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Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW, Content, and Monetization

It might be overstating the facts to say that I went to SXSWi this year. Rather, SXSWi happened and I managed to position myself in it's vortex as it frantically rushed through Austin -- fueled by free drinks and Twitter.


The analogy between SXSWi and Twitter is apt because I constantly felt myself pulled by different currents in the stream of people. Anyone who tried walking with me from Point A to Point B knows what I'm talking about because I was constantly detouring, sidetracking, or just plain wandering off to Point C instead.

But that's how it had to be. If I had tried to control the flow instead of moving with it, I would have only ended up frustrated and (probably) alone. Instead of trying to set plans, keep people together, or have expectations, I relied on my cell phone to loosely wander in and out of what was happening.

That's the impression of my personal experience. But I also want to look at the conference from the business perspective.

One of the oft repeated points about SXSW is that you attend for the hallways and parties. This year, while inside the convention center, I heard that point repeated but with specific stories about why people felt the keynotes weren't as valuable as they'd hoped, or how the panels were disappointing them. One particularly pogniant quote was that nothing the person had heard couldn't already be found on a blog or by going to a Barcamp panel.

But SXSWi is 5-days packed full of speakers, panels, round-tables, and generally more content than you can possibly hope to consume (regardless of how many Red Bulls you have).

SXSWi isn't selling content, it's selling access.

If you work in new media, social media, media 2.0, or any other moniker, you are paying for face time with a large contingent of people in your industry. You're paying for the flow of people that allows the serendipitous meetings during the conference, over lunch, or at an after-hours party. And SXSW has been very smart in making sure they keep tight control over all the venues that are going to be used. Your badge is your passport into that access, that's what you paid for.

I'm going to wrap this up now but I have more thoughts around this topic that I'll continue to ponder.

What are you throughts on SXSW? Did you go for the sessions or the people? And what cues should online social networks take from this experience?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Innovators Roadtrip

It's getting late but I wanted to make a quick post that I'm on the Innovators' Roadtrip organized by Colin Browning of New Marketing Labs. 


We started off in Detroit yesterday and had the chance to talk with Scott Monty of Ford about what one of the world's biggest companies is doing to innovate.

Then we made three stops in Ohio: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. It's been an interesting trip so far and we have a couple more packed days ahead of us.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blellow -- Twitter goes vertical


I was invited to the Blellow Beta and my interest was picqued in examining another Twitter-like application.  The recent history of microsharing is littered with past attempts to improve on Twitter. Pownce and Jaiku were both acquired... but not supported. Plurk hit a chord with it's threaded conversations, but then Twitter figured out how to stay up more consistently. And recently, Yammer and identi.ca are working to bring microsharing inside the Enterprise firewall.


With all that context (baggage?) I joined the Blellow Beta.

First, let me talk about them in their own right. They are building a community of creative freelancers that can share ideas amongst itself but also act as a location that companies can post jobs/projects that the community can fulfill. This is a bold implementation that puts to the test the concept of collaborative competition. The community will be acting as a support group but also trying to compete for the jobs that get posted. How this dynamic plays out should be one of the major trends the Blellow community manager should watch for.

Now I feel comfortable starting to do the comparisons. I was talking with Heather Strout, Connie Reece, and LaniAR (what, she has a last name?) about how Twitter was so disruptive when they launched but quickly locked themselves into their feature set and let third-party apps take care of covering their weaknesses. 

This is the first place that I appreciated Blellow. They've taken the steps to incorporate some of the main requested features back into site. They allow threaded conversations by allowing you to open-up all the replies to a specific post right from your stream. You can also create actual groups and reference them (with the % symbol) which acts like a more formalized hashtag system. You can include files (especially pictures) right in your message meaning that people don't have to open up a new window to see what you're sharing. And, your home page dynamically updates (without constant refreshing!).

Why is this important? Because despite the familiarity of the early adopters, the concept of microblogging is still new. And innovation is still important. Blellow isn't trying to compete with Twitter in terms of user-base. They have taken the concept and applied it to a niche. But, they've also shown how the horizontal application could be improved.

My review of Blellow is postive because I want to see more companies take the approach of improving microblogging without trying to be the next Twitter. But I do also see a couple of downsides.

Any division of attention is going to create a barrier to entry. It's not impossible to maintain a presence in multiple social networks but when dealing with real-time networks like Twitter and Blellow, it is certainly more difficult. 

Guiding the community to focus on the right content. One of the axioms of social media is that you can't control the community. You don't own them, you can't make them do what you want. But, Blellow isn't asking "What are you doing?" they want to ask "What are you working on?" Keeping the community engaged in collaborative discussions about freelance work is going to take visible leadership from the Blellow team. If users slip into the more comfortable, more conversational, routine of talking with each other about what they are doing at the moment then Blellow hasn't differeniated itself from Twitter. The result, people migrate back to Twitter

Finally, while I like the inclusion of features into the website, I am also a big fan of having a desktop client. I use my browser all the time, if I have to keep flipping back to a separate tab or another browser window, I just don't get around to it as often. Allowing this to be created (or making it themselves) will again help with the adoption and retention of their members.

Would you use a vertical microblogging site?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Job Searches

I've had an interesting experience in the last week with my job search.  I'll leave the company names out of this because it's on-going.


A friend of mine gave me a contact at a company I'm interested in with an open position. I had a chance to speak with that person and find out more about the company and role. On their recommendation, I went ahead and submitted my application through the company website.

A day or two after submitting, I received a form email saying they appreciated my interest and they would keep my resume on file but that the position required a different backgroud.

That was about a month or so ago.

Then Rachel Happe interviewed me for her Deep Bench series. (Again, let me tell her thanks!) And just yesterday morning, I received an email from the hiring manager at this same company letting me know that someone had pointed them to my Deep Bench interview. He said that after reading the profile, he feels I have much of the experience they're looking for, and wanted a copy of my resume.

What's the moral of the story? Well, you've probably heard it before but sending your resume to HR isn't likely to get you a job. Where you should focus your energies instead is building, helping, and using your network to connect you with people that need what you can offer.

Where have you found the most success in your job search?


Monday, March 2, 2009

Deep Bench Interview

I was asked by Rachel Happe, writer of The Social Organization blog, to particpate in her Deep Bench series of posts about people in the social media space who are available for new job opportunities. 


I've followed Rachel on Twitter when she was an analyst and then when she made her move to Mzinga. Her insight into the social media space, especially as it relates to enterprise, has always given me perspective. I'm humbled that she'd add me to the list of people she wanted to interview. 

Without further ado, here are my rather long-winded answers.

John is a social media buddy - I haven't met him in RL (i.e. real life) and I still think of him more as jljohansen - his Twitter handle - than by the name John. Funny how that works. But while I have not worked with John directly, he's been in my circle for quite some time. John was a Bostonian that is currently in Austin...part of that trend last year of some of Boston's brightest moving to Austin...what is up with that?!?!  To me, John exhibits all the best behavior of a community manager - even though that has not been an explicit role - he shares his knowledge and information freely, engages in conversation, and is not into gratuitous self-promotion.  I would guess that those qualities are what make him so plugged in.

If you are in the Austin area and looking for an interactive or social media marketer, you should snap John up quickly.  Here's his response to my questions - I love the Speedo incident!:

What part of the social web world are you most fascinated by and why?
I'm most fascinated by how the social web continues to change. Not only is it changing everything it touches but it keeps changing itself. It's nearly impossible to keep up with everything that's happening but the broad trends are starting to emerge and you can see how they start applying to specific situations in social spaces.

I'm also fascinated by the change in search and discovery using the Internet. I had an instance this morning when I was using Google for a search and switched to Twitter Search because I wasn't getting results that were useful to me. Real-time search is a powerful tool.
 
What are you passionate about and what motivates that passion?
I stopped to really think about this question and came up with some very interesting answers. Part of what I'm discovering in my re-assessment of my career path is that I'm passionate about solving problems. I thrive in situations that need me to be creative and innovative. Keeping up with my blog is an example of this, I post sporadically because once I find a topic that I want to explore my single post quickly grows into full-blown series

In the arena of social media, what drives my passion is that I have the opportunity to be exploring the space before the 'rules' are defined. There are a great many smart people that I respect in the social media arena. I read their blogs or follow them on Twitter because I'm interested in what they have to say and want to be influenced by their thoughts. But, I'm also doing my own thinking about the gray areas. I absolutely feel that the 'answers' to social media can come from anywhere and I want to be a part of that.
 
If you could construct your own job who would you be working with? For whom? On what problems?
Moving to Austin was a conscious choice for me. I came down here before I had found a job in the area. (I was fortunate enough to keepmy job back in Boston.) One of the main reasons I decided to come to this area was because of the industry in the area. Austin has its share of large companies (Dell anyone?) but it's also got a significant number of smaller companies and start-ups.

I want to work for a small- to mid-sized company that is looking to improve its marketing program. When I look at job postings, I don't take them literally. I make sure I meet the requirements (I don't want to waste my time or theirs). Then I look at the essential functions but I read them as the starting point for what I could do. What ideas are sparked when I look at what they're hiring for? What improvements can I make in the areas that I'd be responsible for?
 
Let me get back on track here. I don't see this as an "if" question. I take it as an imperative that if I get hired by a company, I am going to construct my job role in such a way that will push both myself and the company to learn new things and do them better. With that reference, it makes it very easy to answer the rest.

I would be working with a company that has a solid business model with objectives that marketing can support. I would be working in a department, or for a manager, that respects my ability to perform my responsibilities but also supports my initiative to branch out beyond those. And I would be solving problems related to demand generation, measuring marketing results, developing effective lead nurturing -- in other words closing the marketing loop.

Since you can't always make up a job that will support you - what are you looking for next?
Hmm. I think I wrote myself into a corner with the answer above. Maybe I can side-track again. I've had a wandering path through the realms of marketing. I began my career with a PR degree and a position at a PR agency. I've explored direct mail, project management, web design, webinar production, email, search, web analytics, marketing communications, and social media. Up to about a year ago, I probably would have considered myself an Internet Marketer because I'd been taking more of a focus on online tools. But, I don't agree with all the connotations that Internet Marketing conjures.

What I've realized is that I can use another handy marketing label: Demand Generation. I've been responsible for bringing in leads, in the B2B space, for about 5 years, so I think it's a reasonable space for me to continue looking.


What project/activity from past jobs gave you the most joy?
I had a wonderful opportunity back in Boston to roll up my sleeves straighten out the online marketing for Snowbound Software.

One of the first projects I took on was a major re-focus of the newsletter. Rather than using it to re-hash our press releases, I began writing in-depth articles related to our industry (document imaging and viewing).

From there I took a serious look at our Google AdWords account and discovered a significant amount of spending on keywords that were unproductive for us as a business. I took drastic measures in the short-term to cut our spending by nearly 40%. Then spent the next two years tweaking the campaigns and was able to bring in more qualified leads from SEM while keeping our spending down.

I also implemented and monitored Google Analytics for our site. I learned so much about the value (and limitations) of web analytics. We were able to shift our focus off the pages we thought we should be spending time on and started making improvements where our visitors were spending their time.

And, finally, I researched marketing automation systems and implemented Marketo for use with lead qualification and nurturing. This was also the spark that triggered my passion for lead nurturing. I believe that it's going to have a major impact on marketing and, again, I want to be part of that answer.

Now, I know that sounds pretty self-aggrandizing but what brought me joy in my role was seeing how my projects were affecting the business. It wasn't just that I got the newsletter out on time (which I did) but that customers were telling my CEO how much value they received from it. That's hard to beat.

What non-work related activities make you the happiest?
The ocean. Seriously, the ocean makes me happy. I grew up near the Pacific, it's a major factor in my childhood narrative. I could be quite happy going swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving on a daily basis. 

When an ocean is not available, I like to read. Most of what I read is fiction or science fiction, it's engaging and easy. But when I have time, I enjoy picking up a real piece of literature. My most recent read in that genre is probably East of Eden by Steinbeck. And if I can carve out some time, I've got my sights on One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
 
What's your most amusing work-related story?
My wife is a big proponent of looking professional. When I know that I'm going to be doing a job search, she always makes sure that I have a nice suit to interview with and wear to work if appropriate. Each time that I've bought a new suit at the beginning of a job search, I've ended up working at an office with a casual dress code.

At one company, when I was making sure to get an explicit definition to bring back to my wife, I asked what the dress code was. The HR person told me, "No Speedos."
 
Needless to say, I was always in compliance with that one.

What are your thoughts about the US economy and what is going on?
I don't think that the economy is a surprise. The market is righting itself and because it's been bolstered artificially (sub-prime loans, I'm looking at you) for so long, it's going to be messy before it gets fixed. 

But, if you want me to use this as a soap box, I think that this is also a good time for individuals. The lay-offs that are happening are shaking people out of the mindset of "I belong to the company." People are recognizing that they can, or may need to, create value themselves. The rise of social media is helping facilitate the concept of individual value. This series by Rachel is a great example of creating individual value, it's useful to me as a job searcher, it's useful to Rachel's readers to get perspective from others in the social media space, and it's valuable to Rachel because she becomes a hub.

That's where I see the economy going. We're getting so connected these days that it's increasingly unnecessary to take risks on people we don't know . If you're hoping to just find a quiet desk to sit behind until someone hands you a gold watch... well, good luck with that.

Anything else?

I think I've said too much already. ;-)