Thoughts on marketing, social media, and web strategy

Mike Templeton is an experienced marketer with a history in building community on the web.

For Mike's reactions to what others are writing about social media, visit Mike Memos.

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Opinion


Online Civility is the Internet’s Golden Rule

We all know the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. However, many people forget about it when they get online. They don’t think twice before updating their status on Facebook or tweeting about their bad experience. That hurts people – both online and in real life. In fact, businesses now employ folks just to track and manage their online reputation. Who’d have thought this would be such a big deal?

Be respectful as a digital citizen

There’s a great pop culture reference in The Social Network movie, where Mark Zuckerberg’s character is seen typing up a scathing blog post about a relationship breakup. He eventually bumps into the former girlfriend, prompting a confrontation. “The internet isn’t written in pencil Mark, it’s written in ink,” she comments. That’s the concept people seem to be missing.

As the social web becomes a larger part of our lives, we should all be prepared as digital citizens to uphold our integrity,  in online conversations and in our face-to-face interactions. It’s easy to manage how you are viewed by others at home, in the workplace, or in your community, but on the internet your persona is shaped for you – by millions of indexed search results.

Join Character Counts in promoting online civility

With so many impervious to the impact of their online activity, one local group is doing something to educate the public. Character Counts in Iowa, an organization that strives to help Iowans practice good character, has partnered with Social Media Club Des Moines to discuss the topic of Online Civility at an event on October 28 at Jasper Winery. The event is part of Character Count’s Reveal Your Character initiative and will act as a kick off for their campaign. You can download the press release.

By now you’re probably thinking, “This sounds like a good mantra. I like this whole ‘online civility’ thing. But what now?” The best thing for you to do is to tell someone else about it. Whether you tweet it (use the #RYC hashtag), Facebook it, or write a blog post of your own, your mission is to keep the wheel turning.

Also, take a look at what others in the community are saying about this initiative:

Three Leading Social Media Agencies Acquired – A Sign of Things to Come?

The big news today is that the Austin-based branded community provider Powered Inc. has acquired three other social media agencies.

As social media becomes a larger focus for brands and organizations, and we get past the experimental phase and into the operational stage of social media, I believe this will continue to happen. With more consumers and money shifting to social media, traditional agencies are doing everything they can to get up to speed, but it’s likely they’ll buy their way there instead of building it.

Even within the social media industry, acquisitions and partnerships are already being made. Ant’s Eye View expanded their colony by acquiring popular business authors and renowned bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. Dachis Group crossed the Atlantic through it’s acquisition of Headshift. And the Altimeter Group tripled in size when Jeremiah Owyang, Deb Schultz, and Ray Wang announced they were joining Charlene Li’s venture.

Build it or buy it?

Today’s big deal puts another tally in the acquisition corner, but it’s not a surprise. We’ve even seen these tactics being employed by Des Moines -based Meredith Corporation. Their interactive division (now Meredith 360°) has been scooping up service providers left and right over the past few years.

Also, as Aaron Strout discusses in his blog post about today’s acquisition, Powered feels this situation is the solution that businesses and marketers are looking for:

“We felt like it was important to take this approach because up until now, marketers have lacked a “go to” resource that could meet all of their social needs.”

Is a consolidated marketplace inevitable?

With the seemingly high number of companies looking to address the social media space in Des Moines, how long will it be before businesses start being assimilated into larger companies? Or are traditional agencies content with trying to develop these skills in-house? Or is there still room for more people to do social media consulting?

In the fast-paced, cut-throat world that we are all doing business in, I think acquisition is a very likely scenario for agencies, just like brands themselves are bringing talent inside their organization.

Will there be a fallout of social media companies in Des Moines? Can more be achieved through a united front and working together?

If Content is King, What is Purchased Content?

Working in social media for the last few years, I can hardly imagine a scenario where content was discussed without hearing the lauded, “Content is king,” adage. Content is still talked about in that context because it is true, especially in social media. If you don’t have the content, there is little basis for interaction, sharing, or conversation.

What do you do if you don’t have content? You create it. However, one company I came across recently has a different way of going about creating content. They’ll let you pay them to create it for you.

Content is content, right?

Reading through Paid Content earlier this week I was presented with a banner ad for AcquireContent, a content solution from Gale. AcquireContent has two main solutions for businesses that need content: custom creation of content and licensed or shared content.

In most situations, exchanging a fee for services rendered by a provider is nothing out of the ordinary. People and businesses do this every day. Where things start to get questionable is when you look at this situation in various contexts. For example, if you are a business looking for custom content to keep your site fresh and visible in search engines, you might rely on AcquireContent to create that. In fact, they are happy to create “effective, original material, delivered on time and to your specifications” that you can use. If you are using the generated article as something for a topical newsletter, it may be fine. But what if you were using it as a blog post? Is that still ok?

Your content defines you – make it your own

Though there are many ways to create content, think long and hard before you outsource the work – especially when it will be used in social media. When you are building relationships based on the content and information you are sharing, it is important that it truly reflects you or your business. And if you are having someone else develop it, at least make it part of your disclosure (like guest blog posts).

Is it ok to pay someone else to create content for you? Would you feel misled if you discovered a business was leveraging the talents of someone else and sharing it as their own?

12seconds Has Me Falling in Love With Video

12stv_mainFor social media power users like myself, you’ve probably heard about 12seconds. You might even have an account. For those who have not heard about it, 12seconds is a video messaging platform that lets users record and/or upload videos of no more than 12 seconds. These videos are posted to your channel, which can be viewed by and shared with your friends.

Why only 12 seconds?

This one comes straight from the 12seconds team: “Because anything longer is boring.”

And they’re right. We are a culture that craves brevity.

12seconds is to YouTube as Twitter is to blogging

The 12seconds service was born out of the same vein as Twitter, which lowers the risk of participating by limiting the character length of messages posted. People flock to Twitter over a once more common platform called a blog (do you remember those?) because it requires less time commitment. Tweets are shorter, take less time to read, literally anyone can post a 140 character message and getting started on the service takes less than a minute. When you compare getting started with a blog, you’ve got to think about what it will focus on, what the domain will be, where you will host it, what platform you will use, etc.

12seconds takes the same streamlined approach to online video that Twitter takes to sharing conversations. To sign up for the service you just need a username and a password, or you can create an account using Facebook Connect or your Twitter username.

12stv_record

You don’t even have to worry about what your videos will be about, because the 12seconds team does an awesome job of prompting users with idea. And, prompting 12seconds users means more than the proverbial “What are you doing?” opener as seen on Twitter. The site hosts a daily 12seconds challenge which generates user videos that participants rank, plus they employ the 12erator tool which generates random questions or thoughts to spur a video response.

12stv_videostats

12seconds has everything in place

For nearly any feature you can think of, 12seconds has done it. Want to import friends from other services? Want to upload a video from your computer? Want to distribute your videos effortlessly across other social networks? Want to know how many people are viewing your videos? Done, done, done and done.

From my perspective, 12seconds has it all. They’ve nailed the posting interface, have a robust API, distribute content across the social web, facilitate user interaction, have their own iPhone app and love their community.

If you are running a startup or are part of an existing business, take a look at how the 12seconds team has covered all the angles. What are you missing in your business?

Tune in for some short fun of your own

Stop over at 12seconds and spend a few minutes browsing through the videos. You can find my channel under my name. And for a local master of pithy videos, watch some of John Pemble‘s clips.

Be the Best at Something, Not Mediocre at Everything

I was recently watching a video from Loic LeMeur and caught a great conversation he had with Seth Godin discussing why he (Seth) isn’t on Twitter,

“Be a meaningful specific, not a wandering generality.”

If you can’t be the best, don’t do it

Seth explains that he is the best in the world at writing a marketing blog (for now) and the best at being himself. If he were to start using Twitter, he knows that he wouldn’t be the best at using it, as others are much better (like Chris Brogan, he says). Seth would rather stick to what he knows and what he is good at, rather than doing everything mediocre.

Catch the full-video interview on YouTube, where Seth describes why people need a tribe (and eventually why he isn’t on Twitter):

Should I quit everything I’m not the best at?

Seth Godin seems to have taken his example about Twitter to the extreme, but I can relate to his point about doing the things the best or not at all.

When I first started my marketing and web strategy consultancy, I had no idea what the scope of my services looked like. I figured I would do anything and everything related to marketing that  a client wanted to pay me for.

However, after spending time building websites, setting up blogs, designing logos and writing marketing campaigns, I soon found that certain items seemed to be taking more time than I wanted, and that I didn’t really enjoy some aspects of what I was doing. As a result, I had to sit down and truly define the scope of services I would offer. I decided that I would not be a graphic designer for clients and that my main focus would be on planning, strategy and education, not necessarily on executing everything.

This small exercise helped me understand what I was best at doing, and most of all, helped me understand what I was best at providing to clients. If I wasn’t going to be able to provide them the best graphic design service, why bother doing a mediocre job? It would be in my client’s best interest to find the best graphic designer available for the job and to steer them in that direction.

Examine your skills and figure out which are your best

If you’re not a good blogger, find someone else to blog. If you can’t manage projects, find a good project manager. If designing user interfaces is not your forte, find a UI designer who rocks at it.

In the end, identifying your own strengths and outsourcing the rest will save you time and make you (and your clients) happier.

What do you do the best? What should you be offloading to someone else?

Risk-takers are Inspiring

While big corporations are laying people off and America experiences the highest unemployment rates in a long time, there are still those who are willing to take risks. In fact, Iowa State University economist Liesl Eathington said the Midwest tends to see an increase in business start-ups during tough economic times as people laid off from jobs are forced to find ways to make money (Business Record).

A recent Business Record article by Sarah Bzdega profiles three Des Moines area business owners who are taking risks and have started their own businesses, and quite frankly, I’m inspired by them. I’ve been running a marketing and web strategy consultancy of my own on the side since March 2007, but never had the guts to take it full-time. And now I’ve just started a new job, which puts plans for Dosovo (and all of my other projects) even farther behind. However, these business owners (and many others like them) have given it all up for a chance to live the dream. They’re hustling. They’re making it happen.

I hope everything works out for these business owners and the hundreds/thousands of others trying to make a go of it right now. It’s these small businesses that are probably going to pull us out of this thing we’re worked ourselves into.

It Takes More Than Presence to Make Social Media Work

Microblink picked up a new follower on Twitter recently named Dennis Knesz (@DennisKnesz). Dennis is a self-proclaimed internet marketer and owner of Glass Medics, a glass repair business in Lehigh Valley, PA. I’m assuming he followed the Microblink account (@microblink) due to his internet marketing interests, but after a bit of investigation I find myself questioning his intent.

Twitter is Not a Place to Tout a Message

If you a quick look at Dennis’ tweets, you’ll realize that the conversation seems to be going one way and one way only. With tweets like, “If Your Ever In The Lehigh Valley PA. Area. And Need A Windshield Repair.. Give Me A Call… And Go To My Web Site For Info,” “Need Glass Repair? http://pa.local.yahoo.biz/glmedicswesaveem” and “http://tinyurl.com/6cne7f Glass Medics (we save’em),” this doesn’t really look like someone I’m going to be able to have a conversation with. If I did start a conversation, I’m probably just going to get an advertising message in response.

Looking at Dennis’ stats, he is following 1,997 people, has 554 followers and has posted 23 updates. With no @replies in his messages and essentially a list of self-serving tweets, I’m not even sure how we garned so many followers. My only explanation is that most are auto-follows.

Dennis may be the first glass repairman on Twitter, but judging by the way he is using it, it’s not going to be driving business through his door anytime soon.

YouTube is Great, If Your Videos are Meaningful

One of the links Dennis tweeted was to a YouTube video he had put together. Reluctantly, I watched the one minute, 22 second clip. As I was expecting, it turned out to be an 82 second commercial for his business, consisting of a shaky camera focused on a screen-printed shirt with a scripted, monotonous voiceover.

The video has 59 views, 0 ratings and 0 comments. The video is not engaging, it’s not contagious and it’s not viral. It appears to be a makeshift attempt at creating a video so the subject can be present on YouTube, just to be able to say there’s a video there. Again, I don’t see anyone clammering for their phone to call up and order glass repair.

Crummy Websites Won’t Work Just Because They’re on the Web

Browsing through Dennis’ web footprint, I found two different URLs for his company:

The Yahoo site looks to have taken one of their sitebuilder templates and then plugged in company content (which is actually decent), but everything is in bold, red font, making it somewhat difficult to read and a bit of an eyesore.

The second website has a decent domain (the “inpa” I suppose because glassmedics.com was taken) and a somewhat credible look, but things go downhill from there. The content is in severe need of some white space and a general restructuring for better comprehension. Colors are clashing and the rollover sidebar images don’t align well with the content (even having two home buttons that go to different pages). You can tell most of it was done with a WYSIWYG editor, evident by the constant changes in font size and type weight.

Again, the website appears to have been fashioned together quickly and without regard for the end result. It feels like the website was built because “we have to have a website” and little thought or consideration went into its planning and construction.

Invest in Your Web Presence and Consult with Someone Who Can Help

As much as I hate to see businesses entering the web and social media space with this kind of presence, it’s easy to be avoid. The goal of my marketing and web strategy consultancy, Dosovo, is to keep businesses from ending up like this. Many will say that it’s easy to become a content creator on the web, but to be effective with the content you are creating is an entirely different story.

So before you decide to roll out that corporate Twitter account or launch a company blog, stop to take a look at what your competitors are doing (or aren’t doing) and consider enlisting the services of someone that can help you make the most of your efforts.

City of Des Moines Launches New Logo

And I like it. KCCI has the story and the resulting graphic, apparently worked on by a team of various City of Des Moines departments

The new logo uses the same colors as the previous version, blue and deep red, but the new imagery is much more powerful, in my opinion. The most significant feature is the solid blue bridge, as seen on 235 and south of downtown on MLK. Included within the arch is a simplistic silhoette of the downtown skyline, all tucked neatly above the bold red ‘Des Moines’ text.

The older logo plays into the bridges downtown spanning the Des Moines River and mimics their shape for the large DM initials, chalking up one point for people organizing events and groups with DM (like #dmtweetup) instead of DSM (as the official designation used by the Des Moines International Airport).

Some on Twitter are up in arms over the logo while others suggest the logo has questionable taste, but I see nothing to complain about. As a marketer, it’s often part of my place to pick things apart and always be looking for improvements, but I’m actually very satisfied with the way things turned out.

I agree with Mark Bockenstedt’s comment that “the old one was kinda lame“, and for me it didn’t truly represent the greatness and potential this city has. The old version had more likeness to a website built in 1995 with Microsoft Word, while the new logo speaks to an enriched and vibrant community through its bold use of color and illustration.

Hopefully some of the locals will chime in here with their thoughts, as I feel like this logo release has a bigger impact on marketers and techies like myself than it will on the general public. It would be great to hear some other arguments and viewpoints.

What Happens When Everyone Stops 'Using' Social Networks?

Today I saw a link on Twitter described as a ‘funny video about social media‘. The video is from Current and is titled, ‘Social Networking Wars‘. The video follows a situation between a grungy, Metallica-fanboy Gen Yer who isn’t logging in to his MySpace profile anymore. The MySpace logo starts whining about how he hasn’t logged in forever, and that MySpace has emailed him several times about a friend request, but still, the guy just doesn’t get excited about logging in. ‘”I’ll check it out when I get some time,” he says.

Who will come out on top? Maybe no one at all.

We’re better than them!

Next up comes the Facebook logo (where the user also has a profile), and Facebook brags about how he is better than MySpace. After Facebook comes a flurry of other social network logos, all vying for the guy’s time and proclaiming how each of them is superior to the other.

The scapegoat of the group is Friendster, whom everyone left back in the day for MySpace because it was the cooler place to be. Now users are leaving MySpace for Facebook. But for what? Users are leaving janky, neon-colorized profiles for a place that let’s you bite, poke and hug your friends, right after you send them an e-teddy bear for $2.

Friendster

Will users get fed up with social networking?

What will happen when people get tired of these social networks that just don’t have any real benefit to them? The guy in the video mentions, “I’ve wasted a lot of time playing around with you during the day and at my job, but now it’s time for me to get back to the real world.” Will we see a time in the near future where people drop the ‘fun’ and ‘cultural’ websites for those that are actually productive or beneficial?

Are these sites really worth what they’ve been valued at?

Another thing that has got me thinking about this lately was a conversation with Nathan Wright of Lava Row, tweeting about the recent $1B valuation of LinkedIn and how it stacks up against Facebook at $15B.

LinkedIn valued at $1B after another round of funding. Seems like a realistic valuation, moreso than Facebook's $15B imho. What do u think?

Is LinkedIn more realistic because it has business purposes? I still have trouble getting LinkedIn and finding the benefit.

Also because it's been profitable since day one. I wonder if some of Fbook's $15B is based on pure cultural significance?

I think a lot of it is based on culture. Its like the dot com era all over again, but this time with Web 2.0 shops.

Don’t get me wrong, I have accounts at Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and all the rest of them, but as I have to manage more and more applications and profiles on different websites, I find myself only logging on to those that I get real value from.

Now I’m wondering how many others out there are in the same boat?

A World of Choices, A Few Constants

In the social media realm it seems that new services are popping up all the time. Almost every new site launches in private beta and hands out invites to a select few who spread them around. I do my best to track down invites to new sites so I can check them out, but whether or not I go back is another story.

Over the past six to eight months, I’ve probably signed up for 20+ new websites or services. Some of my favorites include Twitter, Yelp and Bright Kite. Others that I’ve registered on, such as Digg and Ma.gnolia, are interesting in their own respects, but I don’t use them quite as often as others.

Anyone can launch a new site or service, but the real trick is getting first time visitors to come back again. Here’s my take on what makes a successful launch:

  1. Create a unique service. Offer your users the ability to do something different. Enable them to accomplish a task in a way they’ve not thought about before.
  2. Make it easy to use. Bulky user interfaces with too many extra features won’t fly. If it’s not easy to operate, people will ditch it for something that is.
  3. Make it easy to share. Develop widgets that users can add to their own websites or share with their friends. Create RSS feeds with your data and allow people to interact with it.
  4. Make it personal. Let users set their own variables. Give them options. If they want to access your site from a mobile device, give them that option.

There are many other things to take into consideration when building something new, but these four points are essential in my mind. If you fail at one of these, you’ll have a hard time keeping people around.

As Friendster and Bebo know, audiences can come and go. Keep yours coming back by taking some time to think about your own future.