When Did Mashable Lose the Plot?

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Business, Observations | Tags: , , , , , |

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I used to think Mashable.com was a pretty good online publication. Certainly enough to pitch them ideas and actually have a few posts published by them, but of late, I really think that Pete Cashmore and his organization has lost the plot. Mashable used to be “All That’s New on the Web”, now they are titled “The Social Media Guide”. Unfortunately they aren’t either.

The posts they now put out are mostly lists, now I know that blog readers like lists, 10 best this, 7 ways to do that, 18 plugins for this problem. But seriously are there not enough bloggers out there already producing those types of posts. If you have a visitor base of some 1.5m unique visitors per month (according to Compete.com) don’t you think you could try and be a little bit different?

Has Mashable gone the way of its print cousins and become so focussed on Ad revenue that they have decided it is better to turn out the same old stuff that everyone else is doing and play it safe?  One post today just made me laugh, 18 WordPress Plugins for RSS – this is one of the laziest types of posts, and takes about 5 minutes to pull together. Just go to the WordPress Plugins Directory type in the resource you are looking for, and viola you have a list of plugins.

For example here’s how to produce a post called 5 WordPress Plugins for Podcasters:

Type in podcasting, get the following result:

podcast_plugins

Now just rewrite some of this info which comes from the developers and you have a post! No magic to it, no effort either.

Perhaps I am holding them to too high a standard, perhaps I shouldn’t expect anything approaching journalism from what is really “just” a blog. But I do, if Social Media is to progress, those that put themselves out there as “leaders” in the space need to try harder, need to raise the bar, not just produce the same old junk that any hack can pull out in a pinch.

Whilst I agree finding new and interesting Social Media stories is hard work, if you are truly going to be “The Social Media Guide”, then guide don’t follow.

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Paying Bloggers – Right or Wrong is Not the Question

Posted on March 3, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

An article on Read Write Web caught my attention yesterday because of its position on a Forrester report on why companies should pay bloggers to write articles about their products.

Now my first impression is that the RWW article is an “opinion” post, these are always good for driving traffic. Take a stance and put it out there, some people will agree with you, some will disagree, hopefully some of them will leave comments and therefore you increase your audience. So when we get into “tactics” used by organizations whether they are branding companies or “blogging” companies like RWW we should examine all the tactics used.

That out of the way I think that the RWW post ignores the “Why” question and takes a too simplistic view of how brands are trying to cope with the surge in interest in Social Media and their efforts to keep up or in some cases catch up.  They are taking the stance of blogging as a pure art. To that I say “nonesense”, blogging is no such thing, if it were Adsense wouldn’t be available to bloggers. Bloggers have utilized different ways of making money since they first started to produce blogs. The very fact that there are so many posts out there on how to position ads, how to get the most out of ad based systems is testimony to that.  The argument that As are not the same thing as paid articles is to some how elevate the blog post.

All bloggers, by their nature are opinionated, therefore all blogs have an angle.  For example, anyone who reads my updates on Twitter knows I don’t like iPhones. So there is not much point in reading my blog looking for something great about an iPhone here. I have an opinion and I am not afraid to share it. Therefore it would come as no great surprise to my readers if I were to make a post about the Blackberry Storm and disclose in the post that RIM had paid me to do the post.

What the RWW article misses is why brands are doing this and why Forrester would tell them its ok to do it. Its a very simple reason – scalability. Large brands are still struggling with internal discussions over where Social Media Marketing sits within the organization – I know this because some of our own clients are still having these discussion as they engage us to help us solve that question. Is it a MarCom activity, is it PR, is it Online? When you are dealing with organizations that employ tens of thousands of people and have had only one way communications for decades, figuring out how they truly engage their customers is extremely difficult. People point to companies like Zappo’s and say thats how you do it. Zappo’s employs 250 people, even at that level its still relatively easy to make it a company wide activity, try doing that with 25,000 people not all of whom are there because they love the company but because they need a paycheck.

Hiring an enthusiastic blogger to write about your product, giving them a free sample, or even, heaven forbid, actually paying them for their efforts, is a scalable way to get the word out while making adjustments internally. Is it a long term solution, in my opinion no, is it particularly imaginative, again in my opinion no. Does it work? If done right, with the right disclosure, undoubtedly.

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Does Twitter Need A Lesson In Being Social?

Posted on February 19, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

I am sure you have seen the story circulating about Twitter’s mass rejection email that was sent out in an open manner.

I came across this story on a couple of different blogs Koo’s Corner, ValleyWag and a few others. What piqued my interest in the story was less that the HR manager didn’t know the difference between CC & BCC in an email. It wasn’t the fact that she revealed the email addresses of 186 candidates for a Twitter position.

What I found interesting was that the email was identical to one I received from Twitter for a completely different position that I applied for about 4 months ago. Same wording, same phrasing exactly.  This leads me to believe that the email is in fact generated by whatever HR system Twitter has in place.Either that or they are really lazy and keep template emails for rejections in Outlook and then just add addresses to it. But I digress.

What interests me is that the company that is behind one of the biggest Social Media platforms right now, is still employing old school thinking in its hiring.  Oh I am sure they have cool, whacky interview techniques, you only have to read their HR Manager Krissy Bush’s Twitter feed to see odd references to candidates being asked to do push-ups to get a sense of the “cool factor”.

However, it’s examples like this that really show how a company works. It also shows that although they are responsible for a great Social Media platform, it doesn’t actually mean they have any better understanding of Social Media than any other Tech company, which is what Twitter really is.

So if the hottest Social Media platform developers can’t be more creative with how they communicate with applicants to their company is it any wonder that other companies struggle to understand how to utilize Social Media ?

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Is Social Media the latest lifeline in a downturn economy?

Posted on December 10, 2008. Filed under: blogging, Business, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

A life preserver icon.

In times of economic uncertainty people instinctively look for some way in which to add additional value to their position, either within an organization or within the broader business environment.

The Rise of The ‘Expert’

In 2007/2008 SEO & SEM became attached to almost any position that vaguely involves some form of online activity. Marketers, PR, copywriters, web designers, web developers everyone suddenly claimed that they had the secret sauce that would enable your website to be on page one of any search any results remotely connected with your business.

The second half of 2008 has seen a shift of this toward Social Media. With the rise in popularity of Social Media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook and their increasing use by corporates as a communication tool employees and freelance individuals are shifting their attention to becoming Social Media ‘experts’.

This is not all that surprising. It happens with the advent of all new technologies and for that matter non-technology trends.

The Cool Kids

There have been some interesting conversations on Twitter regarding the craze for gaining a high number of followers and achieving this by following as many people as possible. Indeed Gennefer Snowfield (@acclimedia) made the astute observation that the trend for applications like Tweetdeck that allow the management of large quantities of followers is a reaction to this method of using Twitter.

This method is perhaps being inspired by the perception of Social Media “rockstars” like Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble & others who are seen as having large numbers of followers and that there is some correlation between having a large following on Twitter and the degree of ‘expertise’ in Social Media. Therefore if you are to be seen as a Social Media ‘expert’ you should have a large number of followers and to achieve this you should follow a large number of people.

This is where unfortunately the ‘Social’ in Social Media gets over-emphasized and the Media part gets practically ignored. Social Media isn’t high school. It isn’t about being like the cool kids. Chris Brogan et al are not the Senior year whilst the rest are all Freshmen.

However, this type of behavior is to be expected in uncertain times. In the late 90’s everyone wanted to append the title ‘Webmaster’ to themselves. Not just because it was cool, but because the trend in business was to start using the Internet and in particular the web as a new method of communication. Social Media is the new channel. So individuals with no marketing communication experience are suddenly becoming Social Media ‘experts’.

Just as there are those who have and continue to present themselves as being SEO ‘experts’ without anything more than a slim veneer of search engine knowledge so I believe we will see a rise in the number of Social Media ‘experts’. Of course this is all possible because even someone with a shallow level of knowledge can be convincing in a room full of people with no knowledge. 2010 will see the shake out of those people, but 2009 will be their year. As more and more organizations wake up to the way communications between provider and consumers are happening and start to invest in Social Media and realize that they need help but can’t afford the A listers so they will turn to whatever resource they can find, either internally or amongst the budget providers.

I actually don’t see too much wrong with this. Of course there will be some charlatans, and Caveat Emptor will always apply. Organizations that don’t carry out some form of due diligence when hiring consultants of any nature share the responsibility if they implement bad advice.

Embracing The Talent You Have

What I think will continue to happen will be the rise in the numbers of Social Media participants who are conducting self branding campaigns. Jeremiah Owyang posted an article about how corporations respond to employees who develop personal brands. Given that there are over a million blogs created daily in the US the likelihood that a large or even medium sized organization doesn’t already have several bloggers amongst its workforce is fairly slim. Instead of restricting this activity why not nurture it? Provide training, hone skills, develop an integrated communications strategy that includes these individuals.

Does your organization encourage or discourage your Social Media activity?

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Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?

Posted on November 20, 2008. Filed under: blogging, Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Personal Branding was long the preserve of the Hollywood celebrity. To have a personal brand one needed a publicist, a manager, a PR agency and of course the ubiquitous “People”, as in “I’ll have my people talk to your people”. Social Media is changing all of that. People who would have once gone unnoticed now have a channel through which they can reach thousands of people.

With a million new blogs launched everyday in the US, the competition for audience share is ever more challenging. Skills & tasks that were once only aqcuired by and the concern of product managers, brand managers & marketing managers are now being acquired, honed and practiced by everyone from school teachers, stay-at-home parents, to police officers and computer geeks.

I Know How You Did That

There are two main implications of this change that Social Media is bringing. Firstly, everyone taking part in this surge in communication now wants, not only their 15 minutes of fame, but enduring celebrity and they want it now. The second implication is that having started to realize how brand’s are built the curtain has been drawn back and so these same people are less susceptible to traditional marketing techniques, after all they are using them themselves to attract their own audience.

I have seen recently, a undertone of what could be described as “resentment” against Social Media stars. In some cases I believe that people look at these so called stars in the same way that people sometimes view musicians who gain a place in the public consciousness. The term “overnight success” gets thrown about because people don’t realize the years that a musician might have spent playing spit & sawdust bars, for little more than beer & tips. In the same way a lot of the so called Social Media stars have in fact been practioners of their craft for years. Dorian Carta (aka Paisano) recently celebrated his 10th year as a blogger, hardly a Johnny-come-lately.

A recent NPR interview contained the snippet that it takes about 10,000 hours to become good at something. 10,000 hours that’s just over a year. So if you haven’t been blogging consistently (e.g. more than once a week) for at least a year, you haven’t even begun to get good at it.

Credibility is Key

What is missing from a lot of these Personal Branders is the sense of differentiation. Its a clear case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. The desire to achieve some form of recognition is a natural human instinct, but Social Media is allowing some to seek recognition well outside of their normal circles. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows all of us to experience points of view, to share knowledge with people we would otherwise be very unlikely to encounter. That differentiation is and has always been, credibility, whether blogging or branding, building consumer trust is central to developing a brand as opposed to building celebrity.

However, this has to be tempered with the knowledge that not everyone will be, or should be recognized as a rock star. Even those who are admit that they are human first, they have good days, they have bad days. Chris Pirillo famously ranted about Microsoft on his blog, given that he had been a high profile employee previously and that he was saying everyone should go and buy a Mac, it had the potential to be quite influential. When asked about it, he admitted, he was just having an off day, he was frustrated by things he saw at Microsoft and shared that frustration with the world through his blog. More now than ever, we can’t believe everything we read.

So when people embark on a blogging career, whether professionally or personally, they need to understand that building a brand is not an over night event. Popularity might come quickly, but it also has the ability to fade quickly, the test of brand success, whether it is corporate or personal is its ability to endure. How many of those 1 million blogs that will launch today will you be reading in a years time, let alone 10 years time?

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No Bull Shiitake: Why I follow Guy Kawasaki

Posted on November 12, 2008. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Guy Kawasaki

There are lots of tools and articles that provide recommendations of people to follow on Twitter and elsewhere in the Social Mediaverse.

But few provide the why. For new users and experienced alike, finding new and interesting people to follow is part of the excitement of being engaged in Social Media / Networking. Only yesterday I spoke with someone who considered themselves what could best be defined as an “intermediate” level user, who had never heard of Chris Brogan, and was very grateful that I could provide a recommendation for both Chris’ blog and to follow him on Twitter.

So why do I follow these particular people? Engagement. For me there are a few people who not only provide great material but actually bother to engage with their followers in a way that humanizes the conversation. In effect brings the “Social” emphasis to the fore.

Yesterday I wrote about the metrics that are often applied to determining who the “Influencers” are in Social Media and how flawed I believe those metrics to be. I also proposed a new measure – Engagement Factor, based on the level of “conversation” occurring between these Influencers and their audience.

Chris Brogan wrote on his blog about how he uses Twitter at volume. He talks about the four keys to his use of Twitter as being:

  • Be Helpful
  • Be Informative
  • Be Human
  • Be Responsive

He goes on to mention that being helpful is sometimes particularly difficult, with 20,000 follows if only 1% direct message him asking for help, he receives 200 requests in a day. If his only task in life were to answer those requests he might just make it, but of course that isn’t his only job, he has a full time job and is a prolific writer, so sometimes people get disappointed.

Yesterday I direct messaged Guy Kawasaki, twice, he responded both times. Again this is someone that has more than 20,000 followers. I asked him to take a look at yesterday’s post and give me his thoughts – how many requests does he get like that a day? But he took the time to review it, and point out that my proposed metric didn’t account for direct messages (I had covered that in the post) which was a fair comment, he also mentioned that he replies to around 50 – 60 DM’s a day.

Darren Rowse, the author of Problogger, is another who actually takes the time to respond to direct messages. What unifies these writers is that they all espouse the need for engagement in Social Media, they talk about it on their blogs, they talk about it on Twitter, they teach it to their paying customers, but most importantly they actually practice it. That for me is the reason to follow someone who the Social Mediaverse dubs a “rockstar”.

Take these things in context, just because you DM, email or @reply to one of these people and they don’t reply doesn’t mean they aren’t engaging with you. Before you hit send, think about your message. Is your message simply a method of getting you attention?

Guy Kawasaki in his recent post on attracting more Twitter follows says:

Send @ messages to the smores. They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility. The theory is, “If she is tweeting with @scobleizeer, she must be worth following.” Bull shiitake logic, admittedly, but it helps. To bastardize what a famous PR person once told me, “It’s not who you know. It’s who appears to know you.”

If this is the strategy you are following, then don’t be surprised that they don’t answer you. If you are expecting an answer then think about what it is you are asking of them. You want them to review your blog – whats the content really like, what is the fit between your blog and their writing?, You want them to come to your event – whats the reason you want them to do that? In other words, just because they are the “rockstars” who promote engagement don’t imagine for one minute that engagement is a one way street. If you can’t be bothered to do your research and engage with them ask yourself why they should engage with you. At a recent Tweetup in Austin, Robert Scoble talked about why he left LinkedIn, he was tired of people simply wanting to connect with him so he would introduce them to someone beneficial in his network. That isn’t engagement that’s exploitation.

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Influencer or Celebrity?

Posted on November 11, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

Paparazzi by David Shankbone

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There has been a lot of discussion recently about how to attract more followers on Twitter, how to drive more readers to your blog and how marketers can and should be reaching out to key influencers in the social media world.

As the number of Social media platforms increase and the number of Social media users increases with it, so will the numbers of people attempting to reach “influencer” status. Estimates suggest that 50% of adults in the US who are online, engage in or consume some form of Social media. 1.2 million blogs are created everyday in the US. With all of this traffic how can you spot the Influencer from the Celebrity?

Metrics have always been key in business. The need for hard numbers to prove a position is drummed into students at business school and repeated mantra-like in board rooms across the country. But what numbers really apply to “key influencers”.

If we take Twitter (no secret I am a big fan) as one example of a Social media tool and blogs as another and look at the numbers available to gauge Influence it is easy to see how numbers can be deceiving. The two main numbers that people notice on Twitter are Followers & Following. For blogs RSS subscribers would be seem a reasonable number.

I did a little research, and many thanks goes out to the writers of these blogs who either have their RSS numbers posted on their site or responded to my question asking them for their subscriber numbers, if it is has a question mark in the box its because I either couldn’t find the number or didn’t get a response before posting, no inference should be drawn from that, these folks are busy and probably get hundreds of these types of requests daily.

Influencer RSS #’s Twitter Following Twitter Followers Ratio EF
Robert Scoble ? 20,950 38,011 0.55 2.57
Chris Brogan 11,710 16,767 19,363 0.86 1.14
Darren Rowse (aka Problogger) 67,101 5,271 14,495 0.36 0.76
Heather B. Armstrong (aka Dooce) ? 60 19,069 0.003 0.00
Brian Clark (aka Copyblogger) 44,141 199 7350 0.02 0.77
Guy Kawasaki 200,000 25,244 25184 1.00 0.39
Gary Vaynerchuck ? 2,204 18,852 0.11 0.20
Steve Rubel 45,584 418 10,433 0.04 0.07
Simon Salt (aka incslinger) 5 411 438 0.93 3.61

The penultimate column in the table shows the ratio between Followers & Following. The nearer to 1, the nearer to a reciprocal relationship. As you can see the only person who makes a 1 on the table is Guy Kawasaki, he admits he uses an autofollow to follow all new followers, but note that he actually follows more people than follow him, so his number is not due only to his method of auto-following.

So these are the numbers, what can we draw from them, well as one esteemed British Prime Minister said, there are three types of lies, Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics. We can draw whatever conclusion we want from these numbers and that is the point. The blunt instrument of Social media metrics is just that, it lacks finesse and the fine edge that is needed to really assess whether a person is truly an Influencer in Social Media circles or simply a Celebrity. Of course, Celebrity brings with it an ability to Influence, we are all familiar with the “Oprah effect”.

I would argue that the better measure to be applied to Social media users is their “Engagement Factor”. What percentage of their messaging is directed at their followers specifically and what percentage is simply “broadcasting”? I reviewed the last sixty Tweets of the folks on the table above and counted how many were directed at a specific Twitter user or group of Twitter users and how many were just statements. The results as a ratio are in the EF column. An EF greater than 1 indicates that the user Tweets directly to people more often than they simply broadcast. An EF less than 1 indicates the reverse. Now of course this is just a raw number and needs some refining. It doesn’t include direct messages nor does it include quality of Tweet. If Guy Kawasaki Tweets something then there is a fairly high percentage chance that its actually worthwhile reading. I also did not distinguish between straight tweets and those containing links to sites other than the Tweeters own blog. Information sharing should definitely be a factor in the EF measurement. Using sixty tweets is hardly a representative sampling of the total number of tweets any of these folks have made, but it did provide enough data to make a start and test the theory (and I was doing it by hand!). I included my own metrics simply because I am not a superstar/A list/Celebrity blogger so I felt it might provide a reasonable benchmark.

What elements do you feel should be included in the Engagement Factor calculation?

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Twitter and Automated tools

Posted on November 4, 2008. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

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I was engaged in a Twitter conversation yesterday about the use of Auto-Twitter tools, like Tweetlater.  I have had this discussion a few times and its interesting to me that the debate is quite polarizing. Some Twitter users are adamant that you should not use any form of auto generated Tweets.  Others state that its a great way to drive traffic to your blog, e-book or company website.

The Middle Way

As with most polarized discussions there is usually a third path.  I personally use auto reply from Tweetlater to ensure that everyone who follows me gets an immediate response.  Some days I attract upto 30 new followers, it can take me at least 24 hours before I get the opportunity to respond to them individually.  To me, in the current, always on, instant gratification world we live in, that isn’t acceptable, but also I can’t do everything at once.  I run a company, I blog, I write articles, I micro-blog to Twitter.  So sometimes things slide.  Using the tool allows me to make sure I make some form of connection with everyone that follows me.

What to say

So if, like me you want to use an automated tool what should you say?  My message simply says, “hey, thank you for following me, I hope to make it worth your while.”  I keep it short, friendly and most importantly I don’t put links in it to my blog, my company or anything else.  Why?  Because if I want to not only have you follow me on Twitter but also read my blog, I had better be prepared to engage with you personally.

Other Auto Tools

There are plugin’s that will automatically Tweet when you update your blog.  I really don’t understand the point of this.  You have just written this amazing post, you want lots of people to read it, so what exactly is preventing you from logging into Twitter or using whatever tool you use to post to Twitter and making your Tweet engaging?  If you can take the time to write a blog post worth reading, why wouldn’t you be able to write a 140 character message that will engage readers?  I cringe every time I see on Twitter “Just update my blog” and then a link.  Ok great thanks for letting me know, but what was your blog post about, why would I care ? Is the subject of interest to me?  Get to know your audience, what do they care about?  What are they reading?  You should know because if you are really engaging in Social Media then you are following the links they post, reading what interests them and therefore gaining an insight into what they might be interested in reading on your blog.

Engagement

Now if you have reached this part of the post you may have noticed that I have used the word Engagement 4 times in only 3 paragraphs. Why would I do that? Because the key to Social Media, IMHO, isn’t what platform you are using, it isn’t how many people you have writing your blog, it comes down to the 3 E’s, yes you guessed it Engage, Engage, Engage.  Time is probably the most valuable asset any member of your potential audience can spend on you.  If you want them to invest it in you, invest in them.  Use automated tools wisely and only for good reason.  Don’t be tempted to let bot’s replace your voice.

What’s your opinion? Do Auto responses have any role to play in Twitter?

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