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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.

Why Google Reader Might be the Missing Link in Your Social Media Workflow

I wrote in length about identifying and implementing a social media workflow as a way to make social media work for you and your organization while not becoming overwhelming or too much of a time suck.  Today I want to look at a particularly powerful tool that is often under-utilized in social media workflows.  Google Reader not only makes reading and sharing news easy; but it is also an important tool in building your following and reputation as a thought-leader online.  In this post I’ll show you how I use Google Reader to engage followers, build credibility and thought leadership, stregthen relationships and improve visibility across the social Web and Twitter in particular.

The premise is simple – share links to articles, blog posts, podcasts and videos relevant to your area of interest as a way to provide value to the people that follow you (and hopefully their followers as well via retweets) by being a filter that identifies high-quality content in the river of noise that is the Web.

This is not an exhaustive overview of the benefits and short comings of Google Reader.  Nor is it a post on how to use Google Reader.  There are plenty of other greatposts that cover the features and functionality of this powerful feed reader.  What I want to focus on is the workflow that you can use with Google Reader to accrue the benefits listed above on the social Web.

Setting Up Google Reader in Your Social Media Workflow

I use Google Reader to engage people, build thought leadership, strengthen relations and improve my visibility online by integrating my Google Reader activity into my social media workflow as follows:

Google Reader > Shared Items > Shared Items Feed published to FriendFeed > Google Reader items in FriendFeed published to Twitter

To set this workflow up take the following steps:

  1. Make your Google Reader shared items public and viewable by anyone. (You can view my shared items here.)You can do this by going into your shared items settings in the reader by clicking on Shared Items, then Sharing Settings.
  2. Get the feed URL for your shared items by clicking on Shared Items, then show details.  You will see stats for your shared items and also the feed URL.  It will look like this: http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user/08867225285676593227/state/com.google/broadcast
  3. Next, go to FriendFeed. If you don’t have a FriendFeed account register for one first and then follow the remaining steps.
  4. Add your public, shared items feed as a new service in FriendFeed by clicking on “Settings” (link is under your name on your FriendFeed page).  This will launch a dialog box where you can edit your preferences and add your Google Reader feed.
  5. Choose “add/edit” which appears next to the services icons that you currently have aggregated in FriendFeed.
  6. Click on “Blog” on the Services page.  (This page lists all of the eligible services you can add to FriendFeed along with all of the current services that are aggregated with your FriendFeed account. )
  7. Another dialogue box will pop up.  Paste your Google Reader feed URL in this box.
  8. Click the “Import Blog” button.

Your Google Reader is now importing into FriendFeed.  You’re almost there! The last step is setting up FriendFeed to publish your Google Reader items to your Twitter stream.

You can configure your FriendFeed/Twitter publishing settings under the settings tab as well.  Do this by:

  1. Click on “Settings” under your name on your FriendFeed home page.
  2. Click on Twitter publishing preferences.  This will take you to a page titled “Advanced Twitter Settings”
  3. If you didn’t log in to FriendFeed with your Twitter account at the beginning you’ll have to login to the account you want to publish your Google Reader items to before proceeding.
  4. Check the box that says “Link to source site instead of FriendFeed conversation (does not apply to comments)” This will ensure that when people click on your shared links on Twitter they will be taken to the source content instead of an intermediate page requiring another click to get to the source content.
  5. Make sure the box next to “Google Reader” is checked under the section “The services I’ve selected below”

You can see how I have my page configured for reference:

ff

That’s it – now your Google Reader shared items are set up to be imported into your Twitter stream.

Sharing Items with Your Followers on Twitter with Google Reader

Now that you have Google Reader integrated into your Twitter feed you need to start sharing items with your followers.  You do this simply by clicking the “Share” button at the bottom of each item in Google Reader.  Alternatively you can use “Shift+S” as a keyboard shortcut to share the items without a mouse click.  You can find the “Share” button at the bottom of each item in Google Reader, as seen below:

share_off

Simply click the “Share” button and it looks like this:

share_on

Your shared item will now appear in your Twitter stream:

twitter

You can tell it’s one of your shared items because the tweet says “from FriendFeed” and the URL is shortened using the ff.im link shortener.

Building Thought Leadership, Engagement, Visibility and Relationships with Shared Links

There is no shortage of commentary about information overload.  With millions of blogs publishing millions of articles, on top of the traditional news, video posts and podcasts, trying to keep up with the Web is impossible for most people.  People easily feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to sift through all the noise to find the information they like and are interested in.  In the world of new media there are no easily identified editors.  Unlike traditional media like the New York Times where their editors decide what is news and what isn’t, the blogosphere and social media has no appointed editors.  This is where your opportunity lies.

I’m not suggesting that you try to digest the Web and sift out the gems, that doesn’t really work as part of a sustainable workflow as part of your daily routine that earns your income.  But what you can do is canvass a small corner of the Web and become an ad hoc editor, a trusted filter, identifying the best content in that niche and share that with readers.  For example, if you’re in education you can round up the education blogs and feed them into your Google Reader.  You can slowly add them as you discover them (expedite this by searching for education related Tweets and using tools like IceRocket.com and Google Blog Search).

Then you can go through the education posts and share the best of the best each day with your followers on Twitter.  You’ll find that you’ll receive more replys, more retweets and more followers as you become known as a trusted source of information and news about the segment of the Web that your followers are interested in.

You’ll start to notice a few valueable things as a result of your sharing:

  • People will thank you for your tweets
  • People will retweet your links extending your reach beyond your current followers (and often their followers as the link spreads)
  • People will recommend you as a person to follow to their followers

These are all great indicators of a healthy and improving presence among your followers on Twitter.

Workflow Tips for Google Reader

Here are a few of my tips to keep Google Reader a productive part of your social media workflow (and not a burden).

  • I try to share news at least twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the evening.  I spend about 30 minutes at each point reading, sharing and saving articles to read later.  Occassionally I’ll also check it on my lunch break if I have time.
  • Don’t be afraid to declare feed bankruptcy. News has a definite shelf life.  If you can’t get to your feed reader for a couple of days and find that you have thousands of items unread don’t feel pressured to get through them all.  Go through the last 24-48 hours worth and then mark the rest as read.  There’ s no need to feel overwhelmed by the amount of unread content in your reader.
  • Mix it up. I share content about online video, social media and studies about online advertising effectiveness. But I also share funny stuff and general geekdom items from sites like Boing Boing and other fun stuff.  I only mix these in occassionally; but you don’t want to be a boring stiff – show some personality with your shared links.
  • Don’t import your links to Facebook. I did this at first and it was very noisy. Because Facebook doesn’t update as frequently as Twitter you can litterally overrun your friends’ news feeds with your shared items.  I’ve tried it both ways and have found that people seem happier when the links aren’t shared via Facebook. (I’ll have some more thoughts on this and how to surface the best links to Facebook in a future post.)

Putting it all Together

I often hear that people don’t have enough time to write content, that they get burnt out on writing blog posts and they feel like they can’t “keep up” with creating value for their followers on an ongoing and consistent basis.  Google Reader helps solve for this problem because it is easier and less time consuming to find and identify quality content to share.  Instead of producing content you’ll be known for your keen eye and ability to filter the signal from the noise for your followers.  People will come to appreciate and respect this service that you provide and it will in turn create and build your social capital among your online networks.

Did Google Miss the Next Big Thing by Chasing Social Media?

Facebook announced a new messaging platform today that combines all of your communications into one inbox and uses your social graph to prioritize and validate inbound messages. Email, IM, SMS and social messages in one place. It’s a unified approach to communication and focuses on the relationship between people, rather than between messages as its foundation. And I can’t help but wonder, Why didn’t Google do this first? And, did Google’s obsession with “catching” Facebook and Twitter leave a blind spot to this new way to bring efficiencies to digital communication?

In retrospect, Google was better positioned to unify communication types than Facebook. With Google Voice, Gmail, Wave, SMS-enabled GChat, YouTube and Docs, it had all the components in place and ready to go. Voice, Docs and Wave aren’t even available on the Facebook platform as viable options and Gmail is much more mature than Facebook messaging. But instead of tying these various forms of communication together they were busy chasing down the social grail; fumbling the Buzz launch, botching Wave and trying to court Twitter and roll out real time search.

Now don’t get me wrong, real time search is indeed important, and a big business to be in; but the bolted-on Buzz failed, Wave failed, Google Friend Connect didn’t take hold, and before those, Jaiku and Dodgeball died in-house too. And now, their nebulous new Google Me effort looks foolish compared to the innovation coming out of Facebook. In this mad quest to catch Facebook they’ve overlooked key strategic advantages that they’ve now fumbled to their biggest competitor.

When you’re focused on organizing the world’s information, it’s a pretty big miss to let your sworn enemy get to organizing our digital communications first.

The severity of this blow will take a bit of time to play out as more people become accustomed to getting their texts, IMs and email all in one place. And not just any place, but the place they spend more than 5 hours a month online (that’s 2.5x longer than users spend on Google properties, btw.) But once people realize the “cognitive load” savings realized by this centralization Google will start losing Gmail users and growth will slow.

Think about it, is there any reason to leave Facebook once messaging gets integrated? And with the orientation around individuals and not subject lines, communications will become easier to manage. Why would I go to GMail, then to docs, then to my phone, then to Chat when I can have it all in one place? (note: a Hacker News commentor astutely pointed out that these things _are_ in the same place on Google.  What I was referring to here, and rushed too quickly to articulate is that if I’m already spending 5.5 hours per month on Facebook looking at photos, commenting, liking things, etc. Why, once the functionality was available within the interface and on my mobile device, would I jump out of my default environment to use a series of other tools that don’t integrate at all w/my preferred online service. I hope this clarifies this a bit.)

Now, emails from my mom about traveling to see me for the holidays will be in the same place as her text messages about being delayed and where to pick her up. I’ll have flight info in the email with the real time info from her text message all in one place. Plus, with Facebook phone book I can call her from that same interface.

This is a powerful new way of handling communication. Or is it? Some early analysis likens Facebook to the old AOL, opining that Facebook too, will suffer the vagaries of time and evolution of the Web.

And while this may seem reminiscent of AOL in the days when many regular users considered AOL the Internet, I think we’re looking at something fundamentally different for a few reasons. The first has to do with scale. The sheer number of connections on Facebook make it a far more sustainable platform than AOL ever was. At it’s largest, AOL had 30 million members – that’s less than a tenth of the Facebook population. Second is APIs. The connected nature and ubiquity of the Facebook Connect and Like integrations (not to mention automatic personalization) have woven Facebook throughout a large portion of the Web. And third, the time. We, as a population are more digitally savvy than ever before. My parents have cell phones, my grandparents have cell phones. My 4 year old son texts my mother. We’re connected in a way that we never were in the AOL days – all playing into the hands of Facebook.

We’ve also heard the early rumblings of the privacy issues this new platform brings into question. And the privacy debate is an important one; but one that will happen at the fringes. There will be plenty of handwringing by pundits about what Zuck will do with our SMS and email data; but it’s an argument that won’t resonate with your casual user, even if it should. Let’s face it, the moment we accepted Gmail as our email client we gave up that inbox privacy ghost. This is just another step, and one that won’t raise the flags of rebellion among the proletariat.

So what’s next for Google? They’re now in the position where they have to play catch up again. Nothing they ship for Google Me will put them ahead of the game. They were sitting on a massive opportunity and missed it. While they’re out building self-driving cars, Facebook is building the true OS of the Web. And while privacy advocates and open Internet advocates will cry foul, the denziens of the Web will enjoy the cozy confines of their Facebook home and appreciate their newfound ability to have a single point communication interface that lets them manage all their relationships on the Web. And all of it will be hidden from Google.

As more and more of the world’s information gets organized by Facebook, the venerable search giant will need to stop chasing and start looking more at what opportunities their strengths provide if they want to be more than just the yellow pages of the Web.

Why Blogging Still Matters

People love to claim stuff “dead” on the Internet.  It seems everyday something is dying or already dead.  Frankly, the pace of extinction around these parts is exhausting.  And, of course, the rhetoric is usually completely overblown and, well, wrong.  So it is with the death of blogging.  As Twitter user growth soars (1928% YOY to be precise) and people flock to Facebook in droves, pundits love proclaiming that the statusphere is the new, new blogging.  And with equal joy it’s corollary blogging obituary.

I’m here to humbly say that blogging is indeed not dead, and in fact now, unlike any time in the last 4 years, represents the single best opportunity for professionals and organizations to stand out from the competition and river of noise that is the statusphere.  In this post I look at why it’s still important to professionals.  In a future post we’ll look at why it matters for organizations.

Reasons why blogging is still important to professionals

The case for blogging for professionals has never been stronger.  As more people jump on the Twitter bandwagon and engage in the cocktail party that is the statusphere there are fewer hours and fewer people dedicating time to producing longer-form content that demonstrates their expertise and value to prospective customers, potential employers and others in the community.  While interacting with people online is critical and an important way of building relationships and your network, the effectiveness of  that effort is greatly reduced without some home base that represents who you are, what you stand for and what you know.  Having a well-developed blog gives the people you engage with a true sense of who they’re talking with and can be an important relationship builder in its own right.

Demonstrate Expertise

There is still no better way on the Web today to create and curate a body of work that demonstrates your expertise and insight than a blog.  While engaging quickly and responding to questions and engaging in conversations online is an excellent way to demonstrate your expertise they have a definite shelf life and limited utility shortly after the exchange.  Go ahead, try to dig up a Tweet from 5 days ago.  You’ll quickly find that your conversations are washed away by the onslaught of new information added to the statusphere.  You face a similar problem with discussions on LinkedIn, comments on YouTube, Facebook status updates and Wall posts, forum posts and more.     By simply participating in online conversations in these social platforms you’re making your expertise a perishable commodity.  If you maintain a blog and curate your thoughts there you maximize the value of your expertise by giving it a longer shelf life and making it infinitely easier to find.

Why throw away your expertise by using a social conversation only strategy when you can easily create a valuable library of insight and expertise with a blog?

Create a Google-able Home Base

For better or worse you are who Google says you are. And while your profiles on the various social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn may appear higher than your personal blog in a vanity search (where you search your own name in Google) Google can reward you heavily with searches that include your name and important industry and career topics.  For example, my previous blog, blownmortgage.com ranked exceptionally high for terms such as subprime mortgage, FHA home loans, loan modification and other key mortgage terms that drove traffic and business to my company.   More importantly, because of the body of work I created at the site (if you can’t tell by the name it was a site intent on blowing up the malfeasance in the mortgage industry) people instantly bonded and trusted me.  And I showed up all over the place in Google on terms that people were searching while looking for information related to my expertise.

While Twitter and Facebook may come up higher in vanity searches, Google will reward you with rankings in areas of your expertise when you create a body of work on a blog dedicated to the exploration of those subjects.  Twitter will never rank for loan modification for me, but my blog (which I recently sold, more below) did. And it created additional (dare I say ‘long tail’) referrals to my home base on the Web resulting in additional business, contacts, and more.

Build an Online Resume

You can either have a resume and say what you know or you can have a blog and show what you know.  What do you think is more powerful to a prospective client or employer?  Exactly.  Particularly in a devestrating job market creating differentiation among your peers is critical to getting out of the deluge of resumes and on to the short list for the interview.  And while your blog can’t help you in the interview, it can certainly help you get in front of the decision maker.   It can often jump you several steps through the interview process in the first place.  Any professional can benefit from a solid body of work that is easily found and referencable on the Web.  When employers look for quality individuals a blog can be an invaluable advantage to you.  It creates the ideal forum to demonstrate your thinking and analysis of issues critical to your industry.  Same thinking applies in demonstrating your expertise and thinking to a potential client.

While you can build a resume online with LinkedIn and other online services it’s impossible to curate a living body of work that speaks to your unique skills and viewpoint like you can with a blog.

Opening Yourself to Other Opportunities

By having a blog you begin to build a body of work to position you as an expert.  While this can lead to direct business gain and advantages in winning business, employment and more; there are other benefits as well.  With a Google-friendly home base pushing your name to the top of results in terms critical to your industry you’ll find inquiries from journalists looking for front-line insight into breaking stories.  You’ll get random interview and speaking requests.  You’ll receive product review requests and feedback on business samples.  And you’ll find more people looking to engage and connect with you than ever before.  These benefits can often lead to new experiences and opportunities that were never visible to you previously.  And while journalists search and monitor Twitter for breaking news you can create more press opportunities by creating a body of work that positions you as a credible source for stories that they may be working on.

My old blog resulted in mentions for me in The Wall Street Journal, The LA Times, The Orange County Register, Better Homes and Gardens, The Village Voice, Inman News and many, many more.  Those mentions would never have come from my LinkedIn profile, Twitter or Facebook conversations alone.  I also received several speaking opportunities and won awards based on my work with my blog.  It was the body of work and the easily-found nature of my blog that led to those opportunities.

Crafting Your Personal Brand

Your blog is your home.  You get to decorate it and furnish it in any manner you see fit.  It’s your personal self-expression online and the single best, most consistent opportunity to build and curate the personal brand that you want to project online.  On any number of other social sites you’re dealing with the vagaries of the shifting conversation, newest shiny objects and limitations of the platform.  There is rarely the perfect opportunity to express the ideal position for you as it relates to your personal brand.  Your blog represents that safe harbor in the malestrom where you can talk about the things that are important to you, you can demonstrate your personal brand, and you can work at, improve and refine your voice and brand online.

While your blog can be your online resume it can also be your online batting cage (or putting green if you don’t like the baseball analogy).  It can be a place where you can find your voice and refine it.  Where you can test out hypotheses and construct arguments.  You can analyze problems that are interesting to you and work through your thinking on issues that are important to you.  This is often difficult to do in social conversation platforms.  The flow of the conversation rarely affords that type of introspective learning.  A blogging platform can open up that opportunity like no other platform.

Making Your Blog Matter to You

In an age of 140 characters blogging is hard.  Creating content that people want to read, engage with and share is difficult and the payoff is often not seen immediately.  You can spend hours creating content that is barely read when it is initially published.  But it’s important to remember that social media is a marathon, not a sprint (and the same goes for blogging) and that the effort is a long term investment in your online personae.  It is my firm belief that you cannot extract the maximum value from your social media endeavors without a blog as a home base for your efforts.

So how do you make your blog matter to you?  Here is a quick list of things that I did to make my blog matter to me (and what I’m doing with this new blog as we speak.) These are obvious but if you’re struggling with a way to get started try these out.

  • If you can, register your name as a domain name. It allows you to make your blog the home base for your online activities for the rest of your life. It gives you flexibility in topics and allows your blog to grow with you as your life changes.  It also helps with the aforementioned Google love.  (To wit, imagine if Scoble’s first blog was Microsoft Insights instead of Scobleizer.)
  • Blog about something you’re passionate about. Pick a topic you have an opinion about and start with that. And don’t be afraid to have an opinion and express it.
  • Don’t be afraid to put something out there. Start writing and start publishing.  Don’t let perfection or how you think other people might respond deter you from putting content out there.
  • Get insight and inspiration from other blogs, Twitter and the news.  Just like new writers can often get past writers block by taking the opening of an existing story and spinning their own tale, so can you leverage an existing story line and add your own perspective as a way to get started.
  • Don’t try to write like a journalist or a marketer.  You’re not writing the cover story of the New York Times and you’re not writing the corporate brochure.  Write from the heart and with passion and don’t worry about the formalities when you first start.
  • Be a good online citizen. Don’t steal content. Be sure to link and provide attribution to ideas and give credit where credit is due.
  • Experiment. Try a video blog. Try a long post. Try short posts. Try thought pieces. Try news pieces. Do an email interview. Do a podcast interview. Just do, over and over until you begin to get your blogging legs under you.

Blogging and ‘Winning on the Uphills’

Seth Godin recently wrote about using challenge as a differentiator between you and your competitors.  The idea of winning on the uphills is that everyone succeeds and goes fast on the downside of the mountain.  In a good economy everyone is profiting.  It is in a difficult environment where the good companies and professionals have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and move forward, ahead of the pack.  The same can be said for blogging.  While everyone is proclaiming blogging dead and lamenting how “hard” it is compared to Twitter you can win on the uphill and begin to carve out your own little portion of the online conversation.  And before you know it you’ll have created an online presence that will serve you professionally and personally for the rest of your life (if you let it) and will help you stand out from the noise of social conversation by creating a clear signal that resonates with readers.

Flickr photo by Mexicanwave.

Why Groupon Needs $950 Million More

The blogosphere is abuzz over tech-darling Groupon’s proposed $950 million Series G round. Many people have asked “Why do they need all that money?” And while expansion is the obvious answer, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Groupon knows that in order to grow at scale in the SMB market you need a big sales organization with feet-on-the-street in the markets you’re hoping to reach. If you look at the successful small business advertising providers—the one’s that own large chunks of the market—they all have large sales forces. And it’s the large sales force that has stood between many a great, local-business-focused business plans and actual success.Groupon knows that without people pounding the pavement, pounding on doors and pounding the phone, they won’t reach the mass of SMBs who are 1) not actively seeking out new advertising options online and 2) are hounded by traditional SMB advertising providers like the Yellow Pages, who don’t ever let up on closing small business deals. And to put that organization in place is going to take a ton of cash. You need sales agents in each city, you need sales management, you need office space, you need call centers, you need fulfillment, billing and operations teams to handle that size of a customer base. And that takes a ton of money.

What Groupon is doing is something that no other tech company has done in recent memory—made a real run at securing a big chunk of the SMB market. Sure, new local-business-focused companies pop-up all the time. But most of them are either niche providers or they partner with the big existing yellow page providers to get access to their sales organization. They become a B2B channel provider leveraging the existing sales force because few can generate or raise the cash necessary to build a sales organization to go out and reach those SMBs directly.

Even mighty Google has taken this approach until now. They’re either unwilling to, or culturally unable to, commit to the SMB market with a massive sales force. Google has targeted savvy SMBs directly with AdWords solicitations; but has also worked aggressively to partner with yellow page companies to sell AdWords as part of existing yellow page bundled services, and often resold as CPM-based impressions (e.g. spend $2,500/month to get a quarter-page ad in the yellow book, a bolded listing with a photo on the site and a bucket of impressions driven by CPMs). And they’ve supported that initiative with direct mail, SEM (of course) and some print advertising as air cover to increase awareness and trial of AdWords through one channel or another.

But it was not until just last week that Google started outbound telesales direct to small business owners. That is a direct response to Groupon spurning their offer, and the realization that if they’re going to get serious about local business they can’t solve it with an algorithm. They need to put people toward the business unit to succeed.

All of this of course sheds quite a bit of light on the Groupon/Google negotiations and why the deal fell apart. I think what Groupon’s board realized (and kudos to them for this insight) is that Google—at its core—is not a sales-driven company. They don’t have the internal buy-in to be a hardcore sales organization and they’ve never committed the resources needed to make small business a booming success. They’ve tried to do it every other way except invest in a massive sales force. And I think Groupon looked at what has worked in reaching SMBs at scale and they realized it’s not arms-length. They realized that SMB advertising is still old school. It’s still knocking and dialing for dollars.

Groupon realized that what they needed is a sales-focused organization, not a technology-focused one. And tying up with Google would be a mistake, because at their core the two companies are fundamentally different in what they know about going to market. Google knows that it’s tech and better and more tech; Groupon knows that it’s how many calls can we make in a day. Groupon’s board knew it wouldn’t thrive under Google.

Additionally, Groupon knew that tying up with a dinosaur of a yellow page business was a bad idea too. The margins are non-existent, advertising dollars are shrinking and moving online, and most observers are waiting for someone to drag those pre-Internet monoliths out behind the wood shed and put a bullet in them. So the only logical step for Groupon, between their options, is to go out and build the sales organization they need that supports the tech organization that they are.

So while everyone oohs and ahhs at $950 million and will continue to talk about bubbles in the tech space; I personally think Groupon has made a very savvy decision to truly be one-of-a-kind, to be the first tech company to go hard after the SMB market—and win.

Identifying a Social Media Workflow

Whenever I start talking to people about social media invarably the questionarises “Where do I find the time?”  It’s easy to understand where they’re coming from.  After sitting through several hours of eye-opening presentations about a brand new world of communication and engagement people sit back and think “but I already can’t get everything I need to do done,” and so they come asking “Where do I find the time?”  A fair question to be sure.  Trying to Tweet, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube all while trying to do whatever job you’re supposed to be doing seems fairly impossible at the onset.  It’s almost enough to give up and go back to what you’re used to and comfortable doing.  Which is exactly the wrong impluse.

Change always feels uncomfortable.  And unless you’re forced out of that comfort zone its difficult to take the steps you need to take to get out and move forward.  So what I try to do when talking to people who feel overwhelmed by the prospect of social media is talk to them about email.  And cell phones.  Because I often speak to and work with people who are older than me I ask them “Do you remember doing your job without email and cell phones?”  Invariably they say “yes,” and then they smile knowing where I am going with these questions.  Email and cellphones have completely changed the way we do business during the course of most baby boomer careers; but they have become so ingrained and essential to business today that we forget what it was like before them.  I imagine most of these overworked souls said the same thing about these new technologies.  In fact, I remember my mom resenting the implication of a cell phone when they were first invented.  Now it’s the only number I reach her on.

Social Media is the New Email and Cell Phone

What I explain to them  is that in the same way that email and cell phones have pervaded how we do business and (more importantly) connect with one another, social media is again revolutionizing communication.  With hundreds of millions of people using social media every day (and sites like Facebook adding 750,000 a day) that using social media is no longer a choice for those who wish to remain relevant and engaged with their friends, colleagues, mentors, business contacts and prospects.  Just as people bemoaned the use of another communcation tool in email, and then quickly saw its power, so too will business professionals soon recognize the lasting power of social media in their business and personal relationships.

Keeping Social Media Simple

I advise newcomers to social media to keep it simple to start.  There are so many different social media sites, properties, tools and communities that trying to interact and use them all is a recipe for insta-burnout and a return back to the safe, comfortable shore of business as usual.  You can see a whole host of them in the Conversation Prism below:

The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

Trying to utilize them all will lead to abandonment at worst or ineffective use at best as it is easy to be spread to thin in a hurry.  So it certainly makes sense to pick just a few sites and properties to get started with.  Wade into the water and take it slow.

Choosing the Right Social Media Sites for You & Your Business

Many people recommend choosing a handful of social media tools and properties to use in order to make it manageable.  Invariably they recommend this generic combination:

And while these are all surely the leading sites in their respective spaces, and you should probably be involved in most if not all of them to one degree or another, simply recommending a generic list like this does little to address your needs in your business/expertise area.  For example music professionals, A/R people, etc. must be on MySpace as it is still a premiere place for unsigned acts to display their work.  Real estate has networks such as Active Rain and you’ll find computer engineers and others on open-source forums, IRC and bulletin boards.  That’s why it’s important to identify where you’re industry congregates online before choosing the tools you wish to use.

However, once you do find where your community likes to interact and congregate online you need to create a sustainable workflow that allows you to participate in that community in a way that is beneficial for the community and yourself.  Notice how I’ve put the community first.  You need to think in terms of providing value before you can get value.  If you’re used to traditional marketing and prospecting this is going to feel foreign to you.  But it is essential that you “pay it forward” before jumping into a sales pitch.

Becoming Part of Your Online Community

Once you’ve identified your online community its time to get involved and become a part of the community.  But like any social gathering, you can’t just storm in and scream at the top of your lungs “I’m here!” It’s important that you move slowly and humbly and deferentially at first.  What you want to do is get a lay of the land and a sense for how the community operates online.  You’ll start to notice the rythym of the community in terms of communication, how people talk to one another, who are the leaders and influencers and who are the clowns, etc.  It requires a bit of anthropology 101 to observe and understand this new ecosystem that you’re about to join.

With that here are the steps to getting involved with an online community:

  1. Listen. The most important part.  Use your newly-acquired anthropological skills to listen and learn about the community and how it operates.
  2. Learn. Learn the “rules of the road” about how to engage and interact within the community.
  3. Provide value. Start by providing value. If you see a question you know an answer to, answer it. If you have a piece of insight on a topic, share it.  If you have an interesting article that you found online share it.  Rinse, repeat.  Providing value is the best way to build up your social capital within the community.
  4. Engage. As you’re providing value engage with the people who are responding to your answers, shared articles and more.  Talk to them like a normal person – not a salesman or a corporate press release but as a normal human being (crazy right?)
  5. Promote Others. How can you help other people? Can you advocate for their position? Can you share or (in Twitter’s case) retweet something they’ve said?  How can you help advance the cause of other people?  By doing this you’ll build social capital within the group and specifically from those individuals.  That capital will eventually be available for you to draw on for your own needs.
  6. Share about you. Self-promotion is often looked down upon in communities. It’s far better to get others to promote you (see #5) but you can share information about yourself that lets people know what you do, your background, expertise and more.  The last thing you want to do is be a hard salesman; but there is nothing wrong in demonstrating your expertise and background through meaningful conversation and engagement.
  7. Promotion. If you do all the steps above right eventually you may earn the right to promote on a very limited basis.  This does not mean that one day a switch will go on where you can just spam the community with your marketing messages. There is never a time when the community will look favorably on that behavior.  But as you build your social capital in the community you may find natural opportunities where what you bring to the table is viewed as valuable and welcome by the members.  This doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t hold your breath on shouting to the world about your product or service.

Creating a Social Media Workflow

You’ve found your community online in the areas that they congregate. You’ve identified the sites that are most important to you in connecting with those communities.  Now you need to create a social media workflow that helps you make interacting with those communities a regular, ongoing occurence.  Social media is like a marathon, it’s not a sprint.  So the only way to gain value out of it is through repeated, regular involvement.  To make sure you do this you need to set up a workflow and schedule that ensures you develop a repeatable cadence that becomes part of your reputation online.

Setting your Cadence

Set your cadence by identifying time throughout your week where you can commit a certain amount of time to social media.  Think of it like setting an exercise routine.  Start with something manageable and build up.  How about 30 minutes every other day?  Or for blogging, perhaps it’s a post per week.  Whatever it is you need to create a block of time that you’re committed to learning and using social media.  There is no other way that you are going to be successful using it otherwise.

Choosing your Activities

If you’ve determined that you’re going to spend three 30-minute sessions a week using social media and also want to blog you should consider what activities you’re going to do when.  For blogging you should look at how many times a week you want to create new content.  Once a week? Twice a week? More?  In order to develop a cadence blogging I suggest you blog at least once a week.  Then you need to identify what the 30-minute sessions are going to entail.  Is it using Twitter to talk with people in the community and share interesting links? Is it connecting with people on LinkedIn and answering questions, joining and participating in groups and writing recommendations? Is it recording a how-to screencast video and posting it to YouTube?

Think of the most important and valuable activities that you could be doing via social media and make those your priority.

Become a Local

By choosing your activities and meeting your commitments regularly you’ll establish a strong cadence which will become identifiable and predictable from the members of your community, followers, readers, etc.  This will begin to establish your role in the ecosystem and community as you carve out your own particular niche.

Make Life Easier

As you get into the rythym of participation you’ll notice that some people have identified tools and systems to help them make their participation more efficient.  You’ll want to do the same thing.  Taking Twitter for example, there are a large range of tools that make Twitter more seamless in your day-to-day activity.  From desktop publishing and monitoring tools such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop, Destroy Twitter and more to automating Tweets with HootSuite, to tracking links through bit.ly and su.pr you will find a host of solutions that make the experience more rewarding and easier to manage.

Keep at It

Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Social media isn’t like old media. You don’t buy a newspaper ad and wait for the phone to ring.  It takes time, persistence and the creation of real value for others in order for the system to provide value back to you.  This doesn’t come over night.  Start by paying it forward and work to provide value to the people you interact with.  By keeping it simple, sticking to your social media workflow plan and by looking to contribute before looking to extract you’ll be well on your way to leveraging social media for you and your business.

Flickr Image: Binary Flow by Adrenalin

Authenticity in Marketing

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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.

46 of the Best Facebook Page Timeline Cover Images

Facebook announced the new timeline page design for brand pages last week at the Facebook Marketing Conference. The new Facebook page design gives brand pages the same timeline layout as user profile pages, with a few additional tools to help them manage their brand on the site. One of the most valuable changes to the pages is the ability to create a powerful branded presence by smart use of the cover art used on the page. Here are 50 of my favorite brand pages and their cover images as of today. If you’re looking for inspiration when setting up the timeline view of your brand’s Facebook page, you’re sure to find a few ideas here.

I think you’ll agree that with the new timeline changes for brands, a powerful Facebook presence starts with great cover art. Sure, some companies might not have the money for professional photography, but there are some great examples below of small businesses who have creatively found art work that works in the space and does a great job of branding their business.

These page cover photo dimensions are 815px by 315px. Profile images are 180px by 180px. And remember — all business pages will be upgraded to timeline by March 31, 2012. So get your cover art ready, and take advantage of the new Facebook page layout.

surfrider

Surfrider’s Facebook Page connects with fans of the non-profit, and puts its audience and focus front and center.

starbucks facebook cover photo

Starbucks does a great job of showcasing the beans, the start of any great cup of coffee.

Barack Obama facebook cover photo

Barack Obama’s Facebook page is excellent and it starts with this photo, which quickly shows that Obama gets (and is) one of us.

nike facebook cover photo

Nike uses the cover art to promote their new product line – the Fuel band.

redbull facebook cover photo

Red Bull‘s cover photo perfectly captures the brand essence through its connection to extreme sports.

Coca-Cola tells the brand history with its Facebook timeline, and the cover photo creates the overriding brand experience for the page.

spiderman facebook cover photo

The Spider-Man franchise is back, and this cover art teases the upcoming reboot.

chevy volt facebook cover photo

The Chevy Volt showcases its primary USP with a great shot of the vehicle plugged in, in front of some nice greenery.

the bachelor facebook cover photo

I don’t watch The Bachelor, but you get the gist of it pretty quickly just through the cover photo and profile picture they use. They also update it week after week with key scenes. Nice touch.

captain morgan facebook cover photo

Captain Morgan brings the iconic pirate to life and cleverly matches the profile image with the bottle label to break the hard line between the cover art and the rest of the profile.

american express facebook cover photo

Membership has its privileges is communicated clearly with AMEX’s Facebook cover photo.

alamo drafthouse cinema facebook cover photo

If this cover photo doesn’t tell you what you’re in for, I don’t know what will. Plus, Kenny Powers? Win!

herbal essence facebook cover photo

Herbal Essences showcases its product line with their Facebook cover photo.

louis vitton facebook cover photo

Louis Vuitton uses the cover photo as an invitation. Remember, the Facebook terms of service prohibit brands from putting messages such as “Save 40% now” or “Like Us!” in the cover photo.

livestrong facebook cover photo

Livestrong has a fresh take on its iconic yellow band.

smirnoff facebook cover photo

“Smirnoff drinkers make their own great nights” comes to life for their audience with their cover photo.

fanta facebook cover photo

Fanta has a game going right now and uses the cover photo area to promote it. They’ve lost some characters, and only Likes will bring them back.

modern family facebook cover photo

The characters of the hit TV show Modern Family are captured perfectly in this shot used for their Facebook cover photo.

chevy sonic facebook cover photo

Chevy’s Sonic performed the first kick-flip done by a car. If you didn’t know that, you’re not the target audience for the Sonic. Chevy does a great job capturing that awesome feat with their cover photo.

verizon facebook cover photo

Verizon goes the user generated route for its cover photo, showing off a picture snapped on one of its devices for its cover photo.

amy's ice creams

Amy’s Ice Creams does a great job showcasing their product and adding some brand whimsy while they’re at it.

brookfield homes facebook cover photoBrookfield Homes San Diego has a clear call to action and a visually interesting welcome for potential home buyers.

butterfinger facebook cover photoButterfinger lines up the profile image and cover photo to create a fun visual break with the hard borders of Facebook’s cover photo area.

the today show facebook cover photo

The Today Show is all about the personalities of the show — the Facebook cover photo is no different.

mcguire real estate facebook cover photo

McGuire Real Estate uses a stunning shot of downtown San Francisco to create a powerful Facebook presence for potential home shoppers.

 Ben & Jerry’s Facebook cover image is simple and right on brand with their other collaterals.

The Magnolia Bakery whets your appetite with the delicious confections they sell. You almost want to press your face up against the screen like when you were a kid walking by the window.

HSG Accounting is a great example of what you can do without a professional photography or incredible images. Find a great-looking shot on iStockPhoto or similar and crop it in an interesting way to create compelling cover art.

Assassin’s Creed uses a stunning shot from actual gameplay — nice.

People leaves no doubt to its value proposition. Want celebrity news? Read People. Simple.

Jive Time Records showcases their awesome selection of vinyl. A place that any High Fidelity fan could get lost in for hours.

ColdPlay‘s image is all about them and portrays them in the way that their fans expect and appreciate.

Tiffany is all about diamonds and little blue boxes. So is their cover photo.

Tide uses the cover art to introduce a new product to the Tide line.


Nespresso uses an alluring image with satin sheets that speak to the brand promise of a smooth, sensual coffee drink.

SportsCenter gives you a look behind the cameras, putting you in the director’s chair — right on the set.

Doug Bend is another great example of a small business without professional photography find artwork that speaks to their business and brand.

Canlis does a great job showcasing their property. That inviting image is just calling visitors to come and join them for a meal.

The Vow‘s page puts Channing Tatum front and center in a shot filled with dramatic tension.

Old Spice stays true to the branding of it’s campaigns. Explosions and tigers, oh my!

The New York Times gives you a look inside at the people who make the country’s most esteemed newspaper.

Burberry puts the latest runway look front and center with something right out of your favorite fashion or lifestyle magazine.

Toyota connects with the emotional side of owning a car. It’s not about the car, it’s about the lifestyle, the freedom of the open road with your best friend.

Verrado, a community outside of Phoenix, sets the scene with a tree-lined lane that has hometown written all over it.

Sports Clips

SportClips not only puts it’s USP front and center, it shows it in action, too.

The beauty of the Centerpoint on Mill development in Phoenix is captured in a perfect evening shot, showcasing the work and the possibilities of the development.

Disclosure: I’ve worked with Brookfield, Verrado and Centerpoint on their social marketing strategy.

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