Thursday, October 26, 2006

Social Networking - On Second Thought...

No sooner had I posted about skepticism surrounding social networking than iMedia Connection comes out with this article, containing detailed reviews of 11 popular social networking sites and mini-reviews of 13 more. In fairness however, the problems noted in the last post here pertained mostly to B2B sites: of the 24 social networking sites reviewed by Kibibi Springs, only three -- LinkedIn, Ryze, and Spoke -- are B2B-oriented sites.

In the same issue of iMedia Connection, John Tawadros of search engine marketing firm iProspect makes the case for social networks being just another form of search marketing. He points out that "whether you like it or not, your brand is probably already a topic being discussed. What's scary is that you have no control over it. You can't run that online content through the creative department, or the brand team or the legal folks. You just have to grin and bear it. But you don't necessarily need to be afraid of unfavorable content," because "finding negative opinions is just as important -- if not more so -- as finding the positive ones. People want to know why others didn't like something before making their final decision."

That argument has validity -- as long as people are honest. But as the famous New Yorker cartoon points out, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." Negative comments posted about your company, product, or service, may sometimes be the disingenuous rantings of a competitor, former employee, or scorned vendor, rather than honest and thoughful customer appraisals. Furthermore, it's human nature that even honest people are more likely to complain about an unpleasant commercial experience than to praise an offering that simply works as it's supposed to.

Judging by the surging traffic to social networking sites, my skepticism may be misplaced. Maybe, unlike a typical garage sale, social networks will provide more quality content than junk. But the best advice to follow when evaluating an argument is "consider the source." That can be difficult on uncontrolled social networking sites, where one can't always be sure exactly who the source is.

*****

Terms: social networking, LinkedIn, Ryze, Spoke.com, Kibibi Springs, John Tawadros, iProspect.com

The marketing Internet portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Social Networking may not be All That

The theory behind social networking, often positioned as a key element of Web 2.0, seems simple and powerful: instead of buying into "marketing hype" about a product or service, or the canned references of an individual, one can get honest opinions from independent, unbiased sources about the quality and reliability of a company, product, service, or person. Put another way, you might not select a plumbing contractor because he has a big ad in the yellow pages, but if Aunt Mabel recommends him, then he must be okay. Social networking is a way to get the opinions of a lot of Aunt Mabels at once.

But what if it doesn't turn out that way? What if the most -recommended contractors on Angie's List turn out to be the ones that already have the biggest Yellow Pages ads? What if the most highly-rated products on epinions are the ones already backed by huge national advertising budgets? What if the most commonly tagged blogs on del.icio.us are the ones written by "household name" bloggers? In short, what if social networking doesn't so much replace "marketing hype" and vacuous celebrity as reflect it?

Three strands of thought led to these questions:

- I brought up social networking in a conversation recently with a friend of mine, a high-powered executive recruiter. Her comment" "We don't use LinkedIn. It's for losers and wannabes." Ouch!

Now, I know plenty of folks -- and you probably do too -- who do use LinkedIn and are anything but "losers and wannabes." But if this perception were to become widespread, it could obviously drive people to avoid the service.

- There are several business segments where social networking simply doesn't apply: doctors, lawyers, investment bankers... When multinational firms are planning mergers or acqusitions, are they really going to use Ecademy to find their financial partners? If a CEO is pleased with the legal advice his company received from the law firm of Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe, is he likely to document that experience online?

- Many business executives distrust the entire concept, because "anyone can say anything on the web." It's common, for example, on stock discussion boards for short-sellers to pose as insiders with damaging information about a company to trash a stock's prospects in order to drive down the price. Fortunately, this seldom works -- institutional and other large investors rarely pay attention to these boards, and those who do are sophisticated enough to spot a short-seller miles away.

More broadly, however, it's easy for competitors or disgruntled former employees to pose as unhappy customers and attempt to cause mischief.

There are also security problems, business model problems ("Visiting most social networking sites is akin to getting invited to a party where all the cool kids are going, then showing up and finding out there's no food, no drinks, no band, no games, no pool, nothing. Just a bunch of painful small talk and leering grins."), and other problems.

Perhaps this skepticism is overblown; maybe the benefits really do outweigh the potential downside. The ultimate success or failure of social networking will depend upon perceptions. Social networking will clearly be a winner once that executive recruiter joins LinkedIn.

*****

Terms: Web 2.0, social networking, LinkedIn, del.icio.is, Angie's List, epinions.com, Ecademy

The online marketing business portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Monday, October 16, 2006

A Consensus for Inconsistency

Writing in standardized language -- terms that we can all agree on -- is important for effective communication, as well as to avoid looking like an idiot. Over time, standards are defined that enable us to communicate in a consistent fashion. For example, we'd all agree that "playhouse" is a noun while "play house" is a verb. Some standards in our language seem eminently sensible, while others are absurd to the point of becoming one-liners, such as "Why isn't phonetic spelled like it sounds?"

The Internet (internet?) has introduced a boatload of new terms into our language, many of which still aren't standardized. Since we've been online (not "on line" or "on-line") for over a decade now, I thought I might be able to discover and share some proper web writing standards. But it turns out there is still considerable disagreement over the correct way to capitalize and abbreviate several common terms, so the following is merely my contribution to the ongoing debate.

Should "Internet" be capitalized?

Research indicates that Wired News is losing its battle to make "internet" lowercase. Most sources favor "Internet." For example, as pointed out here, Ziff-Davis produces a number of technology-oriented publications and never uses "internet." The Tech Liberation blog agrees. So does EDUCAUSE, Webopedia, Western Michigan University, and numerous other sources. The basic logic is: there is only one Internet, which makes the word a proper noun, which means it should be capitalized. Settled?

Should "web" be capitalized?

One might think that the same logic for "Internet" applies to "Web;" there is only one, so it's a proper noun, so it should be capitalized, right? Indeed, there is some support for that argument, including sources like the Mac Web Style Guide and, again, EDUCAUSE. But in this instance, lowercase seems to win out. According to Gadgetotpia, "the first letter of the word ‘Web’ is to be capitalized ONLY when reference is made to the World Wide Web. Webs on private networks are to be referred to as ‘webs,’ with a lowercase ‘w.’” Emmanuel College agrees, stating "Web should be capitalized when referring to the World Wide Web, but lower case when used as an adjective." Other sources merely reflect widespread confusion. The best argument I've heard for non-capitalization of "web" is that the web is a medium for distributing information; we don't capitalize "mail," "phone," or "fax," so we shouldn't capitalize "web."

That said, at this point, you can still get away with either.
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Is it "web site" or "website"?

Definitely "website." I think. Since neither the AP Stylebook nor the Chicago Manual of Style are really clear on this point, I consulted the ultimate authority: Google. "Web site" produces only 1.5 billion hits, while "website" results in 2.2 billion. Still, that's not an overwhelming difference, so if you are really stuck on "web site" (or even "Web site") as two words, you're in agreement with a significant minority.

Is it "B2B" or "b2b"?

Although there is some support for writing the abbreviation for "business-to-business" in lowercase, an informal survey of usage indicates that B2B is far more common.

Presumably, there will come a time when the proper form of these terms will become standardized. Probably about the time when the next technology revolution makes the words and phrases above seem as obsolete as "buggy whip" (which is definitely two words).

*****

Terms: Internet, internet, Web site, web site, website, b2b, B2B, online, on-line, on line, Internet writing style, proper use of web terms

The Internet marketing online portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Monday, October 09, 2006

More Lessons from the Guru of Podcasting


I needed one paragraph on podcasting for a longer article I was working on for a marketing publication. Being that I know as much about podcasting as Wal-Mart knows about high fashion, I called on Albert Maruggi, head of marketing and PR agency Provident Partners, and increasingly famous podcasting guru. Here's a bit of his wisdom:

- Podcasts don't have to be short, despite what some people will tell you. Although they can be used as short "teasers" to get people to ask for more information, they can also be used effectively for longer format presentations such as multi-participant roundtable expert panel discussions or audio white papers.

- The name "podcast" is a misnomer - they should be called "netcasts," as many executives choose to listen to them at their desks. They don't have to be downloaded to an iPod or other MP3 player.

- That said, the podcasting format does give your content wings by freeing the listener from their computer. Once downloaded to an MP3 player, a podcast can be listened to on a plane, in a car, while working out -- virtually anywhere. Portability lets podcasts break through the clutter of other online marketing formats.

- Webinars combine audio with visuals and interaction for great impact -- but they tie the audience to their computers. If the content of your webinar isn't visually demanding, consider re-purposing the audio portion of the recorded webinar as a podcast to increase your reach.

- Although there a number of software applications and web services available that enable you to produce podcasts on your own, using an expert podcasting service provider will improve the "listenability" of your podcast by editing out the annoying "ums" and pauses, and assure that your podcast is promoted effectively.

*****

Terms: podcasting, podcast services, podcasts, netcasts, ideal length for a podcast

The web internet marketing portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Guaranteed Web Traffic

On behalf of an advertising client, I recently launched a campaign with one of those "guaranteed Web site traffic" services. We were initially going to try MegaWebPromotion, but reconsidered after reading this forum discussion. So, we opted for Blazing Traffic, which promised 20,000 targeted visitors for only $26 (I should have been suspicious when a $16 upcharge was required to get English language visitors; given the narrow niche-market nature of the site, the ability to read English is an awfully minimal requirement for "targeted visitors").

At about a quarter of the way through the test, here are the results: overall site traffic up a whopping 2% (within rounding error). Conversions: flat. Incremental revenue: 0.

In fairness to the folks at Blazing Traffic, a couple of measures of visitor quality (average time spent on the site and percentage of visitors adding the site to their favorites) rose slightly -- though it isn't really possible to tell if this is due to the campaign or to other changes recently made to the site. Also, the campaign is less than 25% complete; it's possible that the next 15,000 visitors will act completely differently from the first 5,000 (not likely perhaps, but possible). Finally, services such as Blazing Traffic may work better for consumer campaigns than in the b2b world.

If the experience changes, I'll post again.

*****

Terms: guaranteed Web site traffic, MegaWebPromotion, Blazing Traffic, guaranteed visitors

The Internet Web site marketing portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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