The 3 big marketing fallacies for 2013

The start of each year is always accompanied by a rush from everyone to make their predictions for the next 12 months. While I’ve obviously got my own thoughts on the subject, I thought I’d do something different. My good friend Jonathan MacDonald has used Fallacies as a theme of sorts for a few years now, so in the creative spirit, I’m adopting the idea with the 3 big marketing fallacies which all businesses need to overcome.

Having worked with a huge range of brands and clients over the years, there are certain issues and concerns which I know will increase in regularity over the next 12 months. So identifying and tackling them now as part of your strategy for 2013 will be key in having a successful year with less problems.

 

2013 Marketing Fallacy 1: Content Quantity not quality:

The recognition of how content has become increasingly important, and the rise of content marketing is a good thing for various reasons. Content has always been vital to the success of a business since the rise of print and broadcast media, and the internet has only increased this need.

But almost inevitably I predict companies will invest in large amounts of content, either internally, or from external suppliers who are able to churn out copy, images and audio at bargain prices. And 12 months later will look at the time, effort and cost with little resulting success.

The reason is simple. More content has already been published online than previously in the history of human existence. None of us are short of things to watch, read, play or hear. Most of us will have returned from Christmas with a backlog of emails, RSS feeds, and podcasts, having finally caught up over the holidays on the Tivo’d and DVR’d films and TV shows which we’d been meaning to watch for weeks and months. And now every brand is going to be pumping out an endless stream of content marketing to add to the noise level.

Although it’s certainly possible that many businesses could increase the amount of published content, the priority should be to first develop an effective content strategy and improve the quality of what is already being produced. One amazing piece of content will be far more effective in building a brand and converting readers to customers than five pieces of generic filler material.

It’s why we focus on how content most effectively fits with a business, and on the most effective strategy as a starting point, and it’s also why we provide quality outsourced content to clients. Our work needs to be the best for us to be a sustainable business – reselling the cheapest writers we can find around the internet will soon lead to disappointment for all involved.

 

2013 Marketing Fallacy 2: We need more Facebook/Twitter/etc

This could have been published at any time in the last 5 years, but still holds true. It’s particularly important for those businesses still entering digital marketing, or those who don’t look at the attribution model for sales/enquiries in enough detail.

The most important website to optimise for digital marketing and sales is your own. It’s the only location where you have complete control over look, feel, layout and content, and can create the ultimate site for your business. It’s also a place which can be backed up effectively, and can be easily publicised and advertised without relying on a third party brand.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t include the right social media outlets in your digital marketing. As someone who provides social media marketing and consultancy, I firmly believe that the relevant third party platforms are essential for a modern business. But they should be part of the ‘hub and spoke’ model which has often been discussed – your website at the centre, and third party platforms operating as the spokes to reach people in the locations they currently enjoy.

If all your traffic comes from any single source – search, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc – then you’re completely at the mercy of that platform and any changes they make. Whether it’s Facebook reducing the reach of Page updates, Twitter falling out with Instagram, or the acquisition of Posterous, you’ll have built your business on ground which can be shakey or indeed disappear completely if the service closes.

 

2013 Marketing Fallacy 3: It’s all too much

With search, social, newsletters, analytics and more to manage, it’s no surprise that digital marketing can become somewhat overwhelming. Marketing has always had a variety of demands and inputs, but the rapid changes enabled by the internet can mean that everything starts to pile up very quickly.

The result is that small businesses feel that they can’t compete, and large businesses quickly end up making mistakes due to a confused sprawling mess of accounts and responsibilities.

Hence why the strategy and planning is so important to effective digital marketing. A small company with limited resource has a great opportunity to compete on a comparatively level playing field compared to the costs of a national TV advertising campaign, for example, but needs to be laser-focused to use those resources most effectively. Meanwhile a larger business needs just as much clarity in order to co-ordinate a larger range of initiatives. And both need to plan for their efforts to constantly evolve even throughout the space of just 12 months as platforms and priorities change.

A good strategy should enable you to focus on the key areas of your digital marketing, with time and resource built-in for experimentation, evolution and learning to give you a good platform for this year, and for the future.

Information overload and failure filter are false problems

The concept of information overload has received a lot of debate, and I completely agree with Clay Shirky that it’s actually ‘filter failure’ which is causing our current obsession with the problems of keeping up with the influx of content which is published and digitally accessible at a far greater rate than any time in human history.

But I think we’ve all been missing the real problem.

The current situation may be detrimental to our thought processes as some have argued, but that situation won’t last. Not only will technology filters improve, but humans are a pretty adaptable species, and the current supposedly harmful adaptions to accomodate skimming and processing lots of data. And I’m not even sure that information paralysis is the real problem, as we can cut down those inputs if we need to – even just by closing a feed reader or Twitter client, or by turning off the PC or TV.

I’m actually more concerned with a problem which has been affecting me to some extent.

‘Opportunity Overload’

WTF is Opportunity Overload?

As a personal example, I recently bought three books which will hopefully help me to make some changes in my lifestyle, and they nicely represent how we traditionally got the information to make changes and create new opportunities.

Buy a book, take a course, hire a professional, these were the ways to make changes and solve problems for the last few hundred years, even if actually the choices we made were the result of our subsconscious decisions and social proof. As a  homeowner, I’d limit the amount of DIY to the amount of information I’d been able to get – and if I wasn’t sufficiently educated, I’d just get a professional in to solve the problem (assuming I had the money available – if not, I’d ignore it and hope it went away).

That’s all changed.

Now I can find videos on plumbing on Youtube, or tips on cutting floor tiles on a blog. Or find better ways to run my businesses. Or learn to programme. Or how to cure the brown spot on my apple trees and improve the vegetable patch.

With internet access, I’m able to access all of these opportunities. To publish my own blog, to record my own music, to shoot my own videos.

Except there are only a finite amount of hours in the day, to be split with sleeping and spending time with my family.

And that’s the real cause of stress – it’s not about the amount of information coming in. It’s about the opportunity overload that information and digital enablement creates, and that I can’t hope to fulfill in the time available. I no longer have the excuse that I’m not a mechanic, plasterer or plumber when I know how much help is available online – and doing it myself theoretically means the cost issue is far less of a reason to avoid doing it.

It means the skills to prioritise tasks is going to be more essential than ever. And so is the ability to accept that not all things will be achievable, and to be able to let go of those opportunities and tasks which I’ll never value quite enough to get around to – even if I’d quite like to be able to say that I’d done it.

And that’s going to be tricky – human nature is ambitious and aspirational. There’s a very, very tiny part of me that still finds it a little hard to accept I’m unlikely to be a professional motorcycle racer, play football for Chelsea, or become a rockstar, even though 99.9% of me has changed to following aspirations to grow my business, support my family, and ride motorcycles and play guitar purely for enjoyment.

So how do we all deal with the knowledge that if we only had enough time, we could Google the way to achieve pretty much any task, but it’s only our human frailty and need for sleep/family/food/friends that are stopping us?

That’s why I feel Information Overload ain’t the problem – Opportunity Overload is.


Problems embedding Youtube videos in WordPress etc?

Update Aug 2012:

It appears that for a lot of videos, the old embed code isn’t appearing any more. The reason for this is that if videos are enabled for 3D when they are uploaded, then the old embed code doesn’t work. If you’re looking to embed a video which you have uploaded to Youtube, then the solution is to disable the 3D option. Sometimes the old embed code doesn’t appear straight away, but it seems that if you disable embedding, then re-enable, Youtube will then pick up on the change and the option will appear.

Although, given the changes, I’d recommend considering newer WordPress themes and solutions which can use the new embed option where-ever possible.

 

 

I’ve seen a few people ask why embedding Youtube videos seems to have stopped working on their WordPress blog recently, so thought I’d quickly share the reason.

Basically Youtube (And Vimeo), both released a new embed code a while ago, to enable viewing through Flash and HTML5. But when you put that new code into HTML view in WordPress, and then publish or go back to View mode, it disapears.

Fortunately the old version is still available if you click the appropriate box under the Embed options:

Hope that helps…

Content farms will eat themselves

The leading example of web publishing dubbed ‘content farms’ is Demand Media, which has just publicly filed registration for an IPO, and as a result has made it’s financial records public for the first time.

There was some surprise that content farming doesn’t currently make Demand Media profitable – last year it turned over $198 million in revenue, but still managed to lose $22 million. This year is looking better – a $6 million loss on $108 million so far… but it’s also important to note that a sizeable percentage of revenue is actually coming from Demand’s web registrar business, eNom, rather than content farming.

Content farms will peak this year:

I definitely think this is the right time for an IPO, as I honestly believe that this year could be the peak of content farming as a sustainable model for big business – for years, small companies and individuals have gone around creating targeted landing pages, and I still think there are ways to make this work effectively, but sizeable companies dominating the space are going to struggle.

What content farms rely on:

There are two things that content farms rely on for content creation – Search and Advertising. Essentially they’re creating content to respond to popular search queries to arbitrage advertising revenue (sold direct or via networks such as Google’s Adsense). In Demand’s case, it currently has deals with Google which are set to end in 2011.

They’re able to produce this content by farming the work out to a legion of online writers who are submitting for a low cost.

The shakey foundations of content farms:

Search – Traffic comes from responding to search queries. If the nature of search changes, by becoming more personalised and from social recommendations, then the traffic to search query specific sites drops.

This is likely, because the search content is often on sites which have no focus on owning an area with quality content – which is the sort of thing which is more likely to be shared on social networks (It should have also been the sort of content more likely to be highlighted by Google – maybe in 2011?).

Advertising – Ad networks, affiliate deals, and particularly advertising linked closely to search works, such as Google Adwords. If you can optimise a page for traffic and response by targeting people actively searching for it, and it’s something which advertisers will happily bid a significant amount to advertise against, you’re in business.

But the nature of the internet, and relatively open networks like Adwords (which have no minimum barrier to entry), means that there are always going to be an increasing number of options for advertisers. And while there will only ever be a handful of sites getting sizeable traffic from a position on page one of the search results, Adwords is keyword-based, so in aggregate you can achieve a similar scale more cheaply if you start digging into the results (as more people will – search advertising is relatively old in terms of internet revenues, but still a newborn for most advertisers.)

Content creators: Content farms can exist because there are thousands of people who are willing and able to churn out enough content to make a worthwhile return for them despite the relatively low reward – in comparison to traditional freelance costs for someone working in the media. Partly this is because it’s easy – relative to establishing a successful blog in a niche and achieving the same level of earnings for example. And partly it’s down to a lack of options – if you’re not one of the ‘elite’ with a job for traditional media, and you’re not building your own property, there’s an apparent limit to your options for contributing for payment

The earthquakes of algorithms and competition:

Google, (and Bing, Wolphram Alpha, or any other search product) uses software which can be tweaked and changed at any point – and if content farming is producing terrible writing (I’m not saying that’s the case across all companies and articles, but potentially en masse), then that software algorithm can be adapted.

Plus the social web is having an increased effect on both filtering and discovery. Google News is experimenting with human editors, whilst the likes of Facebook and Twitter have made social recommendations more mainstream than the previous traffic drivers of Digg, Reddit and Stumbleupon, because suddenly my none-digitally addicted friends have a quick and easy way to share links beyond their email connections, and for everyone else to pick up on them and repeat them.

And content farming is not a new concept – the segment of bloggers who focus primarily on making money have long looked at search data and advertising as the way to isolate niches which are most likely to make them a reward… So there’s nothing which is protected from unlimited competition, particularly when the likes of aol and Yahoo have also started to use search as a tool for article creation.

Finally, there’s a big element missing from content farm advertising. I’ve spent a long time working for media companies, and whatever you may believe about the media industry as a whole, I’ve seen an enormous amount of respect and faith from audiences for traditional media products. There are flaws in traditional display advertising, but you’re not just buying the ‘last click’ – indeed several attempts have been made to quantify the branding and awareness benefit you get from advertising with a big media brand.

Indeed, the same is true of advertising with a small niche blog in many ways – if I’m actively accepting advertising (which I do), and promoting affiliate products (which I also do), I have a vested interest in vetting them beforehand to avoid losing any trust, respect and loyalty from anyone who visits my site. I’ve never made a direct recommendation for anyone to purchase something I haven’t sampled first, and I take a similar approach to the advertising I sell directly. Only those adverts served by Google Adsense are independent from any editorial judgement, and that hopefully means that the implicit or explicit links mean that there’s an element of trust there.

Whereas people writing solely for search aren’t building that same level of engagement – they’re writing whatever they’re assigned, and that’s not going to translate to the social web effectively. I don’t pay to promote myself – I submit my content to several other locations, and then it’s down to the people who either know me, or see it and like it, to reward it with recommendations, links and traffic.

And there’s a final thought – at the moment there are several big sites allowing you to contribute on a huge range of topics without necessarily benefitting you financially. Wikipedia is one example, but others, for instance, Squidoo, allow you to donate any earnings to charity, for example. At the moment most of the open or non-profit approaches aren’t as prominent in the minds of many people, but as time goes by, more and more people seem to be following the notion of establishing a knowledgeable online presence in order to benefit indirectly, rather than monetising it at the source – Cory Doctorow often quotes Tim O’Reilly as saying ‘ the greatest enemy of a new author isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity’, and the same could be true on monetisation. More and more people seem to be contributing and building elements of online empires to establish reputation over monetisation, and these non-profit approaches could become another source of competition.

So what can content farms do?

In my eternal optimism, I think there’s a future for an evolution of content farming – to establish the leverage to provide a platform which correctly rewards people for displaying a high level of knowledge and engagement, so that those wishing for a direct financial reward can be recompensed, and advertisers can confidently invest in the branding and trust benefits of being associated with them.

But the challenge is that it’s an area in which media companies have existed for years, and they’re coming to the web from the opposite angle as they are getting more and more digitally savvy (there’s still a long way to go, but there’s probably more movement in digital from a lot of big media companies in the last year or so than in the last 5 or 6). If they don’t fall into only developing expertise in a closed application ecosystem, but also continue to invest, experiment and build, then content farms could actual be inspiring and paving the way for traditional brands to have a resurgence.

Ingredients missing from Twitter’s Blackbird Pie to embed tweets

Twitter’s message embedding tool, Blackbird Pie, is now live. Well at least it would be, if the application hadn’t already toppled over due to the interest in it:

Twitter's new Blackbird Pie application for embedding tweets crashes on launch day

The above tweet had to be captured the old-fashioned way. But having had a look at the posts about the service before it fell over, I have to admit I’m fairly disapointed so far.

So on the plus side:

  • You just submit the url of a tweet to get the code
  • It picks up the font used in your tags to emulate your blog style.
  • It copies whatever background the original tweeter used.
  • The @tags, hashtags and account itself are all clickable.

But on the downside:

  • It was never that tricky to embed a tweet before – I just used the Aviary plugin for Firefox for a quick screengrab, upload the image, and then manually link to the account or hashtag as needed.
  • I’ve yet to see someone display an embedded tweet, but what happens if Twitter decides to remove that content from their system?
  • The block of code provided is a huge amount to copy and paste just to embed an element. Certainly something I wouldn’t want to have to edit to fit the size of any site/blog.
  • It seems like a hugely missed opportunity so far. Embedding an individual tweet isn’t a problem – but what is more problematic is capturing a few, or a whole conversation between one or more people. I’m sure I’ve seen one tool for capturing conversations but can’t remember what it is, and using my own quick screenshot method or Blackbird Pie it’ll still be a pain.
  • It’s crashed already, despite being built by people familiar with the size and scale of Twitter. And it’s not even showing a Fail Whale (Fail bird?)

Blackbird Pie seems undercooked

I’m really not sure why Twitter has released this now. We’ve had their acquisition of Tweetie, the release of BlackBerry and Android applications, and the launch of Promoted Tweets. Why rush out something which doesn’t actually offer anything particularly beneficial to users? Unless it’s simply there to add control for Twitter (And perhaps promotional partners).

After all, it may help when dealing with DMCA issues with particular messages.

Solving Feedburner Feedsmith plugin problems with WordPress 2.9

If you’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.9 like me, you might have found that the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin recommended by Google and Feedburner has now stopped working. In fact, I couldn’t even upload it to a new site which hasn’t been upgraded to 2.9.

There’s been no word from Feedburner about this (No surprise, since their original Feedsmith plugin page itself returns an error and they appear to have taken a vow of silence since being acquired by Google).

Luckily some of the other Feedburner plugins work with 2.9. I’m currently using and recommending the FD Feedburner plugin by John Watson. Just install the plugin, enter your Feedburner feed address (The options are under the plugin menu), and you’re done.

(Note, the redirect may not go into action until you make a new post after installing the plugin – but if you create a test post and then delete it, it seems to work fine)

Major problems upgrading to WordPress 2.9

Having read up on the features of WordPress 2.9 and seen barely a mention of any problems on the main tech sites I subscribe to, I committed a cardinal sin yesterday and updated the new version straight to my two live blog sites. –Top Tip – either wait for the .1 version, or upload to a test site first.

And errors occurred with both sites. With this one, TheWayoftheWeb is seems to be a fairly simple incompatibility with the theme I’ve been running since I launched 18 months ago, which resulted in the sidebars of the design disappearing (But only on the homepage!). Not the worst problem in the world, although rather than rolling back the update to WordPress 2.8, I simply tried a couple of alternatives quickly, and it turns out Cutline works fine for the moment.

The problems on www.140char.com were a little more serious – although the site continued to display all widgets correctly, when I logged into the WordPress dashboard, all plugins had disappeared. No options, no record of the settings, and I couldn’t reinstall because the records for them were still in my WordPress database.

There is a plugin to reset plugins, which may have worked, but that will reset all of the settings and code you may have installed. So instead I decided on a slightly more radical option, logged into the FTP client for my database host, and deleted each plugin individually before reinstalling. The bonus being that there were a couple of items in there that had been de-activated but not deleted so it was due a bit of spring cleaning.

Luckily almost every restored plugin instantly recovered all settings and data, so I didn’t lose any comments, for example. The only problem is that one of the major plugins that I would assume a lot of people use, Feedburner Feedsmith, isn’t compatible with WordPress 2.9. As a plug in it redirects all RSS feeds and links to your Feedburner version allowing tracking etc, and without it, anyone trying to subscribe gets sent to the unformatted standard XML which I can’t track. Which is a bit annoying, and by the time I’d got to that stage it was way past the time for sleep, so I’ll have to try an alternative plugin today.

On the bright side, nothing was lost that couldn’t be recovered, and it’s a good reminder not to slip into just clicking auto-update as soon as I see the option. But it does make me wonder why WordPress don’t develop an easy solution.

The easy solution for upgrades WordPress should include:

There are already options for easy backup of both your database and files. And the one-click automatic upload makes things easier if you don’t want to do everything manually.

But…

Where on earth is the one-click option to downgrade to a previous version if necessary? I know each version fixes bugs and security risks, so there are inherent problems with downgrading, but until yesterday, I was quite happily running 2.8.6.

And it would solve the major issue with WordPress updates – the compatibility with 100s of themes, 100s of plugins, 10s of hosts etc. No setup is identical (Even when I run two sites with the same design, same plugins, on the same hosting provider there are still different problems etc), and WordPress can’t control this. But they can offer an easy rollback to a workng version if there’s a problem. It makes the whole set-up more stable, and doesn’t require a manual re-install.

Episode Blog: A New Beginning:

Fortunately I’d planned to revamp my three sites anyway this Christmas (Yes, I said three – there’s a new one coming for the New Year!), so it’s not all bad news. TheWayoftheWeb will continue as a personal commentary/memory aid/guide to social networks, marketing, mobile, videogames, technology and the media industry. So still scatterbrained.

But www.140char.com will be evolving into more co-ordinated project to effectively cover microblogging across Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr, Posterous etc in a better way. Meanwhile my new project will launch soon and it’s aimed at a very specific area which it may be possible to monetise fairly effectively.

So the forced change of theme ties in with experimenting with new layouts and tools anyway – expect to see a heck of a lot more changes in the next fortnight as I get everything ready and in place for 2010!

If you can see this message…

Then you’re one of the lucky ones.

Pic by delta407 on Flickr (CC Licence)

Pic by delta407 on Flickr (CC Licence)

At some point on Friday it appears something has caused a number of people to find this blog inaccessible.

And the same problem is also causing a tidal wave of spam to slip past Akismet and flood the pending comments section.

I’ve notified my hosting company, and I’m looking into the causes and solutions – meanwhile I’m marking every spam message as spam, but with one message every couple of minutes, it’s extremely frustrating.

As a result, I’m probably going to find it tricky to post until the problem has been resolved – however, you can still find my latest posts appearing at TheWayoftheWeb.net for social media marketing, digital publishing, journalism and other stuff.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in partnering or collaborating with me here (once the access problem is solved!), let me know…

Sorry – bad IP address: Why Digg isn’t helping communities…

It seems like we’ve fallen foul of the hidden rule of Digg, mentioned here, and here.

Basically, if you make a habit of Digging stories by people on your friends list, you’ll find yourself IP banned. Or indeed, find your entire company IP banned overnight. No warning, no discussion, and nowhere does it mentioned that you shouldn’t engage in the community.

Interestingly even Digg founder Kevin Rose could be seen as guilty, if you look at his profile here, and see how many times he’s Dugg the site of a fellow Digg user, Smash…

The valid reason for the banning is to stop people ‘gaming’ Digg by using multiple accounts to boost a story. For about 30 seconds, until they access a proxy server, anyway.

The problem is that small sites, and anyone with a small group of friends, is likely to be followed quite closely by their friends…So run a big risk of getting banned if they want anything they’ve done to be discovered. And at the same time, anyone who is aware of the rule can easily get around it. Instead of adding friends on Digg, just collect email address for other users…

That’s beside the fact that you’re more likely to look at the links submitted by friends and find something interesting. I add people to my friends list because they consistently come up with interesting articles, then get banned for digging the very reason I added them as friends…

Perhaps rather than venturing into new start-ups like Pownce, he’d be better off making some adjustments to Digg. The categories still leave a lot to be desired for non-tech news, and their attempts to combat ‘gaming’ are irritating at best, and do nothing to tackle the problem…