Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thoughts on 2010: Good for Journalism, Bad for Marketing .

As 2010 starts, I am reminded that I'll be starting my fifth year in social media. I started as a professional blogger for Corante (a blog most won't know about these days), and have had some pretty interesting experiences in both the marketing and journalism sectors of what has now become "social media." In 2009, I started to see a whole momentum-shift in social media as some newspapers folded and ad revenues continued to plummet; and businesses of all stripes got really itchy about using social media for their own gain--rather than to service or listen to their customers. Even if there still isn't much in the way of ROI to prove social media's worth, businesses started to see their way to exploit social media as another platform to broadcast their "marketing message." But that was 2009....here's what I think--and what my gut tells me--might happen for both journalism and marketing in the upcoming year..

Good for Journalism: Journalism gets real with hyperlocal. Thanks to the vast numbers of downsized journalists in both print and broadcast, we are going to see a whole lot more independent, hyperlocal blogs and sites devoted to towns and cities across the country, filling in the gaps where the mainstream is dropping off. Where will they get the money? Some will get grants, while others will figure out how to get local merchants to buy ads (trust me, some have already) They'll figure out how to cash in on content syndication and ad networks and other programs that are already out there, and there might even be some new ways that money gets generated.

Lots more of these independent projects will profit: esp. if they've been around for a couple of years. People will turn to them because newspapers, while they figure out what to do next, will be more than averagely awful...

Many these new projects will be founded and/or headed by women, who continue to be overlooked as either "news futurists" or "news innovators"--one of these sites, founded by publisher Mary Serreze is Northampton Media
out here in Northampton, MA. Although not formally launched just yet, Northampton Media is providing important and significant coverage on the recent spate of arsons in Northampton that claimed two lives and cost thousands in damages.

If anything I hope for this year, that may not materialize, is recognition for women as news innovators and as important players in the future of news--because so many are making that future happen in small towns all over the place.

Check out this article at Poynter.org on Rick Kupchella, former anchor at KARE-TV in Minneapolis and his BringMeTheNews site....another project pointing to the future of local (and profitable too.)

Oh, and if newspapers are smart, they'll work out some kind of deals with outfits like Helium.com and Demand Media for outsourced copy editors, many of whom will come from the ranks of downsized journalists (as many of Helium and Demand's best writers come from)....thus diminishing the fear that at least copy editing will be done in Bangalore.

The Bad News for Marketing: outsourcing social media expands

Back in the day, a bunch of really smart guys got together and wrote something called The Cluetrain Manifesto. In that manifesto was the idea that "markets are conversations" and the Internet could make those conversations happen. A lot of people in marketing found it really difficult to get this notion (actually, it's a whole like like retail sales--trust me--and thus very far removed from marketing)

What these guys didn't say is that "marketing is a conversation." However, as social media evolves, and companies get desperate to get into Facebook and Twitter and all that social media jazz, lots of marketers who'd never worked retail and who can't seem to grasp Cluetrain, just figured there were ways to make their marketing messages into "conversation."

Notice the quotes there--because many aren't concerned about what makes conversation happen, or the benefits of direct customer interaction and increased efficiency in customer service, which is what happens when a company actually *does* social media. Most companies are interested in reaping benefit from social media--such as an increase in SEO for their websites--without actually having to have any kind of conversation with anyone.

Enter the new breed of social media "consultant." Rather than actually helping a company to understand the benefits of doing social media for themselves, helping a company brainstorm innovative ways of using social media in conjunction with other marketing strategies and the like, these enterprising consultants are willing to do the social media *for* businesses and companies. Yes, that means writing their blogs for them, keeping their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. In some cases it's even managing the LinkedIn accounts of senior execs. Marketing and Public Relations firms, too, are getting into the act, with creating new positions in their firms that are pretty much entry-level jobs that require lots of "social media management"(read: writing stuff for them) of client Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Maybe there's some blogging in that stuff, but who knows. Nowadays, how many of "the interns" really know what a blog is anyway? aren't they just passe little thingies that are great for linking strategies??? (argh!)

I'm totally baffled by this kind of consulting. The logic I hear from the many folks who do it this way is that businesses just don't have time to do social media, or they don't have the staff to do it, or some other reason why it's so impractical for them to do social media in-house (and I've been accused of being a "purist" who "just doesn't understand" that some business owners don't really care to have conversations with potential customers. huh?? they'd never make it in retail.) So much of this thinking flies in the face of all the social media success stories (see this from Gaspedal) that point out how in-house social media is what makes social media effective (creating a "market" and then a "conversation.")

Now, there are those consultants who will also argue that if you teach a company how to do social media for themselves, that they won't need the consultant any more. All I can say is if that's the case, then the consultant really isn't doing his/her job: because the world of social media moves so fast that you blink and you could have moss growing between your toes. Regardless of the hype, there's no reason to believe that Twitter and Facebook are the endpoints in social media and if you know them, that's all you need.

The matter of in-house vs. out-sourced social media won't be decided: check this great discussion on Social Media Examiner on the topic. There will, though, be a lot of companies throwing money at types and kinds of social media that, over the long term, may not get them what they want: more customers and better customer relations...

So, as I look at this, I think--where am I going to be in all of this? Will I continue to straddle both journalism and marketing, where will the opportunities be, and if there is room for "purist" thinking. Honestly, with the rise in hyperlocal sites, social media, and that direct connection with community and 'customer" is going to help journalism survive. That lack of connection that comes from outsourcing will more than likely black eye a company or two, and we won't necessarily be hearing of success stories from outsourced social media. All in all, it's going to be another exciting year in the trenches, that's for sure!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dating, The Internet, and the Transformation of Rituals

A short while ago, David Rogers (one of the coolest guys I know, and co-founder of the BRITE conferences), in a post on his blog, brought my attention to something I'd been thinking about for a very long time: how the Internet has changed things not for the worse, but perhaps for the better....

To me, the Internet has had the most profound change on the ways in which we relate to and interact with one another. Since the early days of newsgroups, there have been a myriad of ways to passive-aggressively (or downright aggressively = flaming) interact with one another because our identities were concealed most of the time. Yet even among the kinds of nasties that went on when groups hide behind identities, I got to observe a subtle shift in the whole ritual of dating and mating....

Believe it or not, back in those days, there were tons and tons of young, single geek types who were having a hard time getting dates. And it wasn't because they all had Asperger's Syndrome or were otherwise socially awkward. That's a myth. More often than not, these young folks were working really long hours doing really obscure things with an embryonic Internet, developing things like, oh, Instant Messaging, and other stuff we now just take for granted....

They didn't have the time to go out and hang out doing the stuff that the folks who weren't in the computer industry were doing. When they did, they either couldn't talk about their work, or if they did, nobody at the bar understood a word of what they were saying. So, lots of them started to meet one another "on line", and then, sure enough, in time, some of them actually got married!

And, yeah, some of us said, "oh, it'll never last..."

oh ye who laugh first....

There were other big changes going on in the whole dating and mating thing that would impact a whole lot of us and cause us to re-evaluate how we date and mate at different periods of our lives. Divorce, for one thing. Lots of us didn't stay in marriages for one reason or another, and then managed to find ourselves "on the market" again at a time in life when most people would, in the past, would be celebrating their 25th anniversaries.

The biggest conundrum to being single and over 40 is: where do you meet someone your own age?

One thing I noticed is that socializing patterns change as we get older. What used to be "boys and girls together"--that time in your 20's when everybody just "hangs out" and you can meet people anywhere from a bar to a concert to a hockey game to an ultimate Frisbee match--is no longer there. The boys and girls have children of their own, and even ourselves don't quite have the same energy that we had in those days.

I have observed some other interesting dynamics of us over 40's. Men (single/divorced and w/o small children) tend to spend weekends on their own, often pursuing hobbies like boating (one of the "going out" hobbies) or woodworking in their own workshops. It seems that for a lot of men, their weekends are resting and recharging from their work responsibilities, which often involve supervising of others.

And they are certainly not hanging out with buddies at bars looking for chicks. That's the disgruntled married guys ;-)

Now, the advice given to over 40 women up to now has been to get out and do "guy things" in order to meet men. That means taking up boating or joining Habitat for Humanity (woodworking outside of the home) or some other "manly" hobby. However, this generation of over 40 women--lots like me--don't feel the need to follow men in their hobbies just to meet them.

We also know that if we go out with girlfriends, depending on where we live, we might be taken for a lesbian couple. Not good if you want to meet guys.

Now, there's much more I could write about this--about the changes over the generations of modes of dancing from partner to mosh pit, or how bowling is kind of like going to a bar and you're more than likely to meet someone married there too--but that would turn all of this into a huge article of some sort. Suffice to say that the rituals of folks of other generations that might have got them together just aren't there any more (see Putnam's "Bowling Alone" to get more of that theory.)

Enter the world of Internet dating!

I've heard tons of people my age who scoff at the idea of Internet dating--and most of them haven't looked at an Internet dating site since Love @AoL. When I finally decided that I wanted to start dating again, I was totally shocked by the variety of dating sites that are out there. You can have anything from the "hookup" (sites like adultfriendfinder.com) to the FWB (friends with benefits--like on fling.com). You can create cute profiles and chat on sites like Match.com and OKCupid, or you can go straight for the passive-aggressive-passing-notes-to-determine-your-soulmate style of eHarmony.com.

My, how things have changed-- Even the way we Internet-date--and in the course of maybe 10 or so years. That is, depending on how long it's been since the first official online dating site appeared.

To me, this is a total boon to both women and men. My experience in talking with a lot of women about Internet dating is that, well, they don't approach it in quite the way that might help them. First they should be thinking of what they might really want from a relationship. And be totally honest. Brutally and totally honest.

And men...well, they tend to go the other way and embellish just a bit--even in what they are looking for. I've caught a couple of guys with profiles on a number of different sites (mostly by comparing sites with other friends doing the online dating thing too) asking for vastly different kinds of relationships...

I guess they feel like it's the lottery: the more chances you have, the better you will be at winning *something*....

Aside from these quirks of women/men's natures, overall, women no longer need to become interested in things they simply aren't interested in, and men don't have to give up their spare-time recharge rituals to find a date.

And nobody has to go hand out in bars--where there's nobody anyway.

Suffice to say, then, that Internet dating, since its inception, has changed the ritual of meeting by changing the place we meet. With the Internet, we have a much better chance of finding that "community of affinity" and thus the person within that community who might be worth spending time with. We may also need to be more honest with ourselves--not just with what we want from a relationship, but also what our lives are like and what are our interests. For women, it no more having to get a dog because you might meet a nice guy walking one, and for men it's no longer taking that cooking class when you'd rather be home having a beer.

Think about it...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Catching a CEO with his social media pants down

When it comes to the world of social media consulting and so forth, I love when I can tell a good "emperor has no clothes" story. I've been sitting on this one for awhile because I didn't want to black-eye this particular CEO. Yet as I see more and more people advocating for outsourcing social media efforts to "virtual assistants," underpaid interns, and the like, I can no longer keep my mouth shut--as my experience is a particularly good cautionary tale for those who believe outsourcing their social media is a good thing to do....

Back in '08, I put together two panels for the BlogWorld Expo--a pretty decent conference catering to bloggers and those wanting to make some money from blogging (my impression anyway.) Conference organizer Rick Calvert was happy that I was able to put together two excellent panels on the state of citizen journalism--a topic that hadn't been fully explored at BlogWorld. I was elated that I'd be able to bring in some of the great people I know and to be part of the conference...

Meanwhile, on Facebook, I got a friend request from a particular CEO-who-shall-remain-nameless who I did not know. He's a marketing guy who has a method for explaining the ROI of blogging that makes sense to business owners. We had a couple of friends in common, so I figured what the heck. But just to make sure, I sent him an email asking why he wanted to friend me....

The reply said something about the two of us being at BlogWorld. So I figured, ok, no biggie, and mentioned that I'd be looking forward to meeting him at the conference.

Now, it's fair to mention that I know a number of influentials in New Media, as well as a whole bunch of CEOs and other execs across marketing, p.r., etc. and a whole bunch of Very Influential People in journalism. I'm something of a "niche product" myself, partly because I don't have a formal background in either marketing nor journalism, but have been able to work on a number of great cutting edge projects...and hold my own...

In other words, I'm no piker in this new media/blogging stuff. I'm no starry-eyed newbie looking to start my company blog or learn the basics of Twitter. So, I best not be patronized, patted on the head, nor treated in any other way except as a peer (as we should treat one another anyway--it's just common respect. Esp. when I'm presenting two panels at the same conference where you are sitting on only one....

So, when I introduced myself to said CEO (who I couldn't get hold of after the panel as he was rushing off to his booth--understandable) I was greeted with a real fish-eye. "Um, you friended me on Facebook?" I said. I got a "oh, yeah, yeah, that's right..." that sounded as if he had no idea who he had/hadn't "friended."

Before I'd even thought that someone else might be keeping this guy's Facebook page, I thought that he might have given the list of conference presenters to one of the people in his office and said "Friend these folks for me, why don't 'cha?" while perhaps having a second list for those who would be approached on LinkedIn.

Yeah, I know a bit about how "strategic" some people are in their use of Facebook and LinkedIn. I have my own strategy, although it's probably not as mercenary as some others. Yet if I'd stuck to my strategy, I wouldn't have taken this guy's "friend" request in the first place. (little did he know...)

Well, as if it wasn't bad enough getting the brush off, after the conference I received an email from someone in his office--not offering me, perhaps, the possibility of being an affiliate for their company, BUT TO CONTRACT WITH THIS GUY'S COMPANY FOR BLOGGING CONSULTING AND TO (POSSIBLY) PURCHASE HIS PRODUCT!

Bloody Hell!! I've been blogging longer than this guy'd been blogging, I've spoken at conferences this guy couldn't get himself into in a dog's age, and he's handed my business card over to some flunkie in his office to send me a pitch for his product?!?

Talk about your social media #FAIL!

I immediately sent the flunkie an email informing him of my background and that I was a "friend" of his boss on Facebook, and that I'd worked as a professional blogger as well as a social media consultant/strategist. And that perhaps his boss should look at people's business cards before he hands them off to someone in his office for "follow-up."

Yeah, I know the boss jargon. I've been the flunkie. I know how it works. And I know that even though social media is supposed to be personal (as in managed by the person who has the accounts) there are some people who are just hooked on the idea of handing off stuff to someone in their office (or to outsource it.) They're hooked on the idea of someone else talking for them, doing their correspondence for them, and someone keeping track of their contacts for them. But times have changed. The era of the "I'm too important to be captured" (as Madame X said to Fred Flintstone) is slowly going the way of Sean Connery as James Bond.

It's simple: if you don't have the time for social media, don't be part of it. If it's important to you and to your business--esp. if you're business IS social media, then you should be the one participating in it. And if you can't, then set up a business account for business-related social media. Don't try to be the "boss" in a social media environment--because many of us will not care how important you are. We care about how well you will connect with us.

In other words, there are alternatives to pretending that you are doing your own social media management, and that you actually "know" the people you're friending, emailing, tweeting with, etc.

Now, I know there are a whole bunch of people, including this CEO, who believe that Corporate Blogging is different from "Personal" blogging--and that because of this, the work of both corporate blogs (and probably corporate Facebooking/Tweeting) can be done by others. Corporate presences in Facebook and Twitter managed by a team or group of individuals are fine--as long as they are not directly identified with an individual, such as the company's CEO or any other person's social media profile. Especially if these accounts are going to be used to disseminate only information about products, or other kinds of marketing, or serve as a channel for customer service.

HOWEVER--when it comes to Corporate Blogging....well, frankly, lots of corporate blogs are putting out a lot of search-tweaked content that's working to bump up their search results, yet isn't the best content in the blogosphere. That's the kind of content companies like Demand Media are supplying for corporate clients that blog. Sure, it's great for the companies: it gives them more results in search and an edge over their clients. But it's hardly "social"...

Yet, there are those who believe--and advocate-- that the whole idea of corporate blogs as "social" is an "unrealistic" notion perpetuated by "blogging purists" who simply don't understand business (as one corporate social media guy once said to me--prefaced with "well, you don't understand corporate blogging." oh, really???)

IMO, and in the opinion of a whole bunch of folks I know who are doing great things with corporate blogs on a "relational" level, I'd say that the corporate bloggers are the ones who don't fully understand what has made blogging valuable to companies beyond search....

But back to the CEO: needless to say that after this experience, I've never been able to give this guy nor his product a positive endorsement. I've said "sure, he's got a great methodology for explaining ROI, but that doesn't mean he knows the landscape of social media." And, in fact, his attitude and actions towards me proved, to me anyway, that he certainly wouldn't be able to help his clients if they had to deal one-on-one with a person in a social media context.

To me, it proved that he was in the "broadcast" mode of social media thinking, and that everything should be delegated down to the lower levels--that he, as a CEO, was much too important to be engaging anyone in social media.

Especially a purist like me ;-)

Go figure.

So, the lesson to take away from this is: if you are going to engage in social media, no matter what your level in your company may be, make sure that you plan to be social--really social. If you're going to friend someone you're going to be at a conference with, make sure that you are prepared to say something positive when you meet him/her, not give the glazed over fish-eye. And please don't hand over a stack of business cards to someone in your office and tell them that it's these folks who get "x" email. Because the person who gets that email might end up catching you with your social media pants down....

update I received an email from the CEO that this post is, in part, based on (there is another CEO quoted here--the one who referred to me as a "purist." ) He offered a very gracious and sincere apology, which was very nice. He handled the criticism very well. I'm sure it was tough to hear. It wasn't easy to write, either. But I'm glad he heard it, and I am looking forward to having a further conversation with him in the near future. In this way, we can both grow from the experience.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I haven't been updating the sidebar to this blog, so I thought it might be best to post where I'll be in the upcoming months...

This week, on December 11th, I will be speaking at the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers Business School in Newark, NJ. I'll be speaking on using social media for small businesses. And yes, I'll be talking some rudimentary metrics. I hope that a more in-depth conversation with this group--something beyond the basic "what is social media"--will help this group to develop their web presences.

And in March, 2010, I will be on a panel discussing new media at the "A Century of Women in Type" Conference for Smith Women in Media. It's an amazing honor to be asked to be part of an event alongside such women as Gloria Steinem, Laurel Touby (tent), and so many other amazing and fascinating women who've made huge contributions to the world of print media.

I am so grateful to have these fantastic opportunities, and really looking forward to some fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs across both business and media. It's great being able to straddle both worlds--there's just way too much to see and learn out there...