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Monday, March 26, 2007

10 Ways to Improve Your Blog Karma

Whether you believe in karma or not, making your blog a success often has a lot to do with a series of seemingly disconnected events.  Every post you make, person you contact or comment you leave adds to the sum total of your efforts in the blogosphere.  Building relationships is important in any industry, but blog karma is the idea that what you do and how you behave will ultimately have an effect on you directly or indirectly.  Blog karma is not often written about, but very often spoken about by bloggers, especially successful ones.  So if you did believe that blog karma does exist, how should you go about increasing yours?  Here are 10 ways you can improve your blog karma:   

  1. Be real.  This is the first and foremost principle of furthering your blog karma that I could think of.  Being real involves not lying, being transparent about who you are and what you believe, and sharing an honest voice.  People trust others that have an authentic voice, and are more likely to refer them to others or help when asked. 
  2. Respond to emails. This is tough when you have a high volume of unsolicited emails, but the idea that someone took time to write directly to you should make it enough of a priority to respond.  Obviously, this applies to personally written messages, and not to email blasts of press releases.  Those are rarely worth a response.
  3. Offer exclusives.  Maybe you aren't breaking "news" on your blog, but the idea of exclusives is not limited to that.  If you are going to write about something interesting, offer a preview to other bloggers.  Share ideas as they happen and offer the chance for others to say it first.  Exclusives are gold in the blogosphere ... everyone wants them.
  4. Make connections. In social settings, the gold standard for making connections is introducing two people to one another who later get married.  Blogging is no different.  If you can be the person making these connections between individuals that may not have met otherwise, you will be remembered by both for your efforts.
  5. Join networks.  This is not just about publishing networks, but about social networks of people who are interested in the same things you are.  Joining groups like this, and actively participating adds value to the group.  As a member, it probably won't be long before you take something useful from the group.
  6. Avoid snark. Snarkiness is the enemy of good karma.  Being rude, uselessly opinionated or arrogant are all rising behaviours from bloggers that add to the sea of needless commentary online.  The price for this may not be apparent, as unfortunately, snarkiness does sometimes result in readership (who can't avoid watching a car crash?) -- but eventually the snark will catch up to you.
  7. Forgive mistakes. Most bloggers are not journalists and don't have the time or necessity for checking every fact or argument before making it.  This does result in mistakes, and people do screw up.  Correcting them without holding a grudge is a big deal.  Mistakes are made, people are sorry.  If they fixed the error, then get over it.
  8. Post to contact. Email is not the only way to get in touch with someone.  Posting about something they have written and linking to their blog offers an indirect route to contact, as most bloggers pay attention to who is linking to them.  Writing about one of my posts is still the best way to get onto my radar, and I suspect most bloggers are the same way.  Communicating in this way avoids the email filter and starts the dialogue.
  9. Comment and participate.  This may be part of earlier suggestions, however the idea that you need to be a participant online rather than just an observer is key to this belief.  If you expect others to communicate and add comments to your blog, you need to be online doing the same for others.  Without participation, it is difficult to belong to a community online or build relationships with others.
  10. Show gratitude. Often mentioned as an important factor in connecting with users, showing gratitude for someone participating on your blog, linking to you, or offering some other effort on your behalf is vital.  Appreciation makes someone more likely to believe that you think their efforts are significant and as a result, connect more strongly with you and your blog.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

5 Brilliant Marketing Ideas from SxSW

Over the next week, I'll posting some of the other insights I will be taking from the event, but in the meantime here are just a few marketing ideas that struck me as remarkable or noteworthy from SxSW:

  1. Using the tag as the tagline.  Everywhere you look there are signs posted telling you what tag (identifier word or series of words) to use when posting content to social networks, uploading images online, or blogging. The tags add order to the vast amounts of content that are being created as a result of this event.  I am tagging this post with "sxsw" and "sxswi" as recommended by the conference organizers, adding to the library of content created by those at the event.  Without tags, users are forced to rely on inexact methods to find content such as search algorithms.  With them your content is part of the community and consumed by others at the event.  The tag is the new tagline for marketing signs all over SxSW.
  2. Sponsoring something useful. Unfortunately for everyone, as part of each of the three events at SxSW - each attendee received a magazine quality program for the conference.  I say "unfortunately" because each of these programs was heavier than a May issue of a Bridal magazine filled with ads.  The end result was that no one could carry this around on a daily basis.  In any situation of information overload, everyone will seek the "hack" or summary to help make sense of it all.  To solve the problem, Iconbuffet had the brilliant idea of sponsoring a handy pocket guide - the ultimate widget for the interactive conference.  This was the only thing I saw people carrying around, and Iconbuffet was the only sponsor.  The lesson?  Think outside the program and do something useful for your audience and you will stand out.
  3. Selling old stuff as "vintage." At the conference shop, you can buy t-shirts from last year's SxSW event.  Conference t-shirts at events are usually one of two things; a mark of ultimate dorkiness, or a signature of coolness that declares to the world that you were there.  SxSW is an event that fits into the second category - and what could be cooler than pretending you were as cool last year as you are this year?  Now I'm just waiting for the shirts that have the SxSW logo on the front and the simple tagline on the back: "I was cool before you."  Now anyone know where I can get a SxSW 1987 t-shirt?
  4. Integrating open source marketing. Sponsorships are a big part of every event - and we have all been to events where these sponsorships and the exclusivity arrangements negotiated put a strangle hold on all other marketing efforts.  Here at SxSW in the convention center on the main floor are tables where anyone can place their posters, flyers, promotional cards, and just about anything else.  The tables were packed with marketing materials for other Film Festivals, services for artists, films, stickers and even samples of books and music.  The tables were the chance for anyone with a service, film, song or book to market their wares.  Strewn across the table were the many voices of the little guys, the nonsponsors who still had a chance to put their message in front of the SxSW population.  And anyone could take that message and spread it to others.
  5. Drawing audience with the drum solo. At an event focused on live music in a city that thrives on live music, you would think the every bar would get a band to play live every evening.  Surprisingly, there were several bars on 6th street without live music.  Shame for them, since the bars that were packed with people inside and out were the ones where the drummer was by the window and had drum solos often.  The lesson here is to find the equivalent of the drum solo in your business and help it spread by making it highly visible.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Understanding The 12 Main Sources of Blog Traffic

Something odd happened about ten days ago, and it got me thinking about hidden blog traffic.  As many of you who read this content directly on my blog might have noticed, I publish my Feedburner RSS subscriber count on the right hand sidebar of my blog.  For those of you reading this on one of the sites that syndicates my writing or through an RSS reader, you might not have seen it but for months the count typically hovered between 700 and 900 readers.  Then all of a sudden, just over a week ago, the figures had more than doubled and at one point I was pushing close to 2000.  At first I thought it was a reporting error, but like many other bloggers I soon realized the spike was due to Googles recent move to publish RSS reader counts from the popular Google Reader.  After that launched on February 16th, almost immediately I had visibility of about 1000 more readers that I might not have known about or been measuring otherwise.  The experience got me thinking about the nature of blog traffic and how much more of mine might be hidden or not measured.

Unrelated to this RSS surge, at the end of January I subscribed to use Statcounter to record stats on my blog, aiming to give myself a more sophisticated understanding of my blog traffic beyond the very basic reporting Typepad provides.  Over the last month, I have learned a few things about my blog traffic that may be helpful to others - and in particular, how to understand where the hidden sources of blog traffic are.  Towards this end, in looking over my stats and referring links here are the top ten types of links that are currently driving traffic to my blog (in order from most traffic to least):

  1. Blog Post Link: This is by far my most common source of traffic and changes everyday depending on which site is linking to mine and where a post gets mentioned.  Not every post results in this type of traffic, but getting a post linked on a high visibility blog or talked about on a site elsewhere is still the top traffic driver for me.  This doesn't include any blogs where articles are consistently republished or any permanent links on other blogs, such as listings in a blogroll.
  2. Search Engine Link: The fact that this is high on the list will come as no surprise to most bloggers. Google is by far the dominant engine in terms of driving traffic to my site, but I also get a fair bit from Yahoo.  Not as much from MSN or Ask at the moment, but that may change in the future.  The interesting thing about this is for my first year of blogging, it was by far my #1 driver of traffic.  Only recently have direct links taken over the top spot and dropped this to #2.
  3. Social News Link: These are links that come from social news sites such as Digg, Icerocket, Netscape, Marktd, or New PR (those are my top five).  They are usually either from a post that someone has added to one of these sites, or from a link I have added myself to a particularly relevant post - which I do from time to time for content that I think may be of particular interest to users of any of those sites.
  4. Tags or Social Bookmarking Link: These differ from social news sites as they are usually based on specific keyword tags versus user votes.  Links in this category come from sources like tags on Technorati or del.icio.us.  The interesting thing about these types of links is that they often drive readers to enter my blog through one of the category pages rather than a page for a particular post.  When this happens, they are far more likely to click around and read a few posts rather than just read one (which is what visitors from search engines often seem to do).
  5. Republishing Link: As I stated earlier in this post, my content is republished in several other locations (9 Rules, Digital Media Wire and WebProNews being the main three) and consumed in different ways in each place.  Some drive content back to my blog, while others offer a post in it's entireity and don't tend to drive much traffic back to my site.  This is lower on the list as most of my republishing arrangements fall into the latter category where readers can get the entire text elsewhere.  I may reevaluate this in the future, but for the time being, I am happy for my content to travel further regardless of whether it brings someone back to my blog or not (particularly because I don't have advertising on my blog anyway). 
  6. RSS Link: Slightly rarer than a link from a republished post is receiving traffic from the RSS feed for my blog.  I have elected to include my full articles in my RSS feed - mainly because I have experienced the frustration of being a reader of other blogs where I only get a short version and still need to visit a site to read the rest of an article.  To me, that defeats the purpose of RSS as a reader.  I want my feed to make consuming my content as easy as possible for readers that elect to subscribe to it.  If that means RSS links are not huge blog traffic drivers, so be it.
  7. Email Forward Link: If there was one category of links I would wish to move higher on this list, this would be it.  These are the referral URLs that come through with very strange configurations, but take you back to a secure network or webmail service, meaning that a URL for a post or my blog was emailed from one person to another and they clicked directly on the link in the email to get to my blog.  This is the type of link I strive for - to be viral enough to have a reader send a post to another reader.  Obviously, it's not fool proof as many folks might cut and paste the URL instead of clicking directly ... but this is emblematic of the type of hidden blog traffic that only becomes clear once you delve into your stats.
  8. Comment Link: These come from comments that I have left on other blog posts or news articles.  Obviously, this fluctuates based on how active I am with posting comments or participating.  For this reason, this is probably far lower on the list as it could be ... as regular workload and blogging leave little time to do more than keep up with the 100 or so blogs that I read and only allow me to post comments relatively infrequently.  One of my big new years resolutions is to try and comment online more consistently.  I'm working on it ...
  9. Forum Link: On occasion, a post of mine will get mentioned for positive or negative reasons in an online community of enthusiasts about something in particular.  This happened with my post several weeks ago about the new Rembrandt ad, and it has driven a decent amount of traffic to my blog and hasn't slowed down in nearly 3 weeks.  It's certainly evidence of the importance of connecting posts about specific topics to enthusiasts in online communities most likely to care about it. 
  10. Quote/Endorsement Link: There are several quotes or endorsements that I have provided for services and sites like Addthis.com or ScriptThis.com.  These have been used on their sites and in email communications and driven traffic to my blog in spurts, depending on activities they are undertaking or marketing they are conducting.  In particular, having a quote of mine included in an AddThis email newsletter drove a decent amount of traffic several months ago.
  11. Directory Link: These are links from directory or wiki listings.  The top driver for me in this category is the Wikipedia entry on Social Media Optimization, which drives a consistent level of readers to my original post about the 5 Rules of SMO.  I am also listed in many other blog directories, but they drive a negligible amount of traffic so far. 
  12. Blogroll Link: There was a time when this was probably higher on the list, but now getting a link from a Blogroll is fairly rare.  Probably due to the fact that blogrolls today are far longer than they used to be, the only times when this does manage to drive some traffic is when it is first added to a blog or when my blog happens to be at the top of a list due to alphabetic good luck or just by chance. 

This is a starting list of 12 - but I am sure there are other key sources of blog traffic that I might have missed.  My aim was to start the discussion, as it would be very interesting to see if services like Feedburner, Statcounter could develop a way to let bloggers categorize their traffic into categories like this.  The ability to measure the quality of inbound links is the next logical step for analytics that can already offer great detail on things like clickstreams and userpaths.  In the meantime, we will all need share data and insights so we can all help build a more complete picture of blog traffic.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Read This Before Sending Free Stuff to Bloggers ...

I2m_nokia770_2 Karl over at ExperienceCurve posted an interesting question for bloggers yesterday about how you would react to getting free products as a blogger and what sense of obligation you might feel.  Nokia is experimenting with this, and just about every consumer products brand I work with is considering it and trying to find the right way to do it as well.  This has become a hot topic as services like PayPerPost now offer a very real way for brands to purchase something that was previously only attainable organically -- word of mouth.  Alongside these services has been the debate about ethics, transparency and whether giving people free stuff can ever result in real authentic word of mouth.  WOMMA is dedicated to answering that question.  The journalistic approach is to avoid accepting any "gifts" as this could be seen as bribery.  Governments and large NGOs often take the same approach.

I2m_briggsbaseline_3 Yet as we all know, the blogosphere is a different animal.  Bloggers have opinions and unlike many folks in public corporate roles, most bloggers feel inclined to share their opinions.  Good blog writing comes from having a personality and taking a specific point of view.  Recently I posted about 5 brands that I believe in.  Briggs & Riley, a luggage manufacturer, was on this list. After my post, the PR team from Briggs & Riley contacted me and asked if I would like to try out a few pieces from their new Baseline Collection - no strings attached.  I accepted, noting that I would provide an honest review of them and disclose to my readers once I received them that the company did send them to me, and that I was not directly paid to speak about them. 

Why did I accept?  And more specifically to Karl's point, if I hadn't written about my love for Nokia's new NSeries - how would I feel about being approached by Nokia?  One of the points from a 7 tips piece I wrote some time ago to help PR folks more intelligently "pitch bloggers" was about how it's ok to provide products to bloggers, as long as they are relevant.  Taking these tips a bit further here are five principles I would suggest to marketers interested in getting a product into the hands of bloggers to talk about:

  1. Be selective and choose bloggers for a reason (industry, subject matter, previous posts, etc.).
  2. Tell bloggers why you chose them - and help them understand that it was exclusive.
  3. Require full disclosure from the blogger about what you have given them.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask them to write about their experience with it (positive or negative).
  5. If they don't write about it, there is probably a reason - so just let it go.

For good pitches that meet all these criteria above, I am usually more than happy to help - whether it is testing out a product, reading a book, or reviewing a new website idea.  I have done many of these in the past.  As for the Nokia question - if I got one, tested it out and liked it ... I would definitely write about it from a marketing point of view.  If I didn't like it, I would probably return it and not post about it at all.  The best outcome of a good outreach effort to bloggers is that they will feel respected, honored and talk favorably about your product or service.  This respect can also likely open up a communication channel where blogger will share negative feedback with you and your organization more privately rather than choosing to publicly declare all shortcomings.  Seems like an upside either way, if done right.  Any other opinions on this?

Monday, February 12, 2007

10 Secrets of Successful Online Community

This past weekend I was moderating a panel at CommunityNext, a smart event focused on everything about online communities coordinated by Noah Kagan.  The event was a fun gathering of extremely smart folks from some of the hottest online communities today - and panelists/speakers shared many great thoughts on topics ranging from how to be more awesome, to the genesis behind HotorNot.com.  Through the day, I took several notes and during the flight back to the east coast, started to aggregate the day into some central lessons about online communities gained from listening to many of the speakers, as well as looking at what is making many of the sites from attendees stand out.  Here's my list of 10 lessons that I took away from the event, as well as a few great sites that are worth visiting for further exploration:

  1. Avoid being just "niche" - Over and over from founders of online communities was the desire to do away with the word "niche."  It seems to stem mostly from the assumption that niches are small things, whereas each of these online communities is spent bringing together anyone with the same passion - not just people from "niche" groups.  The lesson here seems to be - don't think small.
  2. Listen to your users - If there was one thread heard over and over throughout the day, it was the power of listening to your users.  Each of the featured sites had amassed significant numbers of passionate individuals who provide their time and energy to the site and the community.  They are highly likely to share their opinions, and most likely to appreciate and publicize it if you actually listen to their opinions.
  3. Use accidental marketing - An interesting panel question Guy Kawasaki asked at the end of the day focused on the fact that members of companies on the founding panel didn't seem to need or value marketing very much.  In a telling response, Max Levchin of Slide shared that they didn't do any marketing because "the service already was viral."  Well, I would argue that viral has to do with word of mouth, which some would consider marketing - but the interesting thing was that most founders didn't seem to feel there was a way to plan marketing, it just happens.  Not sure I agree with this view, as I think smart marketing has a lot less to do with ad buys and a lot more to do with doing things that are noteworthy ... but it was interesting to hear their experiences nonetheless.
  4. Get smart on recruiting - Everyone is recruiting, and many of them are seeking the same types of people ... but the theme of the event seemed to be positioning your community as a great team to join.  It was an interesting angle on "sales" - as usually these events are focused on sites recruiting either members or advertisers.  Here, I think any of the online communities would have been happy to find the right person to join their team out of the event.
  5. Foresake VC funding - I felt a little bad for Guy in the last panel as he heard from company after company that each had avoided taking venture capital funding.  Of course, there is still a big place for VC and leveraged correctly, it can really mean the difference between success and failure.  But there was a vibe running through the event that most folks starting online communities would do anything they could to avoid taking VC funding.  It seems to have become a last resort.
  6. Have a passion - This was one of the points made very early on by Josh Spear and Aaron Dignan in their opening presentation about Brand Utopia - and repeated throughout the event.  Passion in what you are doing may come from different places as founders of online communities shared.  For some, it's a personal passion.  For others it comes from seeing the way that users embrace a service and feeling connected/responsible to those users.  Either way, passion is a prerequisite.
  7. Master the emotional return - One of the best points made by Premal Shah as he talked about Kiva was that the model and concept of the site had mastered the art of providing people with an emotional return as an incentive that was far more important than a financial one.  For those unfamiliar, Kiva is a site that allows people to provide microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.  Of course, everyone needs to make some money.  But a successful online community is one that can consistently provide that emotional return to users.  That's the most important ingredient - and if you don't have that, then the financial aspect will not last that long. 
  8. Don't lose the fun - James Hong of HotorNot.com was the chief brand ambassador of fun on the final panel of the day, and his site reflects it.  In an entertaining way of describing the mission of this site, he noted that it was to "waste as much of corporate America's time as possible."  It's a classic rebel mission, and one focused on fun as a paramount concept.  The fun factor can be the toughest element to keep as a site grows.  James has a lesson for any online community worth heeding.
  9. Keep it real - From using error messages with personality, to not being afraid to have a voice as part of the community - keeping it real is a big deal.  Part of the appeal of many communities is the personal story behind it and the founders.  That's what gets people engaged to start with, and that's what keeps them engaged throughout.  Communities are made up of real people.  To succeed you have to start real, and stay that way.
  10. Be better than you - I kept this point last because I thought it spoke well to the future of online communities and how they must always be evolving.  The guys from Threadless were probably received as the most popular of the day (aside from Guy Kawasaki, of course) - and one of the most entertaining of their slides was the growth chart which plotted time on one axis, and awesomeness on the other.  Over time, they have basically gotten more awesome.  But a key ingredient in that is always improving - because any competitor gunning for you is aiming to be better than you.  So you have to aim for the same thing. 

Hopefully, these lessons are useful for those of you who weren't able to attend the event.  For those who were there, I'd love to hear if you think I captured the essence of the event or there are other lessons that stood out for you.  As requested by Noah, I am tagging this post "communitynext2007" and request any others who write follow up posts to do the same.

And a Few Sites/Ideas That Stood Out ...

  • Kiva.org - Speaking to Premal about this site, it's tough not to get caught up in the idea and promise of Kiva.  Not many online communities can truly have the power to change the world.  This is one of them.
  • AnimalAttractions.com - Surprised to find another attendee from DC, I shared a drink with Dan and talked about the great concept behind his site ... helping pet owners to meet one another through their shared passion.  A brilliant idea that is themed after interactions that already happen in real life - if you're single and have a pet, you need to visit this site.
  • Iparklikeanidiot.com - This is quite possibly the most useful site I have ever visited, from the creative folks at Skinny Corp (also behind Threadless.com).  For anyone who has felt the wrath of not being able to park in a spot due to someone else's stupidity, just order a set of 20 of these (low-tack) stickers and slap one onto the offending car for the ultimate revenge.  Love it!
  • Loopt - Taking the concept I just wrote about in my post on "Beaconvertising" even further, Loopt has a cool concept for helping friends to find one another in the same space using principles from IM.  The service lets you find a friend that is within a set distance, locate a place nearby to meet, send IMs and lots more.  I wish I had this when I was in college (and had 100+ people to add to my list) ... but even now (when my list is much shorter) there is still great potential in this.
  • DeviantArt.com - Probably the most mentioned favourite site of people at the event, aside from Flickr, DeviantArt is worth a visit for this reason alone.  The site has artists of all types uploading some very high quality stuff and offer an almost addictive experience once you get there.  They couldn't have gotten better buzz from the event if they had been a sponsor ...
  • MyChurch.org - Joe Suh had this great idea to connect some of the 300,000 Christian churches nationwide into an online community and created a comprehensive set of faith-based tools to help churches connect with one another and share knowledge and community events.  As he starts to recruit more parishes and get more members - this will be a force to watch.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The 5 Reasons Some User Interfaces Suck on Purpose

Once upon a time I used to focus my efforts on helping my clients create great user experiences.  I even wrote a Masters level thesis on User Interfaces and the user experience.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that my real passion was in marketing - but those days of architecting usable interfaces comes in handy all the time now.  As I review sites, as I help clients promote their online properties, the quality of the user interface still plays a big role.  Yet one of the truths that I learned early on was that there are many moments where what a business wants an interface to do is in direct contrast to what a user may want.  The most obvious example is an airline ticket site, where a user goal is often to find the cheapest flight from point A to point B.  The business goal, of course, is to sell the ticket at the highest price.  This is the nature of business vs. user conflicts.

As Internet users, we may complain about a particular user interface, but what many of us don't realize is that some of these less usable interface choices may be done intentionally.  For those wondering how such a situation could be possible, here are just a few ways that some user interfaces suck on purpose and why:

  1. Preventing core functionality if it loses money - There are always going to be activities online that lose you money.  For insurance companies, unfortunately those activities coincide with what customers are often asking for ... payouts in relation to medical expenses.  Aetna (a major US health insurance provider) has one of the most robust online client centers around.  You can check account balances, see all the payments they have made on your behalf, choose doctors and read health content.  Yet the one thing you can't do is submit a claim online - that requires you to print a form with tiny lettering, fill it out and physically mail it to a PO Box.  Manufacturer's rebates are the same way.  In both cases, these functions could be offered online - but it just doesn't pay to make it too easy.   
  2. Locking users into a checkout process - No one likes getting on a road with no exits - particularly if you have taken a wrong turn.  Yet Amazon.com and many others insist on locking you into the checkout process once you start it with no links to leave and return, even if you are leaving to add more products to your shopping cart.  Letting users bail out doesn't have to negatively impact conversion - particularly if you let them leave to buy more.  But Amazon must have some data to suggest that the lock-in approach works better.
  3. Getting all users details up front - This is one of the most commonly experienced issues online, a new user being confronted with an overly intimate registration form forcing them to fill in details about their mailing address, security questions, secret words, irrelevant survey questions and more just to become a member of a site.  People who are ready to join should feel the most welcome of any user to your site.  They want to be a part of your community - it's your job to let them do it easily.  The better solution would be to ask for all the complicated stuff later, and make the registration form as easy as possible.
  4. Offering barriers to getting full content - NY Times and other media properties have latched onto this model as a way to give users who have not signed in access to only part of the content and require a login (sometimes free, and often paid) to access the rest of the content.  The result is a disruptive experience for users.  Letting them read content and perhaps introducing a login to comment or read comments on stories may be a different model to consider - and one less likely to lose users.
  5. Funneling all visitors through the homepage - A disturbing myth that is still prevalent today, this argument is about the necessity of funneling all visitors to a site through the homepage so they get to see the branding and have a "proper" introduction to a site.  In most cases, if a visitors ends up at your site via search, this just puts another roadblock between her and the content she is seeking.  Let your users go to any page they need and just brand all your pages properly with links back to the homepage. 

Of course, not all bad user experiences stem from a business reason.  Some are simply due to the inexperience of those who don't have the skill to make it better, or funded by those who don't have the money to improve it.  But as qualities of a good user interface become more widely accepted, perhaps this group of unintentionally bad user interfaces will start to disappear.  Just imagine how much more difficult it would be to get away with a poor user experience online if your customers knew you intentionally chose to leave it that way ...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Top 7 Marketing Trends for 2007

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As the year comes to a close, it's time to look forwards to next year and what are shaping up to be some key trends for marketers to track through the year.  To add to the already vibrant discussion of trends to pay attention to, here is my stab at a few top marketing trends that I will be watching in the new year (in no particular order):

  1. Sharing a Corporate Personality - For too many years, large organizations have focused much of their marketing and communications on becoming "faceless" - yet the danger of facelessness is now becoming better understood.  In short, companies cannot connect with customers in a meaningful and emotional way without having a personality.  As more organizations realize this fact, we will continue to see more "corporate bloggers" and more touch points for customers to interact with the true personality of a brand.  Look for social media to play a bigger part in overall marketing strategy as a result.
  2. Widget Marketing - A trend I have been following since earlier in the year, widgets have made significant strides as an accepted marketing technique in recent months.  Many new blog oriented services are launching Widgets in Typepad's gallery, startups offer their own widgets as a quick way of introducing their service, and new products like Chumby (a compact clock-radio-like product that has a wireless connection) are bringing widgets out of the online world and into the real one.  For marketers looking to offer a quick introduction to their service, or those seeking to create an online connection with customers - widgets will find more users in 2007. 
  3. Social Media Optimization - Originally introduced just a few months ago, SMO has rapidly blossomed into a movement in the online marketing industry worldwide.  Primarily being driven at the moment by those in the search marketing industry, in 2007 I suspect SMO will continue to get broader use from marketers interested in building traffic and buzz online, moving far beyond linking strategy and smart SEO into the marketing mainstream.  Hooks to allow site visitors to easily share and bookmark content may become more commonplace than those ubiquitous "email a friend" links.
  4. AutoTagging and AutoSorting - I have written often about the trend for visual search and how companies like Riya are leading the way for photo recognition technology that allows imagery on the web to be more effectively tagged and organized.  In 2007, we will see more solutions like this that offer autotagging, autosorting and the next extension of this technology ... auto recommendations, where new content of any format can be recommended and people can find new content more easily.  This will continue to create waves in how users watch video online, find music, and browse the web.
  5. Human Filtered Search - One of the effects of the personal media revolution is an exponential increase in the amount of content online.  This will continue to lead online users to search beyond the algorithm for new ways of finding information.  A key method for this is human filtered search, where people are sorting content on the web, creating their own groupings and sharing that with others.  Just as Jerry Yang initially built Yahoo as a directory to help him and friends sort through the exploding amount of content online, now sites like Squidoo and Rollyo are offering alternative ways of finding information online.  The human side of search looks set to become a force in 2007.
  6. Contentcasting - Putting content online, and then trying to spread the word about it is so 2006.  Contentcasting is set to be the new standard, enabled by RSS and a growing number of online users that are finding the only way to keep up with all the news and information they care about is to subscribe to feeds and access it that way.  Contentcasting will relate to videoblogs, audio podcasts, and frequently updated content in any area of the site - from a blog to a newsroom.  Got content that you want to spread around?  Don't just market it -- broadcast it and let your users/customers pick up the feeds.
  7. Online Identity Shifting - If you add the success of Facebook, Myspace, Vox, Second Life, LinkedIn and Flickr together - you would come to a single conclusion: that having and sharing your identity online is hot right now.  This is not about blogging or about uploading your photos online, this is a phenomenon of having an extension of your personality online to share with friends, family and colleagues.  With the number of assets we can now create - from photos and videos to full podcast programs about our lives, the appeal of sharing this with those you care about will continue to represent a force in driving more people towards social media.  Within these online representations of self, brands and products will continue to play a large role.  People will talk about products they like and don't like - they will share brand experiences, and they will even become brand ambassadors for products and services that they care about.  In this world where individual lives are shared online, there will be huge opportunities for marketers in 2007.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Recap of 2006 on Influential Interactive Marketing

Let's start with a warning ... this is the "clip show" post where I recycle a lot of old material so if that causes you extreme pain, please close this window now and come back tomorrow.  For all the rest of you, it's the holidays and a quick glance around the marketing blogosphere will show that these clip show posts are in right now.  With nearly 400 post on this blog already, there is lots of content to choose from ... allowing me the luxury to conveniently ignore those posts from the past year that are outdated or that I just don't like anymore.  Here is a sampling of the rest:

Concepts & Ideas:
This is a collection of concepts and ideas that were introduced or discussed on this blog and then travelled virally to other blogs and were discussed elsewhere in media.  A good collection of ideas, many of which I still hope to implement on a client campaign (but haven't yet).

Rules & Guides:
These are a group of "Guy Kawasaki style" posts written in list format as guides to various topics from SMO to viral marketing.  It's a format I have always liked and you will probably see many more posts in this format going into 2007.

Presentations & Published Work:
Links to presentations given at industry events as well as guest contributions to other blogs.  There is some good powerpoint link bait in here, useful for those who are interested in any of these topics but couldn't make it to the events referenced.

That's it.  Look out tomorrow for an all new post about what I think the top ten marketing ideas to watch will be in 2007.

Friday, December 15, 2006

3 Reasons SMO is Taking Off

Social Media Optimization has been hitting the big time at several recent events on web marketing including a session entirely devoted to SMO at the recent SES Chicago conference last week and discussion of SMO at the recent Vegas Pubcon WebMaster conference.  I was reading Lee Odden's recap of the session that featured many smart folks in the world of interactive marketing, including Neil Patel, Andy Hagans, Rand Fishkin, and Todd Malicoat.  I really wish I had been in town to be able to attend the event and participate, but reading some of the posts about the event and session, it seems that the concept of SMO was introduced to the entire audience of search marketing professionals at the event and some even considered it the main theme of the entire event.

Clearly, SMO is growing up - and finding lots of advocates and experts that are introducing new tools for SMO, talking about smart techniques and sharing insights and expertise.  But why has the concept taken off in such a big way?  Others have been talking about Social Media Marketing, or Consumer Generated Marketing, or Content Co-creation.  In short, there are lots of new concepts being introduced by smart folks every day in the world of interactive marketing.  Why is SMO different?  Here are a few thoughts on what the secrets behind the growing popularity of SMO might be:

  1. SMO connects search marketing to social media. Over the past few years, search marketing has been the darling of the interactive marketing community, with more and more time and sessions at just about every online marketing event dedicated to search.  Yet recently, the new darling of this same community is social media and viral/wom marketing.  SMO bridges the gap between the two, and so far has been primarily driven by those in the search marketing community.
  2. SMO is about optimization.  Part of the reason why SEO is so popular is that is focuses on a site or blog that already exists.  For many organizations or individuals, the concept of SEO offers an attractive alternative to conducting a redesign, rebranding, or more hugely involving activities.  Optimizing a site that already exists makes sense.  SEO makes sense.  SMO offers the same appeal.
  3. SMO is actionable.  This could easily be first on the list, but all the initial discussions about SMO on several blogs were centered around "rules."  Though conversation has gotten much broader, the fact remains that there are tangible things that webmasters, bloggers and just about anyone else can do to implement SMO on their sites.  This makes SMO a concept that can be easily understood and used by anyone who has a site online - and not just web marketing pros. 

There are probably many more reasons for the emerging popularity of SMO, but moving into 2007 I imagine we will see a greater number of examples of how SMO can be used as part of an overall interactive marketing strategy designed to promote content, foster conversations and links, and drive site traffic.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Using YouTube to Launch a Global Movement: The Story of Free Hugs

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The rise of phenomenally viral videos on YouTube is happening every day now, ranging from the silly to the funny.  Recently I came across the Free Hugs video posted above on YouTube less than two months ago and loved it.  Aside from making me miss living in Sydney, it struck me as a wonderful social commentary, music video and promotion for the Sick Puppies (the band recording the soundtrack), and plea for people to just be nicer to one another.  On the official campaign website, Juan Mann (the originator) talks about the story of why he started the campaign:

I'd been living in London when my world turned upside down and I'd had to come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a carry on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown.  Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers meeting their waiting friends and family, with open arms and smiling faces, hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.  So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

There is also a recap of the history behind the campaign outlined in a Wikipedia entry, which offers some great perspective on how quickly this viral video has really grown into an international campaign.  According to the entry, as of yesterday - the video has more than 6.4 million page views, making it the 14th most viewed of all videos on the site.  Juan Mann even published a thank you video on YouTube noting that the campaign is continuing and asking people to visit www.freehelpcampaign.org to make a difference. 

There are many lessons in here for any social marketer looking to use viral videos and YouTube as a springboard for launching a cause related effort.  In particular, here are a few elements that I believe have made this campaign such a runaway success in such a short time:

  1. The video tells a compelling story - Just as good documentaries and movies do, there is a connection with the main character, an element of conflict when he is banned from hugging, and a redemption as he overcomes this barrier.
  2. Sharing the video is a "safe" personal statement - By sending the video to someone else, you are making a personal statement that you believe more hugs could make your day better.  It is simple and non-controversial.  Unlike email chain letters, political statements or potentially misinterpreted jokes, this is one of the few "safe" videos to send to someone.
  3. The emotional themes used are universal - The video starts out with loneliness as a key emotional theme, and continues through a journey to happiness and even love among strangers.  Unlike many social marketing campaigns trying to make a point about a disease or condition that people cannot truly understand unless they have a personal experience - Free Hugs is something anyone can connect with.

Though the campaign is "only" about hugs, there is a great lesson in here for any social marketers about using new media as a way to build interest and passion in your cause.  I suspect the Free Hugs campaign has only just started it journey towards being an international phenomenon.  Visit the Free Help site the Juan Mann has launched (with support from Oprah) to see what you can do to join the movement.