Copyblogger Brian Clark on Authenticity, Klout and Google+

Sobconers Brat Pack
From left to right: Shannon Paul, Brian Clark, Jason Falls, Zena Weist, Derek Halpern

Most of you already know the top-ranked blog Copyblogger. Founder Brian Clark started the company as a blog in 2006, and has expanded it to become a media company that helps businesses grow through social media and online marketing.

A mainstay in the sector, Brian is also active in relevant conversations. After Jennifer Leggio’s Forbes piece on authenticity ran last month, we began discussing some of the articles points, and have no expanded our conversation into a full-on interview. Special thanks to Brian for his insights on authenticity, Klout and Google+


Q: Why is authenticity preached, but not really wanted by the crowd in major social media marketing and business efforts?

BC: This is a matter of perspective. People do want authenticity, but they want what’s authentic to them. People want to connect with people they relate to, not to corporate speak or talking points. And yet, they also might not want to know your bathroom habits, or your political views, or enjoy your salty language, depending on the context.

The rallying cry of authenticity in social media has given people who consider themselves marketers to put their egos first and the desires of the people they communicate with second. This is the antithesis of good marketing, or even simply being a human being that others react favorably to.

Good marketing, good business, and being a good person, in my view, are all about putting yourself second and focusing on others first. When you do that, you have to speak to people in a way that’s appropriate to them, or they’re not going to listen.

When they listen and are influenced by you, however, a magical thing happens — you end up getting what you want after all. And it’s a win for everyone.

The other issue is one of context. We act differently in different situations: you’re different around your mother or at church than you are at a reunion with your college buddies. Both are the “real” you, and yet you behave differently due to changes in context.

The context of social media marketing requires you to decide which aspect of you is most appropriate for the audience. And again, I firmly advocate putting what your audience wants ahead of your own desire for “self-expression” or whatever. But only if you want to succeed, of course.

Q: Given that, what is your personal approach to authenticity on Copyblogger and your social networks?

BC: First and foremost, we put valuable content ahead of individual personalities. This is a fundamental key to why we’ve succeeded at turning a blog into a software business.

Also, due to the nature of being marketers teaching other marketers, we’re exceptionally transparent about the fact that we “practice what we preach.” In other words, rather than trying to pretend, we make a point of letting the audience know we’re doing to them what we’re teaching them, both as a demonstration that it works, but also because to do otherwise would be exceptionally bogus (a.k.a. inauthentic).

On social networks, I’m basically me. I’ve got a goofball and irreverent sense of humor that’s combined with a focus on sharing content — both ours and from others — that helps people achieve their goals.

That said, I filter myself in a few ways. This comes back to context. Just because a relatively large group of people desire to learn more about copywriting, content creation, online marketing and related topics, doesn’t mean they’re all similar in other ways. In fact, they are a radically diverse group of people.

So, in “real” life, I tend to use fairly colorful language. I have opinions about religion and politics and other volatile topics, just like anyone.

Online, I generally avoid cursing or discussing other “off topic” areas that provoke controversy. And I truly mean generally. I often slip up because (surprise) I’m a real human being just like anyone else.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in the southern United States, but I try to avoid those things because it’s not professional or polite. In other words, if you don’t know what will offend someone, it’s appropriate to avoid certain behaviors and topics. And when you have 155,000 blog subscribers and 92,000 Twitter followers (find Brian on Twitter), it’s really easy to offend people without really trying.

Every once in a while I’ll say whatever comes to mind. I call these Twitter purges. Some leave, a lot think it’s funny.

I call it sanity preservation. ;-)

Mostly though, I genuinely love to teach. If I tried to fake that, not only would I be inauthentic and miserable, but Copyblogger (and every other business I started that preceded it) would have failed. This is something you cannot fake, at least not for long and not well.

Klout and Google+

Q: Klout is back in the news with a retooled algorithm that’s caused some controversy. What do you think of Klout gene, and influence metrics like it?

BC: I think metrics like Klout are useful as a beginning point. Our Scribe software incorporates Klout scores as a starting point to build relationships with relevant influencers, but it’s the beginning of the journey, not the destination.

That said, too many people are focusing on boosting their Klout scores (i.e their egos) instead of helping others. It’s in the latter realm where true influence is created and practiced, regardless of some numerical score.

Q: It’s been a four plus months since Google+ launched. You and I chat there periodically. What do you think of its future?

BC: I’m bullish on Google+, mainly because I love it over there (follow Brian on Google+ here). But it’s also hard to ignore the practical applications as a content producer. Google is moving more to site usage and sharing data for search rankings, and Plus is a direct feed of relevancy and value. If you’re creating great content, you can’t afford not to make a bet on Google+, because you’ll be scrambling later like the initial Twitter doubters.

True Blue

Go as a River

True blue — loyalty in your views and causes — is an admirable quality.

Blue means more culturally, too. It can mean feeling down.

When I consider this blog over the past year and half — really since I began writing Welcome to the Fifth Estate — I have the latter kind of blues because I sacrificed the true blue of authenticity, and writing what I cared about.

Yes, I was supporting a book. Yes, I do care about social media, but as time has come to pass, it’s clear not enough to write about it every post three, four even five times a week.

During the Fifth Estate period this blog became well-ranked. It’s the fourth such blog I have written or created the strategic plan for that has earned these types of rankings. This is a noteworthy achievement that many respected marketers want and most bloggers love.

But as a writer there is something immensely unsatisfying about the restraints of a beat, particularly one like social media that is well, limiting in several ways. For all intents and purposes it is the limitations of being a trade journalist, and not writing about anything with serious life consequence. Frankly, to become top ranked in social media there is an element of selling out — writing about Twitter, Facebook, Google+, shamelessly pursuing retweets, Likes and plusses, etc. — that is just unpalatable after a while.

I work to find ways to positively impact society via media and communications with as much reach as possible. These are the types of projects I successfully find professionally. Yet at times my social media writing has little to do with my personal passion.

It gives me the blues to thing about what I have done to become well read, and to market. There is a sense of dismay and personal loathing when you realize you have sold out.

I am sorry for this. Not just to my reader, but to myself, for compromising my character in such a fashion.

After all the Google+ hoopla last July, I stopped writing about popular social media topics every post. I also stopped making myself post four or five times a week. The social media expert land grab around Google+ was the final straw, killing my passion for the game.

My rankings plummeted. My love for writing the blog has returned. Writing flows from me again, tapped back into my soul, a river running its natural course.

Popularity may be worth it to some. In fact, it can downright lucrative, if done right. Without popularity and ranking as a goal, this blog can have so much more passion and discuss important issues. It can address aspects of the Internet, media, marketing, cultural and life issues beyond the popular top ten list of Twitter tips. Yes it will be eclectic, but even when the posts are social media oriented (and I will continue blogging about social media), they will be pure, and not contrived to meet a quota of top ranked posts.

This blog in the past few weeks has been more representative of my heart. My conclusion: It’s better to be true blue.

Is Big Data a Good Thing?

Data star trek 8470691 1024 782
Image via

Big Data is a crazy reality that we have created with society’s many digital input devices, from street cameras to the common smartphone (sorry, Trekkies). There is so much data available that computing algorithms are needed to extrapolate and contextualize the information. Companies are actively looking at ways to mine and extrapolate Big Data for analytics and market use.

McKinsey & Company’s Business Technology Office says Big Data will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus. The report goes on to list five ways Big Data can be used by companies and nonprofits:

1) Big Data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency.

2) Organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance.

3) Big Data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services.

4) Sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision making.

5) Big Data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services.

Given the incredible amounts of data available about people, will companies abuse the data to take advantage of people and society in general? This is a tough issue because generally, Big Data will improve our ability to serve each other with better, more qualitative information, product and service offerings. Semantic information is already making search infinitely better.

However, there will be repercussions including further polarization and perhaps an unhappy realization of the picture that Big Data shows of ourselves as a society. Society may not be ready to see itself in the mirror.

Further, the continuing trials of Facebook illustrate just how serious of an issue Big Data has become. Facebook’s consistent use of user data to benefit its corporate customers in the face of privacy has triggered investigation requests to the FTC, and continues to get exposed by the media. Yet Facebook continues its practices in the face of media protests and potential lawsuits or worse.

For every Facebook that data issues become well known (and the company suspect), there are dozens who get away with Big Data abuses, oft under the radar. Really, in every technology, in every sector, there are abuses. Big Data is and will always be no different.

Will we accept Big Data’s negatives as a trade off for better results. Or do we even have a choice? What do you think?

Will Media Make Our Children Think Differently?

Toca Tea Party
Image by Toca Boca

Semantic data, smaller screens, texting, social media, short videos, network update streams, augment reality, and more continue to evolve the way we receive information from both new and traditional email. As each new innovation arrives and evolves, people ask whether or not the new XXXX is harming our youth. Will they will be unable to think logically or effectively? Perhaps the right way to look at this is to ask whether they will think differently.

Inevitably, the answer is yes. Their media information environment is dramatically different than the childhood we remember so fondly.

Currently, there is much concern about literacy, and the state of language with texting and short form media. In actuality, what new media seems to be doing is increasing spelling skills and literacy. However, face-to-face skills may be suffering. Meanwhile, the iPad is revolutionizing learning with more than 40,000 education applications.

But, generally speaking, we have seen a decline in the general public’s ability to discern quality information with the rise of social media. As online media becomes more prevalent, it increases the amount of reading an individual is subjected to in their daily lives. More and more of it is headline oriented, and less and less of it is text rich. Sources are not validated, and this is already creating problems with poor media reporting, much less the general public’s belief in unproven data.

Mobile and tactile media continues this trend, leaning towards shorter media, less text, and more video. While this is a natural trend, there is no emphasis on quality or on educating people and youth on how to intelligently discern what is fact, what is fiction, and what is actionable. Further, they are not being taught how to create quality information either.

Adding to the face-to-face issues, we have already seen how millennials and generation xers will text to each other in a room rather than talk. Relationship break-ups are now occurring via text message. There is a general devolution or devaluing of face-to-face interaction that technologies inherently bring.

Yet, is this bad, or is it just change? Was the telephone and televisions’s impact on local neighbors any different? Would you get rid of voice and video technologies because of it?

Point being, media is changing. It changes us, and the way we behave towards each other, but that doesn’t make it good or bad, just different. The waters move further down river, and we need to move with them. Our children simply have an easier time of it.

What do you think of new media’s impact on the next generation?

Writing A Book… Again

Angrybirds big

Gini Dietrich’s reaction after one week of working with me

I’m happy to announce that I’m writing a new book, this time with Gini Dietrich and with a new publisher, Pearson. The topic is…

Not social media! Yay!

What a relief. How many social media books can one person write? I mean geez, I was thinking about writing a book on the Winklevosses, but I think it might have been done already.

BUT like every other blogger, we just did the, “We’re writing a book” post. As if you care. LOL.

It’s a little weird because we can’t tell you what we’re writing about. BUT, rest assured, if you are reading this blog, you will find it useful.

As to writing with Gini, it has really been a great experience. She has a lot of the same qualities and attitudes about getting work done. Not to mention that she is a fantastic blogger, and has a wicked sense of humor. Congratulations to Gini are in order. This is her first title, and given the topic XXX XXXXX XXXX and her theories about XXXX XXXX, the subject matter will clearly distinguish itself.

Special thanks to Katherine Bull for shepherding the project. It’s great to work with a professional house like Pearson.

The book is due in January, and will be published in May. In the interim — because I will not be blogging my book — you may find that the frequency of posts here drops to two or three a week. Please bear with me until 2012 as I work on this exciting project.

And thanks for tolerating another Me, Myself and I post.

Revolutions: Internet Freedom Steps Into the Limelight

Anti-Massacre Protest in Tokyo, In front of Libya Embassy (2011.02.23) カダフィによる虐殺抗議デモ(リビア人民局前, 東京都渋谷区代官山町)
Tokyo’s Libya Protest by jetalone

Secretary of State Clinton made a speech last week committing to the ideal of an uncensored Internet as a primary tool for freedom. Her remarks — while in contrast to U.S. reactions about Wikileaks and the Obama Administration’s questionable policies on net neutrality — were made in the wake of the incredible events that have occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arabic countries. As a result, liberty via the Internet has become a top policy objective.

Throughout the Middle East’s unrest, individuals have used the Internet to communicate, speak out, and organize against totalitarian regimes in their countries. Further, citizens in Arabic countries can inform the rest of the world via social publishing tools, providing networked awareness of protests and actions. Just watch NPR’s Andy Carvin share updates he’s found from the Middle East, and you will see this form of network weaving in effect.

Lest this post spark yet another, “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators Article” yes, none of those revolutions were directly caused by social networks or other Internet tools. Rather, the Internet served as a communications tool, a catalyst for freedom.

Dissidence can be very dangerous. Speaking out doesn’t always yield a positive result. For example, Syrian blogger Ahmad Abu Khair was arrested this past weekend (Khair was released today). Given how some hardline totalitarian regimes like Syria, Iran and Libya react to protest, Khair’s life could have been in danger. Social networking can also provide a trail of dissidents for authoritarian governments.

Finally, when a revolution moves to the streets, it can become lethal. Muammar el Qaddafi’s genocide to keep control of Libya has demonstrated exactly how bloody revolutions can become. Many brave souls fight under the threat of execution for freedom in Libya. God willing, may they have success.

Yet the net gain of Internet tools cannot be dismissed. As Clay Shirky said in response to Malcolm Gladwell, “Even the increased sophistication and force of state reaction, however, underlines the basic point: these tools alter the dynamics of the public sphere. Where the state prevails, it is only by reacting to citizens’ ability to be more publicly vocal and to coordinate more rapidly and on a larger scale than before these tools existed.”

For those of us that have been professionally working online since the World Wide Web’s inception, this triumphant use of Internet tools harkens back to the Information Superhighway. It was under Bill Clinton’s watch that Al Gore worked diligently to promote the National Information Infrastructure, with its vision of placing digital printing presses in every human being’s hands. The Digital Divide was a huge issue then, and in light of recent events, it should be again. We see now that the dream can be realized, that the Internet catalyzes freedom.

Fostering Global Internet Use

Libya map with old flag
Image by FutureAtlas

Empowering speech online as a catalyst for greater freedom means providing these tools to every person across the globe. Statistics show that almost 2 billion people have access to the Internet, roughly 29% of the planet’s population. However, roughly half of all Internet users do not have access to broadband globally, limiting their ability to interact.

In a typical mistaken way, the State Department celebrated its policy declaration by publicly launching Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi. While propaganda is an old hat for the government, it doesn’t empower people to think or choose their own ideas of freedom. What is needed is a much stronger policy towards providing infrastructure rather than political ideas.

There are three main priorities for increasing access to the Internet and the incredibly diverse universe of ideas and conversations globally:

Wireless Infrastucture: Wireless has allowed many countries to leapfrog the landline telecommunications nightmare, an insurmountable investment in fiber optics. Encouraging widespread diffusion of 4G, WiFi and other broadband wireless technologies is the critical first step.

Mobile and Portable Computing: Smartphones and portable computing devices like tablets and netbooks are the tools of freedom. Lower costs break the Digital Divide, empowering people across the world to access the Internet via broadband tools and easily publish information online. By seeking to provide as many wireless enabled smart computing devices to global citizens, countries can foster a higher level of communication and interaction.

Accompanying deployment of mobile devices, is the development of software and Internet tools that work well on these devices. Desktop applications need not apply. In that sense, HTML 5 is a great equalizer, as have been the many mobile applications built over the past few years. There is more room to grow for the mobile/portable web.

Skills Development: Education initiatives across the globe should focus on how to teach people to digest information intelligently. We need an empowered, functional Fifth Estate, and a critical aspect of that is digital literacy. The overall quality of content has decreased with the rise of social media, infusing much more opinion than fact.

Teaching citizens from the U.S. to the Middle East and beyond how to use digital communications and publish better information will help dialogue. Nonprofits and companies like Internews Network and AllVoices are working towards this laudable goal. We need to go further, and make digital literacy and publishing a core tenant of any child’s education.

All governments should seeks these three objectives as a means to promote liberty online. What do you think of the Internet as a tool for freedom?

Related Posts:

Revolutions: Don’t Shoot the Social Media Messenger

Journalism Skills for Everyone