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…

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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

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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.

Being an Influencer Is Not a Top Priority

Many people engage in online media to promote their services. The idea of choosing between becoming an online influencer or a communicator probably doesn’t occur to them. After all, they just want to win a few clients and projects.

I reached a point where I needed to prioritize my own online interactions versus a desire to do the work, scale a business, and maintain balance in my personal life. Some are able to build larger agencies and businesses that coincide with significant online profiles, but I struggle to do both. So a choice was needed. In many ways, it is a living decision, one that I constantly need to reinforce.

Last week, a top 100 influencers metric came out, as usual based on Twitter reach, though this time it measured the reach of persona’s following, specifically “how many people are following those followers.” I guess that’s potential RT reach? Anyway, I am not sure how that translates to influence, but many friends whom I do consider to be influential were deservedly on the list. My congratulations to them.

As I watched the usual accolades posted on my social streams, I grew jealous. I could have been on that list if I’d only chosen to focus on my personal network growth over the past few years. But then I reminded myself about my choices. I was able to detach.

How This Choice Impacted Me

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I secured an opportunity for my client Cade Martin serve as the primary portrait photographer for the NBA Wives Association (Behind the Bench) black tie gala last weekend. Cade is photographing MLB great Prince Fielder here. Check out all of his shots.

Many who have known me over the past 10 years would agree that I am not as prolific as I used to be online. I am a practitioner now, not an uber-influencer on the social media conference speaking circuit. Ratcheting it back was necessary to achieve those other objectives.

Instead, I am present enough to contribute to the larger conversation and market my business. Further, I use the tools to demonstrate competency with social media, particularly with my photography.

Frankly, I feel like online tools like Twitter, this blog and others are awesome, but they can blind you. You think the attention is necessary to succeed, but it takes a lot of energy and time to keep that influencer flywheel turning. Plus the necessary, um, political schmoozing is not my favorite activity. So I made and continue to make the choice to focus on other things.

This decision hasn’t been unkind to me. I earn a bit more than I used to, and I have better family relationships.

Having attained the right balance, I believe I am still credible to clients. At the same time, my intent is to promote them first, and not myself. I guess that’s old school, the client should be in the limelight, and not me.

Perhaps I have become just a member of the community rather than one of the top voices. Others have taken the mantle, and today, it seems some leaders are newer voices, at least to this old man. I kind of like that. Perhaps it is time for the next generation of influencers.

Me, I just want to build a good business, and do what is necessary online. My time as an uber-influencer — real or imagined — has passed.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

Big Data, Influencers, Privacy and Other Digital Termites

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Image by NEXT Berlin

Andrew Keen remains the most constant and prolific critic of digital media advances and their impact on society. His books Digital Vertigo and Cult of the Amateur have made him a bit of a pariah in some circles, and an intellectual hero in others.

He was the ideal choice to close xPotomac on February 25, as the conference discussed future technologies. This podcast offers a sneak preview, which is also transcribed below… We got into all sorts of fun things, including big data, influencers, privacy and other digital termites.

GL: Well, we’re really excited to have you here in D.C. and I can’t wait to see you. First of all, for people that don’t know you, why don’t you quickly explain your background to them and what you did with Digital Vertigo.

AK: So I’m a writer, I’m a broadcaster, entrepreneur, accountant of a company, Audio Café, I have a weekly show on TechCrunch, columns for other people including CNN, written two books Quasi Amateur, which was critical of web 2.0 and the democratization of the Internet. I just came out with a new book this year Digital Vertigo, which is critical of technology’s obsession with transparency and openness.

Some people see me as a technology reactionary. I’m not really. I’m as wired as anyone.

But, I am more skeptical of some of the social and cultural consequences and see the way in which the web continues to disintermediate both the experts and the creative class: the writers, musicians, filmmakers. I don’t think generally it’s benefitted creative people. It’s been great for entrepreneurs, great for programmers, technologists, investors and VCs, but not so great for the creative industry.

GL: In your mind, how does big data fit into that picture and what are the challenges that we’re facing with it?

AK: Well, big data is the current buzzword when it comes to describing the world we’re living in. I fear this: On the web we’ve all essentially become data. There’s an excellent writer, he wrote a cook called The Information, James Gleick, and he writes we’ve become data, we’ve become data in the Digital Age.

I think he’s right. We are distributing ourselves on the network, and I’m fearful of the impact it has both on our privacy, in terms of our identity and of our relationship with each other. I fear that the more we reveal about ourselves, the lonelier we become, the more we actually destroy the social.

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Thoughts from Conversation with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez

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Ace Blogger Seth Godin doesn’t participate on Twitter, but has a Klout score of 70 in large part due to retweets and mentions. This phenomena typifies what Klout calls the Warren Buffet problem.

Yesterday, Read Write Web published the larger findings from the open interview with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez responding to criticisms published here. Publishing the larger post separately seemed important, a way to provide a larger portion of the industry information about the most pressing Klout questions. In addition to the discussion about evolving the algorithm and the ethics of Klout Perks in the Read Write Web piece, Mr. Fernandez covered several other points raised by critics.

One of the more interesting aspects was a discussion about gaming theory, which has been considered in the design of Klout. The interface, badges, classifications and the way it looks is important to encourage people with lower scores to develop more influence. In that vein, Klout sees its system as a way to encourage people to develop their online networking skills and become more influential.

Social games as a community activity have become a huge web activity online, and is drawing more attention in the marketing space. This is a topic worth further consideration.

Generally, the whole Peter Shankman party issue arose as a result of this rather troublesome press release. While Klout has an informal relationship with Shankman, Mr. Fernandez did say the release was not vetted by Klout, and could have been toned differently with less elitism.

The party itself was an experiment to see what the algorithm could put together, and by accounts of attendees, it wasn’t the usual group of folks in the rooms. Attendee David Spinks said it was an enjoyable affair, and Mr. Fernandez said the experiment may or may not be repeated.

Also, by simply participating in the open call, Mr. Fernandez resolved the point about Klout not responding to criticism. Further, he took some tough questions, and should be commended for openly facing criticism with a kind attitude.

General Perceptions of Klout Moving Forward

Klout certainly has its hands full. That became crystal clear. Perhaps Mr. Fernandez said it best when he said the very word influence is a lightening rod, and Klout’s algorithmic approach to determining it will always attract debate.

As to the algorithm itself, it will clearly evolve. Klout is actively weighing the strengths and weaknesses of its system. It’s well marketed at this point, and as a result, has an opportunity to become the top influencer measurement.

Why? Because no matter what, businesses and nonprofits will seek an easy way to determine influence, and as Klout evolves it may have the best answer. Klout still has flaws that admittedly need to be overcome, but that’s the truth.

Klout’s definition of measuring actions differs greatly from industry definitions of actions (donations, sales, etc.). Because data about these types of actions are not readily available to the industry by companies and nonprofits, participation data is what’s left.

It’s hard to sign off on quantitative metrics that focus on participation. The current output of this participation data still produces questionable results. But the commitment to diversify and scale to meet 20 disparate sources of social data (see Read Write Web piece) is more compelling than a simple solution like Twitter Grader or a blog solution like PostRank.

And so, if Klout successfully evolves per Mr. Fernandez’s remarks, it would be foolhardy for a professional not to give Klout the respect it deserves. For better or for worse, it looks like the leader at this point. And the business and nonprofit marketplaces want a solution to at least begin cultivating “influencers.” Whether that’s the right approach is another matter altogether.

Journalism Skills for Everyone

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When information sources become fractured and degraded, people break into smaller polarized groups, each supporting their own group think. In many cases, people can become easily swayed by those they trust in their social networks (on and off line).

Information from “influencers” may be accurate and create great actionable results. Other times, it may be spoiled by an increasingly deplorable lack of ethics (everybody get their Klout Perks yet?), faulty opinions and hypocrisy.

The transition to the new socialized era of information consumption creates great questions about what is factual and accurate. And while some assume that digital natives will be increasingly skeptical of the information they are consuming, research demonstrates that in fact, generation Yers have superficial information-seeking and analysis skills.

A Democratic society is as strong as the education systems that serve it, and if education systems cannot help the young delineate quality information, then that skill set must come from elsewhere or reform must occur. Or society can devolve. Perhaps the correct answer is to replace the media with more distributed journalism skills, providing them to everyone as part of their upbringing or their 21st century education. Questioning information would become the norm, not the exception.

The Destruction of Quality Information

Andrew Keen was decried for blasting the blogosphere and the social web in the book Cult of the Amateur. He stated the loss of journalistic quality caused by new media coupled with the rise of opinion based information from amateurs would rend the fabric of contemporary society.

Four years and one recession later, even folks like Ted Koppel are decrying the end of news as we know it. Glenn Beck, Keith Olberman, the destruction of MSNBC as a journalist organization, the widespread shrinking of newspapers and news staffs, and the folding of other papers have greatly hurt information quality.

Not that the news was perfect, a far cry from it, actually. But now there are even less quality journalists, and worse, news outlets have become even more sensational in an effort to retain audiences. Follow Jay Rosen’s Press Think blog, and see how the media continues to deteriorate and what can be done.

Online, there are great bloggers and sources of information that have risen to fill the gap. Newspapers and national broadcast outlets don’t employ many environmental reporters anymore. Consider Dr. Joseph Rohm’s award winning Climate Progress blog a one of the blogs that have filled the gap. Also with more distributed news sources, investigative reporting has evolved. The demonstrative citizen and blogger coverage of the oil spill last spring showed a Fifth Estate in action, holding the traditional media, BP and even the Obama Administration accountable.

At the same time, there are poorer sources of “truth.” Influence measures like Klout and self-appointed blogger influencers have successfully taken a significant portion of mindshare. Social networks and entire idea markets follow their lead blindly as sources of quality information. In some cases, this has given rise to questionable leadership enforced with punitive measures and in the worst cases, flash mobs.

The new information landscape creates the need for people to better discern the information they see. Otherwise, society will deteriorate into some quality networks and in the worst cases, ignorant mobs. Polarization and increased mindlessness will be the continuing trend unless a shift in focus towards asking more skepticism occurs, in turn creating a demand for higher quality information. On to the addition of widespread journalism skills.

The Five Ws of Journalism

What journalism teaches prospective storytellers to do is gather information and provide a complete investigative report. Many reporters are taught to be inherently skeptical, and to not accept what they are told at face value. Since the degradation of quality information in the news media, increasingly reporters don’t do the complete job, but the principles are still the same.

The five Ws (and H) of journalism represent the critical core of story research. In essence, these questions ask:

  • Who was involved?
  • What happened (what’s the story)?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

These questions represent the basics. While asking them wouldn’t stop people from believing false information or following those they believe because of loyalty to relationships, they represent a start.

Just teaching our internet citizens to instinctually ask questions when they consume online information would make great strides towards better comprehension of data… and freely offered opinions and the source of information. In addition, regardless of source, questioning whether or not the opinion was backed by facts and substantiated reports needs to increase.

What else can be done to help the current and next generation better delineate quality information?