A useful new site, and a future prediction…

If you’re reading this elsewhere, it’s from www.thewayoftheweb.net by Dan Thornton

Had a really good day in London, and met some cool new people, both from within Bauer Media and externally. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of reasons to write about them all shortly!

I spotted a number of sites mentioning Backtype as I was catching up on my RSS feeds on the train home. It’s a fairly elegant way of keeping track of the comments you leave on other websites and blogs – something I tried doing via Delicious, but always failed to keep track of!

If you’re interested, you can keep tabs on me at Backtype.com/DanThornton. The way it tracks comments is by tracking the url you leave – which covers most blogs and similar sites. I doubt there are any Dan Thornton/BadgerGravling impersonators out there, but they’ll appear if they’re dropping my urls! I’ve looked at alternatives like Disqus, and coComment, but never quite saw enough value to invest the time and effort needed. Backtype is far quicker and simpler, and may well encourage me to re-investigate some of the alternatives, depending on what happens – although Friendfeed etc also give a home to comments and conversation about blog spots.

Now the predicition. I’ve been prompted to pick some of the things I think will emerge next on the web (and I’m always happy to also spout my ideas unprompted!). I’ve often made the obvious observations around mobile and smartphones, and the fact that Twitter and microblogging are being adopted by brands, enterprise, celebrities and the mainstream. But the third prediction is one that surprised me a little, the first time it launched out of my mouth!

Twitter has a fair way to go to become really mainstream, but the next site/application to follow it, in my opinion, will be Seesmic. Most people in the tech bubble will have heard of it and web celeb founder Loic le Meur. But, like many emerging sites and applications, it’s taken a little time for the value of the service to become apparent.

For the unitiated, it’s a tool for video conversations by individuals, enabling responses to be threaded into coherence. Which means it overcomes the downside of streaming your life via webcam 24/7 – the dull bits. It’s already popular with some people withing social media – like top journalism lecturer/social media/multimedia person Paul Bradshaw – but now it’s also being used by mainstream media. The BBC has now joined the Washington Post in using the service, as written about by Loic today, and not only have they outlined how it will be used in their first video, but they’re already gaining responses to their first conversation about the financial crisis.

Now listen up, journalist people. Not only can you get a response from the more engaged members of society without having to do ‘voxpops‘ in the local town centre in the pouring rain – but now they’ll even video themselves! See the benefit now?

Breaking the habit of broadcast media

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

It’s only when you try and break a long held habit that you realise how much we’re all influenced by the way we’ve always done things. Since starting my efforts to cut down and stop smoking, I’ve managed to get to the point where I only have the occasional cigarette once the family has gone to bed – but it’s the hardest one to drop. And when I get writers block, my intake rapdily goes up because I’ve spent so long finding inspiration by getting outside and getting the hit of nicotine while my brain kicks into gear.

And I’ve also started to try and challenge the broadcast media habit of trying to get the biggest audience with the least work. For years we’ve focused on audience figures to suggest that by doing the bare minimum, you’ll reach the biggest audience.

Whereas in the modern world, we need to work harder than ever at making as much of what we do remarkable, and to pursue as many opportunities to the maximum as we can. Otherwise we’ll keep finding someone else that does!

It reminds me of a post I read earlier today, which sadly I seem to have misplaced, commenting on the problem facing the A-List of blogging. Namely, the fact that people like Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk are finding it hard to scale to respond on an individual level to every email, post and tweet they receive, and in effect, become mini-broadcasters.

The simple answer is that they still remain increasingly popular because they put in a huge amount of effort to stay more accessible than mainstream media. They don’t have to make time for everyone, but by attempting it as far as possible, it gives hope to those who don’t grab their attention at a particular time. It’s why I count myself fortunate to have had messages from the likes of Chris Anderson and Hugh McLeod, but I don’t bombard them with emails, or suddenly thinkg they’re my best friend and will respond to everything I do – they’ll do it if what I say is interesting and they have the time available.

The other option is to scale it, and for them to find someone as similar as possible, or someone they can trust, to work alongside them.

That’s where broadcast media should be. We still have far more resources than the top bloggers, so why not scale back on the coverage that everyone else is parroting, use link journalism, and focus on becoming closer to the spirit of individual response that blogging has fostered.

After all, it’s what we laud Zappos, Dell and Comcast for doing.

But there is a habit of resisting the idea of putting in that much effort for what will be less profit in total. Despite the fact that everything so far has shown that it’s harder to get similar levels of profit from online audiences as you would in print, radio or TV, and that the only way to really be successful is to aggregate lots and lots of individuals monetisation.

Annoyingly, the great David Armano summed this up far more succinctly.

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (http://darmano.typepad.com/)

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (http://darmano.typepad.com/)

At the point before the curve starts to dip, we need to put in the extra effort to keep that line climbing. Now if only I hadn’t needed a cigarette to think of all this!

An unsung benefit of Twitter

Many of the benefits of using Twitter have been discussed in terms of individual communication, or opening up companies – but one major benefit I’ve experienced hasn’t been mentioned anywhere I’ve seen.

At it’s most simple, I get a lot less email to deal with. For all the time I’ve spent on Twitter, and the ability is has to act like social networking crack and make whole hours vanish in conversation, it’s had a hugely positive effect on the time I spend trawling through Outlook filing 100s of emails for attention if I get time, following links, and generally drowning in a see of email.

Twitter has changed that by allowing anyone who wants to contact me with a simple question get straight to the point – the same works for linksharing (along with Delicious,Stumbleupon and Digg).

I rarely browse websites, or read reviews and other content which isn’t recommended for me personally. I rarely get emails touting the latest viral comedy video clip, or joke photos – and when I do, it’s from people who I’d generally classify as Late Adopters. Which means for the first time in a few years, my main email accounts (including my work one) are now possible to keep relatively empty – when a few months ago I’d regularly be getting 150+ emails per day. It also means less time spent configuring spam filters and email rules to keep myself productive.

The final benefit is that it categorises communication somewhat. Without it becoming silo’d, it means that I can expect useful links on Delicious, documents on email, and a general overview of the best stuff on the web from Stumbleupon and Digg. And I can expect to dive into the latest Zeitgeist, and pick up on messages and links quickly in a few Twitter bursts throughout the day.

So if you want to help justify the time you spent tweeting – start counting the time you don’t spend checking emails…

Is Twitter actually communication?

I’ve been a twitter user for a little while now, and yes, it is addictive. You get used to posting all kinds of stuff as often as possible.

It’s especially addictive when people you have never spoken to start following you for no good reason! It’s the best, so thank you, all my followers.

What quietly bugs me about Twitter is that I wonder if by default, it is really a form of communication.

Plenty of twitter users just pump out the tweets as if they are a lone voice broadcasting to a world who clings to their every word.

As I was informed recently: “You’ve got it (Twitter) all wrong, you don’t hear from your followers, you hear from those you follow”.
This for me, seems wrong. I am not an egotistical evil genius so therefore am into Twitter only for actual communication – not for just pounding out what I’m doing with little regard for others.

I am all into following back my followers. If I am of interest to them, then we can be twitter friends as far as I am concerned.

Twitter takes a little effort if you want to consider it as a mini-social network. I have evenings where I feel like ‘getting myself out there’ and so concentrate on replying to people who have been tweeting and having a little chat.

There were some people I found on Twitter who I followed because they are the internet-famous giants. But for me, those guys can give me no personal contact – they are victims of their own social success. They couldn’t possibly interact with the sheer number of their followers. These sorts I stopped following.

To me, Twitter is all about making friends and networking. I specifically also like to befriend my fellow UK residents, especially if there are geographically near me.

Twitter has to be up close and personal. It’s all about interactive communication.

Twitter etiquette – are Tweeple a better class of people?

Every popular social network contains people and accounts which, for one reason or another, are undesirable. Spammers, con artists, egomaniacs (Isn’t that all of us?), the plain offensive etc all inhabit the social world – as they do in the real world.

Recently I unfollowed 3 such accounts on Twitter. None were malicious in the same vein as people setting up phishing scams. But two constantly used it as a platform for personal attacks – either against one individual, or against a group of individuals, without providing anything of value.

A third autofed his latest blog entries but refused to engage in conversation, or even reply to direct messages. That’s just about excusable if you’re constantly breaking lots of news e.g. @BBC for BBC News, or you’ve reached the scale of someone like Robert Scoble, who follows and is followed by over 20,000 people. It’s not ideal, but excusable…but if you’re batting at under 100 for example, then there really is no reason for ignoring anyone who wants to interact with you.

That all might seem a bit negative – but then I flipped it around in my head. I’ve unfollowed 3 people – not had to block them, or complain about them, but just unfollowed them with a simple click of a button. But due to a policy of reading through a few details before adding people, those are 3 of 714 I’m following. So that’s 0.42% of all the people I have chosen to follow, and an even smaller percentage of people that I’ve had any contact with.

It’d be interesting to find out how this compared with other networks, but from a subjective viewpoint, it’s a lot less. And the number one connection tool for irritation still seems to be Myspace.… The perentage on there is probably closer to 20%!

It’s why we persevere with Twitter despite the downtime, and it’s why Plurk is gaining traction. The days of average users amassing 1000s of random contacts for the sake of it is waning by people who actually want to use these tools for a tangible benefit. The days of using them for what my colleague, David Cushman describes as ‘selfforming communities of (global) niche shared interest’ is here for more and more people. And Twitter is all the better for it…

Interesting post explains Twitter isn’t for conversation…

Just read an interesting post by a colleague of mine about Twitter, and his belief that it really isn’t a service for conversation. It’s an opinion aired by Robert Scoble, who sees it as a broadcast mechanism for his 20,000 followers.

But David thinks differently, and explains why he believes it’s around communities of purpose in a guest post on the /Message blog.

Solve one problem to justify social media marketing to any boss

There’s just one problem which requires solving to finally put social media/buzz/community marketing people in a position to easily justify investment and resource.

Image by uBookworm under Creative Commons

We can all measure the splash of a promotion dropping into our worlds.

But what we need to do is be able to measure the quality and quantity of every ripple it makes, and everything else it disturbs, and combine all those measurements into one, simple, and hopefully big, number.

Until digital and social media advocates are in positions of responsibility in large companies around the globe – that’s what it takes. And to get to that position, you have to either accommodate the measures of the old school, or start a new firm and grow to the size of a global megacorp. In the meantime, we need to be famous to 15 people for quality,

and still show we can also reach 15,000 with anything down to the merest 5th hand whisper.

The problem is, measuring every single effect of even a single conversation is near impossible. But the closer we strive to it, the more influence and reach we can report back.

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.