Creating categories and definitions by doing, not debating

I just read a post by Peep Laja which talked about the old advice of inventing a new category to be able to charge more for your products than just slotting into a predefined definition, followed by a post by Neville Hobson on an attempt to redefine what PR means. And both have reinforced my belief that you only create new categories and redefine existing ones by actually going out and doing stuff.

As much as I can have respect for the people who get caught up in debates about what PR, Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Transmedia, SEO, etc all should mean exactly, the simple fact is that noone cares. Seth Godin talked about successful modern marketing beginning with product planning and development, but still many businesses and consumers see marketing as part of advertising.

When I try and define what I do for people, it comes out as:

  • I write for my own projects
  • I write for other people’s projects
  • I market my own projects
  • I market other people’s projects
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing for other people
  • I provide research for my own projects
  • I provide research for other people
  • I host my own websites
  • I provide hosting for other people
  • I manage my own paid advertising campaigns
  • I manage paid advertising campaigns for other people
  • I manage affiliate campaigns for other people
  • Or I do: Writing, Journalism, Blogging, Natural SEO, Paid SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Training, Tutoring, Affiliate Management, Community Management, Analytics,

Either way, it means I should need the world’s biggest business cards. I don’t.

Dan Thornton business card - AKA and

It's me. And a quick meeting or search tells you more...


But actually, what tends to happen is that my client list has grown from referrals from existing clients or from people finding out about me for one area of what I do, and those that are more rewarding for me in terms of enjoyment and financial rewards grow more quickly than areas that I might not favour, so over time my reputation in some areas will naturally build and lead to more focus.


Defining what you and your brand do:

Rather than worrying too much about an exact definition, it’s better to have an idea which you and any employees can broadly follow, but also be flexible within. I always loved the idea of my former employers at Absolute Radio, which was that we were ‘a digital entertainment company with audio at it’s core’, and targetted ‘reluctant adults’. That meant we always focused on sound and sound quality first, and always prioritised those people who were incredibly passionate about their interest (music, comedy, sport), but it didn’t matter whether we had an idea for a website, mobile app, radio station, or anything else, as long as it involved the best possible audio and delighted the right people. And in a challenging market for all broadcasters, it seems like they’re doing better than ever.

But noone ever tuned in because of those definitions – they tuned in because they liked what they heard as a result.

Too often I speak to companies who declare that ‘their customers don’t do it that way’ – and it turns out that actually it’s because they don’t allow customers to interact that way for some reason.

Or that customers ‘just don’t get what we’re trying to do’. Or that ‘clients just don’t understand’.


Building brands – do stuff, monitor, do more stuff:

You don’t build a brand simply by having logos or mission statements. Those are brand assets. What builds a brand is making stuff available, seeing how people respond and then building on it. Google didn’t define itself as a search engine, it set out to index the world’s information. Apple didn’t say it only made personal computers – it put design into technology, whether it’s a Mac, iPhone or iPad. The legendary production line methods of Ford went from one colour of car to over 1000 different variations for the Ford Transit van alone.

Geek Pride

Obviously to be successful, it’s not enough to be different – the recent demise of Saab is one example of how you can be known for being unusual but still fail due to not managing sales and costs effectively. But that name will still stand out for many years for a lot of people, and it’s easier to optimise a supply chain than to become known for brilliance and character.

Look at Amazon – offering web servers, books and Kindles. Artists such as Hugh McLeod, Tom Fishbourne, or Penny Arcade. Authors like William Gibson. Musicians from Robert Johnson to Hendrix to Skrillex. 37Signals and Wunderlist are as much about design as project management. I’m already incredibly excited about HiutDenim because I know Howies and The Do Lectures.

Put stuff out there and look at the response, using the wealth of data that is available and complimenting it with the right research.


Industries and reputations:

Some industries stuggle with their reputation. Obviously banks and bankers aren’t particularly well respected at the moment, and neither are journalists.

At the same time, SEO and Social Media ‘snake oil salesman’ has become a common criticism for digital marketing.

And yet I know brilliant journalists, SEOs and Social Media specialists who are incredibly well-respected and constantly in-demand because they do brilliant things consistently well. I’ve also had meetings with top marketing and SEO agencies which ended in disaster because they seemed to spend all their time talking a good game in public, but not delivering on it directly in a client meeting.

I actually have a couple of lists which are close to my heart – one is a list of companies I’d love to work with, whether as a freelancer or even possibly as a full-time employee because over the years I’ve known them, they always done things brilliantly (I also have a list of companies who seem to squander their potential and wish they’d let me help sort it out).

And I have another list of individuals I’d love to work with on a project at some point – it’s grown to quite a size over the years, with everyone from creative talents to hard-headed business people. And pretty much everyone on the list has worked on multiple projects, sometimes concurrently, but what they’ve done is always interesting or exciting or innovative or profitable – often all four.

The simple fact is that I don’t worry about crap definitions of the industries I nominally work in. And I’ve stopped worrying about being painted with the same brush as the snake oil salesman. If a million people see a great example of content marketing, or social media, or SEO that I’ve been involved in, then that’s far better mechanism for change than debating definitions.

Don’t wait for your ship to come in…

It was while I was working as a journalist at Motorcycle News that the news came through that legendary motorcycle racer Barry Sheene had died. After his death, a tribute poster was created for charity, with a suitable photo and the quote;

‘Don’t wait for your ship to come in… Swim out and meet the bloody thing’

That’s true of most situations, and especially in digital. The access to self-publishing, information and knowledge, collaboration, computer power, cloud storage and more means that there’s never been a time when it’s been more likely you’ll find someone else could be already implementing your idea, or your rivals are innovating in a new way.

Swimming Boys by The Wandering Angel on Flickr

'Swimming Boys' by TheWanderingAngel on Flickr (CC Licence)

But the flip-side is that all of that stuff is just as available to you if you go and make use of it. If you’ve been thinking about creating a website, for example, you could have a working example up and running on a free CMS in under 30 minutes. Most importantly from a business perspective, you start listening to your customers and monitoring your rivals quickly and relatively easily, all for free.

It’s already the time:

2011 is definitely the time to do it – in fact 2010 already was. You can still run an entirely offline business, but if you’re ignoring digital, you’re ignoring a huge source of revenue and opportunity. The repairman who fixed out cooker today was completely unaware that we found him via recommendations on an online forum, and he would have been equally unaware had anyone written anything negative about him (they didn’t, and he did a great job at a very reasonable price). The fact is that simple tools exist to allow him to be made aware when something business-critical is being discussed.

So why hire someone?

You might be wondering why I’d emphasise how quick and simple it can be, considering most of my living comes from helping people create and market digital content.

It’s really quite simple, and it’s the same reason I’ve paid for design and development help for my own projects. The opportunity is there for me to learn those skills (as far as any natural ability might let me), but I’d rather concentrate on content and marketing, as that’s where my natural skills and experience can best serve both my clients and my own projects.

Plus, there’s nothing to say you can’t get started, and come to someone if and when you discover areas in which you need help and advice.

Find the most popular tweeted brands on Twitter quickly

If you want to find the most popular brands on Twitter in terms of mentions, you could spend some time setting up various monitoring systems. Or you can just go to TweetedBrands and see which 50 companies are getting the most mentions in any one day.

It’s simple and effective for a quick overview, and each mention number links to the appropriate Twitter search.



And that’s about it, other than to say it was produced as part of the 24 hour business camp.

Creating Twitter lists with Mixtweet

Humanity has always loved creating lists to provide context for things, and the Twitter universe is no exception.

Whether it’s the suggested user list for new users of the service, the Twitter List function which has recently been announced and will arrive soon, or the huge variety of third-party lists created for almost every topic (e.g. People in UK Radio – I’ve slipped down the list slightly!)

But if you want to create a list quickly and easily to monitor, and don’t fancy waiting around for Twitter itself, then Mixtweet provides a good solution.



It allows you to create mixes from your friends, your timelines or other peoples mixes, and you don’t need to be following people to add them. And once the list is created, you can embed it as a widget wherever you fancy.

You can also view multiple ‘mixes’ via the site, with real-time updates and the ability to clip any update for later reading, and founder Michael Wu has said that Mixtweet lists will be made compatible with Twitter Lists when their API becomes available.

Mixtweet List View

Mixtweet List View

It also users OAuth to access your account, so minimising any safety risk, or you can create a log-in via the site itself. All in all, a really nice service – although you may wonder what their plan will be once Twitter Lists become available, that doesn’t seem to be a reason to avoid using them in the meantime.

Bit of a round-up for a busy day…

It’s been a busy day at work, so rather than adding to my list of ‘things I should really blog about when I find time’ file, I thought I’d clear a few things out:

  • First up is the news that that two Australian girls stuck in an Australian storm drain decided to update Facebook for help rather than phoning for help. My first response channelled the spirit of Bill Hicks, but it certainly raises an issue about how younger generations wish to communicate, even in emergencies. Should emergency services monitor the main social networks as a necessity, just in case? What happens if you’re a user of a niche social site, rather than Facebook or Twitter? And no monitoring system to my knowledge is 100% accurate at picking up every message on a service…
  • ‘Just’ 25% of women are influenced by social networks when making purchases. Firstly, the fact that 25% are conscious of the influence is pretty impressive considering how new social networking still is for many people. Secondly, they aren’t influenced by social networks – they’re influenced by other people – the social network just makes this less geographically limited. I’d agree with Matt Wise from Q Interactive, who conducted the survey, that “brands are failing to use social networks to effectively target women” (Except I’d use the words engage or serve women), but in a lot of cases, they’re also failing for men too. And I’m not going to mention the Brand Republic headline for the story…
  • Technorati appears to have given up on monitoring. I can understand that Technorati has lost direction, particularly given the plethora of real-time search services, plus Google blog search etc. But I’m surprised that rather than concentrating on making their core business better, they appear to be trying to emulate the big content sites – given the efforts of brands like AOL etc, I can’t see Technorati being a big draw for content consumers (although I could be wrong). And the fact that they’ve dropped blog roll links from their monitoring, whilst also producing a lacklustre monitoring nod to Twitter, really suggests that they’re in search of a plan. Because obviously as I write this, blogging is dead…

That’s probably enough for today – I’ll end on a more constructive note for Technorati – rather than throwing away the monitoring side of the business to jump on the blog content and real-time bandwagons, why not improve the core product, as people have asked for years, and perhaps also implement a decent alternative to Feedburner? Give me decent monitoring, monetisation and innovation in RSS delivery and I’ll be a lot happier, as my RSS readership continues to grow proportionally. There are a lot of issues with the real-time web at the moment, and the non-real-time web isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

When numbers become meaningless and dangerous

I’ve just been looking at the latest stats from comScore (Via Techcrunch), and the statistics for Facebook‘s arrival as the fourth biggest site in the world illustrated for me why site stats can become both meaningless and rather dangerous.

For starters, the numbers of the top sites are so big that we don’t really have any way of guaging them – as Eddie Izzard explains using the examples of mass murder (some NSFW swearing).

But the big problem with numbers like these is that they can become very dangerous, due to the tendency for people to quote them as law, and rely on them:

Venus Blindfolded by Gastev on Flickr (CC Licence)

Venus Blindfolded by Gastev on Flickr (CC Licence)

Reasons to worry:

  • Monitoring services like comScore and Compete can only track online traffic to domains – no clients and no apps. A particular problem at the moment for Twitter, but growing for all sites.
  • A certain percentage of users are always unquantifiable thanks to cookie deletion etc, or end up showing up different times on different computers
  • In the comScore example, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo sites are bundled up into their respective companies, so you can’t tell what comes from Google Search and what comes from Orkut or Google Maps.
  • No accounting for OpenID, Facebook Connect etc.

But essentially, the big risk is:

  • Unless you’re one of the top 20 or so sites, the total number of users of Facebook, Myspace, Bebo etc won’t matter much – you’ll still be able to get 1000, 10,000 or 100,000 fans/friends. What really matters is what you want to achieve, the relevancy of the network, and how you work at building valuable relationships rather than numbers.
  • And rather than numbers, look at the interactions, or for the business minded, how many people actually buy something…

But on the bright side:

Besides the fact we can accept social networking reaches almost as far as the internet with Facebook getting 340 million uniques per year, the fact that Wikimedia Foundations sites clock in right behidn it at 303 million uniques also shows the undeniable value of crowdsourcing user generated input if it’s done relatively well.

And maybe the combination of my three blogs will crack the top 10 next year!

Monitor the UK weather via Twitter mash-up

There’s a fantastic Twitter mash-up to capitalise on the UK fascination with weather – even if most of us will only see about an inch of snow at the moment.

#UKsnow Tweets

#UKsnow Tweets

Recommended via @joannejacobs, it works by Twitter users posting a Tweet with the hashtag #uksnow and the appropriate postcode. For example “#uksnow NG9 3/10”

You can see it working by clicking on the image above or visiting the site of the creator, Ben Marsh, but I don’t know how long it will be running for – you could ask him on Twitter at @benmarsh!

Chatting with the man behind Twilert – the new Twitter alert service

Twilert is a new service which aims to bring the ease of Google alerts to the Twitter world. It’s up against Tweetbeep, which has offered alerts for a while, and both offer filtering by location. Twilert does have the edge on flexibility around the selected keywords, specifying both the username of the sender or the recipient of Tweets, and even offering some basic postive/negative attitude reporting.

So it seemed a good idea to find out more about Twilert, and especially how it might differentiate itself further in the future, by speaking to Dan Leach, who is behind the service.

What was the main inspiration for Twilert? Was it something you personally needed for monitoring Twitter in your day job?
The inspiration came about a month ago when I was looking through the Google Alerts I have setup for my various clients (I work in PR and marketing). A lot of the information was dated and I wanted to find a way of seeing what people were really saying and thinking about the brands and products I represent. As an obsessed Twitter fan I wanted to find a way of tracking conversation and opinion on the site without having to sit in front of a Twitter Search page all day. And so, Twilert was born.

What’s the main advantage over other monitoring services?

There are limited options available to people if they want to monitor “tweets”. Aside from the aesthetic differences between Twilerts and its competitors, the two main advantages include:

  • Full customisation of alerts: Twilerts options reflect exactly that of Twitter’s Search service which mean alerts can be tailored by keywords, author, recipient, location, link-location, and attitude (positive, negative, neutral). This means you can filter out irrelevant tweets from your alerts.
  • Ease of use: Twilert doesn’t require you to have a Twitter account, nor does it require any technical knowledge of Twitter or search. True story: to ensure the site was as user-friendly as possible, the test subject I used throughout development was my Mum. If she can use it then anyone can!

You’ve obviously built in some quite specific ways to filter messages: by location proximity, whether they include links, and by positive or negative attitude. How are you calculating the attitude of Tweets?

The attitudes of tweets is calculated by Twitter’s emotion algorithm (created first by Summize) which uses certain phrases and words that suggest a positive, negative or neutral phrase and maps them against keywords in the tweet.
It is by no means 100% accurate and will continue to evolve, however it will provide a decent enough snapshot of whether people are speaking positively or negatively about whatever you are tracking.

With such a comprehensive attempt at filtering is there anything you haven’t been able to include?

We have included everything that Twitters allows through its API. With the limited information that is provided with each tweet (author, recipient, location, content) it is difficult to filter them anymore than is already possible on Twilert.

The site was built by Codegent – if you funded the build, does this mean you have plans to recoup your money by monetising Twilert? Or by utilising the data on popular terms etc?

Monetising the service is a long way in the future – Twilert is less than a week old so our focus is 100% on providing a high quality service to our users. However, we will be exploring extended functionality that could be implemented for enterprise users. It is worth stressing though that the basic alert service will always remain free to users.

Twilert is definitely the weapon of choice for anyone looking for regular automated emails which compile your reports within potentially pretty specific criteria. It’s also one of the better looking 3rd party applications for Twitter, and being designed by someone working in PR and Media, it should be well placed to capitalise on the influx of brands and agencies looking to

I’m not the only one questioning Pepsi’s Unfriendlyfeed

A few days ago I wrote about the efforts by Pepsi and Coca-Cola to engage their consumers in different ways – Pepsi chose social media, whilst Coca-Cola chose a loyalty reward scheme. And yet they are both making mistakes big enough for me to post ‘How Coke and Pepsi are wasting their online strategy‘.

It’s not surprising that other people are also questioning the policy, like Todd Jordan with his post ‘Pepsi – Are you listening‘ (Found when he mentioned it on Twitter – @Tojosan). Interestingly his post appears to have been picked up by Josh Karpf from Pepsi, commenting as Josh.

It’s good that that someone at Pepsi has picked up on the post, but Josh is repeating the same things many people have already heard:

‘We’re listening, Todd–and making efforts to do just what you are saying.’

‘We need to find a better way to aggregate and share fans’ passion for the company.’

‘As for the Friendfeed room, it was never intended to live as a standalone communications platform for PepsiCo. It’s one of many “outposts” we have launched, and intend to launch going forward as part of our ongoing digital plans. We are actively taking in feedback from across the web and starting to join in on conversations outside of the room, which you may have noticed.’

‘We do need to moderate comments to some extent to make sure profanity is removed. However, we do not moderate at all based on things we do or don’t like.’

‘We are going to introduce more new voices into the room from inside and outside the company very soon. I agree that we need to be more engaged in fan-based communities beyond ones that are launched inside the company. You surely understand that this is a first step for us; and we are moving towards becoming far more open, inclusive, and “closer” to our consumers.’

All pleasant enough, and I’m sure Josh is a nice enough guy. And with people like Steve Rubel involved, you’d hope they’ve got an idea of where they can improve.

But it really doesn’t take that much effort to start making improvements right away – like opening the Friendfeed Room up to everyone. I don’t want more voices inside and outside the company. I want all voices by anyone who has anything interesting to say – and that’s what Pepsi should want too!

They can still moderate, either pre, or preferably post comment. But how on earth do they expect to get closer to a community by dictating strict topics for discussion once every few days? It’s like walking up to the community and shout “You will engage, You will engage, You will engage!” over and over and over.

Funnily enough, although the FriendFeed room is quiet, Twitter has 11 messages mentioning Pepsi in the last 20 minutes via Twitter Search. And in the whole front page there’s not a single message containing profanity.

None of page 2 or 3 either. Mainly because people are treating each other like adults!

And look Pepsi! Look at a blog search for Pepsi and Friendfeed!

  1. Pepsi are you listening? by Todd Jordan
  2. How Coke and Pepsi are wasting their online strategy by Me!
  3. Why blogger outreach can fail by Virginia Nussey
  4. Pepsi’s social media challenge by Jason Lee Miller (focusing on the lack of new suggestions generated)
  5. Pepsi asked for my thoughts by CC Chapman

Responding in the comments of the first or second post is fine, but by the third and fourth I’d be looking to make some immediate changes. After all links 5 and 6 were posted on November 12, 2008. Mine was on November 28th, and Todd’s was today. That’s almost a month without any obvious changes.

Maybe it’s time?

Pepsi can by schnaars (CC licence)

Pepsi can by schnaars (CC licence)

A useful new site, and a future prediction…

If you’re reading this elsewhere, it’s from 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 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?