Reliving Intellectual Flaws with A-List Influence

One last silhouette
Image via Flickr

“The ignorance, prejudices, and groupthink of an educated elite are still ignorance, prejudice and groupthink,” Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society goes into great detail about the flaws intellectuals bring to bear upon society with their influence. Some of the behavior of A-Listers matches those of intellectuals, historically.

First, let’s use Sowell’s definition of intellectual, an occupational category — writers, academics and the like — whose works begin and end with ideas. Clearly this description matches bloggers who make their living based off their writing, via consulting, speaking and other services.

You might not like what they have to say, but you can’t deny the influence of A-List bloggers.
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Is Social Media Training Us to Help Others?

by David Murray

The Morning After SxSW on 6th St
Image: The Morning After SxSWi on 6th St

Those who claim the social media bubble is about to burst may want to take closer look at the landscape.

2010 was supposed to be the year of social media adoption. The year companies and professionals from all industries celebrated the blind acceptance of tools as a substitute for effective marketing. But for those who still practice the ancient art of listening, understand that this didn’t happen.

If we look at social media as a communication channel then companies and industry professionals need to re-learn what it means to communicate. Better yet, both parties would be well served to remember that this medium doesn’t suffer fools lightly.

And who are the biggest fools when it comes to this space?

Perhaps it is the few who believe social media can and should be used for more than just effective marketing and successful business communications. These folk use social media for social good. How strange.

This goes against the grain of the immediate ego pampering tools that are at everyone’s disposal. It’s easy to talk about ourselves, what we are doing, and whom we are with. It’s not in our nature to sacrifice the spotlight, and share it with our neighbor.

If the social web is a mirror of our human behavior, then this shouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s about looking out for #1, right? If you believe we do come from some primordial ooze, then just watch The Discovery Channel. Those wild beasts understand the rules. It’s survival, not followers. There’s no re-tweeting in their world.

But the fact that we will re-tweet something from someone is what separates us from the animals.

Though there is still a lot of “I” happening on the social web, we are beginning to see more of “You.” There are people bringing value to the table before they bring themselves. They’re doing something we all strive to do, but don’t always succeed in accomplishing. They’re helping.

Helping isn’t natural.

We all want to be good individuals on this chess board, however, it is not in our immediate nature to lend a hand to a friend, let alone a stranger. Perhaps the social web is training us to be better individuals? At least it’s providing a stage for those who want to create something bigger than themselves. This can only increase the possibility that their actions will “influence” others to follow.

The true leaders are beginning to replace rock stars.

As more individuals think about the value they can bring to this space, the more we will see what it really means to be social, and what it really means to help your fellow human being. We’ve already seen this in action, and this new thing called helping can only grow from here.

The social media bubble is far from bursting.

We are re-learning value. We are re-learning what it means to truly help. There is still much to re-learn, but thanks to social media we are heading in the right direction.

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David Murray (@DaveMurr) is the Social Web Communications Director for re:group, a fully integrated marketing and communications firm focused on creating and maintaining relevant, powerful brands. You can connect with David and re:group on Twitter and Facebook.

5 Social Media Distractions

Soleil In Her Exerciser

When there are more choices and conversations to spend time on, one can easily become distracted. Social media as an industry has created many distractions — some of which are enjoyable, some not — that can easily cause one to lose focus. This makes time prioritization and good decision making a critical skill set. Experience shows making a conscious choice to focus on what matters, individual professional and/or personal goals, makes a huge difference.

Here are five social media items that in hindsight have been personal distractions:

1) The A-List

It’s easy to become annoyed with the A-List. The fodder is endless, whether it’s their lack of originality, the ridiculous posturing and ensuing absurd behavior, or a ridiculous stream of bad practices retweeted by hundreds or thousands. Oh yes, spending time on the ills of leading A-List voices is very easy.

Overfocusing on the A-List is like feeding the trolls. The more you talk about them positively or negatively, the more you increase their stature. Further when talking about them as A-Listers rather than people just like us, you put them above yourself, lowering your market stature. Ironic, given that most of these conversations seek to reduce the barriers between the top and middle tiers of blogging voices.

In the end, negative or positive discussions about popular content producers only distracts one from pursuing their dreams. Just like Albert Einstein said ‘What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.’ So focus on what is right and matters to you. Focus on your business or personal dreams, reward those that merit praise (without labels), and ignore the rest.

2) Mistaking Attention for Respect

Balancing online presence and wasting time is always a difficult thing. But there are many people who spend their entire day on social networks or talking about social media while their business bombs. Or competitors outflank them while they are playing on Empire Avenue or Angry Birds, or some other nonsense. Meanwhile there are people receiving much less attention who are pulling down big contracts, spending time with their families, and achieving great things, like raising $20,000 for charity, successfully concluding a business, or changing the way news is reported.

Real results earn respect, while a big social network presence, well, that just equals a lot of attention. Understanding that online attention is not the same as a real outcome — personal or business — is the realization that online popularity can become a distraction.

3) Rankings

Windmills in Schermerhorn
Image by eric van der eijk

Measuring one’s performance against their peers has been an easy distraction, bothersome or pleasing, in nature. But while rankings like the Ad Age 150 provide a barometer for general intra-industry performance (or at least popularity), they don’t mean much to customers.

Yes, online engagement is important and demonstrating you can actually walk the social media talk matters. At the same time, writing for a stakeholder group like CMOs may be much more important to you than getting the most retweets. What is the goal? This is the difference between quantifying and qualifying online worth. Does it really make sense to compare yourself to others? Never lose sight of the big picture, otherwise you’ll find yourself chasing phantom windmills.

4) Gossip and What He/She Said

The rumor mill is thick in social media. Sure, it’s fun. So what? How does this help you achieve goals? Ever count how much time you are spending talking about other people rather than focusing on your business or goals? Notice the similarity between this one and the A-List. It’s just another form of the same problem, except a bit nastier. Enough said.

5) Social Media Conferences

Rare is the intra-industry social media conference that produces actual business. SxSW and the defunct Gnomedex are the only two that come to mind. SOBCon has been very educational from an online business owner’s perspective. The rest, well, they are great to see your online friends. If you have family and business objectives to achieve, while enjoyable, social media specific conferences tend to waste time, unless it is how you choose to spend vacation. Otherwise stick to professional conferences designed for businesses with an online focus or track.

Another way to think about the topic is when you pass from this world, what do you want your digital legacy to be? Are you investing time in what matters? Or are you distracted?

The Mounting Challenges of an Established Social Content Market

Cowboy # 5
Image by Randy Pertiet

When blogging was new, anyone with vertical subject matter expertise could create their own site and become a success. These voices were integral role players within communities that shared the same interest. Today, the corporatization of social media by content farms, the use of algorithmic content sourcing, and an established tier of “A-List bloggers” has drastically reduced the chances of success for the individual voice. Increasingly, the desired outcomes of blogging seem like a myth of the past, just like the romantic cowboy of the Wild West.

It’s not impossible, but the dream remains big while the real opportunity has become significantly more challenging. Great content is not enough.

The pioneering era prompted the rise of books like Naked Conversations with story after story of content marketing success, and folks like Sarah Lacy who espoused the theory that anyone could create their own successes online. And there was a time when these things were true.

Years later — whether it’s traditional print, video content, imagery or applications — individual voices find it difficult to break through, unless there’s a sudden new “green field” such as the iPad application marketplace one year ago. The social content market evolved and embraced power dynamics, mostly in the pursuit of monetization. Established power structures weigh down on newcomers, forcing them to navigate a much more complicated field of competitors.

The Weight of Established Social Media

Content Farming

Last week’s AOL acquisition of the Huffington Post thrust content farming back into the spotlight as a viable means of generating ad revenue. Whether it’s an actual content farm or editorial driven sites that harness collective paid content and free “guest” columns, these corporate sites dominate the top tier of content producing social sites. Many of them are really vertical specific digital publications running on a blog platform.

Publishing on these mega-content sites is often the only way for new writers to garner tens of thousands of eyeballs in lieu of an established following. But it’s a serious trade off, sacrificing all copyright, search engine optimization (SEO), and the ability to create calls to action on one’s own site. Many writers use content farms to market their own blogs, or simply because they would rather have the eyeballs instead of launching a unique site.

Algorithm Sourced Social Content

Deliciouspopular

Popularity driven algorithm sourced content exists on almost every social networking site with a significant user base, from Facebook and Twitter to Delicious and YouTube. Thanks to Facebook’s Open Graph protocol (Like feature), algorithm sourced content is now featured on many traditional 1.0 sites, too. These algorithms serve stories that have the highest probability of provoking engagement. Depending on the site, they even incorporate personal semantic data preferences to further encourage interaction.

The challenge for the new voice remains getting sourced by algorithms as a popular voice for content. This requires intense network development, interaction and hot content… Much more so than the open era of blogging’s initial days or even the first couple years of Twitter and Facebook’s market availability. In the maturing market of 2011, new voices have significant organic network development hurdles to overcome. Either that, or they need the runaway hit to break them into the idea market.

Competing with the A List

It’s hard to find any social content marketplace that doesn’t have entrenched voices already. While none will admit to holding newcomers back, all will fight to maintain position. Further, these voices often have years of community building behind them. Tactics include ignoring new voices, blackballing and punishing dissenting voices, and stealing content ideas and positions without attribution or cross-links. The rare winners highlight other voices, and welcome them.

If new voices are lucky, the existing blogging and content producing corps within their vertical lack strength in conversation. This allows for obvious differentiation. Otherwise, expect a thinly veiled dog fight.

Search Algorithms

Using social media to drive search has been a long standing tactic for bloggers. The rise of personalized and semantic data-based search changes the picture. Like the algorithms driving popular content, these algorithms not only reward linking behavior, but also personal behaviors, social context (including tonality), and popularity.

This creates tremendous issues for new voices who have not built their networks yet. Stellar content needs to perform well to drive the linking behavior necessary to be sourced. Breaking through without a strong peer network to help out requires stellar content backed by great SEO practices, such as keyword usage and titling.

Immediate Social Network Referrals

LizandDan

Referred content continues to be a great source of readership. Many people trust their social networks to bring them the news they need to hear. While the 2011 Edelman Trust barometer shows that we trust our peers less than we used to, this is still a crucial component of marketing content. In fact, as evidenced by the placement of algorithms, these referrals drive several tenants of the current content marketplace.

It’s not enough to write, produce and/or create anymore. Community centric content that drives two-way participation has become a must in 2011.

Conclusion

This assessment means to provide an accurate market picture of the competitive forces facing a new content effort. The 2011 social content marketplace requires a much stronger marketing effort behind it than past years. Instead of the conditions of the pioneering days, new content creators find a rapidly maturing media marketplace with strong power structures.

Start-ups have faced big companies and smaller entrenched competitors as long as there has been free market economies. In that sense, the content farms and A-Listers represent the traditional challenges of an established market. The technology charged online media environment of 2011 lends additional hurdles for content creators such as algorithms and social network referrals, all of which point to the need for savvy community marketing practices.

From traditional blogging practices and SEO to high powered social networking and visibility in top tier social content farms, new voices need to deploy a wide range of marketing tools to rise to the top. This becomes easier if the voice has traditional marketing strengths to leverage such as a house file of email contacts, and a functioning PR and events program. Integrating traditional marketing into social outreach creates greater opportunities for success.

How would you approach the modern social content marketplace?