Rumors are flying about Apple's mysterious upcoming product launch (supposedly happening on January 26). Tech industry analysts and insiders are predicting that during this event, Apple will announce some sort of tablet device.
Rumors are flying about Apple's mysterious upcoming product launch (supposedly happening on January 26). Tech industry analysts and insiders are predicting that during this event, Apple will announce some sort of tablet device.
Image via CrunchBase
Podcasting is a great way to create, syndicate and distribute your own audio/video content on the Web. We're just getting started with our own audio podcast at Lava Row, so I wanted to take a moment to explain how you can create your own show on the cheap.
Image via Wikipedia
If you administer a Facebook Page for your business or organization, you may want to take note of a few changes coming around the corner.
Content width: Facebook is changing the width of the content area underneath the tabs to 560 pixels wide from 760 pixels. This will have implications for you if you've done any custom HTML or FBML designs. If any of them are wider than 560 pixels, they may appear truncated or cut off.
The microblogging social network Twitter has become infested with spam over the past year, directly alongside its meteoric rise in popularity. While Twitter is staying busy trying to fight this never-ending war, Bit.ly (a popular URL shortener service) is joining the battle.
Who has logged into their Google Reader account lately to discover 1000 or more items waiting to be read? Raise your hand. (Mine is currently raised.)
For those that don't know Google Reader, it's a news aggregator that lets you subscribe to various forms of content - sports scores, blog posts, keyword searches, news headlines, et cetera - and read them all in one place.
Twitter recently rolled out a new feature called Twitter Lists. It's a way for individual users to curate lists of people based on, well, whatever they like. For instance, you could make a Twitter List of entrepreneurs in your city, your funniest friends, celebrities, et cetera.
"Augmented reality" (or AR, for short) is a phrase you're going to be hearing more and more through the rest of 2009 and into 2010. Basically, it's the ability to use a handheld device with internet connectivity to unlock and overlay information on top of your existing reality. Watch the video below for a demonstration.
So, let's get right into the practical business applications. UrbanSpoon.com (a review site for local restaurants) has just added a "Scope" feature to the UrbanSpoon iPhone app. Let's say you're in a dense urban area and craving a slice of pizza. Point your iPhone at the horizon looking through the UrbanSpoon Scope, and the application will overlay the percentage of positive customer reviews on top of the restaurants right in front of you.
Google recently announced the launched a new product called SideWiki, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a sidebar that can be expanded/collapsed next to any existing website, containing user-generated information and commenting similar to Wikipedia.
"The impacts are far reaching, now every web page on the internet is social and can have consumer opinion – both positive and negative."
"Can anyone explain to me how Google Sidewiki could be anything but a trough for trolls?"
Image via Wikipedia
We hear this statement a lot from business executives: "Help! My employees are on social networks all day long, Facebooking and Twittering, and it's killing productivity!"
I was poking around Facebook's Fan Page features the other day and came across something new that they just released. You'll find it on the left-hand navigation of any Facebook Page that you administer, labeled Get more Fans with SMS.
Tell people to text "fan lavarow" to 32665 (FBOOK) from their mobile phones, and they will be added as fans instantly. Standard charges may apply.
Image via Wikipedia
The more our day-to-day lives (both professional and personal) become intertwined with laptops, mobile devices and social networks, the more difficult it becomes to unplug from everything.
As part of its review of its advertising guidelines, the FTC is proposing that word-of-mouth marketers and bloggers, as well as people on social-media sites such as Facebook, be held liable for any false statements they make about a product they're promoting, along with the product's marketer. This could present a significant issue for marketers, including the likes of Microsoft, Ford and Pepsi, who spend billions on word-of-mouth and social media. PQ Media projects that marketers will spend $3.7 billion on word-of-mouth marketing in 2011.
This will definitely have an impact on marketers that send products to influential bloggers/social media users for review, which is currently a common practice.
Facebook recently unveiled the Fan Box, which is essentially a "social widget" that you can bolt into your own website. This widget pulls in streams of social activity from your company or organization's Facebook Fan Page and plants it where all of your website visitors can see it.
Image by luc legay via Flickr
Recently, The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa DOT (Department of Transportation) blocked the use of Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and other social media applications among its employees, citing security concerns.
So, how unsafe are social networks, anyway? In my opinion, social technology is no more or less safe that any online destination and function (Web sites, e-mail, et cetera).
In Twitter's infancy, the micro-sharing social network was largely perceived as a gathering place for hyper-connected, digitally-inclined twentysomethings. Sure, Twitter's early adopters were comprised of the younger "tech elite," but recent months have proven that the network is now more mainstream that you might think.
Image by Search Engine People Blog via Flickr
If you're new to Twitter, you may be wondering what all those strange words are preceded by the # symbol. These are called hashtags - basically, it is a method for adding context to your Twitter updates. Similar, in concept, to tagging videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr.
On the right-hand side of your Twitter screen, you'll notice an area called trending topics. These change every day and can reflect upswings in stories being covered in the media, or even Twitter-specific events, such as the popular #followfriday meme.
Every day I think more and more about the emergence of wearable social technology. To most people, this may conjure up such silly images as the Scrolling LED Belt Buckle. (Now imagine if you could hack it with an always-on Wi-Fi connection and access to your Twitter feed!)
But seriously, we're just now seeing practical applications of this in a very early form. Take Tweetup Badges, for instance. These ID cards have QR codes on the back which, when scanned by a mobile device with a QR reader application, launch a Web address or SMS message.
Okay, so let's say you're at a social event. You meet someone, you scan their badge, and suddenly their Twitter profile (and feed) launches in your mobile web browser. Rich Drake, Founder of Tweetup Badges, explains the benefit of this technology below:
Admittedly, we're still a long ways off from the concept of wearable social technology achieving maturity and mainstream acceptance. The above scenario assumes that:
Events like this do exist today, in the form of tweetups and tech conferences. The interface between a human with mobile device and a human with scannable badge exchanging some form of digital information isn't so different than the concept behind Poken, which has already launched in Japan and Europe.
Over time, this interface will become more seamless and invisible. Very soon, mobile devices will have face recognition software coupled with a ubiquitous social network (like Facebook). You'll be able to scan someone's face (simply by getting them in the viewfinder of your phone camera) and the device will fetch that person's public social network profile information. In essence, your face becomes the QR code.
Beyond that, the device itself will evolve past mobile phones, and may come embedded in a pair of eyeglasses, or even a contact lens.
Today, we interact with social networks in a very limited fashion - the computer or mobile screen. Imagine the possibilities when we become unshackled from those machines and our lens into layers upon layers of information is our own eyes.
Recently Facebook made some dramatic changes to it's user interface, and I wanted to take a moment to explore what specifically changed for companies using the application.
Today, my co-pilot (Hillary Brown) and I gave a presentation to a group of real estate professionals about social networking tools that they can add to their existing marketing toolbox.
This post is an open letter to college students of all ages: If you aren't on LinkedIn yet, get out there and set up an account today. Here are a few reasons why:
Let's say you're a business. Any size - from a small retail shop to a large corporation. You're intrigued by social media and its possibilities, and you're ready to dedicate a staff member to these efforts. Now the question is: What staff member should have these responsibilities? What qualities should you look for when hiring for the position?
I'm hearing lots of people freaking out today - in blog posts and Twitter - about Facebook's recent changes to their Terms of Service (TOS) and how this impacts your privacy and the content you post there.
Essentially, Facebook removed this phrase from their TOS:
You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.
Essentially this means that any content you upload there is Facebook's property, forever. Yup, they own it, and they can do whatever they want with it in the future. Even if you cancel your account, according to this snippet from the TOS:
The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.
This afternoon on Twitter (a micro-blogging social network populated by many people here in Des Moines) a massive discussion erupted surrounding the nature of how our local tweetups are organized. Feel free to follow the conversation by tracking the #dmtweetup hashtag here.
@aroger my 2 cents, #dmtweetup should be inspired, organized, and promoted by the community, THEN a sponser can add value
@scottrocketship Businesses should come to us, the community, not someone or someone's in particular. Let us disagree WITH them, publicly.
@amyraelle for what it's worth, i appreciate anyone who plans events for me .... sponsors or no.
@paragonitpros We had a blast at the #dmtweetup we sponsored (as in bought a round) in September. No agenda, other than to meet tweeps.
@clairecelsi I've always been of the mind that Tweetup sponsors are just trying to contribute to the success of the event, not hard sell.
@jensenrf sure you (businesses) got to go to someone but this is dmtweetup.org and not lavarow. Community should feel cheated if not in the loop. Perception.
Here's how it works: An advertiser can post an "opportunity" in the marketplace in the form of a sponsored blog post about their product or service, plus what they are willing to pay. Bloggers can browse these opportunities and select one to take on. The blogger then gets paid to write a post about that product.
A high-profile example is influential blogger Chris Brogan's post on Dadomatic about a K-Mart shopping spree. Chris was connected with K-Mart via Izea and given a $500 gift card to spend at a local store, and then encouraged to share the wealth with his readers/community via a contest.
The concept of pay-per-post has always been controversial. Blogs are essentially organic conversations, and many readers feel slighted when advertising infringes upon that. Chris Brogan wrote an excellent post explaining his involvement with the K-Mart contest, disclosing his reasons for doing it and detailing a history of successful blogger/marketer partnerships (including Seagate's ongoing sponsorship of Robert Scoble).
Here's my take. Many online influencers have become celebrities in their own right. Just like high-profile actors or athletes, money and sponsorships are going to come flying at them fast and furious. At the end of the day, it's up to them to decide which advertisers and brands connect best with their personality, reputation and fans/readers/community. Bands are considered "sell-outs" the minute they leave the garage, and bloggers will be criticized in the same manner as soon as they start selling ads or writing sponsored posts.
I believe it is the blogger's right to monetize their work and talents, as long as they participate in full disclosure. Izea, in fact, has put together a "Blogger Advisory Board" to craft the company's Blogger Code of Ethics.
So, what are your thoughts on sponsored blog posts? Do bloggers lose their credibility the instant they run ads on their site or participate in marketing partnerships? Or is this an acceptable new way for them to generate revenue from something they're good at? I welcome your thoughts and discussion in the comments below.
Brands, companies and organizations are invading Twitter at a steady clip. Social media gurus will tell you that Twitter can be a remarkably powerful customer relations, marketing and relationship-building tool. Yes, it can be - but only when used properly.
Social media marketing is often lumped together with consumer marketing, even though there are relevant B2B applications and ideas available. Just because one business is marketing to another business doesn't mean there aren't humans involved - humans who like (and sometimes prefer) to interact with each other via social networks.
In the last column, we discussed how not to engage in online outreach efforts (AKA "astroturfing"). This time, let's talk about effective (and positive) ways that your company can reach out on the Social Web.
Let's say a blogger mentions your company, service or product in his or her blog. You certainly have a right (whether the sentiment was positive, neutral or negative) to join that conversation. First, there are a few ground rules:
1.) Remain human. The last thing a blogger wants is marketing- or PR-speak in their comments section. Keep it light, candid and conversational.
2.) Did they talk about you in a positive light? Thank them, but keep it brief. The blogger will most likely appreciate that you're out there listening to customers. However, this isn't a platform for you to start screaming about your products. A link-back URL through the typical commenting fields is all you need.
3.) Add value to the conversation. If the blogger posed a question, answer it. If misinformation needs to be cleared up, clarify. This adds more depth and value to the conversation.
4.) Remain calm. If your company is being talked about in a negative fashion, take a page from Customer Service 101. Reach out, ask for more information and help to resolve the issue. If needed, tell your side of the story with facts and candor. A great example of this can be found in the comments section of a recent Iowa Web Awards blog post: The comment, which you can read here, was written by Anthony Clifton in regards to his company's reputation, Captain Jack Communications.
5.) Be transparent. When leaving a comment related to your business on a blog, use your full name and the company you represent. Anonymous commenting certainly won't help you build your case.
When in doubt, just remember to behave in these situations as you would at a networking event. Mingle, have conversations, but don't grab the microphone and shout.
"Astroturfing" happens all too often by marketers trying to infiltrate the social Web, and many practice it blindly without understanding how potentially damaging it can be to their company's reputation and brand.
First, let's define Astroturfing: It's the efforts of an individual (or group of individuals) - compensated by a company - posting information to blogs, message boards and social networks, posing as an average consumer with positive things to say about that company. To sum up: the attempt to create a fake grassroots movement to market a service or product. Hence the name Astroturfing.
Efforts like this are disingenuous and can be spotted easily with simple IP address tracking, which can lead to a public relations black eye for all parties - whether it is the company itself or their marketing partners.
Kami Huyse of Communications Overtones talks further about best practices and established an Anti-Astroturfing Code of Ethics here.
It comes down to one simple truth: Positive word-of-mouth can't be manufactured, it must be earned.
We've all heard horror stories about how someone's social networking "presence" has disrupted their chances at landing a job. I would argue that, if used properly, your online identity can actually aid your cause when looking for a new career.
1.) Employers can - and will - look you up online. They'll search for your name on Google, then LinkedIn, then Facebook. If you have a Twitter feed, they'll read it. It's well within their rights as an employer to do so.
2.) When we engage in activity on social networks (and the Web in general) we can leave behind permanent digital footprints. In many cases this will be public record - forever.
Look, our social network profiles are new forms of self-expression, so if all your pictures on MySpace involve you running down the street naked after doing a keg stand, chances are an employer won't look too favorably upon that.
That doesn't mean we have to neuter our personalities online. When I was hiring last spring, I looked at the profiles and activity of applicants within social networks to get a better grasp of them as human beings. What do they do for fun, what are they involved in, what are they passionate about, what sorts of pop culture do they absorb, what are their musical tastes, et cetera. These extra tidbits can really round out a personality beyond just a resume. In fact, I almost immediately passed over the ones who had very little social networking activity - due to lack of personality, but mostly because it was highly relevant to the job opening (social media strategist).
You can hang on to those keg stand photos, but take advantage of the robust privacy features within MySpace and Facebook. Feel free to share these photos with your friends - but not the whole world when you're seeking employment.
To sum up, let your social network profiles be a showcase for your personality and passions, and this can be a tremendous asset during the interview process.
It's a well-known fact that the first victims of economic downturns are advertising and marketing budgets. As a company, how you do maintain your brand's presence and top-of-mind status with very few dollars to spend?
One of the things you'd want to look at is reaching out to online communities as a representative of your company and starting/joining conversations there. In most cases this is completely free, and requires only a time commitment and some knowledge of digital community best practices.
Here are the fundamentals you'll need to know:
1.) Choose online communities that are relevant to your services or product. Selling off-road vehicles or ATVs? Why not jump into the Iowa Outdoors forum and see what they're chattering about.
2.) Listen and mingle first. Behave like you would at a cocktail party. Mill around for a bit, find pockets of like-minded people and start conversations, or join those already in progress. Don't run up, grab the mic, and start screaming about what you have to sell. Be human.
As far as time is concerned - get started by dedicating a few hours per week. Like with any marketing effort, you get out of it what you put into it. The more time and passion you throw into this the better your results will be.
Form relationships instead of fleeting "impressions." Recently, two Des Moines-area companies have sponsored TweetUps (meetups for Central Iowa Twitter users). SmartyPig hosted an event, complete with prizes and giveaways, at a location that could only be discovered through a digital treasure hunt. Paragon IT is sponsoring a TweetUp this Thursday evening to better connect themselves with local entrepreneurs and business leaders. These are both fantastic examples of companies that have embraced Twitter as a low-cost marketing tool. (Full disclosure: I was involved in the creation of the SmartyPig event.)
Marketers, don't let the downturn slow down your efforts. With a little savvy and a few best practices there are thousands of affordable (and sometimes free) options social media channels that you can take advantage of.
Nonprofit organizations, with limited advertising and marketing dollars, should designate social media as the highest priority in their communications strategy. It always makes me sad to see nonprofits blowing thousands of dollars on outdoor boards when they could be focusing their energy on real, two-way conversations with constituents, prospects and donors online.
Think of the possibilities within these two channels alone:
Facebook is probably the most effective digital grassroots and organizing tool there is. If you're trying to rally people around a cause, there's no better channel than Facebook, where your volunteers can spread your message, and even organize events on your behalf. Barack Obama's grassroots fundraising efforts have proven how powerful a tight Facebook strategy can be.
Twitter's power exists in small geographic pockets, which could really benefit a small nonprofit that only wants to reach a local audience. Imagine the impact the Animal Rescue League of Iowa could do on Twitter, reaching out to a Des Moines area audience with 140-characters "tweets" featuring a new animal that needs to be rescued, every day. All it takes is a little wordsmithing and a twitpic account to show off the animals' mugs.
A huge benefit here is what it costs - next to nothing. It's free to interact within these channels, but there is going to be a required time commitment to immerse yourself, learn the mediums and participate properly within them. Like any successful communications strategy, you get out of it what you put into it.
Behind the scenes, many Web sites are powered by Web-based content management software applications (A.K.A. "CMS" to those who like acronyms). CMS solutions come in many forms - they can be purchased off-the-shelf or built, licensed and customized to your needs by a Web development firm.
The benefit of having CMS is that you control your Web site's content - and you don't need to dial up a Web designer with expensive hourly rates every time you need minor information changed.
The challenge is that CMS solutions can be expensive for a small business to take on, and difficult to justify during the start-up phase. A solid, bare-bones CMS built-out can start at $2,500 and go on up from there, and that's just for the cost of development. This is why I've started recommending inexpensive (or free) blog software build-outs like WordPress to smaller clients (or even larger clients with tight budgets).
WordPress is blogging software, but can also be utilized as an extremely powerful - and customizable - content management tool. I'm seeing more and more websites being 100% built on WordPress platforms. As companies roll out blogging efforts in addition to their main, informational websites, my prediction is that eventually we'll see them consolidated into one digital presence.
If you're a large organization in need of a highly customized Web application and e-commerce solution, you'll definitely require some high-end development and/or CMS build-out. But if you're a start-up or a small business, consider using blog software to power your site, and save yourself a few thousand bucks.
In previous posts I've talked a lot about how the Web is now distributed, and the days of referring to websites as "destinations" are over. With RSS feeds, embeddable content, widgets and social networks, your content can be everywhere at once. Here are a few tips on how your company can take some basic steps to enter the world of shareable content. Best of all - they're all free.
Taking these basic steps will empower your website visitors to distribute your content for you - how great is that?
Last week at the F8 developer conference, Facebook announced the Fall 2008 roll-out of Facebook Connect, which will allow third-party developers to integrate the popular social network's features into their own websites.
So, imagine this scenario: Facebook users engaging with each other and updating their content (photos, wall, etc.) from your web property - without ever visiting Facebook.com. Ideally, integration should be a snap: Facebook Connect will let you grab snippets of code and bolt these features directly into your website.
Why is this important? So many times I've seen clients spend thousands of dollars developing custom build-outs of social features for their sites, often resulting in little to no activity among their visitors. The "build-it-and-they-will-come" motto doesn't fly online - currently, we all have social networking fatigue and the last thing we want to do is set up another user profile on yet another website.
This is where Facebook Connect could come in handy. Facebook has already perfected digital social interactivity between millions of users - why not integrate pieces of what they've already built into your web presence? This makes even more sense if the majority of your visitors are already Facebook users. Why re-create the wheel?
If your demographic doesn't include Facebook users, then (like any social media marketing effort) you need to concentrate more on the channel that does fit your visitor.
Facebook Connect is just another example of an emerging trend online: Content has become so decentralized. We used to think of websites as being be-all, end-all "destinations," but we're now seeing content and interaction spread out across hundreds of networks and sites.
An in-depth, detailed breakdown of the technical aspects behind Facebook Connect can be found here.
When talking to clients about their social media strategy, one of the biggest concerns I hear about is loss of control. Adding a company blog (or any social or community feature) to an existing web presence can give some organizations a heart attack - largely because they fear anyone can come in and leave negative and/or damaging commentary.
Integrating a little Web 2.0 flavor to your website doesn't have to equal a free-for-all of negativity and profanity. As a company, you reserve the right to create and enforce a clear Commenting and Moderation Policy.
Following are the basics that you'll want to cover in your guidelines:
Additionally, don't be afraid to allow negative comments if they are intelligent in nature and on-topic. This gives you the chance to publicly follow up and enter the conversation. (The alternative is to never post it and cross your fingers that the same commenter doesn't take the conversation to another digital channel, where you have zero control.)
A clear, concise commenting and moderation policy might ease your fears - just like with any playground, it never hurts to set the rules up front.
New social networks and applications pop up every day, causing many to suffer from what is known as "socal network fatigue." You've got too many usernames and passwords across multiple platforms to remember, and you've got different circles of friends spread across all the networks. This deluge of information can be difficult to manage.
Now, services are springing up that aim to help us with the social networking overload. One of particular interest is FriendFeed. Basically, you sign up once, enter all your logins for the various networks you participate in, and FriendFeed spits out a "life stream" of data about what you're doing.
Imagine all of your recent Twitter and Facebook updates, Flickr photos, blog posts, Upcoming.org events, StumbleUpon bookmarks and favorited YouTube videos mashed together with what you're currently listening to on Last.fm - all in one central feed.
That's what FriendFeed is - a chokepoint for all of the scattershot data we post about ourselves online, and perhaps a temporary cure for social networking fatigue.
This week I discovered an interesting project called Brand Tags (Brandtags.net) - where visitors can drop by and "tag" popular brands like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, GE, etc.
Tagging is commonplace throughout the Web. While watching YouTube videos, you may notice a cluster of descriptive words to the right - those are "tags" that the user has added to help categorize where the video belongs. Brand Tags works in a similar fashion, except that you "tag" based on your perception - not categorization - of the brands.
Brand Tags is fascinating because it gives us a window into the collective mind of hundreds of thousands of people and how they currently see large companies - companies that spend billions of dollars to shape our perceptions.
Here are a couple examples of brands and their corresponding tags:
Tags: Cool, Design, Awesome, Innovation
Tags: Annoying, Friends, Music, Kids, Teenagers, Ugly
Tags: Search, Everything, God, Evil
Tags: Cheap, Fat, Food, Unhealthy
This is just another great example of how social mediums have leveled the playing field between large organizations and their consumers.
Social media has given power to the people, and with it, your consumers now have the ability to publicly share their experiences about your company or product online. Sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.
If you're currently participating in the "listening" basics (tracking mentions of your company name in Google News Alerts, Google BlogSearch, Technorati, etc.) you will immediately find out when a customer starts talking about your business on a message board or blog. Whether these conversations are positive or negative, you can - and should - dip into the conversation stream with them.
Yet, the larger an organization is, the less time they can devote to following up on every single online reference or mention. So how do you discriminate?
First, check out the user who is posting the information. Let's say the environment is a message board, and the user is very active within that space. He/she has over 3,000 posts. This is somebody you want to pay attention to, and potentially follow up with. Even within self-organizing communities like user forums, leaders (influencers) still emerge.
Now, say there are 10 blogs that have posted glowing reviews about your product or service, but you only have time for a few "thank you" follow-ups in their comments area. Do some research into who the bloggers are first. Determine their reach and influence. How big of a voice do they have? Are their blog readers actively engaged? Are the readers leaving comments? If you see a lot of "Comments: 0" you may want to pass it up.
There are many conversations happening right now on the web, some of them about your company. Depending on your organization's size, developing an ability to filter through it and identifying the key influencers will be vital to your social media strategy.
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