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When I head into Manhattan in the morning, I start nearly every day at a cafe where I get the same items each time. The clerk knows what I like and when they have no more of my items left, he tells me so I don’t need to wait on line and I can go elsewhere even though I enjoy their food and the locations (free wifi, lots of tables, etc). This morning he shouted to me, “sir we have no plain bagels today, I’m sorry.” While this rarely happens, it got me thinking about some of the interesting events over the past week and the blog posts discussing these events.
Last week the Gmail email service was down for a few hours. Our post about the outage received over 1,500 comments. One of the interesting posts I read came from a blogger who was outraged and mad that Gmail was down and that the company hadn’t posted reasons for the outage and a time for recovery. What was interesting about the post is that this same blogger allowed the customers of his startup (and investors) to go for months with no information about his service before it was shut down with no notice.
From my perspective, everything will go down or fail at some point. Last month ceiling tiles at a subway station in NYC fell and the station had to be closed for over a week. The MTA worked 24 hours a day to get things fixed and while it was a mess for people who needed to travel through that area, I saw very few complaints about how the MTA handled the incident. The truth is that when things fail, it’s important to consider how the company handles the issue and protects their users from the same issue in the future.
Whether serious or for fun, there are times when you need quick A/B feedback. For example: Do you prefer plain bagels or poppy seed?; Do you use Twitter?; or Is design A or I better for posting scraped content?.
PickFu is a new website that offers a quick way to get A/B feedback. You setup a question (an example of Mac or PC is displayed below) and then the PickFu community replies to the question. You can either make a question public and have the community respond/listing in the question directory or make it private where you must share a link with those people who you want to see the results.
They offer a page with the current demographics of their responders which seems pretty diverse. The only question that’s missing is location – I’d want to know where the responders are when testing an application. The responders answer the questions via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Each question posted on PickFu costs $5 for 50 responses. What would be great is to be able to select the audience that will see the question in cases where you want to test against a specific audience (e.g. people over 60 with no college degree, women under 21 in Australia). Perhaps an extra fee gets you audience targeting.
So the big news this week is that Facebook plans on opening their version of a .com auction for names this Friday night. I can just imagine the call that went out from editors at CrunchAbleBeatReadInsiderGigaNet to their writers to cancel all plans and be ready for the launch and the potential for breakage. I am sure somewhere a designer is creating the Facebook version of a whale. I like Anil’s future look at how the night will go.
My take is (and has always been) that you should brand yourself and/or your business and never brand another company in an attempt to backdoor your brand. Whether it’s Twitter, MySpace, Yahoo Pages, Geocities, GoDaddy or now Facebook, you need to always do what you can to control the flow. Controlling the flow is very, very easy and here’s how it’s done. And the control I am talking about is from your customer’s perspective.
Buy a domain name and use that as your vehicle.
Does that mean you shouldn’t create a presence on Facebook or MySpace or wherever your customers are? Of course not. And I think it makes sense to grab your brand’s vanity URL if it is available. I agree with Marshall about as he says his domain name is better than any vanity URL will ever be. Chris Messina takes a more technical look at the vanity urls.
This afternoon I watched an interesting video from newly-launched social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk who seems to think the complete opposite. Gary compares Facebook fan pages to Twitter accounts – he’s right that FB FP have more flexibility but he completely leaves out the concept about owning your brand. (side note, somehow he already ”owns” the facebook.com/gary url meaning you won’t be able to get it) The ultimate flexibility for a fan is to be able to find all of a brand’s social interactions.
What happens to the people who aren’t on Facebook or who don’t care to “friend” a brand. If you push to one property, you lose the opportunity to get with users on all of the other properties. I don’t care if all a brand has on their xyz.com/net/uk/de/eu site are links to all of their social network pages, it’s still a much better interaction than allowing your brand to be controlled by one social network. It does add one extra click but the overall value of that click is higher than the alternative.
I have a unique perspective – not just from being in this industry since the beginning and having worked on all sides – but because I process business cards for a living. It’s amazing to see how many brands don’t even have their own domain for email and are using an ISP’s email server. A large percentage of cards outside the tech space have no URL at all. Every business card must have a URL on it and that URL should point to your company or personal website – not one or more networks.
Think about offline social interactions as a transaction. By pointing to one URL it makes the transaction smooth and easy for the customer. You only have seconds to make the transaction – would you rather push the person to one social network or to a site that offers them to connect with you how they want to?
Have you worked as a tech consultant or worked in a large company as a developer or other techie? You MUST watch this video now. Seriously…stop whatever you are doing and watch this video… it is absolutely hilarious but 100% true! (found via Patrick Veverka)
- Let me make a call and see if I can get you $8.50
- It’s just a test – if my husband likes it, we can roll the highlights in next time
- I am not making anything on this you gotta help me out
- I will pay you but you need to show our internal team so they can do it by themselves next time
Add your own witty tech phrases heard from clients in the comments!
Last week paid review service Izea launched a "social media" campaign for K-Mart which offered several high profile bloggers a $500 gift card to go on a free shopping spree as long as they wrote a review of their experience. The campaign also included a nice nugget of traffic for the bloggers because they were also to give away a $500 gift card to one of their readers. To enter the contest, you needed to spam Twitter with a message such as, "RT @eMom is giving away a $500 Kmart Gift Card on her blog – simply comment or tweet to enter: (url)". Immediately when I saw these posts, both on the participating blogs and the spam on Twitter, I asked to speak with Izea CEO Ted Murphy about the campaign.
I’ve always been interested in watching how Ted moves. Ted pushes the envelope as far as possible which can have positive and negative consequences. I enjoy discussions about moving the conversation forward. Ted has also been willing to go right after the valley elite bloggers (something most others will do in private but never in public). The conversation with Ted around the campaign was good and he was open to my feedback and thoughts. Understand that I’ve managed the online spend for some of the largest consumer brands in the world and to me this campaign came off as nothing more than paying for a few positive reviews. It also seems that more than one of the bloggers who received the $500 are on the Izea board of bloggers. My net take is that the money was given to the complete wrong set of bloggers for the campaign to have any real effectiveness for Kmart’s target market.
If the Kmart paid campaign had the bloggers go into the store and select items for disadvantaged kids, military families overseas, kids with diseases, kids with no parents, etc., I would have felt somewhat better about the campaign. Checking the amazingly positive reviews from the paid bloggers, I did notice that Chris Brogan purchased a few items for a charity and Shoemoney purchased a pack of underwear for a military family. It’s actually interesting that none of the paid bloggers thought of this.
Very Positive Store Reviews
Here’s an example of how overly positive the reviews were. Shoemoney said, "Amazing prices on media" – I went to Kmart and priced the media and their prices can’t even come close to most online retailers or even BestBuy. Chris Brogan notes that he saved over $200 on his purchases and that the huge savings were a shock to him. I guess Chris doesn’t do a lot of offline shopping because if he did, he’d know that all stores use this as a way to get you to believe you saved something when you really didn’t. I’d be happy to scan my grocery receipts to show you plenty of examples.
Pretty funny, Julia Roy went to one of the stores in NYC. I’d love to go back to the store with Julia to do a real video review. She says the store isn’t visually appealing. Frankly that’s the least of the issues in both NYC stores. You will note that unlike many of the other paid bloggers, she tightly crops her photos, has no photos inside the store and basically ignores the store itself, instead just pimps all the free goods she got! I’d love to know if one, just one, of her readers actually went to Kmart after reading her review.
The real question here is what did Kmart get out of the positive paid reviews? In my opinion they got nothing out of it. What I’d like to see are receipts from each of the paid bloggers for their Kmart purchases in January, March and August of 2009. Clearly they loved Kmart so much they will certainly go back, right? I am also really interested to see the presentation that Ted and his team will show Kmart. If we look back to 1995, "hits" were the big metric which was amazingly gamed. I am guessing that Ted will shoe a chart pointing to just how many mentions of "Kmart" were said on Twitter during the promotion period. Those numbers are absolutely meaningless. There were two options to enter: one was to go to Kmart.com and find the item you want to win and post it on one of the paid blogger posts. The other way was to post a message on Twitter pointing to the paid blogger posts. Chris even tells his readers basically not visit the Kmart site and just do the "simple" option of a Twitter message! I have asked Ted for his Kmart contact – would love to have a conversation with him/her about their takeaways.
If anyone won with this campaign, it certainly wasn’t Kmart.
Sears Paid Post Campaign
Let’s move ahead to the current campaign Izea is running with Kmart’s parent company Sears. It looks like Ted took my suggestion of having the bloggers shop for charities. This at least moves the campaign a bit further along the stick of reasonableness. Unfortunately, it does appear that some of the paid bloggers for Sears bought items for themselves. I guess the traffic boost wasn’t enough to satisfy. Here are a couple of examples: Techipedia and Chris Heuer. You’d think that Sears would want to push their brand new mobile ordering site to these early adopters and social media users.
This Sears campaign didn’t even ask readers of the paid bloggers to go to the Sears website, instead once again a comment or a twitter message was required to enter. I can’t believe someone at Sears corporate approved this. Seriously.
Risks to Brands
Move forward to this past weekend. I got a call from Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang at 7am on Saturday. He wanted to discuss my thoughts on the campaigns because apparently he advises his clients on whether they should be using this type of online media in their marketing budgets. It appeared that during the balance of Saturday and Sunday morning there was some bitchmeme between Jeremiah, Chris Brogan and Aaron Brazell. Aaron is one of the Sears paid bloggers and I guess wanted to defend himself before the campaign came out today. Frankly I don’t care about any of the fighting. The net result of the fighting were 3 main blog posts:
I would say I know all three of these gentlemen about the same. Chris did help me get a small ad campaign last month and I’ve known Jeremiah the longest. So it pains me to say this but I basically disagree mostly with Jeremiah’s post and am disappointed with his "risks to brands" section. His post could read as the sales brochure for Izea. Jeremiah writes:
For brands, they should realize that this is not the only way to reach customers, many brands are reaching customers in social networks, building online communities, and using corporate blogs. Brands shouldn’t put all their resources into sponsored blog posts.
Think about all of the risks that a brand could be subject to, this was the best that a supposedly top ranking analyst could come up with? I know I am being harsh but his statement just came as a total shock to me from someone who I consider quite intelligent.
The real risk to brands is the damage they could face from having people spew amazingly positive comments about their products. The average mainstream blog reader doesn’t know the different between paid shill and unbiased, authentic reviews. Look at the damage that Walmart and Sony faced last year with their blogging efforts. I can provide many examples of brands being tarnished by making bad decisions. This is the real risk – what happens if it comes to light that one (or more) of the paid Kmart bloggers purposely wrote a very positive review in the hopes of getting more work and in fact their real review would have been much more critical? Or if that blogger accidentally mentions on Twitter that the post was fake? Sure that will probably be a negative for the blogger but it will be much more of a negative for the retailer. Kmart is already at the bottom of the food chain, can they afford a social media attack (see Motrin) on their brand? Brand damage is the biggest risk to a brand who gambles with paid blogging. There are other risks and at the end of the risk chain is the risk that Jeremiah mentions above.
Update: Jeremiah noted this evening about the balance that must be considered when running a paid review. "There are four stakeholders that must balance: Brands (buyers), Bloggers (inventory), community (ROI), and Izea (Broker)". I would generally agree with his statement.
Risks To Bloggers
The most popular risk I hear that bloggers face with regards to paid posts is that if they don’t tell the truth they will lose credibility and therefore their audience. Hogwash. To quote my buddy Gabe Rivera, "readers don’t care". In general readers stay no matter what happens if they like the writer, the content, or the community. The only thing that could affect the blogger is if they don’t note that the post is paid (i.e. transparency). This was apparently the issue with the "payperpost" company that predated Izea. As long as they provide disclosure, my comment above stands.
Final Thoughts on Paid Blogging
I am all for paid advertorials. This is where a company purchases a post on a blog – the company can do with it as they wish. ReviewMe runs these type of campaigns I believe. Here’s an example of this type of advertorial on VentureBeat.
I am not a fan of paid reviews because as you can see with the Kmart campaign, it pushes bloggers to write positive reviews. My concern has always been that paid reviewers who write negative reviews won’t get future work so the tendancy is to write more positively than would normally be exercised. As a former public auditor, it’s just not a pill I am willing to swallow. In fact, over the long-term, it will hurt blogging as a profession more than it will ever help. The short term wins for the mommy bloggers (they are the biggest group of paid reviewers) and other paid reviewers will be felt in the long term. Think of where we are now as the 2005 period for U.S. mortgages and you know what came next.
I’ve been offered so many campaigns on our sister site HTMLCenter over the past 12 years I can’t even count that high. I get offers daily to run all sorts of paid campaigns – most would never be visible to the average reader and would allow me to get ahead of my bills and get rid of my 20 year old tv that no longer shows the color blue. But I refuse every single time. And I won’t run paid reviews on my sites no matter how much a company offers. Everyone has to make their own decisions and by no means am I forcing my opinions onto other blogs.
I do think Ted will do very well as there are plenty of people who will be willing to take his campaigns and run for the endzone with them. What little I do know about Ted, he’s an excellent salesman (he could sell ice to an eskimo). I sure hope he is considering if he will leave the blogging industry better than when he found it when he cashes out.
Again, big eyes in the short-term will hurt the industry as a whole in the long-term. And with that, I conclude this way-too-long post. Next time we will take a look at what is a "social media" campaign. Thanks for reading.
While it may be tough times for many social media startups, there could be a silver lining in the industry’s future. Interest in social media doesn’t appear to be waning, and in fact this week there’s been a growing realization in the mainstream media that social media played a significant role in Barack Obama’s campaign success. If the history of technology innovation is any guide, the next phase of industry growth will come from the markets and industries that adopt social media for their own purposes. And the same can probably said of the media’s evolutionary path, too. In fact mass media, which is an industry that observes events, news, and by necessity, itself, is practically destined to assimilate social media.
But added to historical tradition is another obvious but rarely noted reason for social media’s ongoing durability. It’s in social media’s DNA: that social media collapse the distance between production and consumption.
Unlike traditional (mass) media and in contrast to past modes of production and manufacture, including information production, social media co-locate the means of production with means of consumption. Video is recorded, edited, posted, and viewed on the same platform. Opinions, news, and stories are told, shared, commented on the same platform. Music is made, distributed, branded, and listened to, on the same platform. This conflation of means of production with means of consumption not only presents a threat to mass media (and one which mass media will respond to by co-opting the social), it promises opportunities for those who can see them.
All commerce involves some amount of marketing, whether it’s based on brand identity, "real" utility and value, pricing, or whatever else comprises a marketing message and campaign. Social media disrupt marketing by eliminating much of the distance between the marketing/sales/branding medium and its audience. In social media they are one and the same: the audience does the branding and marketing, through communication, and often without the brand’s direct intervention or participation. Distribution by means of communication among friends and colleagues (social media users) is not only natural and organic (non-commercial), it reproduces itself without any help from commerce required. In other words, it’s self-referential and non-commercial.
This might cause palpitations for those who make a living by imagining, imaging, wrapping, crafting, and distributing brand and marketing campaigns, but it shouldn’t. Conventional branding requires that value be created away from an audience, to then be introduced to an audience, resulting in (hopefully) consumer interest, desire, and spending. The distance between the brand and audience not only allows those on the brand side to finesse their presentation, it allows them to control its release. Traditional means of course are print, television, radio, and outdoors advertising. Lifestyle, affiliative, demographic and other types of market segmentation and targeting serve the purposes of campaign management. The whole process relies on a separation of brand from its audience, and time during which to conduct, refine, and steer the campaign.
Social media disrupts all of this with the sheer immediacy and proximity provided by its tools — tools that serve the needs of talking and communing. "Word of mouth marketing" is a fancy way of saying "we let it go and our fingers are crossed." Control over the marketing or brand message is but a residual inclination to stay one step ahead of the market, to use the distance between traditional media and their audiences to steer outcomes in a company’s favor. But control is precisely what is sacrificed in a medium that conflates means of production and consumption; a medium we sometimes call an "echo chamber" because there’s no telling where the noise is coming from.
Future and successful marketing campaigns that leverage social media will benefit the startup and social technology space by extending what’s been designed for daily use into soft commercial use. The budgets, while trimmed, are there. It would behoove social media companies to consider the ways in which soft commerce may play along. Just as mass media should entertain new forms of conversational and social marketing, from new types of creative, to compelling serial "talkies": brand stories, interactives, games, and other new forms of what I’ll call "participatory branding."
Social media are notorious for giving rise to unintended social practices, and those of us who design and build social applications should not for a minute think that we know everything that can be done with them. Any more than television manufacturers would be expected to develop the TV programs shown on them. Current market conditions make this a perfect time for creatives to get inventive, and for social media companies to reflect on where they will fit in.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about people being let go across large technology companies and startups. I’d like to share something with you that a CIO once told me a long time ago. It’s about always being employable instead of just being employed. I created the video below to explain the difference. Think about it.