A Nine Year Rant

Last week marked my nine year blogiversary. Actually, it’s nine years of blogging, but this blog came afterwards. I sold my first one, the Buzz Bin.

So one might ask why am I still blogging and what have I learned? Here are nine mini-insights and rants about blogging and content as a whole to celebrate.

1) Blogging Is Not Everything

When I was caught up in the social media wave, blogging and the online presence it created was everything. It was an incredibly freeing tool that sent me on a wild writer’s journey, one I had always dreamed about. Over the last few years, I’ve come to see that blogging as little more than a tool. Blogs, photos and social media in general are very useful, but they ALL have their place.

When I see content marketers and other communicators prioritize their blogs as most important, I shrug. Maybe it’s everything for them. Maybe their blog communities are the alpha and omega of their business. And that’s OK. Many good things have happened from such gatherings, and I can testify to that based on my own experiences.

My blog certainly works to inform members of my community, but meeting, talking with, and seeing people in real life and via other venues is much more important. I’ve come to realize the relationships are most important, not the medium.

2) Strong Relationships Don’t Scale

Strong relationships don’t scale in a comment box. When I overinvested in digital media and underinvested in personal contacts, I put myself in a vulnerable position. Clients, co-workers and friends — the ones that impact your life in a positive fashion — matter more than any social score or reply. I’d rather talk with them directly. This is what enables me to retain great relationships — strong ties.

I don’t get as many comments as I used to (who does?). When I do it’s usually with people who I have spent some time with, and that’s important to me.

3) If There Wasn’t Public Commenting, We’d Have Less Haters, BUT…


Haters are going to hate. Sometimes people just disagree and that’s OK, too. But there are others who feel they need to be contrarian or think they’re “smart.” They leave their litany of negativity. What would these people do without commenting? Is graffiti still an option?

BUT, you still need comments because it is social media. If a site is publishing without comments, then they are articles, not blogs. Blogging was at the heart of social media before social networks. In my mind, a blog is a two-way street. A publication — whether it’s a traditional masthead or an individual’s enterprise — can reside on a WordPress and not be a blog. Commenting is what makes social media.

4) Frequency Matters Until It Doesn’t

Blogs and content, one isn’t the other though some mistake the two as synonymous. If you’re a content marketer, then you probably know high blog post frequency is just one path to success. If you don’t use your blog as a primary content marketing vehicle, then frequency doesn’t matter. It’s what you choose to do with it. Frankly, if you’re a person you don’t have to content market. You can just be you, too.

5) Content Marketing or UX?

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Speaking of blogs as content marketing, the latter has been the marketing rage for a few years. Today, many would acknowledge the proliferation of content has just created the new spam. Five entertaining tips (and yes, this list of nine rants pokes fun at the Buzzfeedization of everything) done well are awesome, but the imitators have bludgeoned the customer with me, too efforts. See, here’s the problem: Content is just part of the user experience (UX).

When you sacrifice UX for the sake of personal attention and triggering Google bots, you create a long-term negative-sum game. It’s back to over-marketing. Following someone or a brand via social networks and RSS is a very casual form of permission. We need to consider how frequent average content impacts the customer’s experience interacting with us. Is this really worth talking to folks about?

Mark my words, content is a part of the UX. A great UX is what matters most to a brand, from first touch to every single interaction after a sale. Marketers will be forced to address the UX problem they are creating with content glut.

6) The Blog as a Public Journal (Yeah, Old School)

When I started, blogging was about journaling new technology discoveries, lessons learned, and sharing insights. For a while, a bunch of early adapters chatted together and broke in this fantastic new set of media. Then personal branding, corporate social media, and content marketing changed things. Blogging became a rat race, a demonstrative example of marketing smarts.

Then you have a kid. You run a business. You measure what’s generating leads. And maybe you prioritize.

When you hang up the frequency bite, you realize it’s going to be hard to be heard. You’re not playing the game anymore. Complicate that matter with a restlessness about blogging social media how-tos and trend pieces, and you have a problem. Content marketing is going to be difficult.

So, during the past year, I blog only once a week, and I write whatever I want. Topics can vary, including new media, fiction, photography, and work. When I have a social good topic, I blog about over at the Huffington Post. Most topics are opinion-based, just like they used to be. It’s old school blogging.

You know what? I have enjoyed blogging this past year more than I have since the 2000s. That’s pretty cool.

7) Influencers Aren’t Cool


When I started blogging, bloggers were considered wild and rebellious by corporate America. By the end of the 2000s they were considered cool. Somewhere around this time, corporate America started to see the value of bloggers, at least as potential word of mouth endorsers. Bloggers became “influencers” in the corporate vernacular.

Today, word of mouth influencers are still important, but in the larger sense most people just see uber-bloggers/influencers as big over-privileged pains in the ass. Go figure.

8) I May Go Back to High School

I really hated high school. The exclusionary cliques, the stratification of the popular kids based on vapid criteria, and the shaming of the uncool was all too much. High school was an awful experience, and when graduation came I could not leave for college soon enough.

It’s been 25 years now. People have changed quite a bit, at least based on what I see via Facebook. I find myself very interested in attending this year’s reunion. I am sure there will be some of the old shenanigans, but I also think some people will be quite interesting.

Maybe I’ll feel the same way about social media conferences in the future.

9) Perseverance and Longevity

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My new book will be released later this summer. It will be called Perseverance after listening to the editorial feedback I received from the publisher. Perseverance is an interesting word when it comes to blogging.

There were months on end, long periods of time when I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. As a result I achieved longevity. I had periods of notoriety, but overall I meandered. The body of work moved between professional to personal interest, and back and forth again. More than anything, the blogs reflected my own personal journey and perhaps they suffered for that. That’s OK, I’m still standing.

As time has passed, many, many peers have stopped. Some have had periods of fitful stopping and starting. No matter what, whether they like this blog or not, people know this blog will keep publishing in the foreseeable future. I’ve made it this long. I can’t imagine not making the decade point.

5 Marketing Myths

Myths and misconceptions are abound in the marketing blogosphere. Sometimes I can’t help but think that we have a pseudo religion about the way the industry is.

In actuality, a small group of blogging voices laud these best practices and ideas based on their experiences or beliefs, which for all intents and purposes are valid. From a research perspective this data represents a small sampling, in turn creating myths about marketing that don’t apply to the whole profession. Here are five common marketing myths I hear about frequently.

1) Analytics Make Your Marketing Program Succeed


We are in the midst of a data revolution with marketers racing to extrapolate reports into meaningful outcomes. Marketers promise that the use of analytics will deliver the ROI they are looking for. Let’s not get too excited here. Analytics will inform marketing toward the best way to encourage desired customer behaviors. They will not make a brand better at marketing (myth revealed).

In the words of Kevin Spacey (hat tip to to Jay Acunzo and his excellent Content Marketing World speech), “It’s the creative, stupid.”

Creative alone is wild and unpredictable. Data alone informs direction, but can’t stop crap communicators from producing, well, more crap. Together, informed creative is flat out dangerous.

2) Visual Media Is a Snack


Write a great blog post and publish it with no visual media assets at all. Publish a great photo (which takes as much time to shoot and produce, by the way), video or infographic without words. Post both on your social networks and see which does better for engagement, shares and inbound traffic.

Look, you need words with visual assets for keywords and search ranking, but don’t kid yourself. One medium is the meal today, the other is the side dish. Snackable media is not just a marketing myth, it is also a misnomer.

3) Blogs Are the First Tactic of the Content Marketing Future


Blogs are not the first go tactic in the content marketing future. They are the past and the present, but in reality text based media is not well consumed on small devices. And smartphones and other portable media are becoming the primary Internet access device for most Americans.

I wonder what its going to be like reading this blog post on an Apple Watch. Maybe Siri will read it to me. Or she’ll serve me a “snack” instead.

A study Tenacity5 managed on behalf of Vocus last June with Market Connections revealed as much. Of all the distribution channels noted by marketing survey respondents, blogging was considered the least effective. Only 35 percent rated it as a 4 or 5 (highest). One-quarter of respondents didn’t even use a blog.

It’s almost 2015 folks, this isn’t about a new technology becoming widely adopted anymore. Brands would rather invest elsewhere.

To be clear, blogs in their conventional form have a role on the web site for customers and stakeholders interested in a brand’s topics. This is especially useful if the blog posts help resolve the same problems the brand is addressing with its other offerings (hat tip #2 to Jay Acunzo). Every blog post has an opportunity to delight, brand and empower people to opt into your total customer experience. But you better have a bigger strategy.

4) Video Is Easy and Cheap

No, video is not easy and cheap, and if you shoot it on your iPhone or camera you will produce low-quality crap. Easy video is a huge marketing myth.

If you want quality videos, you invariably have to invest in a pro cameraperson/producer or not more. There is a reason why 71 percent of CMO Council survey respondents are predicting video spending will increase by 5 percent or more.

5) CMOs Trust Influencers


Well, this one kind of hurts. I thought my online profile was everything. That was until I read a recent SiriusDecisions report that showed CMOs trust marketing bloggers and influencers the least of all sources when it comes to making purchase decisions.

Then I kind of thought about most of my conversations about influencers with CMOs and I got it. They just want influencers to feel important so they will say good things about them. Duh. The marketing myth is that CMOs actually believe in what influencers are saying (unless it is conveniently favorable to them). Instead they think bloggers are trying to sell them consulting services or something.

Disappointing. Perhaps I’ll become a reality TV star instead ;) Or a photographer.

What do you think? Have any marketing myths to add to the list?

What Taco Licking Crisis?

Taco Bell was shellacked on social media and PR channels earlier this year when an Instagram photo appeared showing an employee licking a stack of tacos. Yet, there seems to be no brand crisis at all, rather a blip on the incredibly powerful ascent of the fast-food restaurant.

According to AdAge, “Taco Bell in 2012 posted an 8% increase in U.S. same-store sales — more than twice the 3.3% gain of industry leader McDonald’s.” And there seems to be no slowdown in sales.

Taco Bell has done more than just launch the uber popular Doritos taco line. They have dominated the male millennial demographic, launched a healthier Cantina line, engaged in effective marketing to the Hispanic sector. The fast food chain has deployed diverse creative talents to appeal to these audiences, working with American and German creative teams.

All of these positives prompted AdAge to dub Taco Bell its marketing brand of the year.

In the end, Taco Bell’s swift action in the Instagram crisis resolved the matter quickly. They found out the culprits worked at a franchisee, confirmed that the tacos were not served to customers, worked with the franchise owner to terminate the employees, and issued a public statement.

The usual blogger drama ensued, but customers — the brand’s true word-of-mouth advocates — were satisfied. Or felt the positives of the resurgent Taco Bell far outweighed an inaccurate Instagram photo posted by a maverick employee.

The taco licking social media crisis shows once again that online drama may not actually impact brands as much as negative voices would like us to believe. Online digerati don’t make or break a brand; rather, it’s a complex blend of product marketing, satisfied customers and their peer networks who build word of mouth, and traditional PR and advertising.

Money talks. Blogger hyperbole: well, that’s another outcome.

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. I am on vacation until September 30 and will not be commenting. The floor is yours!

Murky Mastheads

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Image by Marion Doss

There’s an old saying in politics that perception is reality (attributed to Lee Atwater). If you want an example, look no further than blogs written under the guise of venerable mastheads like Forbes, Fast Company and Harvard Business Review.

Consider the perception of journalistic excellence these mastheads possess — and yes, even new media outlets like Techcrunch, Mashable, and others. What these branded blogs deliver often strays from the greatness they promise. Yet people consider these blogs authoritative for some reason.

With so much chum and hubris floated to succeed in the attention economy, what we get is not what is perceived.
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Journalists, PR Pros and Bloggers, Oh My!

by Jeremy Pepper


The past month had two interesting data points on content: ProPublica noted that public relations professionals now outnumber journalists 3:1, which is changing the face of journalism. Then the FCC noted that the dearth of local journalism is, well, hurting journalism and local communities (a nice overview off the stories and the story is here).

Neither of these stories are surprising: the death of local stories has been happening for the past 10 years; it has less to do with the economy but more to do with the profit margins of the large media conglomerates – who are in business to make their shareholders (and owners) money. Picking up a local paper in the past five years, the steady decline of coverage – both local and of importance – is obvious and quite sad.

With journalism becoming a weakening industry, though, the obvious switch to public relations from journalism makes sense. Public relations has this aura of being a well-paying field, and that people still get to work with journalism and journalists in telling a story, and sometimes you get to change and help the world. While thought of as the dark side, there is value in the public relations world to get a story told.

What both these big stories ignore is the growth of the local website – Patch, et al – and the growth of the bloggers. Are PR professionals just outnumbering traditional journalists, or is that taking into account the growth of local media and blogs? Is the dearth of local journalism affecting the world, or has social media changed journalism so much that people no longer want differing opinions but only want to see similar opinions and viewpoints to show that “yes, I’m right!!” That narcissistic world-view is already amplified (and helped) by Facebook and Twitter streams – note that most people only friend and follow those with similar opinions, so the middle tends to get drowned out and disenfranchised as the right and left noise becomes overbearing.

The fact is that local journalism is hurt by the profit motive in journalism – but oddly enough, it’s not easier for people to hide the crisis because of the growth of the local social media person digging for the stories. Without social media, would the Representative Weiner story broken so quickly and so fast? But on the flip side, without the traditional, local journalists, stories like the Bell, California corruption scandal would likely never come to light.

The question for what is good for the public is becoming amplified with the army of PR people out there to hide the story for clients, and the lack of local journalism to uncover the dirt. Are the next Woodward and Bernstein going to be bloggers, or is there immediately going to be a call of bias because it won’t be the middle, but left attacking right and right attacking left?

That is the future of both public relations and local journalism: content. Both are going to be pushing to produce as much local content as possible to get results and be known as news, but it won’t be real news but product of our cult of personality culture that is ignoring or blind to the real big stories.

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Jeremy Pepper has been writing about public relations and social media since July 2003, and is a 15-year veteran of public relations. You can learn more about him here, or watch his rants on Twitter. He also has grandiose plans to launch a food blog and aggregate all his content at jspepper.tv.

Machine Gunners and Gardeners

Navy gunner's mates inspect machine gun.
Image by the U.S. Navy

A movement exists to quantify everyone’s social media strength across diverse social networks and blogs. This widespread strength is a sign of true influence, argue social media gurus. Perhaps from a mass consumer market or a top influencer’s perspective, a “machine gun” approach towards influence makes sense. For most, addressing only widespread influence puts an organization into a position of weakness. A vast majority of companies and nonprofits must cultivate specific vertical markets, and specialized media and communities, just like a gardener tending his/her specific plot of land.

Rare is the brand that has the luxury of shooting across all markets with blanket approaches aiming for only the most “influential” voices. This is in essence a PR method, treating social media voices like large broad based media, and using them to broadcast to markets. Undoubtably, this top down approach creates a lot of attention, but is it effective? Does it produce desired outcomes?

Research shows that such approaches fire many more blanks than hits. In actuality, contagious moments occur online when multiple voices pick up a topic, and start discussing it. The buzz trickles up and then out, suggesting maximum impact occurs by seeding both the top and the bottom alike.

So much of social media is relational. People may retweet and give attention to the influencers, but they respond to the voices within their trusted sector. The difference is 90 percent trust for friends, versus 70% for general consumer opinions, according to Nielsen. Top down voices may spark conversation, IF you can get their attention, but they may have no relevancy within the sector (hello, Malcolm Gladwell). The best tactical approach is to also focus on the smaller, but more knowledgable voices within a sector.

In the interview for The New Battleground for Politics, GOP director of social media Todd Herman said the party specifically focused on diverse voices of varying influencer within the community to seed the fire Nancy Pelosi campaign. There was not a mention of Michelle Malkin. The effort went viral, raising $1.6 million on $20,000 budget, not to mention all of the fantastic impressions.

Why Mass Influence Metrics Don’t Work in Gardens

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Image by re.ality

Mass influence metrics are destined to fail. While someone may have strong pull across social channels and rank well on an influence metric, they aren’t necessarily influential within a specific vertical. Meaning that someone may have a wide reach, but that influence isn’t deep enough to have an effect on core communities. It’s like rain falling on the roof. The water never gets in.

Instead, organic approaches to cultivation are needed with influencer relations.
Online communicators need to dig deep into their communities, and work to build relationships over time within the community. That means actual participation with and manual verification of potential desired relationships.

How does one begin? Start with applying David Sifry’s magic middle influencer theory to your community. Back in 2006, those were the bloggers who had 20-1000 other people linking to them. While these metrics are not as applicable in the world of Facebook and Twitter, the principle is the same: Find the voices who discuss and/or curate relevant topical community knowledge and have their own pull.

These people may not be huge on Twitter, Klout, Facebook, Empire Avenue or any other quantifiable statistic, but they have great weight in their sector. They are the most important people to focus on cultivating relationships with day after day, year after year.

We’re talking about the Amy Sample Wards and the J.D. Lasicas, the Shonali Burkes and Justin Goldsboroughs of the world. These four voices have earned great respect within their communities, but you won’t find them on the top of the A-List. Yet, it is often these voices that break and/or discuss stories first. In tandem with other similar voices, they can create great ripples across their community’s conversations. Ironically, when a story or idea takes off because of the magic middle, often top “influential” voices and the media pick up the thread, the desired effect of the machine gunners.

Similarly, someone may have a very strong LinkedIn presence within their sector, perhaps moderating a large group. They are highly influential to tens of thousands, but because they choose to spend their time on LinkedIn as opposed to Facebook, Twitter, or blogging, are they suddenly not influential? If you need to reach their group but use machine gun influence approaches, you miss the value of knowing specific communities. Again, the vast majority of nonprofits and companies MUST target specific stakeholders. Understanding where the stakeholders are determines influence, not systematic metrics.

This is the exact type of influencer approach Zoetica uses when it plans efforts like last year’s award-winning American Red Cross Crisis Data conference, and prior recognized campaigns. After more than five years in social media marketing, the magic middle form of relationship “gardening” works almost every time. The top down machine gun approach has been hit or miss.

Which influence method do you prefer, top down, organic, something completely different, or a bit of everything?