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The difference between ad:tech and Blogworld

I’m at ad:tech this week.  I just spent the last 10+ hours in a booth talking to people about online advertising.  All the big online agencies are here, WPP, Digitas, TribalDDB, etc. etc.  The big online players are here too, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, etc. etc.  And I’m here.  A couple of weeks off of my trip to BlogWorld and New Media Expo.  And to be honest, I might as well be on another planet.  If BlogWorld represents the latest in social media and where the internet is going, ad:tech represents Web 1.0 and its desire to cling on to its cash cow with white knuckles.

The event is so amazingly different that I wanted to share with you some of the drastic differences that I noticed while grinding out a day at the booth.

Foursquare: When I checked in on Foursquare at BlogWorld there were nearly 50 people checked in, and it remained that way over the course of 2+ days.  Fatburger had a special offer running on the service for free burger samples.  When I checked in at ad:tech there were a whopping 7 people checked in and none of the exhibitors were running any type of Foursquare promotion.  Since ad:tech is at least 4 or 5 times the size of BlogWorld I’d call that a vote of no confidence for the hottest location-based social network.

Twitter: I was very conscious of the stream at #bwe09 and have been monitoring #adtechny and #adtech in the stream to see if I could glean anything off of what is happening here at ad:tech.  The streams are completely different.  BlogWorld was a river of quotes, nuggets of information from panels, information and feedback from sessions and crowd feedback as they interacted with panels.  People using it to connect and meet up.  ad:tech?  None of that. Just promotional tweets from companies trying to drive traffic to their booths.  (Disclosure, we did it too.) Sessions weren’t tweeted, no one was quoted in the tweets. No one challenged speakers and ideas via the Twitter feed.  Nothing.  It was simply a bullhorn for brands looking for foot traffic.

The Schedule: Social media is not the core of the agenda.  It’s a tangential.  It’s a channel to push advertising through.  It’s all about how to monetize eyeballs. Nothing about conversation, nothing about connecting as people – all about how to spend ad dollars there effectively as a brand.  Even Facebook is here with the tag line “reach people before they start searching” [for the competition on Google].  Social isn’t about a new way of connecting with a community here – it’s another arm on the wheel of digital strategy where people are trying to find a way to throw dollars at it while justifying it to their clients.

The Money: The one thing that is here that wasn’t necessarily at Blogworld is the money.  The money is definitely here.  The ad buyers, the strategists, the big agencies that represent the Fortune 10 brands with multi-million dollar online budgets are here.  You don’t see them at Blogworld.  We started to see some more big brands at Blogworld with Ford and Bud Light; but those two sponsors are just two of a constellation of hundreds here.

What this means?

The people that control the money have yet to make the leap.  They’re still 1.0.  I’d argue that most of the industry is still 1.0.  It’s all ad networks, pay-per-something-or-other business models all about driving traffic, reach and views.  Things like loyalty, engagement and reaching a passionate community are all secondary to the traditional metrics, and social is just another channel to throw ad dollars at to maximize impressions and reach of traditional media campaigns.

It’s eye-opening to me, as someone who embraces the new media and social marketing community to the fullest to see how far behind the money and the people really are.  The people talking here aren’t talking about human connections and building lasting relationships between companies and people, they’re talking about how to extend banner networks to socnets.

It’s a different mind set.  It’s an old mind set.  It’s a scary mind set when you consider how many millions of dollars are managed by these people.

My Challenge to ad:tech

It’s time to start listening.  It’s time to bring in some of the social media people who are on the bleeding edge and really learn.  Stop thinking of social media as just another avenue for your media buyer/traffic department to spend ad dollars at and start thinking about what it means for your clients, what it means to how your brand interacts with real people online.

There are real people out there, who given the chance and a good reason will do the work of your ad dollars.  Tell your clients to spend their money differently, to think about their customers differently, and to figure out ways to delight their customers rather than simply finding the next sucker.

4C’s of Personal Branding

I’m still working on my keynote on Building a Personal Brand for November 7th.  I think I’ve come up with a framework for the talk that I’m happy with, now I just need to round it out and execute on the actual presentation.  One of the things I came up with in my brainstorming for the talk was what I’m calling the “Foundation of the Personal Brand” which is based on the 4c’s (not dissimilar to the diamond industry.)

I’d like to share those 4c’s with you here and see if you agree with them as the cornerstones to building a successful personal brand.

The 4c’s to a successful personal brand

Character – Character and integrity are at the base of everything.  Plenty has been written about authenticity, transparency and ethics when it comes to creating asuccessful brand on the Web.  I believe it speaks for itself and goes without saying that to win in the long run you have to be true to yourself and true to others.  You also have to have the mindset of helping others with what you’re doing.  If you’re not out to help others you’ll be talking to yourself.  Without character, without integrity and the desire to help others you’ll never be successful in the long term – with a personal brand or any other effort.

Commitment – Building a personal brand using social media tools is not a sprint.  Using social media to create a personal brand is the longest path to overnight success there is.  Building a personal brand is a marathon.  It requires a persistent consistency.  Without that commitment to success you’ll stop before you even get started.  You won’t make the connections  and you won’t create the body of work to demonstrate your expertise.  Without a true commitment to it you’ve lost before you’ve begun.

Create – Goes hand-in-hand with commitment.  The most well-recognized and successful social media luminaries create tons of valuable content.  You have to give to get.  Pay in with amazing content, insight and opinion and you will be rewarded.  Spend all your time on Facebook and Twitter and you won’t create the foundation of thinking that will give you the respect that you’ll need to propel yourself forward in your career/life.  Sure, you can build a viral following on Twitter by being witty; but that’s like catching lightning in a bottle.  Lay a solid foundation of your expertise by creating valuable content.

Connect – None of this is worth very much without connections to other people.  If you’re not building relationships with people in your industry you’re not going to find the success and recognition that you need to cement your personal brand.  While some of this is self-promotional, it is primarily being earnest in trying to connect with people in your industry that you can help and learn from.  This is where getting offline is critical. Sure, meeting people on Twitter or in the comments of your blog is a great way to break the ice; but the relationships really get built at conferences, mixers, meetups, tweetups and other real world gatherings.  You need to find the ones you need to be at and get to them one way or another.  If there aren’t any in your area, start them.  There is no way to succeed without connecting.

So what do you think? What are your building blocks for a successful personal brand?  Brad had a great comment in my last post about being yourself which is dead on.  What am I missing? Do you like these or not? How would you change/add/subtract to/from them?

Top 10 Things I Learned at BlogWorld

I just got back from BlogWorld and New Media Expo in Las Vegas. This was my second time at the event and it was well worth the trip. The conference seemed bigger this year over last, and the quality of the people attending and presenting were excellent. I can honestly say that I learned more at BlogWorld than I did at SXSW earlier in the year.

Here are the top 10 things I learned this year at BlogWorld:

1. Seth Godin has it wrong. It’s not all about me, it’s all about we. The people I met were the most gracious, giving folks I have the pleasure of knowing.  They don’t just champion themselves, they champion the movement away from command and control of mass media to the conversation first detailed in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

2. Simple wins.  “People admire complexity but reward simplicity.” Favorite quote from any presentation was from Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network (home of ICanHasCheezburger.com)

3. Social objects win. Providing ways for people to easily connect is invaluable.  Fatburger got it with the burger-eating contests, Techset gets it, Techkaraoke gets it.  How can social objects work for you?

4. Those who create, win. The biggest rockstars at the conference were all people who pump out amazing content and share their expertise with the world.  Get creating.

5. There’s a big difference between meeting someone and building a connection with someone.Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) taught me that in a 30-second conversation.  It requires a full post, but it changed how I think about things. Completely.

6. Nothing replaces face to face experiences. Twitter and Facebook are great.  They help lay the groundwork for more enjoyable IRL experiences – but nothing beats in-person conversation.

7. Embrace the unexpected. The unexpected opportunities and amazing conversations find you when you get out of your bubble and go with the flow.

8. When you start with love it makes everything better. Everyone that I met came in with love in their hearts.  They were helpful, friendly and kind beyond expectation.  Bringing that mindset to more interactions is something I want to embrace more.

9. Can it last? Some panels were full of people complaining at how hard it is to keep up with the demands and expectations of their legions of followers (no matter the number).  Jon Lansner (@jonlan) of the OC Register had a great point.  Media companies may be getting killed right now; but they can stay open 24/7 and some will be around for years to come. There’s a full post in here for sure.

10. I’ll be back. With so much good stuff I definitely plan on attending next year.  If you’ve been thinking about going hopefully you’ll choose to go next year!

Are you an expert or an advanced beginner?

I meet a lot of experts everyday.  Particularly when it comes to the social Web.  Merlin Mann‘s video about the difference between a true expert and an advanced beginner really hits home in this age of self-proclaimed experts.  His argument?  That many on the Web ignore the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. The premise of which is that learning more than a novice doesn’t make you an expert.  Instead it makes you an advanced beginner.  And advanced beginners either know that they are still beginners or think that they are experts.  It’s the second group you have to look out for.

Mann says that all of these advanced beginners mean that you have to be skeptical of the advice you take about who you are, what you think and what you think your options are when it comes to making decisions based on your incomplete information set.

I agree. There’s a big difference between being an expert and an advanced beginner.  With the pace of change and new tools launched ever-increasing it’s easy to be just out ahead of the novices; but it doesn’t make any but a very few true experts.

This idea also dovetails with my post about building expertise vs. building knowledge.  For an advanced beginner it’s easy to write a post on “7 ways to play better piano” and seem like an expert, and reading “7 ways to play better piano” may make you feel like you’re a more knowledgeable piano player, but are you really better before you actually sit down and put in the work to get there?

Me? I’m updating my business card to say “advanced beginner” and celebrate that I’m working towards something meaningful and valuable through the process of it all.

Enjoy the video:

Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now) from Merlin Mann on Vimeo.

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https://web.archive.org/web/http://pmorganbrown.com:80/2009/10/30/are-you-an-expert-or-an-advanced-beginner/

Google Plusification, or It’s not about Latitude vs. Foursquare

Forget gamification, the new marketing trend you should be thinking about is Google Plusification, the emerging social layer on top of every Google product. Yesterday it was revealed that Google Maps Latitude mobile product now came with check-ins for Google Plus users. This puts Latitude in competition (at least in terms of feature set) with Foursquare – a social game layer added to Google Maps. This comes on top of another announcement the same day which adds a +1 button to the main google.com page for some users. And all of that is on the heels of recent changes to Google Search which incorporate Google Plus results into the main Google search results and the addition of Circles to GMail. It’s clear that Google is making it a priority to weave Google Plus into the fabric of all of it’s products. And there’s no question that they’re only getting started.

The Impact of Plusification

Plusification is already having a profound effect on search engine marketing. A quick look at any SEO forum will give you a good sense that the plusification of Google search is completely rewriting the rules of that industry. Now thousands of words are spilled daily on how to optimize your Google Plus profile to appear in Google search, and any SEO worth their salt is racing to get their clients up and running on Google Plus. It’s not an overstatement to say that the Plusification of Google search is changing the SEO industry by the minute.

Just to drive this home, When’s the last time you really looked at a Google search result page? If it’s been a while, the results might surprise you. A simple search for AT&T reveals a home page packed with Google products – Google Maps, Google Places, Google AdWords and, yes, Google Plus, make up the vast majority of the content on that page. The only result above the fold? The actual AT&T website. The rest is Google. Try a search for “music” or “social media” or other generic terms – to the right, your AdWords have been replaced by Google Plus profile matches. The AdWords? Shoved down the page.

Let me say that again – Google has favored Google Plus over the thing the one thing it makes all of it’s money on. There’s no better indicator that their serious with their social initiative.

It’s not hard to look at the SEO industry as a model for how the Google social layer will profoundly impact their other products and industries they compete in. While the Latitude update may seem like a knock off of Foursquare, the implications are broader. Google is leveraging every opportunity to plusify every product it owns.

What’s Next for Plusification

So what next for Google Plusification? Well it’s easy to think of how the service could be weaved into other products. Here are a few examples:

Plusification of Google Places
Imagine local business search results and rankings being affected by the number of +1’s your business has. Looking for a local bakery? The bakery at the top might be the one with the most +1’s from people in your circles. How about reviews? Will reviews be filtered by the number of +1’s the user submitting the review has? The more +1 power of the user, the greater visibility and weight the review has. And photos? Sure, why not pull in photos from Google Plus geo-tagged with the address location of the business. And ownership? Tie your Google Plus profile to your page and let people see who the owner is.

Plusification of Google Docs
Share that doc of yours with a particular circle. Eliminate the current permissions logic and set permissions based on circle membership. Some can edit, some can view. Use it for soccer team call-down lists or product specifications. Share it with circles on Google+ for feedback and, well, sharing. It’s easy to see how current document commenting could morph into Yammer-like internal-only plusification of business documents that live in Google. In fact, the entire “Apps” suite could be leveraged in this same way – calendar, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Now, commenting, editing and sharing are not confined to the individual document, but tied to your Google+ profile and the circles you choose to share permissions with.

Plusification of GMail
This is already underway, with the addition of Circles to your mail address book; but this is just step one. There is so much more Google can, and will eventually do, with the plusification of GMail. Priority inbox? The mail from your most important Circles clearly goes there. Individual users who have lots of +1’s probably get a better sender score and have a higher priority tied to their message. And what about spam and commercial mail? If you’re a brand with a ton of +1’s, maybe you skip the bulk or notification baskets and hit the inbox. No +1 power means you’re hidden with the rest of the bulk mail. These changes could be profound, and completely rewrite how people think about email and email marketing.

This is on top of the obvious competition against plugins list Rapportive, which can obviously be deprecated by Google+ profile information.

Plusification of Google Maps
While the Latitude points check-in launch is the first step, there is again, tons more that can be done with Google Plus and the platform. Look no further than Caterina Fake’s Pinwheel for inspiration on what Google can do with the plusification of Maps. Leave notes, photos and to-dos at the places you’ve been for your Circles, make them private or public. Save driving directions, favorite places and more. Share them or store them.

Plusification of Ads
Another area where plusification is under way. As a user you can +1 ad units, and supposedly these +1’s will impact the ad quality score, lowering the cost per click while increasing the visibility of the ad unit. There’s no reason this couldn’t go further. Have an ad that has been plus 1’d more than others by your friends? You’ll see that one first. Own a business that has more +1’s? You’ll probably get a better quality score as a default and enjoy those benefits. And that’s just AdWords. What about remarketing? Couldn’t that be optimized based on your profile information and +1 history? I think so. Here, the options seem to go on forever.

Plusification is Just Getting Started

All of the above are just the obvious ways that Google Plus can be integrated into their existing products. With more than a few minutes of thought, it’s not hard to go even further. Some changes will be small, some will upend entire industries. But one thing is certain, we’re in early days and Google is betting the house with Plus. We should expect more social layer announcements and launches in the coming weeks and years. And when it’s all said an done, Google Plus won’t be a URL you visit, it will be baked into the Google Products you use every day.

So when we see a new announcement about social in a Google product – like Latitude – we should stop and not look at it individually, but analyze it in the context of this proliferation of the Google social layer. Because Google is not out to take down Foursquare, or bury Rapportive, or any other individual pursuits. These are all just collateral damage. Google is focused on making everything you do with Google social and connected. Their plusifying their product set and the Web, and that is the trend worth paying attention to.

Facebook Store Failures? Blame the Retailers, Not Facebook.

Bloomberg reporter Ashley Lutz filed a seemingly damming story about the failure of Facebook as a commerce platform by highlighting retailers who have closed their Facebook stores after a lack of success. Unfortunately the article fails to address the most important question, which is: did the stores fail because they’re on Facebook, or did they fail because they were bad stores? Lutz’s juicy, link bait title and high profile retailers make for compelling reading, but by only focusing on the platform, she completely ignores the role of the execution of the stores as a factor in their lack of success. And this is a big miss.

Facebook Stores are Where eCommerce Stores Were in 1997

If you’ve studied or used Facebook stores as they exist today, you know one thing for certain: they’re not very good. The experience isn’t unlike trying to shop on the original Amazon or eToys. It’s mostly clunky, and lacks the polish and refinement of today’s ecommerce sites. Worse, most Facebook stores represent nothing more than catalog pages from existing ecommerce sites shoe-horned into the Facebook chrome.  They are completely substandard around many best ecommerce practices including navigation, calls-to-action, ability to get product details and images, speed – the list goes on.

Many of these retailers, including GameStop, JC Penny and others, in their rush to get on the F-commerce train, launched stores that were doomed because the user experience was sub-par. The expectation that people would put up with a poor shopping experience simply because they were in the cozy confines of Facebook is where the real failure is – and not with Facebook.

In addition to a poor user-friendly shopping experience, few, if any of these sites took advantage of the benefits of being on Facebook. Many stores failed to integrate personalized recommendations, information about friend’s preferences and previous purchases, and any number of other social proof elements available on Facebook that could’ve helped these stores succeed.

These stores are truly the v1 efforts of F-commerce, and so we should not be surprised that they’ve failed. The failure of early Facebook stores doesn’t mean Facebook is a poor commerce platform, just like the failure of the first ecommerce stores proved that the Web was a bad platform for shopping.

Facebook Calls for New Ways of Shopping

Just like we’ve seen in 15 years of ecommerce, there’s a lot to learn and figure out about commerce in any new context, and old methods aren’t going to necessarily translate to a new medium. We should expect the same in a Web-to-Facebook transition, too. And until retailers get beyond the convention of ecommerce ported to Facebook, they’ll continue to fail. Their fine-tuned ecommerce paradigm will continue to falter in Facebook, which is a completely different medium. Just because Facebook lives on the Web does not mean that shopping on Facebook is the same as shopping on the Web.

Facebook Shares Responsibility in the Failures

For as much as I’ve blamed the failures of these stores on the retailers, Facebook must assume some responsibility for these failures. The Facebook chrome is unforgiving and difficult to work with for applications like shopping carts and store catalogs. There are few tools or special functionality built into the Facebook platform or API that make shopping on the site more valuable or enjoyable than shopping elsewhere.

Imagine, for instance, having the ability to shop with a friend on a Facebook store as easily as you can listen to a song with your friend on Facebook using Spotify. This is just one of many, easy-to-conceive ways that Facebook could make shopping easier on the site – not to mention the troves of data for recommendations, the social connections to leverage for social proof, etc. etc. The possibilities are limitless – and for their diversity all have one thing in common – none have been done well (if at all).

Until Facebook makes changes to make shopping easier and more interesting, retailers will continue to treat the platform as nothing more than a curiosity, and one that doesn’t have the same potential as the Web. When Facebook decides to focus on the online-shopping experience, and subsequently delivers tools to retailers that really leverage the platform is when we can expect more success.

Let Zynga At It

If there’s a company that understands the Facebook platform and how to best leverage it for commerce, it’s Zynga. The company already accounts for 12% of Facebook’s revenue, driven by virtual gifts and credits purchased for it’s host of viral games. There isn’t any reason that Zynga couldn’t turn it’s sights on creating a social ecommerce platform that made shopping as fun and engaging as it is to raise virtual cows. And whether they do or don’t get into ecommerce, the lessons of their success should be heeded by any retailer looking at F-commerce. Leveraging social connections, game mechanics and the other benefits of Facebook is what will make F-commerce an eventual success.

It’s Early Days

With the current shortcomings of Facebook stores it’s no wonder people opt for the brand website over Facebook. And while it may be an intriguing story to write when a few big brands shutter their v1 store-fronts, it’s important to look at all of the reasons for failure, including the user experience and the changes needed to make shopping on Facebook worthwhile. Hopefully this article will get Facebook focused on improving the tools for retailers so that there are new, innovative ways to shop rather than just replicating ecommerce on Facebook. But it would be a shame if brands took an article like this as any type of analysis that would suggest that they abandon Facebook as a potential platform for commerce. The potential is there, but it is, early days again.

Google Should Learn from Blekko and Open Up

Image representing Blekko as depicted in Crunc...

The New York Times recently highlighted how one insidious online retailer was able to use the power of negative reviews to drive his site to the top of Google and drive his business revenues at the same time. The piece brought to light a flaw in Google’s valuable algorithm; and drew a response from Google, who announced that they had made changes to keep this type of thing from happening again. The problem is, of course, Google can’t say what they changed in the algorithm or how they went about solving the problem. And they can’t because, like the Coca Cola recipe, their algorithm is secret and worth billions of dollars a year in revenues. Google’s secrecy will continue to leave it open to attacks of this kind and the negative press associated with them; and that secrecy is bad for business. That’s why Google should take a page from Blekko and open up about it’s algorithm.

And here’s why. Let’s start with the original article from the New York Times:

It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

That would sound like schoolyard taunting but for this fact: The post is two years old. Between then and now, hundreds of additional tirades have been tacked to Get Satisfaction, ComplaintsBoard.com, ConsumerAffairs.com and sites like them.

Not only has this heap of grievances failed to deter DecorMyEyes, but as Ms. Rodriguez’s all-too-cursory Google search demonstrated, the company can show up in the most coveted place on the Internet’s most powerful site.

The article states that links from sites like Get Satisfaction, even those in negative reviews are driving the site higher in the Google rank. The article makes the argument that inbound links that his site was getting from negative reviews was actually helping his search ranking; and potential customers who took his high rank as a mark of credibility fell into his scam. But then Get Satisfaction jumped in with a response basically saying that Get Satisfaction was wrongly implicated because of the company’s use of “nofollow” tags which prevent valuable link juice being passed from posts in their support forum:

But the article is unintentionally misleading. The story implies that links on Get Satisfaction positively accrue to the benefit of a company, even if they’re negative. Like any online community that cares to combat spammers, we code our user-submitted links so that Google ignores them for the purposes of calculating page rank (specifically, we attach “rel=nofollow” to anchor tags). Somebody trying to gin up their Page Rank by encouraging complaints on Get Satisfaction would be sorely disappointed.

Which makes sense to people familiar with the web, and absolves Get Satisfaction of unwillingly helping this crook, but could be easily missed by a reporter on a salacious story who doesn’t know which facts to check.

So, today Google comes out with the following statement about the fiasco on their blog:

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.

And while Google is (rightfully) getting praised for their responsiveness, I can’t help but think that this entire fiasco and misleading story would’ve been diffused before it even got started if Google was more like Blekko. If you aren’t familiar with the new search engine, you should invest some time to checking it out. They have some innovative features, most notably slash tags, but they also do something novel in the search space – they put their search recipe out for the world to see. You, me, everyone can see the how, what and why that goes into each and every listing on their site. Danny Sullivan does a nice overview of Blekko in his piece on Search Engine Land, worth a full read:

There’s much, much more that you can drill down into, enough for a separate article in the future. Using the “Visualize URLs” feature, you can even compare four different sites to each other

Blekko had considered if it should refine its reporting to make it a paid service for SEOs but decided instead to stick with what it shows as a way of being more transparent about how it works behind the scenes.

“Our primary purpose is to be open in how it works,” said Skrenta. “It might be the case that in the future, we’ll provide an API for people who want to build tools further on our data.”

This openness is not only refreshing, but provides users a clear view of how the search engine thinks. It renders the stories like the ones in the Times moot. By looking at a domain in Blekko you can clearly see what factors go into the ranking, you can see the inbound links and the ranks of those links, you can get a very clear picture of what elements Blekko is using to rank domains.

In fact, if you searched the domain in question at Blekko you’d see that there are no Get Satisfaction links being used to rank the site (because of the “no follow” tags,) and that Polyvore was the largest inbound link contributor used in ranking the site in Blekko. If Google was open like Blekko the reporter or fact checker could’ve easily clicked on the seo tag for the entry and received a much clearer picture of the math that went into the ranking, rather than relying on the business owner’s word for it and incorrectly implicating sites like Get Satisfaction.

The web would be a better place with more openness in search. Black hat SEO would be less likely, people could get a better understanding of why sites were ranked where they were, and there would be more trust in the rankings themselves, because search companies can stand on their algorithm, point to the data used and let the community have a conversation about it, rather than simply saying “We’re not evil. Trust us.”

And this is what Google can learn from Blekko. It’s not the slashtags (although cool) that’s the killer feature of the engine, it’s the openness. And Google should work towards a day when they can point to the data in response to inquiries about their search, rather than say “don’t worry, we’ve got your best interests in mind,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation.

Blekko has published a “web search bill or rights” that clearly outlines how they think about web search and includes things like “search shall be open,” and “ranking data shall not be kept secret.”  I hope that one day soon, Google will provide its users and customers the visibility and access that will make search more open, transparent, understandable and safer for everyone.

Brands Beware: My Klout Score is a Farce

A lot has been made of Klout scores lately.  (update: good read from on how to fix Klout by Mark Krynsky, a funny Klout rant by Michael Sean Wright) Brands wanting to get positive word of mouth on Twitter are using the score to ID influencers that can help build buzz by sharing their experiences with their audience. Disney, Virgin America and Fox Television are just some of the brands that have tapped Klout as part of getting buzz online. The Palms Casino announced the formation of the “Klout Klub” which will use Klout to determine the type of treatment and upgrades you receive based on the amount of influence measured by the service. But brands need to be careful using Klout, because, most Klout scores are a farce.

Klout only measures the “influence” of the individual on Twitter and Facebook, and doesn’t, by definition, take into consideration the individuals true influence. Not only that, but the algorithms used by Klout to measure influence on those networks seem questionable at best. Klout scores are primarily a vanity metric, and their relevance, is at best, directional. But they definitely don’t tell the whole story, and brands that use them to deal with online influencers can find themselves blowing off people with extreme influence that just don’t calculate on the high end Klout influence score.

The problem is not that Klout is inaccurate. It’s not even that their tagline is misleading, “The Standard of Influence.” They’re a new web service after all, trying to tackle a near-impossible task of ranking every user on the social web as it relates to influence. The problem is the lack of sophistication that brands have when it comes to understanding the complex nature of influence online and connections across these networks. Klout being inaccurate is just like any other stat being inaccurate. It’s fine, until you start making business decisions based on flawed data. A brand who stakes building their reputation on Twitter using Klout as their guide is making a grave error. They’re paying attention to bad data, which can be more dangerous than no data at all.

As brands wade into the social web and look to influence conversations to the positive benefit of their business they must realize that there isn’t a tool or service that can actually do the heavy lifting for them. They need to participate, observe and (wait for it) listen to the conversations that are impacting their business. Only then can they be confident that they are reaching the true influencers that are relevant to their business.

To demonstrate the point, here are 11 people that have loads of online influence, and even tons of influence on Twitter, should they choose to use it, that have lower Klout scores than me. I’ve got a 63 as of the time of this writing. These folks all use Twitter frequently regularly, so the idea that use=influence, while flawed to the core, is even inaccurate in these cases.

On this list we have CEOs, well-known and respected authors and reporters, the founder of the largest social media organization on the planet, and the guy that started this whole social Web thing with The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Doc Searls – Klout 56 | Doc Searls’ blog

Co-Author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, founder of VRM, Fellow at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, much, much more.

Doc Searls Klout score

Tim Street – Klout 56 | Tim Street’s Site

Tim’s founded one of the most influential online TV series with French Maid TV, and is the leading voice in online video and content creation.

Sarah Lacy – Klout 58 | Sarah Lacy’s blog

The author of two books, with writing and video credits including BusinessWeek, TechCrunch, Yahoo! and more.

Brett Bullington – Klout 46 | Brett Bullington’s LinkedIn profile

Respected investor, including board seats on Digg, Oodle, Next New Networks and more. Investor in Flickr.

Kristie Wells – Klout 56 | Social Media Club

Founder of Social Media Club, the world’s largest organization of social media professionals with more than 200,000 members.

Stephanie Agresta – Klout 49 | Stephanie Agresta’s Blog

EVP of Social Media at Weber Shandwick, and founder of TechSet, the popular event organizer at premiere social media events.

Ryan Holmes – Klout 49 | HootSuite.com

CEO of HootSuite, one of the leading social media dashboards.

Cathy Brooks – Klout 55 | Cathy Brooks’ Twitter Stream

Well-respected thought leader about the impact of the social web on business.

Bryan Elliott – Klout 50 | LinkedOC

Founder of Action Sports Network and LinkedOC networking groups with nearly 10,000 members. Hosts influential thought leaders in the OC with his popular events.

Mark “Rizzn”Hopkins– Klout 56| SiliconANGLE

Editor in Chief at SiliconAngle. Former writer for Mashable.

Laurie Percival– Klout 48 | Lalawag

Founder of Lalawag, influential Los Angeles tech scene blog.

Me

If the Palms or any other brand decided to ignore these people while paying attention to me (or treating them differently than me,) they’d be doing a huge disservice to their business.  It’s up to the strategists that are working with these companies to inform the business owners of the inaccuracy of the data, the value that they can place in it and the work they need to do to ensure that they’re reaching the people that really matter to their business – regardless of the score assigned to them by Klout.

Social Business Means Redefining What Business Is

Brian Solis talks about the bigger social business opportunity that is ahead of businesses and social media professionals:

When you look behind the scenes, you actually see more duct tape and rubber bands than fluidity and polish. Business units are still siloed and even the chief executives have gone on record saying that the acts of engagement do more for the company’s PR than it does for the improvement of products and services. Just look at your favorite social media source and you’ll see an endless array of examples of how brands are succeeding in social media. Again, most of them are basking in the brilliance of individual victories, some are actually breaking through the internal barriers that prevent collaboration, and others are simply stunts designed to spike conversations, sales, and PR. Nothing wrong with it…especially if it work as intended.

You and I are here together, right now, to do something greater. It’s up to us to lead the way for the socialization of business, understanding that it’s an uphill journey for the foreseeable future. But in the end, our experience and triumphs are unparalleled.

What Brian is talking about here isn’t social media marketing.  He’s talking about redefining what it means to be a business. It’s an ambitious vision, but has a few nascent successes that point to what could become the new corporate structure (Zappos comes to mind, 37 Signals, etc.)

For as long as the corporate entity has existed the model has been command and control.  Ground troops up on the front lines taking orders from well heeled Generals sipping tea well back from the front, who are ordering air support via massive branding campaigns on television, radio and print. All in an effort to convince the public that their product was just a little bit better, cheaper or faster.  And this worked well, for a long time.  But not any more.

With today’s connected, real-time landscape, business leaders and brands are in the thick of it.  They’re being pulled in every direction, flanked by conversations, complaints, kudos, competitors and their own internal chaos as they try to respond to the changes in the way business gets done.  And respond is all most have been able to do.  Not think, not plan, not leverage. Merely react.  Often these knee-jerk reactions are head-in-the-sand denials. Across the country there are conversations going on that start like this “Maybe we should just kill our Facebook presence,” because these leaders and brands aren’t fairing well in this new reality.

And even those that choose to engage in this new arena, as Brian points out, are doing it via smoke and mirrors, not necessarily through any enlightened state of corporate prescience.  But hey, if you’re one of the brands that hit the jackpot in connecting with customers online; well, by all means, don’t leave the girl you brought to the dance.  However, it’s important to understand the distinction between achieving success with social media marketing and reconstructing your business based on this new world order.

The marketing changes wrought by social media platforms have been hashed over ad nauseum for the last few years.  Most socia media successes can be boiled down to tactical executions of providing customer service and compelling experiences on the social web.  And that’s all well and good and interesting.  The evolution of marketing from spray and pray, one-size-fits-all messaging to actual conversation is welcome indeed; but in order for businesses to fully leverage the changes afforded by the social web they must embrace this new reality outside of their marketing department.  And that’s where I think Brian gets it right.

It’s not about redefining your message, it’s about rebuilding your company.  Breaking down command and control, creating better flows of information capital, creating more authentic and meaningful customer experiences and touchpoints, and empowering employees to put in their best to work for the business and customer every day.

This transformation starts when the business owners realize that the game has changed, that they in turn need to adapt.  Businesses must be willing to flip the megaphone around and put the wide end up to their corporate ear.  And then do something with the data to rearchitect their fundamental infrastructure to better serve the market. Because it’s not enough for a company to come up with the Old Spice Man campaign if customer feedback isn’t driving product development.  It’s not enough to launch a Facebook page when you’re customers are all active on a BBS somewhere.  It’s not enough to have branding, product, customer service, loyalty, global marketing, product teams, etc. all off experimenting with Twitter; when what’s needed is leaders who can to drive the new social way of operating on the Web through the organization to create a new way of thinking about delivering value to the market place.

A favorite metaphor for corporate dysfunction and disorganization is that the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand.  Well this problem is amplified by the challenges created by a real time, messy, loud market place full of demands.  And if organizations insist on relegating social media to the PR/customer service silo, without truly embracing the power it can bring them in terms of insight, innovation, customer and employee satisfaction and bigger and better shareholder returns, than the vision of social business is left unfulfilled, and we as champions of the space will have come up short in our mission to change how business is done.

How Klout Perks Really Work

klout logoKlout bills itself as a network of influencers that brands can tap into to leverage peer recommendations across social networks. This is based on the idea that friend recommendations are more valuable than traditional advertising because friends trust each others’ recommendations more than ads. The way it works, as sold on the website, is that you tap influencers in topic areas that are relevant to your brand, you offer them a perk, they love it and you, and then the influencers go out and spread your message via word-of-mouth on the social networks they’re most active on. It sounds good, but does it work for brands? The answer is no and yes.

Quick Background

I ran social marketing for a company recently that used Klout to drive new membership. We ran two campaigns, described below. One which failed miserably and one which was a huge success. I’ve described them below and provided actual numbers from Klout. The goal of these campaigns was to spread awareness of a new service, drive membership sign-ups and purchases. Your mileage will of course vary based on your goals.

How Klout Doesn’t Work – Test Campaign #1

You could be forgiven if you think that the best way to leverage their service is to target the most influential influencers in the Klout network for the topic you care about and then let them spread your message far and wide. I hope I’m forgiven anyway. This is what I initially thought, and was proven wrong. If you’re going to run a Klout campaign as a brand, this is definitely not the way to do it. I know from experience, dude. Let’s take a look at the messy details.

Here’s what we did with our first Klout campaign:

  • Identified 155 social influencers who had high Klout scores in Los Angeles, CA, a target market for our member acquisition efforts.
  • Offered a Klout perk to them of $100 in free stuff on our site, plus the ability to invite anyone in their network to join the private beta and get $10 to try us out too.

The thinking was that by giving these social influencers a sufficient amount of money to try the service and a way to give their followers and friends early access and a discount, that they would be stoked on the perk and spread the word. Friends would sign up for the discount and early access.

The cost of the campaign was $5,000 plus the cost of the coupons, which was dependent on the redemption rate of the perk.

The results:

  • Out of 155 influencers invited, 79 claimed the perk.
  • In addition to the 79 influencers we received an additional 173 downstream, referred members.
  • Each influencer sent 2.7 tweets on average, and along with downstream contributing tweets resulted in 302 tweets.
  • True reach, which represents how many people were reached by tweets was 426,165.
  • Impressions were 1.47 million.
  • Cost to acquire a member was $19.84 and the cost per purchaser was scary high; because most redeemed and used the $100.

What we learned:

  • Influencers were generally grateful of the perk, and some couldn’t believe it was $100. We definitely got some short-term brand awareness there.
  • The influencers didn’t really influence all that much. On average they had enough Klout to drive two extra members to sign up for the service. Since most of them had 10’s of thousands of followers, this is a pretty low activation rate.
  • The member acquisition cost was way out of whack with our model. It was nearly 20x what we look to pay for a member acquisition campaign.

How Klout Does Work – Test Campaign #2

You can probably guess that we were really disappointed by the costs and results of the first campaign. It was pretty clear that as an unknown brand you can’t buy word of mouth via Klout, regardless of the size of the perk. And even if you get a bit of word-of-mouth it doesn’t necessarily translate into action. We spoke with our friends at Klout about this and to their HUGE credit, they offered to run another campaign at no additional cost using a different model.

Here’s what we did with our second Klout campaign:

  • Target 10,000 Klout users in New York, regardless of Klout score.
  • Make the perk free early access to the site and a $25 off coupon for any purchase they make.
  • No referral credit for people they told. It was just $25 off for any perk recipient.

The Results:

  • 8,985 perk redeemers
  • 1.3 Tweets/Shares per influencer = 12,418 Tweets and shares (40x the first campaign)
  • True Reach of 1.93 million based on 8,985 participating influencers
  • 5.9 million impressions based on True Reach (3x the first campaign)
  • Cost to acquire a member was less than $1, even after adding in the $25 per purchaser credit
  • Cost to acquire a purchaser was just the $25. Both the cost per purchaser and cost per member were well in our target budgets.
  • Even if you factor in the $5,000 for the campaign the cost per member was just over a dollar (including coupon redemptions) and about $40 per purchaser – which were well within target acquisition costs.

What we learned:

  • The power of Klout is to reach a large number of people with an offer via Twitter.
  • Counting on the viral sharing is risky – reaching the masses is the better bet.
  • Klout score doesn’t matter. Everyone’s money is good, and the high scorers don’t move the needle in terms of a campaign of this size.
  • We saw a 3x lift in impressions and a 40x lift in social media mentions by going direct to a larger audience rather than relying on viral word of mouth.

How Klout Really Works

If you think about Klout, and you think about scores and whether they’re accurate or inaccurate, you’ll see from the above that that debate is really a silly argument. Klout doesn’t work because they have a database of influencers that get your word out; it works because they have a huge database of people, period. Score is irrelevant to campaigns like these. If you’re going for scale don’t try to tap influencer networks to get word of mouth referrals. The influencers carry less influence than you think and apathy is a hard thing to overcome on social networks.

Instead, reach for as many people as you can, and get them all to opt-in. You’ll get more scale, you get some great word-of-mouth because these lower Klout score folks are pumped to get a perk, and you’re reaching a well-connected, great customer.

One of the things we really learned was that a Klout user was a really great customer for the site. They bought more on average, they bought more often and they referred more friends (through our internal refer-a-friend program) than almost any other audience other than those users who were referred by existing site users.

These results obviously have big implications with regard to a user’s score and it’s importance or need for accuracy, and it has big implications for how you choose to run a Klout campaign vs. how you might initially think that it works. I hope it also reflects well on Klout – as a company they work really hard to make sure you’re successful. They went above and beyond to find a way to make our program work, and that’s all you can hope for from an advertising partner.

I hope it’s helpful in the Klout discussion – especially for marketers and brands thinking of using Klout to market their business.