Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blogging SIIA: Henry Blodget and Info wants to be expensive

Got to see Henry Blodget keynote at last year's SIIA-IIS. This year, he's moderating a panel with Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media, Cheryl Milone, CEO of Article One Partners, and Jim Fowler, CEO Jigsaw Data Corporation.

There's some short intros going on now, with Gaby Darbyshire talking about Gawker Media (IMO: Gawker's got a profit based on paying their reporters very little. And from folks I know who've been assoc. with Gawker, they do not inspire loyalty among their staff. Then again, maybe they don't want loyalty--only low wages Update: heard from @nicknoted via Twitter that this has changed--wages at Gawker now comparable to print. and many recent hires.)

Darbyshire: availability of facts will be more widespread

Cheryl Milone: in the patents industry. Patents are now accessible to everyone, but tools to evaluate them are scarce. Article One launched a year ago--crowdsourcing model to research validity of patents. She believes that the crowsourcind aspect is going to grow--but who are the people doing the crowdsourcing? and what incentives do they have??

Jim Fowler: B2B data collections. Also providing a crowdsourcing model--but he notes that there is a community of professionals to manage. Disrupting not just how data is collected but how data is distributed. Their data is active--where database is changing all the time. They maintain and manage the database. If people don't want to be in Jigsaw's database, they can be removed--only collect account info and (one other kind of info I can't recall. it looks, however, that what they're collecting is public knowledge anyway.)

Derbyshire talking about the NYTimes and their announcement: maybe the Times is getting people used to the idea of metered pay, and perhaps hoping that others will do the same.

Blodget points out that maybe the Times is just scared that their metered plan is not going to work--and cites the Newsday debacle.

Derbyshire counters that she can understand why NYT would want to do this.

Blodget to Milone: "your products are better, why don't traditional firms do the same?" Article One's community is incentivized with some profit distribution to community. India firms asking to leverage their firm's excess capacity by doing work for Article One. Opportunity is strong enough that she sees traditional firms doing work for them.

Blodget to Fowler: "why doesn't B & D work with you?" Fowler: :The value isn't in the data itself, but in the changes in the data." In order to resist disruption, it's to recognize there will be disruption, so they developed a business model that will make money from the change in the data (which they push out in real-time.) when they push out, 40% of customers share their data and get a price break on Jigsaw's services. Holding on to data no longer has value--sharing data has value. People will pay for up to date data, and the best way to get it is for people to share it with you.

Darbyshire says NYT is hidebound to legacies that could be damaging them. NYT has lots of columnists that they can't tell from print if they are read or not. Metrics help Gawker show that their columnists are popular. (hmmmm...kind of backs up what Cision survey found...) "Fluff" brings spike from Google, but not an overall readership. Gawker knows what works for its audience from metrics, so it can allocate resources accordingly. Immediacy of reporting, conversational tone to their posts, helps Gawker. Lack of conversation in print hobbles the news industry (note: but is news a conversation? lots of newspeople would argue that it isn't.)

Fowler: need to let innovators take their time and not be pressured to make big money fast. You can't though, hemorrhage money on an innovation project. Keep discipline. CEOs need to give their people 20% of their day to innovate--the way google does. Have them go out and find 5 or 10 innovative projects and fund them. Buying innovation, however, doesn't always work (yeah, I've seen that happen--or the innovations get squashed.)

Darbyshire: economics of whole industry is getting reset at a lower level (true for news.)

Milone taking advice from disruptive companies that have survived. "Have a deep desire to understand (the customers) needs." Even the government should listen to customer needs.

Darbyshire: older big companies might have problems becoming smaller, lighter and more nimble.

Fowler notes how Jigsaw's created an alliance with Dun & Bradstreet that's a win-win for both. "Some companies can't be saved" says Fowler, and cites Encyclopedia Brittanica, which is being buried by Wikipedia....

Note: so, it all depends on the type of content that either wants, or can be, expensive. Data, if aggregated in real-time or at least timely, can certainly be expensive. Re-selling of crowdsourced data can definitely be a good business model, if the type of info that is crowdsourced is needed, hasn't been updated in awhile, o is difficult to understand and update....and news--whether news can ever be as expensive as it was in the 20th century is debatable. The economics of news are being reset at a lower point (Derbyshire, etc.) so news may need to be "cheap."

SIIA Previews a.m.: More Great New Services & Products!

Brand Thunder: a provider of customized toolbars to increase brand loyalty and reach. Not a bad concept and I can see a lot of use for it with a number of brands. They've got some great clients already. They're quick with roll-out, so there's little delay in building--and they have a revenue share (the only downside I see is that "fans" may-uninstall the toolbar at some point. but that might not be such a bad thing in the overall life of a site and may still increase brand awareness if not brand loyalty.)

HaraBara: Green information on demand. Helps companies get useful information on the "green" space. They take in content and filter: proprietary taxonomies, do a slice and dice of content to make it relevant to the B2B customer that needs this kind of information. (and there are lots of clients that could use this to counter any bad press that might be out there etc.)They cover both current and archival information, everything from blogs to government resources. Looking at being the LexisNexis for the Green space.

NetProspex: an online lead discovery service for the B2B industry. Combines crowd-sourcing with editorial control. Has a technology that uses a manual verification at the end of the crowdsourcing process--verifies what of the crowdsourced info might be best. Throws out about 80% of what's gathered--publishes only the unique and verified information. "the Ivy League ford data." Will be adding verified social media information in the future.

Blogging SIIA-IIS: Some important notes from Ken Doctor's keynote

Here at Day 2 of the SIIA's Information Industry Summit: there's lots of talk about the Apple Tablet, and what it's going to shake up. There's a video on YouTube about it.

Ken Doctor just made a very interesting comment about news: 40% less newsprint, 20% less staff--he doesn't think the downsizing is a good thing. Thinks that what "we don't know what we don't know" and that local/region reporting suffering.

Sobering stats from Doctor: 57% go to the Internet for immediate news--25% use broadcast sites daily. And only 10% of people surveyed "say they'd consider paying for news" and 50% scan Google for headlines without going to news sites ("Google is a central utility in our lives."

Self-marketing is big--advertising taking a downturn (but, as was indicated yesterday, creative is still important.)

What by 2015? 3D TV? Doctor's book "Newsonomics" coming out next week. Some things from the book: The "Digital Dozen" will dominate (ABC< AP< BBC< Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, NBC, NYTimes, NewsCorp, NPR, Thomson Reuters, WashPo.)

The New Local (as Doctor calls it) will be "Free for all"

Global opportunities for the Digital Dozen since there are 900 Mil people speak English. Has scale, but cost structure is too high.

A new farm system: CBS is using Global Post, Reuters is using Politico...

"In the Age of Darwinian Content: We're own on and each other's editors."

Average Internet user spends 5 hours, 32 mins on social media! makes 2 Billion referrals per month! whether they are articles/news or personal, there are some different stats from Rutgers on this.

Next step is Social Optimization.

Brands "advertis" on Social media with lots of coupons and offers.

The new Trfecta: Social, Mobile, Video (but I'm still not sure on video--soc. and mobile yes.)

Google now aggregating Tweets--real-time search is here...(Technology Review had something on this at the beginning of January.)

Analytics-Driven Content is roaring forward: AOL is creating content "on the fly" by looking at search (aggregation) Doctor mentions Demand Media: "increasingly, data is driving editorial content."

New models of journalism are focusing on advertising more than on quality of journalism: much is very low paid. Doctor elucidates the Examiner model (yes, I've heard of the Examiner, but don't read it...)

The Apple Table incorporates 4 of the Newsonomics laws:

Law 1: make it social
Law 2: approach the digital dozen
Law 5: gather other people's content
law 9: drive the business with data.

Some comments from me: Re Examiner and sites like that: they may have search, but do they have the brand?? IMO, I don't think so. I've seen Examiner--but if I want that kind of content, I'll go to a site like TMZ. So, what publications will Examiner hurt? Will their model be sustainable over time? And what about local coverage? Could they hurt local--where things are really hurting now....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blogging SIIA--More great services at Afternoon Previews

Previews can be the best part of SIIA--

HearPlanet: missed most of this presentation, but it's for mobile, but they have a whole lot of ways to get content out there in real-time, to your iPhone, Android, etc. They provide white label solutions--hmmm....good for small papers??

ORLive: leader in online video solutions to medical field. Video production, production support, etc. Allows surgeons to upload videos to share with peers. Created an interactive platform for its clients. Have a dedicated video network with strong following. Also has branded and custom video channels for customers. Get about 2 million unique visitors per year, and drive a lot of audience to partners, kind of like network affiliates. Looks like a great site for those who are in the medical field, as well as those who might be reporting on it.

Snac a mobile software and services corporation. Since apps are controlled by product providers, Snac provides application that is a mobile discovery/customized dashboard for content owners (not open to the iPhone--but on many other smartphones.) "Enabling companies to connect with their mobile consumers every day." Downloadable app creates an alternate homescreen page (iPhone user-like interface) They've been in beta for several months now, and doing well. There's a 160 million user market that can benefit from this app--those are smartphone/javaphone/BREW users. Potential partnership with iPhone...

Blogging SIIA: Notes On Ken Auletta's Keynote about Google

Before his book, Ken Auletta did a piece for the New Yorker on Google, and I was shocked by it--mostly because Sergy Brin and Larry Page were so dissed by the Washington Establishmet. So, I'm very much enjoying listening to what Auletta has to say....

Auletta sees Google as a huge library--and so does the rest of the world (he discovered...)

The most important thing about Google, Auletta found in research, is the trust that they created. He's going into some detail about how advertising...

Something he learned about engineers: Google's engineers succeed because they start with the assumption that traditional ways of doing things are inefficient (what founders believe) They realized that information was media--that traditional media was inefficient. Newspapers are inefficient--printing and distribution of newspapers is inefficient.

Old media buys in big media really didn't know who was getting ads--just that lots of people got the ads. Google "messing with the magic" that old media relied on by showing who gets the ads!

Google's engineers ask: why not? Why not index all the books out there?

Google's engineers given 20% of their days to work on their own projects. An Indian engineer wonders why there's so little news on the Muslim world: hence, Google News.

Auletta outlines all the things that Google has revolutionized--and that old media was blind to or thought was "too expensive."

Most traditional media companies put engineers down on the food chain--too many levels below the CEO to be effective. Auletta would hire a really great engineer and put him at his elbow--and suggests CEOs should do that.

The Innovator's dilemma: do you sacrifice new business for something unproven? Old media has decided to preserve old business than sacrifice. And then blames the digital world for its woes!(Auletta)

Auletta: In the short run, what Google does for consumers is good. In the long run, though, if news/books become a commodity that can no longer be afforded to produce, consumers will suffer. User-generated content doesn't generate income--advertisers want content that is reliable. Google announced last week that it's going to start charging, on YouTube, for independent movies like Netflix.

Advertising won't pay for content. They--media outlets--are going to have to charge (micropayments mentioned.) After the recession, Eric Schmidt realized they would need more than just advertising and would have to figure out what to charge for. Auletta sees YouTube become a platform both for UGC and for pay content.

iTunes was terrific for music companies, but what about Apple Tablet? Will it really help media companies create a revenue stream?? Auletta's not giving an opinion on this here.

Google worries about social networking sites being the referral sites vs. Google's search results. Google is also concerned about government--and how government might intervene.

It took electricity 71 years to reach all of public. It took 50 plus years for telephone to reach public widely. But it took less time for the Internet and only 5 years for Facebook. Things moving very, very fast, scaring old media who should be (in Auletta's view) asking what's next? and looking at what Google's doing.

Note: I asked Auletta about privacy and how Google sees it: they see it mostly as information (so it's agnostic) but also that they will use information we put out there for targeted advertising. I wonder if we've come to a point where we should be advising young people to put less information online, regardless of what their friends want? Perhaps.....

Blogging SIIA: Previews of New Products Tuesday a.m.

Last year, I saw some fabulous stuff at the SIIA Previews event--which was separate last year. Nice to see the Previews event into the "big show" this year. I'll be giving short descriptions of these interesting new companies/services:

Boardroom Insiders: provides access to C-level execs, helps to provide info on these execs to facilitate connection to these people. Boardroom Insider searches many public sources to mine information about C-levels to help clients to connect on a personal level. And yes, they are mining executive Tweets and other social networking sites too--so, IMO, CEOs and other C-levels, if they're going to tweet, should tweet about more than just trite stuff like links and aphorisms. That is, unless they don't want to be found....(BTW, they are hiring unemployed business journalists!)

DeepDyve: Netflix for Research! Mostly for non-institutional researchers who need to get information that they can't afford. It's difficult for writers to get research info from publisher sites, and article prices can be very high (how true!) So, DeepDyve helps non-institutional users (yes, that's lots of us!) to get stuff we couldn't afford. Articles are for "rent" for about $.99 each. Monthly subscriptions are for those who need more. They also have revenue share with partner sites (the ones providing content.) DD have a great reciprocal relationship with publishers, who are happy to get something rather than nothing for their content. Most institutional uses see DD as complimentary to their own sites and gives access to many who wouldn't be able to afford articles otherwise. Currently, most of their content is scientific content, but will be moving into social sciences and other content in the very near future (in talks with providers)

Something to think about: could something like DeepDyve work for newspapers that want to put investigative pieces behind a "pay wall"? Perhaps.) Gives publishers easy way to recommend info to users based on what they've viewed in the past. (note: I can see this working well for newspapers with big databases.) does with content what Netflix, Amazon and Pandora already do. They launched private beta recently. The user enters in some information on interests, and recommends news for them based on these criteria. They are licensing this info to publishers--and I'm looking at a personalized recommendation widget as it might look at the Los Angeles times. Today, they are releasing their Publisher platform (with whitelabel widget--and I signed up to test

More to come

Intro to SIIA--and notes on Michael Hansen/ Elsevier Health Sciences on Counter-Intuitive Strategies for Growth

This is my second year attending the SIIA Information Industry Summit--one of the most interesting conferences that I've had the pleasure of attending. It's always an interesting group of people--folks that are shaping what's going on in the world of content production.

Now, content production isn't something that crosses people's minds when it comes to publishing--we think more of journalism, or book publishing, or anything that's b2c or public facing. Yet in academic and business circles, "content production" is a big deal.

I'm watching Michale Hansen CEO of Elsevier talking about Galilleo, who was first publshed by Elsevier--speaking of course strengths and what a publishing co. can bring to the outside world. Elsivier's strength is info on health sciences.

Galilleo story Hansen's relayed is that sometimes one has to think outside the box and be counter-intuitive to know what's going to happen/change, etc.

Hansen says: One of these is government regulation--perspective on most regulation is bad. But healthcare regulations have been good: speaking of the FDA and the effect it had on pharmaceuticals (that we don't get unintentionally poisoned....)

Hansen's not going in the direction of a discussion on healthcare reform--but he agrees with most of us that there is a need for reform (esp. when we are in a "freelance economy"--my take on it. freelance economy needs nat'l healthcare to survive.)

Hansen believes there's a crisis of information, not just a crisis of costs. People are "injured" because they are getting the wrong perscriptions. Somebody didn't have the right information, and therefore, got the wrong info.

Some stats: there's a 33% chance that, if you have a chronic disease, you might not get treated according to the right protocols. There's also a 3-5% chance that you might have an "adverse event" at a hospital (?!?!) Hansen believes that these problems are a crisis of information--that if hospitals had the correct and up to date info, these things wouldn't happen.

But we don't have the "pipes" for an exchange of info between hospitals and doctors--even though we have the technology. (this is true!)

The got. have determined that there are "never events": events that are preventable and shouldn't happen, such as bedsores. But because of "never events" if this happens to you, your insurance might not pay for treatment....

As an info provider, Hansen sees Elsevir as needing to provide info, at point of care, for providers to act on. Yet, physicians don't have the time (approx. 6 mins per patient!) The task is: how to get this info to physicians so that they can consult online resources that have the right information. Elsevir has a new service that brings info to point of care....

Yet in the health info providers say this is not a good thing--that providing this info might make the info provider libel. Act counter-intuitive and provide the info anyway is Hansen's way of looking at it.

Also, provide the customer with what they need: with hospital budgets going down, how can they afford info services like Elsevir. Elsevir did an audit of Trinity Hospital's info services and found where they could reduce costs for Trinity--this was a counter-intuitive move, as they sometimes had to recommend competitor products that are cheaper.

Hansen notes that many companies that say communication is paramount to them, don't necessarily share as much information as they should. Yet this is the time when employees are most vulnerable and in need of information. That companies might counter a sense of loss of control by providing more information to its employees--not withholding it to protect the company's reputation or fear of employee reactions. Hansen relates a story of allowing employees to help figure out what budget items needed to be cut, that these things help companies to survive the downturn *and* succeeding in the production: that loyalty of employees and customers along with developing products, will keep a company vital when things are going well for the company (when many companies get complacent.)

My take: this is interesting vis journalism--mostly as it concerns local newspapers. Can they be counter-intuitive? or are so many of the local chains too highly leveraged that they cannot do anything counter-intuitive? I wonder how an individual in the newspaper industry might be able to convince a newspaper to do something counter-intuitive.

Likewise with marketing: In many smaller businesses where there's "no-time" to solve problems of marketing with social media. It makes me wonder if the resources of the business are not being allocated properly so that the right person within the company can take on the execution of social media (and I don't mean staff--staff in a small business might be the right person to execute, but should staff be responsible for the strategy? probably not.)

It's always tough listening to a CEO talk--they are often really excited about their businesses, and it can be tough to separate the info from the pitch. Yet sometimes even within pitches there is some good information. It's getting to that kernel of truth that can make them worth a listen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ken Auletta to keynote 2010 SIIA Information Industry Summit

Last year I got invited to liveblog the SIIA Information Industry Summit, and have been invited to liveblog the event again this year. I'm really excited to be part of this event again: last year, I learned a great deal about SaaS (software as a service,) the "content creation" business and about guys in white dinner jackets and black ties, who take your coat at the entrance to the conference (needless to say, that was something like a "well, I've arrived" moment...not to mention all the austere middle-aged men in black suits...)

The SIIA--Software and Information Industry--is an organization that few outside the B2B content, SaaS, and other B2B services know all that much about. Yet it is an incredible organization of C-level and other high-ranking executive types. Their openness to bloggers has been great: I've never been given restrictions nor have I been treated as if I were a barbarian storming the gates. In fact, I've felt very comfortable in this group.

Go figure ;-)

This year's keynote will be New Yorker communications columnist Ken Auletta. I read an article sometime ago that Auletta wrote about when Sergey Brin and Larry Page first went to Washington D.C. to meet with our fearless leaders and were summarily dismissed as kids playing around. It was a story I'd never heard, and I was totally boggled by the ways that Brin and Page were dismissed.

It left me thinking--"well, just because some people have all the power, doesn't mean they're all that knowledgeable nor that gracious..."

So I'll be looking forward to what Auletta has to say in his keynote, and whether it will differ in any way from Jeff Jarvis' views on Google.

Henry Blodgett, CEO and Editor of The Business Insider will be speaking again this year. I don't know what it is that I like about Blodgett--maybe that he still seems to ruffle the feathers of the status quo--but I found his talk at the '09 IIS to be one of the most informative. Blodgett also gave a fantastic answer to my rather direct question about the NYT/Gatehouse suit that had yet to be settled. Here's my re-cap of his '09 talk, which remains one of the best I've heard about online journalism to date.

Along with liveblogging, I scored an opportunity to interview Tracey L. Armstrong, President and CEO of the Copyright Clearance Center. In all the discussions I've heard regarding copyright, I was totally unaware of this organization and the amount of information they provide to help understand and protect copyright. I'm very curious to know what they think of copyrighted works on the web....and perhaps what they might think about paywalls around newspapers...

The SIIA Information Industry Summit takes place in NYC (my favorite city), Jan. 26 & 27. If you happen to be in NYC around those dates, and want to chat, just email. And thanks, to the SIIA for including me in their liveblogging crew.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is "linklove" a dying concept?

As Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools have grown in prominence and become immediate ways to share information, is there any room left for "linklove" between blogs? I'm not so sure anymore...

But let's first recap: before the ubiquity of social media tools that facilitate community building and information sharing, linking to one another's blogs, either through blogrolls or by links in posts, was extremely important. Getting the blogroll "permalink" was most important, esp. if it came from a high-ranking blog. A permalink on a high-ranking blog would eventually help the Google Page Rank of your blog, thus putting your blog higher in search.

As we shared linklove with one another, we demonstrated community. Bloggers were often working at more than just their blogs or other nascent forms of social media (many developing them) so our sense of community was in the acknowledgment of reading one another.

It seems, though, that this type of passive community building, which lead to much value in search, has been superceded--or perhaps just shouted down--by those who believe the "community" is one that is in constant interaction with you, either on your blog or across other social media tools.

Also, I have noticed, that as "social media" and blogs have become a bigger part of marketing communications, cross-linking in the body of blog posts to other bloggers, as well as keeping blogrolls, has declined. It seems as if to give credit to the thinking of other bloggers will, somehow, take away from the value of the marketing blog's post. The idea, too, of keeping a blogroll, to some marketing clients, feels too much as if they are giving something away to "competition." The first--to not link to influencing content-- is ethically problematic when we consider that some of the content on some marketing blogs might actually be inspired by other blogs. Why the lack of links to original sources? I can understand if all other blogs are seen as "competition" but to not link back to an original source? That seems a bit like plagiarism.

Perhaps this shift from the known notion of "linklove" has happened because of the rise in SEO and its emphasis on keyworks and in-site page linking, and the lack of necessity for linking outside of one's own site. It has, though, influenced what we consider community--and how that community is measured. Is the value of a blog now in the numbers of people who might come to your blog and say "great post!" rather than in the page rank? Or is the value in the number of re-Tweets you can get for a post?

I wonder....

More food for thought: here's a nice discussion on Twitter's Little Known SEO Value--thus the re-Tweet becomes just as important, if not more, than the direct link from a high-ranking blog. Curious shift indeed--and something that causes a drastic change in understanding of what constitutes a blog's "community."

Update 1/29/10 Check out these posts from Technology Review on how Google, since December, now has real time search and how its going to be ranking Tweets. Also, URL shorteners, combined with with real-time search into social networking sites helps to spread new kinds of linklove.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Transparency in Social Media: Ethical Considerations in Marketing

Update 2/3/10: Toby Bloomberg and John Cass have completed their survey--see the results here: Where Does "Transparency" Fit in the New Social Media Marketing Model

As I see more and more consultants, marketers and web design firms offer social media services to their clients, I begin to wonder what, exactly are they offering? Most of their sites don't say exactly the kind of social media consulting they offer, but from the scuttlebutt I've gathered from here and there, what is being offered is more like social media copywriting for a blog or Twitter or Facebook. While this may be what the client wants, or is willing to accept if the only thing offered, how transparent are professionals being with their clients? And what about the customers who may come to a company's various social media pages believing they are getting in touch with a company, only to find their comments neglected and their concerns unanswered? Where, then, should transparency begin with social media marketing efforts?

Vendor to Client Transparency If you are offering social media services, be clear in the kind of services you offer. If you outsource portions of your social media, say that this is what you do. If what you are offering is a blog copywriting service, then say that's what it is. If the company is not directly writing the blog, and there are no comments, then what is being done is strictly content creation/copywriting because there is no intention to engage with anyone who comes in contact with the content.

It is the intent to engage--whether or not that engagement happens--that turns straight content into "social media" and not the platform where it is published. The platform, if it is a blog platform, is only a simple to use content management system. Content production on a simple content management system isn't necessarily "blogging." It's essentially copywriting if there is no intent to engage.

Client to Customer Transparency With the new FTC Endorsement Guides, we know that, basically, if someone takes payment to write on a blog about a product/service, he/she must have something that says they were paid. This is a great first step in transparency and truthfulness in social media! But there's one more step: when someone is hired to blog for a company, it should be disclosed that the content produced is coming from someone outside of the company.

Why might this seem like it needs to be stated? The assumption among consumers is that if they are going to a company-created social media site--whether that be a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter stream--that they are in some way interacting directly with the company. This is a specific need of customers who engage with companies online (see Deloitte/Beeline Labs "Tribalization of Business")--a need for community and communication with the company.

The customer's expectation for social media is different than for advertising or marketing materials--where it is assumed that those materials may be written by outsiders. The assumption regarding social media is that the company--directly and without reservation--wants to be social with their customers.

Therefore, it would follow that if a company is outsourcing its social media to a consultant, who is then creating copy for them via a social media platform of some kind, then it should be clearly disclosed that the
person is an outside representative of, and not an employee of, said company.

Currently, this is not the case for those who hire others to do their social media work. So, by subcontracting or outsourcing the work of social media, and not disclosing, a company is, technically, misleading its customers into believing that someone within the company will be there for them if they try to interact with the company.

How would you feel if you were that company's customer? Think about it. Wouldn't you feel betrayed? Or do you simply not expect a company to ever engage you via social media? That might be your particular thinking, but it just might not be the thinking of your customers.

Recently, I have heard some scuttlebutt along the lines of "Comcast really *doesn't care," as someone tried to get in touch with Comcast via social media, and no one was there for them.

Zappos however, still gets consistently high marks for the ways that they interact with their customers though their many social media and website endeavors.

If you can create a whole new customer base by using social media (like Zappos has done) doesn't it stand that you would want to keep that customer base happy by interacting with them through social media--if they choose to contact you through social media? (Here I am assuming that the intention to engage is there in the first place.)

So, to recap: there is a first level of transparency: vendor to client, where it is disclosed that some parts of social media are outsourced or written by the consultant. It is then ethical and fair to say that the client is not contracting for social media per se, but is contracting for regularly produced content writing services that may be published on one of the many simple to use CMS's that are usually for blogging (because a blog isn't being created either) or for publication on other social media platforms.

The second level of transparency is from client to customer, where it is fully disclosed that the content is being created not by someone who is directly affiliated with the company, but by a representative or contractor for the client. This keeps the customer from assuming that he/she is engaging directly with the company through social media channels (because they aren't.) The customer can then choose whether to continue to consume the content of this company or go to a place where the content is being produced by someone who is an employee of the company.

Now, there are a whole lot of people who believe that the Internet is the Wild West, and that anyone can do whatever they want within its confines to make a buck. But that's not the case. The Internet is, in many respect a very large community of people, and those people are looking to interact with companies in ways that have been unavailable to them in the analog world. If the only desire of companies is to repeat their analog ways in the digital realm, they are, in some respects, misleading their customers--because the core belief of customers is that they will get better customer service and have their voices heard if they connect via social media.

Are you willing to risk the customer relationships you could be cultivating through social media, and perhaps risk your company's reputation, by sacrificing transparency with both your clients and their customers?

Think about it.

Note: This post was inspired by "What does an agency owe a client in terms of content transparency?" and the survey being conducted by Toby Bloomberg and John Cass on the issue of transparency with clients.