RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

Do You Have Room for One More Network?

06/22/11

If you count yourself among the members of the social tribe (MOST), then inevitably you are facing some degree of social media fatigue. Even those of us who make a living in social media find the challenges of listening, responding, creating and tracking content on multiple platforms overwhelming at times. Kirsten Gronberg, community manager at start-up CMP.LY, admitted in a Yogi Berra-like fashion that all her job related tweeting, checking-in, liking and blogging was actually “getting in the way of work.”

Writer Corey Guilbault relates his social fatigue to the “abundance of noise from a bazillion broadcasters making it hard to hear anything.” Valerie Romley of Moving Target Research is even more fed up, exclaiming, “I’m totally over any and all social networking which is a huge time suck.” That said, Romley does admit that LinkedIn remains a great source for finding “referrals to qualified partners and vendors.”

Oh no, not another network!
Which begs the question, have we reached a saturation point that limits if not dooms the opportunity for new networks to blossom? Valerie Grubb, who runs a bustling real estate consultancy and actively reaps benefits from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter proclaimed, “I just don’t need ONE MORE SITE.” Mia Malm, an SF-based PR consultant echoed these thoughts concluding, “I think most people have at this point established what networks they want to be in and those networks have a critical mass.”

A week ago I would have agreed with these prognostications but having experienced two new network enablers, Referral Key and MixTent, now I’m not so sure. Both of these new services have a fighting chance of catching on, addressing areas of business social networking not fully covered by LinkedIn and certainly not addressed by Facebook while taking full advantage of the connections you already have on these networks.

Referral Key is a viral juggernaut
Of the two, Referral Key may be the most profoundly viral application since Twitter came on the scene in 2006. Like its name implies, Referral Key, is designed to enable peer-to-peer referrals among small businesses, finding strength in the simplicity of its offering. Once you sign up for Referral Key, you can then solicit all or selected peers on LinkedIn to send you referrals, offering the referrers any kind of reward you desire including cash.

Thus far, the secret to Referral Key’s virality is the most compelling email subject line I’ve ever seen: “Are you taking on any new clients?” To gauge the power of this line and interest in yet another network, I used Referral Key’s system to send about 100 invitations to selected colleagues culled from my larger LinkedIn database. Within 72 hours, an astonishing 70 of the 100 had joined Referral Key. Another 10 responded to my email politely declining but reinforcing the undeniable power of a “killer” email subject line.

Sure Referral Key got our attention, but will we use it?
Of course, responding to an email and delivering referrals is hardly the same thing, and it remains to be seen if Referral Key will end up being the useful source of leads for small businesses that it promises to be. Stephan Paschalides, co-founder of NowPlusOne, a research and innovation agency, wonders if Referral Key will really catch on. Explained Paschalides, who is certainly open to the idea, “I invited a bunch of people, but none of them invited other colleagues yet–maybe there are too many work/networking-related sites out there.”

MixTent, another new entry in the B2B networking world, takes a completely different approach from Referral Key: It asks users to rate colleagues already in their LinkedIn networks. The rating process has a fun, game-like component, in which users choose from a pair of colleagues, based on the question, “which would you to prefer to work with?” in a particular category (in my case, Marketing, Consulting, Writing, Social Media, etc.)

MixTent gets mixed reviews but there are great lessons here
After rating 25 pairs, MixTent asks if you would like to share your positive ratings with your preferred associates. This triggers a potential email with the subject line, “Hi, I just voted for you on MixTent.” MixTent encourages you to share this email, which in theory attracts more people to the “tent” and unlocks more aspects of the service to the user. Based on the limited response to the emails to 35 peers for whom I voted, it’s a bit too early for me to declare MixTent a viral peer to Referral Key.

Whether or not Referral Key or MixTent becomes the next big thing in social media, there are two important lessons here. First, email is still among the most powerful weapons in marketing, assuming you write compelling subject lines. Second, there are still unmet needs out there that the social media giants will either ignore or be unable to address. These chinks in the armor will create opportunities for highly focused start-ups that can work around or better yet within the giant ecosystems created by the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn, overcoming the social fatigue that will hold the less viral ones at bay.  (If this article seemed familiar, that’s because you read it already on MediaPost.com)

 

I’m Still Not Done With My Potatoes

06/21/11

Surly may not do my too cool for school Swedish waitress justice. She dispensed my morning coffee like a hand grenade— more throwing than pouring. Evidently she didn’t get the memo that we’re in a new age of customer service because before I could finish my food, she cleared my plate. And though I exclaimed, “I’m not done with my potatoes,” that plate was toast. (If this paragraph seems familiar, its because you read it first on FastCompany.com)

Unsettled, I couldn’t help but wonder if my grabby waitress was a blustery metaphor for the rapid-fire world of social media, especially Twitter. Every day thousands of morsels cross my Tweetdeck, many half-baked, some food for thought but none wholly satiating. It was with this mindset that I attended this week’s 140 Characters Conference, the veritable smorgasbord of Twitterville.

Curated by social mensch Jeff Pulver, this conference is unique in many ways but most notably for the fact that each of the 140 “characters” has only 10 minutes to tell their story. And when time is up, the theme song from Exodus blasts them off stage. Akin to a Spanish tapas bar, this approach limits the impact of any one dish, leaving you hungry for more of the good ones and grateful the bad ones got cut off.

A few of the tastier characters
Twitter superstar Ann Curry (okay she’s a TV star too), spiced up the morning with an impassioned plea for attendees to use the power of Twitter to do good. Seducing the crowd with a self-deprecating imitation of her mother’s halting English, Curry encouraged the audience to “dream the improbable” since she is living proof that these dreams can and will come true. I’ll take my potatoes with Curry any time.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker tweeted his way to the conference, alerting his 1-million-plus followers that he was stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Once he arrived, Booker’s straight talk about changing the way government works, including being more responsive to the individual, was refreshing but the gong went off long before anyone was ready.

Jeffrey Hayzlett, the former CMO of Kodak turned social media evangelist, took timeout from his book tour to introduce Gaby Zwaan, a Dutch artist whose career Hayzlett helped catapult via Twitter. Only a bit gabby, Zwaan let his tulip-filled paintings and street art tell his story, providing a quick feast for our eyes without overstaying his welcome.

No need for 5-hour energy drinks
Among the surprises, Ian Spector, a diminutive, self-described geek, shared his unlikely journey to fame by creating the bestselling Chuck Norris fact books after his tough tweets became popular. Providing a real-time taste of his wry sense of humor, Spector revealed that the indefatigable Norris actually sued him after the first book was published, a rich detail that left me energized and ready to kick Norris’s ass.

Mark Ecko provided the espresso by stimulating the post-lunch bunch to take action against corporal punishment. Explaining that paddling pupils was still legal in 20 states, Ecko told how he’d used Twitter and social media to change the law in one and how we could do the same in Texas. Within seconds, tweets targeting @govperry, who just needed to sign HB 539, poured out to #stopthepaddle.

Plenty of time for hugs
Most show organizers shake hands with their speakers. Not Jeff Pulver. He insists on hugs. Pulver explains that hugs are not only more hygienic but also express his desire to increase the warmth and sharing nature of his events. So every speaker got a hug, with the notable (and accidental?) exception of IRS representative, Jessica Orquina, whose desire to help troubled tax filers via Twitter seemed heartfelt.

Humanitarian Mark Horvath shared how social media fit into his personal campaign to help the homeless get off the streets. Working with the 140 Character community, Horvath raised enough to help Carey Fuller and AnnMarie Walsh gain housing, a story well-told on his HardlyNormal.com blog and on InvisiblePeople.tv. Fuller was at the conference, hugging all and tweeting her thanks.

Another hugger, Parisian Michelle Chmielewski, encouraged attendees to get up and share an “uncomfortably long hug” with a nearby stranger. Many did just that. Michelle, as it turns out, is a social star, recently gaining over 550,000 views with her charming “Learn French in One Word” video on YouTube. Her more recent “free hugs” video, shows Michelle putting hugs where her mouth is, on the streets of Paris!

Make time to slow it down
Lest you think the conference was all sizzle and no steak or that I’ve lost my way in this story, I will now come full circle. At the event, veteran journalist Dan Gillmor noted that while Twitter is terrific for “fast news, we also need slow news.” His appeal to be skeptical of all tweets and to take a breath before jumping to conclusions, had the allure of a well-aged wine to this particular reporter.

Ironically, the exit music harrumphed long before Gillmor or this audience member was ready. Just as he was explaining several egregious reporting errors via Twitter by normally reputable sources like NPR and Reuters, we had to move on to the next speaker. Alas, once again, my potatoes were taken prematurely, leaving me little time to digest Gillmor’s profound yet ironic message.

Final note: Before I dashed out of the conference to get lunch, I got a crash course from the founders of Webdoc, a tantalizing new web-based application that mashes up content into sharable, embeddable, essentially bite-sized HTML5 files.  My first, somewhat half-baked Webdoc appears below (if it doesn’t show up click here.)

More tasty morsels from #140conf

06/17/11

Since I had to leave the 140 Conference early on Thursday and get back to work, Renegade intern Niko DeMordaunt filled in for me and prepared these wonderful notes.  For my take on the conference and an explanation of what it is, see my savory post on FastCompany.com: I’m Not Done With My Potatoes.

The big screen
Marci Liroff, a casting director who worked on movies such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, explained emphatically how she turned from a Twitter rookie into a Twitter pundit. Noting that Twitter is about “giving, not selling,” Liroff spoke of the film industry’s slow but steady integration with websites such as Twitter and Skype.

Speaking of Skype, famed author Deepak Chopra couldn’t make it to the #140conf but was video-projected in via Skype. Chopra held a captive audience as he spoke grandly of the “human potential” and social media’s ability to achieve peace and harmony through broad networks.

Let’s get physical
The self-proclaimed Lupus Ladies of Twitter, led by Amanda Greene, turned this digital conference into veritable love fest with their emotional testimony. The four women all suffer from Lupus and have used social media to create support networks. Christine Miserandino went so far as to strip from a dress into pajamas to illustrate the point that she is a regular person in pajamas who employed social media to create a support system.

Jack Hidary, an entrepreneur extraordinaire, followed the Lupus Ladies with his own memorable performance. A former neuroscientist, Hidary told the audience to “Go Limbic,” meaning they should target their audience’s whole brain, not just a small part of it. To further his point, Hidary passed out small wooden discs and had the crowd team up into groups of four to create a flying contraption. The “airplane” that flew the furthest won iPod Shuffles for all the team members.

Crowd pleasers
On a panel with other television executives, Steve Krakauer brought social media back into reality. Krakauer, a digital producer from Piers Morgan Tonight (CNN), reminded the social media consumers that Twitter and Facebook need to translate into more income / ratings / viewers, or the social media efforts develop into nothing.

According to Krakauer, social media needs to turn into ROI. Well, according to Ted Rubin, social media needs to turn into ROR, or Return on Relationship. Rubin roused cheers by reminding the audience to “look into eyes, not iPads” in social interactions. Rubin believes people should use the platform (i.e. Twitter) to build personal relationships, not avoid them.

The New Curators (of Content)

06/3/11

How Thrillist, PSFK and start-up iFlow are capitalizing on the accelerating need for content curation. (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com)
Barring the invention of a “time turner” like the one Hermione Granger sported in 3rd Harry Potter novel, most of us will never have enough time to consume the information we might otherwise want to absorb.  There’s simply too much info and too few waking hours.  Enter the notion of curation, a relatively new term that is not unlike the editor of old, a trusted person or organization that filters information and aggregates it in an organized fashion for others to enjoy.

According to Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation, “curation is the new way of organizing the web going forward.”  And no doubt he’s right.  Curious about why new curators like Thrillist and PSFK were thriving while the traditional publishing world floundered, I spent some time with their respective founders, Ben Lerer and Piers Fawkes.  These conversations plus one with Eric Alterman, the founder of a new curation engine called iFlow, revealed four insights that could help you too capitalize on the curation phenomenon.

You can’t curate for everyone, so be targeted
In Brian Solis’s recent tribute on FastCompany.com to Rosenbaum’s book, Solis noted, “the social capital of a curator is earned through qualifying, filtering, and refining relevant content.”  The key words here being filtering and relevance, something that Thrillist with its focus on urban males 22-30 has done exceptionally well.  Explained Lerer, “we’ve zoned in on a niche group that was previously starved for the kind of information we deliver.”

Thrillist, for the uninitiated, started in 2005 with a newsletter to 600 New Yorkers and is now in 18 markets with 2.5 million subscribers.  Added Lerer, “our voice is extremely targeted to a very specific part of the male demographic.”  Lerer and his fellow curators of newish nightlife have built a highly profitable business during a time when traditional publishing tanked. This was done, according to Lerer, “by zoning in on a small sector of the population and speaking to them in a voice that they trust.”

It’s not curation without a well-defined focus
The New York Times famous line “All the news that’s fit to print,” made sense when newspapers were the primary source of daily information.  Now it seems more like a potential epitaph, as newspaper readership plummets in the face of more focused web-based alternatives. One of the up and coming alternatives is PFSK, which founder Fawkes described as “the go to source for new ideas for creative professionals.”

Founded in 2004, PSFK has grown from a trend-spotting website to a hybrid company that publishes content, creates events and provides consulting services to clients like Nike, Target and BMW.  When asked if PSFK was in the curation business, Fawkes affirmed, “yes, our job is to find new ideas and we present them up to 50 times a day.”  Reflecting on their focused approach, Fawkes added, “every month a million designers, ad folks, digital entrepreneurs and media mavens get inspired by our content.”

If the curation is good enough, it will [almost] market itself
In the new world of curation, “information becomes currency and the ability to repackage something of interest as compelling, consumable and also [as a] sharable social object is an art,” wrote Brian Solis. This perhaps is the fundamental difference between the old world newspaper and the new world of curators.  New world curators can connect and engage with other curators, helping to disseminate information quickly and at little to no cost.

Ben Lerer of Thrillist recalled taking this approach out of necessity since, “one of the stipulations with the money we raised was that we couldn’t spend any of it on marketing.”  “So we focused all our energy on building something that people actually liked and would want to pass along to their friends,” explained Lerer.  By “putting content first and making sure its written for the guy reading it,” Lerer and his team developed a loyal audience that in turn shared the content and or acted upon it demonstrating they too were in the know.

Human curators beat the algorithms
No matter how you many words you type into Google, you’re not going to find a recommendation you trust without clicking deep into another site.  On the other hand, a quick visit to Thrillist and PSFK provides recommendations and ideas that are trustworthy without fail. When discussing the shortcomings of algorithmic curation, serial entrepreneur Eric Alterman explained, “only human curation can deliver real time content… that consumers are actually seeking.”

Seeing an opportunity in the limitations of algorithmic curation combined with the overwhelming flow of content generated via social media, Alterman is just about to launch a new curation platform called iFlow.  Alterman believes that iFlow will address the problem of information overload, enabling “efficient curation into highly contextual aggregate streams [that] include all content types.” Given Alterman’s track record of turning ideas into successful companies like KickApps, his hope “to bring the art of content creation to the widest possible audience,” is anything but a pipe dream.

Final Note:
While admittedly I’m no longer in Thrillist’s demographic, I became a fan in ‘08 when one of my clients wanted to connect with their readers.  Seeing Lerer’s presentation at a recent PSFK event, I was simply blown away by their success in three short years.  It was the quality of the presenters at this conference that got me thinking about curation and led to my conversations with Lerer, Fawkes and Alterman (see their respective interviews on TheDrewBlog.com).

Copyright © 2011 - Drew Neisser