Showing posts with label web tools. Show all posts
Showing posts with label web tools. Show all posts

Friday, May 27

Asking Questions: If Websites Could Talk

About Me StrategyYou never really know how people interpret information until they apply it elsewhere. Nowadays, some people truly believe that social media will eventually supplant websites entirely.

Even a post by Jeremiah Owyang about integrating social functions into websites was attributed to Altimeter and reframed as another call for the death of business websites all together. (The spin itself demonstrated the venerability of social media.) However, all of the calls for the demise of websites miss the point.

Websites won't die. But their functionality will have to change.

All that really means is, somewhat to Owyang's point, social media tools and networks will be built into websites, changing the functionality from the 5-page content template into something, hopefully, that makes sense for the people who visit the site.

That has nothing to do with social media per se. It is, however, one of several reasons some people mistake why the "social media revolution" happened. It's also why news organizations continue to grapple in the new world. And it's why some social media intellects want you to believe that you and your company and your communication are powerless (unless you hire them).

Maybe a better word for the revolution is push back. For all the advances made in the early 1990s in regard to mass media communication, there was one major setback. Mass media, and its advertising and publicity bedfellows, dominated information. Even if someone was unhappy with anything, an individual voice didn't have any value compared to the conglomerate.

In fact, the only information out there was for awhile was decided on by the people with the largest audiences — agencies publishing brochures, public relations firms pitching stories, and new media setting the agenda. There was no other choice.

Social media is the revolution as much as the revolution is choice.

choicesIn other words, if people are visiting a corporate website less, it probably has less to do with the noun "website" and more to do with the descriptor "corporate." Or, even more simply put, the reasons people don't visit or stay on a corporate website is because whatever they are looking for just isn't there.

What is there? Generally, most corporate websites are little more than an "I love me" wall, adorned with trophies, awards, and sales pitches. Sure, some sites toss in some SEO-crooked copy, maybe some runaway advertainment, and whatever website builders can sell.

If your company website could talk, what would it say?

The whole thing is rather preposterous when you think about it. A person visits a site with an expressed interest, i.e., Who can I talk to about a product defect or service problem?

To which the site responds, i.e., Would you like to play a game?

Increasingly unhappy, the person turns to Google. Who can I talk to about a product defect or service problem?

And Google answers, i.e., I really don't know, but I can tell you where all the other people experiencing product defects or service problems are going. Would you like to go? Heck yeah!

Social networks did add another choice. Who can I talk to about a product defect or service problem?

To which the site responds, i.e., Try the live representative on Facebook or Twitter.

So, the person follows the advice to find stacks of unanswered complaints, representatives who only know what the daily deal is, or an endless stream of content that might as be labeled "see more about me on my 'I love me' wall."

Two tips for more effective online content and communication.

First, erase any notion that social media and websites are somehow different and can cannibalize each other. Saying that social media cannibalizes a website is akin to thinking that in-store salespeople somehow steal sales from an advertisement in the Sunday paper. This stuff works together. (*One caveat, duplicate social media content can cannibalize each other.)

Along with erasing the notion of separation, kill the widely adopted prospect that social media and networks are feeders to the varied 200 "about me" pages on websites. (Let's be honest, every single page of a website might as well be labeled "about me.")

questionsSecond, start thinking about why people are coming to your website. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are not coming to read "about me" pages, play games, or be diverted to a social network (unless the social network can answer their question).

They ask different questions. So if you want to build a more effective website, start thinking about the questions your customers and prospects ask most often. Then start thinking about what they might ask if they even knew to ask it. And then start considering the best methods to deliver the answers, which may or may not include Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Still unconvinced? Take some cues from some of the top websites in world. All of them answer very specific questions. Here are the top five most visited, recognizing that even networks are really websites with more functionality.

Where can I find some information online? Google.
What are my friends and family doing right now? Facebook.
Where can I find some video of >fill in the blankWhere can I find some information if I hate Google? Yahoo.
What if I need information and I'm Chinese? Baidu.

And so on and so forth. More to the point: If consumers are turning to social networks with increased frequency, doesn't it stand to reason that they do it because your website isn't answering their questions? Maybe that's something worth thinking about.

Monday, October 19

Marketing Content: Mobile Impacts Brand

The next great leap in communication might be mobile, but consumers are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with mobile Web connections and content. Seventy-five percent have experienced slow load times, and more than half reported that the Web site content was either too large or small for the size of their mobile phone's screen.

The survey was published by Gomez, Inc., which specializes in Web application experience management. The study was conducted by Equation Research on behalf of Gomez. It included more than 1,000 mobile Web users and can be found here.

Additional Key Findings About Mobile Content.

• 85 percent of consumers said they are only willing to retry a mobile Web site one, sometimes two, times if it does not work.
• 61 percent of consumers said they are unlikely to return to a Web site if they had trouble accessing it from their phone.
• 40 percent of consumers said they would very likely visit a competitor's Web site in order to find the information they want.

"While mobile users may accept sites that are 'light' on richness and small in form factor, they are evidently not willing to sacrifice performance," said Matt Poepsel, Gomez's VP of performance strategies. "The mobile Web is all about convenience — the Web in your pocket — and slow mobile pages contradict that benefit."

There Is More To The Story About Mobile.

Despite experiences, mobile Web users have exceedingly high expectations with 50 percent willing to wait only 6-10 seconds or less for a Web page to load on their phone before giving up. Only one in five is willing to wait more than 20 seconds.

The high level of expectation has been perpetuated by mobile phone companies, almost all of which market themselves with the pretense that their network is faster and more reliable. Despite the cause of the evaluated expectations, mobile Web users are most likely to blame the site over their providers.

While solutions are largely absent from the study, there are opportunities and alternatives. For the mobile and tech industry, there is an increasing need to deliver faster devices on networks capable of carrying an increased load. For advertising agencies, the solution is to design simpler, faster loading sites rather than robust sites that increase load times. Or, as an alternative, build in mobile counterparts.

There are, of course, other solutions. Companies can augment their Web communication and marketing programs directing consumers to either custom applications on the iPhone or by using any number of social networks to communicate with customers. RSS readers and networks like Facebook and Twitter are well suited for engaging consumers on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

Without question, content portability will become a decisive factor in communication over the next two years. As of July 2009, there were more than 56.9 million mobile devices, up from 42.5 million in July 2008. According to the study, eBay is an early success story in providing mobile content. Its iPhone application generated $400 million in sales since its launch in 2008.

Tuesday, July 22

Dialing Up Everything: Blog It

BlogTipz, one of several blogs dedicated to blogging, has been running a series on the growing number mobile blogging applications for the iPhone. While the overviews mostly recap the software features, the posts provide a nice round up of applications.

WordPress and TypePad were among the first to provide custom applications. Since Blogger has yet to offer an iPhone application (though it does offer mobile blogging via text messaging or e-mail), BlogTipz suggests Blog It, which is a multi blog and presence application platform offered by Six Apart.

Setting up Blog It via Facebook is easy enough. Setting it up via the iPhone browser takes a little more time, but only because Blog It doesn’t allow a direct connection to Blogger like it does through Facebook. As an iPhone browser application, you have to use OpenID or one of four other account options.

Of course, mobile blogging is easy enough just signing onto Blogger via the browser. So the true benefit, at least from the Facebook version, is that Blog It makes it easy to update multiple accounts, including: TypePad, Blogger, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Moveable Type, Pownce, Tumblr, Twitter, Vox, and WordPress. Of course, Blog It is still not a replacement for Twitterific (which also has an iPhone applicaton) or Twitter thincloud (browser application) so it’s not really a replacement for presence platforms.

How Phone Applications Impact Marketing

The applications reminded me of a Media Snackers post written back in November. There is little doubt that social media is changing some aspects of communication, especially as applications become simpler and more streamlined.

In less than a week after 2.0 software was released, my dentist concluded that he would be taking all his banking mobile. He also mentioned how easy it was for him to see that that the future of computing will rest in the palm of our hands. Yep. That is the way Apple innovations are steering the industry.

When you add message mobility to the list of six ways social media is impacting communication as I offered up in the Media Snacker post, the most effective communication will trend simple, not complex. In other words, if it takes too long to load on a phone, fewer people will be reading.

Technology isn’t the only driving force for simpler, more direct, and authentic messaging. Consumers are asking for it. As everyone is impacted by more and more messages every day, our patience to wade through long leads is over.

Whereas it used to be only 25 percent of the population wanted cut to the chase, most customers today expect any product contrast points to be delivered up front. It makes sense.

All of us are being impacted by more and more messages every day in every facet of our lives. Our patience to wade through a long lead is gone. In fact, other than a few people who have incorporated the long lead into direct sales-driven Web sites, the only remaining advocates seem to be a few old school direct mail shops.


Wednesday, January 30

Yodeling Less: Yahoo! Cut Backs

Yesterday, Yahoo! announced that what was expected to be hundreds of layoffs will be rounded up to more than 1,000 jobs cut. Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall for some time as several Yahoo! assets were underperforming.

Yahoo Video fell 80 percent while traffic to rival YouTube grew by nine percent. Metacafe grew by 27 percent. Traffic on Yahoo! asset MyBlogLog, a social network for bloggers, has been declining since a poorly communicated move to Yahoo! IDs. Gmail seems to have an edge over Yahoo!
Mail, which is a bit more clunky than it used to be and is largely unusable by Safari (a small, but still viable percentage of accounts).

Not all the news is sour mind you. Yahoo! and AT&T are expanding their alliance. Yahoo! has cornered a big share of the $548 million market for online ad revenues for sports sites, says Forbes. And most people seem to like Flickr. Even their front page news is pretty good, even if you don’t use the search tool. These are just a few of the reasons I suspect people like the Silicon Valley Insider is calling for any ideas that might “help save” Yahoo!

Part of the challenge isn’t technology as much as it is communication, inside and out. Outside, members of various assets call Yahoo! unresponsive. Inside, layoff rumors have been whispered about for some time. Even The New York Times called said the Tuesday conference call droning and jargon filled.

Since the best communication happens from the inside out, it seems to me that how Yahoo! handles its layoffs will largely dictate how long the road of recovery will be. Large-scale layoffs, especially when no one knows which business areas will be hardest hit, can demoralize employees to the point of paralysis.

It’s especially important for Yahoo! to avoid the concept that there is some magical "clean slate" once layoffs are over. Why? As Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman, Corporate Technology Partners, said: "The biggest challenge Yahoo! has is cultural. It's gotten away from the creative company it used to be—that's the difference between it and Google. Yang needs to bring that culture back and bring innovation to the forefront."

I could not agree more. Yahoo! needs to get away from being too myopic and retain some of the color and creativity that seems to escape every time it purchases a company. Instead of telling employees what to do and online members what will be done, invest more time into discovering why the acquisitions were performing so well to begin with, sans the Yahoo! brand.

By almost every account, Yahoo! is not a sinking ship. But it could be, unless someone inside makes a serious push to bring the passion back from the inside out. And that is always much more difficult to do, when almost one in 10 employees won't be there to help.


Wednesday, January 2

Pocketing Portfolios: iPhone Possibilities

Last year, our portfolio measured 24 x 18 inches.

It is encased in aluminum, packed with a cross section of print and collateral. It grossly undersold our work in electronic media, but was effective in demonstrating our depth and diversity of experience nonetheless.

It was too bulky to take everywhere, except planned introductions and presentations. It was challenging to update, and eventually, even the best protected pieces became worn from handling (passing boards around the classroom didn’t help).

This year, our portfolio measures 4.5 x 2.4 inches.

It is encased in an iPhone, with a cross section of print, radio, and television. The latter is easily transported as a podcast from Revver into iTunes.

It works fine on an iPod too. And we’re slowly adding the links to various digital media platforms and social networks, allowing our prospective clients, colleagues, and associates to easily engage us any time.

I quickly put up two samples as a photo set on Flickr to provide the basic idea. New media is quietly changing communication in ways people never thought possible.

Naturally, the Flickr set will eventually mirror what is already on my iPhone. Even better, for companies bigger than ours, the possibilities are endless: imagine one quick podcast update or file download and every account executive in the company is suddenly on the same page. Clients too, for that matter.

Although many social media experts, and even colleagues of mine, are quick to tell companies that they must conform to the “rules” of social media, not all conversations have to take place in public or on a blog. New media is completely customizable and easily integrated with traditional media.

It’s one of the reasons that in addition to the iPhone presentations, we’ll be adding hardbound leave-behind pieces too. Printed on demand. Hmmm. Interesting things. These possibilities.


Friday, November 16

Revisiting Metrics: Social Media Equation

“… most bloggers who have not yet established a large readership and built a solid base of well-tagged content for search engines get very distracted by all of these measurements and allow themselves to become [too] focused on these metrics …” — Alan Jobe, noting that, even so, it is still important to be aware of them.

Jobe’s comment came shortly after I asked BlogCatalog members what they thought of prevailing social media metric measures, which I asked along with presenting my I/O=ROI concept yesterday. Only a few answered, but they were the right ones.

I trust Jobe’s observaton as a seasoned blogger with two blogs, including one of my favorites, The Thin Red Line, where he reviews books. I also tend to agree with his point as well, which leads me to clarify my theory.

My dismissal of Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, etc. as measures does not suggest that metrics are not part of the social media equation. They just don’t belong in the measurement column and an SEO blogger told me why.

Chris, who writes Matts Nutts, a blog dedicated to SEO and blogging (among others), understands the the various technologies better than most. And he pointed out that the aforementioned metrics can all be manipulated to get what you want. As such, they are not measures. (Chris does look at return visits, page rank, and [meaningful] links.)

I have a good example. One week ago my Technorati authority was 201; today it is 176. If this a true measure, someone might conclude our blog is in trouble (some bloggers might even panic). But the truth is that my authority was unintentionally inflated as part of David Meerman Scott’s 150 bloggers “I’m in the book!” link list. One hundred and eighty days later, those links fall off, except for the handful of participants we have since engaged on other topics.

This is the one flaw with the short-term transaction like “link love” and tagging long lists of people for no reason other than implied payback link. It serves as a short-term metric inflator, which makes Technorati a less than ideal ROI measure.

Coincidentally, my friend Geoff Livingston did something similar with his and Brian Solis’ book, Now Is Gone, but it never took off as a “I’m in the book” link list. (I’ll be reviewing their book soon; check it out on our Amazon widget.)

Of course, I am not saying that Technorati rank can be ignored as a comparative tool. All I’m saying is that this metric, like most, is better suited somewhere else in the equation. As Kevin Palmer, BuzzNetworker and Pointless Banter, offered …

“I totally agree the content has to be solid. But I see when I put an extra effort into improving one of these numbers how much it impacts traffic and thus the amount of readership I get. I question if I write too much and don't promote enough.”

This makes a lot of sense to me because it fits with strategic communication and drives home the point that some metrics, currently counted as measures, aren’t really measures at all.

They do, however, indicate reach. I think it's an important distinction for bloggers and social media professionals to make when speaking to new entrants: most metrics, on their own, are not indicative of any true value just as the number of billboards doesn't mean you have a good product and the number of political signs doesn't mean you have a good candidate. So I/O = ROI works.

Still, nothing is that easy. Mark Stoneman, a historian who authors several blogs, including Clio And Me, asked what about other variables like resources. He's right, we need something else to help I/O = ROI make sense. Perhaps this...

Social Media Equations For Business/Professional Blogs

Intent times (value proposition plus effective communication times reach) equals Outcomes.

Outcomes divided by Investment (budget plus time plus experience) equals Return (cost per outcome).

Ergo, social media metrics are part of reach and not the outcomes.

The reason is pretty simple. You can gain just as many links and traffic with a social media crisis or plea to readers as you can with something that reinforces your brand. Given that, metrics cannot be an accurate measure for business. For individual bloggers hoping for more readers, the equation may need a term adjustment.

Social Media Equations For Individual Blogs

Passion times (niche expertise plus good content times promotion) equals Readership.

Readership divided by resources (budget plus time plus knowledge) equals Influence.

In other words, pursuing social media metrics (reach/promotion) before you demonstrate expertise and solid content, as some bloggers do, only damages influence over the long term. As the old adage goes: good advertising is the fastest way to kill a bad product.

Oh, if you are wondering why I qualified individual bloggers as those who want readership vs. any blogger, it's because not all bloggers want readers. For example, I have a private and secure blog that no one outside of our extended family will ever see. The point being is that its success cannot be measured by social media metrics.

Likewise, for many bloggers, having fun is enough and sometimes that is the best measure of all. And that's why I/O = ROI works for them too.


Thursday, November 15

Evolving A Blog: Social Media ROI

The debate seems endless. The argument circular. And the affirmation echoes apparently tied to technologies like Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, Feedburner subscriptions, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, return visitors, comment counts, and any combination of the aforementioned.

We may as well be counting column inches and trying to convince clients that public relations can somehow be equated to paid advertising space of roughly the same size; count total mentions in tier one publications (whatever those are); or assign erroneous values to stories that are positive, neutral, or negative despite knowing that negative stories carry eight times the weight.

While these measures might be valid in some cases, they are not valid in every case. Neither is the abundance of technology-based measures being pushed in social media. They are the measurements of activity and/or popularity, which is often contrary to the proven concept that the true purpose of any communication is to change opinion or behavior. So the question remains...

How do you measure the return on investment of social media?

Simply put, social media measurement depends on the ability of the communication to meet defined objectives. In other words, much like public relations, the intent vs. the outcome is the ROI.

Even the evolution of this blog works well as an example because its purpose has shifted three times since its launch in 2005 (we had run several experimental “ghost” blogs prior to launch). Each time, regardless of rank, authority, etc., it met its objectives.

I’ve broken the transition into three shifts for simplicity, even though these transitions were not hard changes. A parsed overview follows...

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2005 – Augment Instruction

The initial purpose was simple — augment my classroom instruction with observations, including comment on communication examples in real time; develop handouts for classroom discussion; and evaluate the potential business applications of blogs for select clientele.

While the objectives were not earth shattering, they were met. In addition, as I was the only communication person in market experimenting with blogs, it led to a speaking engagement for the local chapter of IABC. (Today, that first PowerPoint presentation is a snapshot of social media history, back when 90 percent of bloggers were ages 13-29.)

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2006 – Education And Promotional

While the original purpose did not change, this blog began to evolve from its early academic function to a dual-purpose communication vehicle. On several occasions, prospective clients had visited this blog from a Web site link and selected us based in part on what they read. We knew because they mentioned specific posts.

• Augment educational instruction for public relations certificate students at UNLV.
• Evaluate and experiment with new technologies so we weren’t asking our clients to test them.
• Promote select experience, especially because it changes too frequently for other communication vehicles.
• Reinforce our mission to produce the most effective communication possible by composing powerful messages across all media.

Meeting these objectives expanded our knowledge base about blogs and others trends in social media, including spotting convergence earlier than most after of a chance discussion with AT&T. In addition to the above, it provided a communication vehicle for non-news direct to the public. (Unlike some in public relations, we don’t spam the media with non-news).

We also secured several accounts that we may not have secured without the benefit of the blog because our strategic communication skill sets became more visible. It also helped expand our out-of-market clientele base.

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2007 – Education, Experimentation, Engagement

As a sub consultant for advertising agencies, public relations firms, etc., we really cannot afford to share as much as I would like because, frankly, many accounts we work on are not our clients, but accounts served by our clients. Sharing insider information is unethical.

However, by the end of 2006, we noticed that there were ample case studies materializing on the Web where CEOs and communication professionals seemed baffled by the outcomes, despite the fact they seemed obvious to our team. So we shifted our objectives once again by taking strategic communication principles well beyond the classroom and into the real world with a bigger audience.

• Augment educational instruction to prepare students for a communication landscape that has changed.
• Experiment with new technologies, gaining insight and understanding in how they may impact communication.
• Engage in the conversations presented by colleagues to assist in deepening the fundamentals of social media without losing the proven principles of strategic communication.
• Demonstrate experience and a value proposition by presenting insight into living case studies that represent best and worst practices rather than talking about “us” all the time.

In evaluating the parsed objectives above, you might notice that they cannot be measured by Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, Feedburner subscriptions, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, return visitors, comment counts, and any combination of the aforementioned.

On the contrary, the measures are based on how well students are prepared for social media; how much we understand new media trends as they relate to communication; whether we deepen conversations on select topics; and if, as a byproduct, we are able to develop and nurture long-term relationships with clients and colleagues by sharing knowledge.

It’s about that simple, or perhaps, that complex.

One blog. Three different communication purposes. All successful based upon the stated objectives. And not even one purpose is tied to “activity” measurements. In fact, if we begin to measure success based on activity and not intent vs. outcome, we risk allowing the message to manage us rather than us managing the message.

More tomorrow, despite breaking the short post rule once again. Ho hum. Now I have to go wait in line at the DMV. Measuring "activity" there is futile too.


Wednesday, September 5

Targeting Nomads: Social Networks

“MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIN: Social networking is probably the biggest change in how people use the web. With nearly 100M visitors there is something going on here, yet it hasn’t taken off behind the firewall.” — Paul Pedrazzi, OracleAppsLab

Pedrazzi is not alone in wondering just what social networks might do for business. Geoff Livingston, on his new Now Is Gone book blog, noted that Facebook doesn’t build communities as much it reconnects existing relationships. Michel Fortin concludes “it's not a viable marketing tool. At least, not for me.”

So why all the hype? Enough hype that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Britain felt the need to issue a release defending worker on-the-job access to social networking sites. That eight percent of businesses report they are actually afraid of employee backlash if they ban social networks. That some claim social networks are an integral ingredient in our cyberspace environment.

Social networks present a viable and worthwhile consideration for any social media mix, but they do not seem well suited to support a sustainable communication strategy or meaningful content. More often than not, they are consumer-generated content billboards for traditional and new media (blogs) hoping to capture online nomads as they wander their way to watering holes for individual conservations, gossip, fun, and games.

Sure, a few have worthwhile applications like the questions/answers at LinkedIn or BlogCatalog discussions, which do lend well to creating a sense of community. Open niche networks like work well too.

These examples aside, social networks seem best suited to be what early blogs hoped to be — a place for individuals to connect and have two-way conversations when they aren’t trying to out-scoop each other on finding new online content to talk about. There is nothing wrong with that.

Yet, sooner or later, the mad rush for numbers will be over and people will stand around asking themselves did I invest all this time in the right social network? Probably not.

It makes sense for me as someone engaged in social media to check out all the new applications that are readily and frequently available (about 100 times more than most social media gurus actually write about). But if it wasn’t for this reason, I think I might have a different message all together … call me when the nomadic online wandering is over and I’ll bring by a house-warming gift.


Wednesday, August 22

Advertising Conundrum: America Online

If you are still wondering why content is king on the Internet, even beyond blogs, consider that American Online (AOL) continues to lose ground after reducing its reliance on subscriptions and shifting to an ad revenue model despite having what once was the largest place to connect on the Internet.

So what happened? As made all too apparent by Miguel Helt in The New York Times on Monday, ad revenue alone cannot replace the splendor AOL once enjoyed as the darling of online subscription services. The Internet has changed and AOL changed too late.

What is not clear in the article is the true culprit behind the AOL slip. Its slow transition from subscription to ad revenue hastened the pace of member defection. Basically, its members left because it didn’t make sense to pay for advertising-infused services that they could get elsewhere. Then, as its members left, AOL had fewer numbers to pull down ad deals.

It has been a long time since I visited AOL (not counting yesterday), but I did two years ago. What I found made me realize my decision to leave was a good one. Chat rooms, once a core service offered by AOL, were overwhelmed with little lines of advertising and bothersome bots, leaving people to wonder if anyone was real. (Probably not. Real people were using Instant Messenger.) Hardly something worth using let alone paying for.

And that brings us to today. According to the article, the newest idea to save AOL is to re-engineer the site so its customers can choose various channels and services they like and then include them in their blogs, personalized home pages, or favorite social networking sites. (In other words, they still do not get it.)

“We are not trying to build yesterday’s portal,” said Ron Grant, president of AOL told The New York Times. “We are trying to build a network of sites that users can combine or do whatever they are most comfortable with.”

Where is the added value? When you consider our shiny new object syndrome that tends to sweep the Web every few months (or is it weeks?), our apparent desire to customize as opposed to accept package deals, our disdain for intrusive advertising (which AOL has built right into its new page layout), and our thirst for fresh content, AOL really is only offering yesterday’s portal today.

Look, the Internet is not hard to decipher. There are three distinct offerings that attract customers to any platform and portal (or even blog): exclusive content, exclusive products, or exclusive services. Google: exclusive services. eBay: exclusive products. The New York Times: exclusive content. Sure, there are other examples that can be plugged in and other ways to make an impact. For example, Southwest Airlines attributes $150 million in ticket sales generated by a widget.

Once you have exclusive content, products, or services, a growing number of members, subscribers, and consumers will follow. In time, this following will be more likely to pay for a product, service, or submit to some mysterious amount of advertising (assuming you have the right audience). Even AOL, once upon a time, had all three ingredients, which justified the subscription fee. For many of us, at least for a short while, it was also the only connection game in town.

But as the world grew up around the company, AOL's once exclusive services began to erode, its content became more generic, and its products were improved upon by others. Worse, its branding all but imploded under the weight of aggressive control and generic content, increasingly sophisticated customers, poor “user” service and cancellation policies, and an inability to leapfrog the competition.

Ho hum, if AOL wants to remain relevant today, it seems to me that it might forget trying to build a better mousetrap to be all things to all people. A better strategy would be to focus on the next bright shiny object. And, given the amount of space it has available, who knows? Maybe this shiny object could be solving the broadband limitation ratio of “many to 1,” which is the last known hurdle in true convergence between traditional media and the Internet.


Friday, August 3

Balancing Acts: Social Media Measures

A few days ago, Lee Odden had a similar idea. Although I have a different conclusion, Odden’s piece is a must read for anyone hoping to understand a little more about combined ranking systems.

My decision to take a look at them began the day after I posted about Ad Age’s acquisition of Todd And’s Power 150. Jane S. (Jericho Saved) left a comment, asking “Is Todd’s considered to be more reliable than BlogPulse? Is BP even reliable?”

Other than BlogPulse being a better topic measure and Todd's being a better niche industry blog ranker, maybe the best answer is that most social media measures provide insight, but these insights are often misleading. Here is the oversimplified truth behind some of them:

Google PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the Web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value (the more links, the higher the page relevance). Importance: it provides an indication of how many other pages are sourcing "searched" information from that page to determine its search rank. Triviality: sometimes you don’t have to be first to be relevant (and not everyone searches on Google). (Bonus: Mac users can get a free dashboard widget at Apple.)

Alexa Traffic Rank is based on the usage of millions of Alexa toolbar users. It is the most common gauge to determine traffic. Importance: it provides an excellent snapshot to see which direction your Web site is moving from a broad perspective. Triviality: traffic doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting the right traffic. (Bonus: Terence Chang recently offered some tips about Alexa.)

Bloglines is a free online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs, and Web content. Importance: the more subscribers and bookmarkers, the more likely these subscribers will visit your blog. Triviality: There are many subscription services, which is why some people are now pushing FeedBurner as a better measure. However, keep in mind that some subscribers are likely to add a blog to multiple readers, which means the measure is likely less than. (Bonus: ProBlogger asks if full feeds increases subscription rates.)

Technorati tracks 94.9 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media. Its authority system, which is one of the most criticized (for some reason), ranks blogs based on links from other blogs in the last 180 days. Importance: the authority rank indicates how many other social media participants consider your post relevant enough to comment about it on their blogs. Triviality: Meemes and other link lists can artificially inflate ranking. (Bonus: Make Money Online shares one strategy.)

Digg and other news aggregators allow user submitted content to be voted on by a community. Importance: a post that gets "dugg" by hundreds of members will most certainly increase traffic. Triviality: member alliances can increase diggs on content with little substance. (Bonus: Digerati Marketing recently posted some Digg tactics.)

Social Networks can include any number of places, ranging from to Facebook to Linkedin to (if we’re being honest) Twitter. Almost all of them (including Technorati, which has "favorites") have some sort of “connection” mechanism. Importance: friends can mean the difference between exposure and no exposure. Triviality: it’s relatively easy to make friends and connections. (Bonus: If you ask, 90 percent of those asked will add you, unless you are a troll.)

Content/Frequency/Comments is another measure that has been around for a while. It was recently re-popularized by Edelman’s complex Social Media Index. Importance: the frequency of posting and number of comments all contribute to increased traffic. Triviality: posting too frequently buries good content and comments can all too easily be inflated. (Bonus: Here are the top ten tips that have been around a long time.)

Conclusion. Everybody likes the rankings, traffic, comments, diggs, and, well, whatever (yeah, me too). They create conversation, attract attention, and demonstrate momentum even when social media pundits weight the numbers toward those areas they excel (and we all know they do) or attempt to game the system.

At best, it seems to me that it is these measures and the gaming of them that slows social media from becoming more mainstream (as it makes the average business owner skeptical of blogs). At worst, it detracts from what communication people are supposed to focus on: the company's overall strategy and the true measures of success (like market share, sales, etc.).

Put plainly, Seth Godin doesn’t have a successful blog because he ranks 8,311 on Alexa or 13 on Technorati. Godin has a successful blog because his online brand is consistent with who he wants to be perceived as and, more importantly, he sells a lot of books (The Dip, released May 10, is still #447 on Amazon).

In sum, the best measures of success come from achieving results that are derived out of a sound business strategy. Certainly, any of these measures can help provide a performance snapshot (assuming you avoid the temptation to game them), but the active pursuit of them won't do much more than distract from what really matters.


Thursday, August 2

Designing Sky:

Maybe it is because I'm working on a Web site for a company that is introducing a best available technology for concrete slurry recovery (mixer washout), but a few environmental campaigns have recently stood out to me. One of them, Adopt the Sky, which was launched by, adds a new twist on petition signing.

The Adopt the Sky campaign asks people to sign a petition that calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen ozone standards beyond the new levels introduced on June 21.

From a communication perceptive, what struck me about the petition is that it is set against the backdrop of a blue sky with bright green washers floating at various fields of depth. When your cursor rolls over one of them, it turns orange and a speech balloon pops up with one of the petition signer's personal messages.

For example, one might say "Heather B adopted sky over DC on 08.02.07: It's the least we can do." Currently, there are more than 16,000 disks and messages featured on a free-flowing petition.

It works because the design complements the message as an extension of the overall strategy. The best messages usually do. Currently, advertising is trending toward increasingly outrageous messages in every medium with businesses (or their agencies) sometimes forgetting that runaway creative ideas sometimes get carried away to the point where they drown out the real message.

If you have ever seen an advertisement that was funny enough to tell a friend, but you could not remember whose advertisement it was, then you know what I'm talking about. In contrast, the Adopt the Sky campaign keeps it simple with an interesting, free-flowing design element that complements its message. I've seen the technique used on the Web before, but this one works especially well.

Yesterday, I also received another indication that knows a little something about communication ...

"We are so sorry! We just sent an email to you thanking you for signing our petition on the site.

But we messed up ... we mis-matched your email address with
someone else's name! We are correcting the information right
now. And don't worry - your personal information is protected.

Thanks for your patience. By the way, you can still tell your friends to 'Adopt the Sky' (link inserted)."

Sometimes, demonstrating you can make a mistake without taking it too seriously can have a greater impact than the original message. While a follow-up e-mail like this won't work for everyone, it does work for them.

In closing, allow me to add that this post is much more about communication than environmental policy. If you are interested in environmental policy and this petition, I fully encourage you to explore the various arguments before signing it (like any petition).

If there is one critique about this campaign: much of it reads as if the campaign is supporting the EPA. It is not. This petition supports the organization's position that the EPA fell short on June 21.

While it seems clear to me that most people understand it is in our best interest to protect the environment, most of the debates generally polarized over the pace in which we protect it. And that is something to always keep in mind.


Monday, July 9

Measuring Success: Image Empowering

Updated weekly, it might take months before the Image Empowering blog by Stephanie Bivona ever makes the blogger B list, let alone the mythical A list. But does it really matter?

Not for Bivona. Her business strategy for Image Empowering drives her blog; her blog does not drive her business or its message. Her post today reflects this thinking — "The Law of Attraction" as popularized by The Secret suggests that our thoughts manifest what we have.

Although The Secret repackages "The Law of Attraction" and gives it a fresh look, the idea is not a new one. It has been around for a very, very long time with the concept interwoven into almost every pearl of wisdom ever written. In fact, it might even be scientifically provable within the context of quantum physics.

Applying “The Law of Attraction" is also pretty good at debunking the myth of how some people measure social media success, especially among blogs. You see, I know Bivona’s blog will achieve all of its objectives despite never chasing traffic or blog rankings for one simple reason.

As one of our new social media clients, Bivona knows that the success of her blog or any future social media project is that traffic or artificially created rankings are myths being pushed by those who benefit from them the most.

The only people who seem to forward such discussions like A-List Bloglebrity, which uses Technorati to determine your standing in the blog community, are those who already have some rank. (Bloglebrity is similar to the equally popular What’s Your Blog Worth or even Alexa traffic ranking for that matter.)

While these measures are fine for virtual water cooler conversations, it’s silly to think they mean much more than that. Case in point: when this blog broke the top 40,000 on Alexa for a few days, we noticed the average length of time our readership stayed on the blog was reduced from 4-5 minutes to a mere 60 seconds. So what did we really achieve? Not much more than what I just mentioned — it’s an interesting water cooler conversation and opportunity to compare the power of one post to a direct mail postcard.

So while we thought it was pretty nifty, we also know that generating traffic and inflating page rank is pretty easy to do. We know all the tricks used by others, ranging from slanted SEO writing (even if the sentence structure makes no sense) and echoing other blogs (by adding gratuitous links) to weighing in on controversial topics (especially if you take a minority view) and being painfully trollish (like calling people names in the comment sections). For our part, we don’t employ these tactics (though SEO writing seems to come natural) because like Bivona, we’re not after traffic for the sake of traffic nor blog rank for the sake of blog rank.

You see, Bivona is not chasing traffic or blog rank; she’s attracting clientele and creating a means to provide constant contact with her existing clients. Thus, her blog becomes a multi-faceted tool that she has employed as a means to that end. Sure, casual visitors might benefit as her weekly posts shed some light on the importance of empowering your personal image.

Yet, her decision to enter social media was not to become an “A-list blogger,” which would require a different strategy all together. Instead, her blog provides an efficient and effective means to brand her full-service image consulting firm, which is her second business (she also owns a successful practice that buys and sells other companies). We’re even retained to play a part in its development; taking care of some details so she can focus on her clients.

Some of this fits in with this blog too. While our strategy is a bit different than Image Empowering, it’s no less dismissive of traffic or blog rank for the sake of traffic and blog rank. We believe, like any successful business does, that it is best to measure results that match your objectives, whether those outcomes are profitability, market share, niche dominance, or any other measure. In other words, it might be tempting to jump on the traffic and blog rank train, but doing so might produce the opposite of what you desire.

But isn’t that the way it is with everything? When you begin to adopt other people’s measures of success — blog ranking, traffic ranking, attractiveness, self-confidence, wealth, whatever — you run the risk eroding your business strategy (or self-confidence) because one size or measure of success does not fit all.


Tuesday, June 26

Falling Skies: Daily Mail

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And the culprits bringing it down are anyone who happens to use the Internet, especially youth.

At least that is what A.N. Wilson with the Daily Mail would have us believe with this article, entitled "The internet is destroying the world as we know it."

It was brought to my attention yesterday, being cited as a discussion point by the collective Amanda Chapel, this time at

"Your child is next door on the computer, destroying the world as we know it and wrecking two of the most fundamental values that underpin society..." leads Wilson.

Yep. Ten-year-olds are the new villains of modern society, responsible for destroying the record industry, the publishing industry, newspapers, and cinema; while amazingly enough, still finding time to become addicts of gambling, pornography, and insidious forms of self-deception.

Fortunately, my son is still two years shy of this now infamous age group when he will be formally indoctrinated into the new axis of evil that is the Internet. Or maybe, something much simpler will prevent him from taking the plunge. What's that? Parental guidance.

So at the risk of sounding like overly cautious parents, we created a hot list of sites that he can visit and put up parental blocks on those he cannot. (And never mind what I think about most shows on Cartoon Network, which he no longer watches.)

To be fair, Wilson starts by thinking through some questions about online privacy (though sadly, no one seems to care). But then, it turns toward good old fashioned doomsday op-eding. You know the kind; the same stuff that sold millions of Y2K books.

For example, Wilson warns us that the Internet is filling our children's heads with blatant propaganda by drawing a comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica online, but never gets to the real reason Wikipedia is better read (online, at least).

It seems to me that the so-called seductive power of Wikipedia is not the reason it ranks higher than the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Web. It's much simpler than that: Wikipedia is free, void of excessive advertising, easier to navigate, and enjoys the benefit of major consumer marketing. (Despite this, I too caution people against considering Wikipedia the most reliable source on the planet.)

So where does this leave us? Are we to bar our children from all things Internet, starving their development to make independent judgements?

Hardly. Our responsibility lies in guiding our youth (our own children, specifically) who sometimes place too much faith in a single source of information (like television commercials with irresistible toys or Wilson's article for that matter). And, we can educate them so they know that history is being rewritten as we speak, every day, and has been for all of, well, history. Among other things.

Then again, maybe Wison and the collective Strumpette aren't really to blame for this point of view that puts our children at risk. Perhaps it is because they too, it seems, bought a questionable bill of goods. The argument they are forwarding is not original; it comes from author Andrew Keen, who claims to "have invented the model of integrating commerce, community, and content." He's also a F**ked Company Hall of Famer.

Ironically, Keen employs the same tool he chastizes for creating a "grand utopian movement" similar to "communist society" that "worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer," preferring, I imagine, a fascist, snobbish world where an elite class of overmen might dictate who makes the cut into the professional talent pool.

Never mind that almost all of our greatest writers, artists, poets, and filmmakers once belonged to the ranks of this lowly amateur class. (No, Keen, not everybody starts as a child television star, not that there is anything wrong with that; some of us start by mowing lawns and drawing pictures of the neighbor's dog.)

So therein lies the rub. Just because something has a cover doesn't make it any more truthful, credible, or accurate than something you might find online (and vice versa). To find the truth, you have to dig deeper, look at multiple sources, ask the right questions and, if you are able, conduct your own research beyond giving in to citing other people (including polar opposites, which is the trend nowadays).

I think social media is as much the same today as it was when I likened it to the Force a few months ago. How one uses it will make all the difference. How we teach our children to use it will also make all the difference.

There are Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. But the Internet is largely just a public space that can be used to further a business strategy, for individual or collective good, for entertainment, and, as some people know, to peddle "fear" and polarizing viewpoints as if the world were black and white.

Fortunately, the world is not black and white. The sky is not falling. And our children (though you might want to check up on them) are not ushering forth a world of unparalleled evil because of the Internet. On the contrary, they might just use the Internet to prevent it.


Tuesday, May 15

Marketing Media: The Recruiting Animal Shooowww!

Johnny Depp, talking to Entertainment Weekly about the final installment of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End called it right. Critics are always tougher on sequels than first runs. Which is cool. Why not? There are worse things in life.

"After the first one was a success, I was sure the critics were going to snap around and start taking pot shots. It's in the rule book: You must take a dump on the second film."

It's something I have to keep in mind because tomorrow I'll be making my second appearance on "The Recruiting Animal Shooowww!" And like all good sequels, there will be much more to fear than a recruiter who can transform himself with the mere mention of a full moon. Tomorrow's show includes Marketing Headhunter, someone who is reputed to have taken more than one head in his blogging career. With two fearsome words tied together, "marketing" and "headhunter," I'm not surprised.

Sure, there are never any clear villains mentioned on this program (except Mr. X, maybe) nor will there be tomorrow, since I'm the guy sporting the "moustache" as the Recruiting Animal likes to call it. But then again, silver bullets might keep half animals at bay, but even I know they don't do a thing for headhunters. I have no idea what magic talisman I might need to keep me safe and the topic this time drifts into unchartered waters. It might even take us to the world's end.

The topic, time, and date are set:

The Recruiting Animal Show.
Topic: Can you make a blog into a media business?
Noon EST (9 a.m. PST) on Wed., May 16
Call to talk: (646) 652-2754
Listen On: Windows Media
MSN Messenger:

The show will skew toward recruiting, but the concepts cross industry boundaries. Just yesterday, NewTeeVee announced the launch of another VC-funded online video ad network and this one, they say, has some reasonably good claims to legitimacy.

Its credentials include a signed customer, Metacafe; the experience of its leadership at (now owned by eBay); venture backing (amount undisclosed) from Gemini Partners; and “millions” of ads in its initial inventory — but also the same fuzzy claims about how its multi-faceted approach to understanding the context of a video is better than the competition. You can see for yourself at

With countless distribution platforms released since the rise of YouTube and more on the way (as many as it takes to make a bubble, I imagine), sooner or later you have to wonder where the programming content will come from. I'm a proponent of the idea that some content might come from companies, which could translate into income marketing (marketing that generates income).

And why not? The simple truth is that some recruiters (and businesses) are already in the media business with their blogs, podcasts, and social networks. What's so scary about video? It lends itself well to the Internet and it seems to be what Generation Y is asking for.

So what will the outcome be tomorrow? I couldn't even hazard a guess. But one thing is certain: The Recruiting Animal is always as entertaining as he is educational. Who knows? Maybe you can "hear" me lose my head. Ha!


Saturday, May 5

Embracing Change: Technorati

With all the buzz about social networks, I'm not surprised Technorati is embracing change. Not all the changes taking place warrant a news release like its partnership with PR Newswire (prompting public relations practitioners to take a harder look at social media). Some happen silently, seamlessly, and seemingly overnight.

One of the quieter changes taking place over at Technorati is how they organize "Favorites." Considering Technorati is the recognized authority on what's happening on the World "Live" Web by tracking 79.2 million blogs, I've always felt its Favorites List was grossly underutilized. That's likely to change in the days and weeks ahead now that Technorati has added "favored by" user icons to every blog overview page. There is also a "Favorites" widget that shows the last three posts from your favorite blogs on your blog, along with a search box limited to blogs you like.

I first noticed these changes a day or two ago when I was reorganizing my own "Favorites" list. The format was different, prompting me to notice a new "fan." So I clicked on over to our blog overview page and, well sure enough, there was an icon of "some guy" who seemed vaguely familiar to me.

Of course he looked familiar; he isn't just "some guy." He is none other than Geoff Livingston who writes the very poignant blog called The Buzz Bin. I had just added him to my Favorites the day before, shortly after learning more about his blog. But that's the way online networking works: linking to blogs you like because they have relevant content.

Technorati's improved approach to Favorites will certainly help do this too, provided bloggers avoid the temptation to participate in too many "Favorite" exchanges and link swap experiments. No, there is nothing wrong with such trades. However, if every blog becomes your Favorite, then you risk diluting the list's relevance in much the same way traffic generators damage analytics.

For example, it doesn't make sense for us to employ a traffic generator like AutoHits on this blog. Random traffic has virtually no meaning to our objectives. (We are testing AutoHits on another project, however.)

The same can be said for Favorite lists anywhere: if you add everyone just because you're hoping for higher rankings, then it really isn't a Favorite list at all. Heck, you might damage any chance of capturing measurable results beyond click-throughs. However, used wisely, you can create a great list of resources for you and your readers.

Monday, April 30

Advertising Research: Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive, a full-service market research firm with more than 40 years' experience, provided a free webinar on
Apr. 26 that treated participants to the future of integrated media, especially as it applies to mobile advertising (cellular phones).

Led by Judith Ricker, (president, marketing communications research) and Joseph Porus (chief architect, technology research practice), the webinar presented preliminary data that suggests when consumers are educated, mobile advertising will work in some exciting (perhaps spooky) ways. The research is solid, and with some minor modifications in my opinion, some of their ideas have a potential that exceeds current consumer imagination.

Ricker and Porus are spot on in recognizing that the Internet is capturing a higher viewership than traditional media (no wonder Viacom is ready to invest a half billion dollars in digital media); that continued breakthroughs in mobile technology (such as the Apple iPhone) will change the way we perceive integrated digital communication (innovation); and that the time has come for companies who view their communication as decentralized to rethink that old model (I'm big on integrated communication).

According to Harris Interactive, mobile advertising is particularly adept at strengthening the bond between the brand and the consumer, communicating messages, and changing behavior. I agree, absolutely. One question that remains is: are consumers ready?

From Harris Interactive's research, only 10 percent of consumers are open to the idea of mobile advertising. However, when paired with incentives, this number jumps to 36 percent. When I first wrote about this subject, I wasn't impressed with these numbers. However, when applied with the Revised Technology Adoption Life Cycle, 36 percent is enough momentum to break into the mainstream.

That is not to say adoption is not without potential pitfalls. Of those who expressed interest in mobile advertising, 66 percent said that consumer choice (the ability to opt in or out) is paramount to ensuring public acceptance. Ricker and Porus reinforced the point several times, saying that as soon as consumers begin to feel like the advertising messages they receive are spam, every potential outcome could be limited by legislation. I hope not because Harris Interactive has some stellar ideas. Here are four subject area highlights (though there are much more worth consideration):

Test Message Ads. Harris Interactive places weight on text messaging because 56 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer it over other forms. I differ here, but only because the consumer's opinion seems attached to how they perceive cell phones right now. Text message ads also have the potential to be the most intrusive. Where I see them best applied is as opt-in sale announcements to remind consumers when Macy's is having a white sale or Borders has a book signing.

Locational Advertising. Harris Interactive suggests consumers can be pointed to a sales rack with the exact dress they are looking for (though the concept does not have to be this precise). I find it spooky that advertisers will know where I am all the time with new GPS features in our phones. However, when I asked my wife, she thought that was a great idea!!! So who I am to say?

Content Advertising. Harris Interactive broke it out differently, but I see it as all the same: entertainment, news, games, social media, downloads, ring tones, and Web browsing. If the foundation is built right, content developers — blogs, digital media, etc. — could receive a real financial boost provided content distribution remains open. Consumers would, in my opinion, have no problem with content advertising if that meant their options could be provided for free (Joost is playing with several ideas right now; Revver has a great one in place).

However, as Harris Interactive pointed out, everyone wants a piece of the action: content developers, content distributors, and service providers. At the end of the day, who knows what it will look like. I have some hunches, but at the moment, they are only that. Despite these hunches, I'm hoping content developers come up on top.

Consumer Profiling. This is perhaps my least favorite trend, but consumers see it differently. Overwhelmingly, as Harris Interactive presented, consumers embrace profiling because they can limit their own advertising exposure based on preferences. They already accept it at ITunes,, and with Internet cookies. So, I'm in the minority. Personal preferences aside, writing individually specific ad messages would benefit someone in advertising like me.

Certainly, there is no way everything presented could be confined to a single post. However, the topic is important and something that I'm certain I'll be revisiting time and time again. Sure, I have some concerns, especially about advertising becoming more pervasive and losing its effectiveness as a result. But as an ad guy, it's part of my job to figure out the best way to solve that problem.

In sum, kudos to Harris Interactive and its work in the field. I intentionally entered as a skeptic to see how difficult it would be to come out a believer. While I could discuss some finer differences, the net result is that it was not difficult at all. Harris Interactive is an excellent research resource in subject matter and my compliments on seeing them take the lead.


Sunday, April 29

Making Improvements: BlogCatalog

There are dozens of blog directories on the Internet; too many according to some. But with its recent format change, BlogCatalog stands out.

Like many directories, BlogCatalog's purpose it to list and categorize blogs available on the Internet. Originally, it was mostly a search engine and directory categorized by topic folders, countries, and languages. In fact, I had almost forgotten all about it until I noticed a few more visitors dropping by from BlogCatalog.

So I revisited the directory yesterday and found something much different from what I remember (more than a year ago). The format is cleaner, user profiles enhanced, and blog page profiles now include a front page preview, recent viewers, neighborhood subscriptions, teaser feeds, rankings, ratings, reviews, discussions, and more. Sure, you can find these features on other sites, but BlogCatalog demonstrates that that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

I don't want to be a spoiler. If you have a few minutes, it's well worth the visit. The submission process is painless; and members have more than enough choices to control their own experience. Very well done.


Friday, March 23

Blogging ROI: ADWEEK

ADWEEK said it all about blogs.

"Despite all the talk about how companies need to have a dialogue with customers —it was brought up yet again several weeks ago at the 4A's Media Conference by Procter & Gamble chief marketing officer Jim Stengel—only a handful of CEOs, outside of the technology industry, are blogging."

So why is this? Debbie Weil points to the Forrester's report, which revealed 60 percent say the ROI of corporate blogging does NOT need to be quantified and/or tied to the bottom line.

Why the heck not?

Maybe I'm just feeling melancholy because I wrapped up my last class this spring, but I'm feeling disgusted by the folks driving the social media bus (and I don't mean Weil; she's actually very good). By in large, the bus drivers all agree that social media is a tactic not a strategy, but then they run around and pitch it as a strategy and wonder why the CEOs are not creating social media budgets. Well, against the wishes of my partner who says I give away too many ideas, I'll tell you why.

Blogs are not hammers. They are 5-in-1 tools.

I learned about 5-in-1 tools when I worked part-time as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams (the guy who matches your paint color to a pillow case) while trying to start my then freelance writing services business on a monochrome Mac Classic and a fold-out kitchen table in a one-bedroom apartment. (My, how things have changed.)

5-in-1 tools are cool because the blunt edge can be used to open a paint can and, in a pinch, it can double as a flat-head screwdriver to tighten or loosen screws. The sharp edges are useful to remove paint. And the pointed edge can be used to get into the crevasses and remove a lot of debris. There are many other uses; all you need is imagination.

That's what selling blogs is about. After you get past the ridiculous term "blog," you have to identify where the technology might be best applied for that specific company. If you do that, the ROI becomes easily measured.

Unfortunately, communication-related professionals (advertising creatives, public relations practitioners, etc.) are running around saying CEO blogs are the first step. That is not going to fly, so give it up.

Blogs don't have to be about CEO insights (though that may be useful for some companies) and, in some cases, they probably should not be. Instead, the application of a blog is best determined on a case-by-case basis. Like what? Here are a few ideas ...

I'm working on three Web sites right now where the client balked at blogs, but loved the idea of a news feed instead of scrolling word files.

The general concept is that the news feed highlight "box" will appear on the front page of their Web site with the latest three items. When clicked, they will go to a blog page that is seamless from the rest of the design. There's the mysterious example of a social media newsroom that targets both social media and traditional media. Oh, and there will be no comments, but "labels" will help journalists find related releases.

Even better, because it is a hybrid for traditional media and social media (and customers), the client won't have to be as sensitive to the rules of "newsworthiness" when they post. The releases that are newsworthy can be sent to traditional media and social media as applicable with a link to the "newsroom." Those that are not will simply appear on the blog.

Or how about this? When you add up the expense of a face-to-face executive meeting, some companies will invest six digits per hour. So if you can cut out even one executive meeting, you've more than paid for a private, secure executive blog that will enhance executive communication so the HR people know what the communication people are doing and vice versa. It's better than e-mail and provides a history.

Or what about this? Create an internal employee-only blog on an intranet that engages employees in real time and encourages them to give feedback so you can capture all those great ideas that never make it past the front line.

Or what about this? A blog that is really a living FAQ page. So rather than be static with the most common questions and answers on a PDF that was created by the best guess of communication people, you can begin to capture questions in real time and have the answer, linked by labels and search engines, for anyone else who happens to come along.

Or what about this? A joint or cross-linked internal-external blog between corporate human resources, recruiters, and maybe corporate communication so everybody can stop arguing about budgets and work together for a change.

Or what about (fill in the blank)? Give me a company to evaluate and I'll be happy to consult on how they might best apply this amazing 5-in-1 tool. For some folks, I'll even tell them how to potentially earn bucks on their blog. It's not that difficult, er, well, maybe for some people...

I suppose that is the real question. Why aren't communication-related people getting it? Because for years and years, they have created mini-ecosystems where marketing, advertising, public relations, investor relations, internal communication, government affairs, community relations, and half a dozen other supposed specialties are so segregated that they are all fighting over the same limited, and perhaps shrinking, budget.

Simply put, the people who will win in the years ahead are pragmatic generalists who see strategic communication as the means to shape a corporate message based on the company's business model and then deliver that message by perhaps overseeing those various specialists who have grown too comfortable in their roles as tacticians and fooled themselves into believing departments should jockey for leadership in order to have more influence over the real strategies of a company.

In the future, I will hazard a guess that the communication industry (as I call it) will not consist of designers, copywriters, public relations specialists, etc. but rather communicators because that is, and has always been, the real function of the job.

If you need real evidence that these titles are getting in the way of progress, take a hard look at how social media is being developed. It's apparent with different sub-industry people trying to apply this 5-in-1 tool to their specific sub-niche without looking outside their own area of speciality, leaving CEOs confused, unconvinced, and wary about missing the bus.

Maybe they would not miss the bus if more communication specialists would stop trying to make companies conform to a tool, but rather make the tool work for the company. If you ask me, if anyone starts to do it right, then social media might actually produce tangible results or, better yet, ROI. If not, we're going to be wallowing in discussions about whether social media is worth it or not for the next decade.

Okay. Sorry for the interruption, you can all go back to the important task of twittering. I have a meeting to go to on this very subject.


Monday, March 19

Proposing New Choices: SHIFT

The Society for New Communication Research released a SHIFT Communications (SHIFT) designed "Social Media News Room" template that seems to succeed as a starting place to ask questions rather than receive answers.

Before I consider the merits of the template, I'd like to clarify that SHIFT Communications is a San Franciso-based public relations agency that seems to be working hard to take a lead position on the social media front. As such, I can only commend them for the effort and hope visitors read this post for what it is and nothing else: a point of dialogue.

With that said, I would be remiss not to point out that, much like Web site templates, one size is unlikely to fit all. This newsroom template design seems to be most suitable for people who like buffets. There's nothing wrong with buffets per se, but there is a lot to be said for controlling the experience like a fine dining establishment. So I am thinking that what seems to be at risk is losing sight of the first priority of any communication: a clear message.

I felt the same way when I saw SHIFT's 2006 Social Media Release template. There is so much going on that I couldn't help but to wonder what the intent of any communication tucked into this format would achieve. It begs to be questioned. Will we overcomplicate communication by paying too much attention to the delivery and not enough on the content? Are we to resort to sound bites and bullets so our messages become a bed of nails that have no impact? Does the future of social media relations (if we call it that) mean abandoning all the lessons learned from the past by attempting to start over from scratch? Are we trying so hard to reinvent the wheel to a point where it no longer functions like a wheel (or does it make more sense to add rubber to our preexisting models)?

For social media releases, I propose the future needs a simpler approach: send a one or two paragraph news summary and a link to a longer blog-embedded news release that includes other delivery and cross reference materials. After all, if you cannot capture someone in the first two paragraphs (preferably the first sentence), then the rest of the information doesn't matter much anyway. Keep it simple.

The same goes for newsroom templates of the future. While I respect Todd Defren's, principal of SHIFT, position that "all visitors should be able to easily pick-and-choose, receive-and-share only those content aspects that are relevant to them, as individuals" has merit, I'm also wondering if too many choices might be just that … too many.

I think we can all relate to the idea that buffets, like cable service with DVRs or Tivo, require more effort to review than it does to enjoy the choice. However, that is not to say that SHIFT is doing anything wrong. On the contrary, SHIFT is doing something, which is much better than nothing because, like it or not, social media is changing the way we employ communication.


Wednesday, December 13

Fixing User-Driven Content

The Reddit outage seems to be posing an interesting problem for future online media. What happens when the lights go out?

Like any company, online or off, contingency and/or crisis communication plans have to be in place if you want to preserve your market share in the morning. Since Reddit, which allows users to post links to content on the Web and other users to vote those links up or down, didn't have any semblance of a plan B in place (and cut off its own communication to spite those pesky spambots driving up irrelevant stories), its rival, Digg, is being given another chance to fend off a rival and capture Reddit's social content posters.

While it's unclear if Digg will be able to capitalize on this on not, it does remind content providers that Web companies are not exempt from the principles of strategic communication. This is especially true if your tech savvy homepage subscribers retain that ever present and unpleasant feeling that your platform is unreliable.

Sure, problems abound on the Internet. Sites sometimes go down and service providers go dark. It's par for the course. And once again, we see the measure of reliability generally resting with the ability to communicate a message. For example, our service provider has dropped our site and e-mail ability once or twice during hurricanes and upgrades, but is reasonably reliant on informing clients on the status of the situation. Blogger can sometimes be a bit buggy too, but it seems adept at confining problems to functions without major content crashes. Its customer service reporting is surprisingly fair for a free service.

Reddit, on the other hand, has made the mistake of going dark, effectively cutting off its own ability to communicate at the same time. Too bad. It seems like just yesterday it was all the buzz because PC World magazine gave it the nod over Digg, citing Reddit's user comments and the site's ability to make recommendations to other users based on past story selections. It's hard to tell whether PC World will be reversing that decision, given that Reddit was, at least temporarily, dead.

California-based Digg ranks No. 78 on the Web according to Alexia. Reddit has made a strong showing, climbing to 804. Unfortunately for fans, it demonstrated why sometimes relying on a site that was operated by three full-time workers and a part-time graduate student in a three-bedroom apartment in Davis Square just six months ago, might not be the best bet.

Or maybe it will be, assuming Reddit's team learns the hard way that a crisis communication plan (and a medium to communicate) isn't really optional. And, once you're back up (it has been up and down all day), it's always good to explain what happened, up front rather than buried away somewhere, who knows where, on its site. We wish them luck.

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