New Media Demands New Leadership

I don’t go to the South by Southwest conference for the sessions as much as for the people. The most interesting conversations usually happen outside of the conference rooms. One discussion that stuck with me this week occurred after a presentation by MIT’s Andrew McAfee entitled “What Does Corporate America Think of 2.0?”

While I was waiting in line to introduce myself to Mr. McAfee, I eavesdropped on a conversation he was having with the young woman in front of me. She gave her age as 28 and said she had recently been hired to coordinate social media at a real estate company where her bosses were mostly in their 50s. She was clearly demoralized and frustrated.

The young woman had been brought on board to get the realty company up to speed in the new Web technologies. She understood that conversational marketing requires a culture change, but her management wasn’t interested. Her bosses, she explained, saw social technology as simply another way to distribute the same information.

For example, she had been ordered to post press releases as blog entries and to use Twitter strictly for promotional messages. She had been told to get the company on Facebook but not to interact with anyone on its fan page.Her communications with the outside world were to be limited to platitudes approved by management.

I felt bad for this young lady and also for her bosses, who will no doubt lose her in short order. I suspect they hired a social media director in the belief that she could create new channels for them, but they didn’t understand the behavioral change that was required on their part.

Open Leadership

A couple of nights earlier, I attended a dinner given by Altimeter Group, whose founder, Charlene Li, co-authored the ground-breaking book Groundswell. Charlene was handing out galley copies of her forthcoming book called Open Leadership. In it, she suggests that management strategies must fundamentally change in the age of democratized information. I’ve only read a third of the book so far, but I can already tell that it will cause considerable discomfort in corporate board rooms.

In the opening chapter, Charlene notes that “to be open, you need to let go of the need to be in control… you need to develop the confidence… that when you let go of control, the people to whom you pass the power will act responsibly.” This notion of leadership replacing management will shake many of our institutions to the core.

The traditional role of management has been to control and communicate: Managers pass orders down from above to the rank-and-file who are expected to do what they are told.

In the future, communication will increasingly be enabled by technology. Employees will be empowered with information and given guidelines and authority to do the right thing. Middle managers won’t be needed nearly as much as they are today. Organizations will become flatter, more nimble and more responsive because information won’t have to pass up and down a chain of command before being acted upon. This will result in huge productivity gains, but progress will only be achieved when top executives learn to let go of the need to control and to accept the uncertainties of empowered constituents.

No Pain, No Gain

The real estate company’s mistake was in believing that it could participate in a new culture without changing its behavior. It saw social media as a no-lose proposition; distribute the same material through new channels but don’t accommodate the reality that constituents can now talk back. Any company that takes this approach will fail to realize the benefits of the media. Once its customers realize that their opinions don’t count, they will stop engaging with the company. That doesn’t mean they won’t do business with the company any more, but the benefits of using the new media will be lost.

I have never advocated that all companies adopt social media. Each business has a different culture, and some adapt more readily to open leadership than others. If employee empowerment and institutional humility don’t fit with your style, then social media is probably not for you. You may do just fine for several years without changing your practices. But if you choose to play in the freewheeling markets enabled by customer conversations, then you’d better be willing to let go of control.

Over time, I believe all companies will have to give up the belief that they can control their markets, because interconnected customers are an unstoppable force. In the short-term, however, businesses need to do what feels right for them. If you work for a company that can’t adapt itself to the concept of open leadership, then start circulating your resume. These days, there are plenty of businesses that are eager to change.

Twitterville Explains It All

Shel Israel’s Twitterville is currently sitting at number 62,000 on Amazon, which is disappointing because a lot of people should be reading this book. I suspect that Twitterville’s performance has been impacted by the flood of how-to-tweet books that have hit the market this year, but this book isn’t microblogging for dummies. Rather, Twitterville is a celebration of a new platform that has unleashed the creative energies of a community in ways that few of us could have ever conceived.

Israel says he interviewed more than 100 people for this book and it shows. Its scope spans everything from politics to nonprofits to law enforcement to giant corporations. Each Twitter member finds value in different ways.

Israel was co-author of the groundbreaking 2006 book Naked Conversations, which was the first book to  dramatize the game-changing nature of social media. Twitterville is no less important in framing the context for a revolution. Israel starts with the story of James Buck, a freelance journalist who was arrested by Egyptian police in 2008 and whose plight (and subsequent release) was communicated around the world by a single tweet: “arrested.”

Buck’s case was emblematic of the multiplicative power of Twitter. He had only a few followers at the time of his arrest, but a sequence of re-tweeted messages by some prominent Twitter members quickly spread word to the State Department, which intervened within 24 hours.

This idea that an individual can attain great influence by virtue of telling a remarkable story is central to understanding the power of Twitter and of social media in general. It also dramatizes the triumph of the individual over the impersonal corporate entity. “An individual brand now impacts the corporate brand,” Israel writes. Twitter “is a community of millions of personal brands. They are shaping the present and future of individuals and the companies they represent.”

That doesn’t mean businesses can’t develop a brand on Twitter, and Israel provides many  examples of companies that have. His point, however, is that you can’t think of the Twittersphere in terms of mass. Brands are built in Twitter by imparting wisdom, helping others and contributing to the collective knowledge. Corporations that experience the most success are those that let their people come out from behind the brand wall and act human.

The value of contributing to the collective good permeates Twitterville. Israel calls this “lethal generosity.” It’s the idea that people who “are the most generous to their communities almost invariably acquire the greatest influence.” This concept is central to another recent book I recommend: Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Coming at a time when the world is still reeling from a financial crisis precipitated by greed, it’s refreshing to see celebrations of  generosity. In one section on fundraising, Israel recounts several stories of charitable success that would have been unimaginable before a medium like Twitter existed.

Twitterville isn’t all celebration. In Chapter 15, Israel analyzes the seamy underworld of spammers, bots and phishermen and relates a couple of hair-raising stories of people whose reputations have been trashed by identity thieves. As Larry Ellison once said, “Every ecosystem has scavengers.” Twitter is no exception, and by acknowledging Twitter’s dark side, Israel makes the argument for the medium’s value all the more compelling.

The book provides useful advice on how to keep out of trouble as well as how to optimize the Twitter experience, but it  isn’t a book about how to amass 100,000 followers. It’s about how relationships work in a world constrained by limitations of space and time, yet liberated by the ingenuity and spirit of its citizens. If you still don’t “get” Twitter, then read Twitterville. You’ll quickly understand.

Books Worth Reading: the Trust Equation

The stack of unread books on the nightstand has been getting pretty tall lately, so I took advantage of some recent travel and vacation time to shorten it a bit. Over the next couple of days, I’ll post of reviews of some titles I recommend. Starting with…

TrustAgentsTrust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust – Chris Brogan and Julien Smith don’t need my help to sell books; they’ve already made the New York Times bestseller list and their success is well deserved. The market has been flooded with social media books this year, but Trust Agents is different because it’s more about the social than the media.

Oh, there are plenty of tech tips and tricks, which are organized conveniently into sidebars, bullet lists and “top 10” formats. What really makes this book work, though, is its unflagging devotion to a kind of social media Golden Rule: treat others the way you’d want them to treat you and the rewards will come back in time

The authors make a persuasive case that the value one derives from social media comes from using the tools to build trust, and that means giving till it hurts. It’s about answering questions, making connections, giving advice and donating time without any clear expectation of reward. Believe us, the rewards will come, the authors say.

You certainly can’t argue with their success. Brogan is an A-list blogger and Smith is a popular speaker and pioneer in online community development. If Trust Agents does nothing else, it provides a blueprint for achieving the kind of success the authors have demonstrated through the practice of listening actively, responding generously and constantly asking the audience for feedback. Take the tools out of the equation and the same tactics work offline. People who succeed are those who have the relationships and reputations to get things done for others.

The greatest shortcoming of Trust Agents – if you can call it that– is the lack of hard ROI data. The authors don’t try to calculate the return on their own time investments, perhaps because neither has ever needed to. ROI, however, has been the bugaboo of this fledgling media and the greatest excuse for executives so far choosing to do nothing. If you want numbers, read Groundswell by Li and Bernoff or Measuring Public Relationships by Paine. Both do an excellent job of assigning numbers to actions.

If you learn nothing more from this book than a few of the tricks to better leverage your own online presence, it’s well worth the price.

Connectors_coverThe Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for LifeI sometimes share with audiences the story of Automatic Appliance, a local retailer and service company that has forever wrested my business from the big-box discount companies by tirelessly working to satisfy me at every opportunity. The last time I called seeking to fix a balky clothes dryer, the owner spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to help me resolve the problem myself instead of charging me $300 for a house visit. Such selfless generosity has won Automatic Appliance a customer for life.

This anecdote would fit perfectly in The Connectors, a book that echoes, in many ways, the give-to-get spirit of Trust Agents. To be honest, I almost quit reading this book by marketing entrepreneur Maribeth Kuzmeski after 50 pages because it appeared to be just another in a long line of bafflingly successful books that tell how you can succeed by believing in yourself. But there’s more to The Connectors than pop-psych pabulum. I’m glad I stuck with it.

The Connectors isn’t about connections as much as about going the extra mile to make yourself or your business exceptional. The connections the author refers to are those that create indelible impressions in the minds of those one seeks to influence. Over time, these become the basis for sustainable business relationships.

Like Trust Agents, The Connectors skirts the ROI issue and chooses to build its case through anecdotes and inspirational stories. The book includes a number of useful and downloadable self-assessment worksheets. While some of its examples have been done to death (it’s time to retire Fedex’s Fred Smith legend, inspiring as it is), Kuzmeski’s many examples of success working with individual clients are compelling. Her counsel boils down to:

  • Build your social skills in a way that works for you;
  • Focus on what you do well and use your strengths to establish a unique niche for your enterprise;
  • Find small ways to delight customers; and
  • Doggedly pursue business opportunities with generosity and goodwill until the client turns your way.

Like Trust Agents, The Connectors takes it on faith – and the author’s considerable success – that paying it forward pays back in the long run. The most compelling section for me focused on creating a personal impression with prospects that makes it impossible for them not to want to give you their business. This may involve considerable investment of time and energy, an issue the author doesn’t resolve completely, but you can’t argue with the results. In an age in which globalization makes long-term competitive advantage nearly impossible to achieve, trusted relationships may be all we have left.

Going Totally Random With Twitter

The most frequent criticism of Twitter that I hear is that the service is a waste of time. It’s all about people telling the world what they had for breakfast or how long they’ve been waiting for a bus. Don’t we have better things to do?

I decided to try a short experiment. I clipped a 100-tweet block from my Twitter stream at random and examined the contents to see just how much useful content there was, if any.

A little background first: I follow about 1,150 people and I prune my list with some care. If someone’s tweets are completely irrelevant to my interests, I unfollow that person. I only follow people who interest me or who send me a personal request asking me to follow them. That weeds out the spammers and bots.

Here are my results

  • 42% of the tweets were what I’d call random. These were mostly along the lines of what people had for breakfast or ongoing conversations I hadn’t followed.
  • 12% contained news of general interest (BTW, Twitter has been one of the best places to monitor the ongoing news of the Samoan tsunami this week).
  • 33% were referral links to information that the writer found interesting.
  • 7% were notable quotes.
  • 6% were either self-promotional messages or requests for advice.

Two statistics interested me in particular. One was that 45% of the tweets contained a link. This indicates that Twitter is used at least as much to point friends to interesting information as it is to comment on everyday activities. After all, you can’t link to what you had for breakfast. The other is that at least 20 of the tweets interested me enough that I wanted to learn more.

This wasn’t the kind of reading I would find on a typical news website. Here’s a sampling:

It isn’t, but then I don’t use Twitter for the same reason I use CNN. The bottom line is that the 4 1/2 minutes it took me to read 100 tweets yielded at least 20 items of interest. There are other places on the Web where I could consume more information in less time, but it’s a different kind of information. It’s not less valuable, just different.

Newspaper and magazine editors often complain that the rise of customized news services has shortchanged readers by removing the element of discovery that a printed publication delivers. However, the Twitter stream and Facebook news feed deliver just as much surprise and delight as any professional media entity, if not more. The only difference: the recommendations come from people I know instead of professional editors.

It turns out that avid Web users are just as interested in discovery as print readers. It’s just that they’ve found a faster, less intrusive, more personal and more ecologically friendly way to go about it. Is it any wonder mainstream media is dying?

In Praise of Failure

I was chatting recently with Sam Decker, chief marketing officer at Bazaarvoice, about his company’s somewhat counterintuitive business. Its customers use Bazaarvoice to enable their customers to post product reviews and ratings right on their own websites.

I asked why would a company invite visitors to publicly criticize its products this way.  He told the story of one importer who sells a large and eclectic collection of overseas goods.  Customer ratings revealed that about one third of its inventory of more than 600 products would never sell well because of aesthetics, utility or other reasons.  The company used this feedback to quickly overhaul its inventory. Had it waited for customer objections to show up in sales figures, the process would have taken months longer.

Fear of Failure

If you have ever worked for a large company, you know that failure isn’t considered a good thing.  Losing products or business initiatives are usually killed off only after long and expensive efforts to save them. Powerful people stick with pet projects even in the face of overwhelming customer indifference.  People who fail are reprimanded.  People who fail repeatedly get fired.

Social media offers unprecedented ways to avert this syndrome, or at least to cut it short. By listening to customers, we can identify and fix shortcomings much earlier in the product lifecycle. By engaging in continuous dialogue, we are more likely to hit the market head on with new products. If we don’t let failure become some kind of referendum on our self-worth, then we are much freer to experiment.

I look at Google as being the most visible practitioner of the philosophy.  Spend a little time with the company’s line of applications and you’ll soon discover its amusing portfolio of error messages. “Whoa! Google Chrome just crashed!” says one. Another moans “We know this is lame, but consider that Gmail didn’t even have folders in its first version.”  Google is a company that doesn’t mind admitting its shortcomings because it knows customers would rather see that it working to get things right than pretending that everything’s okay when it clearly isn’t.

Google_LivelyGoogle also isn’t afraid to cut its losses. The company has shut down more than a half-dozen products and services in the last year, including Lively, it’s virtual world (left). It has also closed a couple of high-profile business ventures. Google makes no attempt to hide these business decisions but rather explains its reasoning on employee blogs. That’s because Google sees itself as an innovator, and innovative companies don’t mind getting things wrong now and then.  In fact, a company that doesn’t make mistakes isn’t trying hard enough.

Shoot the Losers

Unfortunately, few corporate cultures are confident enough to work this way. One of the most common questions I am still asked by audiences is how to avoid negativity in social media. My honest answer is why would you want to avoid it?  The faster you correct problems, the less damage is done. It might have been possible to ignore mistakes a few years ago, but that’s no longer an option. We can talk with our customers about our shortcomings or they will simply talk amongst themselves.  Which would you rather do?

It’s often been said that the reason Silicon Valley became such a foundry of technology innovation is that the culture accepts and even celebrates failure as a consequence of risk-taking.  In today’s media landscape, failure is no longer a private matter. Social media tools enable us to minimize the risks and consequences of our mistakes if we simply own up to them. It turns out that’s not nearly as difficult as we used to think it was.

Influencer Marketing: Not Your Typical PR

With mainstream media rapidly declining in scope, influence is increasingly being exerted from below by individuals using the power of self-publishing to reach out to their peers.

In recent influencer engagements, we’ve learned a few things about how to work with these new media.  An important point to remember is that they do not behave like reporters.  Journalists are skilled in the “game” that goes on with public relations professionals.   You know: It’s the one in which PR is paid to keep pushing and the journalists is paid to be skeptical.  The two parties engage in this back-and-forth with a wink and a nod, knowing that each has a job to do.

Influencers often don’t work this way.  To them, their online outpost is a display of their passion for the topic that they cover.  They care deeply about the subject matter and they usually know at least as much as the PR person who contacts them.  Often they know quite a bit more.  In some ways, engaging with influencers is like pitching product reviewers.

Know Your Stuff

You’d better come prepared to this engagement, because some influencers will take lack of knowledge on your part as an insult.  This can capsize junior agency people who aren’t prepared for the depth of questions they will get or the scorn they may endure if they can’t answer.  Again, journalists know how the game is played, but influencers are more likely to expect the person on the phone to share their enthusiasm.  I recommend you put experienced people on this job.

Influencers are also likely to have an opinion.  While journalists are expected not to share any biases, bloggers often do what they do precisely because they have opinions to share.  Fortunately, a little advance reading can often clue you in to someone’s agenda and even help you decide if they’re worth contacting all.  You don’t want to come in with a strong Windows pitch, for example, to a blogger who’s passionate about the Mac.  You also don’t want to be blindsided by someone who has made his or her opinions clear and who is offended by the fact that you don’t know them.  Again, 15 to 20 minutes of reading can save you a lot of aggravation.

Finally, influencers are more likely to want to get their hands on the product or to talk in depth with the people who develop it.  Unlike journalists, they’re probably not interested in analyst quotes or customer case studies.  It’s more likely they’ll want to talk to the VP of engineering or the CEO than to the head of marketing.  Before you start an influencers program, be sure that you have these people on board.

Their time will be well spent.  The right influencers have as much credibility in their community as product reviewers or analysts.  They usually have extensive networks of online and real-world contacts and they’re likely to have experience with not only the your products but those of your competitors.  Engage in a conversation.  You might learn something from them.

Come Immerse Yourself in the New Marketing

ims-badge_speakerSearch engine optimization firm Hubspot came up with the best term I’ve heard for the new style of marketing that emphasizes conversation, linking and social media awareness: “inbound marketing.”

The concept is to break from the old style of interruption marketing that is so inefficient that companies consider a 3% response rate to be a triumph.  Inbound marketing is about enticing customers to come to you by offering them something of value. We’re talking 100% response rates.

Hubspot staged a successful conference last fall just a few weeks before our own successful New Marketing Summit (NMS) in the Boston area

Several of my NMS colleagues and I have close relationships with the people at Hubspot, so over the last few months we got together and decided to merge our two conferences into one. And we adopted the great term they created.

SF in the Spring

David Meerman Scott

So on April 28, the new, improved Inbound Marketing Summit (IMS) will debut in San Francisco, the first of three conferences this year (Dallas is in May and Boston in September).  This event isn’t for marketers who are figuring out how to tiptoe into conversation marketing.  It’s for people who are convinced that the world of marketing is changing forever and who want to get out in front of that wave, drive a new form of high-quality engagement and turbo-charge their careers..

IMS will have web 2.0 visionaries like Tim O’Reilly, Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott (left), Jason Falls and Brian Solis on the program. More importantly, we’ll have practitioners from companies like Cirque du Soleil, Harley Davidson, French Maid TV and Microsoft talking about how they’re putting new media to work right now, achieving results and measuring those results.

Immersion Therapy


You can drown in social media marketing in San Francisco that last week in April.  We’ve collocated the conference with the New Communications Forum, now in its fifth year, presented by the Society for New Communications Research.  That event also has a great lineup of speakers, some of whom will be presenting at both conferences.

I’ve got a few discount codes available to people who are really serious about attending, so if you want to meet me in San Francisco, connect with a bunch of thought leaders in this area and trade business cards with successful practitioners, drop me a line and I’ll arrange to shave a couple of hundred dollars off the fee.

I hope to see you there!

Egg on Its Facebook

egg_on_faceGive Facebook credit for quickly reversing itself on the insane changes it recently made to its terms of service policy. Hopefully the company has finally learned its lesson about not arbitrarily making policy changes in a vacuum.

I’ll admit I wasn’t following the story closely until I got a call from journalist David Needle yesterday asking for comment.  I wasn’t online at the time, and when David described the new terms of service I said they were crazy.  No online community would impose a policy that effectively gave it the right to steal intellectual property from its members.

So I was stunned when I returned to my office and actually looked at the terms.  I’m not a lawyer, but it was pretty easy to figure out what Facebook was doing.  In essence, anything a member posted on Facebook became the property of Facebook, which could use that content in any way it wanted, including changing it, combining with other content and even selling it.

This had personal relevance to me, because many authors and artists now develop their work in public forums, post it online and ask for input from their audience.  Under the revised Facebook policy, someone doing this would give up ownership of that intellectual property the minute it appeared on the site.

I don’t think for a moment that Facebook intended to abuse the terms of service or to steal anything from anyone.  This was a boneheaded decision by someone who thought that since the terms were being changed anyway, Facebook might as well ask for the sun, moon and stars.

Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to explain the policy made no sense.  While his blog entry did a good job of clarifying Facebook’s intent, it didn’t explain why such heavy-handed language was needed, nor did it express any second thoughts about the changes.

This is the second time Facebook has had to withdraw a feature change amid heavy criticism.  Last year it was the ill-considered Beacon social shopping service. The company has created a bill of rights and responsibilities group and asked people to contribute their thoughts..  Let’s hope it listens this time.

Recommended Reading, 2/12/09

How Not to be a Key Online Influencer

David Henderson tells a jaw-dropping story of how a PR executive shot himself in the foot with a Twitter message that insulted a big client. This is a public forum, people.

Sephora Helps Selection Process With Mobile User Reviews

The beauty products retailer has had success with user reviews on its website, so now it’s going mobile. In-store promotions encourage shoppers to access the website for customer ratings of products on the shelves in front of them. Amazon is also testing a service that enables shoppers to snap photos of merchandise in retail stores and quickly order them on Amazon. The lines between physical and virtual shopping continue to blur.

This Contest Blows

Smule has the winners of a video contest it calls “This Contest Blows.” Entrants were asked to demonstrate their facility with the first software application that turns the iPhone into a musical instrument. There were many creative submissions and some true virtuosity. Winners got a $1,000 prize.

A Toolset for Learning 2009

Here’s a nice list of the latest and most popular software tools that can be applied to education. Some are well known (PowerPoint), but the author also offers alternatives that offer specialized features or are free.

The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook: The Most Egregious Sins on Social Media Sites, Exposed

Tamar Weinberg has a terrific list of sins to avoid on social networks, blogs, YouTube, Twitter and other services. Bottom line: be genuine, not promotional. Deliver useful information and never steal, conceal, spam or flame. More than 200 comments and pingbacks.

How to Embed Almost Anything in your Website

Cool and comprehensive list of tools and techniques for adding all kinds of gadgets, widgets, players and feeds to a website.

The Best of '08

From my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, just fill out the short form to the right.

At this time of year, many publishers and bloggers do one of two things: look ahead at the future or back at the year just ending. Since Joe Pulizzi, Fast Company and iMedia Connection did a great job at social media predictions, I thought I’d rummage through my digital archives and offer my completely unscientific list of what made this year special for me.

Best Social Media Tool – That’s easy. It’s Twitter, the super-simple, deceptively powerful micro-blogging service that has people sharing their lives in 140-character increments. If you still don’t get Twitter, I feel your pain, but anyone who wants to practice marketing in the new media world needs to get with the program. If you need help, I’ll get on the phone with your people and tell them why it’s so important.

Best Social Media Disaster Story — Johnson & Johnson’s well-intentioned Motrin video turned into a PR nightmare thanks to — you guessed it — Twitter. To its credit, J&J earnestly listened, but the marketers’ failure to anticipate negativity and their eagerness to respond too hastily made this a bigger problem than it had to be.

Best New FaceChris Brogan blew out of the pack to become one of the world’s top bloggers thanks to his prodigious output and shrewd self-promotion. He’ll soon hit 30,000 followers on Twitter and the 14,600 subscribers to his blog are a thing of wonder. I don’t know when the guy finds time to sleep. I’m fortunate to work with him on the New Marketing Summit conference and have a chance to learn from his success.

Best BookGroundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li broke new ground by attempting to apply research and metrics to social media marketing. The book also told some great stories. Conflict of interest prevents me from choosing my own Secrets of Social Media Marketing, but that shouldn’t stop you from buying it!

Best New Software Application — In the ranks of software that tries to bring order to the barely contained chaos that is Twitter, TweetDeck does the best job I’ve seen.

Best Fall to Earth – Forrester reported that corporate enthusiasm for blogging was beginning to wane. That’s not surprising; most big companies do a lousy job of it. Expect retooling and new growth in the new year.

Best Viral Marketing Success – Cindy Gordon told just seven people about Universal Orlando’s plans to launch a Harry Potter theme park. Word of mouth spread the story to 350 million others in a matter of a couple of days. David Meerman Scott has the story.

Best New Product – The Apple iPhone 3G became the first true mobile Internet device and sold 3 million units in its first month. Expect plenty of new competition in 2009, which is only going to be good for consumers.Nokia has yet to play its cards.

Best Podcast – In the archives of the MediaBlather program that I do with David Strom, there were too many good interviews to choose just one. Among my favorites of 2008 were Mommycast, Brains on Fire/Fiskars, IDG’s Pat McGovern, Eric Schwartzman, Shel Israel and Brian Halligan of HubSpot. I think the most interesting podcast I listened to all year was Schwartzman’s interview with search-engine optimization expert Russell Wright.

Most Useful Blog Entry – Interactive Insights Group created a superlist of organizations using social media. You can find practically any case study on the Web by starting there. We have yet to hear what Tamar Weinberg has up her sleeve, though! Her 2007 superlist was a thing of beauty.

Best Article on the Media – The International Herald Tribune’s “Web Ushers in Age of Ambient Intimacy” explained the visceral appeal of Twitter and Facebook with admirable clarity. Eric Alterman’s epic examination of the collapse of the newspaper industry in The New Yorker was magnificent in its detail and insight.

Best Just For Fun – The most popular item in my newsletter is the squib about some crazy new Web resource we’ve found. Here are two of my favorites of 2008:

People always celebrate success, but they don’t give enough credit to really creative failure. Thank goodness, then, for The Fail Blog, a photographic tribute to failures big and small. Don’t look at this site in the office. Your colleagues will wonder why you’re laughing so hard. And don’t, under any circumstances, view it while you’re drinking milk, if you know what I mean…

Buddy Greene is the Yo-Yo Ma of the harmonica, and in this amazing clip from a Carnegie Hall concert, he will change forever your impressions of the capability and range of this tiny instrument.