Web Strategy

The Iran elections and citizen journalism via Twitter


Above: Image by sharif via Flickr.

News reporting on the recent presidential election protests in Iran have been neutered by the country's government - in some instances, telephone, text messaging and Internet services were restricted, and journalists have even been banned from attending "unauthorized" demonstrations.

Thus, many Iranians have turned to Twitter to do their own citizen reporting, and also to receive news. A quick search on the micro-sharing network for the hashtag #iranelection or #gr88 brings back a barrage of updates. (While writing these first two paragraphs, the search brought back 2,192 more results since my first query only minutes ago.)

While the United States is steering clear of the election chaos, they are actively working with Twitter and other social networking sites to make sure information is flowing freely to and from Iran. Case in point: The State Department asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance that would have impacted the site's uptime in Iran.

Any time a trending topic gets popular on Twitter, it runs the risk of being diluted (and sometimes polluted) by the masses jumping into the conversation and retweeting rapidly-changing information. That's why I love this blog post by BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow that gives Twitter users a playbook for constructive participation. He even suggests a trick to help protect the Iranian bloggers using Twitter: Changing your Twitter location to Tehran and your timezone to GMT +3.30 might help thwart security officers in their hunt to locate and censor bloggers.

While many criticize Twitter as a platform for mundane updates from the self-obsessed, the Iranian elections prove that it can be a valuable tool for quickly distributing (and retrieving) information in a de-centralized method that surpasses government or organizational control.

Social networking users aren't as young as you might think

Twitter_icons_256 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.

A couple of facts have recently jumped out at me:
  1. According to Nielsen Online, the largest age population on Twitter is 35-49, making up almost 42 percent of the site's audience. 
  2. A new survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network says that 99 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have profiles on social networks, but only 22 percent are on Twitter.
  3. Switching gears to Facebook: The fastest growing demographic is females 55 and older. 
So what does this tell us? A couple of things: Youth culture has not yet gravitated to Twitter. There could be many reasons for this - one being that the 18-24 age demographic grew up within Facebook's walls, and simply don't have the need or want to migrate to another social network. Also, the Baby Boomers have finally arrived.

Marketers love to put their targets into age and gender buckets, but meanwhile I'm reminded of something Mike Sansone once said: Adoption of social networks is attitudinal, not generational.

We've moved past the age where social networking is a world occupied only by Millenials. Social networks are ubiquitous, utilitarian, mainstream - they are all around us and they are diverse. There will always be a small population that resists social networking, but they'll be less and less defined by age.

Before the end of the year, your parents will be on Facebook (if they aren't already). We're getting closer to the day that the term social media goes away forever, and all this stuff just blends into everyday life.

Tracking hashtags on Twitter

Twitter Hashtags in Google ReaderImage 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 Friday, certain Twitter users will give shout-outs to some of their favorite "tweeps," making it easier for their followers to discover other interesting people on the social network. They tag these updates with the #followfriday hashtag.

The # symbol makes all the data easier to aggregate and track. There are even Web properties solely devoted to tracking and defining hashtags, such as Des Moines' own WTHashtag.com. This site is built upon wiki technology, making it easy for visitors to create their own definition entries for certain hashtags.

Here's one I created: #CarpeDM - use this hashtag any time you're sharing news about something cool, new or innovative happening here in the Des Moines metro area.

So, why would a business be interested in any of this? Let's say that your organization has an entrenched interest in food production and safety, and you want to listen for what's being said on Twitter about the swine flu outbreak. You can easily review real-time chatter by searching for #swineflu on search.twitter.com, or pull trending graphs from services like WTHashtag or Twist.

Listening leads to business intelligence, competitive advantage and new opportunities, so remember to fine-tune your radar to include Twitter hashtags.

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How far away is wearable social technology?

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:

  1. Everyone at the event participates in some form of social network like Twitter.
  2. These people all have QR badges or mobile devices able to read QR codes. Or both.  

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.

Nathan T. Wright

How Facebook's interface change effects businesses

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.

Essentially, branded profiles for companies called pages now look, act and function similar to individual user profiles. Here's what's new and exciting:
  1. You may now publish your company's "status" and it will show up in the individual front-page news feeds of all the users who have declared themselves fans of your page. In the past, updates were restricted to the four walls of the page itself.
  2. You'll now notice tabs across the top of your company's page. This allows you to organize and segment your page's content in a way that makes more sense to your visitors. Previous Facebook pages were highly unorganized and chaotic in terms of design and aesthetic. You may also customize these tabs.
  3. "The Wall" (an area for fans to leave comments on your page) is now enhanced with multimedia, meaning that visitors can post videos and photos along with text content. 
However, not everyone is happy with Facebook's UI changes, as Jennifer Leggio explains in this blog post on ZDNet.

If you're looking for more detail about Facebook's re-design and how it impacts businesses with a presence there, watch Hillary Brown's video below:

Nathan T. Wright

Why aren't more real estate agents on social networks?

Today, my co-pilot (Hillary Brown) and I gave a presentation to a group of real estate professionals aboutBlog social networking tools that they can add to their existing marketing toolbox.

We've presented to groups of agents a few times before, and we're always surprised by how few have embraced social media as a lead-generation and networking tool.

Here's my paraphrased, outsider perspective on the business of being a real estate agent: There are two critical components - your network and reputation.

Participating in social networks in an authentic way can greatly enhance both of these things, so it seems like a no-brainer that agents should be harnessing these tools. However, some are still stuck in "broadcast marketing" mode, so I wanted to share a few examples of local agents that are doing interesting things.

Amber Salmon and Justin Volrath are active on the social network Twitter and frequently attend tweetups (meetups for Twitter users) where they build digital and real-life social and business connections. This is smart - they don't just rely on chamber of commerce luncheons and a Rolodex to build their network.

Amber is also a prolific blogger. Notice that the title of her blog is LiveinDesMoines.com, which is great for search engine optimization because these are the terms humans use when researching real estate communities online. Sure, Amber promotes her listings on the blog, but she also provides value to her potential clients with posts like What is Des Moines, Iowa like? and What do I really need to know when I buy a home?

Also, do a quick Google search for either one of them. The top results will bring back their individual presences on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Every day, more and more real estate buyers are doing their homework and checking out agents on social networks, so it's critical to have some form of presence out there. It's OK to blur the lines between personal and professional a little bit, so don't stress over that.

Your clients will want to know that you're a human being, after all!

These are just a few quick examples of what agents could do, but the possibilities on the social Web are endless. What else could they take advantage of? Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

Why college students need LinkedIn profiles

This post is an open letter to college students of all ages: If you aren't on LinkedIn yet, get out there and set Blog up an account today. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Previous employers, co-workers and professors can recommend you, and these recommendations are attached to your public profile/resume. How powerful is that? Potential employers can then check your references and follow up efficiently. 
  2. By posting your resume online, you're expanding your own "reach." Why limit yourself to a few pieces of paper buried under dozens of resumes in an HR office?  
  3. Employers will look you up online. It's better to have content waiting for them, instead of nothing at all.  
  4. Having a LinkedIn presence shows you're serious about getting hired. I'm always impressed by the college students who have taken the initiative to build out a LinkedIn profile, over their peers who haven't.  
  5. This also establishes that you know a little bit about social networks - knowledge that many employers are looking for right now. 
Also, don't be afraid to include the URL (web address) of your LinkedIn profile on your resume's contact information. Recent grads are entering a competitive market right now, so don't be afraid to set yourself apart, be exceptional and be awesome. 

Who should manage your social media efforts?

Let's say you're a business. Any size - from a small retail shop to a large corporation. You're intrigued byBlog 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?

Conventional wisdom would say that this person might need some sort of Web design, information technology or marketing background. While those skill sets certainly don't hurt, they don't need to be requirements.

An effective social media manager should have the following traits:
  • Curiosity - He/she will be curious about new mediums and new technology. You won't need to tell them to check out the newest social network - they'll already be signed up, playing around with it and determining whether or not it has any relevance to your business.
  • Immersed - This person will not only have Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, they'll be activate participants. If they aren't familiar with these tools, they're probably not a good fit for you.
  • Personable - By engaging with customers in social mediums, he/she will immediately be thrown into a customer support role. This person must be able to pleasantly and patiently interface with your business audience on a daily basis.
  • Willing to teach others - A social media manager will constantly be educating their co-workers and superiors on the latest technology. 
  • Ability to write - So much of digital communication takes the form of the written word. Despite it's inherent immediacy, any social media effort is an extension of your company's brand and should reflect professionalism. A firm grasp of spelling and proper sentence structure is a must!
Another great resource that I frequently refer back to is Jason Falls' April 2008 blog post about what he was looking for in a social media co-pilot at his employer, Doe-Anderson.

If you've recently hired - or identified - someone to champion social media within your organization, I'd love to hear your thoughts below on what traits you looked for.

Who owns your social graph?

2591366230_6ec445b68f 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.

I'm not as panicked about this (or even surprised) as some people are, because I believe you should always understand the Terms of Service implications of social networks as you explore them. I understand, it's asking a lot to read all that legal verbiage before you sign up. Inside Facebook, you've never actually owned your Social Graph - the company does.

Blogger Chris Brogan points out in a recent post that both banks and health insurance companies own your records, so it should come as no shock that Facebook owns what you put on their servers. Brogan also reminds us that every Web service owns our data to varying degrees, whether it's Facebook, Google Docs, Twitter, Dopplr, et cetera.

In summary, if you're really concerned about the change of verbiage on Facebook's TOS, go out and research the terms of every social application you interact with. Another general rule: Don't upload anything you wouldn't want them to own.

What are your thoughts? Are you less inclined to share on Facebook after this news, and will it impact your social networking habits?

Photo credit: adactio via Flickr

A few cures for blogging writer's block

2987926396_87eb3c3494_m Your blog requires commitment, maintenance and constant upkeep, or else it will grow stale and (worse yet) unnoticed. Here are a few tips to get you going when you encounter writer's block.

  1. Write a list about anything. This is probably the easiest "go-to" move for a blogger. A numbered list is easy for the writer to get up on the screen (one sentence or two each and move on) - and it's also easy on the readers' eyes. I'm writing a list right now!
  2. Review whatever book you're currently reading.  
  3. Spice up your blog with video content. It's cheap and easy to grab short snippets of video with a Flip Cam and embed the content in your blog. This makes your blog more dynamic, and suddenly you're showing instead of writing.
  4. Scan the headlines and start writing. It never hurts to be relevant and topical on your blog. Write about how the current economy is impacting your business.  
  5. Go out and interview someone. Make your post about other people, not just you.
  6. Meet an immediate need with a quick howto tutorial. For instance, lots of bloggers get writer's block - including myself - hence, this post was created.
That should be enough to get you started in a pinch, but just in case, here are over 100 more ideas to kick-start your blogging habits!

Photo courtesy of tomsaint11 via Flickr.

Is a sponsored tweetup really a tweetup?

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.

First, let's start with some definitions. Tweetups, simply put, are meetups for Twitter users. These events happen in cities all over the world, and are meant to be decentralized and self-organizing. By that definition, anybody on Twitter can call for a tweetup, and there is no clear "leader." Common themes are: meeting new friends, cocktails, good conversation, and a little bit of networking on the side.

Photo via lindsayrees on Flickr: Tweeps gather at Raccoon River for a Des Moines Tweetup. 

Since February 2008 in Des Moines, tweetups have become quite popular. The last two events (one organized by Impromptu Studio in November, and one by Leslie Berg in December) have pulled 90+ people each. As this group grows in numbers and influence, local companies and venues have shown interest in connecting with the community. Recent sponsors of tweetups and Twitter-related events have been SmartyPig.com, Paragon IT Pros, Panchero's, Olde Main Brewing, Mars Cafe, Impromptu Studio and Technology Association of Iowa. (Am I leaving anyone out?)

The definition of sponsorship is that these companies provided booze, food, a venue, or all three things.

Some facts: Tweetups were born from discussions between myself, Andy Brudtkuhl, and a couple of others in the fall of 2007 as a way to connect Des Moines' talented (but at the time disconnected) creative class. As things evolved, Andy and I were seen as "heads" of this Twitter community. When a local business showed interest in getting involved, they often reached out to us first, and we helped steer them on how to best engage the community.

Today, Andy and I were criticized for serving as a "chokepoint" for businesses trying to connect with the Des Moines Twitter community, and legitimizing companies who might approach it in the wrong way. A monetization discussion also came up: whether or not we profited from organizing any of these events.

Full disclosure: Andy has not made any money from advising companies on how to approach a tweetup sponsorship. My company (Lava Row) has made money in one instance: the strategy and scripting of the September 2008 SmartyPig digital treasure hunt as a paid project.

IowaBiz.com is not a channel for the emotion and personal biases of today's debate. We'll leave that on Twitter. So let's just focus on othe core theme that came up today: Can tweetups - a self-organizing event by nature - still be a tweetup with a sponsor?

The opinions differ wildly, and I wanted to share a few of them below:

@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.

One of the better suggestions to come out of today's debate was Neil Roberts' idea of disclosing exactly who is calling for the tweetup within the event details on Upcoming.org. Was it a member of the Twitter community, or a business? There's another idea floating around of a video interview with multiple Des Moines tweeps containing their practical advice on what makes a successful sponsored tweetup. This would serve as an educational "howto" for local businesses.

Now it's your turn to chime in below, if you haven't already. Your perspective is always welcome here at IowaBiz.com.

Izea and SocialSpark: Bloggers as advertising inventory?

Recently there has been lots of controversy surrounding a company called Izea, which connects advertisers with bloggers via a marketplace application called SocialSpark.

Here's how it works: An advertiser can post an "opportunity" in the marketplace in the form of aSponsor 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.

Nathan T. Wright

A Twitter playbook for your company

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.32354436

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when building a presence for your company on Twitter:
  • Everyone starts out with zero followers. Don't freak out and follow hundreds of people in a knee-jerk reaction to "force" follow-backs. Chances are someone introduced you to Twitter. Politely ask that user for an introduction to the Twitter community - they will tweet something like "Please welcome @username to Twitter!" That should get you going. 
  • Maintain a balanced follower/following ratio. If you're following 2,473 Twitter users, but only 16 are following back, you're going to look like a Twitter spammer.
  • Upload a photo (avatar) and fill out your profile. Simple stuff, right? Showing your face means to users that there is a human behind the scenes and they'll feel more inclined to connect with your company. Put your location (city, state) in your profile, making you more likely to be found. A link to your company site or blog is almost a *must* - one of many tips outlined by Jeremiah Owyang on how to confirm your corporate Twitter account.
  • Maintain a 50/50 promo/convo ratio. For every time you send a tweet promoting something that your company has done (driving traffic back to your corporate site/blog) go out and proactively join a conversation taking place on Twitter. Remember, this is a conversation utility first and foremost.
  • Participate. You get out of Twitter what you put into it - enough said.
  • Use URL shorteners. Twitter isn't a pipe to shove long, unruly URLs into. Make use of URL shorteners like TinyURL, bit.ly and is.gd. Remember - you've only got 140 characters! 
  • Sponsor a TweetUp. Once you've got a few months under your belt, and you're well immersed in your local Twitter community - have your company sponsor a tweetup (meetup for Twitter users). This will establish goodwill towards you and your brand.
Playing by these simple rules will give you and your organization a head start on all the other entities trying to figure out Twitter right now. If you're still lost, follow the example of some of the best brands on Twitter: Home Depot, jetBlue, Comcast and Zappos.com.

Can social media be applied to b2b marketing tactics?

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.

Here are a couple of steps you can take if you're a B2B marketer:
  1. Develop a blogging strategy. Is there (are you) a "thought leader" within the company that can create valuable content that other businesses might be interested in? Think white papers, but served up on a blogging platform. Huge bonus: Search engines love blog content! Believe it or not, there are humans at those other businesses, and they're going to research your business on the Web. 
  2. Launch a private forum or social network. Are you stuck in channel marketing, or forced to market only to a dealer network? Create an online forum for them to gather and engage them this way. Use an application like Ning.com, which lets you build your own private social network overnight.  
  3. Listen, listen, listen! Sure, consumers are using social media to talking about brands, but conversations between and about business are also taking place. Subscribe to those RSS feeds and Google News Alerts!
  4. Learn, then sell your knowledge along with your product. The potential insight you might gain from the above efforts is simply added-value to your product or service. If you're dealing with channel marketers, distributors or manufacturers, you suddenly have a lot of information on what the marketplace is saying online and how to position products.
Here's a video of social media strategists Matt Dickman and David Armano talking about social media in the B2B marketing arena:

So get out there, immerse yourself in the social web space, and learn!

How to conduct effective online outreach

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.Blog

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: How NOT to approach social media

Profile_img1_astroturf_2"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.

How your social networking activity can help your job search

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.

Let's face a couple of facts, first:Blog

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.

Nathan T. Wright

How to market your company during an economic downtown

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 aBlog_2 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.

Non-profits should focus on social media

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.Blog_2

Think of the possibilities within these two channels alone:

1.) Facebook
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.

2.) Twitter
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.

Consider blog software for your site's content management

WordpresslogoBehind 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.

Nathan T. Wright

Making your digital content shareable

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.   

  1. RSS feeds                                                                                  Nates_blog_2
    RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication - this is basically a feed of information that gets exported from web content you update regularly (blog posts, news articles, press releases, et cetera.). Your readers can subscribe to this feed and receive your content via their news aggregator of choice. If you are currently using blog software or any sort of content management system (CMS) application to update your website, chances are you have an RSS feed already. Make sure that you prominently include an RSS feed button on your website to alert your readers to its existence.
  2. Embeddable Content
    If you're posting rich media (photos, audio and video) to your website, why not use popular media-sharing networks to host the content? You can use Flickr for your photos, any sort of podcasting network for your audio, and YouTube or Blip.tv for your video. These networks make it extremely simple to embed the content into your own site, as well as empowering your readers to grab it and share it on their own. this saves your company the dollars in doing custom development and programming, and also reduces bandwidth on your web server.
  3. Widgets
    Services like Clearspring, Sprout and WidgetBox make it easy to take almost any piece of content from your website and turn it into a "widget" that your site visitors can take a distribute on their own.
  4. AddThis Sharing Button
    You can create a customized AddThis button by visiting AddThis.com and stick it on any page of your website or blog. Readers will then have one-click access for sharing your stuff on a variety of social bookmarking websites like del.icio.us and Technorati, as well as Digg and StumbleUpon.

Taking these basic steps will empower your website visitors to distribute your content for you - how great is that?

Nathan T. Wright

Add social features to your website with Facebook Connect

Facebook_270x101 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.

Nathan T. Wright

Developing a Commenting and Moderation Policy

Comments 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:

  1. What's acceptable, what's not acceptable.
    State that you won't allow duplicate comments, personal attacks of any kind, comments that explicitly promote a product or service (spam), and comments that are vulgar, vile, cruel, or off-topic.
  2. Visitor Privacy
    Make a note that discourages the posting of phone numbers or email addresses in the body of the comment.
  3. Moderation Process
    Be clear about your moderation process - whether you are allowing all comments to be posted immediately and reviewing later, or holding all comments in queue for moderation. If you're moderating, commit to a period of time (typically 24-48 hours) within which you promise to post the content.

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.

Nathan T. Wright

FriendFeed: A cure for social networking fatigue?

LogobigNew 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.

Tag! You're it.

561962_price_tag5b35dThis 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:

Brand: Apple
Tags: Cool, Design, Awesome, Innovation

Brand: MySpace
Tags: Annoying, Friends, Music, Kids, Teenagers, Ugly

Brand: Google
Tags: Search, Everything, God, Evil

Brand: McDonald's
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.

People talk about your company online, but who should you listen to?

Wonderinghead_questionmark 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.

Nathan T. Wright

What does success look like in a social media campaign?

Roi1 I'm frequently asked about how to best track ROI on social media marketing efforts. My answer is that social media ROI is next to impossible to figure. That may sound like a cop-out, but it's the truth.

The benefits of reaching out and connecting with your customers via social mediums are intangible. How do you extrapolate the ROI from participating in a conversation on a message board or blog, where you cleared up some negative misinformation about your brand or product in an honest, transparent and meaningful way? You can't measure that.

Sure, there are basic metrics that you can track on your website or blog, like clickthroughs, referrals, bounce rates and user sessions, but there is no metric for being part of an online conversation with your customers.

There are other ways to gauge success. Maybe it's increased visitor engagement and participation, which could take the form of more user comments on your blog posts, or more consumer-generated content (photos, videos, etc.) uploaded to your brand's Facebook Page.

Embarking on a social media campaign can force you to re-think how you visualize success.

It's a very back-to-basics approach, similar to the intangible fundamentals of really good customer service: going out of your way to listen to your customer's needs, and being able to respond to those needs quickly.

Your return on investment: Loyal, life-long customers.

When to edit a Wikipedia page about your company: NEVER!

Wikipedia It's tempting to want to create and/or edit a Wikipedia entry about your company or even yourself, and the collaborative nature of the site makes it easy for you to generate your own content. However, the best advice is to never write/edit your own entry, and never pay someone to do it for you.

When clients ask if I can help them craft their Wikipedia page, I refer them to Wikipedia's conflicts of interest page, which states: "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion."

There are lots of benefits to being on Wikipedia: Links back to your website or blog, an increase in traffic and a bump in search engine points. But if you don't let your Wikipedia presence happen via true grassroots efforts, you will get caught. The Wikipedia community is incredibly active and passionate about self-policing the online encyclopedia - they can typically detect self-serving additions and edits within a matter a minutes.

There are also tools available such as WikiScanner, which can cross-reference page edits with IP addresses to find out exactly who is behind a specific edit. In the past, employees from Yahoo! and The Pentagon have both been caught tweaking their own organization's pages.

Look, this all comes down to basic best practices within the social media landscape. Eventually, fake grassroots efforts (AKA "Astroturfing") will inevitably be discovered, and your organization wouldn't want any part of such a public relations mess. Businesses should focus on what really matters: Keeping their customers so happy that they take it upon themselves to write a Wikipedia entry about the company.

Nathan T. Wright

Have you added video to your website yet?

Picture_8_270x372 There's a common perception that integrating video content into your website can be expensive. However, this isn't the case any more — video-to-web is fast, easy and affordable.

Showcasing your product with video creates a much more intimate connection with your website visitor than just a photograph, diagram or list of services. Probably the best example of this is BlendTec's "Will it Blend" video campaign, which illustrates the blending power of their products on objects such as iPhones and marbles.

Additionally, if you use a video-sharing application to host your content such as YouTube or Blip.tv, your video is instantly shareable in a peer-to-peer fashion. These services allow you to cast a wider audience net outside of your own website.

So how do you get started?

  1. Equipment. Depending on the final quality you'll need, you can hire a freelance videographer to shoot it, or simply create your own content with affordable digital video equipment such as the Flip cam.
  2. Get it on the Web! This is much easier than it sounds. There are many video-sharing websites out there to choose from — I mentioned YouTube and Blip.tv earlier, but there's also Viddler, Veoh, Revver and many more. It's a snap to upload your video file to any of these websites and they will take care of file hosting and bandwidth for you, usually for free.
  3. Integrate it. All video-sharing applications allow you to easily embed your video content into your website, blog, or social network profile. Typically this is as simple as copying and pasting a snippet of code.

In summary, there's no reason to drop $10,000 on an expensive video shoot for your website. With the right tools and a little curiosity, you'll be on your way to integrating video in no time.

Nathan T. Wright

Using Twitter to network yourself and your business

TwitsmThe concepts of networking and being connected have been critical components of doing business for ages. Technologies like LinkedIn and Facebook have allowed us to expand our professional networks online.

However, the one social network that I've derived the most professional value out of thus far has been Twitter, hands down. For those that aren't familiar with Twitter, it's a growing social network of about one million users, built upon short, 140-character status updates (or "tweets") between participants.

Twitter is virtually spam-free and has connected me to dozens of like-minded people working in similar industries here in Des Moines, and beyond. Eventually I've ended up meeting most of these connections in real life, either through Des Moines Twitter Meetups (we call them "TweetUps") or at industry conferences.

So, if you're a freelancer, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or in a sales role, I would absolutely recommend adding Twitter to your social networking toolbox. (I'm assuming you already have a presence on LinkedIn - but if not, you should do so.)

One thing to note about using Twitter: Unlike LinkedIn, you're expected to not just have a presence there, but participate in all the conversation going on. Twitter's value comes from the quality of conversation you engage in and the quality of connections - not the quantity.

Happy tweeting!

Nathan T. Wright

Digitial back channels rawk SXSW Interactive festival

Facebooklacy_3Recently I attended the South by Southwest Interactive festival, and have come away with one over-arching theme:

Digital back channels can be extremely disruptive to any organization. Even a conference that celebrates disruptive technology.

I saw this happen in person at the Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg keynote interview on Sunday. During the discussion, the crowd became increasingly unruly, feeling that the right questions weren't being asked of Zuckerberg, while criticizing the moderator's particular interview style.

This was all occurring via digital back channels like Twitter (an SMS-based social network) and Meebo (collective online chat), accessed via mobile devices and laptops. The frustration spilled over when Mark Zuckerberg finally told the interviewer, Sarah Lacy, to actually "ask questions."

It was at this moment that the crowd's dissatisfaction exploded into a vocal revolt, resulting in wild, enthusiastic cheers. The group then turned on Lacy, drowning her out and shouting random questions that they wanted answered, immediately. It was digitally-driven mob rule!

While this was a relatively small example of disruptive technology, I feel it's a microcosm of what is happening all over the web: The peer-to-peer crowds have wrestled away control from large, traditional organizations in business, media and politics. This can take many forms: becoming famous via YouTube without any Hollywood agents or studios. Music downloads. Companies freaking out because somebody is posting negative comments about their product on a blog.

Technological disruption has been going on since the invention of the printing press. It's up to organizations to prepare for this, and learn how to respond.

Meanwhile, conference organizers must learn from this incident, and adjust their expectations for what attendees require out of a panel or keynote.

Is your intranet a desolate graveyard? Try a wiki.

WikiGood communication between employees is vital to all businesses, large or small. E-mail, unfortunately, often falls into the "bad communication" category. Tone is misinterpreted, context is lost and messages go missing.

That's why today many companies are experimenting with internal wikis and private social networks to improve communication among their team members. Think of this as just an evolution of the corporate intranet.

By adopting the social features that have made online destinations like Wikipedia and Facebook successful, businesses can transform their stagnant, one-way intranet into a bustling expressway of shared thoughts, insights and collaboration.

Here are a few quick pointers for initiating a wiki project within your business:

  • Start small. Choose a team within your organization to start using the wiki - not everyone at once.
  • Develop a strategy to roll it out internally. (Hint: Don't announce it via e-mail.)
  • Give the wiki time to evolve. If users aren't taken by it immediately, keeping pushing ahead, keep the faith and keep training.
  • Determine what success is. Reduction of e-mail volume? Better communication? Knowing your goals ahead of time will allow you to justify the project later on.

If you're ready to get started, there are multiple resources available, ranging from free, hosted services such as PBwiki, all the way to enterprise-level apps. Good luck on starting up your wiki!

Omgili & Google partnership combines objective and subjective search results

Omgili_logoWhen developing social media strategy for clients, I often talk about listening before talking. As with any marketing effort, it helps to know the general wants and needs of the customer first, before jumping in.

Traditionally this would take the form of consumer research, surveys or focus groups. Today, with all sorts of social mediums inviting peer-to-peer conversation (such as blogs, wikis, message boards and social networks) companies can listen to what's being said about them in real-time.

There are many listening / buzz trending tools online, ranging from the free (Google BlogSearch and Twitter) to the high-end (Radian6). One application that has emerged as particularly useful for me recently is the search partnership between Omgili and Google.

Omgili, to put it simply, is a search engine that tracks opinions, discussions and conversations, as opposed to individual websites and pages. At google.omgili.com, you can see how they've paired subjective search results (perception, arguments, opinion, sarcasm) with Google's objective results (facts, raw information).

It's a nice blend, especially for marketing and PR folk. Just type in your company's name and click "search both" to see what customers are saying, right now.

Consumer insight like this is invaluable, and it gives your organization an advantage in the long run. The best part: Omgili is a free application that you can start using today.

Link: Subjective + objective search results: google.omgili.com

Nathan T. Wright

Why you should pay attention to the OpenSocial movement

OpensocialLast fall, Google announced the OpenSocial standard. Let me spend a few moments explaining what exactly that is, and why it will be important to your business in the future.

The OpenSocial movement is based on the belief that users should be able to distribute content across the Web's many manifestions (blogs, social networks, mobile phones, etc.), as opposed to accessing it only via one central website.

Lots of other companies have joined the movement along with Google: MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo and SixApart, to name a few.

We've always thought of the corporate website as THE one-stop destination for all of our prospects and existing customers. With the onset of embeddable YouTube videos and RSS feeds, we saw that if the content is good enough, others will distribute it. OpenSocial is simply the next step of this evolution.

Let's say you've created a little interactive Flash game on your website. It's branded with your identity, it's engaging, and you want your visitors to play around with it. Three years ago this was called "sticky" content, thinking that users should be given incentive to "stick around" and come back to websites. Today, OpenSocial allows you to offer that game for anyone to grab and post inside their blog or their personal Myspace/Facebook page. Remember, your customer can also be your distributor.

Another great thing about the OpenSocial movement: If you want your content to easily "snap in" to all of these various spaces, why should your developers have to learn programming languages that are specific to each platform? They could spend hours learning how to develop something inside Facebook, then duplicate that time by re-creating the same initiative for MySpace. That's a lot of wasted time. OpenSocial gives us a common set of tools - learn it once, apply it everywhere.

Don't feel like you need to go out and learn everything about the OpenSocial movement today. Just keep it in your web strategy toolbox as your company's web content evolves. In fact, if you've ever read a blog's RSS feed, embedded a YouTube video, or sent a link to your friend, you're already a pioneer in this movement!

Graphic credit: Google

A new kid at the plate

Newkid One of the remarkable things about Des Moines that we take for granted is how many incredibly talented and diverse professionals surround us every day. 

When we first launched IowaBiz.com we had the good fortune of putting together an All-Star roster of business experts to serve as our daily guides to all things small business.

When he first heard about the project, Mike Sansone quickly volunteered to join the team.  For the past 8 months, he's shared his expertise and passion for using technology to connect to our customers, prospects and peers.  Without a doubt, anyone who has read a Sansone post has learned a little something.

Mike's business model is evolving and he needs to turn his attention to those changes.  So, today we thank him for his generosity.  No doubt we'll see him in the comments section on a regular basis. 

It was really a no brainer when we knew Mike needed to move on, to extend an invitation and tap the talents of Nathan Wright of LavaRow.  Nathan's a many year veteran of the digital frontier and he brings impressive credentials to the IowaBiz.com team.

So while you never like to see a player leave the game, it's always exciting to see who comes off the bench.  Enjoy the new player!

Your Company Blog: A Tool or an Employee?

Is your company blog simply a tool - or should you treat it like an employee?

I started working when I was 14 years old. A dishwasher in a French-style restaurant. I think I made like $2.00 per hour and shared tips from the nicer waitresses.

My grandfather said I was overpaid. I didn't understand that - so I worked harder. After a few short weeks, I got my first raise (four bits) and proudly told my grandpa about it.

He told me that everyone begins a job overvalued and underworked. It's part of the learning process. In time, things even out. Eventually, the great workers are undervalued and overworked - and sometimes overlooked.

When you begin working with your company blog, think about it as training a new employee. You'll be investing a good amount of time in:

  • Finding your writing voice
  • Commenting on other sites
  • Searching for like-minded blogs
  • Learning some of the tools of the blogosphere

Eventually, your blog will be running smooth and returning value in readership. It will help extend your company's reach and voice. It will help you become findable in places you hadn't expected.

But don't neglect this employee (or any of them for that matter). Periodically, have a review. What kind of perks can you give your blog to assist them in doing their job?

  • A new design
  • Some widgets or navigation
  • A mention in your collateral materials
  • A company car (okay - maybe a bit much there)

Loving your employees will compel them to be better, loyal, contagious, enthusiastic... They will become an advocate for you and your company. Showing your blog a similar love will generate better returns as well.

How about your blog? Tool or employee?

- 5 Ways to Treat Your Website Like an Employee and Reap the Rewards

Is Your Business Too Small for a Website?

Is your business too small to have a web presence?

In times past, if you weren't in the Yellow Pages (remember those?), you didn't exist. In this generation, if you're not findable on the Internet, you don't exist.

Several months ago, I wrote about a study showing 30% of small businesses still don't have a web presence. While I'd like to think that's changed -- it probably hasn't. Just check out your Chamber of Commerce directory.

Do you know a small business without a web site?  Maybe it's because of cost or because of hi-tech fear.  Blogs are one way to clear both of those hurdles.

Here are a few samples of Business Blogs doing it simple, but findable:

Aldo Coffee Company
Conference Calls Unlimited
Lightning Labels
Maine Stay Inn
Three Angels Gourmet
Two Maids and a Mop

Isn't it time you become findable?

New Shoes for Your Site - Social Bookmarks

A few months ago, I encouraged readers to have some Social Bookmark Intelligence. How did you do?

Here's a quick and simple video focusing on using Delicious as an example (RSS readers can also see the CommonCraft Social Bookmarking video:

At Social Bookmarking Script, you can generate code so that a series of buttons appears at the bottom of your pages

Social Bookmarking

Add to: Power Oldie Add to: Folkd Add to: Digg Add to: Del.icio.us Add to: StumbleUpon Add to: Netscape Add to: Furl Add to: Yahoo Add to: Spurl Add to: Google Add to: Blinklist Add to: Diigo Add to: Technorati Add to: Newsvine Add to: Netvouz

If that's too colorful for your site, at IceTag Generator, you can create text-based social bookmarks:

Related Articles:
- Don't Ignore Delicious and StumbleUpon at Web Strategy by Jeremiah

Web Strategies for 2008

Calendarcard Time to create or modify some of your web presence habits in 2008:

  • Social Media: Time to get engaged in the blogosphere. Comment or publish a blog; Start reading RSS Feeds; Publish content on YouTube or Scribd.
  • Social Networking: Get connected with LinkedIN, Facebook, or an industry-specific network.
  • Traffic Analysis: It's amazing how many business owners don't know how much traffic they get, where users comes from, what page they exit from, etc. Google Analytics is free and comprehensive.
  • e-Learning: Develop an e-learning strategy like the one Doug Mitchell recently wrote about. A great resource on this can be found at Rapid eLearning
  • Dump Flash: I still see sites being launched with all Flash - all the time. Of course, some have been saying this for years.
  • Study Up: Read Jeremiah Owyang, Lee Odden, and John Jantsch on a regular basis.

Want to brainstorm with others about these strategies?  Come to the monthly Central Iowa Blogger business breakfast on the First Friday of each month. 

Smart Surfing Stocking Stuffers for Your Browser

A lot of folks ask me how they can start paying attention to what's being said about them in blogs, if anything is being said, and how users are sharing information that is important to their company.

While Search Once and Subscribe tells us the "when" something is said, There are three buttons I use often to give me a glimpse to "what" is being said, and "who" is saying it.

When a blog that mentions us, I have these three "surf smarter" buttons right in my browser:

  • Google Blog Search This
  • Technorati This
  • del.icio.us History


As an example, let's look at KitchenAid (random choice)

I have these buttons on both my Explorer 6.0 and Firefox browsers. The links below are the scripts that create the buttons mentioned here.

  • For Firefox users, simply click and drag the link into your Bookmarks toolbar (or bookmark in your Bookmark Toolbar).
  • For IE 6.0 users, right click and Add to Favorites in the LINKS folder.

Think of these quick and easy tools as extendable ears. People might be talking about you or your company on the web. And if they aren't, you should be reading more of this section.

Here's to smarter surfing. Remember to Search Once and Subscribe. You never know when you might say, "We Wuz Blogged!"


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