Jul 18

Caveats for Quantifying Online Influence

So Omar Gallaga wrote an Austin American Statesman piece about how our lives are increasingly becoming measured by our online presences. It was a well written piece and probably opened a lot of people’s eyes about how they are being judged in a way they had not previously recognized. You should read it if you have not already.

The piece talks about Klout, a startup that created a scoring system to measure one’s online influence. Klout uses algorithms that evaluate who you are talking to and how often in social media circles the same way Google PageRank does. Some PR and social media firms are using it to reach out to influencers, and Klout now has perks for people who have Klout scores above a certain number. To reach people with high Klout scores, you can contact the company to “get in”.

This approach is too simplistic, like an easy button PR firms can hit so they can say to their clients, “Hey, we got you covered on this launch”. While I myself value what Klout offers, it is a factor within many factors when considering how to expand your brand’s presence.

Let’s use this graphic/scenario on the right to show why brands really should take more care in managing their online reputation.***

1.) Influence is never static. The influence this would wield today would be much more damaging to my brand than it would a month ago. Although Klout scores do change over time, they don’t change overnight.

That being said, an awesome potential subject matter expert and influencer could have a low Klout score today, but could increase it over time. Is it wise to make that person feel less important than Rupert Murdoch?

2.) A person’s influence on a subject matter depends on his or her expertise in that field. Rupert Murdoch and crew don’t seem to get new media and the blogosphere. If people judged me by News Corp’s record in new media, I could actually lose influence by association.

3.) Influence must always be considered qualitative as well as quantitative. I don’t respect Rupert Murdoch. Say I went to a PR firm and said, “I want media influencers with Klout scores above 60 to tweet about my blog”, they could very easily return to me with someone like Rupert Murdoch. Do I want his endorsement, or the types of clients he would bring? What if he becomes my #1 nightmare customer and his followers are almost as bad? I marketed to him because he’s big instead of paying attention to whether or not his followers would benefit by my product.

4.) PR is just as much about building community as it is “spreading the word”. When you judge people purely on their influence number or Googlibility, you get a bunch of people who are “kind of a big deal”. People who are “big deals” can be demanding as customers, and often demand completely different things. That can make a product that appeases the majority of them very difficult.

I’m not saying you should ignore Klout completely. I just question practices like judging customers based on some sort of score instead of taking the time to evaluate how much value you can offer their friends and followers. Klout works best through a software API and paired with other metrics.

**Relax. I don’t actually know Rupert Murdoch and I’m not tapping your phone. I do sometimes sneak in your house and rearrange your furniture though. Anywho…

Jul 16

How @Expedia Demonstrated What Community Managers Should Do

People have told me that I shouldn’t expect companies to be perfect. Good advice. I don’t expect companies to be perfect–I do expect them to accept responsibility when it is appropriate and learn from the experience so it isn’t duplicated again. Basically, if you mess up, just do what you can to fix it.

So about a month back, I had some big headaches caused by an issue with Expedia. I’m happy to report that @Expedia referred me to their team at Corporate, who promptly issued me a credit for my inconvenience and recorded what my issues were so they could hopefully prevent issues in the future.

At a bigger company like Expedia, it makes sense for their social media team to act like a point guard for the company. In this situation, @expedia followed up and got me directly to the people I needed to speak to. So good job picking the ball up where you dropped it, Expedia. I will continue to book trips on your website.

Jul 12

The (Not So) Secret Truth Behind Successful Community Managers

What’s worth more–having your brands’ tweet retweeted a bunch, or having a tweet ABOUT your brand get retweeted a bunch?

It depends. If the tweet is about basketball shoes and it’s by me, it’s probably not worth anything. If it’s by LeBron James, it could be worth millions.

Numbers like retweets and reach can be addicting to a marketer, and it can be easy/fun to get caught up in them all day. Don’t get me wrong–I measure just about everything, primarily as a means to listen. I love tools like HootSuite, Radian6, and obviously Google Analytics because they help me determine what resonates in a community and what doesn’t. But there’s no use to bringing in a lot of people if they are just going to be unhappy with the product I am selling. Marketing is only one aspect of communicating with users.

I hate to define this role so broadly, but the only defining characteristic of a Community Manager is that he or she uses social media tools. Social Media tools are just communication tools, like telephones. You can use telephones for a lot of different purposes within a company. The question shouldn’t be “How can we get more followers?” The question ultimately is, “How can this Community Manager leverage online communication channels to help us serve our customers better?” You can have zero followers or one million followers and actually accomplish this result depending on the channels you use, and different Community Managers have different approaches.

Successful Community Managers aren’t just given follower metrics they must hit. They contribute to business goals that come from the top. This could mean reducing churn, or helping establish thought leadership which brings in more talent to build a better product, or reducing negative PR. The metrics depend on an individual company’s business objectives and you can’t blame a Community Manager if you don’t tell them what you are looking for. If my blog brings one superstar into my company or influencer on board to my product, who cares that my RSS subscriptions are low? I can get hype in arenas that are much more public than a measly company blog when I have the right people on my side.

Build rockstars. Everyday.

*insert LeBron joke by Mavs fan here.*

Feb 20

Why Your Mailman Still Matters for Your Marketing Campaigns

I like Andy Sernovitz from GasPedal.com. Andy seemed completely straightforward when I spoke to him on the phone, and we both agree that the humanizing elements of social media allow us to break barriers of trust so necessary in sales and marketing.

Andy and the crew at GasPedal help large companies leverage social media. As most larger companies I’ve seen are very metrics oriented, this can’t be a very small feat. Big companies are often too concerned with getting masses of fans, versus engaging existing fans who can bring the masses to them. They fail to see that one consumer really has a lot of power these days and mass marketing just doesn’t work anymore.

I liveblogged GasPedal’s BlogWell conference in Austin because I thought they were a good group of folks and the topics seemed interesting. In the mail, I received both a hand written thank you and a big box of popcorn from GasPedal for doing so. Can Andy measure how much this box of popcorn earned him? No. Was he anticipating I would write this? I doubt it. If your employees are not empowered to appreciate your community and fans the way Andy and crew showed some appreciation for me, you don’t get it.

In this digital age where everything is an email or a tweet, it’s the analog forms of kindness that actually stand out. They indicate some form targeted efforts towards individuals, a scarcity in a world where people have 800 loosely joined friends. There is also a certain level of intimacy in such transactions because we either have to see that person or know their address. In these respects, analog transactions are better indicators of our actual friends and fans.

How do you react when you get a physical gift or hand-written letter from someone? Is it any different than it was pre-Facebook? How about pre-email?

Nov 23

So Brian Solis, Ashton Kutcher and the Dalai Lama Walk into a Casino…

Casino MonteLagoThe other day, Jeremiah Owyang asked if people with high Klout scores should get preferential treatment by brands. Apparently the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas allows you to use your Klout score to get into certain special parts of their hotel.

Umm…

Let’s put this in perspective here. Social media guru and honorary member of my blogroll Brian Solis’s Klout score of 86 is only slightly lower than the Dalai Lama’s at 91, but higher than Ashton Kutcher’s score of 80. So while Brian Solis and His Holiness could be slamming sake bombs at the blackjack tables, the Palms door guy who doesn’t watch movies could be telling Kutcher to take a hike.

If a bunch of Twitterers raid the Palms and take up all the space, does that mean Facebook investor and billionaire Peter Thiel is relegated to playing craps with retired vixens from Florida? After all, he isn’t even on Twitter.

The task of identifying influencers is becoming more and more difficult as media becomes more segmented. While Klout did a great job summarizing people’s influence on Twitter, the real power will come when someone starts mashing up metrics like Twitter influence, PageRank, Facebook Fan engagement, potential IMDB score and web mentions. Our web presences are too segmented to put too much credence in a score on one particular network. Who will be the first to put them together again in a credible way? Will it be Klout and if they do, should brands pay attention?

Aug 31

Who Really Was the Man Behind the Curtain in the Women in Tech Debacle?

Man behind the curtainMichael Arrington can be a harsh person, but he is smart. I wouldn’t say that he and other TechCrunch writers are the nerdiest in the industry, but I’d trust his assessment of whether or not a startup will make money and have a viable future.

Having such brutal honesty offline AND online is hard. People don’t like being told their babies are ugly. They don’t want to hear that their UI sucks, their competitor is leaps ahead of them in advancement, or that there aren’t many compelling software companies founded by women. Michael Arrington has faced criticism from all angles and from every part of the planet, because he and his team happen to run the biggest technology blog the world has ever known. People want power, they believe they deserve power, and telling them they haven’t earned it yet will get some people angry at you.

Shira Ovide singled out the culture of TechCrunch in her Wall Street Journal piece as a factor for why there are so few women leaders in technology. Arrington found this unfair. He, after all, has a female CEO whom he picked himself because of her skills. He would LOVE to see female entrepreneurs in the space and end the sausage fest. So he responded with an invite that TechCrunch is happy to cover software created by women that actually interests people.

I read the piece and thought, “Man, he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman out there”. It’s not his fault. He’s a guy, and it’s easy to assume that if YOU are cool with having a female CEO, others would be as open too. I disregarded the post entirely until I noticed commenters saying that women just don’t have the right skills for software. I thought this was a bogus statement, so I commented back. It isn’t nature that ensures there are no women in the tech space. I used to be quite good at math and science. I just gave it up because there are a lot of societal pressures on women and frankly, the sciences are a very lonely place for us and I like having friends.

What ensued honestly freaked me out. People would state their impressive credentials and then would put out some of the most illogical, hateful statements I have ever seen. I continued to comment, trying to keep my cool figuring it would do me no service to be nasty about it. I was continually painted as a whiny, know-it-all manhater, almost always by anonymous or obscured commenters. I was called beyond horrible names. It was bizarre enough to almost be funny. Almost.

Prior to installing Disqus, an innovative commenting system, the men behind the curtain of TechCrunch (in this case Arrington and MG Siegler) would have deleted the nasty comments and then grumbled to themselves that humanity is going to hell in a hand basket. But Disqus is real-time and comments show up literally as fast as people can type them. When a nasty comment would pop up, Arrington or Siegler would attempt to delete it and thirty, often nastier threads would show up after it. As the real-time web becomes more prevalent, it will become easier and easier for online mobs to take these pot shots at people with little fear of repercussion. After all, the moderators can’t control them anymore.

People want power. Nice people want it and mean people want it. Like it or not, TechCrunch has it, so it attracts the good AND the bad element no matter what. That’s just reality. As the web speeds up and becomes more connected, it will be up to US to ensure that this blog and other blogs we read are fair and civil for everyone. It’s up to decent men to tell the sexist ones that their jokes and vitriol are not acceptable. It’s up to women to stand up for each other instead of tearing each other apart, or simply ignoring the the problem. Not just when it is easy to add a +1 to a blog post opposing such buffoonery like my last one, but when someone is getting hounded by trolls for standing up for what is right, when it’s brutally hard. The web, like the real world, can be a cruel place. You can’t expect the man behind the curtain to fix all the nastiness for you. It’s just too hard of a job for one person to handle.

Aug 23

F*ck! “Winnebago Man” Was a Good Movie

I have always said that web 2.0 was a bit sanitized. You can’t get mad at people or get in fights unless you are Loren Feldman. You can’t get caught badmouthing others or drinking and saying totally inappropriate things. It’s like we are all these perfect little internet celebrities incapable of expressing frustration, grief, or angst.

What would happen if someone got footage of you uncensored in your natural state? What if people saw when you were sad, angry, or doing things that don’t exactly make you proud? And then what if someone put this footage on YouTube for everyone to see and mock, and you became an instant internet celebrity against your will? Would you lose your mind like the Star Wars kid did? Would you cash out like William Hung? How would you decide cash in on your ten million theoretical dollars you get from YouTube?

Austin based Bear Media decided to delve into the life of internet celebrity Jack Rebney with their film “Winnebago Man”. To the everyday observer, Rebney would strike you as the average crotchety mountain hermit guy. To the trained viral video connoisseur, Rebney is “The Angriest Man in the World”, able to launch diatribes that would make sailors blush.

Rebney’s anger caught in the outtakes of shooting a Winnebago infomercial 20 years ago is pure. Sure, shooting takes for a Winnebago ad in 100 degree heat surrounded by flies and annoying interns would test anyone’s patience. This though, this anger is very YouTube worthy. It is simply a work of art:

How does the internet make it so easy for us to laugh at people’s pain? How do you earn this dignity back when it is taken from you? Director Ben Steinbauer lets Rebney voice off about his internet fame, how he feels he should be remembered, and what we can all learn getting caught on the internet saying the f bomb hundreds of times, on loop, and potentially remixed. Highly recommended, so check out if it is playing in your area.

Aug 19

Are We Ready for the Rapid Transparency of Facebook Places?

online transparencyYesterday, Facebook launched Facebook Places. Not only can you broadcast your location to your Facebook friends, but your friends can tag your location for others to see unless you uncheck this setting.

It’s strange how we lump so many of our contacts in one place. Some of my contacts on Facebook are professional. They are people who I don’t mind knowing most of my business, but I would prefer them to stay out of certain segments of my life like my dating situation. Some of them are my family. They don’t care what goes on in my professional life. Some are old drinking buddies. What’s odd is that I have grouped all of these people in one place, which is Facebook. Why do we do this? Well, it’s kind of hard to turn down friend requests from people you actually know and see regularly.

It’s this lumping of contacts that has me concerned about Facebook Places, primarily the feature that allows your friends to tag where you are. Granted, some of these issues were present with the tagging of photos and I acknowledge this. It just seems a lot easier to tag your friends with a place than in a photo. What do you do when these types of issues get presented to your “lump” of friends?

1.) It’s very unfortunate, but some people cannot come out as homosexual. It’s literally a matter of their physical safety and emotional well being. What happens when someone is outed by getting tagged at a gay club on Facebook? Could it affect their employment or family relationships? While I wish society could just accept different lifestyles, I also acknowledge that privacy isn’t just a a matter of “hiding” things–it can protect us from conversations we might not be ready to have and even physical violence.
2.) Imagine you hate your job. You decide you want to go to a Bootstrap Austin meetup to learn to start your own company. So as to support the group, someone tags your location at this meetup. Your boss sees this and notices there would be no reason you would be there except to leave his company. Although you had planned to leave in six months, you now have to leave tomorrow.
3.) My parents are Catholic. I myself do not consider myself Catholic. If someone checks me into a church that isn’t Catholic and my dad sees it on Facebook, it brings up a conversation I’d just assume not have (again).

I opted out of letting my friends check me in. It’s not that I don’t trust my friends. It’s that they might not know what is going on in my life and the implications of doing so, and I’d rather not think about it. I don’t see enough benefit to allowing others to check me in. So while Facebook Places is not the end of online privacy as we know it, we should think critically about its implications before blindly embracing it. My concern stems that most people who use Facebook have not even heard of Places and may face a rude awakening of sorts.

These are not new issues, but they are becoming increasingly more key to evaluate as social networks push us into becoming more and more public with information that was formerly private. Is this rapid transparency a force of good that will cause people to be more authentic? Is our society ready for this?

Jul 27

Social Media Strategy–Who’s in Charge?

I spoke with Tom Parish yesterday about social media strategy and large companies. Be authentic. Check. Be transparent. Check. Be…organized?

Wha? The social media strategy guy at the conference didn’t preach that on stage when he was waving his book around.

Tom pointed out that in the 90s, every division of a big company wanted control over their presence on the website. There can be a lot of pride of ownership issues, with each division thinking their message and agenda is the most important. You can’t really blame each division for wanting to use the site to become more effective at their jobs, but giving each division control over the layout, voice and functionality of their website would not make for a very cohesive experience to the customer. It would also make it difficult to decide what sections to prioritize.

Social media right now has a bit of the element of the Wild Wild West. Some people go full throttle in with no strategy and get nothing but fool’s gold. Some companies are too scared to venture in such uncharted territory, refusing to let people actually talk back. What seems very common is that the top often doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the underlings are doing with it until an innocent blogger wanders into hostile territory and gets shot up by some Native Americans who didn’t exactly welcome their preaching the virtues of their company with spam.

Like a website, a social media presence can communicate a lot of things. It can reduce tech support costs (see Deirdre Walsh’s thoughts on connecting the National Instruments users to help each other). It can help you get new recruits from the people who know your products best–the users. It’s not just a leadgen tool. This is why I stress that it is not merely a function of marketing, and if you view it as such, you aren’t wrong–you just aren’t using it to its max potential.

What do you see as the best strategies for keeping a company’s social media presence in check?

Jul 21

It’s Time to Take a Holistic Approach to Social Media

I’m going to beat this drum. Again. Social media is a communication tool, like a cell phone. If you view it purely as a marketing tool, you are missing all the many ways it can cut costs and make your customers happy, who then want to make sure you both grow and never go out of business.

I like seeing patterns. I often see the pattern that big companies are really struggling with this stuff. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that social media is well, a communication tool. In a small company, it’s easy to wrangle down the number of blogs, Twitter accounts, etc and overall strategy to be more cohesive, especially if you started your company after they came out. In a large company where the customer care team doesn’t know the marketing team from a hole in the ground, this is much more difficult. They both want to use the tools to solve problems, and they do. What they may or may not realize is that to the end user of these accounts, they aren’t divisions. They are just a product or service they use.

It’s like having a phone system where there is no operator. There is no prompt getting you to the right division. If you’ve ever been on the phone with a company where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, this is infuriating. It’s not the hands’ fault. The brain isn’t connecting them to each other.

I believe companies must make every effort to assess where they stand with their customers and how they can better leverage social media to improve this standing BEFORE dumping money into big social media efforts. What do customers like about us? What don’t they like? What causes them to come and how can we improve to get them to stay? It’s one thing to do spin things that get people talking about your spin. It’s another thing entirely to pinpoint what you need to say or do to get them to say, “Holy crap, those guys are awesome and more importantly, they make me awesome.” Maybe I’ve seen too many superhero flicks, but I’d choose the latter any day.

What do you think, all? How can big companies wrangle down their multiple divisions to not just generate buzz, but to actually make their customers better?