Instagram Acquisition Brings Bad .com Flashbacks

InstagramAcquisition

You probably thought my Instagram post would be about the evils of Facebook, but instead I wrote a post with Jennifer Leggio on Forbes about how to survive a tech bubble. No matter what impact the Instagram deal has on my personal social media (and even on the fledgling network), what is becoming clear is a return to dangerous financial valuations for venture-backed tech start-ups.

Paying $1 billion dollars for a 12-person company with zero in-bound revenue makes absolutely no sense. Even worse, the acquirer Facebook is a company that expects a $100 billion IPO on $1 billion a year of net revenue. It’s clear we are in the midst of another tech bubble. That’s why Jenn and I wrote our somewhat cheeky survival guide.

During the .com era, I was in the middle of the boom as a mid-level manager. I remember getting laid off with the rest of the marketing staff at IPNet Solutions in 1999 (I served as media relations manager), just three weeks before our shares vested. The catch? It was done on my cell phone in two minutes flat while I was on vacation. Nice. Four years later, IPNet was acquired for an undisclosed amount (e.g. a mercy kill).
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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.

What ARE Influencers Good For?

Towed Out to Sea

The influencer hype bubble overvalues the role of popular digital voices in an online marketing program. Influencer attention can’t sustain a community over the long term, and using them often fails to produce strength of online community and actual business measurements. Rather than producing another post deconstructing the influence model, let’s try to take an objective look at what influencers can and cannot lend to an organization’s communications program.

It’s important to understand what influencers achieve in the larger social context. For the most part that consists of bursts of attention, and a perception of validity. In essence, this is the online version of media relations: Earned social mentions creating an aura of credibility.

Just like the traditional PR world, this tactical choice has its limitations. Mostly, it simply creates a word of mouth opportunity that needs to be backed by an actual product and service that a real pre-existing community likes. In addition, if deployed in an advisory role, influencers (the trusted servant kind, not the personal brands) can serve as a barometer for how a community will respond to an initiative.

Conversely, influencers don’t create the day-to-day participation and conversation necessary over long periods of time to develop and sustain a community. They can’t create valuable content for your stakeholders — unless you’re willing to sponsor full time bloggers. Influencers don’t manage communities and distributed networks of loyalists in such activities as crowdsourcing. Finally, influencers don’t produce the business outcomes that a loyal community delivers when it has embraced a symbiotic two way relationship.

A tow boat can only take a freighter out to sea, but if the actual ship is not sea-worthy it will sink with or without the tow. Similarly, influencers can only draw attention to something, but they can’t make a business, cause or idea succeed over the long term. Far from it. Let’s take a look using a familiar and recent case study.

Quora’s Mountain of Hype

Quora Traffic Post Influencer Bubble

As you can see by the above chart, the excitement over Quora has slowed down after the Silicon Valley influencer-driven bubble that started during the holiday season. It’s also interesting to note the drop in traffic preceded recent criticism and squabbles about Quora from that same Silicon Valley influencer community. Arguably the debates have given the site small, barely noticeable spikes. However, Quora’s overall traffic has increased since November, indicating the social network has successfully retained a minority of its new users.

The post-influence bubble decrease in traffic occurred because many found Quora’s product to be less interesting than advertised (and somewhat misrepresented as a blogging service). The spike featured industry specific conversations, and did not offer a broader consumer or cross-sector appeal. In essence, the influencers served as trade press, creating an echo chamber, but one that failed to compel non-insiders.

The higher plateau post influencer attention shows that Quora was able to retain some people who like question-based and information wiki-like products online. This can be credited to the preexisting community that had already seeded many questions and served as moderators. In actuality, the site was already growing in traffic naturally without the influencer bubble. The newly retained traffic after the influencer spike may have hastened Quora’s growth, but not by anything more than a few months.

Similar to an advisory board’s role, the usage created public feedback about problems with Quora, from its wonky interface and geekiness to popularity based answers as well as questionable moderation and editing. In some cases, influencers complained about censorship and their posts disappearing. Quora will need to respond and address these serious flaws if it hopes to become anything more than a niche community.

All in all, using the tow boat analogy, Quora has been brought to sea, but there are serious questions about its sea worthiness. The ship labors off the coast.

The influence bubble brought great attention, but Quora did not fully capitalize on the opportunity. It also needs to get beyond the confines of the Silicon Valley influencer circle and generate a much broader series of topical questions and answers if it intends to become a mass market success. It should be noted that there’s no business model in place to monetize, and given the large influx of traffic, this too can be considered a lost opportunity.

Conclusion

While Quora was “discovered,” its experience serves as the perfect example of the positives and limitations of influencers. As such, it should serve as an example of what to use influencers for… And what they cannot offer in the context of larger marketing programs that include product marketing, broader public relations efforts, advertising, as well as additional Internet marketing and tactics.

As for Quora itself, the question-based social network has work to do, but it still has business value, and should be monitored by professionals. Keep in mind that overall, in spite of the spike, traffic is still increasing.

What do you think an influencer’s role is in an online program? Does Quora have what it takes to make it?

P.S. Quora users seem uninterested in the question, “What are online influencers good for?