Articles Tagged with social media

Negativity, Social Gaffes and Farewell to Case Studies

I haven’t had a chance to send a newsletter for a few weeks because I’ve been so busy with other assignments. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been writing about.

Love Your Critics

Angry customerThe CMO Site likes to stir things up, so my posts there tend to be on the controversial side. In Why Brands Should Love Public Complaints, I make the case that your critics can be your strongest allies. Why? Because a little negativity reinforces the validity of the positive comments you publish.

The whole concept of enabling negativity to appear on your own website rubs a lot of marketers the wrong way, but I’d argue that it’s great for building integrity. The article notes that Epson reported that revenue per visitor nearly doubled after it started including customer reviews on its site. The fact that one out of 10 customers may be displeased with your product can be looked at another way: 90% are happy.

The right approach is not to deny that you have unhappy customers; everyone’s got a few. They’re going to vent their frustrations anyway, so encourage them to do it in a place where you can respond and juxtapose their opinions with the vast majority who are pleased.

Read more and comment on The CMO Site

Good Riddance to the Corporate Case Study

In this post, I ranted just a bit about corporate case studies, those pervasive and largely useless vessels of happy talk that no one really believes. Corporate case studies used to have a purpose in the days when customers couldn’t find each other, but today all it takes is a few searches or LinkedIn queries to identify experienced buyers.

It’s not the concept of the case study I don’t like; it’s the format. Once the legal department gets involved in approvals, most meaningful content gets sucked out of the article. Prospective buyers have always viewed case studies with suspicion and I think  today they mainly ignore them.

So rather than investing time and dollars paying writers for stories that no one believes, why not focus on greasing the skids between your happy customers and your prospects? Make it easy for the two parties to connect and then get out of the way.

Read more and comment on The CMO Site

The Futility of Whisper Campaigns

The WhisperPR practitioners who undertake influencer relations programs often discover an odd disconnect between dealing with bloggers and dealing with traditional media: Bloggers don’t operate by the same rules as reporters.

The recent example of this disparity ended up embarrassing a prominent PR firm, and I analyzed what went wrong in BtoB magazine.

In case you missed it, early last month a pair of new employees at Burson Marsteller, both of them veteran journalists, contacted a security blogger and offered to help him write and place an op-ed piece that exposed “sweeping violations of user privacy” by Google.

It turns out the blogger was more interested in the motivations of the PR firm than in Google’s allegedly intrusive behavior. After he posted the e-mail exchange online, some USA Today reporters dug up the fact that Facebook was behind the whisper campaign.

Burson, which claims to be social media-savvy, did exactly the opposite of what it would counsel its crisis communications clients to do: It clammed up. The incident was a huge black eye for the agency and a lesson in how not to pitch a blogger.

Read more and comment on BtoBOnline.

Do You Need A Social Media Specialist? Yup.

My most recent column in B2B was actually sparked by a conversation I overheard on a plane. A guy in the seat behind me was railing to his companion about the idiocy of hiring social media specialists. In his opinion, everyone in a company should learn to use the tools. Expertise shouldn’t be concentrated in one person or department.

I agree with his second point but I can’t endorse his overall premise. Nearly every company I’ve encountered that is succeeding in social media has a center of excellence. They aren’t delegating social interactions to one person, but they’re shortcutting the learning process by hiring people who can train others. In this column, I explain why a social media expert can save you time, money and embarrassment (see Burson above).

What’s your approach? Read more and comment on BtoBOnline.

Just for Fun: Weekly World News

Weekly World NewsIn case you missed the news this week, Britain’s largest Sunday newspaper, News of the World, was shut down abruptly over a scandal involving hired private investigators who hacked into voicemail accounts of celebrities and ordinary citizens. News of the World was known for its outrageous headlines and salacious gossip, and certainly it will be missed by its 2.5 million subscribers. Fortunately, a publication with a very similar name, Weekly World News, continues to thrive, at least on the Web.

WWN was launched in 1979 with the discarded black-and-white presses formerly used by the National Enquirer. It ceased print publication in 2007, but its legacy of informing its readers of the dangers of space aliens, the promise of roadkill diets and the never-ending exploits of the “Bat Boy” continues.

With the tagline of “The World’s Only Reliable News,” Weekly World News has recently reported on alien spaceship attacks coming in November, Southern California’s plans to secede from the union and sightings of mermaids in Israel. One thing is certain: You can’t believe a word of it.

 

Let Your People Speak!

Earlier this week I wrote an article for SocialMediaB2B.com that made the case that last week’s IBM Watson Jeopardy challenge, in which an IBM computer thrashed the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time, was the greatest B2B marketing campaign ever.

One reason I liked it so much is that IBM let scientists – instead of corporate suits – tell the story of their achievement. This was documented in more than 30 videos that IBM posted on YouTube as well as chat sessions and group Q&A interviews on the website reddit.com.

If you want to see the passion that the IBM scientists brought to this project, watch the 11-minute summary video that was posted shortly after the contest ended. It’s clear that Watson’s accomplishments were more than just a technology triumph. Researchers reacted as if their child had just graduated from Harvard. Their passion was contagious and genuine.

Why don’t more companies let the people who build and support their products come out of the shadows the way IBM did? In part, I believe it’s fear that people will do the wrong thing. It also reflects the time limitations that developers and engineers themselves often cite as a reason to stay in the shadows. Let’s look at each in order.

Tell Stories

Effective communications is about storytelling. Ronald Reagan taught us that. People don’t respond to statistics, feature charts and positioning statements the same way they do to other people. Entrepreneurs excite us when they share their vision, yet successful companies bury enthusiasm under layers of approvals and official spokespeople.
Rick Short, Indium Corp.B2B customers have intense information needs, and their questions are often best answered by the people who build and service the products they use. Some companies understand this. One of my favorite stories from Social Marketing to the Business Customer is Indium Corp., which built a constellation of search-optimized blogs that put their engineers directly in touch with the people who buy their highly specialized products. Result: 600% jump in leads in six months. Marcom Director Rick Short (left) says his job is to “get engineers talking to customers and then get out of the way.”
Do unofficial spokesmen sometimes say the wrong thing? Sure. Does it matter? Not really. Corporations are far too sensitive to the indiscretions of individuals, which usually can be sidestepped with an apology or explanation. A couple of hours of media training does wonders.

Blogs Are the New Trade Show

The issue of time commitments and availability is valid, but usually overstated. Many engineers are only too happy to write papers and travel thousands of miles to deliver presentations, yet writing a 500-word blog entry or recording a how-to video is seen as overwhelming.
There’s a contradiction here. Engineers naturally like to share, and they know that conference presentations are good for their careers. Contributions to the company’s social media programs potentially reach a much larger audience than a presentation at a trade show. They go to the trade show because that’s what’s always been done.

I wish more corporate marketers would adopt Rick Short’s philosophy and see themselves as facilitators rather than spokesman. They should be the ones urging recalcitrant executives to draw contributors out from behind the curtain. They should have the statistics to demonstrate that the blog reaches a larger audience than the trade show. They should be the ones positioning customer communications as a privilege, not a chore.

The best way to encourage individual contributors to participate in your social media programs is to celebrate them. That doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Recognize contributions to the corporate blog in your employee newsletter, or hand out awards for the most prolific or creative contributors every quarter along with a small gift certificate. When people see that their involvement is good for their careers, they quickly come on board.

Lots to Tell About B2B Social Marketing

When you have a book to promote, you somehow manage to be everywhere at once! Eric and I have had a great time these last few weeks evangelizing the idea that business-to-business markets really are different from B2C markets and deserve their own tactics and tools.

Tip of the Week: Free Twitter Seminar

Last week I presented a two-hour webinar for Alpha Software on how to use Twitter for business. Alpha gave me the video feed for the whole program, so I thought why not share? So if you go to the presentations page on my website, you’ll find it at the top. All two hours’ worth. Judging by the number of people who stayed online for the whole talk, it must be somewhat useful. There are a lot of other presentations on that page that you can also view and download.

Just for Fun: Atlas Obscura

In a town called Lluvia de Peces in Honduras, an amazing thing happens once or twice a year. A large storm rolls through with heavy rain and after it’s gone, the the streets are full of flopping live fish.

At the Dittrick Museum of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University you can find the largest collection of historical contraceptives in the world, more than 1,000 items.

In southern Arkansas, they’re still trying to figure out the mystery of the Gurdon Light (below), an eerie white-blue, sometimes orange, glowing orb that moves through the trees. Some say it’s the lantern of a railroad worker who fell on the tracks and was beheaded.
These and thousands of other odd, obscure and wondrous places around the world are documented on Atlas Obscura, a travel wiki of breathtaking scope. Want to visit the geographical center of the lower 48 states? It’s two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas. A small stone pyramid marks the point. That’s one of 150 listings in the category of “Geological Oddities.” Altogether, I estimate Atlas Obscura has nearly 4,000 entries, many with a considerable amount of background information. It’s impressive, absorbing and often pretty weird.

CareOne Cashes In On Community

CareOne Debt Relief Services contends with a business climate that few of us (thankfully) have to face: Its industry has a terrible reputation.

CareOne logo

That industry is debt relief, a field that many people associate with fast talking pitchmen on late-night infomercials. But there’s nothing underhanded about CareOne, a nine-year-old company with 700 employees and a philosophy that “There’s no reason to be ashamed of being in debt,” according to Social Media Director Nichole Kelly (below right).

A busy online community has been a remarkably effective engine of growth. By enabling customers to freely exchange experiences, CareOne helps shatter suspicions that dissuade people in debt from seeking professional help. In fact, the conversion rate of prospects who have signed in to the CareOne Community is a remarkable seven times higher than that of non-members.

That claim, which is one of several ROI metrics cited in a summary of the company’s social media successes, sounded so extreme that I gave Kelly a chance to qualify the numbers when I spoke to her recently.

Nichole KellyShe would do no such thing.  CareOne actually takes a disciplined approach to figuring ROI, she said, using control groups and thousands of data points. Not only do community members convert at dramatically higher rates, but the boost in sign-ups is only one of several business benefits CareOne has realized from its customer community. But more on that in a minute.

Happy Accident
The 1.4 million member community was actually an accident. It was created five years ago as a way for CareOne employees to share advice about their own debt issues. A few outsiders stumbled upon the site and joined the conversation. It turned out that they were a rich source of prospects.

Debt is a touchy subject. Most people don’t like to admit to financial problems, but they crave solutions, often desperately. CareOne discovered that customers who engaged online were far more likely to seek professional help than cold-called candidates. “It’s real customers telling each other that the program works,” she said.

CareOne’s approach is a good example of soft-sell marketing. The site features numerous articles, worksheets and video tutorials about debt reduction. A recently launched video series called Financially Fit TV interviews personal finance experts. About 30% of visitors who register and tap into the free advice never become customers but “That’s fine,” Kelly said. “If they can get out of debt on their own, we’re happy to help.”

But more than 60% of visitors aren’t current customers, making them a lucrative prospect base. Word-of-mouth recommendations help drive inbound inquiries, and the presence of so much helpful information in the community lowers the barrier to conversion. It’s clear to casual visitors that CareOne is no fly-by-night operation.

Not that managing a community is easy. The number of active participants – or those who regularly contribute content – is in the sub-1% range. That’s not surprising for a topic that few people like to discuss publicly. However, lurkers invest a healthy five to 10 minutes per session and return frequently, indicating that the audience is engaged.

CareOne has invested time and money to encourage the minority who interact. Its busy Ask the Expert forums have certified credit counselors responding to inquiries. The experts are compensated for their time. A full-time four-person social media team manages the community and other social media programs, responding to questions, correcting misstatements and encouraging lurkers to come forth.

Active members are promoted and applauded. As in most online communities, a very small percentage of members contribute most of the content, but those people can become heroes to their peers. One popular blog, My Journey out of Debt, is written entirely by customers.

The Insight Dividend

In addition to the remarkable conversion rates for community members, CareOne has realized other benefits. For example, last year it detected a shift among its upper-income customers away from debt management plans and toward debt settlement relief. It adjusted its resource commitments accordingly.

Recently, “We noticed that a lot of our customers were one car breakdown or one illness away from bankruptcy,” Kelly said. “That changed the content we were delivering. We reduced our focus on frugality and began creating more content on dealing with life events.”

One of the more impressive aspects of the whole effort is the company’s focus on ROI metrics. Kelly ticks off her favorites: cost per conversion, cost per acquisition, customer value, customer profitability and retention rate. Nothing about hits, followers or comments. Those aren’t financial metrics.

CareOne ROI metricsCareOne is focusing on the right stuff. The section headlined “CareOne + Social Media: The Measurement” on the successes page devotes substantial attention to five challenges of measuring social media ROI. In all cases, it focuses on bottom-line drivers.

Customer communities aren’t for everyone, and in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn, you actually need a compelling reason to start your own. The ability to build detailed audience profiles, customize services for individuals and maintain a level of confidentiality were good reasons for CareOne to choose the path it did. The company clearly cares about bottom-line return, and by being able to track individual visitors through their various interactions with the company, it has shown some impressive results.

Jason Falls has an excellent profile of CareOne Community here.

Answers to Common Social Marketing Questions

Lately, Eric Schwartzman and I have been participating in a lot of online events about B2B social media marketing, and there are invariably more audience questions than we have a chance to answer. So we’ve been posting our responses through the good graces of our hosts. Here are a few you might have missed:

Frequently Asked Questions about B2B Social Media (Marketo)

  • Should I use a personal Facebook page for business?
  • How do I encourage participation in my corporate blog?
  • Should a small B2B company to have a Facebook fan page?
  • And more…

Twitter Questions Asked…And Answered! (Part One)

  • What about using corporate versus personal employee accounts?
  • How can I reach people who tweet about a topic that’s relevant to me?
  • Should you tweet differently for a B2B versus a B2C audience?
  • And more…

Twitter Questions Asked…And Answered! (Part Two)

  • How do you grow your following on Twitter?
  • What do you think of scheduling services like HootSuite?
  • How do you handle people who tweet negatively about your business?
  • And more…

Tip of the Week: Nimble

Nimble logoI usually devote this section to services that are publicly available, but I’ll make an exception for Nimble, a social CRM tool that I’ve been using in beta release for several weeks. Nimble was created by Jon Ferrara (below right), the founder of the legendary GoldMine sales automation software. After cashing out of Goldmine and taking several years off, he is back with a CRM tool that makes social connections an essential part of the contact management equation.

Jon Ferrara, NimbleWith Nimble, you can import your address book, Facebook and LinkedIn contacts into a single record and associate people’s activities in those networks – as well as Twitter and your inbox – in a single place. So if you’re making a call on a prospect or customer, you can quickly consult the personal or company record to find out what’s been happening in their lives or careers.

In its current form, Nimble still needs work, but the enhancements I saw previewed this week add a lot of power. In this next release, the software will automatically discover a contact’s social media footprint and even create an integrated news feed so you can see what all of your contacts are saying across all platforms. This is where I think social CRM has power. It can give you insights that lead to better engagement.

Ferrara told me he plans to make Nimble free to individual users and charge for corporate licenses. You can sign up now for the beta invitation, and I expect you’ll get an invitation soon. I’ve never used CRM software before, but I think I’m going to start.

Just for Fun: Icons of Progress

Bar Code from IBM 100 Icons of ProgressThis week’s selection isn’t so much fun as really, really interesting, particularly for history buffs like me. IBM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, which is quite an achievement in a world in which the average life expectancy of a multinational corporation is between 40 and 50 years. One of the many ways in which Big Blue is marking the centennial is with a historical retrospective called 100 Icons of Progress. This site will be regularly updated with historical information about technologies that changed our world.

IBM’s just getting started, but the accounts of how innovations like the floppy disk, the IBM 1401 mainframe and the universal product code came about are mesmerizing. Check back regularly as new icons are added. And if you want to know what was the first product ever scanned by a bar code reader, find the answer here.

The End of ‘Social Media’

This is the time of year when a lot of people make predictions. I’ll resist that urge, though, and instead present a plea: Let’s make 2011 the year we stop talking about “social media.”

It’s not that social media is no longer important. On the contrary, there’s almost no media today that isn’t social. The problem with much of the discussion is that it’s been focused on tools, and tools are far less important than what people do with them. Now that everyone knows the basics of Facebook and Twitter, things start to get interesting.

January 1 marks the beginning of a new decade, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of how much changed in the decade just completed. Ten years ago, almost no one had heard of Google, there was no online video and consumer ratings were unknown. We used cell phones primarily for voice calls and content management systems less functional than WordPress cost a half million dollars.

In early 2004 Technorati counted about a million blogs on the Internet and Facebook was just getting off the ground. Seven years, 200 million blogs, nearly 600 million Facebook members and a few billion YouTube videos later the information landscape has been completely transformed. Stunning.

We have achieved a goal Bill Gates coined 20 years ago called “information at your fingertips.” Want to know who said “There’s a sucker born every minute?” Tap, tap, click and you’re there (it wasn’t P.T. Barnum, BTW). Interested in the film history of the movie star you’re watching? IMDB has an app for that.

This new reality of instant information access will transform our economy and our culture fundamentally. It’s already beginning. A friend who runs an auto dealership tells me that customers today typically know more about the cars they want to buy than his own salespeople do. Some now come into the showroom knowing precisely what other people have paid for cars at his dealership within the last couple of months. Think of how that changes his business. And what’s happening in auto sales will happen in every single industry.

Over the next few years we will learn to take for granted that advice from people just like us is available whenever we need it, and the tools to deliver this information will get much better. This will change the way we make decisions, and that will change nearly everything else*. Companies that don’t provide significant value will struggle to survive. Weak products will disappear quickly from the market and advertising won’t be able to save them. Our range of options for buying and selling products and services will expand by orders of magnitude thanks to global connectivity.

Businesses will need to empower all their employees with much more information and education because customer will no longer tolerate “I’ll have to speak to my supervisor.” Organizations will flatten and fragment because vertical hierarchies move too slowly. Corporations will divest non-strategic businesses because slimmer profit margins won’t support them.

In short, we’re all going to become a lot more efficient at doing what we do. This will cause a lot of pain in the short term; one of the reasons we’re in a “jobless recovery” right now is that businesses are learning to do more with less. In the end, these changes will be no less dramatic than those brought about by the Industrial Revolution; only this revolution will take a couple of decades instead of a couple of centuries to complete.

Much of this change will be brought about by a few elegantly simple tools: Ethernet, the Internet Protocol, hypertext, RSS, HTML and a handful of others. See what happens when people apply innovation to the tools they use?

Social media is rapidly ending ignorance, at least in the developed world. Over the 10 years, this new reality will reshape our lives. It’s going to be an exciting ride, and I hope I get the opportunity to stick around for it. Have a great holiday and I’ll talk to you on the other side!


*Books I read this year that do an exceptional job of sketching out the post-social media world include The Hyper-Social Organization by Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran, Open Leadership by Charlene Li and Do It Wrong Quickly by Mike Moran. The best book I’ve ever read on media transformation is The Chaos Scenario by Bob Garfield. It’s also funny as hell.

Twitter Questions Answered

Should you use a company logo or a personal photo as your Twitter picture?

Should personal Twitter accounts be used for company business?

Is there a different mix of tweets for a B2B versus a B2C audience?

Good questions! And in my most recent contribution to BtoB magazine, I take a shot at answering them. These are some of the 15 questions that we weren’t able to address in an hour-long webcast called “The Secrets of B2B Twitter Success” that I did earlier this month with Avaya’s Paul Dunay and CME Group’s Allan Schoenberg. You can view that webcast on-demand here, as well as the rest of BtoB‘s Digital Edge virtual conference.

Paul, Allan and I have also cooked up an interesting way to address the questions as a group. I’ll point you to those results next issue.

Tip of the Week: Google Forms

A little-known but wonderful feature of Google Documents is its forms capability. You can build reasonably functional surveys like this one and capture results in a spreadsheet. There are lots of ways to use this feature. Whenever I present a speech or training class, I send a short form to the organizers asking for feedback. You can also use forms to collect leads or build subscriber lists. They’re also easily embeddable in Web pages. Google makes the process of creating them simple. Here’s a nice introduction to forms.

Just for Fun: Truly Terrible Driving

It’s unfortunate that this hilarious YouTube video is entitled “Women Drivers Compilation” because women aren’t the only people capable of doing stupid things with their cars. If you can get past the sexism, though, enjoy the absurdity of the actions pictured here. My favorite is the driver who is wrestled to the ground by a gas pump. Where would YouTube be without security cameras?

Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

Paul GillinI’ve recently worked with several companies that are trying to bring some order to their social media activities. I’ve found that most have the same problem: They’ve dabbled in blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages but after several months they lack traffic, followers and fans. They’re frustrated and confused. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap and easy way to build their brand and bring in sales?

Social media is cheap but it isn’t easy. With millions of bloggers and Facebook pages online, building visibility is a challenge that demands time. More importantly, it demands a strategy, and that’s where businesses usually don’t go far enough. There’s nothing wrong with diving in and using the tools. In fact, I encourage experimentation. But before you invest significant time in social media, you need a plan.

Here’s the four-stage process I walk then through.

Define the Objective – Social media tools are only tools. Without an underlying strategy, they have about as much benefit as a plumber’s wrench has to fixing a hole in the wall. Most business objectives demand a mix of online and offline tools, and social media may have little or no value. Start with the objective and work backwards. Common business objectives range from building thought leadership to generating leads, cutting customer service costs and recruiting quality employees. Each demands different strategies and tools. If you start with the objective, the rest of the process is easier.

Identify Metrics – Here I steal shamelessly from measurement queen Katie Paine, who believes that any goal can be measured. In many cases, relevant metrics have nothing to do with the Internet. They can include yardsticks such as:

  • Positive mentions in mainstream media outlets;
  • Quantity of new job applicants;
  • Speaking invitations;
  • Reduction in help desk calls;
  • Improvements in Net Promoter Scores; and, of course
  • Increased sales.

Note that many of these examples have nothing to do with Web analytics. Friends, followers and fans have little value if they don’t achieve the business goal. Don’t go overboard on metrics. Choose three or four that are meaningful to your goal and define standards of success, like a doubling of Facebook fans in a six-month period. Then revisit your progress every three months and adjust (or choose new metrics).

Define Tactics – How are you going to use online and offline channels to reach your goals? Consider all the options. For example, thought leadership may be enhanced by blogging and tweeting, but an equally effective strategy may be growing the quantity of speaking engagements or starting a local professional group. Consider location. The Internet provides a great way to increase international exposure but it may be of little help in growing visibility within your local geography. That goal may be better addressed by increasing activity in local trade associations or advertising on radio. Tactics are enabled by tools, so you need these plans in place before you start blogging or tweeting

Choose Tools – This is where many companies start their social media journey, but it really is where they should end it. Different tools are good for different purposes. For example, Twitter is an excellent news delivery vehicle while Facebook is better for creating a feedback loop. My book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing, has a more complete selection grid. Also, many businesses are now learning how to use multiple tools in concert to magnify their impact.

Appropriate tools also may have nothing to do with the Internet. For example, starting a local chapter of a professional trade association or submitting speaking proposals to conference organizers can be a great way to network or build visibility. You can also combine offline and online tactics, such as promoting an upcoming speech through the media while seeking interviews with prominent bloggers.

This is the basic framework I use for discussion, and I find that the structured approach helps focus my clients. When you really think about your business goals, it’s surprising to discover how many of the tactics come down to good old-fashioned person-to-person relationships. Online tools can certainly help there, but sometimes a phone call or a lunch meeting is worth 1,000 tweets.

First Reviews

Book authors endure several months of agony between the time they submit a manuscript for publication and the arrival of the first reviews. So Dana and I were pleased to read these words from the influential Library Journal about our new book, The Joy of Geocaching, which arrives in April:

Longtime tech writer Gillin and his wife, Dana, an editor, are the perfect ambassadors for geocaching. Their book imparts all the how-to that a budding enthusiast needs to get started while also including lots of funny and interesting anecdotes that will communicate to the completely unfamiliar reader just why the sport is exploding in popularity.

Read the complete review here.

Tip of the Week: Posterous

If you have accounts with more than one social media service these days (and who doesn’t?), then Posterous can save you time and increase your online footprint. I got interested in Posterous, which is one of a expanding category of so-called “lifestreaming” services, after I read that PR super blogger Steve Rubel had mothballed his popular Micro Persuasion blog last June and shifted all his activities to Posterous. Lifestreaming tools radiate your messages out to all the social networking services you use. Instead of sending a message as a tweet, I can e-mail it to post@posterous.com and it will appear almost instantly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr and Delicious. No added work on my end. The service supports dozens of other destinations, including YouTube and blogs.

Posterous does some clever things in interpreting the messages you send. For example, if you include a link to a photo, it automatically reformats and resizes the image for the selected destination. It also knows not to attempt to post an entire blog entry to a social bookmarking site but rather to publish a headline and link. There are many other dials and switches that I haven’t investigated yet, but the service is already saving me time and drudgery. Another popular lifestreaming service is ping.fm and others are on the way. In addition, many social networks and bookmark sites are incorporating cross-posting as a basic feature.

The downside of lifestreaming is that it multiplies the amount of noise in an already cacophonous Internet. But it also multiplies your opportunity to be heard. There are big implications to this, which I explore in my column in BtoB magazine next week and will expand upon in future editions of this newsletter.

Just For Fun: Funny Street View Photos

Google is in the process of photographing as much of the habitable world as it can for its Street View service. As its camera-equipped vehicles methodically troll the streets capturing images, they occasionally come across some funny and bizarre scenes. A blogger has captured some of the weirder ones at the Top 100 Funniest Google Street View Pictures, such as this one showing a man apparently trying to break into a house. They’re presented along with links to the image on the original map. I’m sure there are plenty of others that didn’t make this list, but it’s a good start.

Be Inclusive Or Be Irrelevant

In my column in BtoB magazine this month I discuss the contrasting media relations styles of two giants of the Internet age: Google and Apple. The column focused specifically on their communications styles, but I believe the business tactics of these two starkly different but successful companies have bigger significance.

Google and Apple are diametrically opposed in many respects. Apple creates delightful experiences. Its products are proprietary, closed and self-contained, but people love using them because they not only work but seem to function the way humans expect. Apple is a
technology company whose vision is rooted in human-friendly design.

Google’s vision is rooted in the potential of technology. The company produces an amazing array of products, ranging from mapping software to CAD design to medical records organizers. Google shares its ideas quite openly in public “labs” and is also prone to ending public experiments with little notice or explanation. Even its self-deprecating error messages are emblematic of the corporate culture, as if to say “So it didn’t work; we’ll make it better.”

The public-facing strategies these companies employ also couldn’t be more different. Apple holds its new product plans close to the vest and reveals them with fanfare at elaborate press conferences that generate months of media speculation. The company may only hold a couple of press conferences a year, but you can be sure they’re memorable.

Apple not only doesn’t use social media, it has actively litigated against bloggers who have revealed sensitive information. The strategy works well for Apple because its rabid base of fans is more than happy to indulge in speculative frenzy and drive awareness that no amount of advertising could buy.

In contrast, Google rarely holds press conferences. Most of its products are announced in a low-key style via blogs. Its developers and product managers work the long tail through one-on-one interviews and frequent speaking engagements. The company uses every social media outlet it can, but shuns the media spotlight.

So Which Are You?

Is your company Apple or Google? Most businesses model their public personae on the Apple example. Their plans are shrouded in secrecy, access to executives is granted only to the top media and leaks are dealt with harshly out of fear that they could compromise the goal of being first to market. The theory is that the market is hungry for information, so it’s best to withhold news until it can have the greatest impact.

That strategy works for Apple, but not for most businesses. Today, customers are swimming in information and if they don’t get insight about where you’re going, they simply move to someone else. Companies that build products behind closed doors risk becoming irrelevant because no one talks about them. What’s more, they lose the advantage of involving customers in a process that can not only make their products better, but form the basis for a word-of-mouth marketing force.

How about being first to market? That benefit is vastly overrated. History has demonstrated that the only advantage of being an early mover is that it gives you the opportunity to make mistakes that others learn from. Apple’s sole first-to-market experience — the Newton — was also its most notable failure. The history of technology markets in particular is littered with businesses that created innovations that others later made successful.

In a world of plentiful information, the winners are those that do the best job of talking about their innovations before they reach the market. Prospective customers want to be involved in the process, and they punish those businesses that don’t indulge them. Look at the companies that are making headlines today and you’ll find nearly all of them have adopted an open and inclusive path to the market.

The Apples of the world are few and far between. Nearly everyone would like to be an Apple, but few will ever get the chance.

A New Online Community Just For Us

The Society for New Communications Research has been providing valuable perspective and advice on new media for over five years, but it has always done so from the precarious position of a nonprofit organization. So I was very excited to learn late last year that Redwood Collaborative, a b-to-b media company specializing in technology, has stepped in to fund some of SNCR’s programs and build on its ideas.

The first fruit of that investment is NewComm Collaborative, a knowledge-sharing community for professionals who are “passionate about learning how to harness the new communications technologies that are transforming media and business models.” The beta site just launched with hundreds of articles from contributors and the SNCR archives. I was pleased to be asked to guest-edit the category of New Media and Journalism for January. We’ve got material from Jeff Jarvis, Martin Langeveld, Mark Potts, Gina Chen and other smart journalists as well as a forum topic entitled “Is Media Devastation a Good Thing?” Click on over and sign up.

While you’re there, also sign up for the annual New Comm Forum, April 20-23 in San Mateo, CA. In my view, this is the best lineup of speakers the Forum has had in the four years I’ve been attending. I can’t wait to meet these people!

Tip of the Week: Xmarks

If you, like me, regularly use more than one computer to access the Web, you know how frustrating it can be that all browsers are local. You know the drill: You bookmark a website on your home computer and then can’t find the same site when you’re looking for it at work two days later. Or if you use the saved password function in the browser, you learn the hard way that passwords saved on one computer don’t show up on any others unless you copy them through a laborious backup and restore process.

Xmarks is for you. This simple but super-useful little plug-in for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Apple Safari synchronizes all your local bookmarks and passwords so the stuff you choose to remember on one computer will be available to you on all the others you use. In recent months, Xmarks has added other cool features like search-result commentary from its community users, but I find it enormously useful simply because the items I bookmark on the laptop in my bedroom at 7 a.m. are available in my office two hours later. Thank goodness for simple pleasures!

Are You Doing B-to-B Social Marketing? Contact Me

Eric Schwartzman and I are hard at work on the new book we’re co-authoring on the subject of business-to-business social media marketing. We’re looking for companies that are using the tools to reach business customers, channel partners and other non-consumer constituents. We want this book to be full of success stories and anecdotes, so if you have an interesting experience to share, please contact me. And don’t forget to visit the draft outline and give us your suggestions.

Just For Fun: Not Just Another State Of The Union

State of the Union addresses aren’t known for their excitement. Especially in an economy like this one. But we found a great idea to spice things up this year: a drinking game you can play as President Obama is talking tonight. Granted — it won’t get you as drunk as, say, a shot for every missed verb in a Palin speech, but even if you play by only one of the rules, you’ll still be happy enough at the end of the event tonight to say you paid attention to this historic SOTU. For extra credit, continue playing during the pundit commentary afterward.

Still Don’t Get Twitter? Maybe This Will Help

It’s okay to admit it. You’re among friends. You’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and you still can’t figure out what the heck all the fuss is about. It took me a while to “get” Twitter, too, but now I find it an indispensable part of my toolkit for gathering information and promoting my work. Here are some things to think about.

The 140-character limit is liberating
Writing blog entries is a time-consuming task. I’m not the type who fires off one-sentence posts, so I like to put some thought into what I say on a blog. In contrast, Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself well to quick thoughts that I believe are worth sharing with others but that don’t justify a full-blown blog entry. Very little of what I tweet makes it into my blog and vice versa.

The 140-character limit can also be frustrating. If you have ever engaged in an e-mail exchange using Twitter direct messaging, you know it can be disjointed. At some point, you need to jump to e-mail. That said, 140 characters does force you to focus your thoughts and to write succinctly.

Public conversations
Twitter gives everyone the option of making discussions public. You can’t do this with e-mail, and it’s difficult to accomplish on a blog. If you believe that your exchange with others would benefit from public input, or if you just want to expose the discussion to others, you have that option. You can always take things private via direct messaging if you wish.

Immediacy
When you just can’t wait for information, Twitter can’t be beat for getting your question to a large group. It’s impractical to do this with e-mail. People’s inboxes are already cluttered with spam and you have no way of getting your message to people you don’t know. Also, through “retweeting,” a message can reach a large number of people who aren’t on your follower list. This brings new perspectives to the conversation and gives you the opportunity to discover people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Retweeting
While we’re on the subject, don’t underestimate the power of the retweet. When someone picks up your message and forwards it to their followers, it magnifies your reach and often recruits new followers in the process. Sending provocative messages that others retweet is a great way to build your following and your contact list for information-gathering and promotion.

Discovery
Twitter is the most efficient mechanism I’ve ever seen for discovering interesting information. I could literally do nothing all day but monitor the “All Friends” feed in TweetDeck and read interesting articles that others recommend. If it weren’t for Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have known that Travelocity has hotels in Las Vegas for $22 a night. This discovery process is not unlike scanning the pages of a newspaper, but it’s much faster and more encompassing. Also, you know that comments and recommendations from certain people will be of particular interest to you, so you have the option of drilling down on individual profiles to see what they’ve been saying recently. Chaotic? Sure, but that’s part of the discovery process.

Searchable
If you want to find out what people are saying about you right now, services like Twitscoop and Monitter enable you to instantly track mentions of your company, product, industry or whatever and to save them as RSS feeds for later browsing. You can do the same with Twitter Search . Google Alerts currently doesn’t index Twitter feeds, but Filtrbox does.

Twitter is a deceptively simple idea with remarkably powerful applications. People are only beginning to tap into its potential, and I hope visitors to this blog will contribute their own thoughts on what they find most compelling.


Social Media Done Right – Or Not at All

Our most recent episode of MediaBlather is an interview with Paula Berg , Manager of Emerging Media for Southwest Airlines and the team leading the airline’s efforts in blogging, podcasting, and other social media. I frequently point to Southwest as an example of a company that does social media very well. The company uses ordinary employees — not high paid executives — to tell its story, and they do so with marvelous candor and enthusiasm. Nuts About Southwest has a joyful irreverence that reinforces the airline’s offbeat, slightly goofy image. Recently, Southwest added video and podcasts to the mix in a manner that truly looks planned. We talk to Paula about how Southwest gives its people lots of leeway in choosing what to contribute to the blog, the online “voice” of the company and how its first Twitter-based “screenplay” came together in the past couple of weeks.


My editor at BtoB magazine, Ellis Booker, chided me recently for writing so enthusiastically about social media. “How about telling people when social media isn’t right for them?” he asked. Great idea. So this month’s column lists some scenarios when you should really think twice about whether corporate transparency is right for you.


Why Podcast When You Can Slidecast?

I’m so excited about this development in our podcast product line that I’m repeating it from last week! We’ve just added slidecasts, which are audio podcasts with slide presentations built in. Slidecasts are packaged as movie files for viewing on a video iPod or desktop computer, where some 80% of all podcasts are listened to. Here’s the first in a series we are producing for our client, Awareness.

Slidecasts are a fast and cost-effective alternative to video. You don’t need any special equipment because you probably have the slides already prepared. We use high quality software to match the images to the audio and to integrate transitions, builds and even video clips. Then we deliver both an audio MP3 and a video file in the format you choose. We can even add this capability to podcasts you’ve already posted. So if you want to try the next generation of Internet audio programming, drop us a line and let us create your first slidecast!


Just for Fun

Page Tutor came up with a fun way of thinking about the huge financial hole our banking industry has gotten itself and us Americans into. Well, fun may be overstating it, but try to enjoy this and not think about what it will take for generations of Americans to fill the hole back in! What does a million dollars look like? You’ll be astounded.

Why Online Matters More Than Print

A blog I write about the ongoing transformation of the newspaper industry has begun to acquire a following, and in the process it’s demonstrated to me why online press mentions are now more powerful than those in print. That’s right: you get more bang for the buck from a prominent blogger today than you do from an article in the New York Times, and I’ll show you why.

My blog is called Newspaper Death Watch. While the title betrays a certain pessimism, it’s actually a chronicle of change and rebirth. As concern over the perilous state of the newspaper industry has spread, Newspaper Death Watch has begun to attract some media attention. In January, I was fortunate to be mentioned in three prominent media outlets: Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine blog, the lead paragraph of a major feature in The New Yorker and a short opinion piece in the Economist.

What was interesting was the impact these references had on the blog’s visibility. Prior to the reference in BuzzMachine, the site was getting about 500 unique visitors per day. After Jeff Jarvis linked to one of my year-end roundup articles, that average jumped by about 200 visitors a day. It jumped again after the mention in the Economist, eventually settling at about 1,000 average daily visitors, or nearly double its traffic at the beginning of the month. However, a prominent reference in the New Yorker, which is one of the most venerable English-language magazines, had no discernible impact.

Why? Because The New Yorker reference was the only one that didn’t include a hyperlink. That meant that anyone who was curious to find out about this offbeat blog would have to make a note to visit Google later and run a search. Who’s got time for that? Even if some people did go to the trouble, there was no way for me to know.

Link Love

In contrast, The two online references had immediate impact. For one thing, I was aware of both within hours and was able to promote them to my readers and Twitter followers. For another, links beget links. In both the BuzzMachine and Economist cases, a surge of inbound links from other bloggers followed the mentions on their websites. This improved my Google search performance and Technorati authority rankings. Subscriptions to my RSS feed shot up by about 5% in each of the days following the links’ appearance.

Perhaps most importantly, one of them led to a call from a leading journalism foundation, which hired me to conduct a series of seminars for newspaper editors beginning next month.

In contrast, the print reference in The New Yorker generated a couple of nice notes from colleagues but little else that I could measure. Don’t get me wrong; I was grateful for the attention. But it was difficult to assign any clear benefit to the print reference.

Tables Have Turned

Not long ago, online publishers were frequently called upon to defend the value of a mention on their properties. Public relations professionals told me that Web coverage was nice, but their clients really valued a mention in a prominent print publication. I would submit that this scenario has now been reversed. With companies increasingly using the Web for promotion, lead generation, sales and customer support, a link from a prominent website is of far greater value than a print article in a prominent print or broadcast outlet. And as a younger generation of business and consumer readers gathers more of its information online, that value will only accelerate.

That print article may look nice on your wall, but if you’re looking for coverage that generates business results, the Web is where you want to be.