Monday, October 26, 2009

Social media needs fewer rockstars, and more rockstar ideas

Last week at the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer, I was struck at how many amazingly deep and brilliant conversations I had with so many people. Well this is to be expected, you might say, when you spend a few days in the company of such social media smarties as Ann Handley, Beth Harte, David Armano, Jay Baer and Amber Naslund.

But here's the thing; most of those great conversations didn't happen with these people. In fact, they were with people that most of you probably haven't heard of. Heck I hadn't heard of many of them till I was introduced to them at the event.

And that's been gnawing at me for days. To be fair, this isn't unique to the Mixer, I noticed the same thing a couple of months ago at Social South, meeting and talking with people that have a 'low profile' in the social media space, yet being blown away by how smart they were. I kept asking myself 'why have I not heard of this person before now?'

I think/fear that the answer lies in how we determine the value of ideas in the social media space. I'm afraid that too many people are determining who is 'influential' based on how many followers/friends/readers they have. Which is a contributing factor, to be sure, but it's not the end-all-be-all for defining and recognizing people that put forth thoughtful ideas.

And what's worse, I think too many people are thinking if THEY don't have X number of readers/followers/friends, then they don't have the 'right' to share their ideas. That their ideas aren't worth sharing. I think when we call Chris Brogan a 'rockstar', I think some people will look at his 30K blog readers and 100K Twitter followers and think that means they must NOT be a rockstar, since they only have 500 readers and 200 Twitter followers.

If so, that's damn tragic. I've always said that the greatest thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice. And I've always thought we do ourselves a disservice if we don't have the chance to hear as many voices as possible. This was a big reason why I started The Z-List three years ago, to help give deserving bloggers more exposure.

So how do we change this and bring more voices into the mix? I have some ideas, but definitely want to hear yours as well:

1 - Spend less time identifying the 'rockstars' and more time focusing on the great ideas. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I want to make sure that everyone knows how smart my friends are, but by labeling them 'rockstars', we are unintentionally ranking people. If David is a rockstar with 20K followers and 15K blog readers, the unintentional message may be that your ideas are less valuable if you only have a fraction of his followers/readers.

2 - Stop focusing on numbers to determine influence. I get why this happens. It's quick and easy, it's score-keeping. You can quickly compare your number of readers or followers or comments to someone else. But it isn't always (ever?) accurate. Is it an absolute that if I have more Twitter followers than you do that I am more influential there than you are? Or if you have more than I do, that you are more influential than I am? Of course not.

3 - Listen closely to new ideas from new voices, and magnify both when you hear them. So many of us complain about the 'fishbowl' mentality in the social media space. A great way to counter that is to bring new voices with fresh takes into this space. Introduce your network to someone they might not have heard of previously. Yes we all know who the 'rockstars' in this space are, so show us who's next.

The bottom line is that this space won't grow and reach its full potential unless we can continue to have fresh voices with fresh ideas being brought into the fold. If you want to be viewed as a 'rockstar' in this space, then IMO you have the responsibility to promote others more than yourself. You have the responsibility to see that the great ideas, no matter who has them, are brought to the top. And please, let your ideas stand on their own merits, don't think that they are less valuable than someone that has more friends or followers than you do. You've earned the right to be heard just as much as the rest of us have.

I say it's time we all got to work, what say you?

UPDATE: I've created a 'What's Next In Social Media' list on Twitter, a group of people that are really smart, that you might not be following yet. You can find it here -

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer: Recap

It's officially 'The Morning After' the latest Marketing Profs conference, the Digital Marketing Mixer. People are always asking me 'What are the best social media conferences to attend?' and the Marketing Profs' events are always at the top of my list.

I think if there was a general theme at this year's event for me, it was 'How do we integrate social media into what we are already doing?' And this is a progression from where we were last year, which was still 'What the hell is Twitter/Facebook, anyway?' The problem I see (and this is in general, definitely not just at this event) is that too many companies are focusing on social media tactics (How do I get started on Twitter? How do I create a kickass Facebook fan page?), as opposed to having a solid social media strategy in place. The strategy HAS to come first. You have to FIRST decide what your strategy is for using social media and what you are trying to accomplish, and THEN you can think about which tactics (blog, Twitter, Facebook) will work for your company.

As for the sessions, Day Two was probably better for me than Day One, simply because I got to sit in on more of them. Beth Harte had one of the best quotes of the day when she said 'I've been active in Social Media for 5 years, first as a human, now as a marketer.' I love that! A key takeaway from Beth's Building Online Communities session was (I think by Rachel Happe), that you should closely monitor the content being created by your online community to better determine relevant search keywords, as well as product ideas.

Next was Dr BJ Fogg's keynote on why Facebook and Twitter are winning, and it was amazing. His premise is that Facebook is winning because it has put Hot Triggers in the path of the user. He called a Hot Trigger an action a user can take right now, as opposed to a Cold Trigger, which is basically a call to action that the user can't perform right now. It would be like a billboard asking you to check out the Wall Street Journal (Cold Trigger), versus walking past a newstand where the owner hands you a copy and asks you to check it out (Hot Trigger).

He talked about how it's become a ritual to check Facebook and Twitter. If you're active on those sites, you check them constantly. And he added that the platforms of tomorrow will be based on the behavior that's become ritualized. He also added that anything big, started small, in other words, with fewer features, then drawing on community feedback, additional features and functionality is added and incorporated. But if you start out big, you'll probably have a bunch of features that really don't service the community you want to attract.

Finally, Marketing Profs closed with a session that recapped the key takeaways from the event, giving attendees 30 or so 'key points' to remember and take home with them. THIS right here is why Marketing Profs rocks, because they listen to their attendees. At the B2B forum in June, I was talking with Ann Handley and one other attendee and the attendee mentioned that it would be great if there was some way that Marketing Profs could bring together the 'best tips' from everyone that was taking notes, and share them so everyone had access to them. And what does Marketing Profs do at the Mixer? They named four people 'Mixologists' who went to sessions in each of the four tracks and took copious notes and monitored Twitter for relevant points being raised by attendees. Then at the end of the event, the Mixologists share their notes and points with everyone so that's the last thing they get before going home. Classic example of listening to your customers and implementing changes based on their feedback.

Here's a few of them (I won't share them all, hey that's why need to attend the next MP event!) concerning social media:

1 - Allow your employees to use social media, but govern their usage and give them clear guidelines

2 - Also when crafting those guidelines, have your legal department consult with other companies that have launched successful social media efforts

3 - Don't blog about your products, blog about how your products fit into your customer's lives (IE, 'The Bigger Idea', guess who's session this idea came from ;))

4 - You have to have a plan for social media. Use Twitter because it FITS into your plan, not because it's the 'hot new thing'

5 - Engage in online communities as a person first, as a marketer second

All-in-all, a very beneficial event for me, as I knew it would be. I left with my mind energized, and I've already got a list of things to improve upon, and yes, blog about! And it was SO amazing to meet so many people that are smarter than I am, that's the real value of these events, being able to connect with these special people. I can share with you all the insights, tips and tricks I learned, but the real value comes from the connections you make. So I hope to see you at the next Marketing Profs event, I know I'll be there!

Pic via Flickr user Marketing Profs Live

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer : Day One

My brain is full of social media and marketing goodness from the Marketing Profs Digital Mixer, but I wanted to give you my takeaways and thoughts from Day One.

The day for me started with the Blog Hot Seat Lab, and in talking with the attendees, I think blogging companies should keep these points in mind:

1 - Assume every visitor to your blog arrived there by accident, has never heard of your blog, and has no idea what it's there for. The point is, you need to organize your blog so within 3-4 seconds, any visitor can see who you are, what you do, and why the blog is there. Make this info very easy to find.

2 - Think about how your blog is organized and how your content is positioned, and how this ties into what action you want your readers to take while they are on your blog. And that action should tie back into your blog's larger business goals.

3 - If you want your readers to interact on your blog, make sure the tone of your posts is conversational, not dry.

The first session I attended was the Twitter Success Stories session moderated by Paul Chaney, and it included case studies from Whole Foods, Dominoes, Razorfish and the CME Group. Some of the key takeaways:

"Automation is a relationship killer." - Marla Erwin, Whole Foods

Razorfish encourages ALL of their employees to tweet, and instead of worrying about what they might tweet, VP of Marketing David Deal explained that Razorfish considers '"what can we learn from what our employees are tweeting?"

"Be a part of the conversation, or start one." - Ramon De Leon, Operating Partner, Dominoes Pizza.

Also loved Ramon's story of how he's been using social media for over a decade, and using AOL IM to connect with customers.

The main feedback I've heard from attendees so far today is that there has been a wealth of case studies, which were very well received. I missed two of the most popular sessions, Amber Naslund's Social Media ROI session, and Mari Smith's session on Facebook for Business. I'll have to do better tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Social media is worth making time for

This is my current view as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight to Chicago for the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer. The past couple of months have been a very busy time for me professionally, and work with clients has taken up a lot of my time. Which is a great 'problem' to have, and I am grateful for it. But I've often caught myself putting my writing here and at my business site on hold, to spend more time helping my clients get their social media efforts off the ground.

And I realized that I was doing exactly what I've told clients and others that they cannot do. I was putting the blog on the backburner. One of my favorite sayings is that 'your blog does not have an expiration date'. And it's true, once your company starts blogging, you have to assume that you're in it from now on.

That means you have to make an effort to stay in touch with your customers and readers via your blog. Maybe it means you have to send a quick mobile post on your phone in the taxi on the way back to your apartment. Maybe it means you have to write a post while you're at the gate waiting for your flight.

But the point is, it's worth the time and effort it takes to connect with people. Especially your customers. If you promise to never forget that, I'll promise to remember it as well.

BTW I've been thinking about how I will handle blogging while I am in Chicago for the Mixer. Normally what I do when I attend conferences is I don't blog while I am there, then give you my thoughts via a 'recap' post when I get back. But I decided that for the Mixer, I will share my thoughts with you at the end of each day, instead of having no new posts up till next week. Besides, I did a recap post for last year's Mixer, and I am sure this year's will be just as great.

So my plan is to attend as many sessions as possible, take copious notes, and share my takeaways with you each day. Sound good? Hope to see some of you in person at the Mixer!

Monday, October 19, 2009

If you want to be a vlogger, pay close attention to this video

Whether you are an individual that wants to start vlogging, or you're a company that's wondering about using video to help connect with your customers, watch this video. What Chris has done is use video to not only give you a personal glimpse into his life, but to back up everything he's saying. He's talking about putting in long hours, getting up early and hustling. And notice there's no one else up, he's the only person you see in the video.

This wouldn't have been half as effective if he had written just a post, or only recorded this as a podcast/audio file. But as a video, it works perfectly. Chris uses video to build on and enhance the idea he's trying to communicate.

If you're wanting to use video either personally or with your business, watch this video closely.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Three quick and simple ways to make your blog posts prettier

One of the 'basic' rules of blogging is that you need lots and lots of pictures in your posts. Ideally, every post should have a picture. But it's not always easy to find visuals to add to your posts. This morning I was giving a client some ideas for finding visuals for your posts, and thought I'd share these ideas with you. Here's three sources of visuals for your posts:

1 - Flickr photos that are licensed as free to use with attribution. These are photos that the Flickr user has said you can use on your blog IF you give them attribution for the pic. I always link back to their Flickr account and to the CC license, as I did at the end of this post, for the above sunset image. And it's just a good idea to 'thank' the person that let you use their photo. But this is an AMAZING source of stunning visuals. If you can't find a gorgeous picture for your post via this search, you probably aren't looking hard enough.

2 - This site also has amazing photos and visuals, but they are for sale. Still, a great site to find visuals for your posts, and I often buy images there to use in my presentations.

3 - Embedding videos in blog posts. Ok what if you've racked your brain and simply can't find the 'right' image for your post. What about adding a video? Many (but not all) of the videos on sharing sites such as YouTube allow you to embed them in blog posts. And an informative or funny (like the Darth Vader 'Thriller' video below) video is often much more effective than a visual.

So that's three quick tips on how you can make your blog posts prettier. I know you guys must have some ideas of your own, so how are you adding more visual 'pop' to your posts?

Pic of sunset via Flickr user kcdsTM

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My 'first date' with Google Wave

I've finally had a chance to spend a couple of hours with Google Wave, and I wanted to give you my VERY early impressions. I'll say up front that it's completely possible that I'll change my opinion dramatically yay or nay on Wave from what I state here, but still wanted to let you know what I think early on. I've noticed with most social media sites/tools that I tend to change how I use them over time.

As for Google Wave, my initial impression is that it's a souped up IM service. And for me as an individual, I don't see a ton of 'wow' factor happening here, since I don't often have a need to connect with small groups of people and collaborate on ideas, which is where I think Wave has some value.

But I can see how Wave could benefit a company, especially a virtual company (Ann and the gang at Marketing Profs, I'm looking at you), in giving them the ability to collaborate on ideas in one space.

The main backbone of Google Wave is the ability to create messages, which Google calls Waves. It seems as if Google is trying to position Waves as being Email 2.0, but it really looks to me like IM 2.0.

I can create a Wave that's 5 paragraphs, and send it to Beth. Beth can then go in and break up the Wave and reply to each paragraph. I can then reply to each point Beth made.

Now let's say at this point we decide that we want to bring Amy and Jason into our Wave and get their ideas on what we've been talking about. First, they are going to see a Wave that's probably confusing as hell, because it will be my original 5-paragraph Wave, which was then broken into 5 parts (where Beth replied to each paragraph), and then I replied to each of Beth's replies. So it looks like a complete cluster to anyone that joins the Wave at this point.

But Google Wave would give Amy and Jason the ability to 'replay' the wave and see how it was created. They could first see the 5-paragraph wave I wrote, then see Beth break it down into replies for each paragraph, them my replies to her replies. So it's less confusing.

One thing I wish Wave supported (and maybe it does and I haven't been able to find it yet) was the ability to pull items from other social sites. For example, let's say in tomorrow's feed from Google Reader, I find a blog post that's critical of my company. If I could move that post from Reader to Wave, I could then share it with my co-workers (let's say 5 of them are also on Wave), and then we could collaborate via Wave on how to handle this critical blog post. The same thing could be done with a tweet from Twitter or a comment on a Facebook Fan Page. Again, maybe it's possible to do that now, or will be soon.

Anyway, that's my VERY early impressions of Wave. Now it should be mentioned that few of my contacts are on Wave right now. In a month if most of my contacts from Twitter have moved to Wave, the service could be much more valuable to me. But I can already see the potential value for companies as an internal collaboration tool.

If you've been using Wave, what are your thoughts? What potential can you see for the tool? Do you see it having more value for individuals, or businesses?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Five Ways to Avoid Writing Lazy Blog Posts

This one tweet from @wilsonellis during Sun nite's #blogchat sparked a lot of discussion, and a bit of debate on its merits. (BTW here's the transcript to #blogchat)

Her point was that every post you write should ask for the reader to take SOME action. Now I think some people didn't like the term 'Call to Action', so I asked if maybe 'Call to INTERaction' would be more appropriate. But the thought is, you want to create content that sparks the reader to want to take SOME action. Otherwise, they will just come, read your post, and leave. And probably start reading other blogs that are interesting enough to spark them to take some additional action.

So drawing inspiration from Debra, here are some Calls to Action (or Calls to INTERaction) that you can add to each and every post.

1 - Ask for comments. If you want an interactive blog, the four most important words you can learn are 'What do you think?' And this ties into the most valuable lesson you can learn; your readers, as a group, are ALWAYS smarter than you are. So the more input you can get from them, the smarter you will be AND the more interesting your posts will be.

2 - Ask for emails. Believe it or not, some people prefer to talk just to you, and via email. Give them this option. And maybe you prefer this as well.

3 - Ask for subscriptions. Chris Brogan does this well, check out this post. Hey we are all in a hurry, and sometimes it helps to make it painfully easy for someone to subscribe. What better way to remind a reader to subscribe, than writing a post reminding them to do so? Oh and notice that at the end of Chris' post that he asks his readers what they want to see more of in the future. Perfect!

4- Ask for newsletter signups. If you offer a newsletter, ask readers to signup for it, and explain why they should read your newsletter in addition to reading your blog.

5- Ask for the order. Now stop wringing your hands! Yes you can ask people to buy your stuff on your blog! No one is going to throw you into Social Media Jail so calm down! I think the key is the CONTEXT in which you ask for the order. If you end every post with 'Hey! Hire me!', it can get a bit irritating. But if I write a post on '10 Steps to Launching the Perfect Business Blog', and at the end of the post remind my readers that I provide these same services for clients, and tell them how to get in touch with me, then I've asked for the order in a CONTEXT that makes sense. But if I wrote a post on how I use TweetDeck, then at the end pitched my ability to launch a Facebook Fan Page for your company, it looks out of place.

Now to be clear, you shouldn't attempt to do each of these in every post, but the idea is to start thinking about giving your readers a sense of direction. Give them a reason to interact with you, it could be to write a comment, send you an email, or buy your product. But if you're writing a blog that your readers don't care to get involved with, then they won't be your readers for very long.

What do your favorite blogs do to keep you engaged?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Let's go to Chicago for the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer!

In a couple of weeks I'll be headed to the Windy City for the first time to attend Marketing Profs' Digital Marketing Mixer! I'll be speaking there, joining some of the top minds in the social media space, including; Jay Baer, Becky Carroll, Paul Chaney, Leigh Duncan-Hurst, Li Evans, Ann Handley, Rachel Happe, Beth Harte, Amber Naslund, Andy Sernovitz, Mari Smith, and many more. And if you register by clicking on the pic to the right (Disc - It's an affiliate link), you'll get a $200 discount!

On the first day, I will be conducting the Blogging Hot Seat Lab, covering the blogs of three attendees. The format will be very similar to what I do here with the Company Blog Checkup series. If you'd like to have your blog submitted for the Hot Seat Lab and you WILL BE ATTENDING THE MIXER, then email Marketing Profs and let them know you are interested or leave a comment here or email me. But make sure you hurry as there are only 2 slots left at most.

That's it! I am constantly being asked what are the 'must attend' social media events, and I always put the Marketing Profs' conferences at the top of the list. They demand that their speakers providing teachable sessions, make themselves accessible to the attendees, and that they send you home with 'homework'. You can get home and immediately begin putting into action what you've learned at their events.

Will I see you there? If you live in Chicago there should also be some tweetups associated with the event, so come on out if you can!