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.

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Ways Google Has Changed Media Consumption Behaviors

I was glancing at Google Fast Flip today and it struck me that they have been successful not only in providing what people want but in some ways changing human media consumption behavior.

We all know that Google has turned the media world upside down with the humble text ad because of it’s ad matching relevance and pay-per-click business model.

They have up-ended the rest of the media world because they have influenced people to stop using it. This may be completely un-intentional, but I think it has happened.

The obvious way is that Google has  gained brand preference as a reference tool and a information source on limitless topics. But there is another behavior that they have changed is not usually talked about.

This change in how people consume information is that they can scan headlines now and glean what has happened in the world without actually viewing the ads around the content. (or visiting the content site, via rss, email, search engine, aggregator or google news) This has been bad for online ad inventory (although some may say we need less inventory to drive up prices, not more) and worse for recouping the cost of producing the content.

I don’t think that Google is stealing anything like copyrighted material by linking headlines from Google News, the search engine or screen shots Google Fast Flip. That would be like saying you are stealing copyrighted material by cutting out an article about a local festival coming up and posting it on the break room bulletin board for your coworkers to see.

I do think there does need to be revenue sharing for content sharing on some level though. How this should come about, I haven’t the slightest clue yet. And it can’t happen in the search engine because it seems to vast to fully comprehend let alone orchestrate.

I do think Google wants to be in the media business without actually producing any content, and they don’t usually ask for exclusivity with that content. Google wants to provide more products for consumer use and consumption of information branded offline. If they offer basic content for free on these product/services and upgraded content for a fee they should share the fee with the content providers. The rates may depend on usage and of course demand, and they will probably always be in flux. (no more rate card anything)

Yet I think it’s important that these shared fees (content payments) should be as low as Adsense revenue share since Adsense revenue is largely regarded as welfare for website owners. It needs to be enough to incentivize content providers to really feel like Google is a partner in their business and devoted to a positive business relationship.

The alternative may be that someday you have to pay a large content creator to crawl its site and republish parts of the content. Yes sharing is good, but if the content borrower doesn’t bring in enough revenue (analytics can tell you if your google news readers view, click or buy things) then is it profitable to be hosting the traffic from that source? (yes, hosting costs a ton of money for large content sites) I guess everyone thought they could replace millions of dollars in branding with a simple search engine relevance project and all their traffic generation problems would be solved. It’s never that easy. You have to own the relationship with your customer, you can’t outsource that to Google or anyone else.

Trust is also one of the BIG hurdles Google has to overcome to really being a star in the B2B space. Google has always believed that any process can be automated by a computer and nobody needs to talk to a human because humans are either too expensive or busy engineering things. This seems to enrage some humans, mostly the ones that run large companies. Also, No customer service and No sales people that can actually answer your questions along with ridiculous inflated PPC rates have actually eroded their text ad client base in the last 2-3 years. (and that whole display thing isn’t really looking great for ROI either when you consider people under 30 don’t respond to them at all)

So, in order for Google to really keep that growth going, they need to compensate content creators when re-publishing their content on/in their branded products in the future or the content creators with the greatest authority won’t be there for very long. Yes, some laid-off journalists are blogging but in 20 years how many will be left doing any journalism at all if it doesn’t pay and very few newspapers exist?

I also think all businesses need to stop every few months and think about the future. We’re too busy overloaded with tasks from laid off coworkers to really do this, but in a profitable world we would make time to consider where things are going in 3,6,12 and 24 months out (not a swat analysis, those take too long and are somewhat cumbersome) and really think about what they think the business should be doing to compete and win and innovate.

New Media and New Information Paradigms

I have been hearing about the demise of the newspapers, the rise of search/social networking/new media and the internet fragmentation concept for years now. (almost a decade?) And I just read about it again today with the newspapers secretly meeting to try and sort out monetization methods to save their business. At the same time I am a Guinea pig living through this time of change/shift in how people find information, use information and consume things. Here are some of my observations although not in a concise dissertation format yet. 

  • We are at an odd time in internet evolution, on pause between big developments. We got email, IM, web sites, RSS feeds, Blogs, social networking and now Twitter. We don’t need more services or ways to interact on the web. We need better all inclusive ways to connect and consume all in one. Ways to make the experience more relevant and more inclusive of many kinds of content at the same time. Not wasting our time.
  • I can’t help but notice that at 33 I have never really “read” a newspaper. This indicates to me that newspapers were not that important back in the 1980’s to my generation when their profits were healthy and the internet was but a dream for most of us. (Except being something to line litter boxes and bird cages with.) I hate the size format, I hate the ink and I always have. I actually like the ads though, especially the Sunday fliers. 
  • Weeks go by without my watching any TV. This started about 3 years ago when I got high speed internet. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just don’t have time to sit for 2 hours plus and I know if i sit down I won’t get up and get anything accomplished in the evening/weekend. And I don’t like overly repetitive things. I was watching the sell that house shows on HGTV to get ideas about how to sell mine and after about 3 I got it and didn’t need to watch any more. Reruns aren’t nostalgic to me really, more just boring. And reruns is all Cable TV is about.
  • The only TV I will drop everything for is Top Gear UK. When it is in Season we trek over to my parent’s house and watch wwith extended family weekly. Everybody drops everything to watch that show. It makes you laugh, it makes you dream of fancy cars and it inspires you to take grand adventures regardless of what the outcome is.
  • This leads me to a general cluelessness about a lot of local and newsworthy (?) events. Things like buses that are Hijacked and what the weather will be tomorrow. I also find that these things weren’t essential to me in the first place. I carry an umbrella, what’s the big deal?
  • I find myself focusing on things I’m interested in. Maybe this is the political polarization people speak of? I read my marketing emails/newsletters/blogs as well as home design blogs and write my own blog as well. I check status on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr and maybe update if I have something interesting to say. And I work a lot. I also am always investigating 2-3 new directions for my work/career. Not all of them pan out, but they help me figure out what is evolving that I need to know about.
  • I do still use the phone (yes the land line). It is the best way to reach my parents and Steve’s parents. Steve’s parents email but mine are not really into it. And we try and go visit once a week in person. In person time still matters.
  • I am a book reader because I am a train commuter. I have been for years now and it has created a small library of business/marketing/analysis books. I order from amazon when I see something I like and then go consult the pile of books for something new.
  • And that is all I have time for. Now with a husband (fiancee really for one more month), 3 cats, 4 litter boxes, a yard, wedding planning, condo selling, house hunting, family organizing, laundry, food shopping & cooking I am overbooked. I don’t even get to skype/call my friends very often. A party invite seems really daunting these days with the schedule we keep.
  • I wonder about new media uses and if we will really care about anything not personally relevant to us in the future? Will a police chase matter to everyone in Chicago or just the people who live by the highway where it happens? Will we be less distract-able by sensational news and distracting entertainment? Will we be able to channel the news, information and analysis we really need into our lives and ignore the products/content we really don’t care about?
  • On the other side of the coin, how will we ever discover new things? I find myself looking to find out what is happening on the internet a few times a week and look to Google News and the Yahoo home page. Not the Trib. Yet somehow the list at these sites is always limited and not really anything relevant either.
  • There has to be something in-between a completely open fire hose of information and one select rss feed with just content from one niche area. There has to be some middle ground between being hijacked by ads for 20 minutes of a 60 minute program on TV and not knowing at all where to find a dress for my rehearsal dinner when my usual 5 clothing websites didn’t pan out. (who has time to go to a mall?) ((and why does Google shopping suck when the main search is generally good??))
  • People won’t pay for news. Period. They will pay for some kind of extra relevant cool service though. They will pay for innovation, new products that are noticeably better for some reason. Things that simplify your life.
  • Ads should not be integrated more with content as if they were the content. It blurs the line in what is really true and what is marketing speak. And although they may pay the bills for a while, people will eventually figure it out and abandon that medium that does this.
  • We need another search player. Google is not enough and although they do some things well, I am not a fan of everything they create. I would like more companies to work on real time indexing of information as well as historical archiving to keep information accessible if anything happens to Google’s accessibility. At some point people will be so hooked they will be able to charge for a (low cost) subscription to the search engine itself. 
  • More people need web enabled phones with internet use active. I just read yesterday that out of 57 million people in the US with internet capable mobile phones only 18 million have internet enabled! (netpop stat comparing us to China) 31.5% of the people with internet use phones don’t even pay for internet access? (only 13% of all the cell phones total) This is a huge hurdle to making info more relevant and accessible because people carry their phones everywhere. Things like bigger screens, flatter profiles and easier software app use on these phones will help the adoption rates improve. 
  • Identity management and security is also a problem. We might like something like OpenID but only if sites still allow anonymous comments too. Privacy and being able to say something important without being hunted down in person for your opinion necessary for getting people to adopt this identity management software and make our lives easier between all the hundreds of web sites and e-commerce activities we do in a day and consolidating that information for our own personal use.   
  • Data mining is going to have to improve. If statistics are wrong 25% of the time like stated in the Numerati book, we really need to combine automated data crunching with human decisions about data more often. Numbers are meaningless without someones explanation. This completely changes what and how data is configured, crunched and reported and can determine/undermine your results even if you manage to collect it perfectly.
  • All this plus the only way out of a recession is through innovation. We’re waiting.

Google is not making us Stoopid in the Attention Crash Its Productivity Stupid

This article by Nick Carr in the Atlantic last month brought up some interesting points about the attention crash and Google in regards to whether these innovations are hurting us more than helping in productivity. This article on marketing brought up some more points today.  I have been through this internet addict cycle and back again and maybe some of my experience can help those looking to prune back the hedges of web information overload (or overlord) in their life.

Is Google Making us Stopid? I think not!

Is Google Making us Stopid? I think not!

First off, I don’t agree that Google makes us stupid (or stoopid) but I do think it influences how we consume information and creates a false sense of know everything because we are plugged in every day, searching on every idea that comes to mind and reading a million blogs, emails, widgets and feeds every day. If we have full Internet access at work, good luck getting any work done if your company doesn’t block perezhilton and facebook.

We live in an era of information overload and we skim everything and really read and absorb nothing. No one can consume at this rate. People are stressed out by the number of media sources they have to keep up with daily (and on weekends) and we feel constantly inadequate because of all the bragging that goes on about successful products launched, and big money made on the net.  It’s no surprise then that we are constantly driven to consume more information and media to fill the brain with more discovery serotonin and yet we feel that we aren’t getting anywhere since most of us aren’t paid to consume this information and analyze it for a living. It is very contrary to most of our life goals with our jobs and families.

I started blogging and consuming massive amounts of media in 2002 and was completely burnt out by  2005 from a mix of Scoble, MicroPersuasion and every social networking site available plus news, alerts and emails. (plus following every move of the google monster as it grew) I did not really get much done at work, luckily I was very good at my job so I could get it done in less than the time allotted and I tried to move my real job towards this social media category. I was consumed by all the feeds, blogs, feedbliz emails, IMs, regular emails, networking sites and Flickr. It didn’t get me anywhere I wanted to go though, except the inside track on some new things I could talk about socially before other people knew about them.  (big deal) I ended up looking for a new job instead. My job seemed uninteresting and unimportant compared to the new, exciting and really important things happening on the web. This despite being the one thing that paid my mortgage.

So,what’s an internet marketing girl to do when all this media does relate to your job somewhat but it is also crushing your life? 

1. I did find a job with greater flexibility and more use of my media knowledge. But I also turned a lot of the media off.

2. I abandoned RSS feeds. Too many to keep up with. Too little importance to my life.

3. I stopped blogging everywhere for nothing and just maintained a few blogs that really mattered and one that provides some small side income.  

4. I cut out radio, TV, papers and magazines with the exception of TIME Magazine (because I need something to read on the train) and Netflix (because I don’t have cable and like to have something decent to watch once or twice a week after work). (radio was cut out because of the train also, if I was still driving to work I would listen to NPR)

5. I won’t lifestream (too invading of my privacy) and dislike twitter (I don’t need another internet addiction). This means I miss a lot of info and some trends but I don’t get worked up about it because I found that most of these super mini-micro-trends never make it to mainstream anyway.

6. I unsubscribed to a boatload of emails and started a new email account that was less spammy.

7. I also stopped reading a lot of blogs. The only ones I read now are bookmarked as links in my browser and if I don’t find something useful there for a few weeks I delete them. (or if they are friends they get linked into LJ) And I can’t read the buzz building blogs of Forester, Scoble and Giga Om. Scoble is great but no one can keep up with that man. (he is a 24 hour blogging machine!) Forrester and GigaOm are always wrong. I am sick of being led astray into an area that doesn’t fit or benefit mainstream business. I did start reading PerezHilton though. Its quick, about 5 minutes, scan through what looks interesting/funny and skip the rest.

8. I also have kind of cut back on signing up for every site beta that comes up because there are millions of them and the purpose of these sites has gotten further away from positively influencing my life in the past few years and more about distracting me. I still sign up for some, but by the time the beta password comes in, I usually find it wasn’t that relevant after all.

9. I stopped checking in on social networks daily. Once a week is enough. And flickr gets updated maybe once a month.

10. Oh yea, I also got a boyfriend and found that being with him was much more rewarding than being online all the time consuming information about everyone else’s successes.

I have come back from the attention crash and maybe some of these tips can help others. Yea, some of these blogs are going to see traffic drop but we will all be able to sleep better at night and work better during the day as a result. And when your family and mortgage are counting on it isn’t that really what is most important?

Some things I still do that have survived the internet pruning:

1. Subscribe to feedbliz emails for about 10 blogs directly related to the media I work with and personal finances. (frugal living type topics since we are in the middle of a recession)

2. I keep up with emails from work and friends.

3. Use IM to converse quickly and the phone (gasp!) for longer conversations.

4. Read TIME magazine weekly. It has evolved into a much hipper, savy, snarkier mag than you think.

5. Check the news on the yahoo login page for my personal email for news.

6. Keep up with google alerts on terms related to my work, friends and family. I guess this is super targeted and as behavioral as one can get. You would have thought they would have put ads in Google alerts by now.

7. Blog on my personal blog, marketing blog and other blog about once a week. That is about all I can keep up with.

8. Most weekends I am offline entirely. If I want to spend time with real people it has to be out of the house and therefore offline. Plus laundry and dishes need to be done sometime!

9. I have a cut off time whether all the stuff is done or not because sleep is more important to me than you might think. I try and got to bed by 10 or 11 but 12 is the cutoff for sure.

10. I remain anonymous and aliased online because I want to be able to say what I think when I want without the fear of someone’s difference of personal opinion affecting my professional or personal life.

So, in summary I think my findings indicate that it’s not Google that is making us Stupid (or Stoopid) it’s ourselves and the decisions we make about how we will spend our time (and money).

Hippo – the highest paid person’s opinion in Marketing

I am not a huge fan of AdAge since it seems to revolve around old advertising techniques/media and big behemoth brands and agencies that I don’t work with, but this article about why most company websites suck was very interesting and very true. I believe that the highest paid person’s opinion (hippo) is what drives the development and makes decisions on what happens with most products and web sites. Even in a web site company.

I saw this happen at my last job, and the decisions were so contrary to what should have been happening that it nearly drove me mad. I left thinking I would find a better place to work and I did, but the rule still applies here to a lesser extent. The subtle difference is that I am higher paid now, so I have somewhat more say and my data and research disprove a lot of bad ideas from the start. 

In the interest of getting things done quickly and quietly without any discussion or debate, management usually critically limits the decision makers in most every decision to less than 3 people who share the same brain. (epic fail!) One, (a hippo) to make the decisions, and two others to say “yes” and find a way to justify it with data, research and sell it to everyone else. This may be the entire reason that the newspaper industry can’t make any money on the web.

The article points out that these hippos are the people least in contact with the customer and therefore have the least information possible about what the customer needs, thinks and wants. Golfing at country clubs and jetting around to accept awards does not put you in contact with customers or vendors or really at all with your company’s processes. This kills me. I can’t resolve how this happens and people get away with it except that once you have gained the trust of the upper management they pull you further and further away from your purpose with bonding exercises and sporting events. Management should be hands on without micromanaging and still interact with the finite details of the day to day operations. Without this you get one hand erasing what the other has accomplished, opposing directions for initiatives and a general clusterfuck in processes. In general this also plagues most of American businesses and I think contributes to our crap economy not evolving fast enough.

/end rant

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?