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Truthiness won't set you free.

 A few weeks ago I started a discussion on Facebook on what goes into the creation of good content and that turned into the first in a series that ensued from the discussion.  Don Tuite of Electronic Design magazine asked an interesting question regarding what makes a piece of content "truthy," an adjective created by comedian Steven Colbert.  that question is a perfect example of what is wrong with content development today: the effort to make something seem true rather than try to make sure it is actually true.


 Tom Foremski wrote an interesting piece over on ZDNet on press-imposed censorship that fits in well as an example of what hampers the creation of good content. Foremski talks about the habit of B2B journalists to continually go to the well of what they consider "reliable" sources that invariably consist of the top players in a given industry.


 I've pointed out it past posts that every journalist has subjective filters when it comes to covering news.  A given subject can have as many as half a dozen legitimate sources for the news.  The journalist goes through the list of previous sources for the topic for the first round, consisting of PR and executives.  If need be a second round consisting of spokespeople from the top one or two players in the market will be contacted.  Rarely is there a second round where the journalist contacts low-level players.  That, however, may be exactly where the real information is.


 During my early days as a journalist I learned that the best stories usually came from the people no one notices:  A local Buddhist priest who turns out to be a Hiroshima survivor; the elderly man who raise parakeets and donates them to shut ins for company; the technologist who develops a new processor technology, once discarded by the industry, that actually resolves many of the problems with current processors.  These were all hidden stories that had been around for years until I stumbled across them.  That's what I was always taught was real news: something out of the ordinary.


 Journalists today are under paid and over worked.  They need to find ways to create as much content as they can with shrinking resources.  And the major players in the market are more than willing to make sure the unusual never makes the light of day by giving the harried reporters and editors "special access" to the corridors of power.  Those sources are dedicated to the concept of "truthiness."


 Good content is not "truthy."  It is true.  More often than not it has to come from the unusual suspects.  That's why at New Tech Press we impose a subjective filter of excluding the top players as often as possible (e.g. in our Semicon coverage we chose interviews with KLA Tencor, current number 4, as the lead interview...having been unable to get responses from Varian and Advantest).


 Can traditional journalists ignore the top players? Probably not.  There is too much pressure from publication management to keep the large potential advertisers happy and no pressure whatsoever from the lower-level companies who invest nothing in media buys.  But the lower-level companies can make an effort to use social media strategies to share good content (not necessarily about them) and help journalists get a broader view.


 More later.


 

Maybe engineers need to grow up

When you've been in the communciation game as long as I have, you want to run, screaming, from the room when a marketing guy says, "We really don't need much media coverage.  Our customers are engineers and they all talk to each other.  So we just need to reach a few of them."  I swear, if I had a dollar for everytime I heard that I'd be an angel investor (who could fire a long of marketing guys).


So when UBM TechWeb CEO Tony Uphoff tossed out a Facebook link to an article on word-of-mouth marketing I was immediately drawn to it.  I was surprised to learn, however, that the age group most influenced by word-of-mouth marketing are teenagers, while adults will use word of mouth early on in their shopping process but rely more heavily on media when they make their decision.


That immediately brought to mind the axiom above.  If it is true, that engineers make buying decisions based on what their peers tell them, without benefit of third-party input, than engineers have the research skills of high-school students.


I'm sure that's not what the marketing guys are implying.  At least not what they wanted to imply.  Maybe they should go talk it over amongst themselves.

SEO is not your concern, Part 3

OK, I’m a little behind it wrapping up this discussion.  Things are really getting crazy around here. 


A couple of weeks ago I started talking about how SEO is not your biggest concern with your website and then followed up with how social networks followed that up with creating target audiences.  My premise is that both of the automated egalitarian technologies are being gamed by companies and building a basic distrust within their audiences.  I wrapped up my last post with:


“So we are entering into another cycle; one that will be difficult for the current players to understand.  It is a cycle that will be based on ethics and trust and it is something that cannot be generated by an algorithm.”


We’re going to build on that today.


Trust is at the core of all genuine communication.  Once that goes out the window so does the communication.  That’s why search worked for a while because it wasn’t in the hands of the marketing department... until they figure that out.  That’s why social media (beginning with Friendster and Myspace) engendered trust because recommendations came from people you trusted... until the marketers figured that out, too. 


The problem with modern marketing is that there is an inherent imperative to “capture” market attention with communication media and hold it.  That’s the purpose of sophisticated SEO, website design, and social media strategy.  Everyone who truly understands media knows that is an impossible task, especially in the age of internet communication, and yet companies hold onto the paradigm.  Even media companies fall into the trap trying to find ways to make their audience at least bookmark their page.


The impossibility of that effort is due to the fact that there is absolutely no way to wall your audience off.  There are too many holes in the infrastructure.  Keeping your audience is like trying to eat warm jello with a fork.


So if you can’t entice your audience to stay with you with technology and you can’t make them only loyal to your Facebook page or website, how do you stay in front of your audience as much as possible so they don’t forget you or learn to mistrust you?


Ethics and sharing.  It’s that simple.


Social media works not because it is controllable but because it isn’t.  People will follow and engage with individuals on Facebook even if they don’t agree with them as long as you are sharing valuable content and demonstrating that you can be trusted.  That’s what services like Klout are all about.  If all you share is about how wonderful your company is, they know you are a shill and will either filter you out or “defriend” you.  But if you provide valuable information that may or may not be related to what you do, even if it basically disagrees with your positions, then you become a trusted source.


Moreover, the people in your network will start to share your content, regardless of what they think of your opinion, which increases your influence beyond those you already know.  Growth happens organically.


And that is what is about to happen in a relatively small segment of the tech industry very soon.  This organization is going to start creating and sharing content that has been vetted outside of the marketing department.  The sharing will not just be on their website or social media pages, but in partnership with traditional media.  In turn, they will provide connection to those media partners within their own online presence.  What is about to happen is the socialization of a corporate entity.


There are other companies trying to do this, but they are stuck in the paradigm that requires them to capture and hold audiences; that requires that the content stays “on message.”  It’s the paradigm that fails.


It’s what I’ve been talking about for 7 years.  It’s about to happen.

SEO is not your real concern right now, part 2

Last Friday I dropped a flash-bang into the room saying search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t what you should be concerned about.  I got one comment from a SEO person pointing out, very nicely, that I didn’t know what I was talking about because SEO is still very important.  I don’t disagree with that statement because SEO is important... especially if you’re selling ink cartridges and boner pills.  That still doesn’t take away from my original statement.  SEO is not what you should be concerned about, especially if your business is about anything other than commodities.


When Google got going in the mid double-oughts, search was THE thing.  People were still getting used to this interwebs thing and it was kinda fascinating being able to find all kinds of stuff that normally took a dozen phone books and a lot of shoe leather.  It also turned the garden hose of information in our lives into a viaduct.  People started applying subjective filters on where they got that information.  Some people chose Google as the start-up page, which became MyGoogle.  Other when to Yahoo.  Some chose the sites of traditional publications like the NY Times.  Then browsers started adding search widgets in the browsers themselves.  Then social networks appeared. That’s when SEO went from THE thing to ONE of the things you had to be concerned about.


Social networks changed the game because now the subjective filter was not a landing page, but what your friends and co-workers thought was important.  If your audience could find out about you from those they trusted, they would be more likely to buy stuff from you.  That is what has made Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and all the others successful... for now.  That is starting to go away. Users are starting to switch allegiances to social media platforms as often as they change phone service or cable providers, but the market, overall, has gone static, and for good reason.


The social platforms are starting to be gamed by marketers whose primary function is to boost sales by any means possible.  There are many who are adhering to basic decency and trying to use social media in a non-invasive manner, but there are even more who are using unscrupulous means to get into the head of the audience.  That is creating a not insignificant level of distrust in the platforms themselves, just as search is not suspect, hence the recent halt in the growth of the more popular platforms in the US.  Google is entering the fray late with yet the third incarnation of their social effort with Google+, but the issues of privacy and who owns what on the network is affecting usage.  Yes, they have had a lot of signups, but while the reviews are good, Facebook groups remains the active platform for now.


So we are entering into another cycle; one that will be difficult for the current players to understand.  It is a cycle that will be based on ethics and trust and it is something that cannot be generated by an algorithm.  This is going to take some work.  


And I will talk about that next week.


 

SEO: it isn't what you should be concerned about now

I've been considering and reading about all the changes in the data-eating industry that Google, Facebook, et al are enacting and one big theme is starting to arise in my head: Search and search engine optimization are virtually worthless now.  (That's gonna piss some people off.)


It used to be that people kept their browser start-up page on Google because they went on the interweb tubes to look for stuff; sometimes with a purpose but most of the time just to do it.  That's not the case anymore.  I know very few people that fire up their laptops, tablets and smart phones and immediately go to the browser.  now they got to Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Flipboard or any other application that allows them to get input from their social circle.  I know I'm one of them.  My browers (I use several) are set to open on publication sites like The Economist, SFGate and Electronic Products.  That, too, is not unsual as I see many people reading news sites of traditional media like the NY Times and the WSJ.  You don't need to go to a search engine site to get started because every browser has a little search window.


Why do we do this now? Because the information we get from the apps, social circles and specific publications are trustworthy.  You can't trust what you find on Google or Yahoo or even Bing because you know that he who spends the most money on SEO gets to the top of those lists, so you find places you can trust.  SEO doesn't do that.  You may not agree with me but there are some very big players that do.  One of them is Google.


Google+ is the next big thing for Google and they are all in on this concept.  They know if they don't make this work they will be nothing in 20 years.  They know that the audiences don't trust the information they get from the vaunted Google search engine but the audience has ways of getting around the high-paid subterfuge of corporate SEO addicts.  They are using social media platforms that are eating into the Google influence sphere like a swarm of locusts through a wheat field.  Google+ says, "We know you don't trust us, so let us listen in as you talk to people you do trust.  Maybe we can figure something out."


This is a revolutionary moment in media that will drive us back to a time when media actually held the trust of the public.  And I'll explain that next week.


 

Japanese disaster underscores importance of social media and mobile technology

The tragedy hitting Japan is recovering from right now cannot be fathomed in its affect on the Japanese people.  It underscores the importance of being prepared for these kind of disasters, and for knowing how to cope in the middle of it.  That's why I support emergency preparedness training in local communities and am particularly proud of my own church that is conducting classes this month in how to help people cope with these kind of disasters.


In the context of this blog, however, I would like to point out how important social media can be, in conjunction with mobile technology and I bring it up today in the interest of being prepared.  In this CNN video I was watching this morning, one of the points brought up was how people should stay off the telephone lines to allow first responders and government workers to deal with the problems.  You know this is the right thing to do but when you are in the midst of the crisis it is hard for those affected to restrain themselves.


I remember during the Loma Prieta earthquake, I was on the first business trip of my career and was 400 miles away from my wife, my 5-year-old daughter and my one-month old son.  i saw the coverage of the fires in SF, the collapsed freeway in Oakland and the damage on the Oakland bridge.  I had to find out if my family was alright and I spent 5 hours trying to get through to them.  That would not have been an issue if I had a smart phone with a data package.


Thinking about that time and the technology available to me today makes me realize what an amazing world we live in.  A simple text message takes up almost no bandwidth on the communication lines and can maintain a crucial connection with family.  But it doesn't stop there.


Smart phones with video cameras can be used to transmit pictures of injuries.  Location-based social applications can pinpoint where survivors are.  And most importantly, it can keep families connected in desperate times.  Facebook and Twitter may be too public for situations like this, but could be useful.  Lesser-known applications that focus on local communities, like DeHood, might be more effective as they better integrate audio, video and text.


For example, in a situation like Japan, using an iPhone and DeHood, you can take pictures or video of injuries, electrical dangers, fire, etc. and send them directly to emergency services, media or even family.  You can use the GPS services to identify your location and, even in some cases, virtually check if you are not actually on site but are within visual range.  First responders can ask questions, direct you to safe areas and do more efficient disaster triage.


Yes, of course that depends on having the mobile phone system up and running.  It's not perfect, but in my case with Loma Prieta, I would have been able to make quick contact with the family or at least neighbors who would know what is going on.  The point is, it wasn't possible then.  It is possible now.


Many people still think that all this technology is just fun and games.  You can't say that for people seeking freedom in the Middle East, or for those trying to survive in Japan.  We all need to think beyond the convenience and what this means for our communities.

Who's in charge? Act 3

In the past two posts I've shown that the consumer electronic industry, with few notable exceptions, has consistently failed to address and meet the need of the buying public; that the semiconductor industry that follows that lead has delivered suspect information regarding market demand; and that the support industries to the semi industry has no solid idea what their value is to their customer, much less express that value to them.  How have we got to to this place?


First off, we have a leadership in place; and a generation of engineers in marketing that were trained by that leadership, whose frame of reference rests in the 1980s markets -- back when electronics was still in the entrepreneurial phase of its life.  In the 1980s, Lockheed Missiles and Space Division was still putting together technical documents with pen, ink and typewriters.  Semiconductor-based products were just the province or technology early adopters (nerds) and were considered generally beyond the ability of less mortals to comprehend, much less work with.


Today, however, there are people in IT departments with high-school equivalency certificates building desktop computers with components they get at Fry's.  Most cell-phones are upgraded every 20 months and some are considered disposable.  Consumer electronics has crossed the chasm and marketing needs to focus on late adopters to expand the market.  But what does the industry market to?  Engineers who think Twitter is stupid.  


No, that's not fair.  There are many engineers that find Twitter to be quite valuable and they buy these products.  No, it is more accurate to say that the market is addressed by companies, run by engineers who think Twitter is stupid.  The people who buy the products that are made by these companies have adopted social media in totality.  More than half of the US population has Facebook account.  These people are talking among themselves about these products, but the engineers in charge of marketing... or at least those engineers in management who are telling marketing that Twitter is stupid... have no idea what is being said.  Instead, they are talking, by email, phone and tradeshow meetings, with their friends who agree that Twitter is stupid about how smart they are.


They are living in a virtual biodome of their own construction that has preserved a 30-year-old paradigm perfectly.  It is a fantasy.


Is Facebook really worth $50 Billion?  They create a product that more than half the country uses and has spawned multiple additional industries with companies also valued in the billions.  The company is creating a lot of wealth and business.  It is a source of optimism and news.  The real question is, what is an EDA company really worth?  They create products used by a very small group of users to create products that 95 percent of the market will send back because it isn't what the customer wants.


So what is the answer to this problem? I really think it comes down to management.  And the electronics/semi industry management is filled with engineers who are making marketing decisions based on 30-year-old paradigms.  These guys are remarkably talented and knowledgeable -- when it comes to making complex technology, but they need guidance from people who are equally remarkable in talent and knowledge about the market.


A few weeks ago when I was considering writing this series, I got a call from a journalism buddy who encouraged me to go for the jugular on this subject.  He was royally PO'ed at a particular industry that does little to no advertising for the simple reason "they say they know their customers and what they want" so advertising doesn't help them.  And yet, this editor says he gets calls from company after company, that uses this same excuse for not supporting an industry publication, and that still expects the magazine to take their calls, send out editors, take meetings and write stories about their cheap little companies.  "If the customers already know everything they need to know about these companies," he wondered.  "Why do I need to write about them?  Why do they still send me their lousy press releases?  Why do they even go to trade shows?"  And why are they still not profitable?


Over the past 20 years, B2B publications have taken a major hit as more companies took this attitude to the point that we almost lost them altogether. What many people may not realize is that these publications found gold in social media and are using it to gather information about companies while, at the same time, creating sources of revenue.  They no longer need top go after these little companies to advertise once or twice a year, because they can sell their content to engineers who DON'T think Twitter is stupid.  They have found new, exciting industries to write about and less and less of those industries reside in the electronics world.


The engineers running the majority of electronics, semiconductor and EDA companies have run the market into the ground.  They have received a brief stay of execution in the current turn around, but don't expect it to last.


To get out of the cycle some drastic changes need to be put in place.  


To be continued.

Salesforce's Chatter Free not a game changer, but very neat

Salesforce announced yesterday at the Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco that a free version of their Chatter social collaboration tool would be available in April 2010 and it comes close to being a game-changer in the effort to monitor, control and use multiple social media platforms.  But the concept of “free” is loosely defined.


 


You don’t have to be a Salesforce license holder to use Chatter, but the company you work for does.  And you can only invite people within that social community to participate.  That means you can’t include any external business or personal contacts.  You still have to maintain your own method for managing that.


 


There are lots of free and commercial tools for that task.  Too many, in fact, and one is as good/bad as any other.  My hope for Chatter, when I started hearing about potential free management tools, was that it would be a way for common folk to get ahold of all that information without having to check multiple pages, not unlike what the new Microsoft Mobile platform does.  In fact, Chatter does that, but within a very limited subset of the market with a very limited reach.


 


That’s the downside.  Here’s the upside.


 


It’s pretty damn neat.


 


As opposed to similar offerings from from Cisco and Microsoft, that are email based, Chatter directly integrates Facebook and Twitter status updates and adds social networking and real-time connections. It provides employees profiles, feeds and groups and developers can build social enterprise applications with status updates, build Facebook apps, and hook into APIs from Twitter so enterprises can track comments from customers and employees. All of it is secure within the company firewall.


OK, I hear you saying, so what’s the big deal?  Aren’t there other ways of doing the same thing?  Sure there are, but not in an integrated package.  There are proprietary platform and kluged frameworks of disparate applications that may or may not work and require personnel to maintain them.  Salesforce does all that for you.  In the demos I was able to see people come up, start entering their own information and start building their Chatter pages directly.  


Again I hear you saying: “What’s the point?  All that social media stuff is a waste of time. I need to work!”  That’s not a bad argument.  It’s impossible to keep up with all that stuff and eventually important information falls through the cracks... except for a helpful little app that isn’t part of Salesforce’s technology.


I did some reports on a company called http://operationaltransparency.com/ a few months back, and their tool has been integrated into the Salesforce framework.  It’s available in the Salesforce App Exchange.  The company makes an app that monitors the information, shows where the traffic is heaviest from what customer, department or individual; identifies critical issues and provides a single screen review for evaluation and action.  Each dot on the screen has links to specific status updates, documents, emails, etc. that can be reviewed simply by clicking on them.  In a matter of seconds you can figure out just what the heck is going on, and assign resources accordingly.


I met with the leadership of Operational Transparency briefly at Dreamforce and they gave me an update which we will go into much more detail in a few weeks. But as I said, Chatter is not the be all and end all to the social media morass, but combined with that nifty little tool, it kicks some serious butt and makes it easier to understand and demonstrate the power of social media as a business tool.


And that’s the really neat thing about Chatter.  I heard a lot of people saying that this was “Facebook for business, “ but that’s not the philosophy of Chatter.  Salesforce is not trying to replace the more popular social networks but make them clearly relevant within the business enterprise.  While there are other companies trying to do the same thing, including Microsoft and Yammer, none have quite the egalitarian spirit behind the Saleforce effort.  Instead of competing, Salesforce is collaborating with even potential competitors.  And that, beyond all the tech, is what makes this unique.


 

The Right to be left alone: Flipping the social media paradigm

 Social media is not a fad.  It’s here to stay.  But the current incarnation is reaching a saturation point.  Almost everyone who is interested in being connected to a social platform has done so to whatever degree they want.  What is creating a barrier to adoption is the issue of privacy.


 Let’s face it.  People are overwhelmed by the amount of data coming at them now.  They are finding subjective and subconscious ways of filtering it out either by ignoring the information or by actively removing themselves from the conversation (e.g. closing a Facebook account).  This activity, while nascent at present, is the golden-goose kiler for social media.  If people actually start walking away in droves, that’s going to be a problem for a lot of companies.  


 Now I’ve made it clear that I believe privacy is not really an issue.  It’s something anyone can control if they wish, but the fact is, most people want to make sure everyone else is taking care of their privacy for them.  Social media mavens like Mark Zuckerberg thinks those people need to get over themselves and just deal with it (and I agree with him on that, too). However, just because some billionaire thinks you should do something doesn’t mean you are going to.


 That last fact opens up an opportunity for a different kind of social media platform and location-based technology can make that happen.


 What is really at issue is not the protection of personal information but what the Supreme Court calls, the right to be left alone.  The right, established in 1928 is what keeps the government from doing wiretaps without authority and keeps organizations from selling sensitive information to others without your approval.  Social media violates this right on a regular basis.  That is what has really got a lot of people up in arms.


 At the same time, however, people want to be connected.  The hectic activity of our lives, the barrage of media messages, and our mobile lifestyle keeps many people from actually developing real relationships.  Social media has helped hat to some degree by fostering virtual relationships and, often, providing a new means to connect with people that mean something to you.  Unfortunately, it also allows people to contact you who you don’t want to be connected with.  That’s the problem people have with Facebook groups now.  It is possible, unless you go in and set your security features properly, for anyone to force you into a social group that you don’t want to be part of and start getting information you do not want.  That is the Achilles heel of social media: it forces you to be involved.


 As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve run across some companies that are working on ways to turn that paradigm upside down.  The goal is to allow users to determine the size and reach of their social networks.  If they want just a few people in their circle and not share any information outside of that circle, that’s possible.  People can’t ask to join but can be invited to join.  DeHood is one of those companies.


 (Disclaimer: I am consulting to DeHood on community relations)


 Dehood has reached out to a few Redwood City communities of late and is asking them, specifically, “what would you like to see in in a social group.”  At present, they are working on developing a virtual neighborhood watch project for two neighborhoods that are plagued by increasing gang violence.  They are also talking to a preschool that wants to “gate” their little community around the families attending the school.  finally, they are talking to a church about creating a package for their youth group.  In every case, these groups are closed and require some sort of vetting.  At the same time they are being opened to police and fire organizations and government groups for the purposes of public safety.


 Ning has been doing this to a certain degree, but the problem with Ning is you have to be technically proficient to be able to build and manage a private Ning site.  Other social platforms can also be used for these purposes, but again you have to be savvy enough to navigate around the default settings.  DeHood is setting all defaults at private, even to the point of limiting profiles to name, user name, email address and gender.


 So how will they make this profitable?  Isn’t the whole point of social media to capture as much private information as possible from the buying public?  Actually, no.  You can do that and that is exactly where we are today, and why many people are backing off.  The real purpose of social media is to benefit society; to build trust; to find peace of mind in an increasingly dangerous world.  Because when you have that, you have a growing and sustainable economy.


 What we are seeing happen is social media for the introverted; the people that think stuff through; the people who choose not to comment and check-in on everything everywhere; the people who have not yet bought in fully to the belief the social media is the coolest thing ever.  Because these are people that stay loyal to brands.  They are not easily convinced and not easily dissuaded.  They just keep buying your stuff and they become the most important beings in the social world:  Trust agents.


 That’s where the money is and companies like DeHood are on the first wave.


 


 


 

Location-based services can change the market for mobile tech... maybe

This post was going to focus, primarily on Dehood, but since writing part two of this series, I fell into a new world of the Social Web companies from all over the world and I have discovered they fall mostly into 5 buckets:



  • sharing stuff

  • rating stuff

  • measuring stuff

  • organizing stuff

  • selling stuff


 All of that is great for marketers.  The more people participate in all of that stuff, the more information marketers have on the participants, so it's easy to sell stuff, which is the biggest part of the Social Web.  That's where it leaves a lot of people out of participation because there is so much emphasis on the latter, that the rest seems to be rather manipulative.  


 That's a big problem because the whole point of the web, in the first place, is to bring people together and the social movement has been co-opted by the sales departments of the corporate world.  If you pay attention to the big players in the Social Web industry -- Facebook, Twitter... and everyone else -- you will notice that in the beginning, making money was not the primary driver.  The passion was about doing something new; about communicating with your local community.  Facebook started out as a way for Harvard students to connect in meaningful ways (well, at least as an easy way to hook up on the weekends) and then expanded to Boston-area colleges, then colleges nationwide, etc. Twitter launched as a means of helping people attending SXSW connect and communicate at the event.  Selling stuff and meeting complete strangers in distant lands was secondary.  


 Now, however, when a social web company launches, they want to go big, right away.  The VCs push them for that.  The press clamors for it.  And when you go to social web events (and I've been to three in the past month) that's what everyone talks about... well, almost.  


 There is that pesky location-based service issue, which is what I started writing about.  Some of these services, like Foursquare, have fallen into the social web hype maelstrom and are trying to be as big as Facebook right away, but their value proposition is not about building community, but about the first and fifth buckets.  In the process, they also do some of the other three.  And after you have become the mayor of several places and spent all your disposable income, there is not much left.  People who are status addicts are still entranced by the game, but when you get out into the streets, you find something different altogether.


 I am involved in international business.  I have relationships with people I have never physically met but enjoy rousing conversations with them on many subjects, all through social media.  But I'm involved in my local community and my neighborhood.  I actually know and am close to several neighbors.  And when I shop, the first place I look is local.  That's what it means to be in a community, and that's where the Social Web comes up wanting for the larger market.


 In the past year, I have been able to show many people and businesses how to use social media to expand their local presence, but in every case, I have to show them how to jury rig currently available social media to make it work for them.  Over the past few weeks, however, I have found a sixth bucket of the Social Web that is trying and succeeding in focusing their product to build real relationships around you, not virtual relationships online; companies that are putting the Social Web in the hands of the rest of us. 


 I interviewed some of these companies at TechCrunch Disrupt a few weeks ago and a few I got on video.  What makes them stand out to me is that they are making applications that can be important for many of the people on the top of the adoption bell curve to see the value in this mobile based economy.





 


That last point is what is so very important for all of us.  Right now smart phones are all the rage.  It seems sometimes that the entire world is snapping up iPhones, iPads and Android phones.  The reality is, actually, they are not.  With all the hype about this stuff, smart phones have yet to jump the chasm into mainstream adoption.  Even iPhone sales have penetrated less than 6 percent of the available market.  That's because the benefit of the technology is the ability to use apps and there is no compelling reason to use apps yet, other then they are cool and attractive to early adopters. 


This new bucket of Social Web companies is approaching specifically the section of the market that just can't see the value in smart phones.  How they are doing it will be very profitable, but at the same time, very altruistic.


And that's what we are going to look at next.


 

Social media for your neighborhood.

Last week I started a series on the importance and future of geolocal (also called geosocial) apps and outlined a few of the roadblocks to success including the lack of widespread adoption of the underlying technology (smart phones), holding the interest of the audience, and the lack of community building inherent in the current options.  Today I want to look more into that last problem and how some players are overcoming it.


As I said last week, the big benefit of social media is its ability to build communities through the web.  But those communities are, for the most part, virtual.  If you are in Facebook or any other platform, you have a large group of people in your network that you have never actually met face to face.  Yet, you are in contact with them regularly no matter where they are in the world.  you know a lot about them and you have several common interests.  However, try to do that on a local level with social media and you run into a problem: you can’t without a lot of effort.


I discovered this over the past two years on some pro bono work I’ve been doing for Sustainable Redwood City.  I wanted to use social media to grow the organization but discovered that if I didn’t already have a personal relationship with people in my community, I couldn’t actually get them to connect with me or the organization on any SM platform.  I had to meet them first before they would accept the connection.


I also could not use social media to discover people in my community or neighborhood because the platforms did not get that granular.  In Facebook, for example, I can choose the Silicon Valley network or the San Francisco network, but not the SF Peninsula, San Mateo County, Redwood City or my own neighborhood, Friendly Acres.  I was forced to accept a position in a large geographical context.  This isn’t as much of a problem if you live in New York City or San Francisco, but it doesn’t help the 2 million+ people in the Bay Area.


What social media lacks is a local approach and even the entry of Twitter and Facebook into this realm is not helping.


Geolocal/social apps are supposed to help solve that problem by making it possible for local business to reach their local community and expand their business.  If you are an ice cream shop or a coffee bar, it’s a great idea because you will succeed if you get a lot of regular customers.  If you are a dentist of an auto shop, not so much.  If you go back to those guys more than once in six months you have a problem.  But the real benefit lies with the vendor, not the customer.  You need a way for those customers to come together in a community, without violating personal space or privacy.


And that’s the good news because I have discovered some startups that are doing exactly that.


The one with the biggest name is Yelp.  They’ve recently added a geolocal aspect to their reviewing service where you can check in to favorite establishments, but again, they are focused only on commercial outreach and only to whole cities, not neighborhoods, so it is a step in the right direction but not exactly what I think people need.  


Next up is a tiny little company called Gogoverde, which is hyper focused on neighborhoods and is currently only available in Palo Alto and Redwood City.  But they lack the geolocal tech at present.  Mostly what they do is get people who already know each other to join a local network and share information and materials.  


But the app  I’m really excited about is a company called DeHood.  I’ve been using the app for a while, sending some of my activity on it to my Twitter and Facebook pages and even went in to talk to the company leadership, Babak Hedayati and Mike Mertz, to find out more, which lead to a consulting contract with them that started a couple of days ago (so there’s your full disclosure)


But I’ve been using the tech for several weeks now simply because it accomplished what I’ve been looking for: a social media application that can build local and REAL community.


And what DeHood does will be the subject of the next post.

Engagement is where you find it.

I love it when great minds think a like.  First Brian Solis sets up the segue from low-level to high-level engagement, and then Dan Holden talks about what the most important influencers might be.  so today I can talk about where you find the highest-level engagement in your social media program

As a recap, since it was almost a week ago, the first level of engagement is made up of people that agree with you and give you kudos.  You know, the really intelligent readers ;).  The second level are the people who disagree with you and can include competitors.  these are people that can help you make course adjustments by giving you a reality check.  You don't have to accept what they say, but looking into the criticism can often make what you share so much better.

The most valuable of all engagement, however, is the expansion level -- the people that take your ideas and concepts to different levels.  It may start as either agreement or disagreement but goes deep into the issue and becomes a virtual partnership.  These are the people that link to what you have to say and send it out among their own networks.  These are the people to find and cultivate because they help you to understand yourself better.

Over the past few years, I've found a lot of these people.  Like Brian Fuller now back at EE Times and his boss Paul Miller; like the aforementioned Solis and Holden; like someone who may read this and give his own two cents to the concept.  Because of this interaction I have been able to better define my philosophy ad business model to the point that I can now get it across in a matter of minutes with very little Q&A.  Doesn't help with short budgets, but I know I can fit what I do into almost any budget around.  These relationships have also helped me escape the small orbit of the semiconductor world and explore new technologies, countries and cultures.  I've even entered the political arena in some areas.

But here's the thing, while there are tools that can help you quantify this kind of interaction, you can't really qualify it with tools.  You have to go out and find it.  Luckily, that's not as hard or time consuming as it may seem.

Hashtags, retweets are probably the most common ways of finding some of these third level influencers, but most of what you will find are second level followers -- the people that agree with you.  What is most helpful is linking multiple platforms.  I currently write five blogs on widely different subject to widely different audiences.  i also maintain 3 presences on Facebook, three on Twitter, one on Linked in (with participation in 2 dozen groups), one on Plaxo and about a half dozen other more obscure social networks.  Now if I was actually maintaining each of these individually, I would have no life and no home.  But all social networks make it possible to link to other networks and other social media platforms.  All of my presences on the social web are linked to each other, so when I post something in one place, it pops it in multiple places, like Facebook, Plaxo, and Networked Blogs.  

My readers pick them up there and, amazingly enough, begin conversations there.  Those of you reading this on the State of the Media site may wonder if I get much engagement here and, in fact, I don't.  I get about two or three comments a month here (which is actually more than a lot of blogs), but what you may not see are the conversations and comments going on about these posts in other platforms.  The most prolific area is actually Networked Blogs, followed closely by Facebook and then Twitter.  As it is, the 6,000 members of my worldwide network are pretty chatty and I get some great feedback from them.

This kind of following and feedback didn't happen overnight, however.  This network has been growing organically for about 6 years, when I really tarted getting into the social media scene.  I do very little promotion because I like to see how it can develop naturally.  If I put more promotion into it, I would imagine it might grow much larger, but right now I can handle it on my own.  What could you do with it if you had some staff to help?  What could you learn? And who exactly would be participating in the conversation?

That will be the subject of part three.

The importance of social networks becomes evident

I was kinda surprised at how little comment and conversation has been going on over the news that Facebook has overtaken Google News as the source of website referrals on the net.  This is a pretty earthshaking development in the realm of corporate communications.

Companies, especially niche technology companies, have relied heavily on Google to disseminate news releases to the customer base on the net.  This has been the primary reason for cutting advertising and PR budgets.  After all, why spend money to get attention when it is virtually free on the 'net?

But as I, and so many others, have predicted, the decimation of the news media that provided third party verification of corporate messages, has forced the consuming public to rely on a new, even more uncontrollable third party verifier... their friends and colleagues.

The way it works is people see a news release or or other corporate marketing crap on Google and instead of clicking on the link to the company to get more information, they go to their favorite social network, in this case Facebook, and ask their group what they know/think about the company.  Those friends refer them directly to the company, or worse yet, a rival that they think is better.  

You think this is a recent phenomenon?  Au contraire, mon amis ( which is about all the French I know).  Check the search rates on Google for just about any significant technology company or niche since Facebook became open to more than just college students in about 2007.  They have been steadily dropping -- not dramatically but steadily -- as the growth of social network platforms significantly increased.

So when you are considering the impact of mass micromedia (which I just found out was coined by Jeremiah Owyang that term, damn it) that's the big one.  If you haven't figure it out yet, it is sucking the life out of your outdated marketing approach.  You may need to get some help. fast.

Macro/micromedia Part 2

Now that I got my rants on the business of media out of my system, I can finish my thoughts on Twitter.

Someone recently sent me a link to a Twitter "how-to" manual on Mashable that serves as a pretty good description of what it is and the features, but makes a pretty poor guide on best practices.  It basically treats Twitter as a typical mass medium, which it isn't

As I mentioned previously, Twitter is part of the mass media subsection I call micromedia and requires a different approach to communication than traditional mass media, or macromedia.  When you apply traditional communication approaches to micromedia, you will inevitably fail.

Take Coca Cola for example.  When they started out on Twitter, they were just pushing advertising and messages.  As a result, one of the biggest companies in the world could only garner 15,000 followers.  But in the past few months, Coca Cola has changed their strategy and is providing information and athletic celebrity connections through Twitter, as part of their Super Bowl and Winter Olympic programs.  The result is 500 million interactions and not a corporate message in the lot. Note the difference in the measurement:  Followers vs Interactions.

In contrast, their Super Bowl advertising only reached 100 million viewers with no measurable interaction.

Closer to our world, as a good example, is Best Buy, which uses Twitter in two directions, but only two.  One is for internal communications and one is for customer support.  In both cases Best Buy uses Twitter with a specific audience in mind with the goal of creating a conversation, an engagement between the corporation and the audience (employees and customers) on a specific topic.  Employees can make suggestions, point out issues and connect directly with each other. Customers can get real-time responses on product problems and questions.  And more to the point, they get them without alot of bother.  You have to get pretty specific with only 140 characters and you have to take a lot of emotion out of the mix.  No name calling, in  other words.  Much more efficient.

Bad practices on Twitter abound and are at the heart of a lot of the disaffection and abandonment of Twitter.  Corporations and individuals with a promotion-only (read one-way messaging) find they get ignored (no response) or get flamed.  They don't understand that this isn't an advertisement.  Lots of people don't get/like Twitter because all they see is a raft of links to ads and news releases and they walk away from it.  They are right to, unless they wise up and start blocking people who only or mostly only send those kind of links.  You have to do some culling to to get some value.

The real value of Twitter is four fold.  One, if you look at it as a place to find trusted sources, it will take some time (the culling process) but it will yield results.  That's my primary use for it.  I find good sources of information through Twitter on a regular basis, but I follow only a few dozen people.  

Second, Twitter can serve as a very effective alternate email system.  I maintain connection to several of my followers and followees through direct messages.  There is no spam.  None.  

Third, it can be a great measurement tool.  When I send out my rare press release, I never put it on Twitter directly.  i wait to see if it gets picked up and disseminated from any of my trusted sources.  If it does I know that the news has some real value.  And from that point I can feel free to retweet that.

Fourth and finally, it can connect disparate social media/networking platforms.  Not all the people on my Linkedin community are on my Facebook community, jsut as not all in both of those are on my Twitter accounts.  But by sharing tweets, retweets and links on Twitter to my other platforms I expand readership across all and foster the conversation.

And that's the difference between macro and micro media.  The latter is conversational and is best shared with a limited audience.

Macro/micromedia

I want to write something about Twitter... and a lot of other stuff, but before I do I have to establish a concept that I've come up with.

This blog has always been about the concept of mass media: what it is, how it's used, where it's going.  We all pretty much know that mass media is information sent to large groups of people and we identify it in traditional forms of broadcast and print.  Sometimes we look at Google, Yahoo, Bing and any other kind of search engine as a threat to mass media, but in reality it is just another form of it.  Google still pushes out a bunch of information to a munch of people so it is still mass media.

What makes online mass media the same as traditional media is that the goal is to get a response from 1 percent of the audience.  For example, in EDA, if you sent out a bit of communication to an audience of 10,000 people and you got 100 leads and maybe one sale, you would have more than paid for the effort.

But social networks are also a form of mass media, although different from search engines.  The difference is that while they are still putting out information to groups of people, the groups can be only a small percentage of the total audience of the niche and be more successful than even a Google campaign.  Why? Because the social network audience is not made up of the whole audience, but the RIGHT portion of the audience or, specifically, the 100 leads you would have gotten from the original 10,000.

Social media is an entire different segment of mass media from traditional media.  The rules are different, the practice is different, the success rates are different and in order to do it right you have to do it completely different than traditional media campaigns.  So I'm creating two separate divisions of mass media that I'm calling macromedia and microcmedia.

The macro division includes print, broadcast, website and search engine practices.  The micro division refers to Facebook, Linkedin, Google Buzz, blogs, status sites (Twitter).  I'm going to leave this at the front of State of the Media for a while for reference, but we're going to camp out here for a while.

Party on Facebook

New Tech Press Biz Dev home boy, Ozzie Wallace has started a Facebook Group called "Marketing like it is1999" and we're opening it to everyone.  If you haven't tried Facebook, or signed up and can't figure out what the big deal is, this might give you a reason.

This blog, along with several others, has been maintaining the conversation about the changing state of the media and how it affects business.  It's time to bring it all together and this is where we're proposing to do it.

You have to be a Facebook member, but it took Ann Mutschler at Reed did it in less than a minute.  It's time to get it, folks.