2 Million and Counting

My Flickr blog passed 2 million views on Saturday. Thank you to everyone who checked out my stuff, chatted with me on Flickr, and encouraged me, too.

It took almost seven years to get my first million views. It took just 10 and a half months to get the second million.

The French Market in New Orleans.

What made the big difference? I can point to several things:

1) A commitment to quality content via the 365 Full Frame Project. I am continuing to shoot almost every day and develop my editing skills. But I think we know good or great content is not enough to succeed online these days.

2) Social interaction on Flickr and 500 Pixels has helped spread the reach of my photos. But it has done more than that. Interaction exposed me to so many good photographers, and I have learned a great deal from them.

The Library of Congress

3) SEO: If you are not tagging photos on Flickr, shame on you. Both Google and Yahoo! index the site and offer the images as search results. If you offer a creative licensing option, people really do use them. I don’t have a Wikipedia page, but I sure as heck have quite a few photos on the site.

4) Luck: I’ve been blessed a few times and had a select few photographs like the above Library of Congress shot featured in Flickr’s daily Explore feature. Those moments exposed my photography to hundreds of new contacts. Because I engaged, they became a part of my network. For that, I am extremely grateful.

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The Boulevard of Bokeh Dreams (Nashville)

I never expected my photos would become this popular with others. For that I am grateful. More than anything, it makes me happy when I hear others tell me that the photos add a little to their social stream, that they look forward to seeing them.

Thank you. I hit two million, and but I am not looking back.

7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era

Social media is not a new driver of the Internet, relatively speaking. At best, social data is harnessed to serve larger technology trends like contextual media, marketing automation, and more. In turn, social media and related marketing conversations are no longer groundbreaking. The larger business world has moved on to the next thing.

This “post social media” trend crystallized for me at SxSW V2V last week. Start-ups were working on new technologies and approaches, but they widely ranged from space start-ups to Shinola (CEO Jacques Panis pictured above), a Detroit based maker of high quality wrist watches. What wasn’t central to the V2V conversation was social media. At most, start-ups discussed social as a means to include customers in conversations and innovation, but not the end product of their innovation.

Several larger stories and trend corroborate this post social trend. Here are seven signs that the U.S. social media era of innovation is coming to a close:

1) The Medium Changed


Internet media evolved and became more mobile, visual and data-centric, and the dollars and associated conversations followed. If you look at what Internet start-ups are focusing on today it tends to be mobile-centric, automation, data applications, contextual use, location media and other types of applications.

New social networking apps, while still developing, are not generating huge investment rounds or attention anymore. Heck, even the most mainstream of social networking apps are retooling to meet the new mobile visual Internet. As the old adage goes, follow the money.

2) Wall Street IPOs Are Waning


In that vein, the social media IPO craze — led by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — looks like it may be coming to close. This year’s biggest social media IPOs are coming from Chinese start-ups Line and Alibaba. No big U.S. social media start-ups are on the horizon with the exception of Pinterest.

3) The Rise of “Dark” Social

Original image by Blake Herman

Dark social is the movement towards conversations that are not public anymore. Private social network communities and newer networks like WhatsApp and SnapChat thrive on people saying what they think without the repercussions of public data, ad retargeting, attention from customer service nazis, and helicopter actions from bosses and parents.

The movement away from public conversation is a significant loss for social media in the conventional sense. People are no longer willing to be transparent because the repercussions of public discourse are too high. Eventually, even those private conversations will become dangerous (like texts and emails that end up in court) causing more off-line dialogue.

4) Thought Leadership Vacuum Appearing


When my friend Jeremiah Owyang started focusing on collaborative economy models instead of social media, I was really happy for him. At the same time, I could not help but note that another thought leader had moved on from the general social media discussion. With each passing month another member of the old guard stops blogging or moves on to a new venture.

Those that remain — new and old — seem challenged to offer a new conversation beyond Facebook and Twitter dalliances, influencers, and content marketing. While there may be new wrinkles every now and then, I see granular progress compared to the advancements made a few years ago.

5) The Commoditization of Social Media Content

Original Image by the Foodie Buddha

When discussing the above thought leadership trend with Rich Becker last week, he said one of the primary drivers is the commoditization of social media content. I had to agree with him. To be clear we’re not talking all content, rather content about social media and how to use it.

There are so many people producing social media marketing and trend blog posts that even when a thought leader writes something original, their content fails to stand out. The growing crowd of social media experts — from AdAge beat reporters to mom and pop bloggers — is an underlying cause of today’s content shock conversation, too. A gourmet burger is still just a burger in an online world with a chain on every corner.

6) Gaming Google with Social Gets Harder


It used to be that social media was a primary way to drive SEO for topical issues. Brands and SEO experts figured out how to use social updates and content to achieve top rank, and the games began. But Google has responded with a series of initiatives — Panda, Penguin and eliminating keywords — that are effectively dampening and possibly even eliminating the SEO industry.

Online word of mouth is still used as a search algorithm signal, but increasingly it must be organic and earned, something many marketers won’t invest in. It’s much easier to buy access with ads and other tactics. As a result, those people and brands not truly vested in social communities are moving on.

7) The Biggest Trend in Social Is… TV?

Santos v Atletico MG - Brasileirao Series A 2014
Original Image by CBS LA.

Today’s biggest advances in social media marketing seem to be the integration of traditional television programming (live and on demand), native advertising, and visual social elements in a cross-screen smorgasbord of transmedia delight. Even social TV and transmedia not new trends. Rather, this is the maturation of media and technology to serve the advertising industry.

So those are the seven signals that are making me think we’ve quietly entered a new era in Internet marketing. What do you think?

Want more? Read 12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance.

Breaking Up Google

It may be time to break Google up. At a minimum, the Justice Department should consider taking up antitrust action against Google again.

The search monopoly impacts almost every part of the Internet, from content creation to email to data collection. Every small change it makes creates far-reaching ripples.

Google takes these actions to drive revenue for its advertising products. Revenue is derived from a wide array of advertising properties, including search, YouTube, ads in products like Gmail, and the far reaching AdWords network.

So what’s the hubbub about? Consider how the company uses data sourced from Google+, Android phones, Chrome browsers, organic searches and soon its sensors (via the Nest acquisition) to customize ads. Contextual and creepy at the same time, Google uses all of the data collected from products to serve the ad beast, which in turn suggests products from paying partners.

In doing so, Google pushes the boundaries of fair data use. Further, whenever it alters its search algorithms, Google creates tidal waves across the media industry, and impacts every single business with an Internet presence. Because of Google’s size, every business owner and media publisher must at a minimum pay attention to these changes, if not yield to them.

Google, The Data Bully

Google Searching
Image by Charles Ovens

Consider how Google pressures sites and companies to provide their data for free. When content owners and publishers say no, Google often replicates the data or it launches a competive product to replicate the creation of that data. This basically tells every data owner to you open their database to Google, or face competition from the Silicon Valley giant. Don’t be evil, indeed.

In many ways, Google’s creation of Google+ sought to replace paid access to Twitter and other social network sites that bar public search crawls. By making Google+ and Google Authorship components of its search algorithm, Google forced Plus upon content publishers and website owners. As a result, Google+ is actively marketed by millions of websites across the globe.

What would happen if the Justice Department acted and demanded that Google pay its competitors, and that Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn social data received equal weight in Google searches?

I’ll tell you what. Most content publishers would stop trying to make Google+ work. A vast majority of those G+ social buttons across the social web would disappear like outdoor Christmas lights retired in the midst of January.

Google+ would collapse. And maybe it should.

In its quest to ensure data quality and drive more revenue, Google consistantly pushes the boundaries of privacy. The list of privacy violations is significant (scroll to the end of this Huffington Post piece). You have to wonder what’s going to happen with data from Glass and Nest.

The search algorithm changes impact every media and business across the world with an Internet presence. You can see the panicked Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda update posts that dominated the marketing and publishing interwebs over the past two years.

Last year Google deployed filtered emails based on keywords and data to create a less spammy email experience. Even Gmail filter changes impacted millions of people and businesses alike. I wonder how many companies have to pay to have their products seen in email ads now? Personally, I’ve had a few emails unnecessarily buried by the new tabs.

With many of these actions, Google forces content creators and site publishers to choose between SEO and smart business. Consider the placement of no follow links in press releases and now guest blogs. Now you can’t transfer Google juice in what should be common sense business activities.

I value organic growth by attracting people to my site more than I care about search algorithms. So I tend to ignore some of the finer points (keyword placement, no follow links on guest blogs I accept, etc.) in favor of a good read, but Google’s changes make me consider each tactic.

Case in Point: Guest Blogs are More than SEO


I read Google Web Spam Leader Matt Cutt‘s arguments last week to eliminate guest blog links from Google’s search algorithm. While I am certain Google sees more blog spam than the average person does, the recommendation to cease guest blogging is a flawed one.

In particular these statements were erroneous: “Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more.”

Though Matt reversed his statement a bit with an amended title and a footnote at the end, this needs to be said loud and clear: Guest blogging is more than SEO.

Guest blogging is an attempt to introduce yourself (or a brand) and garner credibility with new audiences, the virtual road show if you would. In trade, you provide quality content. Even a respected author understands that.

Let me give you some examples:

I wrote a novel call Exodus last year that’s still realtively new. So I guest blogged last Wednesday on To Read, or Not to Read about the possibility of technology destroying us. It was a fun post that delved into post-apocalyptic narration and world building as storytelling devices. It also introduced the book to new audiences.

Then last Thursday I blogged about the coming Zombie Content Apocalypse on Copyblogger. Copyblogger is one of the top blogs in my business. It is always a great opportunity to offer a guest by-line there.

In both cases I delivered unique content to the sites. I believe the original content was useful and interesting to those communities. As a result, I gained a few new followers and contacts from these efforts.

If you told me I would be penalized by Google before I drafted the posts, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Guest blogs and articles remain a strong tactic. That is true with or without Google’s blessing.

This type of situation seems to happen with Google monthly, if not more frequently. And that is the problem with the Internet giant. Small moves create massive waves when you have all the power.

Google Is Threesome


So how should Google be broken up? Personally, I think Google should be broken up into three companies to create a fairer Internet ecosystem.

The first is the search engine itself as a stand-alone product. When tied to other content elements on the Internet, Google search achieves insurmountable economies of scale. Google tends to leverage search, its various sepearate content mechanisms, and its software (Chrome and Android) for unfair advantages, most notably data mining and the weighting of Google+ in its search algorithm.

The second company would be software products, from Gmail to Android. Also included in this second company would be YouTube, Chrome, Feedburner, and other application elements. In many ways, search is search, and company x is content. We will call this company Google2.

Google3 would be comprised of the hardware companies. Glass, Motorola and Nest would be form Google3. Why seperate these companies from the group? Google clearly uses data to its advantage. Creating and acquiring new devices to capture data seems to be an evolving pattern here, and one that leads to a slippery slope. Separation creates a forced check and balance.

So there you have it, my vision for a safer Internet sans the Google Empire. Much like AT&T, the Baby Bells, and Lucent Technologies in the post telecom divestiture era, the three Google companies would all be very powerful in their own right.

Google Pays to Avoid Trust Busting


Like other big business lobbies, Google will likely avoid action or penalities for leveraging all of its business powers. Google pays to make sure its agenda is at the forefront of DC legislators’ and administrators’ minds. There are too many dollars at stake.

Washington, DC is a town built on special interest dollars. We all know this; the money involved is a central problem in today’s political gridlock.

Google was the largest tech lobbying company in DC in 2013 with $14 million spent. Ironically, this is a significant decrease over the prior year when Google faced antitrust action.

Though Google may be too powerful, it would take significant public outcry for Washington to act. Google knows the game and plays the system on every corner. We will have to continue dealing with Google’s data manipulation and Internet tactics.

It could be worse. While often overbearing in its moves, at least Google realizes that it can only grow by committing to better search, less spam, and useful information and data products. While I advocate for Google’s breakup, I’d much rather see this management team operating with these economies of scale as opposed to Facebook’s executives. That would be dangerous indeed.

What do you think? Should the government break Google up? Is the company too powerful?

Featured image via The Digital Reader. Capitol Building photo taken by me.

Google Author Rank and the Have Nots

Image by Mukumbura

Image by Mukumbura

The rush to become officially integrated into the Google Author Rank system or has begun. It’s unfortunate, because Google Authorship forces weighted search rankings that favor popularity and SEO skills over substance.

If content creators want to optimize our chances of being read, what choice do we have but to implement the system? Our search results depend on it.

There have been many blogs about how to implement Google’s Author Rank system, but this isn’t one of them.

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Vanessa Fox Discusses Search, Siri and Social

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Meet Vanessa Fox, one of the most brilliant minds in the interactive marketing space. I was first introduced to her at an event a couple of years ago here in DC.

In addition to running her own interactive agency Nine By Blue, Vanessa literally created Google’s portal for site owners, Webmaster Central. She just released the second edition of her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, one of the best resources you can buy to understand how search impacts business outcomes, as well as content creation and social media marketing.

Rather than wax poetic about Vanessa’s strengths, I asked her some questions about voice search, semantic data, social networking and more. Her answers are just amazing. And with that, here we go…

Will Voice Search Change Everything?

Geoff: How big of a disruptor does voice based search represent?

Vanessa: For the near term, voice search will likely not be all that disruptive but we’re in early days. The biggest initial change will likely be for searchers.
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Content, Search and Social: A Love Triangle

Caitlin Livingston & the Pyramids
My wife Caitlin “holds” a pyramid in her hands…

Experienced online marketers know there is no avoiding integrating content, search and social for a complete Internet strategy. They are irrevocably tied together, and increasingly so with Google, Bing and other search engines focused on adding social context to search.

I was reminded of this reading Top Rank Blogger and CEO Lee Odden‘s Optimize, which tackles the triple crown of online marketing – SEO, social media, and content marketing – with a deft hand. If you haven’t read it yet, Optimize does a great job of taking readers through the process of conducting research, choosing approaches, and encouraging familiar and new tactics alike to optimize just about every imaginable part of your online presence.

The dirty secret about social media was that in the beginning it was completely search driven with content and blogs sourced as primary content. Marketers began using blogs to compliment traditional marketing and trumping traditional web pages with fresh new content. Then social networks like Facebook and Twitter became entrenched in the online space. Search increasingly used social verification to qualify online content.
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