Category Archives: Social Networks

WhoIsSick.org: A mash-up that proves misery loves company

Musical genius Tom Waits once quipped, “Everybody I like is either dead or not feeling well.” This week I took comfort in these words as I was in the throes of a terrible cold. Everyone I knew, it seemed, was either sick or succumbing. As often happens, this got me wondering how widespread the virus really was.

In the past I’ve been frustrated. Maps of everyday pandemics aren’t easily come by. But today I got an emailed link to an interesting new Google mash-up. The link was sent to me by friend and lighting designer extraordinaire Noele Stollmack (who has been begging me to mention her in my blog for months*). A bit of an amateur epidemiologist herself, she confessed in her email that WhoIsSick.org is the “first social networking site that has piqued my interest.”

Click on this image for an expanded view of the sick people in NYC in the last 60 daysNoele is actually jumping the gun a bit. It may become a social network someday, but for now it’s a promising database / mapping application showing the spread and concentration of collections of symptoms. Participation is still quite low, but I like the concept. The image at the right shows a tag cloud of the symptoms reported in the Manhattan area. If you click on the image you’ll get an expanded view that shows the NYC Google Map with the distribution of these symptoms.

How are you feeling? If the answer is not well, go to WhoIsSick and type in your ZIP code. You’ll see who else is sick in your area, and have a chance to add your malady to the mix.

Try it. It might make you feel a little better.


*Actually, Noele Stollmack finds blogs “too personal and self-indulgent” to waste her time with, which is reason enough for me to create this Google bomb that ranks high when anyone searches on the phrase noele stollmack. :-) Back atcha, Noele!

Vibrant reading list sites suggest there is hope for book publishing

In his long career, Si Newhouse has shown shrewd business acumen. In the 1990’s, when many said it couldn’t be done, he pulled off an impressive turn-around of New Yorker magazine. This was accomplished in part by hiring Tina Brown, whom Michael Kinsley has called “The very best magazine editor alive.” At the time she had done a similar remake of another Conde Nast property and money-loser, Vanity Fair.*

While Newhouse was working his magic on these magazines, he was also busy in book publishing. But here he was selling off, not rehabbing.

He sold Random House, his company’s huge and respected book publishing unit. The financial calculus was unmistakable: With a few notable exceptions — such as Wiley Publishing (the folks behind the brilliant For Dummies series) — the business model of book publishing cannot generate profit margins that more modern media such as films are commanding. With the rising cost of printing and shipping, this will likely remain the case until e-books such as the Amazon Kindle become easier and more affordable.

So what do you do if you’re a Si Newhouse wannabe? What if you wish to make your reputation and fortune in books?

The leaders of two enterprising companies have decided to ignore the headaches of production and focus instead on bringing readers together. Although the viability of these two businesses will continue to be in question, they have survived their crucial first year. GoodReads.com was a year old in January, while Shelfari.com will mark its first anniversary in a week.

As anyone who has ever joined a reading club knows, in spite of the reclusive nature of reading, book lovers can be a surprisingly social breed of bird. Like so many distinctive tail feathers, they flash their lists of favorite books and authors as a way to bond.

Reading lists, and the opinions associated with them, can become an obsession. Take recording artist Art Garfunkel. His web site includes a reading list, in chronological order, of every book he has read in the last 40 years. The list tops 1,000 of some of the most respected books in literature (“I avoid fluff,” Garfunkel recently told a reporter).

Art Garfunkel has a habit and he has it bad

Is the urge to list online an act of ego, OCD, or intellectual outreach? Or a little of all three?

The founders of GoodReads would tell you that Garfunkel is merely trying to display his tail feathers on a more world-wide strutting ground. And they’d point out he is not alone in this instinct to share his list online. GoodReads currently sports over 300,000 members. On average, only one in five online community members is truly active. But those who are active on GoodReads are extremely so.

The site reports that more than one out of a hundred members (3,708) have taken the time to review J. D. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye. (This number is extrordinary for such an “old” book. Slightly fewer people – 3,641 – reviewed the first Rowling book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.) Below is a comparison of the two sites in terms of Page Views, according to Alexa.com. (Click to expand the thumbnail below.)

Click to expand GoodReads vs Shelfari, in estimated page views

It’s ironic that social networks built upon a moribund business model may soon become future sweethearts of venture capitalists. Whether this is so will depend on the speed with which the internet becomes as effective an e-book delivery system as it is virtual reading club.


* At the New Yorker she introduced such innovations as the following:

  • Short articles, so they could be mostly read in one sitting
  • An edgier aesthetic, guided by Pulitzer-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman and a slew of new editors
  • Actual photography in the editorial space. (I’m not kidding. What’s more, some of these photos were– Gasp! – in color)

How to handle blogged ambivalence (or worse!) of your product

I agree with Sam Decker that a lukewarm or negative review posted online is not a terrible thing. Since there will be many glowing reviews of your product (one hopes), the contrasting viewpoints will lend authenticity to the whole.

But how does one respond to a negative review — especially one from a respected and well-known source?

In other words, talk of social media firefighting is common, but where are good examples of a well-deployed firefight in action?

I’ve come across a few, but the one I found yesterday is excellent. Be sure to scroll down this post by Dave Berkowitz to see the comments of affronted author, Joe Jaffe.

It’s not surprising that a veteran blogger would step forward to assert his side of the discussion with measured tact plus a sprinkling of clarifications. Jaffe’s comments are a textbook example of how to properly defend your brand in a public forum.

My one edit, if I had advised Mr. Jaffe, was to cut the line, “Not much more to say except thanks for taking the time to read 27 pages [of the 300-page book].” Ouch. That sounded defensive and unfair.

Finally, to David’s point in his Caveat #6, I too find marketing today a great amount of fun and I think most in the business do.

Marketing is especially fun when the rules of engagement are being written in real time. To paraphrase jazz poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, the marketing revolution will be televised.

Costume company uses political widget to predict election results

If you’re an online costume company whose biggest sales day is in late October (Halloween of course), how do you use social networks and current events to generate buzz? The leader in this category, BuyCostumes.com, created a widget that claims to be an accurate predictor of Presidential election results. Check out this clever way to cause a stir — and sell a vertiable Washington Beltway worth of $1 cardboard masks!

 

Thank you, Jon Krouse, for the scoop, the good conversation, and the cookie. (Full disclosure: The only payment received was a wonderful Alterra brand Cowboy Cookie, at the coffee shop where we met last week).

 

What do you think? Is this type of promotion worth it? Let me know your thoughts. I’ll be checking with Jon after the election to see if the ROI on was as strong as I suspect it will be. In the meantime, he encourages you to click through, vote early, and vote often. :-)

This Thursday’s Interactive Marketing Assoc. speaker weighs in on Influentials, NPS and social media

The Milwaukee Interactive Marketing Association has come back to life, and its first event of what promises to be a fascinating season will be Thursday night, at the William F. Eisner Museum of Advertising. Bryan Rasch of Hanson Dodge will discuss how to meet the online needs of what his firm calls Brand Champions. It’s a somewhat ironic term, since the sites his company creates for their core clients (including Trek Bikes) are for “active lifestyle” consumer products. These sites cater to champions of all stripes — some of the most active consumers, including triathletes, pro fishermen and other avid outdoors people.

I spoke with Bryan to get a feel for his company’s approach to online branding. I wanted to know his thoughts on three topics that are being hotly debated today. They are as follows:

  1. Influentials: Do Malcolm Gladwell’s Influentials really exist? And if not, aren’t any efforts to court brand champions ultimately wasteful?
  2. Net Promoter Score (NPS)*: Where do you stand on the topic of this metric?
  3. Social Media As Brand Promotion: Isn’t the potential for negative online reviews too harmful to warrant opening your brand to public discussion?

JL: First, Bryan, I’d like to know what you think of those people, such as Bob Garfield (the AdAge columnist) and Clive Thompson (in his February Fast Company piece) who have claimed that there is no validity to the concept of courting a product’s Influentials?

BR: They have a point in that you can’t identify a small number of extremely influential people, to whom everyone else turns for advice on a brand. Brand champions are a much broader base of product users. They are vocal, and they particularly prefer the web as their megaphone. But aside from their passion for the brand, they are no different from other customers. They may make up large numbers — upwards of 10% of the total number of visitors to a typical brand site.

JL: I’ve heard you talk about Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as a metric. Do you encourage this type of evaluation, or do you agree with those who think it’s too simplistic?

BR: I do encourage the use of NPS, but primarily as a measure of true customer satisfaction. The strength in this measurement lies in knowing that it doesn’t predict a user’s likelihood of being a brand champion, but the likelihood of that customer buying from you again. But I think this score can also help you understand the likelihood of your consumers to speak out … to write positive reviews, recommend your brand to others online, etc. Thus the metric is helpful as a barometer of how your brand may perform within Social Media formats.

JL: If you want to encourage brand champions online, you have to open the gates and let in all opinions. A minority of brands are comfortable with a certain level of negative buzz. But most refuse to provide forums for discussion because they’re afraid of getting flamed — of being host to unfavorable reviews. What is your response to those fears?

BR: The negative reviews will happen, and often they’ll happen first. But reviews seek an equilibrium, just like water. Initially, a negative review may show up, because a consumer is angry. But over time, other consumers who love the brand tend to prevail. Over time the sum of the reviews reaches the proper level of consumer opinion.

I’ve never come across a set of reviews where it wasn’t an accurate barometer of how the brand fulfills consumer expectations.

Do join me Thursday night at what promises to be a provocative and informative presentation. Visit the Milwaukee Interactive Marketing Association site for details.


* NPS asks customers one question: “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Customers reply with a score on a scale of 10, with 10 being “Extremely likely.” The net score is the sum of all customers scoring nine and 10, minus those scoring six or less. Incredibly high scores are in the 75 to 80 percent range of your customers. The average is only 15%.

 

Andy Sernovitz provides disarmingly love-filled advice to a b-to-b crowd

I’ve wanted to see Andy Sernovitz speak for several years. This Milwaukee-boy-made-good is the author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. He’s a terrific dose of inspiration for any marketer facing the terrifying prospect of helping a brand “go viral.” Today he provided that inspiration — along with some excellent tactical ideas — to my city’s Business Marketing Association.

Sernovitz’s presentation clearly had a consumer marketing origin, but he did an excellent job of reminding the business marketing group that we all go through the same decision stages in a considered purchase. Whether the person is a retiree buying his first recreational sailboat or a young design engineer considering parts suppliers, we’re human first. We’re swayed strongly by the opinions of others.

We’re also moved by the creative imagination of smart marketing. Andy reminded us that we love what a brand does for us, or how it tickles our fancy.

Ah, love. Who knew there would be such a strong tie-in with Valentine’s Day?

Joking aside, here are two of his tips that are dead-on when it comes to marketing to business buyers:

  • White papers are still effective viral marketing tools
  • Email-a-colleague tools on your b-to-b web site are as well

Andy also mentioned that it was the viral aspect of YouTube that has it valued so high compared to other video sharing sites. He counted 13 ways that YouTube helps people email or otherwise share its content with others.

Online support of smart promotions can also help to get people talking. As a topical example, Andy mentioned this brilliant way that White Castle is getting people to talk about their restaurants on this day:

A great ad, cited on Andy’s blog today

Now there’s one more restaurant that you can’t get into tonight without a reservation!

ProjectStars CEO describes how this new site blends job board with social networking

I’m returning from a holiday hiatus with recharged batteries and major content changes to Digital Solid. Come back often or subscribe to find exclusive interviews with online news-makers, plus more news and tips you’ve told me you appreciate as marketers in an increasingly technological world.

Michael Beddows - CEO - ProjectStarsTo kick things off in 2008, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Michael Beddows, CEO of the new projectstars b-to-b online social network. This site is part project board, part social network and part blogging cooperative. It’s a novel mix that has already attracted an impressive critical mass of participants.

Q: projectstars has been around for almost four months. Has the growth you’ve seen in that time surprised you, or was it about what you were expecting?

MB: Considering that our marketing over the past few months has consisted entirely of word-of-mouth, we’re very pleased with both the quantity and quality of our membership growth. This organic growth has also provided us with some great feedback on how we can refine our equity blogging approach.

Q: In a blog entry you mention that there are generally three types of online communities, and they mirror the Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point connector types. Of the three, projectstars is a “Maven” network, where you’ve written, “Content is king … For those who are knowledgeable, these [Maven] sites are a great place to showcase expertise and get discovered.” Can you name other communities that follow this “maven model,” where members are encouraged to promote themselves and their expertise?

MB: LinkedIn has an Answers section where members can vie to be nominated as the “Top Expert.” The difference with projectstars is that our members are not restricted to a Q&A format and can participate in more engaging conversations. projectstars is also more amenable to search engine optimization, which means that our member contributions are more discoverable in search engines. It’s one thing to be seen as an expert within the confines of LinkedIn, quite another to be seen as an expert on the Internet at large.

Q: Your site says that you’re “blurring the line” between job sites and business/social communities. This is extraordinary enough, in that I’ve never seen another site that is certifiably both, as yours is. But what has struck me as more novel is that your business model sounds a lot like a cooperative. A week ago you conducted your first share giveaway, where 100 members with the most earned points receive their shares in the business. This sounds unique for a social network site. Is there any other community that you’ve modeled this against?

MB: We believe we are the first social network to offer members shares. We think this is the way any online community should operate as it’s the members who make the community. It’s quite possible that someday, many social networks and blog communities will become equity blogs, where members band together to form a cooperative.

Q: Speaking of blurred lines, I like the Facebook login feature, which allows anyone who is already part of Facebook to register with projectstars from a page within Facebook. I was curious how the tie-in would benefit me, and saw that friends in Facebook who are also on projectstars are immediately identified and added as a projectstars buddy. What a cool way to tie the two communities together. Has this Facebook connection helped spread the word about projectstars?

MB: With so many sites out there, anything which makes registration easier is good in our books, so the Facebook login helps in that respect. We are also developing a Facebook application so that your projectstars blogs will show up on your profile and others can vote on them – once this is completed we do expect that will help spread the word.

Q: Are you optimistic about future tie-ins with other social networks through OpenSocial? How is this work progressing?

MB: We are members of the OpenSocial development lists and are tracking progress closely, however OpenSocial specifications are still in development so we expect it will be later in Q1 2008 before we see anything from projectstars on this front. We are also investigating the possibility of projectstars itself being an OpenSocial container. projectstars members can already set up their own personalized page of projectstars content, RSS feeds, and widgets at my.projectstars.com so this would be an ideal place to host OpenSocial apps.

Q: Blogging is a great way for domain experts to show off their knowledge. On the other hand, many of these same people already have one or more blogs. Are you looking at ways to port “outside” blog content into your site, or do you simply want to encourage bloggers to move their tent within the walls of projectstars?

MB: We did investigate linking members blogs to the system, however there were two problems with this. First, the projectstars community structure means that automating where posts appear is not easily possible, and second we realize that although people do have their own blogs, they don’t always blog about one subject, and sometimes blog about personal/life issues. As we want to keep projectstars content focused on the topics provided by the 300 communities, we decided to enable blogging within the system.

Continue reading

Cheers to the barnacle app: a useful new entry in the Web 2.0 lexicon

Last week I reported on a fun little social lubricant called Foamee. It is a third party trifle completely reliant (at least as of this writing) on Twitter. The objective: If you’re a member of Twitter, you pledge to buy someone a beer. Foamee keeps tabs on these declarations.

Anatomy of a Barnacle AppAs I pointed out in my post, this application is part of a larger trend. Namely, that of launching a shoestring site that is financially independent of a larger site, but completely dependent on it for survival. It’s an interesting paradox, and all but cries out for a new piece of jargon. You know, something to toss out casually during your next new media PowerPoint presentation.

Enter Joshua Porter of Bokardo Design. In his blog, Joshua dubbed this type of site a barnacle app. I think the term has legs (and the graphic above backs me up on this — at least, a barnacle has “feeding legs”).

Do you agree? Is this a term worthy of surviving past its inevitable 15 minutes of fame in Wired‘s Jargon Watch listing (a recent example)?

Also: What is your favorite barnacle app, and why?

Add the latest JCMC to your towering reading pile

We’ve all got far more to read than time to read it, right? So you’re going to hate me for telling you this, but if you care about communication and technology, you should be tracking the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Especially this latest issue, whose “special theme” is social network sites.

Of particular relevance to marketing technologists are these articles:

  • Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
    danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison
    This introduction describes features of social network sites (SNSs), proposes a comprehensive definition, presents a history of their development, reviews existing SNS scholarship, and introduces the articles in this special theme section.
  • Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances
    Hugo Liu
    A social network profile’s lists of interests can function as an expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach, different types of taste statements are identified and further investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles collected from MySpace.
  • Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites
    Eszter Hargittai
    Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away? Based on data from a survey administered to young adults, this article identifies demographic predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster.
  • Mobile Social Networks and Social Practice: A Case Study of Dodgeball
    Lee Humphreys
    Dodgeball is a mobile social network system that seeks to facilitate social coordination among friends in urban public spaces. This study reports on the norms of Dodgeball use, proposing that exchanging messages through Dodgeball can lead to social molecularization, whereby active members experience and move through the city in a collective manner.
  • Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube
    Patricia Lange
    Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by manipulating physical and interpretive access to videos. The analysis identifies varying degrees of “publicness” in video sharing, depending on the nature of the video content and how much personal information is revealed.

Juicy stuff. Enjoy!

Social networks for business verticals are less-known benefactors of OpenSocial

The OpenSocial alliance among a variety of consumer social network sites (SNSs) — most notably MySpace — is designed to allow marketers to leverage as never before the word-of-mouth strength of a social graph. This story about the less-known business vertical SNSs (such as those catering to physicians and telecom professionals), reminds me of this exciting reality:

Any b-to-b site with an active community and the flexibility of adopting OpenSocial can reap the same benefits.

Below is Google’s somewhat dorky video explaining the OpenSocial API.

[youtube 9KOEbAZJTTk]

Also, here’s a terrific explanation of what a social graph is, why marketers should care, and what they should do with the sites they manage in light of this information.

Third party site works with Twitter to promote virtual IOU’s and real beer

Twitter interests me more for what it foreshadows than for what it does. This micro-blogging system is currently little more than an electronic water cooler, where information workers and students can socialize and blow off steam. But it also has aspects of a social network — a very open social network. And that means it has the potential for some exciting innovation.

I look at Twitter as a VisiCalc of this era. VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet program for the personal computer. Primitive by modern standards, its greatest feat was setting a new paradigm. Spreadsheet progams look odd to those who have never used one, but for adopters, it is a powerhouse– something that many couldn’t imagine working without.

Of course, that’s the magic of the paradigm, not VisiCalc specifically, which was usurped by competitors within a few years of its release.

Sooner rather than later, a Twitter competitor will take the new behaviors of microblogging and deliver something extraordinary. This will be something we would not want to live without. Similar to Excel, this competitor will arrive with bigger, smarter features and scoop up market share.

Or maybe I’m wrong and Twitter will do the impossible. Perhaps it will be able to hold onto and expand its base of users as it morphs from networked toy to networking tool. Here is one ray of hope for Twitter that they will have a better chance than VisiCalc did: Twitter courts and encourages third party developers.

May I Buy You a Beer?

Which brings me to the latest Twitter-affiliated innovation: Along with Foamee, Twitter users can now publicly proclaim their intentions to buy someone a beer. Foamee then tracks the IOU, and even allows for scores to be settled and ledgers closed. Good work, Dan Cederholm of SimpleBits Design, for this fun Twitter add-on. Here’s a screen cap showing my IOU (middle posting) from this morning:

A Foamee Thread

Twitter continues to innovate by opening up to the creative community at large (another fun example is this mashup: TwitterVision). How incredibly smart. This week at ad:tech New York, Google announced it has organized several major social network sites to back an open source way of building and sharing widgets. It’s called OpenSocial.

The folks behind Google (and its own social network, Orkut), wisely recognize that innovation can only be accelerated through the “network effect.” And innovation is, after all, a key to survival. They might have even been inspired by watching Twitter.

If so, Google owes Twitter a beer.