Social Media, Social (Media) Marketing and Where the Difference Lies…

I’ve finally put my finger on what it is that’s been chaffing my britches about the new found popularity of Social Media; that is most people are using the wrong term.  They’re not talking about Social Media, they’re talking about  Social Media Marketing.

I’m sure a lot of you are saying the same thing right now: “What the heck gives this bozo the right to define what is and what is not Social Media?” Let me answer that for you.

I’ve been building online communities, doing user generated content, and generally fostering what you all like to call “the conversation” since 1995. That’s before most of you had Internet connections, and certainly before most of you ever thought about blogging, commenting, or the like. If you don’t like my opinion on what is and what isn’t Social Media, talk to Dave Winer, or Doc Searls, or some of the other folks who have been around since the early days.

So here are the defininitions I believe would be more correct:

  • Social Networking – anything having to do with the major sharing and online networking sites and applications.  Think about LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious, etc. here.  Generally these are communication based sites.  Wikipedia does a good job of defining:

    “A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services. “

  • Social Media – development of and operation of content driven websites in which user generated content, comments, and discussion forums play a large part.  Wikipedia offers a definition, but I believe it is overly broad, although it does hint at the consumer generated content aspects:

    “Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).”

  • Social Media Marketing (I’ve edited the post here due to concernes that the lack of the word media here was confusing – using either Social Media sites or Social Networking to sell, advertise, promote or develop “the buzz” for a product, brand, website or person.  Wikipedia prefers the term Social Media Marketing, which I don’t utterly hate, however their definition is somewhat mealy mouthed, so I won’t republish here.
  • Social Media Marketing Consulting (edited to add ‘media’) – telling other people, generally via Twitter, or at expensive conferences in out of the way place, that they should be doing Social Marketing.  If you’re telling people to “join the conversation”, you are probably a Social  Media Marketing Consultant.

My case in point is this: there is a fellow offering certification  in Social Media, yet when you read the prospectus, it’s obvious he’s pushing Social Media Marketing.  It’s more about how to game the system, than how to build the system, a rather fundemental difference in my mind.  

To recap:

  • Social Networking:  a communications service
  • Social Media : the consumer generated content aspects of content driven websites
  • Social Media Marketing(edited to add the word “Media” to avoid confusion): selling or promoting products, brands, people or things via Social Networking services or Social Media sites.

So please, if you’re going to consult on Social Media,  or Social Media Marketing, at least get your terms straight.

A Great Big Social Media Bubble

Over the past couple weeks we’re seeing a lot of folks coming around to the view I express last year: 

The thing that calls it all into question for me is the number of people who are generally ex-online marketing folks now using strange titles like “Social Media User Guru” or something equally ludicrous. It reminds me of a networking group I once attended that turned out to be a room full of sales people, each hoping to sell something, and none realizing there weren’t any real customers there.

As the astute Esteban Glas points out here, both Robert  Scoble and  Joel Mark Whitt decry that which Witt calls “Social Media Incest”.   As I have said many times before: when the when the communication in the medium is mostly about the medium, the medium has failed.

Continue reading “A Great Big Social Media Bubble”

Jeff Bennett: How Businesses Can Benefit From Social Networking

We hear a lot of prognostication from the consultants about how business can benefit from social networking, but not as much when it comes to actual businesses that are using it.  Jeff Bennett, COO of Namemedia, Inc. blogs on this topic and gives real examples of how we’re (Disclosure: I’m a Senior Software Engineer at NameMedia) using social networking within out company.

Businesses need to foster enhanced methods for employees to communicate. Lotus Notes was the standard for early collaboration, but there is opportunity to enhance the ways for employees to connect and collaborate with more transparency. At our company, NameMedia, we have enhanced communication and collaboration with with our Twiki, which is a wiki application allowing for employee databases, personal pages, schedules, work flow and more. There are so many additional ways this can be deployed and other tools to be added for sharing information, enhancing collaboration and improving productivity.

As a developer, it’s easy for me to know what’s coming up for release, because the release engineering schedule is in the Twiki.  We’re of course using a ticketing system (Jira) for deficiency and task monitoring; but more over as a process control that allows us to control exactly what is getting pushed to our myriad of live sites (NameMedia owns something on the order of 900,000 domains).  We work remotely with coworkers in the Ukraine, the United Kingdom and around the United States via skype, plus our own internal IM system.

It’s true, we do use these tools throughout our daily worklife, but even more, we’re constantly looking for new ways to work more efficiently.  We’re currently looking for a better way to manage our work flow and documentation and will probably end up with something that integrates completely with Jira.  I’m hoping evaluate Yammer in the coming weeks as a means of keeping up with the current tasks our disparate workforce is handling.

You’ll want to add Jeff to your regular reading schedule, he brings a voice of experience, not just theory.

Social Media and Politics – All Lips, No Ears

As the election cycle proceeds, I’ve noticed that the level of monologue in supposed discussions has increased to a fever pitch.  Take Twitter for example; it seems the chatter is now 20% political.  The problem is, I never signed up to listen to what everyone’s political viewpoint is.

I know, I can simply unfollow everyone that’s into political discourse for the moment, but the truth is I like some of the other stuff they have to say.  Too bad I can’t simply filter out a posts with a few words in them.

The problem I have is this: most of the folks looking to “discuss” politics really have no interest in discussion.  Even if they were interested in discussion, being limited to 140 characters is unlikely to be enough to convince anyone to vote either way.

The trouble is so many of us are staking our “personal brands” on our online personas, why would we want to be identified in a way that would potentially alienate 40% of the populace?

That’s right.  We talk about how potential employers look into our blog posts, at our LinkedIn and Facebook pages, so why would we want to share our deepest political views? Even worse, for some reason, everyone seems to think that naturally everyone will agree with them.  Why would you, when even in a landslide win, 35% of your fellow voters will have voted for the other guy/gal?

Maybe we’d all be better off if you just tweeted about what you had for lunch…as long as it wasn’t a cheese sandwich!

One is the Loneliest Number…Community Building 101

Technically, building a community platform is easy: you just get a fist full of developers, hand them a spec, give them a blank server and turn them loose.  At some point in the not so distant future you have your new community site ready for testing.   Soon there after, you’re ready to welcome the real users.

The problem is, you quickly find, even if you’ve got a premium domain, that the world isn’t sitting around waiting for you to open your new site.  It’s time for the real building work to begin; and if you’re in the position most of us end up, there’s probably little or no budget for the community development.

It’s time to go guerrilla!

I’ve decided to take a site with great potential and adopt it as my own for the purposes of proving the guerrilla community building tactics I’m about to share with you – so this article will actually come in a series of installments; think of it as a lab experiment.

The site I’m using is Cycling.com which I’ve chosen as it’s a likely candidate for a bump from the Olymics.  You’d expect that you’d be able to discuss cycling events at a site like cycling.com, right?

First, an overview:

Cycling was relaunched on a new platform, vs. the old park page that had inhabited the site, sometime in late February, and since has had little or no attention from either the site editors, or anyone that could be considered a community builder.  It is built on a hybrid platform of WordPress and BBPress, with pretty much all of the community functions you’d expect to see:

  • Forum
  • Personal profile page
  • User generated content, including articles, videos, photos, blogs, etc.
  • Groups – which also leverage the ability to create private group articles, photos, videos, etc.
  • Friend capabilities – add a friend, see friends activities, personal messages, etc.

For the Olympics, we’ve added an RSS feed of the Lenovo Bloggers that gives us access to the cyclists who are blogging.  Very cool (big thanks to David Churbuck at Lenovo).  This gives us a steady flow of new content, which I don’t have to write.  I’ll also be putting up summary articles of the cycling action as the events unfold.  This evening, I’ll be writing up both the men’s and women’s road race events.

Where we are now:

We’ve got the classic problem: no one wants to be the first, and there hasn’t been enough forum traffic to get any gravitas going.  Yes, we get traffic, but it’s almost all unique, meaning that we’re not getting the return traffic. In short, it isn’t working.

Guerilla Community Building 101:

At random, here are some of the techniques I will be using to try to jump start the discussions:

  • I’ll be posting on the forum under a couple of different user names, so that it doesn’t seem that anyone is “the first” to join the community.
  • I’m looking to enlist some friends who are avid riders to get things going.  I may resort to bribery by making it a condition of my sponsoring them for the Pan Mass Challenge (benefit for cancer) although they all know I’ll contribute no matter what.
  • I’ve added a tag line to my email sig as well as the sig I use on my established, successful sites.”Join me on Cycling.com for 2008 Olympics Cycling News, Videos, Athlete Blogs, and Discussions”
  • I’ll keep the discussion going by adding new content daily.
  • I’ll have an email sent whenever anyone posts, and will make sure that any question is answered within a reasonable time period (to me, that means within 2 hours during the work week and 24 on weekends, but I will aim to be better.
  • Graft – I’ll have some gimmee stuff done up to hand out, and put a bounty on best post of the week (once I have some posts).
  • Stickers – I’m getting some bumper stickers to both hand out and put on my own vehicles.
  • If I were truly an expert, I’d be participating on other cycling sites, acting as the expert, answering questions, and I’d have my url in my sig.
  • I’ll be commenting on cycling blogs and you can bet I’ll be using my own url.
  • I’ll enlist help wherever I can get it –  Within the company I know there are some pretty serious riders.  I similarly have friends who are riders and I will ask all to give me a couple posts a week for while.
  • Early adopters will be cherished – I will find ways to make them feel special and to show them they are truly appreciated.

As such, I’m also asking for *YOUR* help!  If you’re a cyclist, join the site and let’s start talking.  Since you’re coming from this blog and this post, you then no doubt have some community building skills to add, and I’ll be happy to have you on board!

I’ll be reporting back on what’s working and what isn’t.  Of course, as with anything in community development, your mileage may vary.

Social Media – Participation Rates Much Lower Than We Thought…

Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester has a great post up entitled ” Why Some Don’t Need to Join the Conversation“. The basic premise is that even though social media has been so very hot in the past year or two, actual participation by users remains at a relatively low percentage of overall visitors.

To prove my point, let’s start with data: In most markets, (even youth) there are no bars that span 100% for creators. In fact, 18-24 year olds in United States only are creators 39% of the time. 45-54 year olds in UK only create online content a paltry 6%, although they are critics 11% of the time.

So what does this tell us? Not everyone is part of the online dialog exchange. Not everyone will ever be part of the online conversation.

This point has really been driven home lately to me as I’ve become more directly involved in the Reel-Time Community again. In discourse with a few readers, I’ve mentioned “well, you’ve only been a member for the past two years,” only to be told that they were actually lurkers back well into the last decade. In two distinct cases, that means they waited at least 8 years before registering or posting on a site they use almost daily.

So what’s it all mean? My feeling now is that you’ve got to assume that the active participants on your site are the tip of the iceberg. They’re responsible for helping to make the experience rich and vibrant, but you’ve got to realize that many of your dedicated users may actually never really contribute.

New information? Not hardly…we’ve been discussing the lurker factor on online bulletin boards since pre-internet days.

Reel-Time.com Acquired By NameMedia

In what has become an utterly bizarre turn of the tables, NameMedia Inc. has bought Reel-time.com – the site I have been working with since 1995 or 1996 as managing editor, head geek and general do-what-needs-to-be-done guy, is now owned by my current employer.

It’s a great thing for Thorne Sparkman, who is now able to repay the investors in the site. David Churbuck (he blogs on this story here)  and I had been almost completely disengaged and had no financial stake in the final buy out. The big winner is honestly the community which now will actually move forward, vs. being in a holding pattern.

Last September, when I posted my final Fishwire Report for the Boston Region (a report of what’s going on for saltwater fly fishermen) I swore it would be the last. Yesterday, I wrote two of them…handling both Boston and Cape Cod. The good news is that I was for the first time able to write them during normal working hours, instead of getting up at 4 in the morning.

Reel-Time.com was a niche online community before anyone had any idea that such a thing could exist. In a lot of ways we invented, identified or were afflicted by, just about anything you now hear about termed as “Social Networking” or “Social Media.”

So as things change, in many ways they stay the same for me.  I’m now back where I began, at Reel-Time.com and after 13 years, I couldn’t be happier.  Now if I can just get some fishing time in.

The Implied Responsibility of Communications Providers

Okay, I promise to go Twitter free next week, but for now, an interesting observation…

Yesterday, Twitter went down for about 3 hours. The general experience provoked a few thoughts. Firstly, I thought of the Twitter addicted, jonesing at their keyboards, hitting refresh endlessly in a forlorn hope the service will return.

But then I thought more on the idea of what happens when your communication means becomes a part of peoples lives.  I’ve been here before, since the Reel-Time.com Forum literally reached that level for New England Saltwater Fly Fishermen, who are, like most Twitter users, type A obsessive compulsives.  It’s a special kind of feeling to know that your important service has become a singular point of contact for many people.  That suggests that if it goes away, you’ve put those folks out of touch.

In my experience, services that provide such a commjunications will face a known, predictable response when are repeated failures:

  1. To begin with, everyone thinks of it as an abnormal situation and don’t push to hard.  Oh gee, there was an outage…
  2. Subsequent outages provoke concern.  Users ask where they can send get well cards.
  3. From there, we move on to anger.  You get phone calls…at night…on unlisted numbers, and they’re not utterly pleasant.
  4. From there, if the problems continue, the noise quickly subsides.  No more calls, no more emails from users.  You’ve reached the point that your users simply don’t care anymore, either that or you just don’t have any users anymore.

Th critical litmus test is this: people will not complain if they don’t care about you.

I’m generally concerned about using a communications means that’s provided by a single source, not knowing how scaleable their own infrastructure is.  They’ve also got a very open api that allows most users to access using tools other than the standard Twitter homepage.   That disparity of tools also creates a disparity in user experience.

Another Post on the NameMedia Launches

Tom Willmot of EdgeDesigns, one of our team lead developers posts on the launches of www.hotcars.com and www.dreamwheels.com last week. He succinctly sums up the niche social networks for those not familiar:

A niche social network is simply a social network aimed squarely at a niche interest, be it wine or geeks. You take the classic social network components: user profiles, friends lists, user messaging, forums and groups; and then you tailor the experience towards your intended niche. Throw in expert articles, regularly updated content and a strong multimedia element and there you have it.

Read it all here.

(Note: I am a senior developer with NameMedia, and worked on these projects)

Launches this week…

I’ve had a couple sites go live this week – first, some niche websites with NameMedia, Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels.com as well as Cats.com (I didn’t work as much on that one, it was in the hands of the talented Matt Busby and David Rodal).  These come on the tails of the launches on March 1 of Biking.com, Cycling.com, Boating.com, Yachting.com and Mommy.com.  I was lucky enough to work with Eugene Bernstein, Tom Willmot, Joe Hoyle, Peter Kuhn and Neema Dhakal on these sites, with designs by Dave Dellovo and Erik Stern.  A tremendous team!

The important thing to note on all of these sites is the application of so many facets of Web 2.0 to niche sites.  These are tightly woven niche communities that include all the things you’d expect, like friends lists, groups, internal messaging, blogs, forums, comments, and so very much more.  But it’s not a cookie cutter approach – we’ve looked at the communities we’re serving and attempted to provide the features that particular group needs.  On Mommy.com, there is an online baby book.  Or on Cats.com, we’ve come up with a means of dealing with the big internet question: how do I tell an expert from a loud mouthed rookie online, since the value of their advice is so vastly different.

On Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels you’ll see a major change to the forums setup.  It’s fully integrated with the rest of the system, and we’ve added features like the ability to link to youtube videos, etc.

There’s a lot more to come here, but for now, I think we’ve made a great start.

Additionally, I was able to launch PowerUpGeneratorService.com which has been on hold for several months (this one is not a NameMedia project).  It has an integrated project/product gallery and a homepage that is rotating between their major service/product offerings.  If you need a generator, no matter the size, PowerUpGeneratorService.com is the place for you!