really a very, the next generation of how software is getting sold and just generally acquired.