Archive for the ‘content’ Category

Oh, grow up!

My, how you've grown this year!

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In many ways, the holistic e-trinity of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook is starting to gel with users of each and share resources. App makers are paying more attention to joining all of the myriad of social tools available into a more seamless social web terrain…and it’s working. Social tools are starting to overshadow the big boys of the internet that we all thought were untouchable. The numbers on Facebook’s overtaking of Google in terms of raw daily visits are staggering! Facebook was not that long ago still too much of a MySpace to be taken seriously by Fortune 500 companies, much less thinking people.Now it’s vying for top social media tool in the minds of many–myself included. 

How did this happen? My take is the untoward publicity on Facebook’s privacy issues may have actually sparked more debate and discussion and thinking about the private vs. the public by setting the stage with a starter discussion on setting permissions. Meanwhile, Facebook was busy integrating with other apps that allow interaction of accounts with popular social networking tools. Certainly there have been an onslaught of new innovative apps that sew together user experience across platforms that formerly saw each other in more competitive terms. This cooperative spirit has led to more cross-platform communicators demonstrating new potential just on the fringe of what is currently materialized. People are, in short, doing real Web 2.0 on a more grand scale. Companies are becoming more adaptive to “black swans“, the events that shake up and sometimes make or break a company or group. Things are, in short, speeding up, evolving. 

I think we also have to credit the recently emerged FourSquare and Google Buzz to some extent, for simply stirring the pot in significant, game-changing ways. We also can’t forget the iPhone, which has really pulled together the idea of bringing the social web to life as a compact do-it-all personal accessory. Not the just ability to pull it together, but the branding savvy and ability to get adoption on a mass-scale has forced other phone makers to predictably follow suit. Oddly enough, only Apple has actually topped the iPhone, but making a tablet that will probably exceed all other tablets before it. 

The social web consists of overlapping conversations within an inherently open-ended forum, not "marketing messages" and not exclusively "chat messages" like previously. As everyone seeks a role an expanding conversation with rapidly expanding participation from outside itself, the conversation takes on a different, more "not final" aspect. And social media marketing players will in the future likewise consist increasingly of niche partners providing value to the public (and private) domain of the social, not "competitors" grasping for "limited" market share.

 

In reality, however, I think each new player, each new alternative is becoming a niche provider of unique opportunities in contradistinction to the others that can’t grow without the others. Sort of like covering angles and omitting investiture into already-branded areas. The market has always had this principle at work, of course, but now the innovation curve is speeding up fast enough to make the principles of branding your niche much more of an inescapable realization. 

As things begin to cook, I wonder how personalities will play out in this more integrated social web that sees not so much competitors, but instead of emerging cooperating niche  partners? For now it seems that there are a lot of talking heads but the leadership structures are still forming and changing around, with few visible mega-movements actually affecting the culture at large. There have been a lot of emerging movements-to-be being kicked around. The Linchpin Way is one tiny but serious example of such a little movement trying to take make a big difference. In the end, I think they are a step along the way to what I called in a previous post, a sense of appreciation and awe at the idea and goal of community-at-large: the desire to serve an open-ended sense of community, rather than one particular enclave (for example, “me and my friends/company/partners/family”, etc.). It’s simply the idea that since the market is actually becoming global even at the local level, that it should think in a way that recognizes itself as a single interconnected all-tribe, made up of legions of smaller tribes. 

Books by Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk (can you believe Brogan doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page yet?) have sparked discussion and inspired groups and projects, and of course, entire movements within marketing and social media as a region of thought. While such movements may be in many cases still in their infancy, this is an interesting development for me, because I can for the first time see people sacrificing more than just the time to blog for 5 minutes about something that popped up on Twitter. If people actually start changing their schedules, they start to refocus and change their lives, and then they may be more open to some of the more open-ended movements like The Linchpin Way, or say, even community-at-large (a phrase which I think actually does have a uniquely functioning meaning beyond reducing it to “good marketing” or “widening market-reach” or even “spirituality” or whatever). 

Whatever turns it takes, I think that the unstoppable Hegelian dialectic of social and cultural movements inevitably requires us to grow up along with the tools we us in the social web as it has in areas like nuclear war/energy, the environment, and the prospect of unending nation-building in unstable parts of the world. Social media will require that we grow up a little socially (not just technologically) by making us bump up against one another, via and outside of our own tribes, even despite our own tribes. Perhaps the term ought to be “social technology”, since it refocuses us on the nature of how technologies shape the world, us and the very notion of the social, instead of faintly promoting the lingering delusion of a “fair and balanced” or democratic media with no shaping function. 

However you look at it, we’re now able to literally rub shoulders with virtually anyone with a smart phone with wireless capability, including actual heads of state (in some limited cases) and thought-leaders from every sector and part of the world. Perhaps the mind-blowing reality of the” social” in social media will be when homeless start becoming power-users via libraries and cheap cellphones with universal wireless connections. What would you say/tweet to a homeless person? Would it be the type of thing you’d tweet to others? How would the whole “living large” mindset of the upwardly mobile play out as the internet opens up to the far reaches of the rural areas of the so-called “third world”? How do modernized people look to those outside that parameter? And finally, would your social media movement shrivel a bit at the prospect of a truly universal world-wide web? If not, could it grow to meet the challenge? 

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Building Presence = Building True  Community

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This is a tiny voice in the wind that’s gonna be heard in the end.

I’ve been thinking about social media and trust a lot lately. Not getting to attend SXSW Interactive this year made me watch the events there vicariously and start to ponder the meaning of it all. I saw Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, get slammed for being boring, for not engaging the audience with meaningful content in his keynote event–people AT the event were texting it to their Twitter accounts, his own company’s application! I saw how human and sometimes even completely LOST people at SXSW seemed to be when it came to what was happening to them. I kind of appreciated it. It made more sense of everything that’s currently wrong with social media for me.

This all got me to thinking about the lingering delusions that the social media “elite” seems to have going, and I came up with a solution that seems to me the only way I care to get behind. If it’s social media, then why do so many of the people who “lead” it seem to be so…unsociable? I watch as I and tons of others approach these unapproachable leaders of the social, or step on their toes by seeking their precious approval. Makes any sense whatsoever? It’s one thing when people are objectifying you as…whatever, but these were basically all people just trying to engage the “social media” leader, to engage a supposed authority. Hmmm…

I recently wrote a more lengthy and detailed “how-to” on setting up a social media presence quickly and painlessly, but the how is kind of easy compared to the WHY. So now I’d like to lay out my own thoughts on social media strategy and what it means to “build trust”.

What does “trust” even mean on the internet–or marketing? Why should we worry about trust if the goal is to sell? In short, because the goal of selling is too greedy-hearted to make the incredibly long haul to true success. Okay, maybe this point is easy. But how does one “give up” selling?

Companies do not live. People live. And people work in companies. When the company hits an iceberg, hopefully the people exit the ship and have somewhere good and warm to go. Hopefully they’ll pull together and share resources, take care of each other. When a ship hits an iceberg, people remember what’s important. Well, when a company is riding high on the waves, shouldn’t we still keep people firmly in focus? Aren’t people the point ALL the time? So why doesn’t it feel that way in the cold shadow of some of the more prominent Twitterers, for instance? Are cliques killing the democratic “social web” dream? Individual reps on Twitter are the company, after all. I notice more and more the strategy here, and it’s basically something along the lines of “talk only to those who can make me/my organization shine more.” I GUESS that’s a version of being social, but it’s not exactly the way I want to be social…

In working with clients who sell all kinds of things and services, it has become clear that the ones who break new ground are the ones who envision themselves from another perspective. The way they become engaging is by demonstrating an appreciation for community. They all “gave” to some extent and the feeling of receiving “so much” and without any sales pressure is what didn’t sell everyone, but is what did sell more than they previously sold. I saw it. I helped measure it in some cases.

If you’re a celebrity, let’s face it, you’re here to rally fans, but regardless of who you are or what you do, you’ll need something to engage people with if you’re going to use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and say Digg or Buzz as a rallying point for your social media front. Engagement is in the final analysis, about giving, building community. Building social media presence should therefore really be an act of building rapport and  community.

I propose that community is the only way to love what you do and make it work. Moreover, I propose that community-at-large is the only kind of community worth having in the end, because it has no antithesis, no ultimate opposition, no counter-productive tendencies. Community absorbs minor passing frictions. Community is a church of good values for the sake of good values. I propose not only that community is the point, but that you have to start somewhere, in a smaller community perhaps that will allow you to work as if it’s for everyone, until the day that you stop questioning whether or not what you do is for the good of everyone. I propose that if you can’t see where you fit into the communities that exist around you, then you need to take a step back and reflect on what community means to you. Why do anything where it’s “me against them” or even “us against them” or even “us against that guy over there”? The only kind of community that feels right is the end is the kind that doesn’t omit anyone. When you can see your place in a potential community-at-large situation, then you can help build or even create the kind of meaningful relationships you need to succeed at being a whatever-you-wanna-call-it.

Representing the values of being a good member of the community is going to be my argument for how to conduct the building of trust in the new media arena. Giving what’s needed when its needed most, even if it’s just…space. Demonstrating a lack of greed and an abundance of good intention. And the only way to demonstrate all that…is to go ahead and become it, not just to say it, but to do.

I recommend that companies practice building social media presence by rethinking what they’re actually doing in the first place. By focusing on making their event horizon an engagement with the community-at-large in terms of giving to the community-at-large. I want them to FORGET to take credit and get wrapped up in the giving part. I mean, think about it. Don’t we all secretly wish that all CEOs were evangelists for community-at-large?

This…community-at-large…is the only place where you’ll come to see your role in other people’s lives (including customers and clients) and begin to develop a conversation with them, and with what was formerly your “target audience.” This is where social media and your communications can actually get fun and start to become more like mingling at a cozy gathering of people doing more than quoting famous people and smiling through their teeth with one finger on the “SELL!” button.

THE ROBOT FACTOR

Malfunctioning Eddie, the Robot Car Salesman: "At these prices, I must be malfunctioning!"

Social media marketing is remarkably often cold and calculated, stiff–alligator smiles. People know PR when they see it. PR always seems to come off as “we are targeting, conditioning, branding, or otherwise doing various stuff to you”. It may fly in the moment, but people recall, process, grow, mature past such tactics. What we should be doing is communicating with and representing community values of sharing and giving for the sake of sharing and giving. This is where people are happiest and it’s how reputations have always really been made, including the reputations of good companies. If you’re an information-hawker, becoming a socializing giver of great info, innovation, inspiration (how about your own!) and value will in the end make your public image a much more profitable asset–because it’s a reality behind the image.

WHAT COMES OF BEING HUMAN

In the end, community buoys up the good people, and lets the not-so-good rot in their own undoing. People reciprocate kindness, generosity and demonstrated community values. Trust is something basic and elementary built upon experience. It’s not diffcult to be a member of a community. It’s the easiest thing. What’s difficult is holding on to the idea that you are somehow completely separate from all of these “others”. What a herculean act of will THAT is.
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Who are you fishing for?

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I realize that my own blogging is still relatively young in blog years. And no, I’m not engaged in a competitive attempt to get the goat of bloggers here–it’s something else. A very tricky “something else” (I can be kind of a tricky guy).   

Marketers often aim for a non-existent target reader. It shows in how they address their as-yet-to-be-defined audience. Instead of shooting for a tin can in their backyard in the well-lit daylight, they’re aiming for an abstract moon at dusk. Why we do this is sometimes a mystery upon closer examination. And then it hits you: “I haven’t even thought through who my audience actually is yet!”   

This is a frightening thing for a content writer who blogs or writes copy for their own sites. It’s even more scary for those who write for a client. Not knowing exactly who you are writing TO is a problem more writers have then they themselves would like to admit. The reasons are mainly of one sort: time.   

The feeling is that we don’t have time to focus enough to fully penetrate who this reader really is and thus we we’re really writing this content in the first place. Copy is a misleading term, because it’s not about copying anybody or being unoriginal, in fact copy writers are expected to be original and startling, to unnerve and shake the reader’s expectations up in the blender of creative expression.   

So how is it that we become unclear whom a piece  is for? Because the illusion of time. Time is not hindering you from putting your best effort forward, a lack of focus is doing that. That just means you aren’t focusing because your environment or your mood is off, not tuned in to the creative process. It’s not that other people are hindering you so much as your lack of ability to focus.   

I’m always taken aback by people and “experts” who claim that creativity is hindered by influence…really? Really think you can create without influence? Try it some time and see just how full of influences everything you do really is! There is no creation without influence. Even your own creations of 1-2-3 influence your next creations of 4-5-6.   

A writer is ultimately doomed to be influenced in all “original” creations. Deal with that and you’re going to be able to see that it’s not what you are handed, but what you’re doing with what you’ve been handed that matters. That’s what the reader inherently knows to look for. As a writer, however, we can get lost from this realization about the creative process.   

When you think you’re writing for social marketers specifically for a particular piece, you may in fact be writing for all marketers. This piece, for example, is for all content writers, but if it were just for social marketers, I should probably want to address items in detail that they are confronted with, like say, how to writer with a hook title, how to include the best possible excerpt teaser, or how to have a burning red-hot focus on the point of the piece throughout. Since it’s not about any of those, I’m more all over the place on this one, but that’s more to the point of my purpose here.   

In hindsight, this entire post is a kind of throat-clearing as a writer. I think (I hope) it may help others in the congregation to feel it’s okay now to clear theirs, as well. At least that’s how it always seems to go the few times I found myself in a pew. Want to cough? Go ahead! Cough up a comment or two while you’re at it! [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Detour Ahead

Detour Ahead

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We often get lost as site owners in seeing how our site is actually useful or not as useful from the user’s perspective. There are countless books on usability for sale and lots of free tips on the internet, but what is the essence of good usability? I’m going to say that it’s about leading… 

Let’s face it, the visitor to your site is there either: 

A) by accident (it’s not exactly what they were thinking it was) 

or 

B) to accomplish a goal of some kind. 

Assuming that the visitors that stay are in the B category, we must then assume that they prefer to have a helpful bit of hand-holding to get where they need to go.  Afterall, you simply can’t afford to assume that they already know your site, or will appreciate that “you just have to get used to it!”. 

A website (unless it’s actually intended to be used as a work of art) is used to find information in the form of text, images, and other media. All of this must happen via the visual sense of sight (or in the case of blind users, the alt tags and other accessibility user interface tools). Since most users of most sites tend to be non-blind, let’s focus on visuals. A site’s usability can be accurately gauged in terms of content scanning cues–the presence or lack of helpful scanning cues. Why? Because nobody is reading your site from top left to bottom right. Sorry if that’s a shock to anyone, but…we all scan information, epecially in our free moments when we are surfing the web, or even during research. We have to scan to conserve our time. Thus, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of visual cues (as well as alt tags where possible for the seeing-impaired users). 

Next, you’ll want to be sure to provide titles of sections of content when appropriate, epecially when your site contains different categories of content. A sub-index of media like videos, and one for images can really be helpful to researchers who are looking for the information you provided, but are not otherwise going to find it. This next step is something that is a pain in the rear, and is never finished–validation of code. My rule here is simply: keep trying to validate your site once a month or however often you can allot the time. If you don’t have the resources to have someone to webmaster every site you own, just make a schedule and try to try. Again, my own sites probably suffer the most in some cases. By validating regularly, the users will appreciate the effort over time. 

We all want our websites to be work well worth the effort. Taking the time to ensure proper usability creates more busy work for those who tend to the company website(s). In the end, however, the site’s traffic and conversions all depend upon this most crucial aspect of any website. Getting them there is nothing if they turn away in disgust upon arrival. 

Be a good host–mind the store like an undercover CEO would on your sites. Poke around, make sure the presentation meets the ideal user’s needs. I’m going to try harder on this one, too. After all, the whole reason for this post is that I noticed one of my own original sites has long languished without a validation and usability review. Don’t let my mistake also be your own. 🙂 

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