The #xPotomac14 Compendium

xPotomac 2014 or #xPotomac14 was held last Friday at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. Speakers include keynotes Robert Scoble, Jim Long, and session leaders Lauren Vargas, Toby Bloomberg, Peter Corbett, and Allyson Kapin and Danielle Brigida.

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Early reviews show a successful event. Mike Schaeffer wrote, “The 2014 edition [of xPotomac] brought it strong, with an array of presenters, that all told one major story: Success in communications and technology will be predominantly based on strategically taking advantage of opportunities in front of you.”

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Monica added, “What I found interesting was the fact that none of the speakers used extemporaneous PowerPoints. Instead, they used handhelds with colorful mind maps to remind them where they were in their talk (kudos to Kathryn Garrett for first pointing this out via Twitter). The result was more eye contact and audience interaction than you typically get when speakers are stuck in a pre-personal computer = overhead transparencies paradigm.”

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As you can see, people tweeted about the content throughout the conference. And tweet they did. xPotomac trended for 35 minutes on Friday making it the 68th most popular topic in the country that day, according to Trendinalia United States.

xPotomac14 Word Cloud

Official xPotomac influence partner Zoomph tallied more than 3100 tweets and Instagram updates with a reach of more than 20 million people were posted last week and through the weekend. Not bad for 100 people coming together for a few conversations. The above Zoomph word cloud shows the 50 most referenced words in all those tweets.

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Who was the greatest influencer of them all? Tinu Abayomi-Paul rocked her smartphone and took the prize, says Zoomph.

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Most folks said they had a lot of fun (including emcee Shana Glickfield, who photo bombed me), and enjoyed the conference more than last year’s. Further, it seems we’ve transcended the increasinly distant BlogPotomac series that served as a foundation for the current xPotomac.

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Co-founders Patrick Ashamalla (above), Shonali Burke and myself will bring xPotomac back next year at the Copley Formal Lounge thanks to our relationshiop with Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology program. Look for more great speakers like Robert, Jim, Danielle and Allyson (pictured below), Toby, Peter and Lauren. In the interim, you can see all my photos from the event here. And we will roll out videos of the individual speaker sessions over the next month or so.

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Thank you to everyone — attendee, sponsor and of course, our speakers — who made xPotomac happen. What did you think of #xPotomac14?

P.S. Since publishing, Brian Conlin published his “Six Brain-Bending Ideas from xPotomac 2014” on the Vocus blog. Check it out.

Will the House of Cards Stand?

Netflix released House of Cards Season Two this past Friday. Like other avante garde TV series from disruptive non-traditional networks, it created quite a stir. But does the show owe its buzz more to Netflix’s strategy of releasing a whole season at once than people actually watching the program?

Let’s be clear, Netflix generates a ton of publicity through its whole season release strategy (hat tip: Andy Sternberg). Even President Barack Obama is excited about the Washington drama.

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Given that word-of-mouth driven online buzz fuels as much if not more viewership than actual network promotions today, one could argue that House of Card‘s PR strategy, while buzzworthy may work against it in the long-term. Without a weekly episode, the program can’t maintain buzz through a season or a year.

Also what if competitors decide to follow suit and release whole seasons at once? Beyonce followed a similar surprise strategy with her most recent album. Will other television producers follow suit? Certainly, the strategy looses its sheen when others partake in the same approach.

But I don’t think Netflix has too much to worry about on that front. I’m not sure other networks will be quick to give up their weekly fix of viewer driven buzz. Let’s take a deeper look at some data.

Chatter versus Viewers

House of Cards Comparison

The above Google Trend analysis shows that other relatively well known newcomers from non-traditional networks are far outpacing Netflix’s House of Cards when it comes to search. The blue line is the TV show House of Cards, yellow is PBS’s Downtown Abbey, red is AMC’s The Walking Dead, and green is HBO’s Game of Thrones.

When people want to find out more about the show, it’s clear that the latter three shows are all benefitting from season long buzz with spikes depending on specific episodes (the massive green spike is the infamous Game of Thrones Red Wedding episode). House of Cards‘ social buzz and media hype is not translating to people seeking out the show through conventional search.

Tweet Chatter

The above chart measured the shows’ official hashtags on Sunday via Hashtags.org. the three shows that were active that weekend — House of Cards, Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead.

House of Cards enjoyed steady traffic compared to the spikes enjoyed by its competitors. In total, it doubled Downton Abbey‘s tweets for Sunday p.m., and achieved about 2/3 of The Walking Dead‘s. However, Monday traffic saw a significant drop, in spite of the federal holiday.

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House of Cards word-of-mouth buzz is not sustaining. I imagine as the weeks pass and the season release buzz fades, #houseofcards chatter will continue to lessen while its competitors will chug along with their weekly spike.

You can infer how the numbers might work out over a period of months. The other shows benefit from weekly releases in the overall cumulative total, while #HouseofCards will level out until its next season release.

It’s not that House of Cards isn’t a good show that may grow in viewership with more seasons. But its release strategy seems to be more of a gimmick than a sustainable method that can be applied across the entire media market. We have seen PR generate tremendous buzz in the past without producing business results. This might be another example.

Even Netflix may recognize the House of Cards release paradigm is not sustainable. The video on demand service will move to a gradual release strategy with its first kids program, Turbo Fast.

It doesn’t help that only 29 million people subscribe to Netflix with more than 20% of subscribers living abroad. But then again, HBO ony has 28 million.

The difference? HBO lets non-subscribers buy individual episodes as do PBS and AMC. House of Cards requires a Netflix subscription, which limits access to those who might be interested in the show sans the full service commitment.

What do you think about the House of Cards buzz?

Facebook Will Not Die Easily

Did you know that more than two million people still access the Internet through AOL dial-up services? Or that the company grew by 6% last year to reach $2.3 billion in revenue? While AOL is oft considered dead by pundits, the company is surviving just fine as a media company with a legacy dial-up business.

In August of 2012, I wrote that Facebook will decline like AOL. I think its worth revisiting given all of the hot debate over Facebook’s impending cancerous death.

Before I wrote the AOL post, I originally modeled a MySpace-like death for Zucerberg and company, but that was wrong. Facebook will not die a fast death. In fact, in the past couple of years it’s become clear that the full and complete collapse of the company is impossible.

Don’t get me wrong. On a personal level, I really dislike Facebook. I personally find a vast majority of the conversations to be mundane or toxic. I am not alone, many users have a wide variety of dislikes, according to Pew Research.

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Like Olivier Blanchard, I think marketers would be wise to develop alternate methods of galvanizing their social communities. There are too many warning signs for any risk-adverse person. Facebook is vulnerable. For example, it’s not the first social network for healthy swaths of the B2B and youth consumer markets.

At the same time, Facebook is almost ubiquitous across the Internet. It’s social share buttons are everywhere. Even with McDonald’s-like weaknesses, Facebook is far and away the largest social network. It has more than three times the amount of active users (900 million) than its nearest competitors, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Economies of scale of this nature don’t collapse over night, nor do they fall in a year. In fact, the only thing that could possibly destroy Facebook is an epic scandal of an unimaginable level… Or Rupert Murdoch buying the company.

What goes up, must come down. Much of the conjecture about Facebook’s death revolves the anticipation of Something Else.

Another parallel can be drawn to broadcast TV. In spite of cable, satellite and Internet-based on-demand video services, broadcast TV continues to survive.

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Why? Because like other markets, the networks have a leadership share that’s hard to overcome. CNN, Fox, ESPN, Netflix, the Weather Channel, etc., may carve their niches, yet they cannot overcome the economies of scale that other networks have. As a result, the original broadcasters continue to purchase quality programming with top actors and newscasters, and sporting events like the NFL and the Olympics. Individual competitors can’t compete on this level day in, day out. As a result, a portion of the U.S. population retains a very basic brand loyalty.

Like AOL and the original broadcast TV networks, Facebook is never going to die. It will acquire other properties like Instagram. It will dwindle, it will likely decline, but Facebook will never disappear. The network is too big to completely fail.

What do you think?

Featured image by Louhan.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

So You Are a Marketer

Imagine this conversation.

“So, you are a marketer,” said the prospect. “In your mind, what makes your company stand out?”

“That’s right,” says Marketer X. “I have one of the most followed blogs in the business, I’ve written x book on marketing, and I have an extremely well followed Twitter account. That’s why brands like xx, xx, and xx trust my company with their digital marketing.”

“But your website doesn’t offer a responsive design,” said the prospect. She swipes her iPhone and shows Marketer X a painfully small rendition of Marketer X’s company blog/website. “Why not?”

Unfortunately for most marketers (and PR pros), they won’t have a chance to defend themselves because the prospect won’t give them a meeting.

This is the curse of digital. When you become wed to the medium, you must evolve with it. And though many have built businesses around digital, they are struggling to adapt to the mobile revolution.

You, see I wrote a blog post for Gravy analyzing top marketing and PR bloggers for their responsive design and social network presence. What I thought would be a quick research exercise turned into a three-hour odyssey. Many, many of the top voices in the business don’t offer a responsive, adaptive or a mobile specific website design.

This is in spite of smartphones outselling computers. Heck, mobile is driving 31% of all web traffic today, and that number will only grow.

The marketing digirati disconnect occurs in spite of blogs regularly citing how important mobile is becoming. Or that marketing consultants use mobile media throughout the day to maintain social networks. Or that they regularly sell digital media strategies.

It was shocking moving from site to site. Whether the website failed to offer any mobile design at all or a cheap WP Touch plugin bandaid — which was great in 2011, but not OK for 2014 — I left surprised.

Perhaps many of the voices offering marketing savoir faire are really just strong in social media with a grounding in a more traditional discipline. But like big data and the analytical skills it requires, mobile presents a new domain that’s often simply batched in as part of the overarching marketing mix. That’s a mistake.

The Necessity of Offers a Mobile Friendly Site

Mobile is not a new wrinkle. People interact with media differently using smartphones, which in turn requires new communication approaches.

The contextual marketing revolution that everyone is talking about pivots off of mobile location. It requires relevancy and a strict approach towards permission-based marketing. Further, to succeed you need to understand geofencing and how distance triggers different behaviors.

Many methods that work on a computer or even a tablet, don’t translate on a mobile phone. Here are a few examples: Long text pieces, a lack of rich media, comment centric media, and generally small calls to action (e.g. links and small buttons) that aren’t easily pressed on with a finger.

Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are rocking it in large part because of their simple nature and rich media formats. These types of short rich media posts work well on mobile platforms. Further, Twitter’s renaissance has as much to do with the rise of smartphones as it does with Jack Dorsey’s return to the helm.

Moving forward, 2014 is the year of separation. Clients will start qualifying vendors by their ability to deliver a mobile experience. And while most social media marketers don’t feature a responsive design for their consultancy, enough do. Part of qualifying marketers will include an analysis of their own mobile offerings, including responsive or adaptive website design.

In the post social media revolution era, talking responsiveness is cheap. Sites speak louder.

What do you think? Is a responsive, adaptive or mobile-specific site a must?

Image by Seron.

Pop Created the Twitter Link Farm

Many people complain about Twitter becoming a stream of links. Now a research report supports their claims, but the surprising reason for the shift is an increase in popularity some users receive, as noted by larger follower counts.

Two professors studied 2500 people on Twitter, and then artificially inflated some of the subject group’s Twitter accounts with new followers. The surprise result?

The newly popular Twitterati found that they couldn’t keep growing their accounts by just sounding off or offering day in the life content. To keep the momentum going they increased frequency posting links and updates, and found that stopped impacting their growth, too.

When that failed, the average follower stopped communicating. They just stopped.

Instead, they started viewing Twitter as a static medium, going in and browsing, and then leaving. Much like one would treat TV. And the posts that are left? Well, those are the links. The study concludes the more links that are on Twitter, the less conversation there will be.

I’ve been on Twitter since March, 2007. While my account never exploded like some of my peers, I have seen relatively consistent growth. Sometimes I have offered more link posts on their to grow my account, and currently, I do less of that (but still some). As you can see by the above chart, that’s never really impacted my growth one way or the other. I never left the Twitter conversation, though.

What causes an account to still grow? The truth? I can only say that I have strived to share useful or fun content, and to be present for others.

Plus, frankly, I enjoy talking with people on Twitter, much more so than Facebook. I know Facebook is more dynamic, but… I think that enjoyment shines through.

However, striking up conversations on Twitter is harder by the month. As the study indicates, the link stream gets thicker. And the genuine @s seem to be dissippating.

What do you think?