Why we love Google, Apple and Facebook

I didn’t get enough sleep last night – so this morning I woke up so stupid-dumb tired I could barely function. When you’re in a mood like that, you want things to be simple, and just work, so you don’t have to think.

Hence the title of this post. The reason we are so enamored of these three mega-companies of the 3.0 age is that they offer a kind of Orwellian-socialist simplicity: The stuff always works, is always simple, and is always there.

Yes, there are a lot of other designs or tools that could work better. It’s the utilitarian ease behind Google Search, Facebook, or the Apple interface on anything that keeps us coming back.

Consider Facebook – why do we all keep coming back to a site with questionable privacy policies and no content of their own? Because it’s easy. If all of our friends are there, and nothing is ever too terribly broken (like Twitter is with that damn Failwhale,) we’ll keep coming back to it. Facebook doesn’t actually do anything except create a stage where our friends can entertain us, and we can entertain our friends. (Or game companies can entertain us with town and mob simulators, but that’s another story.)

Google was just another search engine, but with more believable results. Otherwise, the concept of search results is universally loved. “I ask it a question, I get an answer, I go on about my business.” It’s the reason Yahoo! and AOL before it were just as beloved: A simple service that let people use it and move on.

So many developers today think they need to reinvent the wheel to get the public’s attention, and have the next can’t-live-without-it product offering. It would be great if someone could figure out a need we have but aren’t aware isn’t being fulfilled: Search engines did that too, as did Wikipedia, e-mail, SMS/instant messaging… things we didn’t know we needed, but now that we have them can’t live without.

Apple did the same thing with personal computers instead of information retrieval or communications. I’ve used PCs all of my life, so you’d better believe I understand the appeal of Apple: Their stuff always works, all of the time. It’s easy to use and always looks pretty. PCs don’t work that way. PCs break, they’re usually poorly designed, there’s no consistency from one machine to the other, all of the really great viruses are written for PCs….

And don’t get me started on mobile! That iPhone is so easy to use, you have to wonder why all mobile interfaces aren’t required by law to mimic it.

Apple’s appeal is readily apparent to those of us who use PCs and wish they would just Goddamn work. If they managed to bring their price down to something approaching reasonable, I’d probably own one – but that is neither here nor there.

This is for the website and app developers: If you really want to innovate, innovate a simple solution that lets us get what we need and move on. All of the big, high concepts aren’t what we need. We need simple. We need something we can still use even when we’re horribly sleep deprived. We need something that makes our lives easier.

That’s how the big boys roll, because that’s all we really want.

Google vs. Facebook? No. Google vs. Bing

We love the horse race in America. Whenever there are two choices that even appear to be in competition, we choose sides. Such is the case this week, now that Google has unleashed what everyone (except Google) is calling a Facebook killer, Google+.

In this case, picking a favorite to “win” isn’t really the point.

There isn’t any point (read as: money) in Google killing Facebook. Google makes their money from their search network. Facebook makes their money from… well, no one’s quite sure of that yet… maybe venture capital sources that don’t ask too many questions?

Anyway, the most likely point of Google+ is to keep people on Google, performing their searches on Google, which include their paid search ads, which makes Google money. If people continue to search with Google, they aren’t doing it somewhere else.

So Google+ isn’t about beating Facebook, but beating the Bing/Yahoo junta.

Google has been the absolute leader in search for years because they developed a better search algorithm than what already existed. This meant better search results, and a better product.

The methodology they created is now used by sites like Bing and Yahoo, and to many the variations in results between the three aren’t important. If that were to continue, Google might not be able to prove that they are better than their search rivals.

Enter Google+, something that will keep people close to their search product. They could actually trump Facebook with this. Personally,  I doubt it’s really their goal.

Can Facebook and Google+ both be popular at the same time? As long as Google+ members find their way to ads via their Adwords program, I don’t see how Google could possibly care.

There’s no right way to do Social Media

Answer this question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

  1. A cab, if you can get one
  2. http://www.carnegiehall.org/
  3. Practice

All of these are right. (Though that last one was more right back in the age of vaudeville.) It’s just a matter of what you mean, and where you’re coming from.

I read a lot of social media “experts” who tell of the “right” way to do social media, and it always cracks me up. They may have a way that works, or know of a company that killed with a particular approach… and then take the next step saying it is THE way to do social media marketing. 

When you hear that, you should be suspicious.

I can understand why they say this. There’s a huge market for people who can provide simple answers. Millions are still trying to figure out how to “make social media work for them,” so if somebody with a blog and a consulting business can step up and give it to them, they’ll get a lot of attention.

As someone who blogs about social media, of course, this could include me. I try not to give that level of sweeping advice myself, and instead focus on the things that people do wrong. Hell, I’ve buttered my bread with other people’s bad ideas for the sake of blog posts for years.

There are also plenty of people with good tips for success, and examples of campaigns that worked. When you see these, though, you have to take them in the context of the company and product that did them.

Old Spice’s success on Twitter and Facebook is a perfect – and common – example: Their success was based on an original and brilliant television commercial. If you mimicked everything Old Spice did on line but didn’t have that winning commercial, I don’t think you’d have the same success.

The only real advice anyone can give about social media is to do it a lot, experiment, and be fluid. (“Wha? Fluid? What the hell are you talking about?” Relax, I’ll get to it.)

If you’re consistently posting on that Facebook Fan Page or Twitter account, and you’re doing what you need to do to build a following, eventually you’ll get it. If you want that to happen faster, it’s going to cost you real money, likely in the form of an ad agency doing it for you.

As for being fluid, be sure you’re aware of what people are talking about, where they’re saying it, how they’re saying it… and keep up with them. The companies that scored big on Facebook are the same ones who learned how to use Myspace before it. The ones who succeeded in Twitter are the ones who learned the value of a hashtag and trending topics. Constant education is necessary in social media marketing – but the ideas for your campaign and your messaging will have to be your own.

Hey, you never know – over time you will get very comfortable with “thinking outside the box,” (which is the most insidiously inside the box expression of all time, but whatever,) doing your own messaging, and wielding these social media tools yourself. Then, you could be inspired to invent an approach no one else ever thought of, and force us to write blog articles about how brilliant you are.

Because there still aren’t any degrees for this stuff, and the majority of social media professionals are just guessing.

Bad Creative in an actual Facebook ad

Look at this:

If it “gives men flat abs,” why is there a picture of a hot chick in the ad? Am I to believe this isn’t really a hot chick, but a man? If it’s a man, there’s no way I’m going to do this little known ab exercise, because I don’t want to look like a chick when I’m done! That must be what’s so damn “strange” about the video they want me to watch!

What’s more likely is someone created an ad for something targeting men, and cynically knew men pay more attention to ads with hot chicks in them than pictures of other guys who got results using the product.

Fair enough – this ad probably performs better than another one with the same copy, and a picture of some guy’s ripped stomach.

It doesn’t really matter either way – I don’t click on those Facebook ads any more than, say, anyone else on the planet does. So it will ultimately remain a mystery to us all.

Podcasts on Facebook – the Blip.fm solution

This is the fourth post I’ve done on getting podcasts on Facebook, because I keep having to find something  new that works. This time, however, I think I’ve found something that – while hardly elegant – at least works consistently.

The first attempt we made was to create a podcast tab on the Fan Page. It worked, but required a lot of time to update. What’s more, people don’t really come to your Fan Page to do anything. Usually even your most ardent fans will only see it once – the first time they Like it. After that your tabs will usually stay invisible to them.

What you want isn’t just to have podcasts playable on Facebook, but visible to your fans on their Wall, with the posts they get from their other contacts. Like this:

Click to see the working post

This is where Blip.fm can be a lifesaver. It would be great if Facebook came up with it’s own solution for this, but they don’t tend to build solutions on their own too often. (Their polling tool Questions only just came out, and people have been using third party solutions for that for years.)

Okay, enough of my yakkin’. Here’s what you do.

1)  Get an account at Blip.fm – it’s free.

2) While you’re doing that, you’ll be asked to connect your Facebook account. Or, if you already have an account, go to http://blip.fm/settings/integration and connect your Facebook account. You can share them to your Profile if you want, but the pages you have Admin rights will show up as options for sharing as well. Pick the ones you want podcast posts to show up on.

3) When you’re ready to add a podcast, get the URL for the file – NOT the page the file shows up on, but the actual url where the post lives. This should look like http://www.yoursite.com/podcastshow.mp3.

4) Go to Settings, then Music (http://blip.fm/settings/music). Paste in the link to your file and save. You’ll be given the option to post the file then and there. If you want to do this later, do a search on Blip for the file name you shared. Click on “blip” next to the result.

5) You’ll get an option to share a 150 character message with the file. This is where you can leave a description of the show you’re sharing. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to lead with a link to the page on your site where the show is as well.

When you click the Blip button, the file will be shared to your page automatically, but with an audio player attached to it.

The one drawback is sharing. If your fans want to post this so their connections can see it, they’ll need to get their own Blip.fm accounts. If they do, though, they can click on the podcast title in your Facebook post, taking them to the original Blip. Then they can share it in the same way. Frankly, not a lot of people will bother doing all that.

Also, the player doesn’t appear if the audio file is too long. I haven’t been able to get it to turn up if the podcast is longer than 45 minutes. So keep your show short, or chop it into two smaller ones.

Hopefully someday there will be an easier solution that does the same thing. Until then, this is a free and easy solution that will let you share your podcast where most people go when they’re online – Facebook.

There is no Facebook Phone – but wouldn’t it be great if there was?

Reports of Facebook building a phone with their own proprietary OS (like Apple and Google before them) are untrue. It’s a rumor that’s been floating around a lot lately, particularly after another story was released this week that they were not only developing one, but that HTC was due to launch it.

Facebook phone

Well, so what? A lot of rumors get floated around all these Internets – we’re all used to it by now. But given Facebook’s new messaging platform, which includes SMS updates and a @facebook.com e-mail address, doesn’t a phone actually make a lot of sense for them?

The Apple phone made sense when it was launched, as it is an extension of the user’s Apple computer experience. Android was an extension of people’s Google experience.

But Facebook, which is frankly in the business of content developed by all of your friends, would make the most sense as a phone provider. A phone that’s an extension of the interaction with your own contacts? And is tied into this messaging nexus they’ve rolled out? Why not?

It would make particular sense for a company whose value is in the billions, but doesn’t have any discernible income. There have been rumors of charging people to use Facebook even longer than the phone rumor – but that would never happen, as they know people would leave the site in droves. The biggest revelation of the Internet revolution is that we want everything free, and there’s enough of us we can demand it.

A phone, on the other hand, requires payment just to get it working. The site itself could remain free, as a vestigial attachment that’s a little easier to use when you’re not on the go. All of the jazzy stuff, however, could happen on your phone – wherever you go. The “Facebook experience” would then be truly opened up to the rest of the world – and things like Facebook Places might actually make sense.

All of the Facebook apps available for all the existing phones are fine, but what if that app was the entire operation system for your phone? You’d not only have a contact list already in place, but multiple options for contacting them – phone, text, chat, e-mail, post, comment… even a “Like” if you’re particularly lazy, I guess.

Certainly Facebook has to do something if they want to keep themselves from withering away in the next 10 years. People didn’t think that could ever happen to Yahoo!, and it did. People didn’t think it could happen to Google either, but with the right eyes you can see they’re in the middle of it already.

Expanding their market to devices their users already use, with content their users already want, would be a no-brainer.

Facebook Video Ads – They’re great, and hopefully can stay great

Facebook Video Ads

Normally I’m pretty down on paid placements and Facebook. I mean, I know they can work for advertising, but usually they’re both a drag. But I have to admit, I really do like the Facebook video ad placements.

The ad for Target works better than a TV ad for one simple reason: They know you have the option to play it or not, so they try to make it worth your while. Rather than pimp several products at you at once, they just let you know about the sale.

Their approach, “I made a funny video,” acknowledges the culture of online videos the ad exists in. That is, most of the content actual people create and upload has the same kind of thinking as their ad – “look’it me!!! I’m being funny! Aren’t I funny!?! Watch me dance, Mama! Watch me dance!” I love that they were smart enough to see that, and play off of it.

Facebook Video Ads

But that’s just content. Getting back to the mechanism itself, it doesn’t try to promote all of the products Target that will have on sale this weekend, the way Television ads try to do. With TV, they fire off a slew of on-sale products to get them lodged in your head before you can change the channel.

If Facebook can adequately quality control the video content that’s used for these placements, this could be a very profitable marketing channel. That is, they’d need to make sure no one puts up video ads that are crap just because they have deep enough pockets.

Let’s say I’m a restaurant owner, and I make a commercial that’s really, really bad. It’s bad because I’m an unqualified, untalented shit, and my real job is running my restaurant. But I can afford an ad buy on Facebook, and they let me, so it appears on everyone’s page who lives within 100 miles of my restaurant. If my ad is bad enough, it could turn people off to ever video ad that appears in that space. I might get some exposure, but Facebook will be allowing me to foul their ad space.

It’s the same thing that killed paid placements on search engines. The reason people don’t trust paid search the way they do natural search is there’s no filter for paid ads – just a marketer with a credit card. With natural search you at least get Google’s assurance that the page they produce has to do with what you’re searching for. With paid you could get almost anything.

So I’m hoping Facebook puts some real care into this placement. It’s the kind of thing that could finally make them money. All they have to do is hold out for quality, and not let any idiot with a Flip Video buy space on it.

Why Social is Sexy and Search is not

Back in 2006, when “social media” was still “social bookmarking,” search was king. People were rushing to do the things necessary to get first place on Google for anything that had to do with their business. (And paid search budgets were through the roof.)

Four years later, things seem to have cooled for search. Sure, there are still a lot of smart marketing managers who realize they need to be found on Google in order to keep money coming in, but the talk has turned rather sharply towards how to use Facebook, Twitter and sometimes Linkedin to gain customers.

This despite the fact that social networks don’t convert customers very well at all, and search does.

Search engines vs Social Networking

The reason is simple, but deceptive, in my opinion: Search takes work, and time, to do well. If you want to get first place for your product market, that means writing content that contains keywords, keeps visitors from bouncing off your page, and getting other web sites to create quality links to it.

Like I said, work. If you’ve ever tried to get just a single inbound link with anchor text from a PR7 website, you know it can take years off your life and cost you a pint of your own blood to make happen.

The payoff, though, is being found by people who specifically want what you’re selling. They likely aren’t just cruising around killing time. If someone searches for “golf bag sale,” they’re looking for golf bags. On sale. And if you sell golf bags, and have a discount sale, how much business do you think you’re going to do ranking #1 on Google for that phrase?

On the other hand, social media is EASY! (It isn’t, but it’s easy to do incorrectly, anyway.) All you have to do with social is connect a feed to your Facebook page or Twitter account, let it post for you, follow a bunch of people to get them to follow you back… then sit back and count your money, right?

Of course, it isn’t right. Have you ever used Twitter or Facebook for your own enjoyment? How willing are you to break away from a conversation with your friend in order to follow some company’s link to their latest sale? Maybe you will keep the company’s name in the back of your head, but if they bug you enough you’ll remember them as, “those idiots who keep ruining Twitter for me.”

“Top of mind” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

A lot of marketers have been fooled into believing that social is important, but for the wrong reason. It isn’t important because it’s easy to blast people with messages, it’s important because it’s an easy way to get in touch with individual customers. That entails a lot of difficult work actually talking to them.

Search remains important, because that’s where quality leads really are. Yes, more people use social sites to screw around. But that’s why they are NOT quality traffic: They’re there to screw around! They are not necessarily in the market for anything. If someone wants something, they can easily go looking for it, and likely will.

Pestering people will not make them suddenly want what you’re selling.

12seconds.tv Shutting Down


12seconds.tv, the micro vlogging site, is closing it’s doors this month. All of it’s users received an e-mail today (included beneath this post) from founder Sol Lipman saying goodbye.

I have mixed feelings about this, frankly. Last year I posted about the reasons I felt 12seconds never took off like so many people thought it would initially. After that I used the site more, and found I rather liked it – even though my initial criticism was, I feel, correct: People who post video want more than 12 seconds worth, YouTube has a larger potential viewership, and most people aren’t brave enough to constantly shoot video of themselves.

12erator: The Song That Best Captures How I Feel Today on 12seconds.tv

Above: An example of 12seconds’ embedding code not working. Among all of the other points I made in my initial review of the site, this one is still the most annoying to me. Ah well – what do you want for nothing, right?

Still, the concept for 12seconds did grow on me. After a few months I managed to shoot some bits at least I was happy with. It seems the real magic of 12seconds was that, since you’re only on the spot for a short amount of time, you can only make yourself look so stupid – so go for it because how bad can you possibly make yourself look in 12 seconds?

The problem is, with 20% of social media users actually producing content, far fewer of them are willing to regularly broadcast video of themselves. Not when a Tweet or a Facebook update takes less effort and doesn’t make them self-conscious. It’s a subtle issue that they could never have gotten around, as it was baked into the concept of 12seconds itself.

Actually, given the recent news of Twitter’s updated page, and how they were going to partner with 12seconds.tv among other sites, I thought they were doing better. I had even planned on using them for a project coming up in a Twitter/12seconds hybrid campaign. I guess I’ll be going back to Vimeo after all.

What’s strange to me is that no other site stepped up to buy them. It seems like the kind of concept Facebook would be all over, getting more users to post free content and hopefully make a run for all that YouTube traffic. Perhaps Twitter would have found it more useful, as the only major site that doesn’t have it’s own in-house video solution? Perhaps the site didn’t seek out any offers, and simply wanted to lay it to rest rather than sell it?

Hopefully there will be more details in the coming weeks. Suffice it to say, though, you’ve just lost one more use for that dusty webcam on top of your monitor.

Dear 12ers,

Nearly 3 years ago, David Beach and I decided to grab a beer at a local pub and talk about startup ideas.  I told him a dumb idea and he told me about one called 10seconds.  I said, “we should do that one.”  He said, “okay.”  And that was it.  That is until we figured out that 10seconds.tv was already taken.  12seconds sounded pretty good to us too.

We set out on a journey that would take on a wild ride of ups and downs.  We experienced birth, death and (Beach) even battled cancer.

Today we are announcing the end of 12seconds.

Why?  As you probably know, everything has a life cycle.  12seconds is in its twilight.  After all the new product launches and attempts at a revenue model, fundraising with VCs and late night coding sessions with Jacob hunched over his monitors – it’s time to call it.  It is time to end 12seconds.

However, if 12seconds had a bucket list it would have filled it up with amazing life experiences!  We launched an innovative micro-vlogging system, built crazy mobile apps, created revenue with legit sponsors, we were nominated for awards and had the best users on the Internet – our beloved 12ers.

12seconds is not a failure – it is a life well-lived.  It really is about the journey.  I know this because I’m at the destination.

You’re thinking, “holy crap I made like 1000 12second videos, what do I do?”  Later this week, we’re going to release a download tool for you to capture those moments in time.  It will be available until we pull the plug – on October 22nd.

If you have any questions or want to say goodbye, feel free to reply to this e-mail or click here (goodbye@12seconds.tv) to wish us all well.

There were a lot of team members and users who made 12seconds an incredible experience.  I can’t possibly list them all here but you know who you are.  Finally, to my co-founders Beach and Jacob – I love you guys.

Sol Lipman

Facebook Fan Page layout is changing

In case you haven’t heard, Facebook announced they will soon change the layout of fan pages, so the width drops from 760 pixels wide to 520. Why? Good question.

The phrase they use, which I think is a bit suspect, is:

“These updates are designed to simplify navigation for users, reduce complexity for developers, and enable us to build the next generation of tools for growing your business with Facebook.”

Growing your business with Facebook? Can they really be planning something that would, for once, help all the people trying to advertise their businesses? It seems hard to believe. Facebook has always acted as though their users were sheep, and businesses were wolves come to eat them up.

Many of their decisions over the last couple years seem designed to restrict businesses: No phone support, draconian ad buy limitations, breaking technology… and how many businesses had to change their print materials to say, “Like” instead of, “Become our fan?”

The change in width is more likely clearing space for larger ads – so they really should have said they were building the next generation of tools, “for our business.” The increased width seems consistent with their plan to roll out video ads two years ago.

I hope I’m wrong, because this would actually be a deadly game of advertising creatives playing cat and mouse for all businesses, if their fan pages were running ads administered by Facebook. Can you imagine seeing Pepsi ads on the rail next to one of Coca-Cola’s fan page tabs?

I can’t believe Facebook would allow that, so “more ads” may not be it. So what could these, “improved tools” be that would require 240 pixels of width all their own? Perhaps a vertical navigation bar?

That would be something! Many companies have limited tab space. A vertical tab structure actually would make things easier for developers and businesses alike.

What do you think is going to go into this space?