Category Archives: Social Networks

Thriving in a hashtag economy

Kudos to photographer Matt Mason for providing these photos. Click to see the gallery

A question about using social media arose this morning — one that I only had time to half-answer. I was on a panel at a Milwaukee Social Media Breakfast (#SMBmke). The question (to paraphrase): “I don’t sell a sexy product. I’m a business that sells to other businesses something that they need. But they don’t necessarily blog about it or tweet about it. Can social media support my goal of lead generation?” I said yes. Below is the second half of my answer.

I did mention The Long Tail. Click through that link to learn what that is. And if you do, think about that link. Jeff Jarvis coined the phrase link economy. Chris Anderson coined the phrase the long tail. I propose a new coinage: the hashtag economy.

The long tail is the book, and the concept, about how niche markets find what they need in a world this isn’t hindered by the economics of brick-and-mortar. There are no carrying costs associated with iTunes offering one more song that just happens to be obscure. Their inventory is limited only by digital storage costs and the bandwidth necessary to deliver the song when someone buys it.

The link economy uses this free, or nearly free, paradigm. It cost me nothing to create the link that pointed readers to an explanation of The Long Tail. The link led to Wikipedia. There again, the power of almost-free. This crowd-sourced encyclopedia saw the most minuscule of incremental costs to provide you with that definition.

The upshot is this. Since we are rewarded nearly every time we click on a link, we do it more often. That generates something that very often can be monetized: Significant volumes of traffic.

Smart businesses — such as the publishers of Wired Magazine and Anderson’s book — leverage this link economy to sell more books. And they leverage The Long Tail Phenomenon in the very sale of a book about the long tail; Anderson’s book might never have become a best-seller if it hadn’t been offered in a virtual bookstore like Amazon first. His readers might have simply been just too darned “niche” to persuade bricks-and-mortar book stores to stock it in their shelves.

Scott Baitinger, co-owner of Streetza Pizza, and I were talking about niche marketing earlier this week. I complimented him on his use of Twitter Hashtags to find a narrow group and to market to them. That narrow group is @FitMKE. Scott has been peddling his pizzas to this group by tweeting to them with the #FitMKE hashtag.

Analog broadcast channels (those based on radio / television wave frequencies) are valuable enough that they are regulated by the government. There are rules about what businesses must do to earn their right to be there (e.g., public service announcements and public-oriented programming). Things that are scarce have value, and these channels are no exception. A recent auction of analog broadcast channels garnered bids in the many millions of dollars.

Twitter handles are not limited by the spectrum of a radio or television broadcast frequency. If I auctioned off my Twitter handle, I would get zero bids. Why? Everyone who knows anything about Twitter knows you can create accounts limited only by the nearly infinite combinations of letters and numbers.

This makes Twitter a spectrum of a nearly infinite number of nearly-free channels. It draws lots of people because it is so cheap and teeming with variety. It uses both the long tail and the link economy.

Increasingly, Twitter is also spawning communities of likeminded people around hashtags. One example of #SMBmke. Another, ironically, is #MKElikemind (another breakfast group — here’s the info on my blog). Scott, and @StreetzPizza, found #fitMKE to be a channel to narrow-cast his offer of healthy pizzas (and also indulgent pizzas, since — hey — you have to be getting fit to enjoy life, don’t you?).

The Hashtag Economy is one way smart marketers are finding their niche audience within the cacauphony of other channels. They’re tuning in, conversing, and doing business there.

Here’s a challenge, especially for my friends (old and new) who attended this morning’s breakfast: What hashtag conversations have you been a part of? And how have they improved your life and work? More important: What business relationships have formed from them?

Related posts:

Also mentioned:

Photo credit: Matt Mason, photographer

Milwaukee wants to know: Should you hire a social media expert?

Originally scheduled for December, the Social Media Breakfast panel discussion, Social Media Guru: Snake Oil Salesman or Expert?, will take place on Thursday, January 21, at The Moct. I’ll be one of the four panelists. The other panelists, and other details, are as follows (this information was originally posted last month):

Matthew Olson @_Signalfire_ – Owner and Creative Director of Signalfire, LLC

Sue Spaight @SueSpaightVP of Account Management and Digital Strategy at Meyer & Wallis

Kim Nielson @KnmuCommunications Project Manager at University School of Milwaukee

Here are the details:

January 21, 2010 – 7:30 am to 9:30 am

The Moct – 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

WiFi and Light Breakfast Provided

Twitter Hashtag: #SMBMke

It promises to be a spirited discussion on a timely topic. I look forward to seeing you there!

Ambient awareness is to humans what coconut shells are to an octopus

Octopus using shells as toolsEleven months  to the day after David Pogue of the New York Times posted on being a newbie in the “Twitterverse,” I think his piece is still one of the best introductions to the platform. Here’s a sample:

I’ll admit that, for the longest time, I was exasperated by the Twitter hype. Like the world needs ANOTHER ego-massaging, social-networking time drain? Between e-mail and blogs and Web sites and Facebook and chat and text messages, who on earth has the bandwidth to keep interrupting the day to visit a Web site and type in, “I’m now having lunch”? And to read the same stuff being broadcast by a hundred other people?

Then my eyes were opened. A few months ago, I was one of 12 judges for a MacArthur grant program in Chicago. As we looked over one particular application, someone asked, “Hasn’t this project been tried before?”

Everyone looked blankly at each other.

Then the guy sitting next to me typed into the Twitter box. He posed the question to his followers. Within 30 seconds, two people replied, via Twitter, that it had been done before. And they provided links.

The fellow judge had just harnessed the wisdom of his followers in real time. No e-mail, chat, Web page, phone call or FedEx package could have achieved the same thing.

I was reminded of this again over lunch yesterday, when I was chatting with a couple of really smart tech types. My lunch companions were very Pogue-like in their misgivings about Twitter. One was even leery of Facebook. Both made points that sounded familiar to me.

I acknowledged that when Twitter first came out, I was the same way. This post from 30 months ago is an example of my ambivalence toward Twitter. I have since seen it work as a valuable way to connect and learn, for both me and many of my clients. Some business has come out of it as well.

I’m sold on Twitter. Besotted in fact. (See for yourself, at @TheLarch)

But its success could be fleeting. Twitter is white hot right now, but flash fires often burn out just as quickly.

Maybe I should revise my oath of undying love. Instead, how’s this? I’m sold on the emerging social dance called ambient awareness, a concept explained eloquently in this Clive Thompson article.

Pack up your coconuts and see the world

Ambient awareness is bigger than Twitter, and even bigger than Facebook (now at 350 million users worldwide). It’s like the coconut shells in the arms of an octopus. For those who didn’t see that story, here’s the gist: Biologists diving off the coasts of Indonesia have discovered a species of octopus that has evolved to use a novel tool. Scientific American describes the discovery:

The octopuses were found to occupy empty seashells, discarded coconut shell halves or manmade objects, and on several dives, the researchers saw them carrying coconut shell halves below their body and swimming away with them.

Sometimes, an octopus would carry two shell halves and then put them together to form a shelter, the scientists said…

“Using tools is something we think is very special about humans, but it also exists in other animal groups we’ve never considered before, a low life form, a relative of a snail. These octopuses, they’re not simple animals.”

I learned about that story through — what else? — Twitter. This platform, and the ambient awareness it harnesses, is literally a new tool for helping those who put it to use. It helps us work, play and generally be the social creatures that we are.

Meet me Dec. 10 for breakfast and truthiness

Stephen Colbert of The Colbert ReportTruthiness indeed. The occasion is Milwaukee’s next Social Media Breakfast, on Thursday, December 10. This just in: The snow storm has led to the cancellation of that breakfast meeting. The updated information is here, and the discussion will be on January 21, 2010. I’ll be one of four panelists discussing, Your Typical Social Media Consultant: Snake Oil Salesman or Expert? It reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s hilarious pairings of contradictory messages.

Me? I plan to open remarks by pronouncing that, on average, only one-out-of-four “social media experts” is really worth listening to — and since that’s all I have to say on the matter, everyone can go home.

Or maybe I won’t. You just have to attend to find out. Joining me will be the following:

Matthew Olson @_Signalfire_ – Owner and Creative Director of Signalfire, LLC

Sue Spaight @SueSpaightVP of Account Management and Digital Strategy at Meyer & Wallis

Kim Nielson @KnmuCommunications Project Manager at University School of Milwaukee

Here are the details:

December 10, 2009 – 7:30 am to 9:30 am
The Moct – 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
WiFi and Light Breakfast Provided

Twitter Hashtag: #SMBMke

Register today!

Measuring your business blog’s success

This afternoon I gave a presentation on business blogging, as part of SOHObiztube.com’s The Draft, an all-day social media workshop.

The last part of the presentation was on my favorite tools for monitoring conversations, as well as the conversions that a business blog initiates. Here’s the list:

Google Analytics — This is still my favorite way to monitor all blog activity. It is fairly easy to configure, it provides a great way to measure conversation (Google calls them “Goals”) and offers benchmarking with other blogs. Price: Free

Technorati — This site provides simply but helpful ways to track the growth of your site, by comparing its “popularity” to others and showing all backlinks (also known as “pingbacks” to your blog from others. Price: Free

CrazyEgg — This is new to me, and admittedly untried. But I like their visualization tools. The one below is a heatmap showing likelihood to click (not to be mistaken for an eye-scanning heatmap). Price: Plans vary in cost

Crazyegg.com Heatmap

Feedburner — This service, which was acquired two years ago by Google, is an industry favorite for monitoring how many people subscribe to you. It even has a badge, showing the number of subscribers you currently have. If you are reading this near the day it was published, you’ll see that the current theme of my blog displays the badge near the top of the righthand column of every page. (As of this morning, I had 365 subscribers. Thank you one-and-all!) Price: Free

There. That’s my list. What’s yours?

I had a great time talking to the group today, and invited them to post their questions about business blogging here in the comments section. I’m also inviting all of you to let me know what your favorite blog measurement tools are. I’m especially curious if you’ve used the CrazyEgg product line-up. If so, what do you think of it?

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Newer, smaller businesses are adopting Twitter as a channel

The joke is grim but makes its point. Two hunters are relaxing around the campfire before heading to their tents for the night. An angry grizzly bear charges out of the woods at them. One of hunters leaps up and immediately begins running away, still in his bare feet. The other takes a moment to step into his boots. The first one yells over his shoulder: “You’re wasting time! Don’t you know that even with those boots you can’t outrun a grizzly?” The other replies, as he begins making up lost ground: “I don’t have to outrun the grizzly. All I have to do is outrun you!”

In this same “whatever it takes” spirit, many small- and mid-sized businesses are strapping on a new pair of shoes. Their new shoes are social media, most notably Twitter. It’s a logical calculation for businesses that are newer and more agile. Or so it seems, from reading the results of this recent research by BIA/Kelsey.  Here are a few highlights of the survey:

Social media by SMBs is more prevalent among younger businesses. The percentage of SMBs by age of business currently using Twitter for promotion is as follows:

  • 16 percent of SMBs in business three years or less
  • 11 percent of SMBs in business four to six years
  • 6 percent of SMBs in business seven to 10 years
  • 2 percent of SMBs in business 11-plus years

There is considerable thought and effort needed to use a channel like this properly, but for those that adopt this two-way communications channel effectively, it could help them outmaneuver more entrenched competitors.

It’s definitely making the competitive foot races more interesting.

Related posts:

Even bad reviews can improve your sales

There is mounting evidence that authenticity is more important to consumers than some perceived level of perfection. Here is another case — this one coming from a report by CNN Money, about AlpacaDirect:

AlpacaDirect.com always offered a page full of cherry-picked customer comments raving about the site’s alpaca sweaters, socks and yarn. But recently Hobart, 47, decided to take the idea a step further: He hired PowerReviews, whose software lets shoppers write their own product reviews directly on the retailer’s Web site.

It was a risky move for the four-year-old company, based in Brentwood, Calif. Hobart was effectively paying to host bad press — such as posts by customers who described AlpacaDirect’s golf cardigan as “kinda sweaty” and a “poor fit.” Both awarded the cardigan three out of a possible five stars.

But a month after installing the PowerReviews service, Hobart saw sales climb 23% on items that had customer reviews (even that cardigan, which garnered an average of four stars).

This leap in sales is not atypical. It’s hard to believe that one bold change can really improve sales by this much. But it’s true.

Related post:

Measure clicks and ROI from Twitter posts

A week ago I was a co-speaker at a C2 Five Dollar Friday event. One of the last items I touched upon was how to measure traffic that comes from Twitter and other social media posts. I promised the group that I’d document the process.

Note: Get news on my expanded web design ROI workshops, to be held by C2 in Milwaukee and Madison.

Twitter As A Channel for Sales

It wasn’t too long ago that there were no definitive examples of strong positive ROI from Twitter. Since then several high-profile companies have publicized their successes. You might have read a recent account of how, according to Forbes and other sources, a division of Dell Computing has earned over $3 million from sales generated from its Twitter posts.

Here’s how your business can accurately measure direct sales — or track sales leads — generated by this powerful communication channel. All you need is a free Google Analytics (GA) account and the following new GA profiles (a special thanks to eConsultancy for their terrific post on this topic in May):

1.) Track all clicks from Twitter and major Twitter agents

a.) Add a new profile in Google Analytics

Name this new profile something like Twitter Traffic. If you’re creating this profile significantly later than the rest your Google Analytics set-up, you can add a date to the profile name. That will help you know how far back in time your results reach. In this case I haven’t:

Step 1

Continue reading

Multi-touch table magic, courtesy of MS Surface

Robert Scoble just posted this YouTube video of a demonstration of Microsoft’s Surface multi-touch tabletop monitor. Shot at last week’s Gnomedex, this video serves as a sneak preview of what this technology can do in a social setting.

Last month I posted about the new Bokode barcode. One application I described to friends was its use on trade show floors. The barcodes would be worn on presenter name tags, and reveal much about the wearers to any conference attendee wielding a smart-phone camera (the link to the Bokode post is below).

The MS Surface offers a different solution to the same challenge. It’s one of making the most of a networking opportunity. The tabletop displays the conference’s social graph, which can be manipulated and organized by anyone who steps forward and plops down their name tag.

Making the most of conferences

National conferences demand efficiency from its attendees. The cost in time and money is considerable, so many of us look at them as a competition to beat our personal best: How many relevant contacts can we make? How many friendships and business ties can we deepen? It’s all an effort to be efficient, and not fly home feeling we’ve overspent on a rare chance to make valuable face-to-face contacts.

This strong networking benefit is what’s convinced me that Microsoft is on to something. I suspect the main challenge with their tables will be the over-crowding that takes place around them. Conferences providing this technology will be hard-pressed to have enough tables to go around.

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Employers of marketing and PR pros are undervaluing a key skill

Online newsroom specialists iPressroom recently surveyed businesses to see what sorts of skills they are looking for in their marketing and PR pros. The survey had a small sample size, as many of these do, and this report’s many charts read far more into the results than can be reliably concluded. But I credit its authors for noting something that jumped out at me as well:

Rather than focus on attracting or pulling visitors to their website by publishing high quality content and researching popular language, organizations appear to be more interested with pushing out messages to “friends” through social media, even though, in many cases, those messages include hyperlinks back to their own websites. Until these organizations learn to develop a more sophisticated approach to building and managing landing pages and web content management on their websites, they will have difficulty evaluating their return on investment for these emerging channels.

(Emphasis mine.)

I found this report by reading a trendy headline somewhere. It proclaimed that marketing and especially PR executives are expected to possess skills that most are still scrambling to master. Here is a sample chart showing the data behind this assertion:

The digital skills expected of marketing and PR executives

The employers surveyed should be commended for understanding the pressing demands of social media. However, they’re overlooking an equally important skill in their communications hiring checklist. They must hire people who understand the importance of good site content and how to measure its value. This is essential to making long-term gains from social media and search engine efforts.

It’s not enough to know how to attract eyeballs. The owners of those eyeballs had better find something on a site that’s worth experiencing and sharing.

Online communities also follow Newton’s Third Law

Newton’s Third Law of Motion contends that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I’ve been observing for some time this paradox: The more networked we become, the more we rebel against impersonality. We yearn for ways to connect in the physical space. The latest example is from the shrewd publicity efforts behind Moby’s latest album. New York Magazine reports the following:

He promoted his latest, Wait for Me, by booking a spa so that journalists [including some extremely tech-savvy writers], could listen while getting massages.

How ironic that the way to these journalists’ hearts should be through unkinked necks and loosened shoulders. Not that such novel — and decidedly low-tech — promotions of new albums are particularly new. You may recall the impact that Trent Reznor (a.k.a., Nine Inch Nails) had when he leaked new songs to a pre-release albums through MP3s loaded on USB sticks left in the restrooms of nightclubs. That was more than two years ago. (Here’s an account of that promotion, on MediaPost. Registration is required.)

My take on Moby’s high tech / high touch ploy is simple: If you’re trying to break through the drone of network buzz and isolating keyboarding, look to its extreme opposite.