Archive for the ‘Social Networks’ Category

8 Significant Developments in Social Media You Should Watch

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

While I don’t have a crystal ball, here are some developments that I think are worthy of our attention and will affect how we do things in the social mediasphere over the next few years. Many of the things on this list will not be news to the very well-informed social media consultant types who live and breathe this stuff. But for the rest of us, there are seeds of opportunity here that should not be missed.

  1. MySpace: CEO Leaves; MySpace will die. Last year, I was telling my clients “We are cautiously optimistic that MySpace (GigaOM Pro company profile) will make a comeback because their new CEO is aFacebook co-founder.” Scratch that. I think MySpace is about to go the way of Friendster,although it is still a player in the entertainment space. Because Facebook doesn’t allow flexbility and customization, I’m going to miss MySpace. But now I wonder: Who is going to be the next MySpace? VirbBebo? (And don’t underestimate LinkedIn.)
  2. Virtual Goods: Insane, but insanely popular. The creation and selling of virtual goods and gifts makes absolutely no sense to people who just use the Internet as a basic communications tool. Try telling someone who isn’t really into Facebook that they could buy a virtual bouquet of flowers for 99 cents and send them to a friend — they’d look at you like you were mad. But with virtual goods as an industry already raking in the billions of dollars worldwide and over a billion in the U.S. alone (source: “Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market, 2009 – 2010?), how can anyone ignore them? I’m not saying everyone needs to make and use virtual goods, but there is opportunity here for both marketing and revenue. Have you even thought about how you might be able to leverage virtual goods? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): How the Next Zynga Could Reinvent Social Gaming
  3. Gaming: Not just for kids anymore. I think the very fact that the largest player base of passive online games is women flies in the face of the typical view that games are for kids. According to Nielsen Entertainment in August 2009, of the 117 million active gamers in the U.S., 56 percent play games online and 64 percent of those online gamers are female. And the revenues generated from online games is enormous and growing. Do not underestimate the power of games and gaming — and not just the marketing and revenue opportunities, but also the learning opportunities as well in the form of fun quizzes and polls. Have you used gaming yet in a social media marketing campaign?
  4. Twitter: Still transforming communications. Back in 2008, I wrote about Twitter’s impact on the fundamental ways we communicate and the way new tools and applications are being developed, but it continues to grow and evolve. How has Twitter helped you lately?
  5. Niche networks: A marketer’s secret weapon. Whether you choose Ning.com orKickApps or any of the other “white label” customizable social network-building platforms, the concept of creating a “gated”online community that is narrow in focus is smart and potentially powerful. The concept isn’t really that far removed from hosting an online messaging board in the early days of the web. If you held the keys to the gate of a more private, closed or niche community, you had everything from an instant focus group to a band of passionate buzz agents on your hands — if you knew how to properly leverage the community participation. Fast forward to today and the tools ca now give your members integrated communications, networking, publishing and social tools — brilliant.What niche networks are you participating in or do you run?
  6. Augmented reality. Sounds sci-fi, but it’s really here. I’m having a hard time describing Augmented Reality to people who haven’t seen it (if you haven’t seen it in action, these infographics from GigaOM might help). The reaction isn’t just “what in the world?” but “who cares about that stuff?” AR uses simply boggle the mind, and I plan to explore more of that in this column soon. I do wish we had a better term for it, though (like “data overlay” or “overscreen view”) so it didn’t have such a sci-fi feel to it. What potential uses for AR are getting you fired up? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.):Augmented Reality: Lots of Promise, Lots of Hurdles.
  7. Google Buzz: Pay attention, even if you don’t care. I am one of the gazillion people who currently do not care about Google Buzz, apart from the fact that just because Google did this it means something in terms of the tools we’ll be using in the coming years. Right now, I feel like Google has the means to just throw tech spaghetti on the virtual walls of our work and lives to see what sticks. Anything it does has major significance and impact, even if it fails. So pay attention as you scratch your head. How is Google Buzz changing the way you communicate, or is it? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Google Buzz’s True Home Is in the Enterprise
  8. Mobile: Be there. I don’t know about you, but I consider my iPhone to be a mini computer and Wi-Fi device first and phone a distant second. I’m never normally an early early adopter because I’m too busy to keep up most of the time, but I will be one of the first to buy the iPad, because it looks to me like a bigger iPhone, and I rely on my iPhone in ways I have never relied on my computer or my regular cell phone. My entire concept of connectivity and my access to everything has changed so dramatically since I got a smartphone that I know I can never go back to the old ways. What forays into mobile marketing are on your radar for 2010? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Web Tablet Survey: Apple’s iPad Hits Right Notes

–Aliza Sherman

Choosing a Marketing Plan: Traditional or Social Media?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

EPC CIGAR COMPANY manufactures and distributes cigars that are hand-rolled in the Dominican Republic from Ecuadorean, Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco. It has been in business since April, although the family that owns it previously ran a successful cigar company that was sold to Swedish Match in 1999.

THE CHALLENGE To develop a cost-effective and efficient marketing strategy to promote the company and its new brand, E. P. Carrillo, while building on the family’s legacy.

THE BACKGROUND EPC Cigar, based in Miami, is owned and operated by the Perez-Carrillo family, whose Cuban-born patriarch, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, established El Credito Cigars in 1968; its best-known brand was La Gloria Cubana. After Mr. Perez-Carrillo’s death, his son, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr., sold El Credito to Swedish Match in 1999, working there until March 2009. Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr., 58, remains a big deal in the cigar world.

He was encouraged to start EPC Cigar by his daughter, Lissette, 36, a lawyer based in Miami, and his son, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III, 28, a management consultant based in New York, both of whom had worked for El Credito while growing up. The three family members run the company, which employs 34 people in Miami and the Dominican Republic.

Its first product was a $13 limited-edition inaugural cigar released in December; it will be followed this spring by the core E. P. Carrillo line, which will be available in five sizes priced from $6 to $8.

Last year, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III, who oversees the company’s marketing, hired an advertising agency, DeVito/Verdi, to develop a logo, labels, packaging and a marketing campaign to introduce the new company and its cigars. Mr. Perez-Carrillo III estimates that EPC Cigar will spend $300,000 on the campaign, which began in April 2009 and will run through December.

THE OPTIONS DeVito/Verdi suggested a range of traditional and new-media marketing strategies.

The traditional options included taxi-top advertising in New York City; commercials on cable channels like Comedy Central, Spike and VH1; radio ads in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; and print ads in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Yachting, Golf Digest, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. With the exception of Cigar Aficionado, these promotions would aim at casual cigar smokers and even nonsmokers willing to try the company’s cigars.

The social media options included three Web site concepts: one involved a collage on the company Web site of live, online mentions of the company and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.; a second featured a world map (from Google Maps) on the Web site that showed the origin of real-time Twitter messages about cigars; and a third would use a Facebook page as the company’s main online presence. In any case, the digital strategy would involve the use of Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

THE DECISION Ultimately, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III decided to take DeVito/Verdi’s advice and emphasize the Internet and social media initiatives. Ellis Verdi, president of the agency, calls social media “a natural place to go when you want to show something real,” adding, “If you say it’s real, people won’t believe you, but the Internet lets you show it.”

Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said his primary objection to traditional media outlets was the expense. “For the first go-around,” he said, “we put them off the table.” The company, according to Mr. Perez-Carrillo III, will spend $40,000 on digital-media initiatives between 2009 and 2010, with the remaining $260,000 of its marketing budget going to trade shows, cigar-enthusiast events, point-of-sale material and some traditional media.

Social media allow the company to communicate directly with cigar buyers, retailers, tobacco growers and others with whom it does business, according to both EPC Cigar and its agency. This is particularly important as the popularity of once-fashionable cigar bars wanes and public smoking bans proliferate.

At the agency’s recommendation, the Perez-Carrillos chose the Web concept based on Google Maps and Twitter. Thus, on the home page, Twitter messages about cigars — regardless of whether they are about EPC Cigar or raise health concerns about cigar smoking — appear on a world map that rotates to show where the messages originated.

The site’s “About Us” section uses another world map to show places where EPC Cigar conducts business or has roots, thus honoring the family’s history. The section also offers photographs and videos, including a vintage, black-and-white snapshot of Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. as a child in Cuba and modern videos of a Nicaraguan tobacco farm.

The site lists retailers that sell the company’s cigars, with Google Maps indicating theirlocations, and more than 1,000 places to smoke, with recommendations contributed by visitors and by Cigar Places, a Web site for cigar enthusiasts. DeVito/Verdi is in the process of developing an iPhone application that will feature these cigar-friendly places.

The agency has encouraged Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. — and not his son — to use Twitter to build and communicate with the company’s following. It is Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr., said Tyler DeAngelo, interactive creative director of DeVito/Verdi, who is “the face of the brand.”

While Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. posts Twitter messages almost daily, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III maintains the company’s Facebook page, where he posts articles and reviews and encourages fans to comment. There are also links on the page to the company’s Twitter feed, YouTube videos and Flickr photos. Similarly, there is a box that pops up from the home page of its Web site that lets visitors “follow Ernesto” on all four social media channels.

THE RESULTS So far, only about 250 people are following EPC Cigar through Twitter and about 700 are Facebook fans. These numbers notwithstanding, the Perez-Carrillo family and DeVito/Verdi say they are satisfied with the campaign’s impact.

“To have a lot of people talk about the limited-edition cigar after only a few months, in a market that’s challenged, in an industry that’s not really growing, is very exciting,” Mr. Verdi said.

The campaign has “generated a lot of buzz so far,” Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said. “When we talk to retailers, to the end consumer, everyone pretty much knows Ernesto’s gone on his own. They can’t wait for him to come out with the core line.”

One unexpected benefit is that Mr. Perez-Carrillo III has been using Google Analytics to track how many people visit the Web site and where they come from. He has discovered that almost one-third of the visitors do not live in the United States. “I’m talking to foreign distributors far more quickly than I expected I would,” he said.

The 25,000 limited-edition cigars that EPC Cigar has been releasing monthly since December “are selling extremely quickly,” Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said. He projects sales of $1.5 million this year.

–JANE L. LEVERE

Ten emerging Enterprise 2.0 technologies to watch

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Two significant and closely related trends in enterprise computing this year are the growth of Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and social computing. By most accounts, both are gaining ground quite rapidly while still not being used for core business functions or mission critical applications in most large firms, at least not yet.

The reality is that broader social and cloud computing trends continue to evolve faster than most enterprises are able to absorb. It may be years before many organizations are comfortable with and ready to adopt either of these technologies strategically despite apparent benefits.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not important for organizations to closely track both of these leading computing trends (both have solid double digit industry growth) and understand the emergi

ng technologies that are likely to shape their use in key business functions in the near future. In fact, quite the contrary, particularly when it comes to Enterprise 2.0.

The potential overall impact of enterprise social computing (aka Enterprise 2.0) is significant for most organizations, at least in the medium term. The business functions that are likely to be affected and transformed by these new social business models (and its associated delivery model, SaaS) includes general purpose communication and collaborationproduct developmentcustomer relationship management,marketingoperations, and business productivity solutions. And certainly, ad hoc use and early adopters have already being doing this for years, but as we’ll see, many Enterprise 2.0 technologies are only now becoming a reality. What then, are the areas to watch and build competency in this year?

Keeping social technology in perspective

In terms of innovation, 2010 is shaping up to be another important one in the early development of social technologies in general. To get a sense of this, you can read my recent exploration of what’s happening this year with the latest consumer-oriented Social Web technologies and standards. Though the enterprise aspects of these are often far behind, that hasn’t stopped the industry from moving quickly ahead in terms of creating actual products and new business-ready solutions based on the latest lessons learned.

For organizations looking to keep current, both good timing and judicious application of new Enterprise 2.0 technologies will be needed as organizations increasingly look at their future in terms of a social computing driven knowledge economy. To do this though, we have to put them in the context of the big picture.

When I encounter a successful E2.0 project, it’s one where the process of managing the changes entailed are equally balanced with the savvy application of technology. It’s the concepts behind social computing and their application to economic activity, aka social business, that are the ultimately driver of success with Enterprise 2.0. A full solution is achieved when these ideas combine well with the technology — which is an enabler and not an end in itself — though it is important not to forget that technology does strongly shape and define the art of the possible when it comes to social computing, both in the consumer space and the enterprise.

However I still encounter tool myopia in many discussions of social computing and Enterprise 2.0. It’s sometimes too easy to focus on the specifics, like social tools and their technologies, instead of more difficult and less tangible concerns like driving usage or measuring ROI. Fortunately, this seems less pronounced than a year ago and the “soft” issues surrounding adoption and long-term success, such as community management and other important practices are now getting their due on equal footing with the often flashier and attention-grabbing social tools and technologies themselves.

Now, on to the latest developments…

Ten strategic technologies for enterprise social computing

Below are ten social computing technologies that I believe will be actively developing or maturing this year and either worth exploring or otherwise watching closely for 2010 and beyond. Note that many of these technologies are not based on standards or for which standards often don’t exist, which will be problematic for some organizations. Many of the technologies listed here are primarily embodied in new product categories and for now are represented primarily by commercial products. It likely won’t be long, however, before open source and open standards enter and play an instrumental role in many of these spaces.

  1. Community management tools. One of the signature realizations of the Enterprise 2.0 community in the last year and a half has been theimportance of community management in driving the success of the endeavor. Now, you don’t necessarily need tools to successfully manage an online community, but it can genuinely helps in terms of acquiring good practices as well as automating and scaling the many routine tasks that already harried and frequently overworked community managers are faced with today. The latter is because many enterprises are still learning about social computing requirements and are frequently under-budgeting this essential role. Commercial software is the norm in this space and some of the top solutions include RollstreameModerationTempero, and Essentia.
  2. Open identity. There are many issues swirling around enterprise identity and consumer Web identity at the moment. I’ve postulated in the past that OpenID will actually become a viable vehicle for enterprises to create a single sign-on across the Web for their workers, giving them centralized administration and control of worker identity on the Web and social media (as appropriate), especially in B2B scenarios. But is this actually starting to happen despite folks from large software companies like SAP making the business case? No, not yet, and enterprises are as much as fault as anyone for not demanding better identity integration. Instead, off-premises SaaS and cloud computing offerings are offering basic synchronization with LDAP and other corporate identity repositories. Also becoming more and more important is identity authenticity (which Twitter tried to address with Verified Accounts). Watch for a raft of social identity issues to accumulate and for new enterprise open identity solutions to attempt to address them as our identities on the Social Web increasingly compete and conflict with our enterprise identities.
  3. Microblogging. While wikis have been one of the more common Enterprise 2.0 tools, more popular than blogs by quite a bit from my experience, microblogs are now seen as potentially achieving a higher level of overall traction than both their heavier-weight brethren. There’s a lot to like about microblogs in business settings, along with the valuable activity streams that they generate. Gartner went on record recently saying that they believe integrated microblogging will be in 50% of enterprises in two years, though they are much less sanguine about individual, standalone microblogs. I did a detailed round-up of the space a little while back and came away with the finding that microblogs do make enterprise social media both time efficient and focused while still preserving most or all of what makes Enterprise 2.0 special.
  4. Social CRM. Applying social computing approaches to customer relationship management is getting quite a bit of attention these days. Services such as GetSatisfactionHelpstreamLithium, and many others are aimed at helping enterprises engage with their customers using social tools in new and innovative ways that can reduce support costs and improve customer satisfaction. Along the way Social CRM is also changing the very nature of the relationship that businesses have with their customers and the marketplace, from customer support or contact management processes like they exist today, to one that is more like a long-term partnership of contributing equals. Like so many Enterprise 2.0 subject areas, the big vendors haven’t really arrived in force in this domain and many firms are just opting to use tools like Twitter and Facebook for now to engage with customers while the technologies and products mature. But make no mistake, this space is approaching prime time after a couple of strong years of development and growth.
  5. Enterprise platforms gaining a social layer. As we’re seeing withMicrosoft SharePoint and with Salesforce Chatter, enterprise software vendors are starting to incorporate social computing features within their products at the platform level. This has a number of advantages including providing a consistent, integrated social experience in and across existing apps, unifying security and identity, and so on. For many scenarios, close integration can be more useful than standaloneEnterprise 2.0 products which might not be as connected to actual business activities. However there are disadvantages too, in that there’s often little choice in such models in terms of picking and choosing best-of-breed social capabilities. But the stage is set and social features are increasingly perceived as standard fare in modern software. Expect most large software vendors to have Enterprise 2.0 features of some kind across their products lines in the next year or two at most, which will lead to a discussion of the advent of social operating systems. For now, open source is not a real player in this space, but will likely be in the future.
  6. Activity streams. The output of most online social interactions is a reverse chronological list of activity, such as status updates, posted photos or videos, or shared links. The result is called an activity stream. It’s what you see when you look at a Twitter feeds, your Facebook news feed, or what your co-workers are doing on your enterprise social network home page. There are now standards developing around activity streams, and this will help the business tap into the value they offer. This includes capturing them, archiving them, and using them to further business objectives using a wide variety of practices including social analytics, community management, and compliance monitoring. Look for activity streams to become increasingly popular in enterprises as communication, learning, and situational awareness tools. I expect that standards support to make them interoperable will be of growing importance. Unfortunately, like so many Social Web developments, there are no specific standards for enterprise activity streams yet, though I do believe they will be created at some point in the near future.
  7. Social search, analytics, and filtering. As Enterprise 2.0 makes a much larger volume of actionable information available within organizations, there will be the growing challenge of keeping track of it and finding what you need. While we don’t want to stop this flow of information, we do need to make it manageable and useful. Unfortunately, search, analysis, and filtering tools for social computing environments are still in their infancy and few strong technical solutions exist. But as enterprises realize that employees are going to potentially spend even more time to find the information they need to do their work, some will begin seeking out and applying solutions. For social search, companies such as Coveo and Baynote are starting to offer useful enterprise products. Enterprise social analytics is finally coming in its own and some of the leading offerings include Ingage NetworksConnotate’s Enterprise 2.0 BI and IBM’s new Smart Analytics Cloud.
  8. Enterprise social media workflow. Those that use social media know that there’s a general workflow to the activities, from preparing content and publishing it, then promoting it, tracking the results, and participating in all the conversation that ensues. With multiple channels it can become burdensome to do all of this manually, and while consumer social media have had basic workflow automation tools for some time now, such as Ping.fm and tarpipe, only now are we seeing enterprise-class versions of these same tools. These are often getting added to existing content management workflow tools such as those from HP and the workflow and social networking capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint 2010.
  9. Automated compliance monitoring. One of the less discussed but more important (and often unstated) objections to Enterprise 2.0, especially for public companies and regulated industries, is ensuring that their use is compliant with all local and foreign laws, rules, and regulations. When any worker can easily disseminate information across an entire organization, or even across the world, some organizations want to be aware of problematic situations before they occur. While social media policy for workers has evolved steadily to provide upfront guidance, many companies still want to ensure they can detect compliance violations as quickly as possible before they become an actual problem. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for FRCP, Sarbanes-Oxley, European Union Privacy Laws, HIPAA, eDiscovery, etc. to be somewhat neglected in E2.0 discussions, where most of the focus initially is on benefit and not potential risk. The good news is that even though most large firms using social media today don’t actively police their users (IBM is a good example of this), I do find that most firms that already have automated compliance tools like CompliantPro are usually covered. However, expect that compliance will become an increasingly important feature of Enterprise 2.0 platforms, and firms like Blogtronix actively advertise their E2.0 apps are compliance-friendly for individual industries, like finance.
  10. Next-generation unified communication. Just when enterprise communication was about to get truly unified, social media showed up and fragmented it again. While instant messaging and even SMS is now usually integrated in many enterprises, microblogging, wikis, social networks, and other channels are mostly not, even from leading vendors that get social computing, like Cisco. IBM remains one of the few large vendors that has addressed this and currently supports some Enterprise 2.0 channels in its Lotus SameTime product. Relatively soon, I expect to see a new wave of enterprise unified communication products that include Enterprise 2.0 as a first class citizen. I believe that when this happens, these next-generation unified communications products may actually become a powerful driver of social computing adoption in the enterprise.

While there are certainly other interesting Enterprise 2.0 technologies, in my opinion these seem to be some of the most interesting and/or under-appreciated areas that are worth paying close attention for the near future. While I still find that so much actual Enterprise 2.0 adoption is surprisingly grassroots or otherwise local, the fact that many of these technologies above are just starting to emerge from infancy is also a major reason that social tools are taking longer to appear in the workplace than in the consumer world. Consequently, I do think most of these technologies will genuinely begin to address this disparity.

–Dion Hinchcliffe

In the Game: The New Rules of Social Media Part 3

Friday, February 19th, 2010

By now you’ve read all the myriad ways to start marketing through social media in Part 1 (In the Game: New Rules for Social Media) and Part 2 (In the Game: New Rules for Social Media Part 2) of our debut In the Gamecolumn.

But with all these ideas comes one fairly sizeable risk: fear of wasting too much time on social networking—in addition to uncertainty over the effectiveness of that networking—has kept many advisors who are interested in using social media on the sidelines. But like anything else, once you know how to use social media efficiently, you will start seeing results. Here, in our final look into the rules of social media under FINRA’s new guidelines we reveal how to avoid the major faux pas of adding social networking into your marketing plan—the time suck.

AVOIDING THE TIME SUCK

To avoid wasting time on social media, advisors should focus on their target market and centers of influence, not just catch up with old college buddies. One way to make sure of this is to see whether your clients are online—and if they are, which sites they’re using. After all, there’s no point in having a Facebook profile if none of your target market uses that site. One tip to keep in mind, however: Women over the age of 60 are the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook right now, says Kristen Luke, principal of Wealth Management Marketing. Surprised?

You can begin to find out if your clients are social networking by simply asking them in their quarterly meetings or by adding a question to your annual client surveys. If you don’t feel comfortable asking clients if they participate, let them take the reins by adding links to your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to your monthly client newsletter.

Just how long should you be spending on social media? To get started, Allie Herzog, president of Integrate PR, recommends spending an hour each day across all of the sites getting comfortable with the conversations, joining industry groups and trying out the different tools. Once you feel comfortable on each of the sites—this could take a few weeks—spending just three hours a week on social media efforts can provide significant results, Herzog says. That’s not so bad now, is it?

To keep track of the amount of time spent using social media, Luke suggests setting aside an hour one day a week, say every Monday, to read an interesting article and post about it on a LinkedIn group’s discussion board and on Twitter. Luke also recommends using applications like Hoot Tweet, which allows users to schedule all their Tweets for the week.

PATIENCE IS KEY

Like all good marketing plans, results are important. But experts insist on being patient with seeing results from social networking—and to expect opportunities to acquire clients, rather than direct referrals.

“Even those who are great at this say it can take a year to get a client,” Luke says.

That’s how long it took for one of Luke’s clients who has heavily integrated social media into her firm’s marketing plan to acquire a client directly from her efforts. However, thanks to the online presence she built for herself, the client was asked to speak at several industry events and was quoted in various magazine articles—all of which produced a bevy of new clientele. See, patience really is key; all you have to do is stay open to the opportunities that may arise through social media.

Patience was also important for Carl Richards (Movers and Shakers 2010). Richards, founder of planning firm Prasada Capital, is now a staunch believer in the power of social media, which he equates to “going to lunch with 1,000 people any time you want.” Not long ago, Richards emailed The New York Times columnist Ron Leiber and told him he appreciated the work he was doing for the planning industry. After several email exchanges—and a quick look at Richards’ Twitter account (@behaviorgap) and blog,www.BehaviorGap.com, Leiber offered him an opportunity to be a guest expert on the NYT’s “Bucks” blog. Today, Richards is quickly climbing the ranks of the social media universe and is one of the leaders in this space amongst financial planners.

“All you have to do is start saying things you passionately believe in,” Richards says. “I’ve been doing this for five years, pretty heavily for two, and for the first one and a half years it was cricketville—not a word. Then, slowly, one to two people started communicating. It’s amazing what you can accomplish.”

Is it Becoming Less Critical For Businesses to Have Websites?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

I don’t think there’s any question that you need a web presence to survive in today’s business climate. But do you still need a traditional website, or has the web moved on in that regard?

Do you still need a website to be succesful online? Share your thoughts.

First off, let me be perfectly clear in that I’m not advising anybody not to have a website. That said, there are a lot of ways to have a web presence without actually having a site, and let’s face it – maintaining a site (let alone a successful one) takes time, money, and resources.

According to data from Compete, Facebook has become a bigger traffic source than Google for some sites, and for many others, it is right up there with Google as a major traffic source. If it can drive the traffic, then that means the people are already at Facebook. You can be on Facebook without having your own website. Businesses can build a Facebook Pages, complete with analytics provided by Facebook itself, and they can spend time making that page a good one. Here are some tips on how to do that. Facebook pages are perfectly capable of being found in search engines. In fact, they are often right on the first results page.

You know what else is often right on the first page? A set of local search results from Google Maps, courtesy of Google’ Universal Search integration. Within those results (which are very often right at the top of the SERP) are links to individual businesses’ “Place Pages”. From here, users can find coupons, reviews, store hours, etc. There is a very good chance users will find this before they find your site anyway.

Google is actually going to great lengths to get people using these Place Pages. They are even sending out stickers with barcodes for stores to hang on their windows. When a user scans this barcode with their mobile phone, they will be taken to the business’ Place Page. Social media profiles can also appear on these pages (although so can website links of course).

I probably don’t have to tell you that the web is rapidly becoming more mobile. Smartphone usage and mobile broadband subscriptions continue to accelerate, and people are using a variety of devices, operating systems, browsers, and apps. Making sure you have a site that looks right across all of these is no easy task. This is not so much of a worry when it comes to Facebook pages, Google Place Pages, and other third-party entities.

In many cases, it seems that small business sites are becoming harder to find through organic search. If you look you can find them, but users want convenience, and they are probably not going to look too hard if they can find what they are looking for on the first search results page (or right within Facebook where they’re already spending their time).

Social profiles show in up in search, and often early. The very nature of social media is viral. If one Facebook users becomes a fan of your Facebook page, that user’s friends are going to see it. Then, maybe a couple of them also become fans. Then maybe a couple of their friends become fans, and that trend can continue on and on. The more people who become fans, and the more exposure that page gets, the more chance that page has of acquiring links, which of course can lead to better search engine rankings, not to mention a larger presence on Facebook itself, where a large percentage of Internet users are already spending a great deal of their time. Your reputation and following within the social networks themselves may do your profile well in the eyes of Google too.

If you sell things online, there are obviously many different options out there without having to sell from your own site. In fact, even Facebook and e-commerce are on the road to becoming more and more closely attached. People can buy/sell physical goods through Facebook.

A great deal of focus has been placed on Facebook in this article for the simple fact that it is the world’s most popular social network. That could all change in time. But that doesn’t mean the points would not sill apply to other services. Google is going to be placing a lot of emphasis on Google Buzz this year, and it’s going to become integrated with more and more Google products. Currently, Google profiles are kind of the central place for a Buzz presence. Users can include any links they wish right into that profile (Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, eBay/Amazon listings, etc.)There’s no telling how big Buzz can be, and there’s always the possibility that something else will come along and take the world by storm. And that is one of the reasons…

Why it Still Pays to Have a Site

Can you be successful without a site? I think so. However, having a site gives you a more stable foundation, and still creates more opportunities than if you didn’t have one. When you have a site, you have control. You don’t have to adhere to the policy guidelines of any third-party platform. If Facebook decides to shut its Pages down (as Yahoo did with GeoCities, for example), you still have your own site that they can’t touch. For that matter,having your own site certainly lends credibility to your brand.

Still, social networks continue to work on making data more freely able to flow among one another via a number of open standards like Activity Streams, AtomPub, OAuth, PubSubHubbub, Salmon and WebFinger. “The idea is that someday, any host on the web should be able to implement these open protocols and send messages back and forth in real time with users from any network, without any one company in the middle,” says Google software engineer DeWitt Clinton. “The web contains the social graph, the protocols are standard web protocols, the messages can contain whatever crazy stuff people think to put in them. Google Buzz will be just another node (a very good node, I hope) among many peers. Users of any two systems should be able to send updates back and forth, federate comments, share photos, send @replies, etc., without needing Google in the middle and without using a Google-specific protocol or format.”

Google itself, even has its own site dedicated to making user data for its various products exportable. That’s just Google, but the web in general appears to be moving more in this direction.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a site, or even that you don’t need one, but I think it’s an interesting discussion. For now, I’m going to say having your own site is still in your best interest, but has a more social Internet with more portable data made a standalone site less critical? Is having a website going to be less important in the future? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Comment here.

–Chris Crum

Share Well With Others: How To Get Social Content To Go Viral

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Promoting content in social media is only half the battle. Once it is in the face of thousands of visitors, there needs to be some sort of emotional and psychological drive to get them to share that content with others. This is key in creating a “snowball effect” that will build perpetual motion to reach a much more pervasive audience.

I covered creating emotional “hooks” to lure people in to viewing content in The Anatomy of Linkbait, but that doesn’t necessarily provide a visitor with the same kind of emotions to want to pass the content along to an individual or mass audience.

Seven types of content sharing motives

To understand how to make content more shareable we must first understand what motivates people to share in the first place.

1. Self-expression

The biggest motivator in social media is self-expression. It’s great that there are so many different ways to do this in social media. When promoting content, use this motivator by providing easy ways for the visitor to express themselves, via social share buttons, comment threading, or some other form of engagement. If a person’s beliefs or interests are related to the content, then they will be glad to share it.

2. Affinity

Everyone wants to feel like they belong and that they’re a part of something. Sharing within communities helps meet that desire. This is an especially dominant motivating factor in niche related verticals or communities.

3. Validation

Confirming or approving something often times feeds the ego for many by making someone feel important. Content that provides personal validation will likely motivate someone to share with a wide audience.

4. Prurience

Obscene or lustful content can be highly shareable. Some people pass the guilt of consuming such content on to others to make themselves feel better about doing so in the first place.

5. Status achievement

Individuals like to be recognized for their efforts, especially publicly. If content or channels feature users who share the content, then they are far more likely to be motivated to do so.

6. Altruism

Benefiting others often times makes people feel better. Content can motivate visitors by giving them the opportunity to do something good for the community. For example, an environmental report to raise awareness can be a motivating factor to share it with others to get the message out.

7. Self-serving interests

Rewarding people for their efforts goes a long way. This can be done in the form of status achievement recognition, financial gain, free or discounted products or services, and so forth. Motivate people who share content by rewarding them if they do.

Sending vs. spreading

Viral sharing can reach many different audiences, hubs, and influencers. There are a few ways (and reasons why) people share content.

One-to-One

This type of viral sharing is most common via direct messaging through social networks, IM, or email. Dan Zarrella did a study on this and found that most people share in a one-to-one scenario due to:

  • Personal Relevance (40%)
  • Humor (16.4%)
  • Utility
  • Relationship Building (9.5%)
  • Common Interests (7.8%)
  • Sole Informant (5.9%)
  • Reciprocity (2.4%)

One-to-Many

This type of viral sharing is most common on social networks and social content aggregation sites. Social media has created an outlet for this type of sharing to explode. Also in Dan’s study, he found that most people share to many others due to:

  • Audience Relevance (18.6%)
  • Increasing Reach (10.7%)
  • Increasing Reputation (8.8%)
  • Furthering a Message or Cause (8.6%)
  • Utility and Usefulness (7.4%)
  • Feedback (5.5%)
  • Personal Networking (5.25)

Below is a chart showing the most popular social media sites for sharing content. As you can see, Facebook is the furious leader.

Four tips for creating content for viral sharing

1. Value

Trust me, I’m just as sick of hearing “create great content” and “content is king” as you are, but it really is the key to in getting people to share. By creating valuable, resourceful, and compelling content you will seek the approval of the masses.

2. Credibility

Make sure that your domain, brand, and author(s) are always seeking to establish credibility. Often times it comes down to the credibility of the source, not the content or message itself.

3. Usability

Making the content easy to share and driving them to do so with a call-to-action will do wonders.

4. Digestibility

Make it easy for people to consume your content. Whether it’s putting boring statistical data in a visual infographic, formatting the layout of the content, or chunking and segmenting content with headers and other methods, you are providing an easy way for the user to digest the content. If they feel the content and data is easy to digest they’ll feel comfortable sharing it with others.

The takeaway…

While many people might think that viral Internet memes happen on their own, the shocking truth is that most of them don’t. There is a large cycle of creative, development, deployment, and seeding that ensures success. By readying content and campaigns for viral success, you are taking the first steps in the cycle.

–Jordan Kasteler

7 Tips for Local SEO and PPC Success

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I count my lucky stars that my fortunes don’t rely on SEO and PPC alone. I’m happy to be part of a couple of agencies with a full range of interactive and traditional marketing solutions. That means I don’t have to pretend like SEO and PPC always are the best choice for clients. They’re not.

I thought it might be refreshing to talk about when SEO and PPC are NOT a great choice for local businesses- but not just to discourage you- The reasons they don’t work can tell us something about the businesses, what they should do next, what makes a good business in a certain niche, and so on.

First, let’s think about what makes for success in search:

1. Relevant keywords
2. Prospects that convert
3. A competitive advantage or a not too competitive niche
4. Proportion of cost and revenue that creates positive ROI
5. Trackability that can prove that ROI

We’ll look at each of those in the ideal situation, and how problems in each can lead to marketing failures for local businesses.

1. How a Lack of Relevant Keywords Can Doom Search Efforts

I typically divide keywords into two groups:

  • Brand names
  • Category (general) keywords

The brand searches are the low hanging fruit. If a local business has a strong brand and repeat customers, there’s good ROI here. And you can make it even better by testing ads.

Category keywords could be vertical-related, offering-related, or geomodifiers. For a mexican restaurant, it could be “mexican food”,  “myrtle beach restaurant”, or “myrtle beach mexican restaurant”.

Where this breaks down:

–> If you get too long tail; for example, “myrtle beach mexican restaurant with California burritos” isn’t going to show evidence of volume in Google’s Keyword Tool.

–> If your vertical is too competitive, and you’re not near any geomodifiers that get search volume; e.g. a golf course in the boonies on the edge of Florida and Georgia might run into trouble- not committed enough to get good results from either state, not near a big golf tourism city, and “golf” itself is way too competitive in SEO and too expensive in PPC. Add in lack of brand recognition, and you’ve got an uphill battle that looks a lot like a sheer cliff.

–Brian Carter

Essentials of an Office Business Center Social Media Toolkit

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

You can think of social media as a set of tools that your business center can use for a variety of purposes – customer service, branding, promotion, relationship management, etc. Just as with any toolkit, you’re not going to use every tool every time.

Sometimes the hammer fits, but if you’re trying to measure something the hammer is pretty much useless. Similarly, sometimes a blog will fit perfectly, while other times YouTube might be a more suitable tool.

The barrier for getting started with social media is low; it’s dependent on your involvement level, objectives, and goals. Thefacilitators of the message, our tools, are the key components that make it all work. The sole purpose of these tools is to: create, manage and distribute content, build awareness, drive traffic, connect with our customers and hopefully turn a lead into a prospective sale.

If social media represents a set of tools – what should be in your office business center’s toolkit?

Social Media Statistics

The default tool in any toolbox always starts with Analytics. Knowing where your executive suite company’s existing traffic or lack of traffic it is coming from will yield a goldmine of data that can be strategically utilized.

Google Analytics is the enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness. Powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use features now let you see and analyze your traffic data in an entirely new way. With Google Analytics, you’re more prepared to write better-targeted ads, strengthen your marketing initiatives, and create higher converting websites.

Build your blog community with RSS
Give your readership ways to stay up-to-date and informed with your blog, by encouraging them to subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed. FeedBurner, another Google-owned product, is the only game in town for feed management. It will give you statistical data about your feeds content, distribution, and subscribers. Even though the data can be taken with a grain of salt. The real benefit of Feedburner is the ability to offer email and RSS reader subscriptions to readers of your blog. The trend, I find, is shifting more to email subscriptions than RSS subscriptions. Feedburner’s email delivery service works very well and it can be customized rather nicely. If we can’t educate consumers on using RSS readers, we can at least educate them to subscribe via email, something everyone has done at some point.

Social Networking and Social Signage

Professional Networking
LinkedIn is the tool of choice for professional networking. At the very least, if you’re not using the site for employment purposes, fill out a completed work history, resume, and profile. Set your profile to public so that it ranks for your name. LinkedIn allows you to aggregate third party service content such as, blogs and SlideShare presentations into your profile page. Use your profile to showcase your work and talent. Create a group page for your business center and keep in touch with current clients and prospects that way.

Social Networking
Facebook: love it or hate it, it’s here, and it’s the 800-pound guerrilla force to be reckoned with. Use Facebook for professional or personal networking. Be cautious on how you combine the two, because they can very easily spill over onto each other. If you’re going to be doing any marketing on Facebook, set up a public fan page. Facebook is a completely different beast and should be treated as such. There are a ton of bells and whistles that will allow you to customize your Facebook page, in addition to aggregating content from other third party sources.

Social Megaphone
Twitter is a social megaphone. There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter, however due to 140 char limitations it’s best for megaphoning links and information back to your home base. Establishing a Twitter presence is standard protocol nowadays, but ask yourself what you want to get out of Twitter. Your objectives and goals will dictate how you use the service.

Social Profile
Create a Google Profile and control to some extent what information people see about you online. As long as your profile is set to public, it will appear in search results for your name. You can also link all your social profiles. This is outpost number one – spend the time, and optimize it correctly.

Social Curation
Delicious and Diigo are the only two tools for this category. These bookmarking tools have proven that they can scale and have a solid track record. There are pros and cons to both, but they both achieve the same objective: tagging, saving, and storing bookmarks. The nice thing about Diigo is that it can save all new bookmarks automatically to Delicious. This gives you peace of mind knowing your digital data is archived.
Video and Photo Sharing

Thanks to the advent of mobile technology, faster and more accessible broadband and sites that host, broadcast and share consumer generated content, the video revolution is upon us and has been for some time now. Social media, is well, social. Stories get people talking. Create informative videos that are relevant to your messaging and brand, encourage others to share it and to create their own video content. Viral videos are rare and lots of factors determine if something will go viral. If your content is good and worth sharing, people will take notice.

YouTube reigns supreme in this category and rightfully so. YouTube is yet another Google owned property (are you starting to see a common theme here?). YouTube makes it extremely easy to host and stream videos. YouTube videos are easy to embed and are very shareable. Create a branded YouTube channel for your brand and always optimize your title and keywords accordingly. YouTube is a video sharing site at its core, but it’s also a massive search engine.

Pictures are worth a thousand words
Photo sharing sites are in abundance, but the two we recommend are Flickr and Google’s Picasa. Flickr has been around the longest and has lots of social components, specifically a built-in diehard community. Picasa has the same functionality with basic editing capabilities and easy bulk uploading to the web. Both services offer the basics: uploading, tagging, and sharing of photos.

In Conclusion

The number one benefit of social media marketing is gaining the all-important eyeball. It will also generate exposure for your businesses, improving traffic and build new partnerships. Start working on your toolkit today to build your Social Media platform. Just take one step at a time and you will eventually reap the benefits of your efforts.

Susan Smith

How To Pitch A Blogger

Friday, January 29th, 2010
Any blogger will tell you that as soon as they made their first few posts, the pitches for coverage or product mentions came rolling in. There’s good reason for that — a mention on a few popular blogs provides plenty of benefits including brand visibility and incoming links.
Here at Website Magazine, we get plenty of pitches — from story ideas to products, every day businesses hungry for exposure send us an e-mail or product to try. Some are very effective, while others are relegated to the trash bin faster than they arrived. A proper pitch requires planning and execution.
Know Your Audience
Nothing triggers the “delete” button faster than a pitch that begins something like, Dear blogger… On the other hand, using the blogger’s name or the name of the blog usually keeps them reading. This personalization of the message not only engages the reader but shows that you value their time and their blog.
In the same way, do your research and know the blog’s purpose and audience. It takes just a few minutes to read a post or two from the blog, and knowing the subject matter will show in your pitch. Nothing is more frustrating to a blogger than spending valuable time reading a pitch that is completely irrelevant to their audience. This is a common mistake and often results in a “blacklisting” of the person making the pitch — future relevant pitches risk never being seen.
Be Succinct
Bloggers value their time. To be most effective, be upfront with your pitch. Tell the blogger what you want and why your product, service or announcement matters to them and their audience. If you haven’t stated your purpose withing the first two or three sentences, chances of exposure drops dramatically. If a blogger is truly interested in what you have to offer, they will take the time to learn more, if needed. After all, if you pique their interest, chances are excellent that their readers will want to know more too.
Offer Something
Bloggers want readers. And one way to ensure repeat visitors and new readers is to give something away. Based on the blog’s audience, offer something of value. It could be an online coupon, free product, free trial or free membership.
Also, tailor the offer to the specific blog via a custom coupon code or similar measure. The blogger wants to give readers the appearance of authority and value — by making your offer “exclusive” to the blog’s readers, they feel validated and the blogger benefits by becoming a valued resource. Also, people like to share inside information, giving your brand and offer a better chance of being shared to a wider audience.
Provide Resources or Creatives
Researching and writing blog posts is time-consuming. It can be very frustrating to receive a good pitch, then have to crawl all over the Web looking for images, landing pages or other resources. Make sure your e-mails have everything the blogger needs — links, images, even verbiage.
Ask Questions
If you’re having trouble getting the attention of a particular blogger (or any blogs at all), don’t be afraid to ask very direct questions. Find out what type of pitches the blogger wants.
• What type of products are important to his or her audience?
• How does the blogger prefer to be contacted?
• Are there particular topics of interest that the blogger would like to cover but lacks the resources to?
• Do they have an editorial calendar? If not, find out if the blogger writes any regularly-scheduled posts such as year-end wrap-ups or lists, seasonal posts, etc.
Finding the Right Blogs to Pitch
There are tens of thousands of active blogs out there — what are the ones you should contact? Start by simply searching your topic with keywords. Use search engines’ custom search options like blog searches, related searches and Google’s Wonder wheel. You will find people posting on your topics and related topics. Search for topics on sites like Digg.com — find those submissions with high vote totals to identify influential blogs. Look on social networks too, for bloggers with high numbers of fans, friends and followers. Also look for popular blogs on blog aggregator sites.
When you find a few blogs to target, check some statistics. One quick and easy way is to use Compete.com to find estimated traffic levels — some blogs are very good at SEO, but might not have a very large following.
By asking questions, you give the blogger the impression that you want to become a resource for them, not just a media hound. It is very possible that you can provide material for the blogger they might not otherwise come in contact with. Think like a partner.

ny blogger will tell you that as soon as they made their first few posts, the pitches for coverage or product mentions came rolling in. There’s good reason for that — a mention on a few popular blogs provides plenty of benefits including brand visibility and incoming links.
Here at Website Magazine, we get plenty of pitches — from story ideas to products, every day businesses hungry for exposure send us an e-mail or product to try. Some are very effective, while others are relegated to the trash bin faster than they arrived. A proper pitch requires planning and execution.
Know Your AudienceNothing triggers the “delete” button faster than a pitch that begins something like, Dear blogger… On the other hand, using the blogger’s name or the name of the blog usually keeps them reading. This personalization of the message not only engages the reader but shows that you value their time and their blog.
In the same way, do your research and know the blog’s purpose and audience. It takes just a few minutes to read a post or two from the blog, and knowing the subject matter will show in your pitch. Nothing is more frustrating to a blogger than spending valuable time reading a pitch that is completely irrelevant to their audience. This is a common mistake and often results in a “blacklisting” of the person making the pitch — future relevant pitches risk never being seen.
Be SuccinctBloggers value their time. To be most effective, be upfront with your pitch. Tell the blogger what you want and why your product, service or announcement matters to them and their audience. If you haven’t stated your purpose withing the first two or three sentences, chances of exposure drops dramatically. If a blogger is truly interested in what you have to offer, they will take the time to learn more, if needed. After all, if you pique their interest, chances are excellent that their readers will want to know more too.
Offer SomethingBloggers want readers. And one way to ensure repeat visitors and new readers is to give something away. Based on the blog’s audience, offer something of value. It could be an online coupon, free product, free trial or free membership.
Also, tailor the offer to the specific blog via a custom coupon code or similar measure. The blogger wants to give readers the appearance of authority and value — by making your offer “exclusive” to the blog’s readers, they feel validated and the blogger benefits by becoming a valued resource. Also, people like to share inside information, giving your brand and offer a better chance of being shared to a wider audience.
Provide Resources or CreativesResearching and writing blog posts is time-consuming. It can be very frustrating to receive a good pitch, then have to crawl all over the Web looking for images, landing pages or other resources. Make sure your e-mails have everything the blogger needs — links, images, even verbiage.
Ask QuestionsIf you’re having trouble getting the attention of a particular blogger (or any blogs at all), don’t be afraid to ask very direct questions. Find out what type of pitches the blogger wants.
• What type of products are important to his or her audience?• How does the blogger prefer to be contacted?• Are there particular topics of interest that the blogger would like to cover but lacks the resources to?• Do they have an editorial calendar? If not, find out if the blogger writes any regularly-scheduled posts such as year-end wrap-ups or lists, seasonal posts, etc.

Finding the Right Blogs to PitchThere are tens of thousands of active blogs out there — what are the ones you should contact? Start by simply searching your topic with keywords. Use search engines’ custom search options like blog searches, related searches and Google’s Wonder wheel. You will find people posting on your topics and related topics. Search for topics on sites like Digg.com — find those submissions with high vote totals to identify influential blogs. Look on social networks too, for bloggers with high numbers of fans, friends and followers. Also look for popular blogs on blog aggregator sites.
When you find a few blogs to target, check some statistics. One quick and easy way is to use Compete.com to find estimated traffic levels — some blogs are very good at SEO, but might not have a very large following.
By asking questions, you give the blogger the impression that you want to become a resource for them, not just a media hound. It is very possible that you can provide material for the blogger they might not otherwise come in contact with. Think like a partner.

–Mike Phillips

Top 50 Social Media Resources – Feb ’09

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

A September 2008 study from Universal McCann described a “new influencer landscape,” characterized by three trends: the rise in social media, the importance of digital friends, and the proliferation of influencer channels. According to the study, the impact of this phenomenon is threefold: an influence economy, the democratization of influence and the rise of the “super influencer.” While that might be a little philosophical for your average Web worker, it is clear that few have anticipated the meteoric rise of consumer generated content and social media. However, due to some growing pains (no practical business models) and mistakes caused by youthful over-exuberance, social media content is still considered by many to be in its infancy.

The use of social media does raise many questions for the population of Web workers and the Internet businesses that support them. Which sites are most important? What sort of time commitment should be made? How do we monitor our successes and failures? These questions and others are asked each and every day as those within the social media landscape learn from their collective experiences.

This edition of Website Magazine features 50 of the top social media resources available on the Internet. While you may find some of your favorite micro-social networks absent from the list, keep in mind that this is one sample from the overall behavior of one subset of the entire Web population. The list does, however, provide a valuable look as to where the mass of social Web users spend their time, sharing content and visiting sites in droves. Research for this report comes courtesy of Ranking.com, the Web’s largest provider of website popularity metrics and detailed website information on more than one million online destinations. To suggest a Top50 category for consideration in upcoming issues of Website Magazine, please visit us online or email Top50@WebsiteMagazine.com.

–Peter Prestipino