Is the Tumblr buzz justified? Is it the new Twitter?

It seems that Twitter is becoming an increasingly useful barometer of buzz around products or services. (Services like Twitterbuzz could benefit if you discount Tinyurl!).

It happened recently with FriendFeed, when I noticed about 10 of my contacts on Twitter all signing up or chatting about it. And it happened again yesterday with Tumblr.

There are a load of interesting articles I can, and will, be writing about discovering products in a viral, Word-of-Mouth type way like this, so marketing/PR type people, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

But I’m going to share my first thoughts about Tumblr for the moment. Lots of people have compared it to Twitter, which in some ways is hiding the real competition. Like Twitter, it does allow you to update quickly and easily, via the Bookmarklet tool, and it has an advantage in allowing quick updates of video, pictures, chat, quotes etc. And like Twitter, it’s clean and smooth to use. Hit bookmarklet, edit anything in a pop-up window, and move on – much like bookmarking in Del.icio.us.

BUT- Twitter is all about the social. Like Del.icio.us, it didn’t really give me much value, until my follows and followers numbers reached a certain point – probably around 20 or 30. And the value has grown with each person added…(Waiting for Dave Cushman to pop over from FasterFuture to mention Reed’s Law!)

As yet, Tumblr doesn’t offer any way to easily connect with friends and contacts and follow their Tumbls easily. That’s why I think the real places it competes is with WordPress and Blogger. I’m a fan of both (As you can tell by this blog still appearing on Blogger), and think they both do a good job of allowing non-technical people to start engaging with blogging, writing, widgets, communities etc.

But both WordPress and Blogger do force you to develop a bit of an interest in HTML, Usability, Design etc. Adding videos can be a hassle, unless the website in question has a ‘Blog This’ function and you don’t mind sharing your username. And misplacing a bit of code in your HTML can lead to serious problems (as I’ve continually reminded myself when editing code in a hurry).

Tumblr removes all these problems, and as with the blogging platforms, it can be ftp’d to your custom domain. Essentially, it’s a stripped down, easy to use Blogger, which doesn’t require you to visit the Blogger site to log in and post. It’s ideal for anyone who uses a lot of multimedia, without wanting to cover their sites in widgets, and it’s also a great time saving device.

Personally, although I’ve signed up and played, and can see the benefits, I’m not sure how often I’ll use it. I’ve already got a working blog with a continually surprising amount of readers – and I adore the social side of Twitter to the point of declining in my use of Facebook or email. But if I was looking to start my own blog as a repository for all the things I find during my day, and without wanting to write huge long posts (Never going to happen, right?), then Tumblr is definitely worth looking at.

Conversation about definition: Marketing, Blog, Bloggers, Public Relations (PR)

Aside from an exponential increase in my involvement on Twitter, and setting up FriendFeed on an experimental basis, probably my most interesting discussion at the moment is with Brendan Cooper, the creator of the PR Friendly Index.

Having submitted this blog, I was curious whether it’s non-appearance was down to performance, or definition (I promise I was curious, rather than complaining!). Which led onto an interesting and good natured discussion about the definition of blogs, bloggers, PR and influence. I doubt there will ever be an exact definition for any of those terms which won’t cause disagreement in one quarter or another, but I thought Brendan’s views were pretty interesting, and wanted to post my latest response here, to hopefully get some other feedback on my own attempts to define the indefinable.

So, here’s my own humble take on blogs, bloggers, influence and PR. Which does raise the question for me of whether marketing and PR co-exist any more, or whether it’s an artificial split in the business of building relationships and conversations around a specific brand/topic/product:

Influence: Interestingly, I’m very deep in researching the usage of Net Promoter scores, Buzz Monitoring etc, to look at how to track influence and engagement as far as is currently possible (Nothing will ever be close to 100%!). I do know from discussions with some firms that they’ll be providing some limited free tools in the future, which may help track influence above and beyond popularity and linking. I’m influenced by a lot of things that I don’t end up linking from my blog due to time, effort etc.

Blogs: For me, it’s any site which is updated chronologically in one ‘flow’. Any news site is chronological, but articles etc will be spread across sections. A blog can cover numerous areas of interest, but everything is covered in one main stream of information which can then be split out. Rather than a homepage aggregating from the various sections. If that makes sense!

Bloggers: Anyone publishing a blog, whether paid/unpaid, corporate or not. And certainly a journalist can also be a blogger and vice versa. For me, the definition seems to come from what, where and how their content is displayed. Again, going back to my definition of a blog (which is very much a work in progress). I’d hesitate to define it by technical functionality, such as RSS, and certainly look to define it more by form (Any definition of over 100 million examples is going to be fuzzy in some way…)

PR: Definitely the trickiest one. Should it be classed with Marketing/Customer Retention? Is there even a place for it now? I’d argue that to define a discipline by the fact it doesn’t analyse as deeply as another is probably doing it a disservice, but it’s difficult not to. Certainly journalism, PR, marketing, advertising etc are all increasingly about relationships and conversations rather than purely broadcasting. I’m still stunned by at least one PR company I deal with banning employees from using Facebook for example, rather than encouraging the use of every tool to target press releases as accurately and individually as possible. But where the line comes between targetting press releases to journalists and bloggers, and marketing something to bloggers and consumers, for example, is very, very fuzzy. Maybe the terms for PR and Marketing should be merged and then discarded. Engagement and communication? Enunication? Communigagement?


I’m expecting some Entrecarders (I know you’re out there) to weigh in on Blogs and Blogging! And I hope Communigagement and the like don’t take off…but if they do, I want credit! Engagication?

Any comments I do get, I’ll aggregate and combine with the conversation with Brendan.

An amazing piece of crowdsourcing by a newspaper/website

Just a short update, due to my need to finish decorating a nursery and cooking the evening meal. But I had to share one of the best examples of crowdsourcing I’ve seen, and by newspaper and website. (I picked this up via Jeff Jarvis)

Documents relating to the assassination of John F Kennedy have been discovered in a vault by the Dallas Country District Attorney, and he’s made them available to the Dallas News. So what did the Dallas News due with the huge amount of documents, which had been compiled by the District Attorney at the time of the assassination, and never made public?

They’ve started making huge chunks of the documents available as PDFs and available for public download. And they’re asking their readers to look through these amazing documents, and let the Dallas News know if they find anything interesting.

In the old days, such a huge amount of documents would probably have ended up with a junior staff member or similar spending weeks looking through them, and despite their best efforts, missing important news.

Now, though, staff and the public can look through. And with a topic like this, you can bet there are plenty of interested academic and amateur experts rushing to read through all this new info, and who are probably better placed to judge if something is new or ground-breaking than a Junior Reporter who might have never covered the subject before.

I’m certainly intrigued enough to download some of the PDFs and have a read when I get five minutes…

Are Myspace and Facebook in decline?

It’s not surprising there’s been a lot of response to the Nielsen Online findings that both Facebook and Myspace have dropped around 5% in UK audience figures for January 2008, month-on-month. Bebo also dropped 2% for UK users MoM for January.

It’s worth noting that the findings come from monitoring UK usage at home and at work, meaning schools, universities and internet cafes are not included. (Would the drop be contributed to by the fact school pupils and students were home more during December)

Interestingly it also coincides with a presentation I attended which claimed a significant portion of people will stick with whatever social network site they first got involved in – and those that do migrate tend to still visit their former social network home, but in less and less frequency.

And the final interesting facet to this is the continued growth of Twitter.

This all fits somewhat with my own habits recently, as I’ve reached a critical mass on Twitter, and I find myself constantly wanting to check the conversations and links being added. Meanwhile there is slightly less relevant and interesting content surfacing on Facebook in relation to annoying application invites for novelty items.

A number of reasons for this spring to mind. Twitter is used incredibly easily on mobile, and strips out anything extraneous to ‘the conversation’. The publicity of a supposed paedophile threat and more realistic concerns over employers checking profiles could have affected sign-ups/usage. Possibly some people have simply decided the profile led social networks aren’t for them, or didn’t see how it can be useful. Or perhaps a time of possible recession has meant people are more conscious of how they spend their time at work – if social networking hasn’t been blocked or banned.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next few months, but some things I do know:

  • Facebook dropped 5% MoM, but was up 712% YoY (UK)
  • Myspace fell 9% YoY (UK). Bebo was up 53% YoY
  • None of those figures mean you can ignore those sites.
  • Those who interact the most, who give and receive the biggest value in terms of interaction, will continue.
  • The niche networks are where growth is predicted.
  • Even with a 5% drop, the market leaders still have a huge potential crowd, as long as they are interacted with in the right way.
  • Twitter will continue to grow for a while yet, as it’ll start moving past the techy early adopters. Particularly around quick and easy mobile updates, which can then appear on Facebook/Myspace/Blogs etc.
  • If the social networks develop again, users will be drawn back. It’s all about developments and friends as reasons to visit.

Drive online website registrations by tackling stress and panic

They may or may not be beneficial to your health, but stress and panic can be two of the biggest motivators around – particularly with a deadline looming. So why don’t more companies look at how they can answer these problems? As Seth Godin posted a while back, “That thing you’re marketing… Does it add to stress or take it away?”

It seems that there would be a huge marketing advantage in reducing stress and panic across every industry, but some would find it could be their biggest advantage over their competitors, particularly when it comes to markets like insurance or finance.

A great case in point is insurance. I recently needed the insurance documents for my car, which appear to have gone missing when I moved house. And I needed them fast.

So I rang my car insurers at Direct Line. By post the documents take days to arrive. And despite the fact I was personally authorising (and almost begging) them to fax me a copy, it’s against their company policy. (It might be against Data Protection rules etc, but the stated reason was company policy). So their company policy is effectively to ignore the fact a customer is asking them to fax a copy of documents showing details of that customer.

So the next step was to take a look online. Hidden on the Direct Line homepage is an option for existing customers to log in and access and service policies. Which could theoretically solve my problem.

Looking good, isn’t it?

Nope.

Because to register and use this function, I need to include an ‘Online Customer Code’. Which has to be requested and then sent, via post! And to request an online customer code, I need to use my policy number. Which wasn’t in the same location as my computer.

So despite the fact I’ve been a customer for years, and the myriad methods of communication available, I’m still relying on someone printing a certificate, putting it in an envelope, and sending it to me days after I actually needed it.

The solution?
There are lots of methods available, and I’m not a Data Protection expert. But why couldn’t I specify an email address when I first apply for insurance, and have a PDF copy of my insurance certificate emailed to me? I’m far less likely to misplace my laptop/email account than a piece of paper?

Or why not automatically register me for the online service when I set up my insurance? That way, the confirmation would be sent with my certificate (or separately around the same time), and it might prompt me to log in, set a memorable password, and then be able to access it when I really need it?

Either method, or a suitable alternative, would have seen Direct Line get a valid email address to contact me with – rather than having to post endless direct mailings to try and get my home insurance with them (It’s actually already with them, under my partner’s name!), or to take out a loan.

It would have also meant I wouldn’t have rushed around in a panic, turned the house upside down, and now have the stress and panic prompting me to think about changing my insurance company when my policy comes up for renewal. Which is actually just a couple of months away!
And I’d be busy recommending a company that had reduced my stress, rather than made me waste my time on the phone and online to find out my simple problem wouldn’t be solved.

Avoidance:
So to avoid similar feelings towards your company, ignore technology, silos, separate teams etc. And just get together at the start of the consumer/user process and think about what it is that the person will want and need, and also why they might need these things in a hurry at some point. Then just work out if there’s a way to pre-empt these problems without running into legal or Data Protection problems. If so, use it. If not, then make it clear that there is a legal reason for the stress, rather than simply ‘company policy’. Unless your ‘company policy’ is to piss off your consumers.

N:B I fully intended to give Direct Line a right to reply, but it appears you can only contact them via the postal service, or by paying the cost of phoning an 0845 number.

Max Gogarty and The Guardian – From mistake, to farce, to learning

I was ready to lay into The Guardian again, as the whole Max Gogarty controversy seemed to be missing the basic point of blogging. Besides the issues of nepotism, and class, the controversy would have been much less if blogging had been explained and implemented properly, criticism had been pro-actively responded to, and it The Guardian hadn’t decided to sulk and stop readers commenting.

We’ve had a response from the Travel Editor which concentrated on the hiring and class struggle. We’ve had a story detailing the ‘hate mail hell‘ Max has gone through. And throughout it all, there seems to be a lot of surprise about the responses to the blog, both on The Guardian, and throughout the internet.

Thailand pic by Flydime on Flickr.

It went viral because someone decided to close comments. For the same reason that someone banned from their local pub will probably go straight to their next nearest drinking hole, and sit their complaining about the ban. If you want to discuss something strongly, and a website won’t let you, you go elsewhere.

It got complaints because it wasn’t honest and open. Disclosure isn’t an unfamiliar concept to journalists or bloggers, so I’m still amazed it proves so difficult for corporate or company-approved bloggers to understand that hiding things are pointless. You should be honest,
to the point of stating why you can’t discuss certain topics on here. I wouldn’t blog about someone I didn’t like at work, for example, or a top secret project, because they’d be biased, or damaging to that project.

It got complaints because the only response was to close the comments. In later stories, you saw responses from someone claiming to be Max’s dad, Paul Gogarty, and also Emily Bell. And even though there was still blame on the ‘nasty bullies’, and a time limit on comments, you can already see that the nature of the comments changes slightly when there is actually someone listening and responding.

But, it seems like there is some valuable learning. Emily Bell, The Guardian’s Director of Digital Content, wrote a piece on the value of discourse yesterday, which did acknowledge the value of participation.

There is one line that worries me when she writes about ‘representative insitutions’ and mass participation : “we can shepherd refinement into this new partnership”.

Why would we want or need refinement? Do we want shepherds herding us around like sheep? Or do we just want to feel like our comments matter?

Word of Mouth Marketing and Community Marketing defined

I’ve read a myriad of works attempting to quantify Word of the Mouth Marketing and Community Marketing, ranging from the likes of the Cluetrain, to Wikipedia. Many attempt a philosophical or pseudo-scientific approach, citing ideas such as messages spreading like viruses, key advocates, and bi-directional customer feedback flow.

That’s fine, and some of those approaches have a lot of worth. But I like to make things simple as possible.

Community Marketing and Word of Mouth Marketing is simply helping people to find the solutions to their problems (including finding news/sports/entertainment) by asking around. And it leads to the feeling you get when someone you know recommends a good plumber or carpenter who can fix your house, or a mechanic who can get your car on the road. For half price.

That’s it in the most basic nutshell. As a community marketing person, my job is to make the tools on our websites as simple and easy to use as possible to allow people to get to know each other and ask those questions in whatever is the best way for them at the time, and also to let people not currently on our sites know we exist in order for them to satisfy their needs.

That’s why most of the best Word of Mouth and Community Marketing experts aren’t employed by companies or marketing agencies. That’s why the best Word of Mouth and Community Marketing experts are those people who work for some spare cash as plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Because they can’t advertise, and they totally rely on recommendations.

Can large companies do Web 2.0?

Usually in the newspaper business, The Guardian is heralded as the most Web 2.0, new media savvy example.

And usually, they exhibit fairly good awareness, such as quoting me on a recent widget ‘scam’ which I fell for.

And yet, within the space of a few days, they’ve gone and made a has of something as simple as publishing a blog about a 19-year-old going travelling. You can see the offending blog and uproar, here. (I picked up on it thanks to the nice people at NixonMcInnes)

For those who don’t want to jump, here’s the summary.

All of this could have been avoided by Max admitting who his dad was from the start and putting up with some ribbing. It could also have been mitigated by Max responding to comments and admitting his background. And it could still have been rescued if comments hadn’t been closed.

All of this seems blindingly obvious, but I’m guessing that there are plenty of people at The Guardian who would also think the same, and have probably read The Cluetrain Manifesto, and believe in honesty and openness.

The issue it raises for me is whether it’s possible to scale the understanding that an individual blogger, or a small team can have about social media and how it works, and expand that out to an entire brand, business or company? And can it happen to the level that events like this would not just be avoided, but wouldn’t even occur to people? Is there a large scale firm who achieves it? I’m going to avoid putting my own personal opinion on this, as I want to hear other opinions, but my job title probably gives a big clue as to what I think…

Free online magazine: Disposable Media Issue 10 out now…

The latest issue of free downloadable online PDF magazine Disposable Media is now available online at www.disposablemedia.co.uk

Highlights include our exclusive interview with Mr Biffo on the current state of Kid’s TV, an exclusive interview with The Stone Gods (the reborn Darkness), Suda51, a look at both Battlestar Galactica and Californication, Manhwa (the comic genre of South Korea), and much much more…

There’s also my own column, and my retrospective look at a legendary comic – in this case, the Kevin Smith penned Daredevil….

Quoted in The Guardian!

It’s not often that my blog and I get a mention in The Guardian, or linked to! Funny what can happen when you install a widget without being suspicious!

Anyway, the full article is located here.

My job title is slightly inaccurate, as I was working for Emap Consumer Media at the time the article was being written, but the division has since been acquired by Bauer, so is now Bauer Consumer Media.

And editing Disposable Media is very, very much my hobby in my spare time, and one which I’m very fortunate my employers have allowed me to indulge up to this point. It has benefits for the company, in that I tend to be more experimental, and can understand community from two viewpoints…but my main role with Bauer is my employment and main focus..