Don’t write for SEO and social media marketing from the start…

That may seem an odd headline for someone who sells digital marketing alongside writing for the internet, but stay with me. I’ve just spent an hour or so reading through my 22-year-old copy of ‘Searching for Robert Johnson‘, a fairly short book by Peter Guralnick about the legendary early blues musician who was supposed to have gone to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil to have become so talented, and who was then murdered at an early age, passing into myth and legend for songs like ‘Hellhound on my Trail‘.

Having been blessed with an obsession for music and reading in a just pre-internet age, I’m a big fan of all the Peter Guralnick books I’ve read and owned – he’s covered the history of the blues, soul, and country, as well as works about Sam Cooke, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley (The Presley ones are the only ones I haven’t read). There’s a pretty good list on Amazon, and as a music writer I’ve read, re-read, and long admired, I wondered what he was doing at the moment – and thanks to Google, found some invaluable quotes on what makes his music writing so brilliant, especially when he writes with more succinct clarity than the likes of Lester Bangs, for example. And they explain why I believe that optimisation for SEO, tailoring content for social media etc all comes second to creating something really brilliant in the first place.

They’re from InsideVandy.com, Vanderbilt University’s student news website:

‘I started writing about music when I was probably about 20, and I started writing purely to tell – I was writing fiction, short stories novels, I still write fiction – but the nonfiction, I just wrote solely to tell people about this music that I thought was so great, it was almost entirely the blues, and I did it at a time when there were almost no outlets where you could even put down the name Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, James Brown, it was such a thrill. I wrote these things telling people how great they were. It wasn’t for money, there was no money; it was just to tell people.

I’ve never written a single piece about anybody or anything that I haven’t chosen myself and hasn’t been out of my admiration for their work. It would be inconceivable for me to write something about a subject that I wasn’t totally invested in.

There have been growing debates about the need for PR and Marketing in technology – the suggestion is that by building something amazing, you remove the need for promotion, which I think is mistaken and disingenuous. A great product should be your focus as it makes Marketing, PR, Advertising etc all easier and ways to boost the natural interest.

And by the same token, SEO, targetting social media etc are all extremely useful, but they boost interest, links etc to great content and writing.

You can argue that plenty of truly great works have never achieved mainstream success, but that’s down to a number of factors, including marketing, timing, and luck. But those great works continue to endure, even if it’s in a small way.

Meanwhile there’s plenty of crap that has become amazingly popular due to well-oiled publicity efforts, but it’s always tended to result in fleeting success at best, despite the work and effort that’s gone into promotion.

And particularly if you’re trying to build a business around content, or by utilising content, it’s better to get a smaller number of truly passionate and evangelistic people who are likely to part with their money or attention on a longterm basis, than to hit a huge number of people who just pass through and move onto something else in seconds.

That’s why I suggest forgetting about SEO and marketing when you first start writing something. If not, you’ll spend hours or days in fear as you build up the worries about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And when you finally do, it’s likely to appear faked when you’re shoehorning in keywords and sticking on an irrelevant linkbait headline. Far better to create something incredibly powerful and optimise with a light touch. It’s why the need for copy editors and sub editors remains, but that need evolves into editors skilled in marketing and search engine optimisation alongside more traditional skills.

And it’s why I’m still enjoying, and recommending, music from the 1930s and books written about it which I first enjoyed as a pre-teen.

Techcrunch and Microsoft: Two WTF? moments…

Two items appearing in my Google Reader subscriptions almost led to me exclaiming WTF? on a crowded Monday morning commuter train. (Post now updated due to more info – see below)

First up was the strange experience of seeing Michael Arrington and Techcrunch complain about someone posting a video of the Crunchpad which ‘was not a sanctioned or official video‘. And which has since been taken down. The video was of the CEO of Fusion Garage, who are partnering with Techcrunch on the Crunchpad, unboxing the last prototype.

Let me repeat. Techcrunch has complained and taken down video which was ‘not sanctioned or official’.

Techcrunch.

On the plus side, it’s relegated the Mike Arrington call to end handshakes to the second most bizarre thing I’ve read on Techcrunch.

On a more positive note, Techcrunch also revealed a major Microsoft marketing blunder.

If you download Internet Explorer 8 through this specific site, Microsoft pledged to donate 8 meals per download to a group called Feeding America.

As MG Siegler pointed out, there’s a slight problem. For each download, Microsoft pledged to donate $1.15 to a maximum of $1 million.

‘Only complete downloads of Windows® Internet Explorer® 8 through browserforthebetter.com from June 8, 2009 through August 8, 2009 qualify for the charitable donation to Feeding America®. Microsoft® is donating $1.15 per download to Feeding America® up to a maximum of $1,000,000. Meals are used for illustrative purposes only. Meal conversion is effective until June 30th, 2010.’

Which means that each ‘meal’ would be $0.14.

*update 1pm*

As revealed in the comments below, the figures for the cost of meals is actually directly from Feed America’s figures, so it’s incorrect to state that Microsoft set the cost of a meal at $0.14. Rather, it’s bloody impressive Feed America manage it!

I’d still argue that $1 million is a relatively small commitment comparative to the other marketing campaigns etc which Microsoft is running – and that the IE8/Feed America donation is definitely part of a marketing plan.

Oh, and for the record, I’m an MS fanboy if anything as a PC person over Macs, and an Xbox fanatic!

*end of update*

As MG has gone on to explain in an update, it’s a good thing that Microsoft has pledged money to a good cause – it’s just that $1 million is somewhat dwarfed by the $80 million that is being spent on Bing promotion – and linking it so tenously to the number eight is marketing gone mad.

You can imagine the meeting:

“Why don’t we do something with social responsibility – how about donating some money when someone downloads IE8?”

“Yeah, but how does that promote us? Where’s the brand? Hang on, why don’t we donate 8 meals per download, and that way it promotes IE8”

“That will cost us a lot, though”

“Yeah, but if we limit it to $1.15 in the fine print, noone will notice, and we’ll look like we’re as nice as that company who do no evil”

Lesson 1:

If you’re going to embrace the idea of social responsibility properly, it’s probably better to be honest and open about what you’re actually doing, and build on that goodwill, rather than trying desperately to tie it into your brand message and then looking like a bunch of cheapskates.

Lesson 2:

And as a journalist, I’m well aware of the need to offer companies a ‘right to reply’, and the benefits of going through official routes to fact check etc – but I’ve also lost count of the Techcrunch stories which get put out as quickly as possible, and then updated as facts are checked to ensure speed of information, and a fast placement on news aggregators.

If you’re going to live by the sword of fast tech blogging or social responsibility, then you also have to be willing to accept a few flesh wounds…

Pepsi Cola promoting Twitter – Well done or raw?

So Pepsi has included a Twitter tag printed on 1.4 million cans of the new Pepsi Raw drink here in the UK.

Firstly, it’s great to see something new being done in the UK by a multinational, rather than watching the U.S. from afar. The account is @pepsiraw, there’s also a website (pepsiraw.co.uk), and a Facebook page.

Pepsi Raw by dhsingadia on Flickr (CC Licence)

Pepsi Raw by dhsingadia on Flickr (CC Licence)

Now, I have to admit I have my doubts about whether this will be done effectively. For starters, I wrote a post last year on my marketing blog about ‘How Coke and Pepsi are wasting their online strategy‘ – it was kickstarted by Pepsi’s outreach to prominent bloggers and promotion of The Pepsi Cooler friendfeed room.  The fact that contributions were onlyposted byPepsi staff and all comments are held for moderation during U.S. working hours made for a pretty stilted attempt at conversation. And now it just repeats the @pepsico Twitter account (With just 2335 followers).

The early signs for @pepsiraw aren’t much better. One reply from 20 messages since April 23, 2009, with the rest simply broadcasting the next location where free samples are being given out. And so far just 363 people have deemed it worth following.

The lesson here is that is doesn’t matter whether Pepsi gave out 1 can with the Twitter address or 1.4 million. As somone who drinks a ridiculous amount of caffeinated soft drinks, and was intrigued to try Raw, I found the address, looked at the tiny amount of non-replies, and then went and had conversations with other people.

The question is whether it will change if more followers appear or will the Raw Twitter promotion stay underdone?

Am I evil? The dark side of the web…

It’s apparently easy to be seduced by the dark side when it comes to blogging, and I never even realised it had happened.

At some point, an arbitrary line was drawn as a hang up from traditional media. The great and good subconsciously set the ethics of blogging around ‘quality’ content, a lack of advertising, and denying that anyone ever checks the rank of their blog, or sometimes submits their own content to Digg or Stumbleupon. There is a slight get-out clause if you’re already well established as an A, or possibly B-list member of the blogosphere, but essentially you have the basis of the monastic blogging community. Just keep writing open, honest, quality content and relax as the world discovers you.

Sat on the other side of the equation are the blogs which offer readers the hope of making money online, or getting to the top of whichever ranking you like using some simple tools, and by downloading an e-book on the best affiliate schemes. They love to self-promote, follow 1000s on Twitter, and are happy to recommend affiliate schemes they’ve just signed up for.  They don’t publish a lot of original content, and tend to reuse ideas from more legitimate sites like Problogger.net.

It’s a simple guide, and easy to believe in. It’s a shame it’s wrong.

For starters, with 140 million + blogs, it’s perfectly viable to publish quality content for months without anyone stumbling across it. And this monastical approach can easily lead to someone giving up, or looking for ways to self-promote themselves to at least get some eyeballs onto their blog, even if it leads to a 99% bounce rate. Increased competition in every niche means it’s ever harder to be the main tech blog, or the first mommy to write about raising a child.

Even harder to accept is the idea that others might have a different idea of what makes for quality – and that our idea of a spammy blog might actually be of value to someone who hasn’t come across the original source of the information, or might have never had the chance to attract readers without a self-submitted stumble once in a while.

That’s the hardest to accept because we’ve been taught to seek out the accepted levels of quality since childhood. We were shown Shakespeare and Dickens to aspire to, we see broadsheets as superior to the tabloids, and essays and dissertations require a minimum length to be submitted. And we act shocked when someone reverts to Anglo-Saxon.

But the truth of the matter is that the quality of a piece of work, whether blog, newspaper, or verbal tirade, is down to the individual looking at it. It’s not about an expert author carefully crafting literature – it becomes about whether it confers a value to the individual. To insert a suitably literary quote: “the death of the author is the birth of the reader.”

If we really accept that modern publishing is solely about the needs of the individual who reads and interacts with it, then we should be happy that every part of the spectrum is represented – from the ad-free academic discussing topics with other scholars, to the make money blogs offering the same get rich schemes that appear on flyers on lamposts and through our letterboxes. And we should leave it to the end users to decide which work provides them with entertainment or value, even if we do placate ourselves by perhaps offering some type of warning for scams and pyramid schemes *. Or we rank down those works we disagree with via the same voting mechanisms we use to promote and share content we value and feel is relevant to those around us.

It’s why those of us fortunate enough to be gainfully employed in roles which allow us the indulgence of blogging and social networking for work as well as pleasure should stop looking down on those who may be looking at blogging as a mechanism for fame and reward to change their lives in some way.

It’s why, when it comes to money making spam blogs: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,”

I’m looking forward to the comment which will hopefully follow. Don’t forget to Digg, Stumble, and even print this post and send it to all your friends!

*Incidentally, if any blog or website offers you the chance to make money without much effort, or with a simple automated programme, the odds are pretty high it’s a scam. Trust me. If you’re seriously looking for ways to make money online, I”d advise only listening to those who are open and honest about the fact it takes a lot of hard work and luck, as it does anywhere else!

(Cheers to @snowcialmedia for the prompt to post…it might not have been quite what you had in mind!)

A major problem in promoting Plurk

It seems as if there are a million Twitter applications, widgets, and ways to publicise your membership and latest Tweets, but things are a bit twickier when it comes to Plurk.

So far, there has been an unofficial API, and third party Plurk tools are thin on the ground. But even more annoyingly, I can’t use the official Plurk widget.

There’s a simple reason. They offer it for users to embed into a Facebook, Myspace, or blog page. But they’ve fixed the width, so trying to display it on this blog, for instance, means the sidebar will be blown apart. And the width is set at 300 pixels wide – way too much for most pages on Facebook or Myspace.

So for the moment, I’ll not be sharing my Plurking as much as my Tweeting.

You can still find me on Twitter. And on Plurk.

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.