The Negatives of Social Networking Media

All the world is a Buzz about Facebook & Twitter these days. It’s almost like MySpace circa 2007, Google circa 2003 or Microsoft circa 1998. I don’t doubt the success, innovation or long-term viability of these social networking sites but I have seen that there are flaws in the system that mean that things won’t be perfect with the business along the way and we’re in for a bumpy road. Basically my point is that for all these sites give us in entertainment, social connections and opportunity they also have some negatives that are almost the equal and opposite pendulum action.

1. Time Suck – all social networking sites are using your time that you used to devote to other things. Maybe in some cases this is actually a better use of your time (instead of TV) but in most cases its time spent that you used to use for researching new information for work projects,  time actually spent talking with people in person (family/friends) or time spent doing things that really need to be done at work or home. Once the brain gets trained that you can go socialize instead of work at those times of day it’s a habit extremely hard to break. For all of us procrastinators looking for instant gratification its a real problem keeping up with work and affects the overall productivity of companies and the country as a whole. Internet access is much more prevalent and has far more users during the business day than it does at night, so there’s the proof. Unless your job is trolling these sites for sales prospects by “connecting” and making “relationships” with your customers, its a waste of time to spend more than 15 min a day.

2. Privacy – Of all the details analyzed about consumer privacy online (on Facebook) in the last few weeks the most suprising thing I’ve seen is that people really don’t care about their information online. Sure, nobody is going to post a ss number or cc number on their profile (duh) but they don’t really seem to realize the power of logging all their social interactions in one database and selling access to retailers and cpg companies who have even larger databases of information to analyze and strategize with. Is it really as fun when most of your friends are companies selling you things all the time? Twitter already has morphed into the largest opt in direct marketing platform I’ve ever seen. If people keep using it at this rate it will surpass email. The other obvious issues come with the work life balance thing and when people friend work makes and think nobody will see them rant about work or post drunk pictures on a sick day, but then again I’ve heard that its just people naturally selecting themselves out of the working pool.

3. Logic – the other issues I’ve seen coming for a while have to do with how everything that is built from large databases online with lots of consumer data seems to not work properly. There is always some algorithm developed by a science tech guy based on some theoretical calculus and it doesn’t provide relevant results. Which brings me to a repeating theme of data right now: we don’t really know what to do with it yet. Nobody knows enough real info about their customers to target them. (who has a budget for that?) And the database people just like to say they improved things a statistically insignificant amount with an algorithm tweak. The marketing strategy/process should always start with offline real life information about people and products and then develop an algorithm to show you information in that way. I don’t know why it’s always done backwards but it will keep our results irrelevant and marketing dollars wasted for a long time to come.

Why I dislike Large Blogs

I love blogs. I have been blogging since 2002 when my friend Mugsy emailed me and told me to sign up for LiveJournal. A lot has changed about blogging since then, but the revolutionary idea that if you can type, you can publish easily in a word-processing-like interface on the internet has not. The method of blogging to share knowledge by and for non-programming type people is still spreading to the corners of the globe and helping people’s voices be heard in ways we never thought possible.

At the same time I am growing more frustrated with the technorati and the overload of emails, posts, rss feeds and spam arriving on my accounts daily. I am trying my best to stay on top of the active topics in  the  user generated content world as it has forked into many roads that include blogging, social networking, social ads, microblogging and a whole host of a million little startups with other concepts they want to share with the world. (more than can be kept up with or can survive even if they do all innovate)

I have had to scale back my online content consumption several times over the years when it was in danger of taking over my life and all my time. But lately this getting married thing has taken a large chunk of time out of my life too, (even after the wedding) and as a result I am trying to glean all my updates and news knowledge into smaller and smaller bits of time. (apparently being married means I have to do work around the house and spend a lot of time trying to motivate my husband to stop watching hours of TV and do things around the house. Life just got more complicated and we have to learn how to cook, fix things, do laundry and empty the cat-poop-box with much larger quantities now). My work is also very busy (analytics and metrics seem to go nuts in recessions) and no spare time is to be had anywhere in the schedule.

Therefore, I have gone through many iterations of un-subscribe weeks in my email boxes and cut back drastically on email newsletters, of which once I found very enlightening. Most marketing/advertising/analytics/metrics/SEO/SEM email newsletters  these days aren’t as willing to share any real actionable info without you spending a lot of $ so out they go.

I tried to update myself by trying an RSS reader again (3rd try) and I think its been a few months but I am overwhelmed by that too. Its way to easy to get more than 1,000 unread items in the reader and when it doesn’t tell me the exact number anymore I am less motivated to tackle it because it seems impossible.

I have found Google Reader to be good for sunday afternoon fun feed reading and more personal fun  topics/blogs though. Home design is a great topic in the reader since you really have to see it all to learn.

On the other hand I am re-subscribing to some email newsletters and just un-subscribing altogether to others who insist on posting 30-50 items per day! (assholes!) How is one person supposed to read that many posts per blog per day? It’s impossible and on some level, rude.

I know why they do this. It is partially a play to keep new items being published every few hours to keep the Internet addicts coming back for more traffic and it is also a play for search engine dominance by having more content in the engine for every possible term than anyone else. These teams of writers churn out mostly regurgitated posts about content repurposed from other blogs without much new insight. Some do deliver genuine news and content you can use but scanning through 50 posts is way slower than scanning 5 emails. The content and pics seem to load soooo sloooowly and an email you read, scan and go to what you want quickly. Big offenders of this are ReadWriteWeb (on volume and not separating feeds), Silicon Valley Insider (regurgitating and trying to predict the future even though they’re usually wrong), SEO Roundtable, Apartment Therapy (OMG, holy re-post everyone elses content and fill up with summary posts daily to waste everyones time, generate page views and sell ads), Jalopnik (jebus stop showing us every detail of the 24 hours of Lemons in every city across the country and asking us what our favorite imaginary dream car in a movie with Bruce Willis: waste of space, use summary feeds please! On a cable bandwidth line it takes forever to load all these damn images!) and Media Post (phhbbtt). ALL THESE BLOGS have been banned from my RSS Reader. Some have been demoted to email updates but others are just gone.

Also, I’m not programmed to think to go see my rss feeds yet either so I often forget about them for several days after a good several hour scanning session finally getting the numbers down to below 200 new items. then I return the next time to see 1,000+ again and feel defeated. In contrast I have OCD about keeping a clean email box, and completely forget about facebook until I am completely bored. I guess that is a sign of my age bracket. (34)

I wish that this spammy fluf put out there to fill space could be eliminated. I also wish that these blogs would split their feeds into sections so you would be able to just get the posts you were interested in. Like if new original content and re-purposed other people’s content were separated in 2 feeds, it would be a big help.

I would also recommend that they stop doing summary posts. They piss me off. I wait a minute or 2 for something to load in the darn reader only to see its the same posts from the local editions of the same blog.  Poo, if that happens 15 times in a day I could have spent that time sleeping and then I’m annoyed. 

These blogs also do this because they are in some get-rich-quick rush to make money as a profitable business before Google figures it out and bans them or something. Yes, blogs have an elitism to them that says, duh, if I can make a slice of the money publishing from what the Tribune used to, I am going to do this as fast and as hard as I can. And it over saturates the web with watered down content that is just filler mostly, even if it does increase ad impressions and some adsense revenue if you’re into web-welfare payments.

I also would like to recommend that if you want to start a blog you keep the posts to no more than 2-3 a day and resist the urge to just regurgitate other people’s posts and link to them saying how great they are. Research things you are really interested in and share your own unique experiences. Any web-bot can be an aggregator, what we need more of is real people sharing experiences and knowledge to make social media stick and not die out because of spam/splogs and info-overload. It is these people who become trusted advisors and get the visitors who come back again and again.

And this is also better for the rest of us who have to go clean the cat-poop-box and have a life offline now that they are married.

Update 10/29/09

http://scobleizer.posterous.com/why-i-dont-use-google-reader-anymore

I guess Robert Scoble agrees with me to a point, though he blames Google Reader for a bad format and experience and not the blog owners for copious amounts of useless content hiding the good stuff. I guess there is always room for improvement and certain people discover it before others depending on how they use the info/product.

Update 11/5/09

How much content is too much content? Read Write Web chronicles these mega content sites and their race to populate the web all by themselves by posting 200+ posts per day. We should call it the Answers.com business model.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_age_of_mega_content_sites.php

2009 Super Bowl Ads Commercials Selling Fast on NBC

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

It’s that time of year again when the first rumblings of the next year’s super bowl advertisers come out. (for super bowl 43) I think the companies just ask that their info be released this early to start the buzz cycle and get more mileage out of the media buy. There really isn’t any other reason to release the advertiser names now in September when the ads aren’t even finished yet.

They say the 30 second ad spots are selling for $3 Million dollars each. That is the going rate for a direct sales pitch into 88 million homes and TV sets all at the same time. (when are they going to start webcasting the game and the ads all together like a second delivery system of the same signal? why wouldn’t that work?) Advertisers that actually get a positive ROI from that kind of heavy hitting creative investment are wide appeal mass market companies that have products that are either seasonal at that time of year or products that relate to sports watchers or families watching at home.  Products like snacks, drinks, beer and cars have long been popular categories for Super Bowl Ads.

This year some of the confirmed advertisers are Pepsi and CocaCola, Anheuser-Bush, and a bunch of un-named Automotive, Movie and snack companies. Doritos have done really well the past few years and I wonder if they will plunge in again. I think the trend may be finally waning in the internet sites do ads category since few of them have that kind of money laying around anymore and/or need the visibility.

The timing of your ad during the Super Bowl Game is also crucial. The good spots are probably taken already in Q1 and Q3. Q2 gets boring because people have been sitting a while and just want halftime to start so they can use the bathroom and Q4 may be less well watched if the game isn’t almost tied the whole time. Many people just turn it off when the game is a blowout. The ends of pods are also bad because it just leads back into the game and consumers forget the ad pretty quickly. Being first in a pod is best since people have been proven to remember things in chunks and the beginning and end are usually the chunks they remember most.

Sometimes companies get their ads in at the last moment when 1 or 2 ads are left a week or two before the Super Bowl Game but this may not be available this year if companies are paying 300K more per ad willingly and forking over the money (or deposit) this early in the year. I think that marketers are realizing that in a fragmented market you have to be as prominent on every screen as possible to stay top of mind and above the chatter that gets tuned out. But ad placement is only 1/2 of the strategy. The other half is really the most important. It is really about relevance and humor. If you can make your product funny in a way that real people identify with personally, you have a winner and get all the chatter at the watercooler the next day.

Engagement Marketing Metrics, ROI & Open ID

I have been reading a lot about how conversion tracking isn’t enough data to make the best decisions and engagement is the new black. It is frustrating because no one defines engagement in the same way and no one can really tell you what it is.

I do agree though that engagement is the next evolutionary step in tracking onlinemedia for ROI purposes. I think the trouble people will have will be in customizing it rather than standardizing it. I think the meaningful parts of the process will be totally different depending on the company, the media, the process and the product.

What I consider the next thing for my own tracking purposes is prior ad exposures. This is an engagement metric for the ads leading up to conversion rather than site visitors for our own site. I don’t work with analytics usually or determine how to get someone to engage with a process over and over again. I do try and figure out ways to advertise affordably and get people to complete the conversion process. This prior exposures report should provide more insight into how many, where, when and how people come to the conversion site. I am thinking it should provide us information we won’t anticipate as well as show some information we knew would be there.

I am also a bit pissed off with this stupid marketing sherpa execuitive summary report. Pretty much everything written in it is complete bunk since there are a ton of caveats to each graph and I would bet more is according to how people track and assess results than how the media actually performs. If people would track media post impression they would see the value of banners rather than just for clicks. This is so frustrating until you see the data. Then it just makes sense.

People are influenced by banners (branding) and that whole banner blindness thing had to do with the crap companies that were allowed to buy ads with spammy business practices and scams.  They are still out there and as long as they are allowed because of corporate greed, people will keep ignoring some of the good ads for things they really do want and need. Targeting is part of the equation, but as far as targeting goes, we are still in the dark ages.

This brings me to another beef I have with the online ad industry right now. Everyone LOVES behavioral targeting, even if they don’t know what that means. (It has nothing to do with your behavior most of the time by the way.) It is a tracking of people who have been selected as a target by their profile info (Yahoo) or by visiting your site before and the ads follow you around on the web. The latter is the better way to do this (indicating actual interest rather than categorical inclusion) although we don’t know nearly enough about our target customers to really be able to target them online.

I am always asked why someone targeted for one category converts in an opposite one. Why? I have no F-ing clue dude! People are multi-faceted. They can belong to more than one interest or category even if marketers feel it shouldn’t be allowed. People have many aspects to their life and interests and they will always be that way. We won’t know all that data about them or how to process it for a long long long time.

That is what this stupid open ID thing will eventually lead to. A one stop shop for all your profiles and data so marketers can target you on hundreds of variables like what you do for fun, what you do for work and where you shop and live. (they have to sell out sometime) It would take literally hundreds of actual customer profiles to understand the marketability of each of these demographics, and then targeted messages to serve specifically to each profile type. It will take a few years to get there but I think it will get there sooner than I am personally ready for. I don’t know how to collect, assess or value those metrics about customers nor do I really want them targeting me like that.

Oy! Anyway, I am most interested in the overlapping cloud of ads that all influence someone to buy or sign up for something rather than I am in trying to figure out how to track a million personal profiles and target them with individual ads. Also, contrary to that stupid exec summary, pop-ups and unders still suck ass and you know it.

Google Search Box on the Search Results Page Sucks – Site Search

google search box, web results sucksI noticed this search box on the Google search results page beneath the Amazon.com listing a few weeks ago and thought, cool. Lets see if it gets me past the home page amazon and to the search results page on Amazon.com. It would take me one step closer to what I am looking for on this site if it worked.

But instead it just brought me a list of pages on Amazon while still being in Google’s search results. YUCK! That sucks. I don’t want to stay on Google longer, I want to get to the book/dvd/whatever I am looking for and it’s on Amazon. This added another step in my process and I hate when sites do that for profit. It’s like a big interstitial ad that interrupts your log-in process on Monster or those stupid interstitial on Forbes articles. It is bad usability and bad user experience and people should complain about it so they remove this feature. (and of course don’t use the feature because if they see usage numbers in their stats they will think people like it and keep it)

It doesn’t surprise me that Google would want to keep you on their site longer so they can serve adwords against the results and possibly distract you away from what you originally intended to do or find but what I was surprised about  was that they thought they were better about finding products/pages on amazon than amazon itself. And that is a self centered conceited view to think you know Amazon’s business better than they do and to use that as justification to poach their traffic and users. Ouch.

I think Google also may be looking at this new search box in the search results as a way to get more into vertical search using their main search box as a starting point for picking your vertical and then the second search box to search within the site or specific vertical you choose. Google probably thinks they are prime for this kind of use because they already index everything and just need to figure out a hierarchical interface to display it all and make the difference in level of detail in the results visual. Then they can conquer the world…muhahaha…The only problem with that idea is that I don’t know an real live humans that like or look for vertical search. The sites that create content around a vertical are brands and have a real product that cost money to produce so they aren’t just web companies that crawl, slurp, scrape and steal other people’s original content and display it with advertising along site like Google.

So, overall I give this search box in the search results change a thumbs down, grade F for bad user experience keeping people away from what they want longer while displaying more ads and bad traffic poaching from genuine product sites. Google should remove this feature as it does no one any good and will deteriorate their relationship with real publishing and product sites over time. And if Google thinks they can play hardball and corner companies into accepting this, think again. I am sure there are some legal eagles out there that will be happy to bring this to court.

Presidential Primary, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Political Campaign Marketing

I am usually not very political and hate how spin and vicious attacks are used to sway people’s opinion when they have little or no impact on the job that someone would do. That aside I am interested in seeing who will win this next presidential election in the U.S. and how the marketing that their campaigns do impacts the outcome.

The first thing I noticed was that all the campaigns for the presidential primary elections and Iowa caucuses were utilizing Email. Rudy Giuliani used it the least (once a week is not enough) and Ron Paul was the most primitive with text only messages that seemed to be hand written after each event, but everyone got out the info about donating this way. I noticed that Barack Obama and Jon Edwards slowly built up momentum with emails supporting the increase in number of stories they had covered in the press. Hillary Clinton (Billary) has been sending a deluge of daily emails since about 6 months ago. I would say she has over-used this medium. I am almost becoming immune to the emails now and not even reading them anymore. I did think it was a nice touch that Rudy Giuliani sent an email thanking everyone after he dropped out of the race and another one a few days later asking his supporters to join the McCain camp. It was very classy and genuine.

Online they seem to really try and use banners to advertise their sites and not the issues, but I haven’t run across that many banners or display ads yet since I don’t hang out on political sites all that much. On TV they seem to be targeting the states and DMAs where there are primaries but I think national ads will be seen soon. I just hope they remain positive because there is much more to be gained in voter enthusiasm from a carrot rather than a stick. Text ads in search have also been utilized but I don’t think they have been as targeted or flexible as they should have been. They aren’t taking advantage of the customize-able real time edit-ability of these ads. All the candidates really need someone on the bus listening to issues and going to events that can be online at that moment and customizing campaigns to reflect the outcome. Plus a team in the background analyzing and optimizing the campaigns based on tracking conversion to donation data. One guy who does this as a second job and isn’t even very good at it isn’t the right solution. Barack, you’re just giving your money away for nothing with this one. 

The news publication/blog/press/PR area is another world all together. I feel like they all try and court this market the most and rely on these writers to transmit their message. The thing is not everyone watches or reads the news. I almost never do, because I am never home. Plus these writers are pretty willy nilly all over the place with what they cover and how frequently. They write about whatever the big thing is that moment and after the day the story runs, the buzz is gone. (plus a lot of it is fluff) It’s forgotten and on to the next big thing. It’s just so short. You have to keep churning out notable stories or always be the front runner to benefit from this medium. I would find this very frustrating to be over saturating a small market/audience of people with messages that are fleeting, confusing and less meaningful rather than building a real relationship with them over time or examining the issues and candidates in depth once and getting a final vote.

An alternative medium being used more this election than ever before is the use of political humor shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and late night shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. These shows give politicians an audience of voters who may not watch or read news because they are disengaged or apathetic. If they are light on issues and come across as like-able, funny and can take a joke making fun of themselves they may gain some votes this way from people who vote by like-ability rather than issues. I see the blur between news and entertainment blurring further in the future and this will continue to be a tactic in future campaigns.

I assume direct mail was a part of the mix although I didn’t get any mailings locally or nationally for the primary in Illinois. Lawn signs and outdoor signage in general always plays a big role leading up to the last month and days before an election. So do volunteers. This is really the backbone of the marketing organization. The enthusiasm, scripts message and overall level of performance of these cold callers and door knockers can make or break the candidate’s chances in local and primary elections. So do the quality and clarity of the leave behind brochures. They must differentiate your candidate from the others and make clear why they will be the best candidate in real terms for the voter.

Anyway, I will be watching and waiting as per usual to see how this comes out in the end. Who will you be voting for and why?

TopGear is Pissing me off! (BBC America Edits a Lot Out)

topgear, BBC AmericaOk TopGear and company, I thought you had finally come to your senses and finally decided to broadcast TopGear to the United States via BBC America. I was glad the US Pilot was scrapped (because there was no open audition for it) and people would stop uploading your videos to YouTube because they would be able to tune in and see it on TV like 350 million other people around the world do every week. But NO, I saw it for the first time this weekend and I am sorry to report that it’s screwed up again. Here’s why:

1. The season is off for broadcasting to America. They show season 9 on BBC America and Season 10 is airing now. Why do they make the US wait 6 months behind everyone else? See reason 2.

2. They cut out 1/3 of the program!! WTF!!!@!>? I know the BBC America’s monetization format is from subscriber fees AND commercials but jesus, why can’t you just leave all 60 minutes of the show intact for just this one show? Or extend it to be an hour and a half? Putting 20 minutes of commercials in and taking out 20 minutes of content ruins it. It is no where near as good if you chop it up and put commercials for razors and beer every 5 minutes.

3. WTF is up with the promos showing the big funny moments before each commercial break?? You’re spoiling it. It’s not supposed to work like US TV where you bait someone along for 3 hours for a payoff after you have monetized them to death. Just let it run for 60 minutes and then play commercials for a 1/2 hr before or after.

Seriously. This is awful. And it’s not really TopGear. You can’t ‘get” TopGear in bite size pieces. You don’t get the relationships or the references that are particularly UK or European unless you sit and watch the whole thing and then think about it for a while and watch it again. And duh, that is why we LIKE it. We want to learn about how things are over there, and see what they have to say. It’s entertaining because it’s worldly and different.

Please, I beg you to just sell the full format shows in a DVD box set that is in it’s complete 60 minute format.  Start releasing season 1 now and roll out the rest over the next 2 years. Seriously it is the only way you will ever really win over the Americans, by showing us the same program the same way you show it to the rest of the world. Jipping us by selling a 1/2 assed version just sucks.

At this point I recommend only watching the full versions on YouTube and not watching it on BBC America at all.