Thursday, August 30, 2007

can we market products in social media?



Social media are web sites (online media) that people visit to interact with (socialize with) each other. Old, conventional web sites ("Web 1.0") were pages you could just stare at, read, and buy something from. The only interaction typically available was a contact form or email. Very boring.

Web 2.0 includes social media sites that you can create profiles in, upload photos and video to, or have your own channel of communication within.

Usually these user communities revolve around tools, like blogs (Facebook), bookmarking (del.icio.us), people search (Spock), micro-blogging (Twitter), music sharing (GarageBand), productivity tools (8apps), world-changing activism (Zaadz), file sharing (Pownce), expertise sharing (Instructables), or photo sharing (Flickr).

Justin.tv, for example, enables you to have your own TV station. You can broadcast live streaming video, and create episodes from raw unedited footage. Perfect for special events and virtual tours.

People join these social media sites to socialize, not to buy things. They want to connect with peers, share their thoughts and feelings, ask for technical help, showcase their art, distribute mp3s of their music, and generally have fun while learning from the experiences of others.



They do not join to be inundated with marketing messages, advertising, or commercial spam.

Socializing by definition excludes sales hype. If pushy, money-hungry salesmen showed up at a private party, they'd be kicked out, right? Aggressive, obnoxious sales pitches would spoil the fun.

It's unethical, counter-productive, and exploitive to invade these sites to push products at the communities. When companies try to do so, it backfires, generates negative buzz, and ends up doing more harm than good. Can you afford to alienate bloggers or social networkers?

Let's pause now and consider what CAN be done.

In social media, a company representative will be warmly welcomed -- if that rep provides valuable, relevant information that the community needs.

Marketing in the digital age must be approximately 80% education and only 20% sales. It depends on how desperately customers are craving a given product. If you have a unique product that meets a huge need, you may be able to increase the amount of sales in your messages and efforts.

But most businesses should keep the sales propaganda, in social media, to near zero.

Social media, and the web itself, is based on trust. Trust is gained by helping, advising, educating your audience. Promotional messages and ads are ignored or despised. But good advice, free samples, and instructional materials are actively sought, enjoyed, and respected.

See these social media sites as groups of potential friends who have needs you can meet, not as prospective consumers who you can take advantage of, or revenue streams that you can exploit. If you have a grossly commercial, non-helpful approach, you will be hated. And the negative publicity could possible ruin your business.

A great example of non-exploitive use of social media are the top marketing bloggers.

Seth Godin and Laura Ries are good role models. They give tons of advice, insight, and relevant links. Certainly, they'd like you to buy their books, seminars, and consulting services. But they almost never mention this, outside of some small, non-intrusive ads in their sidebars.

They even provide free downloads of e-books, or so much information in their blog posts, you may not need to buy any of their books or advisory services.

This is the royal road to trust, good will, and respect. Especially when it comes to social networking sites and tool communities.

Think about what expertise you have that could be shared. Study these sites. Join a few of them. Watch what needs are expressed, what questions are being asked. Then jump in and solve some of their problems.

If you gain their trust and respect, you'll probably gain some new paying customers, too!

But be patient. Social media is not a "get rich quick" scheme zone.

It's more a "get trust slowly, but surely" arena. If you hang in there, and share some trivia now and then (what movies or music you like, for example), you'll be seen as a good member of the community, a regular guy or gal, and a source for solutions.

It's all about altruism, not mammonism. Mutual benefit, not greed.

The worst mistake you can make is to pretend to be a non-commerce member of the online community, then promote products like you're an average user giving an uncoached, unbiased report.

The trust path is the only avenue to sustainable profits and long-term customer loyalty. To succeed in influencing social networks, first be a good member of the community, sharing and advising abundantly.

Market to social media? Do it the right way, and you'll do your business a great favor.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

7 tips on evaluating web credibility


Ever do some research on the web, and wonder whether a site was worth quoting or linking to? How do you determine the authenticity and reliability of a web site? Actually, web sites can be judged much as you judge any other source of information.

Here are some guidelines for you, that are true most of the time for most web sites.



Evaluating Web Credibility


(1) Design:

Is it ugly, amateurish, sleazy, inappropriate, childish, dysfunctional? Trustworthy sites tend to look professional, classy, and elegant. Credibility studies at Stanford University prove that most users exit a web site within 5 seconds if the web site looks "wrong" for what it's supposed to be.

(2) About Us:

If all you get on the About page is a mission statement, a declaration of purpose, a "we" this and "our" that -- exit fast!

You cannot trust any web site where the people behind it are anonymous or mysterious. About Us should include names, photos, bios of top executives and customer service personnel. Every About page must reassure readers of the company's or individual's integrity and expertise.

The About page on a web site is your main chance to prove you're not an anonymous, fly-by-night, raving lunatic with no expertise and no clients. Yet many web sites have stupid, un-informative About pages!

(3) Sidebar Links:

Who do they link to in their sidebars? Known and reputable sites? Or a bunch of weird, unknown, questionable sites? Or to no sites?

When doing research, start with sites you already trust, like the Mayo Clinic, BusinessWeek, or CNET. Then click on links you find at the trusted site. It's called trust linking. A good way to find more reputable sites.

(4) Contact Us:

Do they provide you with multiple contact options: email addresses, cell phone, land phone, physical address (not just a P.O. Box)? If not, why are they hiding?

(5) Ads & Sponsors:

Is the site sponsored by, or partnering with, credible companies? Are there ads for reputable companies? (Anybody can put ads on their site, so that's not much help.)

If there are too many ads, and it's hard to find the actual web content, the site loses credibility. An ad-heavy web site appears to be a gimmick or trick: a little bit of relevant content to draw readers to the ads.

(6) Editorial Links:

Does the content, the articles or blog posts, have links in it? If there are no links within the text of news items or general content, why? Are they lazy? Or do they not really know what they're talking about? A credible source will quote and link to other credible sources.

(7) Content Quality:

Are there typos, wrong spellings, rash statements, poor research methods? Does the material seem biased, slanted, giving all praise, or all condemnation? Credible sites take time to polish their prose and check their facts.


These simple 7 tips on evaluating the trustworthiness of web sites should help you separate the wheat from the chaff.



Further Reading


"Web Credibility Project" [the classic study] (Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, B.J. Fogg, PhD.)

Jakob Nielsen: B.J. Fogg's "Captology" book [review]

WebWatch on "Web Credibility" (Consumer Reports)

"Critical Evaluation of Resources" (UC Berkeley)

"Verifying Sources on the Net" (University of Illinois)

"Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources" (UCLA)

"Evaluating Web Pages" (UC Berkeley)

"Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools" (Olin and Uris Libraries, Cornell University)

"An Educator's Guide to Credibility and Web Evaluation" (University of Illinois)

"Citing Internet and Print Sources" (West Texas A&M University)

"Web Credibility Destroyers" (Vaspers the Grate)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

10 reasons why ghost blogs suck



Ghost blogs and fake Twitters pretend to be written by an individual, but are delegated to internal staff, a paid professional writer, or an outside agency. Other persons pretend to be that person who has the blog in their name.

Thus, what you read in a ghost blog, or fake Twitter page, is not the real thoughts and feelings of the blogger, but fake sentiments dummied up by imposters.

You are not reading that person's ideas, and if you post a comment, you're not interacting with the person you think you are. You're interacting with unknown strangers lurking behind the blog.

Ghost blogging violates the whole idea of the blog. Core values of professional blogging include Authenticity, Passion, Transparency. A ghost blog has none of the vital ingredients that make the blogosphere, to some degree at least, a Trust Web of peer to peer recommendations.

Ghost blogging is akin to those fake testimonials by celebrity has-beens, endorsing a product for pay, and not actual love of the product.


10 Reasons Why Ghost Blogs Suck:



(1) cowardly: It betrays the person's fear of flamers, trolls, sincere questions, and customer complaints.

(2) arrogant: Use of a ghost blog assumes the target audience is not worthy, not smart enough, or not relevant enough to enter into real conversation with the almighty exalted jerk who pretends to be the blog author.

(3) inauthentic: They're not expressing the genuine voice of the alleged author.

(4) disconnected: A ghost blog is indeed a just a phantom, a non-entity, an avoidance of true engagement with the public. Like a vapor, it just hovers in artificiality and pretense.

(5) illusory: A ghost blog creates the appearance of being the individual's self-expression, but there's no real substance to it, the individual merely seems to be there, but is essentially absent.

(6) insincere: To use a covert surrogate or team to communicate to an audience? That shows no sincerity in wishing to really enter a conversation with your readers.

(7) disrespectful: Anyone using a ghost blog is treating readers like they're stupid.

(8) exploitive: Taking advantage of a popular platform for intimate messaging.

(9) deceptive: It's not true, it's a lie, a false representation, trying to trick people into thinking it's really the individual blogging, when it's not.

(10) self-destructive: You do more harm than good with a ghost blog or fake Twitter page. Your message is "You idiots don't deserve a real blog. Just be content with this half-assed attempt to use a blog to attract unsuspecting readers. We are too elevated above you to condescend to your low level and try to understand your needs and problems. You fool! Buy my product."


A variation on the ghost blog is the pseudo blog or Twitter page that claims to be, not an individual person, but a company.

"DeltaAirlines" is an example of a fake Twitter page that pretended to be sponsored by, originating from, Delta Airlines. Twitter community members shamed and flamed the fraud, demanding that he delete his account. We never heard from that phoney again.


Solution for busy executives: You can delegate your blog to an employee, but have him or her write under their own name. Call it the [store name] blog, or give the blog some title relevant to your company, industry, or readership.

While it's best for the CEO to be the blogger for a company, you can assign the project to a staff person who has passion, expertise, insight. Just be honest about it.

Or you could let your marketing team polish up your blog posts, but keep the content as much "you" as possible. The more it's edited, the less natural it will sound, and the less effective it will be.

And be sure to interact personally with comment posters.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

business discussion with a record store troll


JW went up to it, the desk.

"How many web sites can we sell you today?" JW asked playfully, with venom in his stride, as he whisked past the proprietor, who was in his habitual mode of staring at a computer screen. JW advanced rapidly, heading for the far end of the record shop, where he settled in briefly, pretending to forage.

"None," the scraggly owner retaliated. "You must really want something," he continued, in reference to the driving rain that was forcing other customers to stay at home and wait it out.

"No. My boss isn't coming in for another hour, and it's 11:30 already, and I'm bored. So I thought I'd come in and harrass you. If I'm really stupid, I may buy something. But I better not."

JW stared intensely at the used CDs. Nothing there to tempt him, not today anyway.

"So your band is playing at Blues Fest, eh?" JW interjected abruptly as he moved toward the check out area. "End of August, 31th. What time?"

"9:00"

"PM?"

"Yeah."

"How long?"

"Hour and a half."

"Good, an nice extended set," JW replied with a hint of a smile. "You want me to set up an internet channel for live streaming video so your fans can watch you live, right? They can say, that's the band right now! Performing live. They can watch it happen, on their computers at home. That's what you said you were interested in last time we talked."

"What? No. Not a live stream," he said gruffly, like it was some horrible thing. He was freaking out at, automatically assuming, the possibility of this project requiring a new web site to be purchased, not realizing it cost nearly nothing.

"I just want someone to take a video camcorder and film us playing, then give it to us in a file format that we can attach to a newsletter, or upload to YouTube and MySpace."

"What?" JW asked.

"But I don't want to spend any money on it. Anything beyond...breakfast...I'm not interested," the record store owner growled solemnly.

He continued in a violent display of vocal aggression and desperation: "I'm not spending any more money on a band! Never again!"

JW could see through the grim demeanor. Just a plain vanilla loser, a wounded animal who's angry at the entire world and all its representatives. The message was clear: if you want to do any work for me, it has to be free. Maybe I'll buy you a cheap breakfast at Hardees, for doing the video work.

This hateful barb was pressed into JW's aura to cause psyche depletion, like puncturing a balloon full of personality instead of air. It was an ugly, misanthropic attack, a hoped-for hurt inflicted by a down-trodden.

The message: "You are shit. Your so-called expertise is worth no more than a breakfast to me. If you're hungry, I'll pay for your breakfast, but that's it. I don't care about my music anymore, so I'm taking it out on you. Punishing you makes me feel better, maliciously, inhumanely."

"There are all kinds of free music marketing tools out there, in what they call Web 2.0. If you have the talent, the tools exist!" JW exclaimed as he exited the dilapidated rotting mess of a broken building that housed the record shop.

It was painfully obvious. He dumped a lot of money into his band, but nobody wants the kind of music his band plays, it's just a bar band doing cover tunes, and nobody cares.

Now he's bitter and spiteful, ending his days doing eBay deals, losing money again, but not knowing what else to do. Any talk of promotions, marketing, web sites, or video streaming is just more salt in the wounds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

anonymous trolls are blog defilers



If you allow anonymous comments on your blog, without moderating them, you're enabling malicious trolls to use your blog as a free message board.

Allowing anonymous comments to be automatically posted to your blog? You open your blog to all kinds of mayhem and trouble. And you may end up losing readership, in droves.

When you submit a comment to a blog, there are generally three fields of data to fill in, aside from the comment text: (1) name (2) email (3) web site URL.

When your comment is published, your name will be a link to your web site or blog. That enables people to visit your site. They may become regular readers, if your comment was intelligent and relevant, and your site contains more high quality content.

Trolls are people who post comments that are abusive, disruptive, pornographic, racist, mean-spirited, or just plain crazy. They aren't expressing an honest opinion in an aggressive manner. They simply want to cause others to feel bad. They're sadistic, misanthropic, and have nothing better to do.

Trolls almost never have a web presence, or if they do, they don't want you to know it.

Why?

Because then you, or your blog readers, could go over to his site and retaliate. Thus, they're cowards. They can dish it out, but can't take it. Trolls want to pollute your blog with their hate, but you cannot return the "favor".

I call it "drive-by commenting" with no accountability.

Anonymous trolls are not contributing to the conversation. They're posting their filth and animosity just to make you look bad. Or to hurt the feelings of legitimate comment posters.

I assert: Anonymous, webless trolls have no right to express their "opinion" on the web.

Sure, democracy and free speech are precious, sacred rights for all people.

But there are rational limits. You can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. You can't incite others to perform illegal acts. And you should not let irresponsible abusers spread their venom all over your blog.

Why let these cyber bullies use your blog as a free venue?

Why let these anonymous trolls make your blog an offensive, vile, disgusting place that your loyal, good-hearted, mentally balanced readers will begin to feel uncomfortable in?

It's really not fair to your readers.

Many blogs have a Comment Policy that states that all abusive, irrelevant, or purely commercial PayPerPost type spam comments will not be published.

I strongly suggest you consider what I'm saying.

Start using comment moderation, to weed out the anonymous, webless, cowardly, hostility-driven trolls.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lifecasting is the new blogging



Voluntary submission to surveillance cameras, broadcasting and archiving your every move.

Sound like a Big Brother, New World Order, dystopian nightmare?

Nah. Just the Next Big Thing beyond micro-blogging (Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce).

It's called Lifecasting and it has no point, no meaning, no implicit purpose. That's good. The barren futility of 24/7 webcams makes this a territory the Enronish CEOs will not venture into, though they're already attempting to "do something" (product promotions and branded messaging) within it.

Enronish CEOs fear the transparency of blogging, along with the rough and tumble realm of blogocombat: trolls, flames, baiters, abusers, comment spammers, blogger-for-hire attack vectors (PayPerPost mal-text intrusions).

The old guard attacked blogging as drivel. "Too much noise per signal," they chanted, ignoring the fact that their beloved media was biased, trivial, and sensationalistic.

These blogophobes also ignored the fact that blogs by nature, in most cases, are self-edited, spontaneous, and specialized, burning with intensity, authenticity, and non-commercial credibility.



Now they're accusing Twitter and other tiny-journaling, asynchronous chat, link archiving, status update tools (aka micro-blogging) to be All Boredom, All the Time.

Good.

We want them to think that. So we can continue spreading our beliefs, activism, and goals more secretly, to the chosen few who can separate the wheat from the chaff.

I revel in MSM and pseudo-tech reports of "amateurs" usurping the traditional info domination systems. I delight in articles that show how clueless the traditional pundits and venues are.

I feel happy when I see greedy commercial failures, as they show their true colors in botched invasions of blogosphere, YouTube, Twitter, del.icio.us, Facebook, and Second Life.

Now some of us are moving into what is currently the ultimate in user-generated content.

Thanks to Justin Kan.

Why blog or twitter your life, feelings, and opinions, your music and your art, when you can broadcast it? All of it!

Why blog about eating a lobster sandwich, when you can show everybody you eating that lobster sandwich? While they listen to your original computer music! And see your paintings as backdrops to your make-shift video studio! And see your little brother run off with your wallet!

Ah, yes.

Nihilistic narcissism finally evolves from prolix, bookish blog posts, to brief and pithy thought bursts (Twitter), to return to the bigger picture of your mileau and daily activities (Justin.tv).

Burning the retinas of intrusion machines, we self-inflict an auto-surveillance, a voluntary submission, with the beauty of banality that confounds our foes. By foes, I mean: the zealous enemies of democracy, free expression, and ethical business.

Lifecasting is the New Blogging.

It's buggy and sporadically reliable, but it's evolving at tremendous speed. From experimental fringe...to universal infotainment.

It's all part of the movement sweeping the world: End of Stardom, Rise of Everyone. No more celebrity, now it's just you and me.


Vaspers Presents: Robot Mind Science


justin.tv/vasperspresents