Jun 21

How Can Tech Get Rid of Its Unsightly “Blubble”?

Color got some big print recently. Not for technological advancements, mind you. Color is highly regarded as the quintessential poster child for the tech bubble, and their excesses were covered in the New York Times. Color raised $41 million, doesn’t seem to have a lot of active users, and has already gone through one founder. You know what makes VCs and angels happier than an active user base? Seeing a half pipe skate park at a portfolio company that makes no money. Color has one, apparently.

I could be biased. My experience working in startups began in 2006. If the vibrant startup scene today resembles the parties from the movie “Old School”, the startup scene then resembled “The Hangover”. Unlike now and the scene in 1998, a startup existed to make money. Not theoretical YouTube money that eventually turned into a pot of gold in five years. Few banked on being bought by behemoth publicly traded companies who couldn’t innovate their ways out of a paper sack, and those who did had experience doing so. You didn’t have to be making money at that moment in time, but if you didn’t have a viable business model, you didn’t exist. Period.

One of the best speeches I have ever seen was actually an impromptu speech by Wil Shipley at GitHub’s CodeConf. In it, Shipley expressed his frustrations with the all too common question VCs ask: “What is your exit strategy?” Shipley’s answer was simple. “Code until I die.” He cited Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Jeff Bezos as examples of entrepreneurs who made more money sticking with their respected companies than selling them.

That’s the big difference between what I see now and what I experienced in 2006. Back then, there was no “startup lifestyle”–you just worked at a software company. We had to work hard because there were very few handouts. Every hire mattered, every dollar counted, and every new and retained user was a win. It wasn’t about the “exit strategy”. It was simply about delivering value to people. The reality of successful startups hasn’t changed according to data from the National Venture Capital Association, but our perception of how to obtain this success certainly has.

Seeing these types of startups is like watching those guys who think they are going to eat a bunch, get really fat, and then magically turn it into muscle somehow. Now I suppose it works for some people but for the most part, they just turn out like beefcake Cartman. Yuck.

May 24

Why Big Companies Actually Aren’t Failing at Social Media

It is 12:14 a.m. I’ve just spent about four hours on the phone with Expedia, only to find out that the errors that caused my woes were 1.) a propensity for Expedia to get flagged for fraud and 2.) a representative who misspelled my email address even though I spelled it for her three times. I like the Expedia website but am not sure if it’s worth going through this again.

I really don’t like ranting. I feel it often fails to give people direction. I just see the state of greed in our country sometimes and I can’t help it.

The problems with big companies and social media isn’t a social media problem. It’s a customer service problem. It’s a moral problem.

It’s really hard for @Expedia to make me happy when it is incredibly obvious that their Indian call center employees are given metrics that I suspect push reps to 1.) sell trips over the phone when customers are perfectly able to book them on the website and 2.) get me off the phone as soon as possible rather than helping me solve a problem. Like it’s not bad enough that the phone connection to India is miserable and they can barely understand you as it is. Now a 15 minute task becomes as dreadful as watching a four hour drama starring Paris Hilton.

I genuinely feel sorry for people who run social media accounts for companies like this one, because they end up picking up the sloppy mess “metrics” cause in large organizations. I just wanted to book the first real vacation I’ve been on in almost two years. Had I not caught the mistake, I would have paid for the same flight twice. This wasn’t a pair of shoes from DSW. This is an international flight we are talking here.

Human beings aren’t numbers. When you treat people like numbers, they will treat you like a bill. Now, they have things like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc. and can call you out when you treat them like crap even though they’ve literally spent tens of thousands of dollars with you.

The future of marketing is to be able to analyze the data a customer gives you and deliver the exact experience they would want. It is not a matter of treating them like commodities. That’s so twentieth century.

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?

Jan 26

How America Can Meet Obama’s Educational Challenges on…Facebook???

Barack Obama finally made some mention in his State of the Union that hey, perhaps investing in math and sciences could be good for this country. I’ve been waiting for a speech challenging us to conquer both the energy problem and pushing innovation in computer sciences and biotechnology since Obama started office. When Kennedy declared that we wanted to put a man on the moon, my mother’s homework doubled almost overnight. That generation saw more engineers than all others before or since. America is great, and it needs a challenge. I have a solution.

When we think of Facebook, we often think of poking and FarmVille. We think of Family Tree and privacy issues. But why aren’t we thinking of trivia games about subjects like math and science? Can we use Facebook Groups to assign beginner Ruby on Rails assignments or organizations to discuss alternate sources of fuel?

Facebook isn’t just a social network. It is a platform that makes it easy to organize groups and games. That platform has over half a billion people, many of whom can teach people useful skills to give them jobs and trades. Why must I learn Ruby on Rails in a book? Why can’t someone create a Facebook game that asks me to program certain tasks and rewards me for achieving certain levels? Why can’t I play a game that gives me a Spanish flashcard every time I tag a picture in English, and does the same for a Spanish speaker wanting to learn English? Facebook is still very much an untapped resource because we see it as a social network versus a robust platform ripe with users already. As it becomes as common to our lives as Google, I expect and hope to see these types of learning mechanisms in the future.

Dec 06

A Look into Facebook’s Facelift

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed the new Facebook format in a 60 Minutes interview. The new profile puts front and center 1.) a basic overview of who that person is 2.) pictures of them and 3.) the Likes that you, the viewer, have in common with that person:

Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 12.15.37 AM

Apparently, Marshall Kirkpatrick and I both like “The Daily Show”. Hooray.

The interviewer Leslie Stahl pointed out that this move will increase people’s tendency to “Like” everything on Facebook so as to increase their chances of commonality with others. Sounds a bit right and a bit silly of users all at the same time. But it does make sense.

Do you think this move will make people share more or share less on Facebook? Will this promote transparency or will people clamp down on who sees their profile? See the whole interview on The Next Web.

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?

Nov 16

Selling Sex or Just Stupidity? A Common Sense Plea to Chris Anderson

wiredSo Wired decided to publish this pair of breasts on their cover. After seeing it, Texas State’s Cindy Royal declared that after decades of reading Wired magazines and not seeing much about women who impress men with their brains and not their bods, she was breaking up with Wired.

By the way, I hate seeing this image on my blog but just wanted you to see how bad it is and why she isn’t just being too sensitive. Anyway.

I checked Wired’s Quantcast data. You’d think that Wired would skew very heavily male, but it really doesn’t. Only 59 percent of their readers are male and 41 percent are actually female. That’s why it’s so vexing they would jeopardize their relationship with these 41 percent. I mean, who wants to get caught reading a magazine with this cover in the gym, male or female? It’s worse than GQ and Maxim covers.

Chris Anderson responded by asking people if they actually read the article. The innovations covered were indeed amazing…but, doesn’t that mean they wouldn’t have to sink as low as publishing cleavage on the cover to get people to read it? I mean, it’s about how advancement in breast augmentation is improving stem cell research, which will help cure cancer and a host of other ailments. I can’t speak for everyone, but you don’t have to pull the sex card on me to sell a cure for cancer. What I can say is that Anderson did a great job of potentially alienating over 50 percent of the population. The Wired cover sparked controversy on sites around the web including the Huffington Post and Mediaite, just to pick up the morons who would not choose to pick up Wired had they not seen a digitally enhanced wrack staring them in the face. Smooth.

Just because something sells, it doesn’t mean you should sell it. It’s called having integrity and self-respect. It’s the same reason why millions of women choose to work hard every day and keep their dealings with men at a professional level rather than just putting the twins out on display to get a promotion. We know it could work–we choose not to go there. It is an unsound long term strategy.

So here’s my plea:

Mr. Anderson, I fit the target demographic for Wired both on income level and educational level. Your advertisers want to reach people like me. I’m kindly asking you to avoid publishing pictures of cleavage and half naked women on your covers. It’s cheap and embarrassing, and represents Condè Nast very poorly. It’s also not asking for much, really. If your advertisers don’t appreciate that such low-brow tactics scare off people like me who just want to read Wired in the gym without looking like Larry Flint, then maybe you should go after a different demographic so you can hit your numbers. People shouldn’t feel relegated to read your content in the privacy of their bathrooms.

Cheers,
Michelle ;-)

Nov 08

How Ignoring Social Media is Like Ignoring Google Ten Years Ago

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how SEO and social media converge and contrast. It’s almost impossible to convince an SEO master that social media is worth a hill of beans, simply because they’ve vested too much in gaming a search engine for much of their internet careers and well, SEO does convert to business.

The difference between man-powered social media tools like Facebook and Twitter and algorithm-based search engines like Google is similar to this field goal kicking contest between 49ers Kicker Joe Nedney and a robot named Ziggy. People can be perform brilliantly, but they can also be temperamental, uninformed, or easily misled. Machines easily automate the work that people can do. Machines can break down though. They can be gamed by someone who understands their flaws. One slight calibration error can cause a world of havoc for all of the other parts, as well as for the user. Long story short, there is not one system that is perfect, and both systems have their place in the ecosystem that is the web.

social media man vs machineIn the case of Nedney and Ziggy the field goal kicking machine, man overcame machine because Nedney could adjust to the wind better. Look out, Google! Anyway.

I cannot tell you how many times I get told that people put up a Facebook page and a Twitter account, spend little time or money, and quickly determine there is no ROI to be seen in social media. I see this as a very dangerous attitude given the fact that Facebook grew to over 500 million users several months ago and their motto is “99 percent”, meaning they have only reached one percent of their potential. Twitter has 175 million users and gained 30 million users in just the past few months. Facebook and Twitter users also pack more bang for the buck since they spend 150 percent more than the average internet user.

Just like SEO was ten years ago, this is not a fad or trend. While Google usage will not stop growing as more and more users access the web more frequently, Facebook and Twitter aren’t going away either, apparently.

What’s the pain of not capitalizing on social media when it’s young, versus relatively matured like search engines are? Ask the countless businesses how much they have to spend on SEO to compete with sites that have been optimized for Google for ten years. Building backlinks isn’t easy, especially the number you have to build in a saturated market.

Building a presence in the “people powered search engines” that are Twitter and Facebook isn’t going to get easier. It’s only going to get harder and more expensive as more players enter the space and garner wins under their belt. Your competitors are fine tuning and beefing up their presence, utilizing the best tools, and getting valuable experience internally. What are you doing?

Nov 01

A Startup’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Blogging

I get a lot of companies and organizations asking me to write for them. Writing doesn’t have to be hard to do internally, but it does take practice and a willingness to mess up before you get it right. I remember some of the first blog posts I wrote ever, and a lot of them consisted of throwing stuff up on a wall and seeing what stuck. I’m hoping to spare you.

Here are some guidelines I’d stick with as a startup with a limited amount of time/resources for blogging:
1.) People like lists because they are easy reads. You are reading mine now, so apparently it works.
2.) Keep posts under 500 words or less. Think about it: if someone is at work, chances are their boss doesn’t give them time in a day to read blog posts. So keep it short, to the point, and useful.
3.) Use analogies and paradigms people can understand. Pick a theme that makes sense to your audience and write along with that theme. It’s easy to meander when writing a blog post. Using analogies or paradigms will help you stay on point.
4.) “Make their ears burn”. Blogging is a social activity that behaves in a way that is similar to academia and footnoting. There’s no use only referencing your own thoughts because there are plenty of good thoughts out there already. Being a responsible blogger means you are conscientious enough link to back if you use them.
5.) Copy people whose blogs you like. Yeah, I said it. You copy UI, you copy website design. Before even touching your company blog, it’s best to read a bunch of them and figure out what style works for you. I read Copyblogger, ClickZ, Problogger, SearchEngineLand and Marketing Pilgrim before even starting this blog. I read others like Kathy Sierra and Hugh MacLeod and it changed more. If you don’t even have time to do that, you don’t have time to blog. That is okay. Maybe you could sponsor a blog, buy Facebook ads, or hire an ace PR firm. It’s okay not to blog, especially if you have amazing documentation that helps your users with your product if they need it.

If you don’t have money to advertise or do PR, and you can’t do marketing in house, well, please be a realist and get more funding. I’m not saying this to say that your software is no good. I’m saying it because if your software is good, you’ll want to make sure it’s being represented fairly and the people who would love to use it at least know about it.

Oct 29

Is a Social Media Budget More Important than Actually Taking Care of People?

I recently ordered a desk from CB2. I was beyond amazed at how up to date I was kept in the process and how quickly everything arrived. After the desk was delivered, I didn’t get an email asking me to fan them on Facebook. I received an email asking how my experience was, so I gladly responded with a glowing review.

And of course, I fanned them on Facebook, because I’m happy to recommend them.

Social media is the darling of marketing blogs these days. The simple truth is this: if you take care of people and truly care about their experience with your product or service, the simple act of advertising your Facebook page to them will get you fans. People like promoting good services to their friends and it often costs just as much to improve your service as it takes to market it.

Think about it. Which would be more effective to you? “Would you fan us on Facebook?” or a positive brand experience with a Facebook fan button subconsciously tucked where you will see it at the end of the transaction?