How Sharing Pays Dividends

March 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Newsletter

The Sharing Dividend

Bruce SchneierIf you’re looking for an expert on computer security, it’s almost impossible not to find Bruce Schneier. The BT chief security technology officer and author of several books on privacy and security uses his blog, Schneier on Security, to provide a constant stream of insights on topics ranging from viruses to the papal selection process.

As a result, Schneier is in the top Google results for all kinds of search queries around security keywords, and this translates into a bounty of press coverage, speaking engagements and high-profile career opportunities.

Schneier’s secret isn’t that he’s an exceptionally gifted writer. It’s that he has a compulsion to share his thoughts. By taking a little extra time to commit them to his blog, he exposes his wisdom to a wide audience.

Anyone can do this today. It’s surprising more companies don’t.

Read more at BtoB magazine.

Creating Long-form Content for the Distracted Audience

If you still view view research reports, white papers and customer case studies as a “Big Bang” proposition, then you’re missing the boat. Maximizing audience size and impact is increasingly a matter of summarizing, teasing and packaging in other formats. We need to rethink the way we create longform content and package it as a series of short-form updates.

Tweet research findings as you go along. Capture highlights and blog entries. Summarize case studies in podcast interviews. Create top 10 lists and factoids to post on Twitter. And be ready to promote your finished report through multiple channels upon publication.

The benefits: increased awareness before the content is released and longer shelf life as you promote conversations about it.

Read more at BtoB magazine.

Search Essentials – What You MUST Know

Visibility in search engines is critical to nearly every business these days, but the basic mechanics of search are still in mystery to many people. Success begins with good keyword selection and continues with optimal page construction, good descriptions and continuous campaigns to generate inbound links. Providing high quality content is critical to search engine success, and recent revisions to Google’s search engine algorithm reinforces that point.

I recently posted a 38-slide presentation covering the essentials of search. It includes detailed notes that served as a script for an accompanying webcast recording on the subject. Feel free to download the presentation and share it with colleagues who still don’t get why a keyword strategy is so essential to growing your business.

Tip of the Week – Spundge

Occasionally a tool comes along that is so drop-dead useful that it causes you to change the way you work. For me, that tool is Spundge, a content curation console that makes it easy to grab articles and assemble them into a single stream that can be embedded on any website that accepts scripting. It’s like Storify, but more flexible.

Spundge is like a super RSS feed with bookmarking built in. It comes out-of-the-box with more than 45,000 embedded feeds from major news and technology sites, along with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. You can add your own feeds and apply whatever filters you like. The engine learns from your choices and consistently delivers you more relevant content.

You can create embeds that display content from your Spundge notebooks in any website that accepts scripting. For a modest fee of US$9 per month, you can generate blog posts from that content using a WYSIWYG editor. But you don’t need the paid account to get a lot of value out of this great new service. I recommend you give it a try.

Read more on my Newspaper Death Watch blog.

Just for Fun: Scale of the Universe

Scale of the UniverseIf you’re feeling insignificant today you might want to skip this one, but bear with me for the surprise at the end.

The universe is a mighty big place, and I’ve never seen anything that quite dramatizes that fact like this Flash movie, The Scale of the Universe.

Scroll left to begin your journey at the smallest known particle of Quantum Foam (.0000000001 yoctometers or 10-35  meter. Keep scrolling to the right as you pass neutrinos, quarks, uranium nuclei and other little tiny things.

As you keep scrolling, the scale gets larger: chromosomes, aunts, human beings, Redwood trees, the Hoover dam, California, Ganymede, Alpha Centauri B and so on. At the extreme right is the estimated size of the universe at 1027 meters.

It’s a mesmerizing display with beautiful graphics and even a soundtrack. If it came from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory, you wouldn’t be at all surprised. But this remarkable animation is the work of two junior high school kids: Carey and Michael Huang.

Carey was the principal architect and Michael put it online. Carey didn’t even do it for extra credit; it was just a fun way to express some relationships he learned about in seventh grade. Here’s the story on ABC News.

MIT might want to get to these kids with the scholarship offer early.

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The Tips Issue: How to Make the Most of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

February 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Newsletter

10 Tips for Building a Quality Twitter Following

I’ve been using Twitter for five years, and I recently topped 10,000 followers. Lots of folks have more followers than I do, but the quality of my following is what’s important to me. Most of my followers are people who share my interests in the Internet, media, and digital marketing. They’re responsive, supportive, and helpful, and we have a great time together.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few basic tactics for building a quality following. Perhaps you’ll find them useful. Note that these tactics apply to using Twitter for business. If you want to build a cult of personality or just run up your numbers, there are better ways to do it.

1. Stay focused. I’ve posted an average of just four tweets per day for the last five years, which is far fewer than the output of many other Twitter users. That’s because I limit most of my tweets to the professional topics that interest me or that others may find useful. I share little information about my personal life. People don’t care what I had for dinner, but if the restaurant is a place I’d recommend to others, I’ll frame a comment in that context. When people see my name in their tweet stream, I want them to know they’re likely to find something there that interests them.

2. Share your handle everywhere. Of course, your Twitter handle should be in your e-mail signature line. But consider the other ways people might find you. I include my Twitter name (@pgillin) in my letterhead, as well as on every slide in my presentations. Don’t forget to post your presentations to [4]SlideShare, where your PowerPoints can get many more views than they ever do in front of an audience. Add your Twitter handle to your LinkedIn profile, and if you’re ever featured as a speaker, make sure the promotion page features your Twitter name, as well.

Read eight more tips on The CMO Site

Five LinkedIn Gems for Marketers

Most people think of LinkedIn as a great resource to find jobs and consulting work, but it’s also a treasure trove of competitive intelligence and prospecting opportunities.

LinkedIn has become the major force in social networking for business-to-business professionals. Its core strength is the information the service collects about its 140 million members and the many ways it creatively combines those data points to make it easy to find the people and information you want.

Here are five little-known LinkedIn gems.

1. Company profiles: If you don’t have a company profile on LinkedIn, you should. Late last year the service made it possible for members to follow companies just as they follow people. That means your status updates appear in their activity streams along with news about their friends. Want to know who’s following your company? You can find that out, too.

You should also consider taking advantage of the “products and services” tab in company profiles. You can set up dedicated sub-pages for each of your product lines and ask people to post recommendations. One thing marketers will love: People can only post recommendations, not criticisms. It’s like a love nest for your customers.

2. Insightful statistics: LinkedIn mines its member database to create statistics about the companies they work for. This can be useful in prospecting, recruitment, and competitive intelligence.

Click the “Check out insightful statistics about…” link in the right sidebar of any company profile. Inside you’ll find information about job function composition, company growth as reflected by total LinkedIn memberships, and how frequently people are changing titles. These can indicate if a company is having a turnover problem or whether growth is slowing. LinkedIn also gives you a list of employees who have recently taken new jobs or left the company. This can alert you to sales opportunities or management gaps. Recruiters will like the “Most recommended at…” feature, which lists employees who have the largest number of peer recommendations.

Read about the other three gems on The CMO Site

Five Facebook Tips for Small & Midsize Businesses

Most small businesses are terrible at marketing in general and online marketing in particular. That’s understandable: The founders are usually more passionate about what they do than about promoting themselves.

But with Facebook becoming the place you just have to be for businesses of all sizes, a little marketing know-how comes in handy. I recently spoke to Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media at the small-business-focused e-mail service provider Constant Contact about how to go beyond the Facebook wall and make the social network a practical and measurable small business marketing platform.

“When we look at what platforms our small business customers are using for social media marketing, 94% of them are on Facebook,” Schmulen said. However, “Most small businesses are doing Facebook without knowing why they’re doing it.”

That’s the herd mentality at work. While it’s pretty easy to create a Facebook page, the task of convincing visitors to create persistent relationships through the “Like” button and to engage in conversation requires different skills. Forrester Research has estimated fewer than 15% of people who click a Like button ever visit the page again. Getting that repeat traffic is the special sauce of Facebook success.

Here are five tips that Schmulen recommends:

Tip #1: Know your goals. Sounds simple but it ain’t necessarily so. Depending on the business, goals might range from generating orders to attracting subscribers to building thought leadership. Whatever your goal, you need an offer to match.

Fancy Fortune Cookies on FacebookArchway Cookies and Fortune Cookies are both focused on trials, the first through coupons and the second via a contest. Vindale Research isn’t in the food business, though; it wants to recruit people who are interested in getting paid to take surveys.

Each company matches its offer to its goal, whether it’s a free trial, information or downloadable assets like ringtones. Offers should always include a clear call to action, and you can use rotating FBML (Facebook Markup Language) pages to test different offers. If you lead with your wall, you’re missing an opportunity.


Tip #2: Make your offer shareable. There’s a Facebook phenomenon called the “power of 130.” The average Facebook member has 130 friends and the fastest way to spread a message is through social sharing. Facebook automatically offers members the opportunity to share a Like, but the real creativity comes when you can convince people to share some kind of unique content or offer you provide.

For example, Intrepid Travel invites visitors to play a trivia game and share results with friends. Players can also sign up to visit the exotic places highlighted in the game. Each answer to the quiz is shareable, as is the final score.

Intrepid Travel on Facebook

1. Know your goals. Sounds simple but it ain’t necessarily so. Depending on the business, goals might range from generating orders to attracting subscribers to building thought leadership. Whatever your goal, you need an offer to match.

Archway Cookies and Fortune Cookies are both focused on trials, the first through coupons and the second via a contest. Vindale Research isn’t in the food business, though; it wants to recruit people who are interested in getting paid to take surveys.

Each company matches its offer to its goal, whether it’s a free trial, information or downloadable assets like ringtones. Offers should always include a clear call to action, and you can use rotating FBML (Facebook Markup Language) pages to test different offers. If you lead with your wall, you’re missing an opportunity.

2. Make your offer shareable. There’s a Facebook phenomenon called the “power of 130.” The average Facebook member has 130 friends and the fastest way to spread a message is through social sharing. Facebook automatically offers members the opportunity to share a Like, but the real creativity comes when you can convince people to share some kind of unique content or offer you provide.

For example, Intrepid Travel (right) invites visitors to play a trivia game and share results with friends. Players can also sign up to visit the exotic places highlighted in the game. Each answer to the quiz is shareable, as is the final score.

Read more and comment on my blog

Starting a New Book. Want to Help?

If you follow social media closely, you’ve no doubt heard about the latest crisis to strike McDonald’s. The fast food giant initiated a Twitter campaign to elicit stories about people’s fond memories of  big Macs and Happy Meals. However, the campaign quickly spun out of control as critics took the opportunity to mock or condemn the company about a host of perceived wrongs.

Such attacks are becoming increasingly common these days as businesses invite direct feedback from customers on their Facebook pages and in the Twittersphere. I find this trend fascinating, so I’m partnering with Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, on a new book under the working title of “Attack of the Customers.” You can read a description and outline here.

This book will ultimately be about how to build a company culture that resists attacks, but I’m also looking for experts and stories of organizations that have withstood social media crises and learned from them. If you have advice or experiences that you’re willing to share, please let me know so we can arrange an interview. Your story can be anonymous if you wish and you’ll have a chance to review anything we write for accuracy and balance. Drop me a line if you’re willing to help.

Just for Fun: Stupidest.com

Kathryn and Ross Petras have made a career out of stupidity, or at least showing off the stupid things other people do. With books like The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said  and Unusually Stupid Americans: A Compendium of All-American Stupidity, the brother and sister team have spent years collecting quotes, headlines, signs, news stories and just about everything else imaginable that showcases people being dumb. Naturally they’ve got a website.

Stupidest.com features several hundred recent additions to their collection, including “The Top 10 Stupidest Sounding Scientific Research Papers,” “The Stupidest Example of Luxury Brand Loyalty” and  “The Stupidest Quite Unnecessary Product Disclaimer” (below). What did we do in the days before camera phones?

Stupid Ikea Hot Dog Poster


Direct Marketing Doesn’t Have to Suck

October 6, 2011 by  
Filed under B2B, Newsletter

Direct Marketing Doesn’t Have to Suck

In the weeks leading up to the Direct Marketing Association annual conference in Boston this week, exhibitors were out strutting their best stuff. Last week I got two letters in the mail that appeared to be personally addressed to me in a feminine hand (right). Both turned out to be promotions for companies exhibiting at the conference. One employs people to hand-address envelopes so that they appear to come from a friend. The other has an automated signature device that does much same thing.

I opened both envelopes without realizing what was inside and had to chuckle at how I was taken in. They fooled me good. And then I thought about what that says about the state of direct marketing today. Have we sunk so low that we need to trick people into reading our messages? Is it any surprise that forecasters expect direct-mail marketing to decline nearly 40% over the next two years?

Direct mailing envelope

Dump the Junk

Like many people, I’m less interested in reading mass marketing material today than I’ve ever been. There’s far too much good stuff out there. More than 90% of the material that enters my mailbox goes straight to the recycling bin. I unsubscribe from any e-mails that don’t offer clear value to me. Unsolicited e-mail simply gets blocked. Fooling me doesn’t make me a prospect; it makes me mad.

There are some marketing messages, though, that are so valuable to me that I actually look forward to their arrival. Here are a few that I welcome into my inbox:

Read more and comment on my blog

The Myth of Customer Loyalty

The two newest poster children in crisis management provide powerful examples of how today’s brutal business climate punishes companies that take their customers for granted, and how fleeting customer loyalty can be.
Netflix stock has recently sunk below $115, down more than 60 percent from its all-time high reached just two months ago. That was when the company announced it was splitting its DVD-by-mail service off from its streaming video delivery and increasing prices by as much as 60 percent without delivering any immediate improvement in service. In effect, Netflix asked its customers to subsidize its R&D. The move came as competitor RedBox, with nearly 28,000 kiosks nationwide, was presenting serious pressure from below.

Customers are deserting in droves. Research by Magid Advisors found that 30 percent of Netflix’s 25 million customers are at high risk to desert the company. This is about seven times as many as Netflix estimated it would lose back in August. CEO Reed Hastings’s halfhearted apology has only fanned the flames more. Instead of backtracking on the price increases, he simply restated the reasons for imposing them in the first place and sort of apologized for lousy communication.

Read more and comment on The CMO Site

Five Ways B2B Marketers Can Get the Most from Facebook

A lot of B2B marketers have chosen not to get on board the Facebook train for fear that Facebook’s freewheeling culture clashes with their serious business. They prefer LinkedIn, a professional network that’s all about getting business done. There’s a lot of gold to mine on Facebook, however, if you know your objectives and how the community works. After all, 750 million people can’t be all wrong.

Facebook has about as much in common with LinkedIn as a Hawaiian shirt does with a three-piece suit. Your Facebook presence needs to be fun, conversational and provocative. LinkedIn is nine-to-five and Facebook is after-hours. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find buyers and get serious business done.

Everyone knows that Facebook is a good way to reach young people, but did you know that the largest percentage of Facebook users are those in the age 45 – 54 category? Facebook’s audience also skews much more heavily toward women: 62% vs. 45% for LinkedIn. Bottom line: The audience you reach on Facebook isn’t the same as the one you find on LinkedIn.

Facebook success demands knowing a few of the ins and outs of the platform in the community. Here are five tips.

Read more and comment on the PointClear blog

Big Ideas Don’t Have ROI

American Express’ OPEN Forum for small-business owners routinely attracts more than 1 million unique visitors a month. The network has 200 featured contributors, mobile apps and a new social media tracking and management service for members. All for free.

At Dell Computer, 3,000 people have been certified to use social media on behalf of the company. Dell has hired professional trainers; published a four-color, how-to manual; and flown speakers in from around the country to share their wisdom.

Cisco Systems has recently taken advantage of massive layoffs of journalists to hire former BusinessWeek and Wall Street Journal writers to tackle weighty topics, such as the future of the Internet and the impact of social media on education, in a revamped newsroom called The Network. A similar initiative at Intel Corp., called the Free Press, reads like a technology trade magazine. Content like that doesn’t come cheap.

All these programs have one thing in common: There’s no clear return on investment (ROI).

Read more at BtoB magazine online

Tip of the Week: ReadItLater

Read it Later list

How many times have you seen an article online that you wanted to read but didn’t have the time? You can bookmark it, but that requires an Internet connection, and you don’t want to clutter up your bookmarks with pages that you only plan to visit once. Also, if you’re like me, you get a lot of reading done on planes, and bookmarks do you no good when you’re offline. Downloading and saving pages is a chore.

Enter ReadItLater. This handy utility runs on just about every browser and mobile platform out there and enables you to save, organize and synchronize the pages you bookmark for reading on any device. The synchronization is particularly cool for travelers who want to read while disconnected. The browser edition is free. A “pro” addition for mobile devices costs a modest $2.99.

Just for Fun: Songfacts

Songfacts Logo

A friend told me about this site, and I’ll never forgive him for it.

  • Did you know that John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus” was really a collection of nonsense lyrics intended to confuse people who tried to analyze Beatles songs?
  • Or that Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was originally titled “In the Garden Of Eden,” but someone, possibly while drunk, changed the name on a demo copy and a record company executive decided he liked the new name better?
  • Or that the FBI tried to track down The Kingsmen and Richard Berry, the author of “Louie Louie” over popular rumors that the song’s lyrics were obscene?

All of this trivia, and much more about thousands and thousands of songs, is available at Songfacts.com. Started in 1997 as a database of song information for a few disc jockeys in Hartford, CT, the site has grown to massive size thanks to contributions from the community. The curators don’t say how many songs are in the database, but I quick-counted more than 1,200 songs just beginning with the letter C.

Songfacts is a crowdsourced model. Anyone can contribute, but only information that the administrators believe to be valid makes the official Songfacts section. Anyone is free to weigh in with comments. Careful about visiting this site at work. You’ll want to stay for hours.

Negativity, Social Gaffes and Farewell to Case Studies

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Newsletter

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.


Five Lessons From the Web 2.0 Summit

December 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

I had a chance to attend the recent Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco and hear from some of the business leaders of the new Internet, including the CEOs of Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and Twitter. Here are five key insights I took away.

1. Make Marketing a Service to Customers – I didn’t write down who said this, but the comment stuck with me long after the conference was over. The traditional role of marketing has been to create an image or deliver a message. Service had little to do with it. But in the new world of tuned-out customers, the only way to get make an impression is to be helpful, entertaining or memorable.

This is one reason we’re seeing a race by B2B marketers in particular to give away tactics and information that were once their source of competitive advantage. It’s the only way to get prospects to pay attention. Marketers need to ask themselves a new question: “How can I help?”

2. You Need a Mobile Strategy, and Faster Than You Probably Thought. Forrester Research now predicts that smart phones will be the dominant Internet access device in the US within three years. Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley sees smart phone shipments surpassing PCs in 2012 (Here’s the video of her terrific presentation). In countries like China, the PC was never even much of a factor. The speed at which this shift is occurring is breathtaking. Smart phones have eclipsed all other electronic devices in their rate of adoption (see chart below).

Smart Phone GrowthGoogle’s Eric Schmidt made an interesting point: smart phones are actually more useful than PCs because they know more about the user, including location, and can deliver a more personal level of utility.

This doesn’t mean PCs are going away. Rather, the plunging price of flat-panel displays will make PCs more of a comprehensive dashboard for a user’s business and entertainment needs. However, the browser will be only one of several ways people will access the Internet.

On the smart phone, that access will be by applications. Apple opened the iPhone to developers only three years ago, and already more than a half-million apps have been delivered. Other platforms are just ramping up their own app ecosystems.

There is a huge free-for-all coming in mobile apps, and nearly every business needs to be thinking about how to participate. Consider item 1 above. How can you use a mobile app to provide service to the customer? Whether it’s a coupon, shopping tip, reference source, comparison engine or something else, you’ll need to address the needs of this rapidly growing mobile audience.

Mark Zuckerberg at Web 2.0 Summit

3. Social Is the Killer App. While you’re pondering question 2, consider this one. Mark Zuckerberg was poised and mature in a nearly one-hour interview with John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly. The Facebook founder acknowledged that great power carries great responsibility and pledged to be more responsive to the privacy concerns of members.

One memorable point he made is that “social” is a powerful feature of software. Several Facebook applications, like photo albums, were functionally weak in their early versions but were a huge hit with members because they were easily shareable, he noted. This is an important point to remember. Loading up on features quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns. Adding the ability to share, reuse, mash up and comment creates a whole different level of value.

BTW, Zuckerberg reminded me of a young Bill Gates in looks, mannerisms and the clarity with which he sees complex issues. Like Gates, he has an uncanny ability to find a logical path to a decision or point of view. It will be interesting to watch his star rise.

4. Simulations Are A Powerful Incentive To Engage. Did you know that 320 million people have played a Zynga game and that the company now employs 1,300 people? Have you ever even heard of Zynga? If you’re a B2B marketer, you probably haven’t, but I’ll bet your kids have. Farmville is a mega-hit on Facebook and Zynga has nine other social gaming applications based on classic games like poker and Battleship. Founder Mark Pincus said the company has peak usage of more than three million concurrent users. Yow.

Why should you care? Because simulation games are not only a great way to learn but also an excellent tool for modeling business processes. Consider Cisco’s myPlanNet, a game that challenges players to build a business as the CEO of an Internet service provider. It has racked up more than 75,000 Facebook fans and 50,000 downloads for what is essentially a B2B training and marketing tool. Check out the wall posts on Facebook. It’s not the usual gaming trash talk. Players are learning how the Internet works.

IBM recently released CityOne, a game that simulates sustainable urban planning. These are tools that put real problem-solving scenarios in a gaming context and they are having enormous success. Can a sim fit in with your digital marketing plan?

Steven Berlin Johnson at Web 2.0 Summit

5. Everything on the Web. Steven Berlin Johnson gave a brief but provocative talk about the rate of change in publishing. “For the first time in 20 years, the link and the URL are losing market share,” he said, noting that there is no standardized way to link to the page of a digital book.

Johnson proposed an idea he called “Web redundancy:” Every digital content asset should have a corresponding linkable version. “Unless [publishers] embrace Web redundancy as a strategy, all those extraordinary words will continue to live in the remote continents of the unlinkable,” he said.

I was reminded of all the press releases I continue to receive by e-mail that have no online counterparts. This is old-media thinking. Why ask the reporter to rewrite your words when it’s simpler to link to them? Why forego the search engine optimization benefits of an inbound referral, especially when tweets and links are the means by which people increasingly publish information? Every single content asset you produce for the media or the general public should be accessible on the Web.

This year’s Web 2.0 Summit was streamed in its entirety. The conference, which is in its seventh year, is a great way to tap into the trends that will define the next 12 months. If you can’t fork over the $4,200 (and thanks to John Battelle and my friends at Procter & Gamble, I didn’t have to), it’s worth tuning in to the YouTube archive or watching the streamed coverage from next year’s event.

Age of the Tablet Has Begun

Another insight I got at Web 2.0 Summit was that tablet computers are coming up the adoption curve much faster than I expected. I tend to be a skeptic about new technology, and since tablets have been around for a decade in various forms, I didn’t expect much of Apple’s entry. The Summit changed my thinking. I’m now convinced that tablets will all but displace laptops within the next few years. In short, tablets are built for what people want to do with a portable device, while laptops are essentially scaled-down desktop PCs. Here’s my reasoning.

Tip of the Week: Foursquare Tips

I never really got the point of the game behind Foursquare, but I am definitely a fan of the tips that are proliferating on this location-aware service for smart phones. When my wife and I were recently looking for a restaurant, I checked in on Foursquare and found a link to a limited-time promotion for 20% off the price of a meal at a nearby establishment. That helped seal the decision. I checked in at DFW airport recently and found scores of suggestions about where to find the best Mexican food, the widest variety of beer, the best place to watch planes take off and the most comfy spots with power outlets. As Foursquare has grown, the value and quality of tips has greatly improved. Try it on your favorite mobile device.

Just for Fun: Wordle

Words can be beautiful. Wordle proves it. This delightful little free Java applet takes any block of text you give it and creates colorful word clouds.It works with any language that uses Arabic characters and you can experiment with dozens of fonts, layouts and colors. Then you can save to a public gallery (see point 3 above) and embed on your website. The Wordle below was created from the text in this newsletter.

Millennials: Coming Soon to a Cubicle Near You

August 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

This weekend I’ll pack my daughter off to college, so as a little celebration, I took her and a friend to a Six Flags amusement park this week. As we drove west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I took the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation in the back seat, affording me one of my too-rare glimpses into the world of Millennials.

During the 75-minute drive, I listened to the girls talk excitedly about the people they would soon meet in person for the first time. They already knew many of them, of course. Thanks to Facebook, they had been building connections with future classmates since the late spring. When today’s students arrive on campus, they already know dozens of others.
My daughter, Alice, had already “spoken” to her future roommate several times. I use the term figuratively because Alice hates to talk on the telephone, as do most of her friends. By “speak”, she means text messages, instant messaging sessions, wall posts and maybe a few webcam interactions. For today’s teens, interaction with friends is multi-channel and multimedia.
I actually shouldn’t say Alice hates talking on the phone. She just can’t fathom doing nothing but talking. Her favorite context for conversation these days is a massively multi-player game where friends can slay dragons and battle wizards while chatting about the same things their parents talked about: music, school and romance.
Much has changed there as well. Thanks to MySpace pages and BitTorrent, Millennials have constant and immediate access to the latest music and video. They like the top artists, of course, but along with Lady Gaga (left) they favor an assortment of bands I’ve never heard of that cater to eclectic tastes. When I was their age, I learned of new artists from cassette tapes exchanged between friends. Today, a link in an instant message does the same thing, and Apple’s Genius and Pandora make the process programmatic.
Relationships? Well, after listening to two teenagers talk for an hour, it dawned on me that there were people they felt very strongly about whom they had actually never met. One of Alice’s best friends lives in Texas. Their relationship was already well established last year long before they met each other for the first time.
It’s not unusual to hear terms like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” applied to virtual relationships. Nor is it surprising to hear of relationships ending in novel ways. Two years ago, I listened in as a group of Alice’s classmates spoke of a friend who had just ended a romance. Everyone in the group knew the news except the guy who had been dumped. He hadn’t read the message yet.
Sound strange? A survey of teens this year by textPlus found that 30% percent said they’ve broken up with someone or been dumped via text message. Call it passive aggressive or conflict avoidance or whatever you want; it’s the way things are.
Coming To Your Town
And so they head off to college, and in four years they will enter a workplace that understands little about their values and systems. They will encounter managers who believe that Facebook is a productivity drain and who would rather employees spend an hour in traffic jams each day than get work done from home.
They will have their first brush with cover-your-ass thinking and will sit in meetings that waste hours of time so that everyone in the room can be “in the loop.”
They will encounter rigid, top-down hierarchies in which risk is avoided and decisions are unchallenged. They will find mid-level managers who hoard information out of fear that sharing will threaten their job security.
They will wonder how anything gets done in environments like these and they will gravitate toward those companies that discard tradition. They’re young, confident and coming to your town. Are you ready?

MediaBlather is Back

Shortly after recording our 100th episode of the MediaBlather podcast, David Strom and I took a break during the first half of this year. But we’re tanned, rested and back in action now with new podcasts posting every couple of weeks.

In Identity Crisis, we discussed the helplessness that BP felt as its Twitter identity was hijacked by an anonymous critic. Freelance Destruction looked at the plummeting pay rates in the freelance market and assessed the impact that would have on traditionally trusted sources of advice such as product reviews. The bad news: technology reviews have taken a turn for the worse. The good news: people like David Strom are figuring out new models.We’re always looking for guests and ideas, so if you’ve got an interesting story to tell or a new book to promote, drop me a line and we’ll get you on the show.


Tip of the Week: OneForty.com

Twitter has unleashed a torrent of creative energy in the form of applications and websites that do everything from automatically unfollow people to calculate the total potential reach of a tweet. The problem is keeping up with them all. The crowdsourced Twitter Fan Wiki is a great resource, but its organization is weak and it’s not always up to date. It can also be overwhelming: The apps listing page runs to 20,000 words.
OneForty.comEnter OneForty.com, a startup dedicated to finding and rating the best Twitter applications. Its site is clean, easy to use and chock-full of intelligent reviews, many by business customers. The founder and CEO is Laura Fitton (@pistachio), co-author of Twitter for Dummies, and a visionary who saw the potential of this platform long before it became a staple of corporate marketers. Check it out; it will help you tell your app from your elbow.

Just For Fun: Amazing Tattoos

Amazing TattoosI’ll admit I’m not much for tattoos. It’s not the pain that scares me; it’s just that they’re so, well, permanent. Nevertheless, I do appreciate great craftsmanship, and this selection of 40 amazing tattoos demonstrates what today’s technology can achieve using flesh as the principal medium.

Note: Some of these images are a little disturbing, so if you have a weak stomach, look elsewhere. At least you don’t have to live with them etched into your arm!

The Web Goes Social

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsletter

If you’ve signed up for more than a couple of social networks, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the syndrome of seeing your mailbox fill up each morning with notifications about messages, invitations or comments you’ve received from other members. This deluge can become so annoying that you may simply choose to relegate many of these notices to the black hole of your spam filter.

Welcome to the dirty world of the early social Web, a time of chaos and incompatibility that is stifling the real utility of these marvelous new networks.

If you’ve been around for a few years, you may remember a similar state of affairs from the pre-Web days. Back in the early days of electronic mail, users of CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy and other branded networks were unable to exchange e-mail with non-subscribers. Even after Internet e-mail had been broadly accepted, America Online clung to its members-only prohibition for some time in the foolhardy belief that it could force members to stay within the fold.

Today’s social networks suffer from some of the same limitations. Each has its own profiling system, internal messaging, collaboration features and applications. Some aggregators like FriendFeed gather up member activity from multiple sites, but such services are mainly limited to collecting RSS feeds. There is no such thing as an integrated online profile.

This profusion of information smokestacks won’t last. Two competing standards – one from Facebook and the other from Google – are duking it out to create a standard single identity that travels with Web users. If you’ve signed in to Google and looked up your own name recently, you’ve probably noticed that Google now prompts you to fill out a profile. This sketchy self-description is the beginnings of a broader reach by Google to make the entire Web into a social network.

In the socialized future, people’s identities will travel with them and details will be shared selectively with others within their social network. Profiles will develop incredible richness as details of each person’s preferences, connections, memberships and activities are centralized. It will probably be a year or two before this concept begins to take shape. Regardless of whether Facebook or Google wins the standards war, the social network metaphor will become ubiquitous.

Social Colonies

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang has called this next stage of evolution the “era of social colonization.” Once every website takes on social network characteristics, the utility of the Web will change dramatically. We will increasingly rely upon the activities and recommendations of others to help us make decisions. Sites like Yelp, ThisNext and Kaboodle already provide a rudimentary form of this functionality, but they are limited by their closed nature.

One social bookmarking service I use – Diigo.com – provides a glimpse of what the social Web may look like. Diigo (and a similar service called WebNotes) enables members to highlight and comment upon Web pages or passages and share them with others in their network. Visitors can read and add to existing comments in the same way that editors annotate and build upon a draft document. Imagine if the capabilities were expanded to include star ratings, multimedia, discussions and other interactive features. That’s when the social Web really gets exciting.

The ripple effects of this shift should be dramatic. Imagine a future in which your company homepage becomes a giant group product review. Forrester’s Owyang sees marketing being remade around customer recommendations. There will be no choice. Companies may lose control of the messages on even their own websites as visitors share impressions with each other.

Owyang also believes companies will have to customize their Web experiences as visitors selectively share information about their interests and preferences. This information will become a kind of currency. We will grant brands and institutions selective access to information about ourselves in exchange for discounts and specialized services. The shift from mass to custom will take a giant step forward.

Today’s social networks are no more representative of the Internet of the future than Prodigy was of the Web we know today. These will be incredibly exciting developments to watch. We just have to get past the necessary evil of a standards war in order to appreciate them.

Traditional Media Malaise Spreads

It’s generally acknowledged that the newspaper industry is dying, but now the troubles have spread into other segments of the mainstream, too. Of 118 US magazine titles tracked by Media Industry Newsletter (MIN) Online, only eight saw year-to-year growth from 2008 to 2009. The rest continued a pattern of decline that began in 2007, and the rate of drop-off is accelerating. Newsweek just halved its circulation in a last gasp effort at survival and Wired, which is the poster child of new media integration, showed the third worst performance among the titles tracked by MIN. Read more of the gory details.

Also, a new report forecasts that spending on direct mail will tumble 39% by 2013 as marketers move their dollars into e-mail campaigns. “Direct mail has begun spiraling into what we believe is a precipitous decline from which it will never fully recover,” says a new report by Borrell Associates that’s summarized on Marketing Charts. Local e-mail is expected to grow nicely at the expense of traditional printed mail.

Recently Quoted

Just for Fun – Keeping Up With the Digital Joneses

Real estate resource site Zillow.com has come up with a clever new game that not only advertises its property listings but also gives homeowners advice on improvement strategies. The feature is called Dueling Digs, and it delivers photos of renovation projects that visitors can vote upon. Each “duel” presents 10 pairs of photos of the same interior area of a property, such as a kitchen. Players vote for the design they like best until one is left standing. Zillow then tells them how their choice compared to other players’ and also directs them to the listing page for that property. Users can download photos for help in planning their own renovation projects. This is a great way to highlight top listings via crowdsourced selection and also to deliver value to casual visitors in the form of ideas for their own home improvements.

Why Social Networks Work

October 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

Last fall, I shared a lunch table with a group of Twitter enthusiasts at a social media event. One of them said something that crystallized perfectly the reason that social networks have taken the world by storm.

My lunchtime companion was a career public relations professional who had grown up reading an assortment of daily newspapers. They were his principal news source. Since adopting Twitter, however, he had stopped reading newspapers almost entirely. The service they had historically provided — directing him to the most important stories of the day — had shifted to his network of online friends. He now relied upon his contacts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sources to tell him what was interesting and what should matter.

Bolt From the Blue
This insight was a bolt from the blue for me because it summed up the reasons people are shifting so rapidly to friends networks and away from conventional media. Think of your own reading habits. Chances are you get several newsletters each day from various trusted sources. You also probably get the occasional e-mail from your friends pointing you to interesting stories on the Web. Which of these messages are you likely to open first? Which are you faster to click on? If you’re like most people, the message from the friend is always going to get your most immediate attention.

We trust our friends because we know them and they know us. Whether we’ve shared a workplace, a living space or some other experience with them, we have given them insight into our interests and motivations that no institution can match. Professional editors are very good at assessing relevance, determining importance and creating hierarchies of information, but they don’t know us as people. We’ll never let them in like we let in our friends.

Life Feeds
Facebook pioneered a concept called the News Feed that has been widely adopted by other networks. When you log on to Facebook, you’re treated to an immediate stream of information about other people in your network. You immediately know about changes in their lives, where they’ve gone on vacation and what project they’re working on. You also know what they’re reading, what conferences they’re attending and what they think you should be reading and attending. By virtue of their familiarity with you, they have a higher priority in your life. Other services like FriendFeed have expanded this idea to a broad range of online services. Twitter adds immediacy and certain intimacy that the other services don’t.

The “friending” feature of social networks is the single most important factor underlying their success. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers. The challenge is to get behind the many walls that people have thrown up around themselves to screen out marketing messages. The opportunity is to find a way to connect with them at a level that grants us admission to their inner circle. As we know instinctively, that’s a very good place to be.

Five Fearless Predictions for 2008

October 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

It’s been a wild year on the Internet as social media has taken the Web by storm. Some people say this is a bubble waiting to burst, but I think we’re in for another year of innovation, turmoil and strategic posturing. Here are five fearless predictions for 2008:

The year of social search – Google’s great, but it isn’t perfect. Its inherent weaknesses (the inability to search by date, for example) and the explosion of new online content spark interest in a new class of search engines that incorporate user recommendations. Projects like Mahalo and WikiaSearch are early proofs of concept, and new players pile on as prototypes show promise.

A social network privacy backlash – A scandal erupts in 2008 as news headlines tell of people being harassed, stalked and fired because of information revealed in their Facebook accounts. The lurid details are shocking, and politicians quickly move to call for government limitations on social network disclosure policies. The furor prompts Facebook, which is preparing for an IPO, to scramble to revamp its service and tighten its policies. The incident becomes the first great crisis of the Web 2.0 era.

Facebook‘s IPO – Facebook weathers the privacy crisis and stages a successful public offering that values the company at $25 billion and positions it as the number one suitor to Google’s market crown. A power struggle ensues as Facebook immediately leverages its market capital to buy up rivals and solidify its position as the most comprehensive social network. Google continues its acquisition binge (see below).

Blogosphere bustTechnorati reports that worldwide blogging activity is declining for the first time. This sparks a predictable round of tongue-clucking by people who said the whole thing was a fad all along. In fact, the blogosphere is simply entering a normal cycle of maturation in which early tire-kickers fall away. Meanwhile, more corporations launch blogs in 2008 than in any previous year.

Google buys Skype and Second LifeeBay has had enough of Skype and it sells the Internet phone service to Google for a bargain basement price of $750 million. Google is more than happy to make the purchase. It has new technology that delivers ads based upon words spoken in phone conversations. Google also moves to snap up Second Life, which has struggled to find a mission and a business model. Google immediately announces its intention to open up the Second Life program interfaces to support third-party applications and to integrate virtual worlds with its Google Earth and Google Maps products.