Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What 2008 meant to me

The other night on Twitter, David Armano pointed out that bloggers shouldn't be doing 'The Year in Review' type posts because everyone, including mainstream media' is doing them. I agreed, and said that I was much more interested in hearing what bloggers had learned in 2008. So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, here's my key takeaways from the year that was 2008.

Around this time last year, I was busy setting goals for 2008, like we all were. At that time, I was beginning to get steady requests from companies/people needing help with social media, so I decided to really focus on providing social media training and consulting for companies in 2008. Along with that goal, I decided that I needed to place a priority on speaking at and attending several events in 2008. I wanted to start networking, but I also wanted to start meeting these amazing people that I was following on blogs and Twitter. I was especially jealous of CK, who was constantly meeting people in NYC, or as she did her business traveling. My thinking was that meeting people would have a positive impact on my business, and would also help me personally.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It all started with SXSW in March. Now we need some background here. First, everyone knows I have been wanting to attend SXSW for a while now, and when I couldn't make it in 2007, I whined about it here. So when Dell invited me to moderate the panel they submitted on The Future of Corporate Blogging, you better believe I jumped at the chance. The first day I was in Austin, I got to spend a good part of the day with Ben and Jackie, and later that night I got invited by Dell to 'speak' at their Conversation Starters event alongside people like Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Chris Heuer and Charlene Li. Yes, we are officially not in Kansas anymore. SXSW was invaluable to me, both personally and professionally. I think being there got me 'noticed' by a lot of people that otherwise didn't know who I was. And meeting all of these people was absolutely amazing. I got to meet people like Chris Brogan, Pistachio, Jason Falls, Ben and Jackie, Tara Hunt and Adele McAlear for the first time. And I got to meet a few of the blog's readers, which was a HUGE thrill! SXSW left me extremely energized, and at the same time, I feared that it had set the bar so high that no event could top it.

Then came Blogger Social. As much as I loved SXSW, Blogger Social was simply on another level. It was the brainchild of CK, Drew McLellan, and Lori Magno, who wanted a way to bring together many of the marketing bloggers that had connected online of the past year or two. Around 90 bloggers attended and I got to meet SO many friends. And of course I got to visit NYC for the first time (actually the second time I'd ever flown, SXSW was the first). It was like having a Homecoming involving almost 100 people you had never technically 'met'. But we had, online. I've heard plans are in the works for another in 2009, and if you can only make one event next year, that needs to be the one. CK, Drew and Lori did big.

Next up was a pair of speaking engagements at Small Business Marketing Unleashed, one in April in Houston, another in Columbus in September. Both times I spoke on Blogging for Business, and it was amazing to meet with small business owners and hear what their questions and concerns were about social media, and what their goals were. Answering questions like 'So what IS Twitter? What IS a blog?' taught me as much as it did the attendees. What I loved about this event is that it's focused on teaching, it's not about lecturing. Business owners went home with a plan of action, and a better understanding of this space. And yes, Jennifer Laycock and I converted quite a few initially skeptical attendees on the promise of Twitter! The September event was also special because I got to meet Beth Harte and Amber Naslund for the first time, my friend CK joined the stellar speaking roster for SBMU, and on the final night, Jason Falls drove literally HOURS to join us for dinner.

Then October brought the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer in Scottsdale. I was especially excited about this event because not only was there an absolutely killer lineup of speakers, but it was my first time getting to speak at an event run by Marketing Profs. Like Jennifer does with SBMU, Ann Handley has the mindset that you aren't coming to her conference to speak, you are coming to teach. I love that because there's no greater thrill than showing a business how connecting with customers via social media could help them, and seeing the 'lightbulb' go off when they realize the potential. I not only did a special blog lab where I broke down the elements of a successful blog, but also did one-on-one sessions with businesses that wanted to learn more about blogging. Again, I'm not sure who learned more, and the lab and sessions appeared to be a big hit. This coming after a pair of SBMUs really drove home to me the need to provide teaching and training for companies, because I want to move businesses to a place where they can become self-sufficient when it comes to social media. So these events helped me determine where my business focus would be in 2009.

BTW in case you are in the 'that hand on your shoulder is freakin' me out!' camp on Twitter concerning my avatar, here's the source:

From left to right that's Sonny Gill, Beth Harte, Scott Monty's hand, me, Connie Reece, Scott Monty, and Chris Brogan. We even got a cameo by AmberCadabra down at the bottom left!

Then last month I spoke at and attended Learn About Web, which was organized by Craig Sutton and the team at BrightWeb Marketing. Once again, this was an event focused on teaching, and getting the audience involved so that they can learn. Craig told me that my session was the most popular with the attendees, which was quite an accomplishment considering the level of speakers the event featured. But I also think it was a sign that speaking/teaching at several events during the year had improved my delivery. At least I hope so.

And then just last night, I had my first tweetup in my home state. Over the past month or so, I've really started spending a ton of time on Twitter, and I wanted to start connecting with people in Alabama, especially in the Huntsville area. I found a few people in Huntsville that were active on Twitter, and we started talking about a having a tweetup, and decided on having it last night. I was honestly expecting no more than 5 people to show up, but 12 did, and we are planning on making these a regular event. And I think I learned more than anyone else there, @burhop showed me how his company is using Yammer (which looked surprisingly similar to Twhirl), @LoriMillier_WHNT talked about how her TV station could be using social media, as did @ArieDana. And I got to hear about how @Mbertoldi and @laceddesign are wanting to integrate social media into their businesses' offerings. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the evening was hearing two current University of Alabama students, @Danamlewis and @Mirandanicole talk about students at UA are using social media, and which tools are more popular(Facebook and MySpace are widely used, Twitter not very, but they want to change that!) Then I was shocked/humbled/honored to discover that one of @mirandanicole's PR classes at UA had devoted a class to studying this post I wrote on the top corporate blogs. Wow.

So in the end, am I simply saying that what I learned in 2008 was to meet a buncha people? Well, yeah, I guess that is what I am saying. As I am very fond of saying "Don't focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate". These tools are great, but the big deal is that thanks to these tools, I now have made connections that will hopefully result in lifelong friendships. THAT is why social media is so important. The tools/shiny objects will change, but the importance of being able to connect with other human beings and know them personally, is never going to go away. This is a big reason why I am so passionate about teaching companies about this space. I want them to find a way to connect with their customers on a personal level, and I want to see the change that happens as a result. I want to see smart college students like @mirandanicole and @danamlewis go work for companies and change the internal culture by showing them what's possible by using social media to connect with their customers.

Above all else, I want everyone to have a year like I did in 2008. And it was because of meeting and connecting with so many amazing people. I want you to promise me you will try to do the same thing in 2009. You don't have to go to SXSW or Blogger Social. Go to Twitter Local and find out who is on Twitter in your area. Connect with them and create a tweetup for your area. Start small if you have to, the point is to get started.

Here's to an amazing 2009!

PS: I met so many amazing people in 2008 and I don't want to start naming everyone because I will no doubt leave someone out that I don't mean to. But I did want to make special mention of four very special people that have gone out of their way to help me both personally and professionally this year. They are Ann Handley, CK, Jennifer Laycock, and Amber Naslund. I am a better human being for knowing each of you, and my life is in better place because of what you each have done for me. Thank you, and I can only hope that everyone reading this has friends as good as you.

Pic of SBMU dinner via David Alston.

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is why the 'authority matters' argument is total BS

Over the past few days, the usual suspects/A-Listers drug back out the tired old argument that the size of your network equals 'influence' in the social media space. One of them said that they wanted to be able to search by 'authority'(followers) on Twitter, and implied that followers=influence on Twitter.

Here's an example of why this thinking is not only archaic, but dead wrong when it comes to social media.

On Friday night I got off Twitter for a couple of hours. When I got back to the computer, the first thing I did was check my blog's traffic, which I always keep a close eye on.

Now you have to remember that this was the Friday after Christmas. I had 79 visitors on Christmas day, so I would expect for my traffic on the day after Christmas to be a bit higher, but not by much.

When I checked it on Friday, I found that I had 126 the previous HOUR!

What had happened? A couple of people had tweeted a link to this post I wrote last week on building your followers/subscribers, and then it snowballed. Over the next 24 hours, I found several times where it had been retweeted. And of all the people that retweeted it, I only found 2 that had more than 2,000 followers.

Now here's the key; the 'authority matters' logic tells us that in order to see a our ideas spread, we need to target 'influentials'. And these people believe the 'influentials' are people with a lot of followers on Twitter. Fewer followers means less influence. At least, that's they way their 'logic' goes.

But instead of having one person with 10,000 followers link to my post, I had a guy with 900 followers link to it, and that led to another dozen or so people following suit. When the smoke cleared, Twitter had sent this blog about an extra 500 visitors over a 2-day period. Not too shabby.

Three things to keep in mind about Twitter:

1 - When it comes to follower counts, bigger isn't always better. Take the average Twitter user that has let's say 50 followers. Those 50 followers are probably all friends, many of them are likely close friends. So if this person sends out a tweet to their 50 friends to 'check out this post by Mack Collier on using Twitter. GREAT advice!!!', the odds are that many of their 50 followers will read the post. And it also means that those 50 followers are much more likely to retweet the link. See you don't focus on the SIZE of the audience, you focus on the likelihood that the post will be shared. Retweets can quickly trump a large follower amount.

2 - The context of the link is key. Which is more interesting, 'New post by Jim on TweetDeck', or 'Great post by Jim on using TweetDeck to organize your Twitter followers! Must read!'. Clearly, there's a much more persuasive 'call to action' in the latter tweet.

3 - Everyone has a network, everyone has a community. That network might be 1,000 followers, or it might only be 10. But even if it's a small network, all it takes is one person to RT the link to a follower with 5,000 followers, and if they RT, then the floodgates could open. People aren't siloed, and ideas spread via Twitter with amazing efficiency.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How I got a gazillion blog subscribers and thousands of Twitter followers

I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to tone my blog posting down for the rest of the year, as I usually do around the last week of each year. But I came across a blogger that had written a couple of recent blog posts, one about how he had recently added hundreds of blog subscribers, and another about how he had added hundreds of Twitter followers. The main thrust of his advice was to get more subscribers by commenting on highly-trafficked blogs. And he says you get more Twitter followers by following Twitter users with a lot of followers, and replying to them.

Is he wrong? I would say his methods would work, at least in the short-term. But the idea that you 'have to target the influencers' is SO 2005.

Here is what I did; Instead of targeting 'influencers', I targeted smart people. I could care less if they had 2 readers, or 20 when I found their blog. I started reading them because they were smart, and made me smarter for having read them. They are people that write compelling content, that create value for others, and that are motivated by being part of a larger community than themselves, not in drawing attention to themselves. And then I tell you to go read them as well.

This is how you gain subscribers and Twitter followers; you follow people smarter than you are, and you point other people toward these smart people. That is it. These people make YOU smarter, which means you create more VALUABLE content for your blog's subscribers. When you point to the smart work that these people create, that creates value for your Twitter followers.

And here's how my blog's subscribers have grown by following this method:

And this is how my Twitter followers have grown over the past 3 months:

Why? I think because in both cases, I am creating valuable content and pointing readers/followers toward valuable content that others have created. And as I take in more of this smart content, it improves the quality of the content *I* create. I don't care if the content I find is coming from an 'A-Lister', if I think it's smart, I share it.

Case in point, I first discovered Beth Harte and Amber Naslund (AmberCadabra) way back in I think May. Both had just launched their blogs around this time, and what struck me in both cases was how polished their writing was. I remember thinking that both Amber and Beth 'looked' like they had been blogging for years, not days. They literally hit the ground running. I immediately started linking to their content here, and tweeting it on Twitter. At the time, they were both very new to the blogosphere. But I *knew* that as smart as their writing was, that it was only a matter of time before they both were well known. Case in point, check out how many Twitter followers Amber and Beth have, and note that Amber already has more followers than I do, and Beth could pass me soon as well.

This is why I would advise you to please not get too caught up in following people on Twitter or reading their blogs simply based on their traffic/followers. The smartest ideas often come from the edges, while the spotlight is often in the middle. The A-List does indeed provide great value, and you should definitely pay attention to the 'experts' in this space. But at best that should be your STARTING point, not the finish line.

The next Jason Falls or Shannon Paul or even Chris Brogan just launched their blog, and just joined Twitter. The quicker you find them, the smarter you will be.

PS: If we don't talk again before Christmas (or New Year's even), please have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Company Blog Checkup: Park City Mountain Resort

A few days ago, my friend Sean Howard left a great post on how 'messy' social media can be for companies. One of the commenters was Eric Hoffman, who shared that he sold his company, Park City Mountain Resort(located in Park City, Utah) on the idea of blogging. He added that it wasn't an easy sell, in that "our boss gave us the caveat that if the blog created some sort of 'problem' that we would be out our bonuses. Well, it's now over three years later and we've gotten our bonuses every year since the blog has been up..." Sean suggested to me that Park City's blog would be a great candidate for a Company Blog Checkup, and I agreed completely.

First, the content is wisely positioned as giving an 'up-to-the-minute' accounting of the current weather and slope conditions at the resort. This is a great idea, since many travelers will want to know this information ahead of time. Also love how the latest post has an embedded video where they interview a local official about the condition of the slopes, and how the weather will affect it. As well as great video of the current conditions, including a LOT of snowfall! This is something I think the blog should do more of, and I would also create a YouTube channel for the videos, if they don't have one already. This should be added to the blog so visitors can watch them, and it also serves as a promotional tool for the resort.

Now let's move to the comments. In quickly scanning the blog, you'll notice that most posts do have comments, which is a good sign. But in checking the posts, I quickly discovered that the bloggers are replying directly to each comment. For example, the post on 12-15 has 12 comments, but for each comment, the blogger has apparently added their reply directly to the comment left by the reader. So a post might have 12 comments, but each of those 12 comments has a reply 'added' by the blogger. This is unusual as I've only seen this a few other times. If Eric or one of the other bloggers read this, please chime in and explain what the process is for doing this, do you guys go in and manually add your reply to the reader's comment? While I don't completely agree with doing this, I could see where it would make it easier for the readers to get their questions answered. And either way, this show that the blog has plenty of interaction in the comments section, which is very good.

Next, let's tackle the posting schedule. On avg, it looks like the blog has recently stepped up its volume of posts, as 'ski season' arrived. So far there have been 8 posts this month, when in past months there were usually less than that for the entire month. One suggestion for cranking out more posts during the 'slow' season; write a few 'how-to' posts. It could be giving advice on what to pack for your trip (Before you leave for the slopes, here's 10 items that MUST be in your travel bag!), or when's the best time to plan your trip, based on your level of expertise as a skier. And the good thing about these posts is that when business does pick up (like now), you can link back to these posts. Like at the end of a post talking about how 'the time is now' to hit the slopes, you could add a link back to that post you wrote in June about what to pack for the trip.

Finally, let's look at the sidebars. As every veteran Company Blog Checkup reader knows, I always want to see a picture of the bloggers at the top, and with this blog, that's exactly what I get. Ideally, I would like to see each pic link to the blogger's bio, and while I don't get that here, they do explain at the top how you can find the bios on the About page. Which is just fine.

Another area I look for is non-company content. The blog does a good job with this, adding links to 'snow reports', as well as a blogroll with some of their favorite blogs on it. Both good ideas. They also have the 'greatest hits' like recent posts, archives, and a few subscriber buttons. I would recommend adding a better explanation of what RSS is, and how it lets you receive new blog content as it comes out. Also, if they haven't already, I would advise the bloggers to set up an account with Feedburner and at least create an email subscription option.

And finally, there's a small link at the bottom to the resort's account on Twitter. If any of the bloggers are also on Twitter (I know Eric is), then they should add links to their accounts, probably on their About page.

Overall, this looks to be a solid blogging effort, and Eric explained to me that they have "seen a consistent increase in the number of visitors to our blog every year".

And now let's break down the scoring for the blog:

Content: 27 (Out of a possible 35) - I like how the blog is currently positioned to cover the current slope conditions. I would like to see more videos as I think these are also a promotional vehicle for the resort.

Comments: 31 (Out of a possible 35) - Very active comments section. I'm not completely sold on bloggers replying directly to each comment in the comment, but the sheer volume of comments from the readers, and the promptness of replies from the bloggers, is impressive.

Posting Schedule: 8 (Out of a possible 15) - Looks to be decent now, but big gaps in the offseason, would try to work on closing those.

Sidebars: 10 (Out of a possible 15) - Pics of the bloggers at top of blog makes this score. Also like the weather-related links.

Total Score: 76 (Out of a possible 100)

If anyone from Park City Mountain Resort wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me. If your company would like to hire me to do an extensive checkup of your blog, or if you want to launch your own blog, you can click here for more information on my blogging and social media consulting services.

Next week I'll profile another blogging company, and if anyone can think of a company blog that they want me to do a checkup on, feel free to email me! For a list of all the blogs that have been profiled so far in the Company Blog Checkup series, click here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs - Week 133

Here's the standings for Week 133:

1 - Duct Tape Marketing - 260,000 (+23,000)(LW - 1)
2 - Church of the Customer - 248,000 (+20,000)(LW - 2)
3 - CopyBlogger - 46,892 (+4,805)(LW - 3)
4 - Web Strategy by Jeremiah - 17,953 (+1,776)(LW - 4)
5 - Chris Brogan - 14,751 (+1,287)(LW - 5)
6 - Logic + Emotion - 11,640 (+986)(LW - 7)
7 - Brand Autopsy - 8,299 (LW - UR)
8 - Influential Marketing - 7,873 (+763)(LW - 8)
9 - Daily Fix - 7,002 (+1,152)(LW - 9)
10- Jaffe Juice - 4,962 (+398)(LW - 10)
11 - Drew's Marketing Minute - 3,684 (+271)(LW - 11)
12 - What's Next - 3,517 (+760)(LW - 15)
13 - Conversation Agent - 3,485 (+368)(LW - 12)
14 - The Viral Garden - 3,448 (+458)(LW - 13)
15 - Converstations - 3,412 (+368)(LW - 14)
16 - The Social Media Marketing Blog - 2,725 (+336)(LW - 16)
17 - Being Peter Kim - 2,716 (+363)(LW - 17)
18 - Techipedia - 2,604 (+382)(LW - 19)
19 - Social Media Explorer - 2,548 (+264)(LW - 18)
20 - Emergence Marketing - 1,987 (+314)(LW - 20)
21 - Greg Verdino's Marketing Blog - 1,850 (+363)(LW - 24)
22 - The Social Customer Manifesto - 1,802 (+219)(LW - 23)
23 - Techno Marketer - 1,750 (+137)(LW - 21)
24 - Paul Isakson - 1,739 (+132)(LW - 22)
25 - Spare Change - 1,430 (+159)(LW - 25)

The Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs are ranked according to the number of subscribers, according to FeedBurner. The number you see after the blog name is how many subscribers accessed the blog's feed, according to FeedBurner. FeedBurner (and I had to look it up to make sure) tracks the number of times your blog's feed is accessed, and matches it against the IP address of the computer making the request, to approximate the number of subscribers that access your feed, and report this as the number used in the Top 25. After that number is a positive or negative number, and this represents how many readers the blog gained or lost from last week's Top 25. The final stat tells you what position the blog held in the Top 25 Last Week (LW). If you see this; (LW - UR), it means the blog wasn't ranked last week.

Nice bounceback week as every blog gained subscribers. Blogs #11-15 and #20-24 are getting very competitive, and it's always interesting to see the joustling back and forth. Another interesting point is that I saw some bloggers question whether Chris Brogan would lose blog subscribers as a result of the controversy over his sponsored KMart post at Dad-o-matic. Given that his blog saw an almost 10% gain in subscribers, it doesn't seem to be hurting his numbers, and the solid gain could indicate that he instead picked up some new readers as a result of the added attention over this issue.

Search Engine Guide 'fell' out of the Top 25, but I'm pretty sure that was due to a FeedBurner hiccup (unless SEG suddenly lost 13K subscribers). Unfortunately, FB has been screwier recently, and that's resulted in a few blogs seeing their numbers unexpectedly dip.

Brand Autopsy recently added the FB count chicklet to its sidebar, and thusly rejoins the Top 25 at #7. Movie Marketing Madness and Customers Rock! just missed the cut. Remember if you want to have your blog be considered for inclusion in the Top 25, make sure you add the Feedburner feed count chicklet to your blog.

Next update is next Wednesday.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who's going to clean up this mess?

It's funny because lately a lot of the topics I post about here have already been hashed out on Twitter, and sometimes it feels like everything's already been said by the time it gets here. Which is exactly how I'm feeling about the latest Twitterstorm that hit yesterday.

On December 2nd, Chris Brogan wrote a sponsored post about KMart on his Dad-o-matic blog. As part of the post, Chris got a $500 gift card to go on a shopping spree in KMart, in exchange for blogging his experience. He also got another $500 gift card to giveaway to readers of the Dad-o-matic blog. Chris explains that he brought his kids along to pick out toys during the shopping spree, and donated those toys to Toys For Tots.

Again, that was on December 2nd. Yesterday, Jeremiah Owyang found the post, and shared it with his 16K or so Twitter followers. And just like that, the latest Twitterstorm was born(BTW why do these 'controversies' always seem to pop up on the weekend?). If you want to get a sense of what people think about it, search here. I don't want to focus too much on this particular episode, but I will say this; Having met Chris a couple of times, and talking with him a handful of times, and knowing people that know him better than I do, I trust Chris and his intentions with this post. I believe Chris when he says that he does such posts as a way to experiment with the possibilities of monetizing content, and applaud him for this.

But I also think a larger issue here is that a lot of people appear to be opposed to blog/social content being monetized. Sorry guys, but the cat is out of the bag. The future of social media involves finding methods of monetizing created content. But every time a blogger/podcaster/content creator attempts to experiment with how this can be achieved, there's always a backlash.

Last year, Joe Jaffe came up with a very innovative idea for monetizing his popular podcast series, Jaffe Juice. Joe decided to ask for sponsorship for an episode of the show, in exchange for him receiving an iPhone. He got a taker on his offer almost immediately, and I believe he later got Dell to sponsor a month's worth of episodes in exchange for a laptop.

But then, as now, many people were opposed to Jaffe doing this(Check the comments, he had some 'colorful' objections to the idea). And the same objections were raised then, as now. That if Jaffe took any form of compensation for the content he created, then his future credibility when creating content, was called into question, on some level.

Guys, we need to get over ourselves.

Yes, I get that some think that blogging and social media is completely pure, and that no money should be involved in this space. Many also want to see this space grow and be 'taken seriously'. Sorry guys, but part of being 'taken seriously' means that businesses need to see a reason to be here. They need to know that they will get a return from putting money into this space.

If we want to see the social media space mature and move forward, then finding BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT ways of monetizing created content is a HUGE part of that equation. This is not a post arguing the merits of Pay Per Post, or receiving iPhones for your podcast. It's about supporting the idea of finding BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT ways of monetizing social content.

We can either decide to do one of two things:

1 - Oppose the idea of monetizing this space. This will likely stifle attempts to find better ways of monetizing social content, and leave us with the 'best' alternative being Google Ads on blogs that earn most bloggers pennies, and irritate most readers.

2 - Accept that monetizing social media is inevitable, and embrace the idea. This will lead to more people like Chris and Joe experimenting with what's possible, and better solutions for content creators making money from their efforts AND it will lead to the people that interact with that content getting more value as well.

I hope we do #2. I think the problem is we want to see this space move forward, but few want to actually get their hands dirty and make that happen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Companies; Should you outsource your social media initiatives?

My friend Vickie emailed an interesting article from CRMBuyer that discussed the future of social media for business. It sees great growth in social media spending by businesses, citing a Forrester Research claim that social media spending by businesses will top $4.6 billion by 2013.

The article also claims that many businesses simply don't have the available resources to launch social media initiatives, and will probably have to outsource this function. I won't disagree with this, and also won't disagree with the article's claim that for the average company, using social media in the near future "seems a nearly unavoidable business necessity".

However, while outsourcing might be necessary for the near-term, I would encourage companies to make every effort NOW to get up to speed on using social media sites and tools themselves. If knowing how to communicate with your customers via social media will become a necessary business function moving forward, then it's only logical that such businesses should make moves NOW to put themselves in a position where they can handle these functions themselves.

Here's three ways I think companies can do this:
1 - Instead of outsourcing social media projects to a consultant or social media firm, hire them to train your company on using these tools. Bring them in for a day to expose you to these tools, and give you the background on how to get started using them. Then later you can bring them in for a more advanced session, if necessary. The idea is to get your familiar with, and using these tools as soon as possible. That's the best way to learn, and many consultants, including myself, provide social media training services.

2 - If you DO outsource a social media project, make sure that part of the services that the consultant or firm provides is training on using the tools. This is a must, don't even consider a firm/consultant that won't add training as part of the social media project you are hiring them to perform. For example, if you hire a consultant to launch a company blog for you, if they don't train you on how to properly use the tool, what happens when the project ends? They leave, and suddenly you are left with a blog that you have little to no idea how to properly use. So then you either have to stumble along figuring it out yourself, or you have to hire another consultant/firm to teach you how to properly blog. Make sure that any social media work you outsource includes a teaching element. This way, when the project ends, it's ending because the work has been done, AND because you now know how to use the tools/sites appropriately.

3 - When hiring employees to work in your marketing, PR and customer service departments especially, put a premium on familiarity with social media sites and tools. These social site and tools aren't going away, and increasingly your customers, especially your younger customers, are going to be quite fluent with them. So if you can, hire new employees that are comfortable using these tools, as they can help teach their fellow employees on how to properly use them.

The end result from adopting these strategies is that your company will become self-sufficient when it comes to launching most/all social media strategies. Why continue to outsource what will likely be a business necessity moving forward?

Pic via Flickr user kid.mercury

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs - Week 132

Here's the standings for Week 132:

1 - Duct Tape Marketing - 237,000 (-22,000)(LW - 1)
2 - Church of the Customer - 228,000 (-19,000)(LW - 2)
3 - CopyBlogger - 42,087 (-3,650)(LW - 3)
4 - Web Strategy by Jeremiah - 16,177 (-965)(LW - 4)
5 - Chris Brogan - 13,464 (-177)(LW - 5)
6 - Search Engine Guide - 12,319 (-766)LW - 6)
7 - Logic + Emotion - 10,654 (-367)(LW - 7)
8 - Influential Marketing - 7,110 (-574)(LW - 8)
9 - Daily Fix - 5,850 (-629)(LW - 9)
10 - Jaffe Juice - 4,564 (-341)(LW - 10)
11 - Drew's Marketing Minute - 3,413 (+492)(LW - 11)
12 - Conversation Agent - 3,117 (-205)(LW - 15)
13 - Converstations - 3,085 (-349)(LW - 14)
14 - The Viral Garden - 2,990 (-392)(LW - 13)
15 - What's Next - 2,757 (-514)(LW - 12)
16 - The Social Media Marketing Blog - 2,389 (-196)(LW - 16)
17 - Being Peter Kim - 2,353 (-64)(LW - 17)
18 - Social Media Explorer - 2,284 (+85)(LW - 18)
19 - Techipedia - 2,222 (LW - UR)
20 - Emergence Marketing - 1,673 (-263)(LW - 19)
21 - Techno Marketer - 1,613 (-87)(LW - 22)
22 - Paul Isakson - 1,607 (-57)(LW - 23)
23 - The Social Customer Manifesto - 1,583 (-196)(LW - 21)
24 - Greg Verdino's Marketing Blog - 1,487 (-369)(LW - 20)
25 - Spare Change - 1,271 (-131)(LW - 24)

The Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs are ranked according to the number of subscribers, according to FeedBurner. The number you see after the blog name is how many subscribers accessed the blog's feed, according to FeedBurner. FeedBurner (and I had to look it up to make sure) tracks the number of times your blog's feed is accessed, and matches it against the IP address of the computer making the request, to approximate the number of subscribers that access your feed, and report this as the number used in the Top 25. After that number is a positive or negative number, and this represents how many readers the blog gained or lost from last week's Top 25. The final stat tells you what position the blog held in the Top 25 Last Week (LW). If you see this; (LW - UR), it means the blog wasn't ranked last week.

As you'll notice, almost every blog was down this week. In checking my own Feedburner stats, I noticed that they haven't been reporting my numbers from Bloglines the last few days, and that's why my sub number is lower. A few days ago they missed my email sub numbers for a day as well, so if you're confused as to why your number is down, check your Feedburner account and see if they are reporting your Bloglines and email numbers. If not, that's probably where the change is coming from.

Techipedia re-enters the Top 25 at #19, while Movie Marketing Madness and Customers Rock! just missed the cut. Remember if you want to have your blog be considered for inclusion in the Top 25, make sure you add the Feedburner feed count chicklet to your blog.

Next update is next Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

10 Ways to Excite Your Blog's Readers

A lot of people talk about ways you can get more readers to your blog. I say why just worry about trying to get more readers, instead why not try to excite and thrill them?!? Here's ten ways I try to do that, but as you are reading these tips, always keep one point in mind; Look for ways to give your readers a sense of ownership over the content created on your blog. I always say that this blog is 'co-created content'. And it is, I write the post, and you guys run with it and leave amazing comments. The end result is that, thanks to you, the value of the post increases dramatically, because of your comments. So NEVER take your readers for granted, and ALWAYS look for ways to appreciate them, and give them a greater sense of ownership over your blog. Because that's what they deserve. Here's some ways you can get started.

1 - Say 'Thank You!' early and often. Never forget that without your readers, you are blogging for yourself. If you're ok with that fine, but for most of us, individuals and companies, we are blogging for an audience. Putting forth even a small amount of time to let your readers know that you appreciate their time goes a LONG way. Notice if you comment on this post, the first thing you will see is "Thank you SO much for commenting!"

2 - Ask for feedback. Let your readers know that you always want their input. When you raise a point or a question in a post, ask your readers for their thoughts. Look at my post on self-promotion, it currently has over 20 comments. The value of that post increased significantly because of the feedback via comments, from this blog's readers.

3 - Stalk your readers. Let's be honest, for most of your readers, reading your blog is NOT the highlight of their day. Most of the time, they will be on other sites, on other blogs. When you find them on other sites, such as Twitter, interact with them there. Twitter is still the top referring site to this blog, and while a lot of that traffic comes from links I tweet to posts here, much of it comes from people finding my blog via the link on my profile. Give them a reason to want to learn more about you.

4 - Comment on your readers' blogs. Remember, the best way to grow your blog, is to leave it. It's also a wonderful way to excite your readers. When you take the time to read THEIR blogs, and comment on THEIR blogs, you send the message to your readers that you are serious about interacting with them, and that you appreciate them. And use BackType to track the comments you are leaving. I wrote up a quick review of BackType yesterday for Search Engine Guide, but it's a wonderful way to not only track the comments you leave, but to also make sure you are leaving plenty of comments on OTHER blogs, and not just yours.

5 - Add your readers' blogs to your blogroll. Even now, I am constantly updating my blogroll to add blogs that I find interesting, and many of them are from my readers. For example, Liz Strauss left a comment here the other day, and I immediately thought ' I have Liz' blog on my blogroll?' I checked, and I didn't, so I added it. Now you shouldn't add blogs to your blogrolls just because you want your readers to comment, but if you read the blogs that your commenters write, add them to the blogroll. It's just another way to say 'thank you', and help give your readers a bit more ownership over the content created on your blog.

6 - Add a widget to your sidebar that shows the pictures of your readers. This is the only reason why I keep the MyBlogLog widget up on the sidebar. I want my readers to be able to come here, and see their picture on the widget. *I* want to see their picture. And adding that widget is another way to create space on the blog that's just for my readers.

7 - Put the focus on your best commenters. How many times has this happened on your blog; You leave a post, and it gets a couple of comments, pretty much agreeing with you. Then someone comes along with 'Ok Mack all this sounds great, but I'm going to come at this from a different angle..', and they launch into this amazing comment that changes the entire tone of the conversation, with now half the readers siding with your points, the other half siding with the commenter. And the end result is, thanks to the spark from that one comment, you now have a vibrant conversation happening. Edit your post and add a 'Window' to the comments. How I do this is by taking that great comment that sparked the discussion, and I add it to the end of the post, like this: "PS: Check out this amazing comment by Shannon Paul- " And when you add the comment to the post, link to the person's blog that left the comment. Again, this person left a great comment that sparked a great discussion. Why not thank them for that?

8 - Link to your readers' blogs. Every morning I go to Twitter and as I am going through my feeds, I link to posts I find interesting on Twitter. And you'd better best believe that I go out of my way to link to people that I know are reading and commenting here.

9 - Actually care about the people that read your blog. Yes it might sound hokey, but you have to actually give a damned about the people that take some time out of their busy day to read your blog. When you do that, you start to think about ways you can put the focus on your readers. You start to look for reasons to link to them, to read their blogs, to tweet links to their best posts.

10 - Ask for help. What did I miss? How do you excite your blog's readers?

UPDATE: Check out the comment that David Armano left to this post via Bubble Comment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Is 'no self-promotion' the great unwritten rule of social media?

Last Friday I was lucky enough to appear on Paul Chaney's User Friendly Thinking show on Blog Talk Radio(You can listen to the show and download it here). On the show we talked about how companies and small businesses can use social media to better connect with their customers, especially in tough economic times. Part of the interview also involved my talking a bit about the social media consulting/training services I provide.

Paul tells me that there was a surprisingly high number of listeners to the show (and if you listened to it live, thanks so much for your interest. I made a point to give a shout-out to my Twitter peeps ;)), and that it went exceptionally well.

But afterward, the most common question I got from people that heard the episode was "Wait, you mean you do social media consulting?"

Yep, I fear I've never been very good at promoting myself (notice I forgot to blog about my appearing on Paul's show prior to Friday), and my guess is I'm not alone. Lisa Hoffmann left an interesting post about Matt Bacak recently, and I left this comment:
For whatever reason, many of us are horrible when it comes to promoting ourselves. And I am the world’s worst about it. My guess is that many of us view our ‘followers’ and blog readers as friends, and don’t feel right ‘promoting’ ourselves to our friends. But that’s just a guess.

A few months ago I made some changes to my The Viral Garden and added sections spelling out the consulting, training and speaking services I provide. Before I did so, I spent a lot of time reviewing the blogs of other people who I knew provided similar services. What I found was that most offered little to no mention of this on their blog. I found a few solid examples, such as Amber Naslund and Chris Brogan, who I think do a fine job of promoting their consulting and speaking services on their blog. But most people seemed to almost have made a conscious choice not to promote themselves.

I've talked to some pretty influential people in the social media space about this, and have gotten conflicting answers. Some seem to think that the less promotion the better, as the best promotion is in creating value and helping others. And others told me that they didn't understand why consultants didn't promote their services more, as they felt their friends/readers/followers would want to know about them.

What do you think? I almost always err on the side of less promotion being better, but I'm beginning to wonder if I might sometimes be overreacting. If you offer similar services, what's your stance on promoting yourself on your blog, and how do your readers take it?

Pic via Flickr user ehnmark

Friday, December 05, 2008

Track multiple metrics to measure the performance of your blog

Let's face it, it's tough to get an accurate read of how your blog is performing by measuring just one metric. Case in point, let's look at how I've tracked traffic here since launching The Viral Garden in 2006.

For the first year of blogging here, I used SiteMeter to track the number of visitors to this blog. I noticed that while posts were gradually getting more comments and the blog was collecting more links, that daily traffic was barely growing. After a few months I was averaging about 100 visitors a day, but by February of last year, that number was only up to around 200 visitors a day.

So I started doing some snooping around my site's analytics, and discovered that while traffic was growing at barely a crawl, Feedburner told me that the number of subscribers to the blog's feed was growing about twice as fast, and had caught the avg. daily traffic. That opened my eyes, and I started paying attention to my subscribers, and how they were reading my feed. Based on the information I got from Feedburner, I changed my blog's layout and added options to sub to my blog's feed via the most popular feed readers, such as Google Reader, Netvibes, and NewsGator. Before I had only had a button for Bloglines, which was buried down toward the end of the sidebar. After adding more buttons (including a FB chicket counter), I moved them all to the top of the blog, where they could be easily found.

As you can see, these changes accelerated the growth I was seeing from feed subscribers, and while it has slowed a bit recently, the number of feed subscribers is still currently at record levels. And as subscribers continue to take off, daily traffic to the blog continued to barely grow, it was at around 200 visitors a day in February of 2007, and now it's at about 275 a day. A lot of this is simply a change in how people want to view blog content. Now, most want to keep up with their favorite blogs via a feed reader. That wasn't so much the case in 2006 when I launched The Viral Garden. This is why you need to look at multiple metrics to give you an idea of emerging patterns within your readership.

Another example, while growth of traffic to the blog and feed subscribers are currently at all-time highs, both are slowing in growth. But the number of email subscribers to my feed is taking off. I launched an email version of my feed via Feedburner in late April of last year. For much of last year and this year, I would add 5-10 new email subscribers a month. But over the past 2-3 months, I've been adding 20+ subscriptions a month, and it's on pace to catch avg. daily traffic to the blog around Feb or March of next year.

Why the sudden spike? My guess is it's partly because I've spoken at several confs over the last 3 months (where the attendees are newer to social media, and might prefer to have blog posts sent to them via email), and because my Twitter usage has spiked in the last few months, resulting in my adding several hundred followers. And my guess is that many of these followers are new to reading blogs as well, and are more interested in the email version of my feed.

The point in all this is, if you keep a close eye on your blog and track multiple metrics, you can get a much better idea of how your readers are interacting with your blog, and what appeals to them. Do you know how many comments per post you averaged last month? How your traffic/subscribers are trending? Do you know which site was the top referrer of traffic to your blog last month? You should.

Which metrics do you measure to determine if your blog is effective? Why do you choose those particular ones?

PS: As you might have guessed, I'm a big fan of Feedburner. Here's a post I wrote last year that walks you through 10 Ways You Can Use Feedburner To Grow Your Blog.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs - Week 131

Here's the standings for Week 131:

1 - Duct Tape Marketing - 259,000 (+3,000)(LW - 1)
2 - Church of the Customer - 247,000 (+3,000)(LW - 2)
3 - CopyBlogger - 45,737 (+451)(LW - 3)
4 - Web Strategy by Jeremiah - 17,142 (+268)(LW - 4)
5 - Chris Brogan - 13,641 (+533)(LW - 5)
6 - Search Engine Guide - 13,085 (+463)LW - 6)
7 - Logic + Emotion - 11,021 (+57)(LW - 7)
8 - Influential Marketing - 7,684 (+33)(LW - 8)
9 - Daily Fix - 6,479 (+62)(LW - 9)
10 - Jaffe Juice - 4,905 (+5)(LW - 10)
11 - Converstations - 3,394 (+165)(LW - 14)
12 - The Viral Garden - 3,382 (+84)(LW - 13)
13 - What's Next - 3,371 (+25)(LW - 12)
14 - Conversation Agent - 3,322 (+107)(LW - 15)
15 - Drew's Marketing Minute - 2,939 (-576)(LW - 11)
16 - The Social Media Marketing Blog - 2,585 (+94)(LW - 16)
17 - Being Peter Kim - 2,417 (+18)(LW - 17)
18 - Social Media Explorer - 2,199 (+72)(LW - 18)
19 - Emergence Marketing - 1,926 (+5)(LW - 19)
20 - Greg Verdino's Marketing Blog - 1,856 (+48)(LW - 20)
21 - The Social Customer Manifesto - 1,779 (+57)(LW - 21)
22 - Techno Marketer - 1,700 (+31)(LW - 22)
23 - Paul Isakson - 1,664 (+5)(LW - 23)
24 - Spare Change - 1,402 (+15)(LW - 24)
25 - Movie Marketing Madness - 1,342 (-13)(LW - 25)

The Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs are ranked according to the number of subscribers, according to FeedBurner. The number you see after the blog name is how many subscribers accessed the blog's feed, according to FeedBurner. FeedBurner (and I had to look it up to make sure) tracks the number of times your blog's feed is accessed, and matches it against the IP address of the computer making the request, to approximate the number of subscribers that access your feed, and report this as the number used in the Top 25. After that number is a positive or negative number, and this represents how many readers the blog gained or lost from last week's Top 25. The final stat tells you what position the blog held in the Top 25 Last Week (LW). If you see this; (LW - UR), it means the blog wasn't ranked last week.

Strong bounceback week for the Top 25, with 23 of the 25 blogs gaining subscribers. The Top 6 was especially strong, all gaining at least 200 subs. And the gap between blogs #11-15 continues to narrow, and my hunch is that Drew's Marketing Minute at #15 was just an error in reporting by FB. We'll see next week.

No new blogs this week, and Customers Rock! just missed the cut. Remember if you want to have your blog be considered for inclusion in the Top 25, make sure you add the Feedburner feed count chicklet to your blog.

Next update is next Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

When and how often should a blogger comment?

One of the things I love about Beth Harte is her inquisitive nature when it comes to social media. Recently, she got an interesting discussion started on her blog around how often bloggers (be it individual or company) should respond to comments left by their readers. Beth believes that every comment from a reader deserves its own response in the form of a comment.

Here are my thoughts: I have always considered this blog to be 'co-created content' between you and I. As a result, I look for ways that I can give you, my readers, more ownership over the content here. This is a big reason why I have the MyBlogLog widget on the side, have a huge blogroll, and add poll questions. All of these are about my readers, either putting the spotlight on you, or giving you more control over the content created here.

And when it comes to comments, my view is that the comments belong to the readers. That's your chance to have your say. As such, my view is that the fewer comments from me, the better. Now I do try to comment on every post that gets comments, but I am very mindful of how many comments I leave. If a post has 10 comments, you might see that 3 of them are from me, possibly 4, but that's pushing it. My feeling is that if there are 20 comments and 10 of them are from me, then I am talking WAY too much. I don't want the conversation to revolve around my opinions, but yours. I stated my opinions/thoughts in the post, the comments are where you have your say.

So it's a bit of a tightrope to walk. Now one area where Beth and I are in complete agreement is when bloggers, especially popular bloggers that are considered 'thought leaders' NEVER respond to comments on their blog. I hate this because these bloggers are viewed as being 'thought leaders' by people that are new to this space, and by companies that are wanting to get involved in social media. They could see how these bloggers never respond, and think that's the best way. But I'll go ahead and put my soapbox back under the bed, as that's a post for another day.

What do you think? Do you prefer Beth's method of responding to every comment, or do you think that less is more when it comes to bloggers responding to readers. Do you think I need to be leaving more comments here, fewer, or is it about right? How do you handle leaving comments on YOUR blog?

Pic via Flickr user crazytales562

Monday, December 01, 2008

Being a farmer versus beating a dead horse

As always, there seems to be a lot of talk about defining the ROI of social media. And I think Jason Falls has one of the better posts I've seen on the subject, along with an excellent video interview with the always amazing KD Paine.

But as I saw what seemed like the millionth post about defining the ROI of social media today, I realized that most of this talk seems to be coming from marketing and social media bloggers and consultants. In fact, in taxing my limited memory, I cannot recall a single instance where I spoke with a potential client, or a business marketer/owner at a conference, and they asked me about defining or proving the ROI for social media.

Not one.

Instead, they wanted to learn how these social tools might WORK FOR THEM. They want to hear about the benefits of blogging, they want to understand if Facebook is really worth their time. They keep hearing about Twitter but think it all sounds like mindless chit-chat, and want to know if they are right.

IOW, they want to learn. They want us to teach them.

And I think that we are doing a bit of a dis-service to ourselves, and this space by continually harping on the ROI of social media. Why do we need to define this? Is it because the potential clients we talk to demand to know, or is it because we feel a need to vindicate our beliefs and theories about social media?

I think it's more about the latter, and I will admit that I am as bad about this as anyone. But I think in order to TRULY advance this space, and to advance the potential that companies have to better connect with and understand their customers via social media, we need to focus more on TEACHING, not on being 'proven right'.

So my call for today is to stop worrying about trying to 'prove' the worth of social media to those that 'don't get it', and let's start teaching to those that WANT to learn about social media.

Pic via Flickr user Hellsgeriatric