2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.


Goodbye Delicious, hello… what?

So the news is out. Yahoo have screwed up. They’re closing Delicious. I don’t even need to include a link here – just go out and look for mentions of it right now and you’ll see the news.

This is A Big Thing. It throws up all sorts of substantial issues, not least among which is, if the social web is such a big thing, then how come the biggest bookmarking service is about to go belly up? If a major company like Yahoo is experiencing difficulties monetising Delicious, then what does this mean for other cloud-based services? And, from that, how confident can we be when we store things in the cloud? At what point do we need to back things up locally, or – shock horror – actually have to start paying for this kind of service?

These are all important topics for debate that I’m sure will be covered over the next few weeks. But right here, right now, this is bad news for me, because I rely on Delicious for several important activities.

  • Distributed information gathering. Ever wanted to harness the collective effort of a team to gather knowledge as they go about their daily activities, quickly bookmarking something and slowly building up an incredibly useful, dedicated database? I have. In fact, I did, before I got into Delicious. I set up a team with Google Reader, where every member subscribed to every other member’s shared items, so that we could all see what each other had shared. It was a very useful way for us all to be clued up – maximum returns, minimal effort required. But the Delicious solution was much more elegant, in that you could install the toolbar to bookmark pages quickly and easily, add notes explaining why you’d bookmarked them, and so on.
  • News feed creation. From that same Google Reader-based project, in turn, the shared items could generate a branded page and an RSS feed, so we could pump information out to clients. They could then see what we were sharing with them, as a feed that we created based on our judgement of what was important, rather than search engines.
  • Monitoring. You can (in the near future, change that to ‘could’) search Delicious without needing to sign in. You can (could) create an RSS feed off that search. This is (was) a wonderful facility, meaning you can (could) see not just what people are (were) saying about a brand, but what they consider (considered) important enough to bookmark. Its human-based nature complements (complemented) machine-based searches extremely well.
  • Measurement. If bookmarking is a form of engagement – that is, actually taking action rather than passively reading – then you could use Delicious as a form of engagement metric. If more people are bookmarking you, then they’re engaged with what they’re reading about you.
  • Auto-publishing. Delicious has (had – ok, I’ll stop this now) a great feature whereby you could get it to post automatically to your blog at the end of each day with the bookmarks you’d created that day. You get two quality outputs for one input. Fabulous.

That’s just five reasons I have had big plans for Delicious. I have one client that I was imminently going to: install the Delicious toolbar on each member’s machine; create a set of core tags for them to use on web pages; create RSS feeds from searches for those tags; bring those searches into a dashboard for monitoring; share them with clients as a news feed; and occasionally measure the number of hits across Delicious to gauge engagement.

Now, suddenly, I have to think of a viable alternative.

There are some out there, and it seems to me the frontrunners are Diigo and StumbleUpon (which I have heard of before and used briefly before realising Delicious was far superior), and Xmarks, which I haven’t heard of before and need to look into. There is also, I guess, Google Bookmarks, but I don’t know how that’s faring nowadays given Google discontinued support for Notes some time ago.

But as far as I can tell, none of them offer the ability to create an RSS feed off a search without having to sign in. So I can still conceivably create shared knowledge systems and use metrics to a degree, but I cannot monitor or create filtered news feeds for clients. Bum.

Meanwhile I also have the major headache of figuring out where else to store the 1,107 bookmarks I have on Delicious, which I use for my own research and even for navigation using the toolbar. Double bum.

There’s a huge amount of hue and cry about this online right now, so I’m probably going to get lost in the noise here with this post. But, if anyone can point me in the right direction to get this sort of feature, please let me know. Otherwise I may need to go back to basics – Google Reader, which some people find fiddly and is not as elegant, as open, as ubiquitous, as plain old useful and great, dammit – as Delicious. Bum bum bum bum bum.

Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?


The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

Turn an Email Address into a Social Profile. / Flowtown

I just came across this. At first I was cynical – I usually am when presented with ‘the new thing’ because most new things are derivatives of old things – but this is a genuinely good idea. It takes your email contacts list (think marketing lists, outreach lists, sales leads etc) and tells you where the people live online. This is good for several reasons. It makes the most of your email lists; it helps you simply find people online; but, for me, most importantly of all it tells you where those people hang out. I just did a test-drive and it seems most of my email contacts are on Facebook and LinkedIn. Now, I could have guessed that, but this at least confirms what I thought. Surprisingly a fair few are on MySpace, and another fair few are on StumbleUpon. But not Delicious? Perhaps this is a limited demo. But an interesting one nonetheless. Highly recommended for people with years’ worth of email contacts and don’t know where to start with social media. Hint: start here.

Kurrently searches Facebook news feed

This is pretty cool – a search engine that looks through the Facebook news feed. That’s about as real-time as it gets. Plus, it qualifies on two other counts: it has a parse-friendly URL (that is, you can pass keywords to it in the address); and it creates an RSS feed of the results. Nice. Only problem is it seems difficult to tell it to search just Facebook or Twitter via the URL. I’m sure there’s a way. I also worry about how long this will be around, given that it’s been knocked together by a high-school graduate (apparently), and that it’s syndicating Facebook’s news feed out to the wider world. I expect Facebook will have a thing or two to say about that. Still, let’s enjoy it while we can.

To craunch a marmoset, frothy vomit, and other curiosities

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

So I was going through Epoch PR‘s numbers (I’m their digital associate and am helping them with their online strategy), and this came up: http://seadna.net/301-redirect-the-seo-way-to-rename-or-move-files-or-folders/

To quote the bit that my Epoch PR search must have picked up: “it takes a straws of in good time always and hard hopped to build a skilful epoch PR.”

Do what?

The piece is so weird, it’s inspired. Here are some more examples:

  • “If someone types ‘excise usb drives’ in a search engine punch, your foot-boy shows up on the sooner search results screen”
  • “Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Stinking (PR) to every summon forth”
  • “why can’t you upright matching the page and disenchant type suffer its course”

I think it must be a machine translation of another article or just random text pasted together to get web traffic. The funny thing is that it sort of makes sense, but really doesn’t.

It goes to show – monitoring and measurement is never as easy as it first seems. And there’s never a foot-boy around when you need one.

Further down the search list is a post I can more readily vouch for: http://oldamqvnl.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D7176E885C76F591!109.entry is a machine translation of my own Epoch PR post from a few months back, so given that I write in English, and that it is also in English, I can only assume it’s via a second language somewhere. Good Lord, is the web really just an eternally self-translating churn of random copy?

Again, there are wonderful mistakes in it: the company name changes from ‘Epoch’ to ‘Era’; they change from a lovely bunch of people to ‘a lovely clustering of people’; and I simply cannot tell you why “I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago” becomes “I ‘m no windy but I make recall my mousing intuition that blogging would be important for Pr about three geezerhood ago.”

This all reminds me of a case once quoted in the ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’, in which someone had written an English/Portuguese dictionary via  English/Spanish and Spanish/Portuguese dictionaries (he knew no English), and came up with immortal phrases such as ‘to craunch a marmoset’. And yes, here it is: the glorious ‘English As She Is Spoke’.

Or, indeed, the catalogue currently describing the latest Saatchi exhibition. To wit: “A nation demarcated where vomit meets surf, geographically encircled by froth”. I would characterise the UK as many things, but vomity, surfy and frothy it ain’t.

Proof that you don’t need machine translation on the interweb to come up with gobbledegook.

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard: What I learned

Estimated reading time: 1.5 minutes

So the dust is still settling – hasn’t actually settled yet because we have a hung parliament so all the politicians will be running around with their knees bent, flapping their arms and clucking and pecking at each other relentlessly until one of them, with a gigantic squawk, lays a huge golden egg and all the others look on in amazement then fall over, stunned, with their legs in the air – and I’m shortly going to retire the UK Election Social Media Dashboard. Yes, it’s going to be released into a fresh pasture where it can gambol about in the sunshine, eat grass and, with a shudder of its loins, remember fillies of days gone by. Or maybe led into a dirty shed, shot through the forehead with a metal bolt and turned into 10,000 tins of dogmeat.

Either way, it’s going to disappear soon because it won’t be needed much longer. But I thought it might be worth sharing – with my three readers – what I found out along the way:

  • Google Insights doesn’t allow more than two queries when going through Netvibes, otherwise you get an error result saying URL too long.
  • There is only one dynamic blog charting solution in town, and it’s not Technorati Charts any more.
  • The Tweetclouds widget doesn’t work when you click the ‘Get widget’ link.
  • You can’t have analytics in Netvibes.
  • You can only have certain pre-set widths for charts.
  • You can’t obtain sentiment by RSS.

So, you might ask, how is it that I have Google Insights, dynamic blog charts, tweetcloud widgets, analytics (believe me, I have analytics), varying chart sizes and sentiment on the dashboard? Ah, well, that would be giving you my secret sauce.

Everything does something, but nothing does everything

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to monitor, capture, measure and report. The good news is that there are ways of doing all of these. The bad news? None of them do it all.

Here’s the current state of play:

  • Google Reader is really good for monitoring and going back through old posts, but not for displaying (eg charts and so on),  and not for pulling out reports.
  • Netvibes is great for display but useless for pulling out individual items to analyse, share or report on.
  • Google Docs is great for display and analysis, and good at pulling in RSS feeds – BUT (and I only found this out after doing a lot of work) it only stores up to 20 RSS entries at a time. So, in other words, if you start monitoring pretty much anything on for example Twitter, that total is filled up within minutes and you have no way of knowing what else is going on.
  • Excel is great for offline display and analysis, but it’s very clunky when bringing in RSS feeds and often crashes. Plus, it just appends without figuring out whether it’s duplicating content so your spreadsheets quickly become massive and unworkable.

See what I mean? Everything does something, but nothing does everything – unless you actually create your own databases and reporting and all that stuff, which I want to avoid.

So, what we need is:

  • Google Reader – a decent front end and some sort of report producing facility – even output to CSV file would be good, for example.
  • Netvibes – some way in which to readily share or mark items privately, as well as pull out reports from that.
  • Google Docs – a vast increase in the number of RSS entries.
  • Excel – a better way to interface with the web, ideally one that recognises items already pulled in. And some way of pushing content back online would be nice too.

Or: we need a package that displays as well as Netvibes; that enables sharing, tagging and general RSS manipulation like Google Reader; and that pulls in data as readily as Google Docs but with the capacity of Excel. One day someone will produce that. Until then, we just have to keep banging the rocks together.

Unless I’m missing something? Given that I seem to have about three readers nowadays, if just one of them could suggest an alternative, that would be great.

Five cool ways to find people on Twitter

This post is probably going to get lost in the Twitter noise – and, judging by my declining stats, hardly anyone reads this blog anyway – but I still find it useful to share knowledge occasionally, not least because every day I don’t post I suffer guilt.

I’ve recently been looking around Twitter a lot, trying to find influencers. Now, there are many, many, many, many, many definitions of what influence is, and having been through most of them I’ve come to the conclusion that you can throw away your twitter rankings and your twinfluences and your twitter indices and just count the number of followers someone has. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it tells you straight away how many people you’ll reach. And, as a rule of thumb, someone with 10,000 followers is going to be more influential than someone with 1,000.

So, with that out of the way – and no, I’m not going to enter into yet another debate about it – how do you actually find these people? Well, being someone who likes to package everything he does so that other people can do them too, I’ve come across five nice ways to do this. Go through each of these and you’ll more than likely end up with a good list.

Let’s assume we’re searching for, oh I don’t know, data quality (that really is a random choice btw). So:

1. WeFollow

Go to wefollow.com and type in your search term, without spaces. In this case we’d go to http://wefollow.com/twitter/dataquality. Look, robot, a nice list of people that talk about data quality, complete with follower numbers. Nice. But not exhaustive because WeFollow doesn’t have everyone, although it is a very good first port of call to get a quick list together.

2. Replies or retweets (especially for people)

Search on Twitter for replies or retweets, especially if you’re searching for influencers associated with a person who, in turn, is associated with a issue or topic. So, from our WeFollow data quality search, we found that ocdqblog is pretty well thought of, so do a search on Twitter for replies and retweets involving ocdqblog – in this case, search for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=@ocdqblog. This shows you people who have replied to or endorsed what that person has to say in some way – and, by implication, people who have been influenced by, or talk to, that person. So it’s a fair bet that they’re in some way associated with that person. So, add ’em to your list.

3. Hashtags (especially for issues)

A hashtag is small identifier that people use to make it easier to bring tweets together for a specific topic that they’re pretty keen on. So, if someone has used #dataquality as a hashtag, it’s a fair bet that they’re involved enough in data quality as a subject to use it as a hashtag. In this case, you’d search on Twitter for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23dataquality (you have to use the URL code %23 instead of typing in a hash symbol for a direct link – don’t ask why, you just do). This method actually works really well, I’m finding. You do land some big fish this way.

4. #FollowFriday or #FF Hashtag

Search, again on Twitter, but with the #followfriday or #ff hashtag. FollowFriday is a neat little meme that people use to say “Hey, this person is worth following for this issue” – on a Friday. So if someone is doing some good work in the data quality field, it’s likely someone else somewhere has said at some point “Person X is good at data quality #ff” or suchlike.  So by searching for http://search.twitter.com/search?q=”data quality” %23ff OR %23followfriday, you can find people who have been endorsed by other people as being authorities on, in this case, data quality.

5. Topic search

Finally, just search for people who have mentioned your search term – that is, http://search.twitter.com/search?q=”data quality”. This is probably what you first thought of doing and while it works, it doesn’t have any of the nice nuances of whether they’ve been endorsed on WeFollow, or replied/retweeted, or used a hashtag, especially the FollowFriday hashtag. So you might get a lot of hits this way, but not as many quality hits, that is, people who are really involved, or recognised or endorsed by people involved in this area.

So there you go. If you’re canny you’ll figure out ways of creating all these URLs on the fly, generated from just specifying your search term, so you can just copy and paste them into a browser and off you go (or just click them in Google Docs, which has a lovely new auto-click URL feature now). And you save enough time to blog about it afterwards.  Not that anyone will read about it.