Klout and Peerindex – social network loyalty cards?

Like a lot of people, I’m registered on both Klout and Peerindex, which both attempt to track my online influence in slightly different ways to give one overall score which can be compared to others in my areas of interest. And both offer rewards to people deemed influential enough to qualify – from Klout I took advantage of a cheap deal to finally order some Moo business cards, whilst Peerindex has qualified me for pre-release copies of Gods Without Men by Hanzi Kunru (Which I really enjoyed), and Tancredi by James Palumbo (An interesting book with also came accompanied by some Ministry of Sound headphones, as Palumbo is a co-founder)

Tancredi Goodies via Peerindex

Tancredi, headphones and promo information all via Peerindex

Measuring influence or just tracking loyalty?

Both Klout and Peerindex require you to hook up various sources in order to calculate your influence – Klout includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, Youtube, Instragram, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress.com, Last.fm and Flickr.

Peerindex includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and in an important different, a small number of external RSS feeds for your website or blog, which then contributes to your score via rankings pulled from SEOMoz’s database.

Both are still fairly new and developing approaches to calculating influence, and I have no doubt both will become increasingly sophisticated, although there will always be differences between the abilities of algorithms, and the abilities of humans to judge someone’s influence in more subtle ways – the way they act, the clothes they wear, the way they look and speak, etc. As the comparison between television and radio appearances have shown, for instance with presidential debates, it’s not to say humans are necessarily more accurate – but different.

And I don’t know all the inner workings of either algorithm, but much like search engine optimisation, there are a small set of key things which are proven to work:

  • Having a huge following.
  • Sharing amazing content which gets lots of interaction.
  • Sharing a lot of content all the time.

Assuming you’re not a massive celebrity already, the first one is possible but potentially unlikely if you want to get a really high score on either service. You could try paid services to fake it, and certainly your audience will grow organically over time, but unless you’re very lucky it’s not going to suddenly spike. So building your audience is a long haul approach.

The same is generally true with content – if you create something truly amazing and share it, things can suddenly get very big, but in general content is a medium to long-term strategy built on quality and consistency.

Which brings us to quantity – various people have look at how quantity changes your scores, and there’s plenty of evidence alongside the existence of it as an explicit activity metric in Peerindex.

And here’s where the loyalty card element comes in:

Supermarkets and social networks:

The basics of the supermarket loyalty card are pretty simple. You share your data on frequency of visits and what you have purchased with the retailer, and in return they give you some rewards in savings or additional offers. And they benefit by getting more accurate information regarding high value customers and stock levels, for example.

supermarket-drinks3

The hook with Klout and Peerindex is that you tend to receive awards if you reach a certain level of influence, which requires you to use specific networks. And as the quickest route to gaining influence, you’re encouraged to visit those places to constantly update your own content, and share that of others. The networks themselves can already access the data on who you are and what you do, but suddenly there’s an additional incentive for those who might not have been otherwise interested in utilising that particular network over another.

And at the same time agencies and companies who don’t want to spend time and effort figuring out influencers and building relationships can quickly and easily bung out a promotion which they know will in theory hit the people in an area who receive the most attention.

So what you end up with is an approved list of venues if you want to be noticed and rewarded. The danger is that it discourages you from committing to alternative sites, because there’s no promotional rewards. In Klout’s case, I can’t hook up my various blogs, so I’d probably benefit by writing this whole post on Facebook and Google +, whereas with Peerindex there are a number of networks not covered, but I do get recognition for 3 of my sites.

Only a couple of sites are covered by both, with Twitter being the biggest source factor due to the fact you can quickly and easily tweet a huge amount, or @reply automatically to appear extremely busy and potentially influential.

 

Empire Avenue: A third way?

There’s one other interesting horse in the race, which is the stock market gamified alternative of Empire Avenue, which allows humans to invest in each other as a method for showing influence. Again, there’s an approved list of networks to plug-in, and there’s also the option to hook in a number of RSS feeds. But what makes this different is that the game nature of it theoretically allows better judgements to be displayed via the human input, and also that it’s somewhat blurred by the desire of some people to simply become the highest game ranks rather than truly investing in those people they genuinely find interesting.

Again, it’s still early days, and it’s intriguingly different, but perhaps goes a little too far in the opposite direction.

Why worry?

The nature of influence has always had gatekeepers. Personally my influences are consciously and subconsciously selected, but the media has traditional lifted some to be seen as influential.

Automating this process and essentially codifying what it means can enable people to attempt to ‘game’ the system, but could also have far-reaching implications in terms of offline interactions when you combine it with smart phones, and facial recognition. Particularly if a bug or glitch could diminish your score and suddenly leave you as someone of the digital unwashed with barely any influence.

In my own work reaching out to people for PR and marketing, I use all 3 services augmented by a fair amount of legwork, but the temptation for a quick and simple answer for some businesses and agencies means that you may end up with fewer people willing to go the extra mile for accurate information, which is obviously a concern for me. And for bloggers etc who aren’t in the top ranks of what to some extent becomes a self-reinforcing list, particularly when absolutely no tracking system is ever completely accurate – whether that’s your website analytics or any social tracking service. There’s always a percentage of error, which humans aren’t seemingly built to remember and cope with in the preference of accepting numbers as certainties.

And one of the arguments for not worrying unduly about the dominance of Facebook or Twitter is that the cyclical nature of things suggests someone will come along at some point and replace them, just as has happened to businesses and industries throughout time. But the eligibility for ranking systems reinforces those selected as the only options.

So are you on Klout, Peerindex and Empire Avenue? Is it an accurate reflection of influence? Or is it just a very basic quantity measure for most of us? And have you been tempted to pump out content more often on the ‘approved’ networks, or try to game them?

SEO – Always worth revisiting the basics…

I’ve been offering SEO as a service to a growing number of clients for a while as both a standalone product, and also as part of everything I do in terms of content marketing and social media. Jumping into blogger outreach, social networking or blogging without a strategy which includes targetting relevant keywords and encouraging inbound links wastes quite a lot of the potential benefits and misses out on the chance for content, social media and SEO to amplify each other.

And much of good SEO practice starts with the basics, which is one reason why I really appreciated an invite to a day with SEO PR Training, who specialise in explaining the art of SEO to PR professionals, and the equally mystifying art of PR to SEO professionals. As someone who has worked with people in both camps, I can vouch for the fact that mutual understanding is unbelievably more effective for all concerned and can really give great benefits.

As a taster event, the attendees ranged in experience, so the training had to cover everything from a pretty basic level upwards, but the SEO PR duo of Claire and Nichola did a really good job of going through the building blocks really effectively (and with some nifty learning methods to make it quite fun), and then going into a lot more detail for the more advanced/geekier attendees. Ironically I ended up partnering with an old social media acquintance, @farhan, which meant we were instantly seen as the techies after an early exercise to list what things we do on our own sites regarding SEO – mainly because we ran out of space on our paper…

A couple of people asked why I’d come along if I already work in SEO, and I figured the reasons were worth sharing:

  • SEO is constantly changing, and it’s easy to get so involved in working on client sites and my own that it’s always good to get outside confirmation that Google hasn’t decided the sky is pink or Bing has gained 99% of the search market while I’ve been busy building keyword lists.
  • As someone who works to educate clients on best practice, it’s always good to see the training techniques being used in workshops in a more formal setting. I’m not suggesting I’m going to replicate Claire and Nichola’s exact exercises, but it definitely reminded me that learning/teaching SEO can be more fun than it sometimes appears.
  • One area which can get expensive is signing up and evaluating all the tools available for monitoring and analysing every element of digital marketing, and I’m always fascinated by what services other people use, and how they rate them.

Two elements of the day really stood out for me – one was a live attempt to rank for a specific phrase, based on an article published just before we broke for lunch. Utilising existing assets and social media, it was in the top two results by the time we came back after eating, which was a great way to provide a realtime example of both what’s possible, and what elements went into it.

The other stand-out was the analysis of an example site. In this case, one of mine! The good news for me and my clients is that it did pretty well in terms of keywords and links, and the recommendations that followed were things I’d been aware of, but hadn’t found time to sort due to my daily workload – but it was a great reminder that even my spare time projects need to follow the same structured approach that I apply to client website development and SEO, particularly if prospective SEO clients find me via those sites instead of client references!

So thanks again to the SEO PR Training team for a really useful and enjoyable day, and also a really good chat in the pub afterwards which gave me a chance to go into full geek mode! The follow-up emails with a jargon buster and a full list of all the useful tools mentioned on the day are also a handy touch…

The Way of the Otaku?

In some ways I may have made a mistake in naming TheWayoftheWeb a few years ago. Because the Web isn’t the important element, and neither is mobile, print, radio, television or pigeon post.

Any Japanophile videogame or anime fans will already understand the Otaku reference, but the best explanation comes from brilliant author William Gibson:

‘The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.’

That’s from a column he wrote almost 10 years ago for The Guardian. It was shortly before the release of Pattern Recognition, which I highly recommend and recently re-read.

In the book, his heroine wears a Buzz Ricksons jacket, – a Japanese firm recreating American military clothing with the kind of passion for detail which particular Otaku appreciate.

But there is a group of Otaku for every subject imaginable. Individually, each one may be an expert, a maven, a connector, an influencer. But for all the talk of reaching out to ‘influencers’ – I worry we’ll miss the society that allows those people to have influence in the first place.

The beauty of data and graffiti

The call for media companies to make more out of data has been growing for a while now, but I’ve just seen something that beautifully shows how there’s amazing ways to use data for things most of us haven’t even thought about…

Like many cool things, when I first picked up on it via The Pirate’s Dilemma, and PSFK, I wasn’t entirely sure it was real…

Anyway, this week is apparently Graffiti Markup Language Week:

GML = Graffiti Markup Language from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

As an aside, is it me or are far more digitally-savvy people choosing Vimeo over Youtube?

Anyway, what’s amazing is that there’s actually a markup language for grafitti, which is a specialised XML protocol dedicated to capturing the motion data created by tagging – allowing sharing, studying, cataloguing and analysis.

There’s so much data in our everyday lives which can now be collated, aggregated, analysed, dissected, repurposed, reused, translated, displayed.

And yet comparatively little appears in mainstream news sources – although that seems to be slowly changing.

But any media, marketing or PR effort should be looking at how to effectively use public or proprietary data to inform, entertain, amaze etc..

It’s why I’m still so excited about the One Golden Square Labs project, Compare My Radio, (disclosure, I work for One Golden Square/Absolute Radio). It takes data and uses it for something noone else had done…

Other great examples include The Guardian’s Datastore – a compendium of publicly-available data which can be used for free – Paul Bradshaw has a nice look at it… Or what about Daytum, which allows you to collect and communicate your data on whatever you choose?

And the visual ways of communicating data can attract attention – particularly when we have so much text and so many moving pictures coming into our space on a daily basis…

There’s no excuse for producing anything which doesn’t have decent data behind it (I’m not suggesting 100% perfection…but so much isn’t good enough), and there’s no reason why I should accept 100% of people like something because you asked 20, and they all said yes.

And allow us to explore it, play with it, and produce our own interpretations – and export it into other places…

A vitally important law for business communications

I neglected to write about my fellow speakers at the ALPSP event, mainly because I was enjoying a bit of time off for the last week.

There were great presentations from Ros Lawler of Random House, Phil Archer from the W3C Mobile Web Initiative, Steve Paxhia of Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions (With whom I got absolute soaked in the storms that hit en route to the station), and Gail Robinson from TSL Education Ltd.

But the one presentation that really kept me thinking was by Alex Evans from MediaMolecule (The developers of LittleBigPlanet for the PS3). It was interesting as a videogamer, someone interested in game theory, someone interested in encouraging user generated content, and someone interested in developing business and revenues in the changing economy.

But he also highlighted a very important law – one which was applied to programming, but in my mind applies equally to marketing, PR, and to almost every aspect of a business.

It is:

…organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations

Conways Law was originally introduced in 1968, by Melvin Conway. And for me it encapsulates a lot of the challenges I’ve encountered, whether it’s been for a large company, a group of volunteers, or in my current role.

As much as a system designed may mirror communication structures – communications will mirror them just as much. That’s why things tended to be more rigid and evolve more slowly in a larger, more traditional company which was constructed around a defined hierachy.

It’s also why a flat structure of volunteers led to challenges that seem to have proved even more insurmoutable since I left – trying to encourage business attributes from non-businesslike creative people.

And it’s why I relish my new challenge – listening and engaging with a team packed full of ideas, and then herding those cats into the most effective order.

The top 10 UK PR blogs – TheWayoftheWeb #4

Apparently TheWayoftheWeb has been listed as one of Cision’s Top 10 UK PR blogs.

I picked up on the list from the #1 blog, the excellent NevilleHobson.com, and all ten blogs are definitely worth reading. It’s interesting to be included as the preface to the list reads:

‘Covering the latest developments in communications technology, the impact of the web on political dialogue and the convergence of PR with other communications activity, the blogs listed below represent the most visible, engaged and social of the UK PR blogosphere.’

It’s interesting because I’m a marketeer, journalist and blogger, but I’ve never officially been in PR – although obviously I’ve worked closely with a large number of PR agencies and people over the years.And I’ve helped out with writing the occasional press release.

But I am interested in where it’s possible to distinguish between PR and Marketing, and the methods and effects of good and bad PR, as it’s a huge element of success in my marketing role. And I’m learning as much from the incredibly talented PR team at Absolute Radio as hopefully I’m able to share with them.

What’s interesting has been discussing how the methods they’ve used for great success with mainstream print and digitial media are pretty much identical to the methods I use for non-mainstream digital media (blogs, forums, social networks etc).

It’s also why I’ve thought for a while about the simplest way to describe what I do as a whole, including both my professional career, and my independant digital endeavours, and it basically comes down to specialising in ‘content creation and distribution’, which sounds far less sexy than PR, Marketing, or Social Media. But basically I enjoy coming up with ideas for content (text, audio, video), putting it together (writing, recording, editing, crowdsourcing, implementing ways for UGC to be encouraged), and then getting it to relevant people (digital publishing, SEO, blogger and forum relations, linking, seeding, etc).

It’s not the tightest definition, considering the amount of roles and workload that it covers, but it seems to be the one that works as I look at my skills and interests.

Amazon’s Kindle – now available with TheWayoftheWeb

In case Amazon needs some help shifting a few more Kindles, I’ve done the kind thing and provided them with the content you can read here for free. And it’s available for a small fee after a 14 day trial.

Treat your Kindle to TheWayoftheWeb.

In all seriousness, I’m intrigued to see whether there’s a paying marketing for content available for free online, to see whether the Kindle obeys the law of mobile that content and services seem to generate money on those platforms more readily than via the web.

Plus I wanted to see how easy it was to sign up, given that Techcrunch has already experienced someone unofficially publishing their blog feed alongside their own.

And if it contributes a couple of bucks towards keeping my hosting going, then it’s a bonus!

Thoughts on the MA in Social Media

There’s been a lot of discussion about the new MA in Social Media course being offered by Birmingham City University. On the one hand, the mainstream media reports from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph have focused on criticism – on the other, people like the esteemed PR professional Neville Hobson have looked more in-depth at what the course actually offers and the benefits it can bring to individuals and the PR industry.

What’s interesting is looking at the proposed opportunities for individuals completing the 48 week, £4000 MA course:

  • Become a social media consultant (and understand what that means);
  • Develop innovative and low cost communication strategies for third sector organisations using social media tools;
  • Develop innovative and alternative media projects;
  • Work with existing mainstream media organisations as they develop social media strategies;
  • Enhance your skills and contribute to the development of new professional practice in PR, marketing communications and web design;
  • Continue to develop a scholarly interest in social media as part of a further research degree;
  • Contribute to the development of the social media industry.

I’m torn because I’d jump at the chance to focus on the more scholarly and research aspects of social media/marketing/PR without the bothersome concentration on results and profits that comes from social media and marketing as an occupation.

At the same time, I’m immensely greatful for the focus and concentration that being gainfully employed in social media and marketing brings – it means a real need for effective strategy, implementation, monitoring and selection of channels for starters.

The big question for me is whether paying £4000 as an individual will be recouped any time soon? Even with employment placements during the course, will organisations need growing numbers of MA-level social media specialists, either within the organisation or as consultants, and how big is that demand at the moment? Would an MA influence you over and above practical experience and past work?

Certainly anyone already established in a social media role at a managerial level should be able to tick pretty much all the boxes the MA aims to deliver – and are those roles going to be offered to those graduating the course, or people more like myself who spent time in journalism and publishing, gaining additional experience in marketing and social media, before making the switch?

And how many social media concetrated roles are still seen as entry level positions? Will there be a switch in the near future?

I’d be more comfortable with social media being wholly integrated into digital marketing and general marketing courses and qualifications, certainly in the immediate future, but with the opportunity to specialise for elements of the course, giving people a better chance of being able to gain employment in a larger range of roles, but am I being overly cautious? And does the world need more social media specialists and consultants, when there is already a plethora of very good (and some bad) in the space already?

There’s a very good amount of interesting discussion on the course on Twitter, with the hashtag #masocialmedia.

And here’s the video introduction to the course:

Jon Hickman: MA in Social Media from Kasper Sorensen on Vimeo.

TheWayoftheWeb is a top 30 UK Marketing blog!

TheWayoftheWeb has somehow made it’s way up to 27th in the January 2009 rankings of UK Marketing Blog compiled by Spinning Around.

Wheres the podium for 27th place? (Pic by ph-stop on Flickr)

Where's the podium for 27th place? (Pic by ph-stop on Flickr)

The list is compiled by filtering the UK-based blogs from the AdAge Power 150 (Which is now up to 941 blogs in total!). And it means I’ve moved up from #39 back at the start of January, which is nice.

For the record, it’s nice to get a bit of validation and evidence than people get some value out of what I do here – which I didn’t really imagine would happen when I started blogging.

But the main reason I’m pleased to move up rankings, whether it’s Google, Technorati or AdAge is that it may lead to more people stopping by – thus increasing the proportion of people I have the opportunity to connect and converse with.  Because it’s the comments, emails, Tweets and other connections which are the most valuable reward I can ever get from blogging (Adsense isn’t going to make me rich!).

So if you’ve ever linked, commented, emailed, tweeted, bookmarked, shared, phoned, chatted, conversed or promoted TheWayoftheWeb (or me!) in any way, then this is a public Thank You.

Thank You by Darwin Bell on Flickr (CC Licence)

Thank You by Darwin Bell on Flickr (CC Licence)

Next stop, the top 20!

Listening pleasure and Twitter earnings…

I received a good response after yesterday post on Virgin Radio becoming Absolute Radio…thanks to everyone that Stumbled, Dugg, or Twittered it, or came along and had a look.

I must have audio on my mind, because although I’m not a huge fan of podcasts, there are a couple I felt I should mention.  I’ve never been a fan of talk radio, so I never really gave podcasts as much of a chance as I probably should have done – especially with a commute that’s done in about 20 minutes.

But maybe that’s partly down to hearing subjects I want to actually listen to – until podcasts it was reserved for the vary occasional audio biography or documentary about my favourite musicians.

Now I’m spending a lot of time walking around comforting a young child, podcasts make a lot of sense – and the fact they’re devoted to technology, social media, public relations, or any interest I want to indulge unsurprisingly makes them rather enjoyable.

They aren’t exactly unknown, but I’ll recommend the collection of series at Twit.tv and For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz report as two I’ve been enjoying immensely. Twit (This Week In Tech) is an enjoyable round table around whatver has cropped up in the course of the week – and after a couple of weeks I’ve even warmed to the constantly grumpy John C Dvorak.

Meanwhile, For Immediate Release (FIR) is far more focused on the likes of Public Relations and Technology. It also features a Transatlantic partnership between two people I’ve followed in text for a while, Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.

The irony being that there’s a huge, huge difference between the style of Twit and FIR. Twit host Leo Laporte is far more…’American’ in his presenting style (not saying that’s good or bad), whereas FIR is far more relaxed and akin to a Radio 4 programme. I’m becoming a big fan of both shows – but I can’t imagine any analogue, or even digital radio station likely to play two shows at such stylistic difference to each other – let alone one after the other as I sometimes do!

(Bearing in mind I use my laptop for listening to more and more Podcasts, anyone with autoplaying music, or any video or advert that autoplays on your website or blog is instantly registered as annoying… please don’t. And in case someone spots that type of advert on a Bauer Media site – I don’t book the adverts, I’ve registered my feelings strongly on several occasions, and I don’t pretend to speak for everyone!)

I doubt I’ll be making the jump to audio any time soon – my last foray into video was shamefully wooden.But I am continuing to balance two blogs on top of my day job. You can see my latest thoughts on microblogging – particularly the new Twitter advertising site, Twittads.