Allen Noren

Allen Noren is VP of Online & Digital Initiatives at O'Reilly Media. He's been with O'Reilly since 1992 when one of his first jobs was to maintain the O'Reilly Gopher site. He was a founding member of the GNN team that built one of the first commercial web portals, and was part of the group that created Safari Books Online and SafariU. He started O'Reilly's ebook and online events programs. He manages O'Reilly's online efforts, from the machines and platforms to ecommerce and community.

If social media is important, why not start with your own website?

Like most companies, O’Reilly Media has devoted thousands of hours of employee time building and maintaining our social presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Google+, Pinterest, LibraryThing, SlideShare, and YouTube, as well as a host of other sites that are but a dim memory but at one time represented the Next Big Thing. Each platform is important in its own way, and it’s essential that we experiment as new ones emerge. But we learned a long time ago that we had access to the most important social network imaginable, one where we controlled the user experience, messaging, privacy settings, and ads. That social network was our own website.

Just having a website isn’t enough, of course. It’s how you use it, the tools you employ, and the people you involve. Following are four key ingredients that make our most important social media outlet:


Most customer service and interaction happens behind closed doors, and that’s probably a good thing given how badly many companies treat their customers. GetSatisfaction is an open, community-driven customer service platform where users can ask, and answer, questions about your products and services, all out in the open for anyone to read. Here’s the O’Reilly channel.

While an open forum for customer service and interaction may seem horrifying, you should only be cautious if your products are inferior and your idea of customer service is to deflect and defend. I encourage all to jump in. Using GetSatisfaction cuts down on the number of enquiries over time because customers can find answers to many of the questions they have. But more importantly it provides customers with a personalized experience with actual insiders of your company. When done well the merely curious become evangelists because of a great interaction. And GetSatisfaction allows us to understand issues, needs, and desires more deeply because we can carry on a dialogue with our most committed customers.

Reader Reviews

An Amazon page designer once told me that reader reviews are the most important element on a product detail page. In the best cases they provide customers with product recommendations that are more accurate and informed than typical marketing copy. We’ve had reader reviews on since 1997, and they’re an intelligence goldmine. We aggregate all reader reviews into a weekly report that goes to editorial and marketing. We respond to every reader review with three stars and below and inform customers of our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. We regularly correspond with customers who share ideas and suggestions. A bad review is an opportunity to learn more from customers, and direct a customer to a more appropriate product. In all my years at O’Reilly I can only recall a couple instances where a pissed off customer didn’t leave as an evangelist because we listened to their complaint and took care of it. And we gained vital information to make our products and services better.

After Purchase Survey

Once a customer completes a purchase on we invite them to participate in a survey. Formulated and tweaked over the years, the survey solicits information about preferred product types and formats (we sell a lot of ebooks and videos), topics we’re publishing on, what they’d like to learn next, learning styles, information sources beyond books, demographic information, and more. The aggregated results are distributed to stakeholders within the company and we follow-up as appropriate with survey takers. Like reader reviews, this is detailed, qualitative intelligence that is hard to come by through social networks, and it’s delivered in a way that allows us to adjust our business to the needs of our customers.

Contact us. Really.

Lastly, we’ve all hunted through websites looking for a way to contact a company, only to find an email address to “info”, or a phone number with a complex automated tree. These companies, some of which are running expensive campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, obviously don’t really want to hear from customers. Our phone number and contact information is at the top of every product page. GetSatisfaction is available on our homepage and product pages, reader reviews are on every catalog page, and we ask every customer to complete a survey. Call O’Reilly and you’ll get a real person at the front desk who will route your call. We make it clear that we want to hear from our customers, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

While we will continue to work hard on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and to divine the meaning of Pinterest, we’ll continue to pour effort into the best social network we have,

Safari Books Online Goes Mobile

Mobile SafariLike much of the publishing world, I’m eager to hear about Amazon’s latest version of the Kindle. But that’s not the only news today. I’m sitting here at TOC and talking to John Chodacki from Safari Books Online and, with a smile on his face, he’s showing me beta version of The smile is well deserved. It looks great, it’s fast, and I love the stripped-down navigation and lack of clutter.

Last chance – BISG survey on experimentation closes on Thursday

Michael Healy, Executive Director of the BISG, is offering publishers one last chance to take their Experimentation and Innovation Survey. I took it, and I can say it's not only worthwhile as a way of benchmarking where the industry is on this important topic, but it provides a context for thinking about innovation within your own organization. Here's the email…

Harlequin as Innovator

Did you know that Harlequin, the romance novel publisher, is one of the most innovative when it comes to embracing and developing Web 2.0 technologies? And did you know that their readers are driving early adoption of ebooks and social networking? Brent Lewis, Director, Internet & Digital for Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., is in the midst of discussing many of their…

The Future of the Book

Ben Vershbow's talk at today's TOC Conference titled Books as Conversations reminds me that I need to visit The Institute for the Future of the Book more often. Ben is going through some of the fascinating, and successful, experiments being conducted there, such as Gamer Theory, The Googlization of Everything, Without Gods, and several more. Most impressive is the visualization…

New Publishing Models

I spend a fair amount of my evening time searching for and studying new publishing models, most of which are unfortunately not being created by traditional publishers. Bill Burger of the Copyright Clearance Center talked about some excellent sites that we as publishers should be studying. They are: Wikitravel: Though there are a plethora of travel sites available, this one…

Will Publishers matter?

That's the title of Stephen Abram's keynote at TOC this morning. It's an important question as a number of studies and trends have made abundantly clear, including the NEA's overly pessimistic To Read or Not to Read study. So much of Stephen's rapid-fire message is both contrarian and hopeful, but in a working class, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work kind of way. As head…