Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How Real is the Information Companies Collect Online?

Everyone knows that 28.3% of statistics are made up on the spot. Or was that 53.9%? Or 88.1%?

At some point, you're going to find yourself contacting a company online. Whether it's through a Social Media profile or by traditional email, we all sometimes need to get an answer, express an opinion or make a point. When we do - how much of what we tell the company about ourselves is true? Companies use the data for their own market research. They look at the typical demographics of the people who contact them - and often the psychographics, as well. But are we giving them good information?

I've created a one-question poll about this. What are the different ways we skew companies' market research when we contact them online? I hope you'll take a moment to answer this one question! http://questionpro.com/t/AF0DiZJ5Tp

Let's see if it's time to set Market Research straight about the reliability of their data...or not!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Currencies of Social Media; Social Media as Currency

 It's been said many times that the two currencies of business are Time and Money. In order to succeed at business, at least one of these two will have to be spent. This is true for successful use of Social Media for your business, as well. In reality, Your time is worth more than money. Money can be replaced, time spent can never be regained.

But, Social Media is changing as rapidly as the needs of the audience. There are more currencies than just Time or Money being used. Not all of these currencies have real-world applicability, but many do. Let's take a look at the currencies of the Social Media landscape right now.

Expertise - Sites such as Quora and LinkedIn and any of the spaces on which you communicate with your customers are built on the currency of Expertise. People have questions - you have answers. Good answers are rewarded with cognitive authority and future trust. Indications of this on LinkedIn are "Best Answers," on Quora your status rises physically. In your own spaces, you build a reputation for being someone to do business with. You gain the trust of your customers and, with the proper tools, they will share their feelings with their peers.

Expertise is a strong currency in Social Media, with rising real-world value. 

Entertainment/Interest - Social Media platforms like Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal  use the currency of Entertainment or Interest. What are you doing? Is it interesting? Can you provide links, photos or statuses that entertain your "friends?" The nature of entertainment on these sites is going to be set by the tone of the account - a political awareness account or charity will have a different tone, but the currency remains entertainment and intertest. Your friends and followers want you to keep them informed and aware. They want to know that you are paying attention to them.

Entertainment/Interest is an unstable currency, expect a lot of ups and downs as fads change needs. 

Information/Communication - Platforms such as Twitter and your own Blog or website are based on the Twin currencies of Information and Communication.  These two currencies are inextricably linked. Your really can't buy into one without the other. Once you begin Communicating with people, Information is shared between you. The value of that Information is for you to decide - conversation with a best friend about nothing over dinner may in fact have more value to you than an important meeting at work. Likewise any discussion about your business may be of high value to you, but less to the other person. Or, you may discuss an "irrelevant" topic that brings you and the other person more closely together. These currencies are critical, but personal.

Information/Communication are slow-growth currencies that gain in value steadily over time.

Physical Presence -  Like Time, your actual physical presence is limited by the laws of physics. You only have one you. You can only be in one place at a time. Foursquare, Gowalla, GetGlue and review sites bank on the fact that YOU are the most valuable thing to you. Your physical presence, your efforts, your time are combined into one currency which they use to measure your worth to a business.

Physical Presence is a currency that is undervalued by traders. Is your time/self really worth a badge or a sticker?

Social Media Use - The newest currency in Social Media is...Social Media itself. Sites like Klout measure your worth relative to other Social Media users. With the current interest in gamification of Social Media, it's no surprise that a Social Media platform that transforms Social media use into virtual currency now exists. The problem with these is that for many people, there is a tendency to forget the use of Social Media for purposes of sharing information, communicating with people and being entertained, for the sake of amassing virtual status. Like the many individuals and businesses who spent a lot of time doing the same on Second Life, they may find that the use of Social Media itself as currency leaves them with very little value in the real world.

Social Media Use is a very weak currency.

For small- and medium-sized business owners, trading on their own reputation - when it provides real-life value - is a good use of precious resources.  Avoid sacrificing real value for virtual currency and you'll keep your Social Media on track for growth.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Analysis of Spam on Three Blogging Platforms

WordPress, Blogger and Squarespace: All are popular blogging platforms. At the moment, I happen to be blogging on all three. Today we'll take a look at the spam each platform receives and see what we can learn from it.


Widely considered the only real choice for a professional blog, WordPress has a vast array of customizable options, widgets, plugins and tools for the business owner. Blogs can be self-hosted, and matched to your website format, or even used as the backend for your website. Recently, I chose to do this for one of my websites. My choice was based on the need for an incredibly flexible solution, but revolving around content, not e-commerce. Wordpress offered me the solution I was looking for; static pages that could be updated on the fly, and posts that allowed for more interactivity, with total control over the comments. Plugins and tools provide the site with a slightly changing facade to provide a lively feeling.

Even with the Akismet plugin to filter out the most obvious spam, WP gets about 25-30 spam posts a day. Current ratio of spam to real comments is 200:1.((This is at least in part to the fact that commenting on the site is a new concept, but this is a much, much higher amount of spam than on any other platform I have encountered.)

WP spam is polite. It compliments you on your writing or the site design and tells you that it will be back. And it will, if you don't mark it as spam and delete it. An example might read, "I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am starting a website soon, and your information will be very useful for me.. Thanks for all your help and wishing you all the success in your business." This spam is typically posted by a real-sounding name, with a link to an inoffensive sounding blog. If you check the blog link (and I don't actually recommend doing that too often, as these spam blogs are often loaded with malware) you'll find that they are spam farms.


Blogger is the Reader's Digest of blogging platforms. So simple that most professionals dismiss it, it has some genuine advantages. The primary advantage is that it is a very simple platform to learn how to use. There is limited customization available and not nearly as many plugins, tools and widgets as there are for WordPress, but there are some. Control of commenting is limited to approving, rejecting as spam or deleting comments; no comment editing is possible at this time. Because of its simplicity, I adore Blogger. When I want to focus on content, not formatting, Blogger is my go-to platform.

There are no filtering widgets for spam on Blogger but, spammers tend to hit Blogger much more rarely - perhaps because it is not considered to be a "professional" space. In a reversal of the ratio of spam to comments, I see about 1:200 on my Blogger sites.

Blogger spam is obvious. Unlike Wordpress Spam, Blogger Spam is clearly spam. Links in a spam comment almost always clearly point to a spam farm or porn site. Rarely does Blogger spam pretend to be anything it is not. Recently, there has been a very slow shift to more polite "masked" spam, but links to Sunglasses R Us really can't hide too well among relevant Blogger comments.


Squarespace is a platform that is more advanced than Blogger, but not nearly as widely used as WordPress. Widgets are not plentiful, but the tools provided with the basic blog are more advanced than with Blogger. There are no anti-spam plugins available for Squarespace and while editing is possible, it's probably not useful against spam. Delete is your friend. Squarespace has a very clogged flash-driven design that can be customized with relative ease...as long as your browser likes Flash.

Spam on Squarespace is hot and heavy. Not content with one subtle link to a spam site, Squarespace spam are long lists of brand-name handbags, shoes, sunglasses, each with their own link. Spammers might hit the same post three or four times with the same list of links. The blog I post on gets a ratio of about 50:1 spam to comment.

Spam on Squarespace is in your face. This is the comment equivalent of walking through a crowded bazaar, while vendors scream brand names at you. You can tune it out, but the din is still there.


Blogger might be the little brother to WordPress, but the lack of spam can make it appealing to people with niche audiences who don't want to waste time dealing with garbage.

WordPress offers the best tools for dealing with spam, but the most sophisticated spammers are flying under those radars. Don't fall for strangers commenting about your great design - consider the source.

Squarespace might provide an alternative to the other two blogging solutions, but the spam hammer hits hard. It might not be worth the effort to pan for gold in your comments.

Spam is a fact of blogging life. Knowing what you're trying to accomplish and how much time you have to give it will help you decide which blogging platform to choose. 


Postscript: If you have a Typepad or Tumblr blog and would like to have your analysis added to this article, please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pounding In Nails That Stick Out: Gamification and the Intersection of Social Media and Business

Good group dynamics is a miraculous and amazing thing. In the best of times, it appears that the entire group has had one idea simultaneously and each person can bring their skills to bear to make the project happen. It's as if one has somehow stepped into a Mickey Rooney movie and every kid is pitching in to put on the show.

Group dynamics online can work that way. A dedicated group of people can bring their skills to create just about anything, from an online community to a new paradigm of charity donations. But, often when you enter that community - especially if you are a latecomer - you find that group dynamics work according to unwritten rules, and often seem to adhere to the old Japanese adage of a harmonious society - pound in the nail that sticks out.

Think for a moment about the kinds of communities that build up on MMORPGS (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games) like World of Warcraft. Individual achievement is recognized and rewarded, but groups can and do turn on their own members if one player exceeds the rest significantly. "We're all in this together, so don't get ahead of yourself" is the unwritten rule in group play. In real life, there are plenty of people who can't feel happy for those who succeed where they don't - the online world is no different. Of course it isn't - people don't change, only the technology does. So, where a nail sticks out in an online community, you have to expect that there will be people who want to pound it back in.

Which brings me to Quora.

I want to say upfront - I love Quora.

Quora is a Question and Answer forum that has a user base with high computer and business literacy, which sets it apart from more mainstream Q&A platforms like Yahoo Answers or LinkedIn Answers. Also unlike these two platforms, Quora maintains a relatively high standard for both questions and answers. Q&As are expected to be well-written, intelligent and conversation-forwarding.

Quora also has integrated several features that allow other users to upgrade, support and downgrade your status on the system.

Other users can (and do) suggest edits for your answers - and they can manipulate your standing within the platform by up- or down-voting your answers. Users can tag your questions to help promote them - or to indicate that you are asking the question based on an assumption that others might not have. For instance, if I ask you, "Which is the Best Chocolate EVER, Godiva or Lindt?" I am assuming that either one or the other is the best chocolate ever. A better question is, "What chocolate do you consider the best chocolate EVER?" (In case you care, the best chocolate ever, IMHO, is from a company called Li-Lac in NYC.)

In effect, Quora has turned the kind of information-sharing reference librarians have engaged in for ages into a game. You receive status for well-answered and well-asked questions. These virtual pats on the head manipulate your status on the platform in real time. A person with many up-votes automatically jumps to the top of a list of answers, based on past expertise and reputation.

For the best article I've read on participation on Quora, read this post, Welcome to Quora, Do Yourself a Favor & Slow Down by Lucretia Pruitt.

What I wanted to talk about today is what happens when you start to receive status on a community like Quora.

Quora is a republic. The leaders are Citizens #1, as indicated by laurels awarded by their fellow citizens in the form of up-votes. And, as happens in such groups, some citizens forget that the point of the Republic is to maintain a high quality of life for everyone...they become focused on pulling those top Citizens down from their pedestal. This is also part of human nature.

As soon as a person starts gaining status on Quora, they might find that they encounter more, rather than less, down-voting. Truly influential people are targeted by cliques of users determined to undermine their status. The higher one rises...the more effort there is to pound them back down as a reward for sticking out.

Google is about to launch +1 as a new feature. Consumers will be able to affect companies' status in search returns with this tool. In effect, this adds a more public leveling up or down to the sharing function of Facebook's ubiquitous "like" button. People can "share" your business with the world - they can also up-vote you. It doesn't take a genius to see that action committees/cliques/private armies will be formed to manipulate this.

Facebook, Google and Quora are hardly the only companies to "gamify" the intersection of Social Media and business. Foursquare and Crunchyroll offer achievement badges for participation, Get Glue offers stickers and t-shirts, even my other blog offers badges of honor. Gamification is here to stay. Gamification turns your business into a citizen in a republic.

Gamification of business and information means that gaming etiquette reigns.

Individual achievement is rewarded....but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep one eye looking behind you at all times.

Nails that stick out too far are liable to be pounded back in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Social Media is Your New Front Desk - Who's Answering The Phone?

For fourteen years, I worked at an advertising agency that was, for many of those years, voted the most-respected agency in the field. This agency had the world's most amazing receptionists.

The two women who answered the phones were the most professional receptionists I'd ever encountered. When I arrived for my interview, they knew who I was supposed to see and when. In my years of working there, I saw them memorize clients names, the account representatives they belonged to and even family members. As a client, you were greeted by name, the person you would want to speak with was known - and their whereabouts were confirmed for you. "Oh, John, hi! Jane is out of the office, but she'll be back by 1. I'll have her call you." You were never told to call back - you would always be called.

I have never again encountered receptionists that good. A colleague recently told me about their new receptionist who, when asked to transfer a call to a department in their company replied with "I don't work for that department." As it happens, she was not only inappropriate, but she was also wrong. Sure, she was corrected, but what damage had been done? A potential client was turned away...or a current client was stonewalled. What message does that send?

The same holds true for Social Media. In many cases, your Social Media profiles are peoples' first contact with your company.

There is a company in my industry with a problematic Twitter feed. The tweets are full of factual, grammar and spelling errors. A recent April Fool's Day joke was tasteless and potentially actionable. The joke among industry peers is that we shouldn't bug the poor, unsupervised intern. There is a high likelihood of this being the truth about this Twitter feed. Clearly, no one is watching them, training them, editing or vetting these tweets. And if this is not the truth, what does it say about the company?

Think of Social Media as your front desk. Do you put your best, most dedicated employees out there to make first-line contact? Would you put an uninspired, untrained intern on the front desk?

You know who answers your phones - know who is responsible for your Social Media. Give them clear, specific rules of interaction so that every time they interact with a client or potential client, you put your best foot forward. Your new Front Desk is waiting for a fantastic receptionist.

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