Every website has a purpose. A vision. A reason for people to come and visit and more importantly a reason to come back. Essentially you need a value proposition that visitors want. For 99% of websites today that has to do with content. Content could be the written word, pictures, audio, or video. Each type of content has different levels of engagement. Some is informative. Some is entertainment. Some makes us angry. Some makes us cry. Content, at the end of the day, is the essence of the World Wide Web.
Pick a niche. Successful websites pick a space to play in; they focus, and stick to it only adjusting when necessary. When websites try to be all things to all people, either in a vertical industry, or just in general they will always have problems organizing their content in a manner that is acceptable to the visitor. Visitors will become frustrated and leave. Niche sites, on the other hand, can stay focused and deliver high-quality content in an organized fashion.
Examples of successful niche sites:
- Mashable – social media news
- TechCrunch – technology news
- Huffington Post – news, gossip
- VentureBeat – venture capital, start-ups, and entrepreneurship
And while theses are examples, they are not the only sites that fill these niches. So there is indeed room for everyone. The only question is where do these sites provide a value proposition, or a differentiation factor. Is it to break news? Provide insights and opinions? Aggregate information into one site?
Value Proposition. This will vary from site to site and from individual to individual. However, for a good website to keep visitors coming back, a value proposition must exist. When that value proposition is around content, the content itself is the proposition. It has to be well written, relative, timely, aggregated, and in some cases protected. Sites like Wall Street Journal have had a content value proposition for years. In fact they are one of the few last standing with that business model, though some like the New York Times will re-introduce a paid wall in January 2011.
I’m very partial to the types of sites that can aggregate industry news and information in concise ways. That’s why I think sites like Mashable and TechCrunch end up being daily visits for me. Both sites eloquently write about industry news about social media and technology respectively Sometimes they break news, sometimes they share rumors. I also really enjoy resource sites like MarketingProfs where it isn’t just news, but research, best practices, user community, and even a membership proposition.
For Project Trinity, let’s think about combining the best of both worlds. The site will be specific to a vertical market that can build traffic based on that niche audience. It will feature content, resources, and even a gated community of content and features that are exclusive to a subscriber base. So what industry should this site address? What industry do you see right now that has a void that needs filling? Give me some ideas in the comments.
In a world where being able to connect with old friends, family, co-workers, and connections is now the “norm” it surprises me when we start to see backlash as we are with Facebook recently. Especially when these are FREE services. However, everyone in the Internet age has been foregoing bits and pieces of their privacy for the convenience of connecting with each other and interacting in a social way online.
The thing is that when we interact online we are always leaving a little digital signature of who we are, where we came from, what we did, etc. Part of this is an aspect of the Web in general through cookies and GPS coordinates. Another part is just by virtue of how the Web works and how analytics are tracking site behavior. While Web sites may not know who you are specifically (unless you log in), they will certainly get a good idea of what you like and deliver better content next time.
Free sites have to make money. Running Web servers, development costs, etc all costs money and no investor or venture capitalist is going to invest in a company without the potential to get their money back. So for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, (insert name of cool website with free service), they all have the same issue; how will they make money? For many, it will be in online advertising. Google does this with most of its products from Google Search to Gmail to YouTube. Facebook does it with ads and virtual gifts. Even LinkedIn does it with their online recruiting (job board), research arm, and advertisements. However, nobody really seems to care about it when it is advertising because most often it is what keeps the service free to use. Do you remember when Google first rolled out ads that were contextual to your search, or your email messages? Everyone was outraged, yet millions of people still use those services. When you go onto Amazon and you see products that are based on your behavior, your information you have shared and more. No matter what we do online, the more we want convenience of personalized information and use of free services we will have to give up a piece of our privacy. When you check-in at a restaurant using Yelp, Foursquare or Gowalla, you are sending out your location over the web. “I’m here!”
The easiest way that Facebook, and other social networks, are integrating your personal information is via their authentication tools. In Facebook?s world this is Facebook Connect. It allows you, the user, to log into another website with your Facebook credentials. In some cases, like a registration for a site, you can populate certain fields and share your activity with this new site with your Facebook friends. This is where everyone is getting their arms up air over this privacy invasion. But if you want the convenience of not having to remember dozens of usernames and passwords, using one, like what you use for Facebook becomes convenient.
The other big discussion is around Facebook?s social widgets. These are actually less intrusive as one might think. They are what we call iframes, which means the ?Like? button that they just rolled out is actually a page within a page. The Web site that the ?Like? button is on actually doesn?t get any information about that person. So for me, I have the ?Like? button on this blog post. If you see other people who ?like? this post, I get none of that data. It doesn?t go into a database of mine, or into an email to me. Zip. Nada. What makes them attractive to Web site administrators, like me, is that it provides a level of personalization that I couldn?t achieve otherwise. And because Facebook is 500M strong, the chances are of that personalization working on my Web site is pretty good. The same goes for CNN and thousands of other sites which have integrated these new features into them.
The next time you think about your privacy and where your information is being shared, or even sold, think about he conveniences you have online when you use Web sites. You are giving up your privacy every day, but you are also willing to do so. In fact, if you really want to know who else is using your personal information just look into the fine print of the following:
- Your Bank
- Your Credit Cards
- Your Loyalty Cards (Grocer, Movie Rental, Book Store)
- Google Account (Oh, how quickly we forget about them)
- Professional Association or Trade Association
You may be surprised on what you read.
I’ve looked into they eye of the beast, and what I saw was glorious. I get the opportunity every few years to go visit a technology company through work with one of our Standing Committees. This year we took a trip out to Palo Alto, California to visit Facebook. Facebook has been a hot topic in the legal profession for a while, mostly circling their privacy changes. We didn’t get a chance to debate those issues on this trip, but we did get to discuss how brands are using Facebook and how lawyers and law firms can take advantage of the platform.
While I’m not going to get into all the details of this visit here (that will come out in other posts) I am going to quickly talk about work culture. I’ve visited three major technology companies over the last few years: Microsoft, Google, and now Facebook. Each experience was different and I think that has to do with when they were started, what their focus is on, and how they execute their product.
New School vs. Old School. I think there are clear differences between old school vs. new school companies. Old school is hierarchical with office space, titles and corporate environment. They have high-walled cubes and offices with doors. Microsoft is old school. When I visited Microsoft you didn’t feel the innovation happening. Maybe that was because it was in a different building than the one I was in. When I visited Google and Facebook the environment was much different. They have open spaces, collaboration areas, appropriate levels of distractions (like FB has a Guitar Hero room and ping pong tables). You could feel the magic happening. You could tell there were smart people in the room coding ideas, sharing thoughts, working towards common goals. It was energizing to be around and just observe. People were excited to be at work and working on their projects. It could also have been the fact that people were in jeans, walking around with Macs, working on 40″ monitors, etc.
Location, Location, Location. Maybe it is just being in Silicon Valley that is the biggest difference. Both Google and Facebook are miles away from each other. In fact, Facebook is practically in the middle of a residential district just outside of Standford University. However I’d be willing to bet that HP, which is around the corner and was in the building Facebook now occupies, is a little more old school. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a campus that has a highway that runs right down the middle outside of Seattle. Impressive, yes, but still corporate in nature for sure. However, it may not be your location. I’ve also visited Total Attorney’s offices in Chicago and their set up is very similar to Google and Facebook, so maybe the Valley isn’t as critical as one might think.
Focus. While Google and Facebook haven’t been around for a decade yet, I think that is actually one of their prime reasons they are as successful as they are. They are focused. Every employee who works there knows how their project fits into the grand scheme of their company. These companies have a focus (beyond profits), and that is something their employees embrace and motivates them. They want to be the best, breaking new ground in their industry, and setting trends, not fads. Google lets their employees work on pet projects for 20% of their time. This is how products like GMail, Google Talk emerged. Those have then taken Google into directions they initially didn’t assume they would get into — office tools. Facebook has a focus on transforming itself from a social network to a profile management and communication tool. Products like their lists which help you categorize your friends helps you manage who sees what and what you communicate to whom. It has opened a whole new door to the Social Graph for them — and how we communicate and share information.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is very diverse in their product lines. They have several divisions: Search, Gaming, Office, etc. and from a conglomerate standpoint, the act and operate like a big corporation — each division responsible for their own bottom line. While Google has several product lines as well, their delivery vehicle is the same — the Web.
Photos from Facebook HQ
Photos from Google Visit
So while one may wear a tie to work and the other scoots around on a skateboard, think about how your company works. Is it effective in producing your products and services? Does every employee know how their project fits within the overall strategy of the organization? What changes could you make that would allow for better work product, focus, and commitment from your employees? Maybe business casual is OK everyday. It may depend on the profession you are in. It may depend on experience and longevity of your management team. My biggest take away from these visits is that your work environment and culture is very critical to the success of your company.
Socialnomics, the economics of the social world and social media. It isn’t a fad, it is here to stay. Brands, companies, and industries have been paying attention — have you? Erik Qualman, the author of Socialnomics has updated his video that has mind-blowing stats regarding the use of social media in today’s world. It is an update of his original one that came out when he launched his book. Some of his interesting statistics include:
- If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest ahead of the United States and only behind China and India
- Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web
- 80% of companies use social media for recruitment; % of these using LinkedIn 95%
- 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
- Kindle eBooks Outsold Paper Books on Christmas (COMMENT: I wonder how this will change next year with the iPad out)
- Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like Mad Men Listening first, selling second
Here is the latest video. What do you think about the stats? Anything jump out at you?
I will have some thoughts on this and other Facebook stuff soon.
This short video is worth watching on how Best Buy is adopting social technology to change their business strategy.
In social networking one of the first things we think about with LinkedIn and Facebook are the relationships we have and make. We have Connections and Friends. Through our contacts we acknowledge through a virtual “handshake” that we can have a symetrical relationship. We grow our “friends” or “connections” sometimes through widgets of “Who you may know” or through referrals.
With Twitter, we “follow” other Twitterers. You don’t have to acknowledge, agree, or allow someone to follow you. They just can. You can follow more people than follow you, and vice versa. This asymetrical relationship with your followers introduces a different type of relationship than Facebook or LinkedIn. The only exception is if you have a closed Twitter account, you have to allow certain people to follow you, which in essence is a form of a symetrical relationship.
After reading Relationship Symmetry in Social Networks: Why Facebook will go Fully Asymmetric by Joshua Porter, it got me thinking about his theory of these two types of relationships. While Porter states that Facebook will take on a Twitter model because of the different style of relationship it allows you to have, asymetrical and thus a larger “network” than a mutual agreed upon one, I believe social networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn should adopt a hybrid approach.
While Porter articulates the four types of relationships that Twitter allows highlighted by a post by Andrew Chen, there is something that is truly to be said about having a formal knowledge of who is attempting to claim a relationship with you.
The four relationships of Twitter are:
- People who follow you, but you don’t follow back
- People who don’t follow you, but you follow them
- You both follow each other (Friends!)
- Neither of you follow each other
“Following” not that different than RSS Subscribers if you think about it. A blogger writes posts, and one or many people subscribe to an RSS feed, or read that blogger on a regular basis. Twitter takes the writing to a micro-level, but the “relationship” is the same.
This isn’t a researched post. It isn’t one that has a lot of stats or basis to stand on. It is a pure observation that may or may not spark a conversation. I read headlines and hear from colleagues that all the advertising spending in print continues to decrease. It’s moving to online advertising or being cut out completely. This is accelerated even more with the economy saying hello to the ground floor when it has been on an express ride to the skydeck the last few years. However, I think companies and advertisers are missing a point, an opportunity. Better, I don’t think companies “get it” when it comes to marketing their products and services.
I heard on the morning news today that despite the economy, companies are still willing to spend $3M for 30 seconds on NBC for the Super Bowl. 30 seconds in one of the most popularized, entertainment sporting events of the year. Sure, your exposure is to millions of viewers (and a few football fans while you’re at it). Some companies will spend about that much money to nail that 30 seconds for your attention. To resonate with you to take some action. What will be the return? How can it be measured? Sure there are ways, but the measurement is a conversion from one medium to another. TV to Brick and Mortar or TV to Online. Let’s repeat this, the measurement of success will most likely be a measurement of a conversion from one medium to another. That’s where advertisers are missing the point in print.
Traditional uses of print advertising has been mostly around awareness. It’s about branding. But the problem is many companies haven’t adjusted their print strategies to consumer behavior. They see that print isn’t returning results like it used to, and it’s too hard to “measure” a return. The reality is that the C-level management want faster results, and print isn’t one for “timely” analytics compared to online advertising. Additionally, circulation is still a “best guess” number, not as hard-core as actual pageviews/impressions that can be given in online advertising. I get it, make sure you receive value for what you are paying for. However, it’s reality.
Arguments for why online advertising is better than print are completely valid.
- Better tracking
- Instant measurement
- Smaller buys can render bigger results
- Target, segment, target, segment
- Test, tweak, test, tweak
Yes, the are all good. But let’s not forget that people still read magazines and journals. They still like flipping through pages at stuff they can’t buy, or may want to buy, or are interested in. Online advertising, while instantly measurable, still has banner blindness. The fear that a click on an ad will mean they will get more ads, or spam, or more pop-ups. Seeing a full page ad in your favorite magazine means you can read it, flip past it, come back to it, read it again, and then make a decision to do more. No fear. They are in control.
Advertisers need to continue to understand consumer behavior. Understand that your opportunity to grab one’s attention is still valuable in print publications. Understand how you can create an effective campaign to go from offline to online and still measure success. They need to accept the fact that the return on that media buy for an ad in a magazine isn’t going to show results for weeks after delivery. But the incentive has to change. You have to get the consumer to change mediums. Print to online is possible. The messaging has to be right, valuable, yet still enticing enough for somone to go online to do more.
Go back to my Super Bowl example. How long of a lead time do you think companies are taking to get a campaign together for that $3M investment. Weeks? Months? Now how long do you think it could take to put together a campaign and media buy for a print pub? Yes, publishers still need weeks of lead-time, printing, and delivery. So it may be on par with a TV advertisement, but not as expensive. Not a one-time 30 second shot.
Integrate your marketing campaigns into multiple channels. Print shouldn’t be ignored. It still holds value, especially when it is being adapted to new mediums. For instance, Digital publications. Migrating to the Kindle and other digital readers. When evaluating your marketing dollars, don’t forget the print publication. It’s not dead. It’s still valuable. While patience is a virtue, management needs to know print can still return results.
I don’t think anyone can argue
that Barak Obama made history this week.
While the popular vote was no landslide, unlike the electoral college,
Obama had several strategic game changers during election campaign that
separated him from his opponent. So it should come as no surprise that everyone
is now writing about how organizations can use the same tactics and strategies
and apply them to their own organization.
Here are just a few articles and blog posts worth reading over.
While the use of technology will was not the only game
changer in the Obama campaign, it played a significant role in my opinion. His campaign strategically found ways to
connect with his constituents by allowing them to campaign on his behalf
through myBarakObama blogs, using text messaging for
updates, using YouTube to let video messages go viral, and use of his ever
growing email database.
While I certainly can’t dissect his entire campaign
strategy, he also brilliantly executed an integrated marketing strategy. He took the concept of “small is the new big”
by asking for small donations from individuals, not the maximum from them at
once. Additionally, he asked his
database of volunteers and advocates to do small things such as calling friends
and strangers about his campaign, which resulted in a huge workforce.
I think Obama executed two strategies extremely well during
his campaign. First, he brilliantly used
social media to empower his followers. Jermiah Owyang, a Forrester analyst on
Social Media, researched and found stats on how Obama and McCain used social
media. While Owyang won’t draw any correlations to
the use of social media to his win, Obama commanded the use of the Internet. I
believe it was that use of technology that helped, if for nothing else, give
him exposure to a larger population of voters. McCain followed suit by
participating in the same space, but I believe the generation gap of a 70+ year
old using MySpace and Facebook wasn’t as authentic as a 40+ year old. In fact to compete with Obama’s “MyBarakObama”,
McCain launched McCainSpace using social network took Kick-Apps.
Obama’s second strategic win was how he treated his
volunteers, and that was with respect and authenticity. He would send a message (or tried on several
occasions to mixed results) to his volunteers and donors informing them of what
he was going to do next before he would do it to the media. He understood that by informing this audience
first he not only respected that they want information, but knew that they
would spread that message beyond what the media could accomplish. However, by informing his volunteers and
donors first he also put transparency on his campaign and that, in my opinion,
is a level of authenticity that builds trust.
And Obama’s not done either.
Change.gov launched yesterday getting not only himself ready for the
next four years, but informing the American people as well. As technology evolves, going back to the U.S.
Mail distributing pamphlets to
back in the beginning of our country to TV bringing a face and live debate to
every home to the Internet, our public officials and government will change as
well. If Obama uses the Internet as much
during his presidency as he did during his campaign, change won’t be just that
an African American is at 1600
it will be how he has enabled the entire country to speak to him to make changes
the American people want.
Ah, and you thought you were going to see a post of genius did you? Well, not yet. That’s the topic of a presenation I’m giving on Thursday to a group of State Bar communications staff. I have a few things in mind, but what are your thoughts? Still room to tweak my presentation. Add your top 5 in the comments. After the presentation I’ll be posting the slides and notes.