The Digital Vibes


Advertising as Entertainment: Quoi?
June 2, 2009, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Advertising, Online presence, Social Media

Big Idea: Advertising as Entertainment from on Vimeo.

Macdonald’s brilliant campaign in France, using entertainment as advertising or vice-versa however you look at it – an integration which I truly believe is the way forward. No longer is entertainment a 42 minute TV show with 18 minutes worth of ads.

This was from a presentation at the Razorfish Summit, which you should really check out for some great ideas and insights.

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Sponsored Conversations
May 31, 2009, 10:26 am
Filed under: Online presence, Social Media

This is a great, but very lengthy, post by Brian Solis about sponsored conversations in social media marketing – something I truly believe is the way forward in social media marketing, which will ultimately blur the lines between marketing (traditionally paid) and PR (traditionally unpaid).

This is Not a Sponsored Post: Paid Conversations, Credibility & The FTC
by Brian Solis on May 24, 2009

In the eyes of imaginative and opportunistic advertisers and marketers, bloggers and online influencers are the new celebrities and athletes. Brands are showering them with endorsement deals rich with products, cash, trips, exclusive access to information, and VIP treatment each and every day, creating a new genre of star spokespersons.

Many expert and lifestyle “citizen” bloggers and online weblebrities are creating communities around their personas as they freely and actively share personal and identifiable experiences online, in social networks and also in the real world. Those who can successfully connect their stories to others in and around their peer groups earn trust, visibility and authority – limited only by ambition and ingenuity. They’re rewarded for their presence and ability to point their followers in strategic directions.

These new brand ambassadors are almost the perfect instruments for surreptitiously sparking and cultivating a groundswell of desire within desired target markets.

Consumers look to experts and trusted peers for guidance and insight when making decisions.

But who’s to say that the information they’re receiving from their trusted sources is indeed truthful and honest? Many of these followers are blind to the fact that some of these authorities are actually directly or indirectly compensated for their opinions and insights.

Journalists and reporters on the other hand, most of them anyway, are held to strict editorial guidelines and policies that denounce the practice of receiving products, gifts or compensation in exchange for editorial coverage. There’s at least a line that separates ethical press from advertorials —whether it’s crossed, is another story.

But in the new online world of citizen influence, there’s no line on the horizon—at least not yet. Driven only by loosely defined and sporadically practiced methodologies that promote at-will disclosure and transparency, many brands, intentionally or deliberately, are blurring a consumer’s ability to discern the distinction between partisan and genuine experiences.

The New FTC Guidelines: Even Citizen Journalists Must Disclose Paid Endorsements

That’s all about to change. Under new guidelines proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, brands and bloggers both may be held liable should either the FTC or scorned consumers deem that their actions or claims misguided them, or misrepresented the actual performance or efficacy of the product or service in question..

According to the FTC, the ability for a consumer to exercise better judgment and common sense is indefensible when a glaring absence of disclosure is pervasive.

Earlier this year, The FTC published recommendations to update its guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising and public relations. A new set of guidelines, enforceable by the FTC Act, is due soon.

The Guides, 16 C.F.R. Part 255, are designed to assist businesses and others in conforming their endorsement and testimonial advertising practices to the requirements of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The Guides interpret laws administered by the Commission and therefore are advisory in nature. However, proceedings to enforce the requirements of law can be brought under the FTC Act. The Commission would have the responsibility of proving that a particular use of an endorsement or testimonial was deceptive.

In its review of the proposed guidelines, BusinessWeek observed, “The world’s more ambitious bloggers like to call themselves ‘citizen journalists.’ The government is trying to make sure these heralds don’t turn into citizen advertisers.”

I disagree with BusinessWeek’s observation and so does the FTC.

In a discussion with Mary Engle, the acting deputy director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, she articulated to me, “It’s not about preventing citizen journalists from becoming citizen advertisers, that’s just not true. We’re acting to ensure that bloggers don’t create a bias in the consumer decision-making process. Consumers just need to know that what they’re reading is technically an advertisement.”

Whether the post is compensated with cash or with free product or rewards, the FTC views them equally. Engle observed, “The real test is whether or not the consumer’s impression or decision would change if they knew the post was sponsored.”

The FTC Guides advise that an advertisement employing a consumer endorsement on a central or key attribute of a product will be interpreted as representing that the endorser’s experience is representative of what consumers will generally achieve.

It’s about responsibility and credibility.

But honestly, why chance it?

The practice of paying bloggers and influencers or providing them with free products not only clouds their ability to share an impartial story, but also risks the credibility and trust of brands and influencers among the very people they’re trying to inspire and galvanize.

With or without the new FTC guidelines, the practice of disclosure is not an option when the potential for significantly damaging customer relationships in a very public spotlight is at stake. Unfortunately, such disclosure is not at the forefront of most marketing programs.

Free Products are Gifts that Keep on Giving

Ignorance is bliss, until it’s not…

In 2006, Microsoft introduced its Vista operating system to consumers using traditional and new media. In one of the programs, bloggers of varying levels of influence, received Acer Ferrari notebooks to potentially review and share their experiences of the OS and also the notebook. Initially, it wasn’t made clear to these bloggers that disclosure was encouraged. I saw many variations of the packages and letters. Depending on which version a blogger did or didn’t receive, instructions and intentions were also vaguely communicated. What was commonly perceived and understood by other bloggers and ultimately consumers, was that these expensive notebooks were theirs to keep whether or not they shared anything online. To say it created a blogstorm of controversy would be a gross understatement. The lessons learned here served as precedent for those seeking guidance, but didn’t necessarily translate intro industry-wide standards.

Brands view the practice of sending products to bloggers and online influencers as a natural extension of their product PR campaign. In many cases over the years, companies simply didn’t expect to receive product back from reviewers, whether or not they were employed by a publication bound by editorial guidelines against the acceptance of gifts or free products. Bloggers and online influencers, until the recent FTC attention, were viewed no differently.

Sending free products, according to the FTC, is viewed as compensation, which translates into an advertisement or paid endorsement.

Under the FTC guidelines, disclosure is required in any case where the brand is hopeful of obtaining a published review of the product, when its return, either explicitly or implicitly conveyed, is not expected. This attempts to ensure the protection of all parties against liability or legal action.

Sponsored Posts and Conversations

Whether or not disclosure is evident and forthright, the question really is, whether or not the practice of giving gifts to encourage reviews or outright paying for them is ultimately effective and sound for channeling influence, community building and revenue generation for the long-term.

I am now talking about “sponsored conversations”: outright paying for posts and conversations versus simply sending free product or rewarding influencers with various other incentives and hoping for complimentary posts and discussions in exchange.

A recent report published by Forrester Research defines sponsored conversations as, “A marketing technique in which marketers provide financial or material compensation to bloggers in exchange for their posting blog content about a brand.”

In the report, which is available for $749, Forrester recommends adding sponsored conversations to the corporate marketing toolbox, “Sponsored conversation is controversial; many bloggers believe it threatens bloggers’ reputation for independence. But we think this practice is here to stay. Why? Because bloggers want to get paid and marketers want to pay them.”

According to the FTC guidelines, if there were a financial or other relationship between the advertiser and the endorser that would affect the credibility of the endorsement, that relationship would have to be disclosed under Section 255.5. So, as long as the blogger is clear that the post or conversation is “sponsored,” all guidelines are respected and satisfied.

Wait, what about the brand?

Just because bloggers want to get paid and brands want to pay them, doesn’t make this a no-brainer business practice. Or, put another way, does it actually enhance the product/company brand or the personal brand of the blogger in the long run?

Some of the biggest brands in the world are already experimenting with paid posts including, 1-800Flowers, Black&Decker, Cold Stone Creamery, Dell, Disney, MTV, Sears, Sony Pictures, and TiVo. For example, Kmart recently sent several high profile bloggers on $500 shopping sprees in exchange for “sponsored posts” about their experiences.

I suppose, it’s in the way that you use it . . .

So, let’s examine something of deeper impact and consequence. Every community thrives on interaction rooted in respect and defined by credibility and trust—at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

For bloggers to risk or leverage their existing, and more importantly, potential credibility in exchange for blogola is either absurd or shortsighted. It might be simply gratifying and motivating for now. Maybe the bigger picture has yet to come into focus for many bloggers and the act of recognition is enough. And, for brands to either take generations of a brand ’s integrity or shape its new and emerging identification on the backs of bloggers who’ll loan their stature and reputation is brilliantly foolish. In the end, it’s the consumer who holds the power to decide his or her degree of affinity and affiliation or mutiny and backlash.

Integrity and Reputation vs. Buzz and Google Juice

The impending FTC guidelines and whether or not bloggers and brands are at risk of legal punishment isn’t the issue. We just have to deal with it. We can choose as consumers whether or not we want to engage with this content.

The real discussion should center on why a company or blogger should even care to participate. The things we do for money are governed by personal boundaries. As individuals, we define those lines and how clearly we wish to view and abide by them.

If we examine Forrester’s case for sponsored conversations, we’re essentially fueling word of mouth by paying for social or topical authorities to share their views about our company or product brand in their domain. This is important. We’re talking about paying people to write about a company or product on their existing, personally-branded content platform associated with it’s already existing, captive audience. This theoretically sparks Webwide buzz that connects a brand to the community of would be customers who rely upon these personalities and voices in the both the blogosphere and statusphere to make informed decisions.

Seems simple enough, except two things are going to prevent this from effectively promoting the sponsoring brand over time — 1) disclosures read like warning signs; 2) Google is downgrading any blog or site that actively publishes paid content.

Let’s walk down this path a bit farther . . .

As a consumer, when’s the last time you read an advertorial and walked away inspired or informed? Other than the Snuggie or ShamWow, when is the last time you actually watched an infomercial, let alone bought a product or shared it with your friends because of what you viewed?

Perhaps this is the wrong audience for a discussion probing the shrewdness of the typical consumer. But, I bet many of you reading this now are responsible for the direction, visibility, and perception of a brand. So as brand managers, your brand is what the market says it is, tethered to the credibility and stature of the people who collectively voice their thoughts about it (paid and unpaid). In the world of pay-per-posts or sponsored conversations, brand association starts to paint a picture of guilt by association, not necessarily the building of strategic brand presence or resonance.

This is a deeper discussion of reputation and trustworthiness versus funding word of mouth buzz and viral marketing. To simply state that “disclosure” alleviates and resolves all risks involved with sponsoring conversations trivializes the discussion.

Brand Ambassadors and Inspired Communities

Whether we like it or not, many new companies are offering brokered services to facilitate “pay to play” campaigns in Social Media. Concurrently, many brands are also running these programs from within.

Clearly a balance scale exists where integrity and paid buzz are on opposite sides. So the real question is, how do you leverage the laws of perception management in your favor? One way to do so is through traditional public relations.

Identify target bloggers and work genuinely with them on developing a meaningful story that helps and informs their community. Bloggers will write about products and brands they really care about. You don’t have to pay them to do that. It comes naturally.

This is not to say that there is no place whatsoever for paid endorsements on the Web. Obviously paid endorsements work when the platform for conveying paid messages is understood and accepted. Celebrities have effectively pushed products in commercials without tarnishing their brand for decades. Essentially, the difference is the forums and networks in which these paid messages appear and the fact that the celebrities are usually aboveboard about the fact that they are endorsements.

Look to the existing business of paid endorsements to build and manage a campaign that effectively reaches and compels potential customers without the negative attributes that cling to pay-per-posts.

Hiring or recruiting influential weblebrities and online experts is not unlike the model for linking real world celebrities to brands through commercials, events, appearances, or other dedicated vehicles to promote the alliance and the story. These campaigns, when conceptualized and executed properly, effectively link the product/company brand to the celebrity’s persona and prestige to convey a relationship that connects to consumers through their affinity to the spokesperson. The idea is to create and host a two-way street that still inspires word of mouth and viral marketing.

For example:

Mozy hired iJustine as an official spokesperson airing content on Mozy.com as well as across multiple social networks including YouTube and iJustine branded properties.

Wal-Mart established Elevenmoms, an expert group of independent bloggers who receive free sample products to review and then freely choose which products to review based entirely on their personal opinion and experience.

Baby-products manufacturer Graco launched the Graco Nation Ambassador Program, a dedicated community of select Graco fans.

Based on the company’s successful foray into influencer relations with its Flex loaner program, Ford is currently trying to spark consumer buzz for its impending launch of the Ford Fiesta by enlisting every day consumers to share their experiences online and in social networks.

In the end, sponsored conversations will continue to receive funding, as brands try to insert themselves into the conversations online. The FTC is simply striving for truth in advertising. The point is that when establishing a paid Social Media campaign, anything that is less than clear, honest, or actively contributing back to the bottom line of the business or to a brand’s resonance is actually taking away from it.



IAB’s Social Media Metrics
May 30, 2009, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Social Media

The Social Media Insider commented on the new metrics here, along with a link to the IAB metrics:

Will the IAB’s Social Media Metrics Definitions Help Crack The Engagement Code?
Catharine P. Taylor, May 06, 2009 03:15 PM
Social media and online advertising wonk that I am, I spent part of the morning looking at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s just-released social media metrics definitions. Readers of this column may not see anything earthshakingly new here, but I’m encouraged  thinking about how these definitions will help codify and legitimize social media advertising, and help crack the “engagement” code, one of advertising’s great, eternal mysteries. (Maybe we should have gotten Tom Hanks on the case some time ago.)

The great thing about putting these definitions down on paper is that they create a road map for advertisers on how to make social media purposeful, measuring a wide variety of user interactions and monitoring online dialogue, and putting numbers around it that marketers can understand. (I’m not saying here that the words themselves aren’t important, but that quantifying social media is a very important step toward defining its value.)

Below are just a few of the thing the IAB document defines:

  • Application and video installs.
  • The number of relevant actions, including newsfeed items posted, comments posted, uploads, poll votes, and so forth.
  • Conversation size, which measures the number of content relevant sites and content relevant links, and the monthly uniques spread across those conversations.
  • Site relevance, which measures the density with which phrases specific to a client concern are brought up among relevant sites.
  • Author credibility, such as how relevant the author’s content is and how often it is linked to.
  • Content freshness and relevance, which defines how frequently an author posts.
  • The average number of friends among users of a specific application.
  • Number of people currently using an application.

In other words, compared to old-time metrics like reach, frequency and the click-through, these metrics are deep, not only measuring whether people are engaged, but how they are engaging. It’s like being able to measure the temperature with a thermometer rather than opening the front door and declaring it either hot or cold.

As I said above, for those really involved with social media, these definitions probably just put into writing what you already knew. But imagine that you’re an advertiser who sorely needs to understand social media. Then imagine yourself suddenly finding that you can not only monitor discussion around a certain topic near and dear to your brand but that you can also mention the number of people talking about it and their level of passion. Suddenly, social media goes from a huge, indefinable blob of conversations into something that has contours around which you can engage, plan and buy. That’s huge.

I’m sure these definitions aren’t perfect, so I’ll close by asking our vibrant Social Media Insider community what you think about them. Do they go too far, or not far enough? How actionable are they based on the tools we have today? Comment below. I’m sure the IAB will notice.

I still think that sponsored endorsements and sponsored entertainment point the way forward for social media advertising – think soft-selling. Hope IAB captures these metrics in the next report.



Monetisation through Freemium
May 27, 2009, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Web apps

Posted on TechCrunch – Something the Basecamp founders spoke about before, on charging for premium services.

Free To Use. Pay To Play

by MG Siegler on May 23, 2009

470233447_48a7e123edThe tech world is an interesting one when it comes to companies making money. Some at the top like Microsoft, Apple and Google are raking in billions in profits every year. And each of those do it with different models: Microsoft through software, Apple through hardware and Google through advertising. But at the other end of the spectrum, most startups, even the very popular ones, haven’t yet figured out how to make money beyond their costs.

While the advertising-based model is working for a select few, for most, it’s simply not proving to be a very good stand-alone model. Pandora is one of the companies that web-based advertising is actually working pretty well for. But even they’re not expecting to turn a profit until next year — and that’s based on projections. I bring them up because they recently decided to move forward with a freemium model in a serious way for the first time last week. As a large service with a rabid fan-base, this seems like a brilliant move. And I wonder if the time isn’t right for more services to try this?

The freemium model is hardly a new idea. VC Fred Wilson has been talking about it since 2006 — though the name came a little later — but the model was around well before that also. The idea that you have a core set of features that are free to all users, and charge a fee to the smaller subset of users who will want more advanced features, makes a lot of sense. But now it’s easier than it has ever been for startups of all sizes to be able to take payments for such a structure, thanks to a number of companies and new platforms, like app stores. And there are plenty of startups popping up around this space to further help with this, like the soon-to-launch Contenture.

But I think for the freemium model to work in today’s environment, it has be along the lines of the opening paragraph of Wilson’s post in 2006:

Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.

Rather than launching a service with a freemium model, I think it’s important to gain a large and passionate user-base first. That’s exactly why I think the model will work very well for Pandora. And that’s the same reason why it would work for Twitter, if it ever decides to go that route. Jason Calacanis has been talking about his desire to pay for premium features on Twitter since 2007. And plenty of others have since brought up the idea.

As part of its bid to make money, Twitter is said to be launching premium tools by the end of this year. But that would apparently be for businesses — I think a lot of personal users would be just as willing to pay at this point. I know I would. And that got me thinking: What services would I pay for?

pay-it-forward-dvdcoverI’ll start with the ones I already pay for:

  • Pandora. An easy choice for me. For $36-a-year, they remove all advertising, give you better quality music and a nice desktop app among other things. I paid for it immediately.
  • Flickr. Another site that was a no-brainer for me. At $24.95-a-year, you get unlimited storage space for all your photos online. I’ve been a happy member for a few years now.
  • Tweetie. An interesting one in that it’s a Twitter client. You have to pay for the iPhone app, but there’s also the new desktop app which offers a free ad-supported version, or a paid ($19.95 one-time fee) version minus the ads. Twitterrific, another Twitter client, has a similar model, but also has a free version of its iPhone app, alongside its paid version.

And here are some ones would I pay for:

  • Twitter. While I’m already paying for some Twitter clients, I would gladly pay something between $25-$50 a year for a more robust version of the actual Twitter site if it included things like power-searching, analytics and filters.
  • Facebook. Unlike the very simple Twitter, I think Facebook is already too complicated, so I wouldn’t really want or need any more features. But if it ever came down to it and Facebook really needed to make money and started shutting off features (which would raise a shitstorm like no other among its users), I would gladly pay to keep some of them intact. Again, probably in the $25-$50 a year range.
  • FriendFeed. I would gladly pay a lesser fee, maybe $10 to $20 a year to use FriendFeed — especially if they gave me something like an iPhone app.
  • Gmail. At some point soon, I likely will be paying to use Gmail, as I’m almost out of my free storage space. 10 GB is $20 a year, a bit high, I think, but I’d pay it.
  • Digg. I’d pay to user Digg particularly if I get could easy ways to view more interesting data that they have, and the ability to sort and filter to see what other “Pro” users do. Digg’s comments are quite often absolutely ridiculous, but I think could actually be useful if I could only see ones by users who care enough to pay for the service, rather than trolls. I’d pay about $10-$15 a year for Digg.
  • YouTube. Same as Digg, I’d pay to use YouTube to see only comments by other “Pro” users. And I’d pay for higher quality, longer uploads and a goddamn nicer player than that cheesy big-button box. I’d probably pay up for $30 a year if I could use YouTube to store long, HD videos.
  • Instapaper. This is the service I use to bookmark nearly everything I want to read on the web. It’s very bare-bones, which is one of the reasons that I like it, but I would certainly pay a fee to add search and some other advanced options. I would probably pay like $10 a year to use this. Interestingly enough, like the Twitter clients, Instapaper does have a free and pay version of an iPhone app.

Those are just the ones I would personally be willing to pay for. I’m sure everyone else will have their own list that they would pay for as well. And that’s why the freemium model is so great — it gives users the options to pay for only the services they use the most. And for certain really popular services, I think this could be huge. Pandora CTO Tom Conrad told me last week that he expects only 3-5% of Pandora’s users to sign up for its premium version, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes higher than that — especially if Pandora adds more features to the service over time.

comcast-sucksOne of the keys to this in my mind is the yearly fee. While it might look nice to offer a service for $3-a-month, that recurring charge is ugly. I’d much rather pay a still low $36-a-year and not have to worry about it after that. And let’s add it up. Even if I paid for all of the services I listed above, depending on where the prices fall in the ranges I gave, it’s only $200 – $250 a year. That’s for 10 services, that I love and use every day.

Think about it this way: Before I was able to move away form the colossal rip-off that is Comcast cable, my cable bill was nearly $200 — a month! How people pay companies like Comcast over $2,000 a year for mediocre content and shit service is beyond me. I would rather pay a bunch of hard working start-ups (and yes some bigger services like YouTube — owned by Google — and Flickr — owned by Yahoo) all that money. And I wouldn’t even have to, under the rates I outlined above, I would be paying them just about 10% of that!

The freemium model doesn’t always work. It didn’t for Pownce, for example. But to go back to what I said earlier, getting the users is they key to this. If you can get a ton of them, and get a certain percentage to be very loyal, they’re more than likely going to be willing to pay. And while it may not be enough for every company to only use that model, it at the very least would be a nice compliment to the ad-based model.

And, as I hinted at above, there are other ways to look at this now. With the rise of mobile app stores, it’s becoming a decent business model to have a service that has a pay app. This has worked for the aforementioned Tweetie. An app can be a very simple advanced feature under this freemium model, and extends the possibilities for the model.

But back to the web, just imagine if Facebook has a few percent of its users paying each year. They have over 200 million users, so say just 5% paid. That’s 10 million people paying, let’s say, $30 a year. That’s $300 million — or in other words, nearly its entire projected revenue for this year. If it were able to get 10% to pay, it’s be more than it’s projected revenue. Of course, Facebook isn’t likely to use that model, instead it will focus on micro-transactions and other means of making money — but still, it’s worth thinking about.

There are quite a lot of services out there that I would pay to use, but they won’t let me. Maybe they should.

[photo: flickr/striatic]



Facebook marketing
April 9, 2009, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Online presence, Social Media | Tags:

This is a fantastic set of resources put together by Mashable on how to leverage on the popularity of Facebook, in their Facebook week.

Check out this briliant recap with a list of valuable links for your reference.

facebook weekFor the past seven days, Mashable has provided resources and analysis of Facebook through a series we called Facebook Week.

From building a better Facebook page to making a truly viral Facebook meme, we’ve served up articles from expert guest writers and Mashable team members that aim to educate, inform and help build your business or personal profile on the popular social network.

We’ve also welcomed you to join the conversations on the Mashable Facebook page, where the community discusses everything social media.


9 Facebook Week Resources and Analysis Posts


So what did you miss this past week? Here’s a recap of the articles published during Facebook Week: Continue reading


A free DIY approach to social media
April 8, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Online presence, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,
A nice post from iMediaConnection on getting the word out there on social media, without paying for viral power.
Published: March 25 2009
You don’t need a huge budget or a big agency to start harnessing the power of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These five methods will increase your audience — all by yourself.
Developing content in today’s user-generated media world is easy; marketing that content successfully is not. Numerous bloggers and site owners regularly ask me to explain how they can drive traffic to their sites in order to support their monetization goals. After all, quality content (or a unique product) leads to traffic, traffic leads to branding, and the combination of branding and reach leads to monetization. I respond to these entrepreneurs by telling them that their priority should be to understand and utilize social media strategies and tools, all of which can be easily accessed and are free except for the investment of their time.

Below is a “cheat sheet” of the five most impactful and immediate do-it-yourself actions you can take to increase your site’s traffic.

Access and empower your target audience within social communities
Social media is not as intimidating or complicated as it sounds. Simply start out by setting up your complete profile within various online and mobile communities, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Seesmic, YouTube, Meetup, Naymz, etc. Don’t worry — registering is free and easy. Then look for your friends and existing readers or users (more on this below) by searching for certain keyword topics, groups, affinities, etc., or by looking at the connections one or two degrees of separation removed from you.

Also, browse around for like-minded influencers — the people frequently starting conversations, writing product reviews, contributing their own posts, uploading videos, answering questions, or moderating the community.

Now, befriend these influencers and people you admire, and even consider inviting them as contributors or columnists on your site. For example, one female blogger I invited to be an early contributor to DivineCaroline was so honored that she added “writing at DivineCaroline.com” under her name in her standard email signature.

Keep in mind that using social media for marketing purposes must go beyond simply “collecting” a large amount of friends or connections. You need to connect with community members in a genuine way, by giving them feedback about their profile, sharing some content they might appreciate, or nominating them for an award. If you don’t have content to promote, you could consider launching a new product or making an exclusive offer to members of a specific community.

A friend of mine whose videos are frequently featured on YouTube told me, “I find exposure on YouTube to be an invaluable, free marketing tool that gives me credibility among cool, online influencers. I’m able to see who has voluntarily voted on the quality of my videos and then reach out to them.”

Twitter is a free, simple and effective tool for increasing your exposure, establishing a voice, and keeping tabs on conversation about your site, content, or brand. It’s not a fad you can afford to write off; last month, Twitter’s user base grew more than 33 percent to more than 8 million users in the U.S. The majority of publishers and businesses using Twitter have said the benefits of tweeting include keeping their brand in the public eye, humanizing them to readers on a daily basis, and building a stronger sense of community.

Even a traditional brand like BusinessWeek is sharing, connecting, and learning via this micro-blogging community. John Byrne, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, solicits questions from his audience of 10,000 followers, points out newsworthy articles around the web, and highlights stories from the BusinessWeek website without coming across as too pushy.

Through Twitter Tracker, you can see a real-time listing of some of the most popular media, entertainment, and consumer product feeds. Twitter is only one community out of a handful you need to participate in, so I won’t go into detail within this article. Rather, read these 10 tools for getting started using Twitter.

Next page >>

Leverage your existing user base
Encouraging your current readers or users to promote your site is the cheapest and most efficient way to acquire new visitors. First, take the time and effort to understand who your most loyal users are. Determine this by researching who regularly comments on your content, links to your site, or forwards your enewsletter most often.

Second, communicate with these users by doing things such as showing gratitude for their participation, asking their opinion, and replying to their comments or posts. I know a blogger that every week writes one post profiling a particular reader whose comments she appreciates. Not only does this reader become more involved and loyal, he is also likely to tell his friends to check out the post written about him. Now you can see how connecting personally with these users — and boosting their egos — will encourage them to talk about your interaction or your content with their friends and peers.

Third, show respect for their interests by asking for feedback about your site: What do they like most? In which section do they spend the majority of their time? What do they want to see more of? Implementing even small, creative tweaks to your site or content can result in a traffic upswing for the long-term.

Lastly, after you’ve communicated with and empowered your most active user base, find out where they came from and where they visit next on the web. This is called upstream traffic (the sites they visited before they came to yours) and downstream traffic (the sites they visit after yours). Companies like comScore and HitWise provide this information. Quantcast, a free service, also shows sites that your audience is likely to visit. As an example, Fast Company readers are likely to also visit USNews.com and DIYForums.net. Reviewing the sites listed and any emerging patterns can help you learn more about your audience’s interests, suggest promising new content areas, and point out possible partners.

Syndicate and execute link exchanges with relevant publishers
In today’s Web 2.0 era and going forward, the sad reality is that very few large media companies will pay to license your content, no matter how awesome you think it is. Does this mean that you should hoard your content? No. Just the opposite: Syndicating content or widgets for free to other publishers and distributors is a great way to establish authority for your brand, and increase exposure and traffic for your site.

I caution you, however. From my years in business development, the most important thing I’ve learned about collaborating is that every partnership must be a win-win for both parties involved. So when you share your content, you need to confirm a fair barter exchange: You’ll give content only if they’ll include your byline, logo, and a hyperlink back to your site. To view examples, check out how Huffington Post displays partial articles from DivineCaroline and how MSN features technology articles from PC World.

Another opportunity with partners who have an audience you crave is to agree to do a link exchange with them. This approach — in which you write about and link to a piece of content on their site and they do the same for you — requires little effort and has the potential to drive decent traffic, depending on the size of the partner’s audience and the relevancy of your content to what that audience is reading. This approach shouldn’t take up a large percentage of your time, so be sure not to waste too many hours contacting publishers with small audiences or giving more links than you get back in return. Two easy ways to execute a link exchange include creating a “best of” categorized list, like ReadyMade does, or creating a weekly round-up article with a particular theme, such as Lemondrop’s weekly Link Love.

Get exposure on social news sites
Social news publications and aggregators enable people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. These sites, such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Fark, Yahoo! Buzz, and delicious, promote the best content as submitted and voted on by the community. When you contribute an article, image, or video, your submission will immediately be added into the mix, where other members can find it, access your site to read it, and vote for it. Once something has earned a critical mass of votes, it becomes worthy of appearing on the site’s homepage, which is the traffic driver you’re aiming for. Since you’ll have to compete with some of the nation’s leading content providers, you need to be strategic about which pieces of content you select to submit (they need to be unique and memorable) and which are most appropriate for a particular site’s audience (for example, Digg and Fark cater to more males than females).

There are several simple ways to package and market your content for success on these sites: write strong, bold story titles; use subheads within a story; organize bites of information into lists (i.e. “Top 10 ways to avoid a layoff”); offer new details on a popular topic (i.e. wacky info that makes you a hit at a dinner party); vote for great content, not just your own; and submit your stories regularly and frequently. Don’t forget to build a network on these sites — invite your friends, find related authors, and add them to your friends list so that you can collectively find news together.

Create tools for users to share your product or content
What good is your content if readers don’t know how to share or reference it? You need to add “take action” tools on all your article or video pages, such as print, subscribe to a feed, bookmark, share (email), etc. AddThis offers a free tool that enables users to easily share your content with social news sites. For example, when a reader wants to indicate he likes an article on NewScientist.com, he can scroll over the “share” button and select Digg.

Then he either registers or signs in as a Digg member, and can instantly vote for that article, thereby increasing the article popularity and promotional exposure.

Another free tool for exposing your digital content is a widget. You’ve probably heard the term, but you’re too embarrassed to ask what a widget is and does. Basically, it’s a compact, portable application that can be easily embedded into someone else’s site or blog. You can use this format to showcase your site’s headlines, features, images, or whatever you think will motivate a user to click through. I suggest asking a question, taking a poll, or somehow getting the user to enter information so that they feel more connected to your brand on a personal level. The Weather Channel’s widget does this well — users insert their zip code, and with one click of a button the local forecast appears. Products like Snap Shots and Widgetbox help you build, customize, distribute, and track your own widget.

Allison, who founded the Mrs. Fussypants blog, is a prime example of a content creator who used multiple social media tools and tactics to grow her audience. “I knew early on that I had to be proactive and that I needed something to offer my regular readers to spread the word. So I used Widgetbox, and also asked my readers to subscribe via RSS, favorite my site on Technorati, and write a blog post about me. One reader joked that soon I would ask them to name their next child after me. But all of these efforts have increased my traffic.”

In addition, Allison received so many requests from bloggers to be featured on her site that she decided to create an e-zine, called Blissfully Domestic, with each category written and managed by a specific woman.

Through friends, fans, partners, and free tools, you now have the education (and zero excuses) to greatly benefit from social media.

Rebecca Weeks Watson is director of business development for Real Girls Media.



Top 20 Ways to Share a Great Blog Post
April 6, 2009, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Blogs, Online presence | Tags: , ,
Great post on how to  generate online publicity for your blog post, from Mashable:

March 29th, 2009 | by Ben Parr

One of the best things about the web and social media is how much great information is written and produced every single day. If you’re a regular reader of blogs, you probably come across great articles that you just want everyone to know about. But what’s the best way to share these posts?

Luckily, there’s no shortage of ways to spread the word. Blogs, social networks, instant messenger, and mobile phones are some of the many ways to let others know about the best content on the web. Here are our 20 favorite ways to share a great blog post:


Sharing Via Social Media:


Mashable Twitter Image1. Using Twitter to Tweet and Share: Perhaps the fastest and most effective way to share a great blog post is through Twitter. Sharing or retweeting a link in Twitter can spread like wildfire. Use a URL shortener such as tinyurl or bit.ly to shorten links to fit within 140 characters.2. Posting to Facebook: Sharing a blog post on the world’s largest social network is as simple as going to the Facebook homepage and posting a link.

3. Digg it: Not only will you help bring that blog post one step closer to reaching the front page of the news site Digg (which will spread it even further), but all of your Digg friends will see it as well.

4. Post on MySpace Profile: Don’t forget about the world’s second largest social network when sharing your favorite articles. Post the link to your MySpace profile so your friends can enjoy it too.

5. Posting to LinkedIn: Some blog posts are worthy of being shared by your business network on LinkedIn . Post a link to the Network Updates area in the homepage.

6. Stumbling on StumbleUpon Stumble the post! StumbleUpon is a favorite network for discovering fun websites and useful information, so make sure that you give the post a thumbs up. The StumbleUpon Toolbar is the easiest way to Stumble.

7. Bookmarking to Delicious: Delicious is great for not only sharing posts, but for helping categorize blog posts for others to find. In addition, you can import your delicious bookmarks to Facebook, FriendFeed , and other social media websites.

8. Sharing on FriendFeed: The social media aggregator FriendFeed has a vibrant community who love to share videos, links, and pictures. Use the FriendFeed bookmarklet to quickly share a good blog post to FriendFeed.

9. Adding to Reddit: Reddit is another great social media site for sharing and voting on articles. It’s quick and easy to submit a link


Sharing Via Blogs:


10. Reblogging Great Posts: Blogging about a great article is one of the best ways to engage with the topics being discussed. Post a link, write some commentary, and share it with all of your readers. And don’t forget to share your own blog post as well!11. Sharing via Google Reader: Google Reader has a great feature for sharing blog posts. If you use Google Reader as your news reader of choice, all you have to do is click the “share” button at the bottom of blog posts to share it with all of your Google friends. You can also add notes and comment as well.

12. Posting on Tumblr or Posterous: If you want to share something via a blog, but don’t want to write a full blog post about it, there are great options for that as well, primarily Tumblr and Posterous . They are the quick and easy versions of full-fledged blogs, ideal for posting about pictures and blog posts.


Useful Tools for Sharing


Shareaholic Image13. TwitThat: TwitThat is one of the quickest and easiest tools for sharing blog posts. It will post to your Twitter quickly and easily. Just add the bookmarklet to your browser toolbar and click it whenever you come across a great post.14. Shareaholic Firefox Extension: There are a lot of great social networks where you can share a great post, but who wants to visit Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn to share a post? If you are a Firefox user, then install Shareaholic, an extension that goes on your toolbar. It provides quick links for sharing to all of the major social networks.

15. Ping.fm: If you’re a busy person, you might not have time to share on all of these social media websites. Isn’t there an easy way to share a blog post everywhere, all at once? Ping.fm links to all of your social networks and sends your updates to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, to any other website you wish to link to it. You can even update from your instant messenger. It’s the perfect solution for those who like to share content all over the web.


Other Ways to Share:


ShareThis Image
16. Emailing: Email has always been a good way to share articles, especially with close friends and family. Although it may not reach as many people as Twitter, it will definitely reach anyone who isn’t as deep into social media as you are.
17. Texting: Did you know you that many blogs, including Mashable, support sharing an article via text message? Look out for the ShareThis button (three green dots connected by lines) under blog posts and select the “text” option. iPhones and mobile browsers have made it easy to read links sent by texts.

18. Changing IM Statuses: You probably have dozens, if not hundreds of IM contacts. Share great posts with all of them by changing your IM status to a great post you just read or wrote.

19. IMing a friend: If changing an IM status seems too impersonal, then just IM your friends the link. You can then have a fun chat about the blog post.

20. Talking to Friends: If you don’t have a computer handy, then don’t forget about the analog approach – call a friend or tell him or her over coffee about a great blog post you read. You can always send the link later if necessary.


How Do You Share Blog Posts?


This post only scratches the surface of sharing in social media. There are hundreds of tools and resources at your disposal. If you have another great way to share blog posts, please add it in the comments.