Social Networking

Windows Live Profile is the 2nd most popular social network? Seriously?

Today the news was delivered: Twitter had beaten Myspace for third place as the most visited social network. When I heard that I thought, “Well what the hell’s in second?”

Xbox Live

The answer is confounding to me: It’s Windows Live Profiles.

That’s right, Windows Live Profiles – of course! Haven’t we all spent just hours pouring over our… uh… Profiles and did… stuff?

Seriously, Windows Live Profiles? Do you even know what that is? I do – it’s the social “enhancements” attached to Hotmail. In other words, it’s part of an e-mail client, but not a social network. If that’s the criteria commScore used, I’d imagine Google Buzz does very well, since it runs by default on Gmail. Of course, no one uses Buzz either – cross posting from Twitter doesn’t count. Or does it? I don’t know! The standards here are beyond confusing!

After I read that, I could almost hear the gasp of online marketers across the land moaning, “But I don’t do anything with Windows Live Profiles! I don’t even know what the hell it is! Guess I’d better start setting up my company’s profile!”

Well you can relax. It isn’t a social profile the way you think it is. Windows Live Profile is used to access Xbox Live. There, players can game against each other, exchange messages, and in that way it’s a social platform. There are a lot of Xboxes in the world, which would explain why there are so many users.

But if that’s how they’re calling it a social network, I think it’s cheating. You need a Google account in order to use an Android phone. If Buzz is attached to your Google account by default, (which it is,) that would make it pretty damn popular. We know it isn’t, of course, because no one uses it. But there are a lot of Android phones on the market, enough to make even Buzz seem like it’s happening too.

But at least you won’t have to set up yet another company profile no one’s going to be interested in.

Gary Vaynerchuk and the Power of the New Media Revolution

Saw Gary Vaynerchuk tonight, speaking at Changing Hands Bookstore and promoting his new book, “Crush it.” I was so happy to hear him say the one thing that people presenting on new media rarely do.

He did speak about how Twitter and Facebook were the new printing presses. He also spoke about how all this new media is a C-change for our culture, and how anyone with a dream and computer access can be as relevant as Time Magazine or the evening news.

But what he said that got me so jazzed was that the people who consume this stuff are people.

All too often when I go to a speaking engagement about new media – and I’ve gone to a lot in the last year – the topic always boils down to, “how can you get more conversions/click throughs/impressions/sell more widgets.” It sounds like a fantasy football maniac talking about player stats.

What is rare and so refreshing is hearing someone say that customers are people, and people want to be treated like people. Sure, if you post the same Twitter message 30 times a day, and get 10000 followers to see it, and .5% of them convert, you’ll get 5 customers. Good for you, it’s money in the bank.

But if you actually talk to 100 people, and get to know them, and where necessary slip in that you sell what they’ve been talking about needing, you’ll do a whole lot better than .5%. What’s more, you’ll actually be using social media the way it was supposed to be used – not as another channel for spam.

Listening to him, I thought of all the elements of social media marketing that piss me off so much: Ping.fm, hot chick avatars, following complete strangers in the hopes they’ll follow you back… What Gary proposes is so much more fulfilling. Be a person. Find other people and converse with them just as you would if they were standing in front of you.

Make them want to be your customer.

And, of course, as someone who’s done this all before, I can tell you it does take a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. That’s why posting through an RSS feed is so popular! “I don’t have time to Tweet each person each day – I need to get things moving now!”

Those same people would then say approaching customers like they were drones to be conned into buying something en masse is the economical way to get things sold.

But I have to trust Mr. Vaynerchuk on his approach more, because he actually applied it to a business. His own business, no less. I’ve always said I trust the advice of a self-made millionaire more than I do anyone with 10,000 Facebook friends. And here is a prime example of a person who made his business thrive not through collecting followers and then message blasting them, but through real engagement.

This is what social media’s power is – not the number of people using Facebook, and oh goody I’m going to grab up as many of those idiots as I can.

The power is in it’s ability to let you communicate with others. Getting it to work isn’t about thinking around the fact that it’s a two-way street – it’s about being willing to use it to your advantage.

Using Social Networks’ Mobile Apps instead of building your own

In the past I’ve been pretty harsh on the concept of building iPhone apps to promote businesses. If you can make one inexpensively, then sure, go for it. But given the number of  iPhones in service worldwide, it isn’t likely you’re going to see a huge return in traffic and sales if you invest heavily in one.

That having been said, iPhones – as well as G1s, Blackberrys and Treos – are changing the landscape, as they give more people more places to jump on line from. Large social networks are developing their own applications for these. So instead of developing your own applications for mobile devices, it makes more sense to look at the social networks that take better advantage of mobile devices themselves. If you can get a strong foothold on these, you can “be there” for the mobile phone community, without having to invest as heavily in development.

Look at this comparison of traffic between Brightkite.com, Utterli.com and 12seconds.tv:

I picked these these three sites because they are specifically Geosocial Networks. (Well, 12seconds.tv doesn’t emphasize the Geosocial aspect as much as they could.) Geosocial networking sites like these rely on a user’s ability to access them anywhere, anytime. Doing the same analysis on giants like Twitter, YouTube and Linkedin wouldn’t show smartphone’s utility as easily. (And three let you post from your phone, but they’re enormous for other reasons.)

As of September 2008, of these three only Brightkite had an iPhone app available.

Brightkite and Utterli both allowed users to post with a more commonly used cell phone with camara. (They still do, actually.)

Since most non-smart phones don’t offer video, 12seconds only allowed posting from their site or through an e-mail posting system. The average phone user could not take part.

When 12seconds debuted their iPhone application, their traffic started to increase. Conversely, Utterli, which started out better, dropped as more people started using apps instead of traditional cell phones for posting. On Utterli you can access the site from any phone, smart or not. They built their technology and audience around cheap, average phones. As more advanced phones came into use, their service looked more and more antiquated. Actual audio posts on the site are actually fewer and fewer, with most users leaving text posts. Since there are already enough Twitter clones, they’ve sagged considerably in traffic.

Brightkite has been steadily increasing in traffic with their iPhone and Android applications. These make it easier to post photos, text, and even use the phone’s GPS to post the user’s location.

The point of all this is that networks that use mobile media are smart places to gain a foothold for you and your brand, especially if what you sell is something people “on the go” would want. It’s about understanding how your customers access information. You wouldn’t be posting from your phone necessarily, but if you know the people you want to reach are on the go, this is where you would make your appeal to them.

For example, SkyMall reaches a large number of people on Twitter, but they could reach a more targeted collection of travelers on Brightkite, and the reach of that campaign would only increase over time as more people started using that site’s iPhone application.

Of course, SkyMall also has their own iPhone app. This means they need to generate their own traffic for people to use it, rather than piggyback another network’s application and message to its users. I have to wonder how much business SkyMall gets from their application. The purpose of these programs is to allow users easy and frequent access to their site.

Ebay or Yahoo! Shopping certainly have this kind of user base. SkyMall appeals to the impulse buyer. In order to make their app profitable, they need to develop their own traffic for the app, then make sure the application itself converts users repeatedly. With the phone market further splintering, that campaign will eventually need to create similar applications for all the phones coming out.

In the end, this turns into a lot of money spent just to be able to say you have an iPhone app – when it could be spent focusing on areas where you can get more customers.

Wakoopa – A great site for finding tools and managing use

I’m always finding new sites for getting things done, or communicating with others, or simply for screwing around. Wakoopa is a bit of a mix of all of them.

Wakoopa Logo

What is Wakoopa? Simply put, it’s a collection of programs that people can review – think of it as Yelp for software. There is a tracker you can download, which I would like to point out is not required to use the site. If you want to keep them from monitoring you, you just leave it off. However, if you do install it, it keeps tabs on which programs you use and for how long. You can then look over reports on how much time you spend on the Internet, how much you spend gaming, doing office work… the programs are grouped into large segments to tell you what you tend to do, and for how many hours in the day.

Breaking it down, you can also see which specific programs and sites you use (Google, Office, Photoshop, Twitter,) and how many hours and minutes you spend specifically on each. If you think you’re not an Internet addict, Wakoopa can be a cold dose of reality for you.

Best of all, you can review products and sites, and get similar information from other users. (Hence the Yelp comparison.) I’ve found more than a few freeware and cloud programs from Wakoopa that I am really thankful for.

Even better, you get to write negative reviews. No, scratch that….

Even better, I GET TO WRITE VICIOUS REVIEWS. Like all people who used computers in the late 90s early 00s, I despise RealPlayer. If you haven’t experienced the joys of RealPlayer yourself, imagine a leech that not only drinks your blood, but also installs itself in place of all your other media-playing programs, the ones you actually do like. Then picture continuous pop-up ads, getting your browser hijacked, your system being slowed WAAAAAY down… I’m sure you’ve run into little gems like this yourself.

Well rather than hunt down the development team that ruined your day and cutting them into cubes with a meat saw, you can instead avoid prosecution and tell the world just how horrible their program is! Warn people off, make them aware of the skulduggery at work! (If you look at my review of RealPlayer on Wakoopa, you can see my handiwork. It was so satisfying.)

Finally, Wakoopa is technically a social network, you can meet people interested in the same areas as yourself and friend them. Let’s say you’re really getting into SlideShare. You can peruse the users, friend them, or even create a group of SlideShare users and pick their brains.

The networking aspect of Wakoopa, frankly, isn’t the greatest. It feels more like an afterthought, something else to do while looking at your own usage stats. Still, it is nice to be able to see what your followers are using. Usually it’s the best way to find out what’s new. Like I’ve said, I’ve found a LOT of new sites and programs and networks using Wakoopa, and this is how.

If you’re on FriendFeed, it’s one of the hallowed few networks you can hook up there as well. There isn’t a mobile app for it yet, but there are whispers in the wind about one in the near future.

If you give it a try, or you’re already on it, I’d love to hear your opinions as well!

Press Release Death – Why they don’t work, and how they should

Press releases are designed to get the attention of journalists, and recently, bloggers and search engines. They are supposed to be a means to an end – getting someone to write about your company or product.

These days, press releases and optimization seems to have become their own end. Press releases no longer boil down a company’s event or product to its bare essentials so a journalist has something to write about. Instead they are written as the best-case scenario of what the resulting article would read like: Praise for the product, praise for the company, and an “onward, Christian soldier” quote from the owner or CEO of the business.

Using a press release in this way, as a naked promotional tool, doesn’t elicit anyone to write about the story. Having submitted these for clients in the past, I know what a rarified thing it is to get calls from journalists to follow up on these stories.

Of course, I have done these to help with search marketing, not PR. The focus of an SEO release is quite different. Rather than getting a story to be widely written about, the SEO release is simply a way to get the links in the story posted on as many websites as possible, quickly. This too is only moderately effective, since bloggers still won’t care to provide a forum for press release spam. The best hope is for a spam blog, which auto-posts anything with the right keywords in it, to pick it up. Of course, sites like that have little in the way of PageRank, or readers, and only exist to get web searchers to find them and hopefully click on one of the paid search ads they host.

So press releases are noise that no one hears. Journalists toss them out, bloggers ignore them, and readers don’t care.

Why is this? Often because press releases are a sure-fire way of defending one’s work. They can be shown to a manager with report on the release’s pick-ups and reads. Both of these stats will be much lower than they should be, but compared to the last five that were sent out they look like average stats. If you’ve only ever gotten 12 pick-ups for a press release, people reading your reports won’t have any frame of reference to tell if this is a good number or a bad one.

Social Media and Press Releases

Traditionally, press releases did not have this degree of fluff to them. They are supposed to be concise, have contact information, and give journalists and bloggers a head’s up. If they are interested in the story, they should then contact you for more details. Also, if you know a journalist interested in said story, you then call them up and let them know it is coming.

This is where social media becomes such a useful tool to public relations, as it lets you keep in constant contact with the journalists you can pitch stories to. If you make friends with these journalists, and chat or help them out on stories when it isn’t necessarily time to promote a client, you’re greasing the rails for the time when you really need them. Journalists are always looking for a story, but a friend helps a friend when they can.

Press release companies are also offering their own solution for social media, namely releases with links, videos, pictures… things that catch the eye and make you feel like you’re doing something with this whole “social media thing,” when really you’re only adding creative elements that are currently en vogue. These types of releases are sold on their ability to “facilitate” conversations, which in fact rarely happens. The ability leave comments on a YouTube video does facilitate conversation – knowing people who are interested in what you are saying make them happen.

These kinds of releases are also usually several hundred dollars more than the standard release. This comes with no guarantee, of course, that there will be cross-talk from readers on the social media applications you list in it. It is a fire-and-forget tactic for social media, something that by definition requires your constant attention.

What you should you do instead

First, write a short release. Stick to the details. You want to give people enough of the story to whet their appetite, and get back in contact with you for the rest of the story. Don’t try to write the story for them – it just makes more work for them to cut out your spin and then write their own.

Second, if you have a lot of media you want to share, create a landing page or a microsite with the rest of your information. There you can easily provide your videos, forums, Twitter feed, etc. What’s more, you won’t have to pay extra for a social media optimized press release. This is also a far better option if you’re releasing for SEO attention, as you can optimize the page however you need to, and all of the linking will come into this page, and not the company you sent the release through.

Provide relevant information on your story – quotations, financial information and relevant stories, whether they are necessarily about you or not. Usually press releases contain only what the PR account executive wants the journalist to see. But a journalist doing their job is going to go out and research this information on their own anyway if they decide to cover your story. All you do is hamper their ability to do their job, which will not bode well with them.

Finally have a list of people you wish would write about your story in hand before you submit the release. Spend time reading the work of people who write about your industry, and leave comments on their blog, or DM them, or even call them up. Creating a network of writers to cover your story will help the odds of their actually doing it.

The easiest way to summarize this is to know why you’re submitting a press release: To get journalists to cover you, to get inbound links, to create relationships with existing or potential customers, or to be able to say you did “something” when there’s a need to promote. All but the last one are laudable goals, and each has its own strategy you’ll need to research before you begin.

The last one, though, just means you need to be fired and stop bothering the rest of us.

Brand Monitoring for Brand Champions

There’s a lot of talk about brand monitoring these days. While there doesn’t feel like a lot you can control when it comes to social media marketing, checking to see what people are saying about you is fairly easy to do and report on. It’s pretty easy to look for people talking smack about you, or spreading mis-informed opinions about what you do or who you are.

Tweet Up Nametag

But what about the people who like you? While I’m sure people keep a tally of who’s saying something nice about them, there’s rarely a plan for dealing with them. Perhaps because the concept of brand monitoring is born out of putting out fires. If someone says they like a company or product, there’s no fire to put out. Usually, “thanks for the comment!” is all kind words seem to merit.

This is a waste. People who take a moment to say something nice about your company could be made into full-time brand champions. With encouragement and appreciation, they could be the kinds of people you dream of having out there, ones who comment on other people’s blogs or tweet about how brilliant what you do is.

Just as you should have a plan for dealing with the negative comments, you should know how you’re going to deal with your potential new friends as well. Here is what you should try:

  1. When you find positive mentions of your brand, reply back as quickly as you can. Thank them for their praise, and be sure to comment directly on what they said. For instance, if someone writes, “Dionigi’s Pizzas are the best!” respond with, “Glad to hear it! What do you like on yours?”
  2. After that, if you can, try to send a direct message to the author, or an e-mail if it’s available to you. Send a private thanks, and ask them in further detail what they liked. If someone at a party said to you, “You’re with [your company]? I love you guys!” you wouldn’t be shy about asking why, would you?
  3. Maintain a list of these fans that you’ve been able to get in touch with directly. Obviously, if you try to write back to a Twitter user about why they liked your brand and they don’t respond, that’s a dead lead. Move on. But if you have a lengthy exchange with one, get their name and put it in the list as someone to contact later. Do this for bloggers, Tweets, Facebook friends, reviewers on Yelp, forums – if they have a name and you’ve been able to establish direct communication, log them and where you left things off.
  4. With that list of friends in hand, go back to them occasionally and offer them know of “inside” tips and specials. This is particularly effective if you’re responding to a blogger. Bloggers love inside scoops, something they can be the first to report. On occasion, when you do have something you’re going to announce or offer, let them know first. Give them a chance to be the hero and spread the word for you first. It builds incredible good will with them, and frankly they may have the juice to publicize your story better than your press release will.
  5. When your friends repeatedly don’t bite at your offers of specials, info, coupons, etc., take them off your list. They aren’t doing anything for you after all, and in all likelihood you’re just bugging them. You definitely don’t want to do that, lest they start posting about how much they used to love you, but now you’ve turned into a pain in the ass.
  6. If you’re a local business, have a party for your list of fans. Rent a room at a bar or restaurant and have them all over for food and drinks. Tweet-ups are great for this. (Stuart Foster has a great piece on how to organize Tweet-ups on Mashable.) Be sure they know it’s a show of your appreciation of them, and do NOT use it as a time to get them all “on board” with some new messaging you’re really hoping they’ll evangelize about. That is a turn-off. Remember, these people aren’t employees – they’re your customers, and they’re there because they took the time to tell others how great you are. This is simply something you should do to grease the rails with them.

Think of all of this as a volunteer affiliate program – you don’t have to pay these people to post about how great you are, but you do need to keep them happy. Some will be so into what you do that they’re happy to help. You may even want to hire some of these people eventually if they are effective marketers and bloggers who have, of their own volition, drank your Kool-Aid.