Colin Walker

on social media, tech, blogging and the internet.

Social Media Marketing – it’s not about the hard sell.

CommunityI said yesterday that I envisoned social media gaining adoption via stealth means rather than a concerted effort to push for adoption and Rob Diana asked “so what are we going to do about it?” Now, I am not a social media professional or involved in marketing but my response, which seemed obvious, was that if big business is going to drive stealth adoption then that’s where we need to concentrate: on the outreach.

Chris Brogan posted on the responsibilities a “Community Manager” for a company would have (here’s a good idea of what one does) and I believe that building the community is key to the adoption of social media as a means of interaction between business and consumers.

Chris stated that organisations should develop “a non-marketing community outreach” which is spot on. Creating a community via social media is not spamming potential customers with a sales pitch it is about outreach and availability. Providing existing, or future, customers with a means to engage with the company, receive pre-sales advice, learn about the products and services on offer, and even get after sales support. A community could also extend to allowing customers to discuss their experiences amongst themselves.

Wrong questions

Too often the wrong questions are being asked. Businesses should not be trying to push their products via these avenues so should not be seeking the best way to market a product via social channels. By creating a relationship with their customers they will instead develop a feeling of trust which itself will lead to initial sales and repeat business.

Measuring the effectiveness of social media is going to be difficult to generalise so will have to considered with regards to the specific organisation. There must be a way of gauging the quality of any outreach so just saying that you’ll respond to a query within 24 hours is only the start, the result of that response is what’s really important.

Conversion

A qualitative measurement will have to include the rate of conversion of interactions and the ability to effectively manage your online reputation. Can you convert a query into a sale or turn around complaints to give the customer an overall positive experience of your organisation even if their initial impression was a poor one.

The uptake of using social media as a means of communication between business and consumer will depend on how much emphasis and importance is going to be placed upon the ‘community’ in comparison to more traditional methods of interacting with customers. With an increasing number of consumers switching to online shopping or using the web for research before making a purchase decision the importance of establishing an effective online community around your brand cannot be stressed highly enough and cannot be ignored. At the same time the traditional methods should not be ignored as we are a long way from any sort of mass adoption. 

Choice

Just as you cannot force a product on to people without being accussed of spamming them, the adoption of social media cannot be forced on them (see Rob’s comment) or you will end up with a backlash. People like to discover things for themselves or be given a choice; those comfortable with interacting in this way will set the tone and even become evangelists of the community if they have good experience of it.

People listen to their peers and word of mouth recommendation is fundamental to building a better reputation. It is, therefore, vital to look after your customers and treat each one as though they are your first.

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Image by Marco Cassè.

April 30, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | | 2 Comments

Social media and the dream of going mainstream.

Mainstream v AlternativeThe blogosphere came alive yesterday after Kara Swisher’s post “Twitter: Where Nobody Knows Your Name” in which she recounted that of a survey of 100 people attending a wedding everyone knew about Facebook (even half of them accounts) but no-one knew of Twitter, FriendFeed or other similar services. In all truth, this is not surprising.

As I wrote yesterday, just because someone uses a social media/networking service such as Facebook it doesn’t automatically make them a social media user – that is, it doesn’t mean they actually know what social media is or want to go looking for other services.

Knowledge gap

If this knowledge gap exists amongst those who use social networking services how are we then supposed to get those people on board who aren’t even that far along the web 2.0 road? There is a much larger percentage of the population who spend next to no time online and may only use a computer to check their emails and visit the odd website – the TV generation.

Clay Shirky proposed that the vast number of hours spent watching television could be used to far greater effect and would have a huge impact on ‘media’ if those consumers became content producers instead of wasting away in front of the small screen. I agree with Frederic at The Last Podcast, however, that those consumers would not want to become producers; the reason they sit back and watch so much TV is due to apathy – they simply cannot be bothered to do anything that requires more effort.

Stealth

This apathy extends right across the board so expecting the general populace to become involved in new media avenues is wishful thinking.

Social media may well go mainstream eventually but it will be by stealth rather than a concerted push for adoption. As business picks up on ways to effectively utilise social media to increase their outreach consumers will begin to use these tools by default but it will take a long time. As the concept slowly seeps into the fabric of our lives it is our job to cajole and encourage where we can in order to help people realise how this ‘new’ form of communication is beneficial.

It is not about individual applications or services going mainstream but more the idea and facility of social media and social networking. Much is said of the success of Facebook, YouTube and MySpace as examples of ‘new media’ achieving success but this is because they fulfil a function or because of the status attached to them at a specific time – the cool factor as described by Steven Hodson. Even so, the total usage they have achieved is but a drop in the global ocean. Despite the growth of these sites ask the average account holder if they use any social media/social networking services and you are likely to get a blank stare – they don’t understand the full implications of what there are using.

The chances are that the current applications on offer won’t be the ones going mainstream; it will be next generation of services that take off after piggy-backing on the likes of Twitter etc. to gain popularity – it is the natural evolution of an organic industry. Eventually, something comes along at the right time and has the right spin just like MySpace and Facebook did.

Simplification

As Alexander van Elsas states at his blog the whole web 2.0 space is awash with clones, variations on a theme and mashups which pull these services together. Innovation has slowed and it is difficult to see where the next big thing will come from. While the numerous services are fighting for our attention it is hard to envision anything going mainstream. This is why I believe social media will sneak in via the back door as consumers start to use whatever they are given by the service providers they currently hold contracts with, or those companies whose products they already use.

This is how social media ubiquity will be achieved whether we like it or not, and no matter how precious we get over our favourite startup or service.

Your take

How do you see the current social media sphere developing? Is there any way that we can actively promote adoption or will it just be a case of waiting?

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Image by “passamanerie”.

April 29, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | | 3 Comments

Bringing the conversation home.

A lot has been said about the way conversations are fragmenting across the web due to the ability to leave comments in places other than at the original source. I’ve had my say as have many other bloggers.

Attempts are being made to re-centralise comments – such as disqus, fav.or.it and the FriendFeed plugin for WordPress – and we now have a new offering from Rob Diana of the Regular Geek blog called YackTrack.

YackTrack is designed to poll a number of services for comments that relate to a given URL (of a blog post for example) and gather the comments into one location. At present YackTrack supports Digg, Disqus, FriendFeed, Mixx, StumbleUpon, Technorati, and WordPress blogs with plans to incorporate others.

I have built a link to YackTrack which is displayed in each post so you can easily see what is being said in all of the supported locations (click the thumbnail for full size image)

  YackTrack Link

Here is also an example of the output from YackTrack

  YackTrack example

YackTrack is gaining quite a bit of exposure which seems to surprise Rob, he mentioned by email: “I am getting a little more attention than I thought I would” but any service which aims to bring order to such a contentious area is bound to get noticed.

I look forward to seeing how this service develops but, for now, check out Rob’s post at for more information.

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April 28, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 1 Comment

“Read and Comment” day.

Last week, Chris Brogan suggested that today, April 28th should be pronounced Read and Comment Day where we should all get out in to the blogosphere, find some good stuff and add your thoughts in order to progress the conversation. It’s a great idea and I intend to do exactly that but, in a sense, it is a shame that we need such a call to action.

So, go on, get out there and participate.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, RSS, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Just because you use social media it doesn’t make you a social media user.

SharingIn his post “The danger of social media falling in on itself” Steven Hodson argues that sites like FriendFeed could potentially kill the likes of Twitter or Flickr as more people interact with their contacts via the FriendFeed interface without actually visiting the source sites.

While FriendFeed happens to allow posting of messages and comments these are secondary to its primary function of being an aggregator and, as Steven says in a subsequent comment, FriendFeed could not survive without those services it aggregates; it would be self defeating for FriendFeed to kill other services unless it changed its own model.

Using Flickr as an example, FriendFeed could only compete if it allowed you to store your pictures on its servers instead. Even if this were to happen Flickr would still remain dominant as it has become the ‘go to’ resource to upload your photos; this is something that goes way beyond ‘social media’ users.

Task oriented

Admittedly, anyone who uses something like Flickr is technically a social media user but the majority don’t see it that way – they are just looking for a way to perform a specific task such as share their images. Returning to Jim Tobin’s post “Think Before You Ning” he states:

 “Nobody wants to join a social network – and they never have”

The point he was trying to make appears to have gotten lost somewhere in the discussion but is totally correct. People do not wake up one morning and think to themselves “I know, I’ll join a social network today“. Instead, they may think “I need to find a website which will allow me to upload my photos so the rest of the family can see them“. Social Media and Web 2.0 is task oriented.

Of the millions of Flickr users – be they uploading content or searching for images to use – how many access that content via means other than the Flickr website? The answer will be an incredibly small percentage which illustrates that the average person is often not interested in the ecosystem that exists around the periphery of a service, only the core service itself. Once using a service they may become involved in the more ‘social’ aspect of it but this will be as an aside. Even Flickr itself has “Keep in touch” as the last item on its 7 point tour so little emphasis is placed on the social networking side of things.

Until the ‘concept’ of social media becomes ubiquitous, rather than those services we place under its umbrella, the services and web sites will remain predominantly isolated with only a limited subset of users making use of sites like FriendFeed.

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Image by Andy Woo.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Social Media, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Can the leopard change its spots?

Leopard spotsWhen a new product emerges its creators must think very carefully about the name they give it; does it accurately reflect what the product is or does, and does it grab the imagination or stick in the brain? Months of research is undertaken to assess the effects of colour, font, packaging, size, taste, smell etc. and hopefully, at the end of it, the result is a winning formula.

The internet does not have that luxury. Yes, products and services can be launched in a closed beta to assess functionality and perform bug checking but by this time a name has normally been chosen and the domain purchased. Similarly, a new innovation is given a name to describe its purpose which often sticks and becomes the de facto title by which it is known.

Social Media

The term social media is one we have all come to know, and sometimes despise. According to Wikipedia it is an umbrella term which defines the various activities that integrate technology and social interaction. On the face of it the term fits but there is a growing dislike of this name and a call that the services falling under this umbrella should be referred to in other ways.

In this context I asked “Is the term ‘social media’ dead?” to gauge the feeling around the subject. While the responses were limited they give an indication as to how we view this matter:

    Survey results

As can be seen, the majority think that “social media” is the right name (58% of responses) and, to be fair, it is an accurate description but the fear persists that we may get bogged down in the semantics rather than the function. It was also interesting to note that there were no votes for the “no name” option which just goes to illustrate the point I made recently that we prefer things to have names and labels so that we can easily categorise them.

There is a possibility that some of those who prefer the term social media may only do so in order to defend its use. A lot of people have invested heavily in the ‘social media’ name and would be forced to rebrand were we to start using something else. Terms can become ingrained in this manner whether they are the right ones or not.

Blogs

Michael over at Remarkablogger asked if the word ‘blog’ was holding us back. He argued that the very terms we use may limit the potential of the tools they are used to describe but, with regards to blogs, I think we have already passed the point of no return. While the word blog may not be sexy, or may seem ‘geeky’ it has a genuine derivation which accurately describes the thing it refers to: a web log. Could we now change the term even if we wanted to?

The ‘blog’ has become ingrained in our minds and, with the likes of the BBC making very prominent use of them, I would instead argue that any change would have a worse effect on the reach and effectiveness of blogs than keeping the status quo.

Is it too late?

Social media is a much younger term but is rapidly becoming better known and more widely adopted. It is not the holy grail of online communications (there will always be something else along once the fuss has died down) but it will become more ubiquitous; just another tool in everyone’s communications arsenal.

The difference with social media, however, is that it is being created by the little guy with the users setting trends by voting with their feet. The corporations are getting involved but they are reacting to what is happening in the social media space rather than by dictating what we can have as is the case in other areas. Due to its very nature we, the users, have a massive role to play in determining the route it takes but this may not extend to what we call it.

Social media may already be too ingrained to be changed.

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Image by Keven Law.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | | 2 Comments

The lost art of listening.

ListenBlogging is all about getting your point across and being heard isn’t it? Actually, no.

As I have said before, the real point behind blogging is getting involved with the conversation which must be a two-way affair for it to work. As bloggers we become so caught up in our own opinions and the desire to get posts finished that we often fail to notice what is going on around us. We must always look at the bigger picture as it will undoubtedly affect the way we think about any given subject.

Cycle of conversation

I’ve been many soft skills courses in my time which attempt to teach you how to have an effective conversation by recognising the different elements at work (the cycle of conversation) and how to use them correctly; when to step back or when to direct the conversation to where you want it to go. None of the courses I have attended, however, have focused on the listening part and used exercises to demonstrate the importance of this skill. They always focus on hearing the other side but not digging deep and really listening to what what is being said.

Hearing and listening are two completely different things. You can hear something but not take notice of it, you don’t get an appreciation for exactly what is going on. Once you do take notice you start to listen and this is where you achieve real benefit from the conversation.

Blogging

With all this in mind, how does listening fit in with the blogging process?

We cannot simply throw words and opinions at our readers or they will not remain so for long. Our brand, and the loyalty it commands, is only as strong as our reputation and if we develop a reputation for being arrogant, narrow minded or egotistical we may as well just give up now.

In order to blog successfully we must be open to other opinions and influences which we can obtain from sources such as our reader’s comments, other sites and blogs and our ever increasing circle of ‘friends’.

If one of our readers has taken the time to leave a meaningful comment (not just the ‘great post, here’s my link‘ type) then we must show that we appreciate that comment by listening to it and responding accordingly which is why I say that we should be using comments to further the discussion.

While it is nice to get comments of affirmation it is equally important to receive those that are contrary to our position; these comments are the ones that make us think, make us re-evaluate our ideas, and cause us to understand what we say by having to explain and justify. We should, therefore, always encourage opinion by asking open questions. A debate doesn’t work if you present your argument and then refuse to hear the reaction.

Networking

Every site that offers blogging tips will tell you to get out there, read other blogs and network with the authors. It may sound like a cliché but the importance of this act cannot be over emphasised. Other bloggers will be just as opinionated as you but their opinions will be different. By cross referencing a range of other authors you can establish a wider view, determine trends or even spark off a good healthy debate. Bloggers will always be a good sounding board for ideas and many will take those ideas and extend them into areas you had not considered – the converse is also true in that we take ideas from elsewhere and add our own take.

Just subscribing to a range of blogs doesn’t work, you have to try to understand what makes that person tick and why they say the things they do – you can then gain an appreciation for their thoughts and writing style. In short, you have to listen not just to the words but to the meaning.

By getting to know some of your favourite bloggers using social networking tools you will enhance both the relationships and discussions you have with them which can only lead to better insight and, consequently, better blog posts.

In conclusion

The hardest part of any conversation is listening but do it well and it makes you more thoughtful, considered and productive.

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Image by Simon Crowley.

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Uncategorized | | 5 Comments

Stand out from the ‘social’ crowd.

Stand outAny product or service should fulfil a function or solve a problem. This is one of the biggest ‘rules’ out there which businesses must pay attention to or be doomed to failure (unless they are extremely lucky). I would also, however, apply the same rule to anything we do within social media.

Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Media has posted advice on creating new social networks with products like Ning. Ning itself provides a valid service – the ability for user to create their own social networks for free – but this does not mean that the end result will be valid. Too many people create a network just because they can with little thought, time or customisation. Without due care and attention these cannot hope to become anything other than just another social network (JASN).

If a network or service is not catered towards a specific need then it cannot hope to succeed unless it too is extremely lucky. It must offer ‘value’ over every other upstart social network out there. The same can be said of blogs.

Value

A blog should offer value if it doesn’t want to become lost in the ether but, what is value? Value is the differentiator between something and everything else out there in the same niche or on the same subject etc. Value is the reason you would want to read/use/consume something over all the rest. It is a new twist, extra information or an insightful opinion.

Louis Gray controversially stated that bloggers don’t add value, only services do. He argues that “Web services are adding real value to the Web by changing the way we interact and communicate” whereas bloggers are not. This definition of value is too shallow. Value can encompass so much more and a good blogger can even influence the web services, both their creation and development. We can all be influencers. What is more valuable, the final product or the spark that was responsible for it’s creation?

Stand out

I read recently that bloggers should not see other bloggers as their direct competition but should foster a sense of cooperation in order to increase exposure but I disagree. With the millions of blogs out there all vying for a slice of attention we are definitely in direct competition with those others bloggers in our chosen area and should ask ourselves why someone would want to chose our content over that on another site.

What makes us different? What gives us the edge over those who just rehash the same story without an original spin or opinion?

I blog in such a way as to start discussion – I have questions and opinions but not always answers but believe that these opinions and the questions I ask offer value in their own right. Rather than tow the line I constantly think how I can shake things up a little and get people thinking as that creates the most value of all. Why just agree with everyone else when you can be the boy who shouts “But he has nothing on” when presented with the emperor’s new clothes.

Selling yourself

Your life online (and to a degree your offline one) is dictated by your personal brand: how others see you based on what you do and say – and we should do everything we can to boost the perception others have of us. We should view it just as though we were applying for a job. Out of all the applicants why should an employer pick us? How do we sell ourselves in order to make us stand out from the crowd? We may have a change of career from time to time but our online history and reputation form our CV or resumé and the internet is an unforgiving place with a long memory.

Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer has taken this to its ultimate conclusion by actually offering a job via his blog and twitter. He’s not asking for a resumé but wants applicants to connect with him using social media and to use their online profiles to help differentiate themselves from the rest. We should not, however, wait for a job offer to bolster our brand – it is something we should be doing every day as you never know when an opportunity may arise.

We are living in a small world and are no longer compared against just those around us; our immediate vicinity has now become the whole planet.

Your take

How do you perceive value? What do you do to differentiate yourself from those in your niche, or what would you advise others to do?

Related Posts

Image by Tony Roberts.

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 5 Comments

When to add updates or create new posts?

Question MarksDarren Rowse of ProBlogger posted a few reader questions around the issue of when to update existing content rather than create a new post. I commented at the thread but wanted to share my full thoughts on the subject here as well.

The relevant questions were as follows:

  • Is it good practice to continue to make improvements after I’ve hit the magic publish button?
  • If so, should it be obvious to readers that’s what I’ve done?
  • What about simply re-wording a sentence or changing the order of content around?
  • Should new related ideas always go in new posts, or be added as “updates” at the bottom of existing ones?

Blogging is constantly about making improvements or corrections, striving to produce better quality content and become a better blogger; part of this is communication. We use our blogs to communicate our thoughts and ideas to our readers – often in order to start a discussion. It is only natural, therefore, to want to provide the latest and best information we have to had so that the discussion can be enhanced. How, though, is this best presented?

Quantity, not quality.

We normally see those two words the other way round but, in the context of updating existing content on your blog I believe that you have to look at how much is being updated. We must consider if an update is merely a one point addendum or whether it warrants a new post of it’s own – the quantity of the update is therefore most relevant as we can assume that the quality of the update is not being questioned or there would be no incentive to provide it.

A brief update of one or two sentences or a link to a relevant post on another blog is normally best handled as an update to the post itself. Anything larger is probably better served by a new post to prevent the original becoming cluttered. It will also be more productive with regards to enhancing the conversation as more people are likely to see and read it.

Making changes

Changing a post, as opposed to adding to it, is a difficult topic as has been alluded to in the comments on the ProBlogger post. I would tend to agree with a lot of what has been discussed there but to clarify here are my own preferences:

  • editing typos should always be done and need not (usually) be communicated back to the reader
  • if a typo changes your fundamental point (e.g. typing does instead of doesn’t) it should be corrected with a note of explanation, using a strike-through if necessary
  • rewording content should generally not happen, especially if it changes how the post reads

It is always a good idea to go back over your old content to see if you can add extra value or even if the surrounding landscape or your own position has changed. We are continually being re-influenced by everything we consume or experience, we may therefore change our opinions accordingly. These circumstances would always warrant a new post which goes over your original position, explains your new one and what has caused the change.

Comments and surveys

As I have mentioned previously a good way to expand on a particular topic is to use comments as the basis of a new post whether they are other peoples comments on your blog or your own comments somewhere else. The comments on any post are just as (if not more) important than the the original item and it is the conversation that we all value. Using comments to further discuss as issue is one of the reasons why we are all here.

Sometimes it may not be relevant to update a post with new information but you may also consider that it does not warrant a new post on its own. Under these circumstance it may be a good idea to start a poll or survey to garner even more opinion to either support or argue against your new idea. Sites such as SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy are good places to start.

In conclusion

There are no fixed rules and each change or update should be based on its own merits but the one point I would stress is that, with the exception of simple typos, you should always inform the reader.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | | 1 Comment

Is the term ‘Social Media’ dead?

Social media, open communication, user generated content – there’s no denying that the way we use the web has been changing but is too much emphasis being placed on the label for change?

The joy of the internet is its ability to allow us to connect with each other irrespective of distance and the recent wave of services was dubbed “social” due to the way it lets us directly interact much like a “real world” community.

Some people, however, are questioning the validity or relevance of the term social media. Does it accurately reflect the services we use or is it just an over-used, meaningless buzzword that has no place in our terminology? Some like to refer to it as “new media”, others like Chris Hambly for example prefer the term “open communication”.

Today’s question, therefore is: what name do you prefer?

What term do you think most accurately reflects the services we are using? Please choose from the options in the survey below or feel free to add your own suggestions. If you want to explain your choices then comments can be added directly to the survey or on the post itself.

April 20, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | | 7 Comments