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.*

Jun 24

Re: Women in Tech, Don’t Apologize, Just Recognize

Almost a year ago, a flurry of TechCrunch commenters repeatedly called me the “C word”, insisted that my brain somehow was incapable of quantitative tasks, and one even told me if I didn’t like my female body, I could euthanize myself legally in the state of Oregon. Awesome.

Today Katrina Tolentino put out a brave post about what it is like to network in the heavily male dominated industry that is tech. Basically, some men can be really crass and think they are clever, when actually they are just gross. I know Katrina. She is a good person and really shouldn’t have to put up with that crap.

The typical response to these situations is apologies. Men lament that other men could be so lame and hope that future generations will not have to face such absurdity. As someone who gets this stuff as much as anyone, I’m asking you, stop apologizing. Women are not the only victims here. We all are.

According to studies conducted by Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, and Pepperdine University, research documents a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success. Ernst & Young rounded up studies that show that women can make the difference between economic success and failure in the developing world, between good and bad decision-making in the industrialized world, and between profit and loss in the corporate world. Their conclusion: American companies would do well with more senior women. Economists at Davos even speculated that the presence of more women on Wall Street might have averted the downturn.

Why? Some speculate that women tend to be more risk averse and instead think of steady, attainable longterm goals. Women also think more along the lines of collaboration rather than competition. This balances out some of the “one-upsmanship” and competitive nature seen in their male counterparts.

I’m outspoken, intelligent, and have worked hard my entire life. When I express myself at work, I’m not challenging you to make you look bad and I’m not just scheming to get ahead. I’m challenging you because I have a perspective you might not have considered that can actually help you. When men see women as victims, they fail to see what invaluable assets different perspectives can bring to any group. THIS is the attitude that needs to stop.

Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Arrington what Heather Harde has brought to TechCrunch, or Larry Page what Marissa Mayer means to Google. Ask Mark Zuckerberg what Sheryl Sandberg brings to Facebook. It’s great to think you can be Super Man, but you aren’t. We just do our best to make sure you don’t fall of a ledge thinking you can suddenly fly.

And the next time you say something crude to a woman at a happy hour, remember that one day, someone could wise up and hire that woman in a senior management position. She won’t be a piece of meat then–she’ll be your boss.

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?