One secret to social success

It’s a little silly, and it’s definitely mixed schtick, but Conversation Agent’s Top Ten Reasons Conan O’Brien’s Social Media Stuff is Better than Yours has a few kernels of truth:

7.   Conan is having fun; you’re “engaging” customers…

6.   Conan’s staff is on a mission; yours has a mission statement…

3.   Conan’s team started their social media effort three months prior to launch. You started yours three days after launch.

As O’Brien counts down to his basic-cable resurrection, his promotional team is smartly using social media tools to catch a wave of excitement from the comic’s rabid following.  Much like the 2008 Obama campaign, they are playing off fan-generated imagery.  But at the heart of it, O’Brien and his team are just trying to make people laugh and have fun, and let that shine through.

The pursuit of success in online tactics has to flow from a genuine enthusiasm.  Campaigns – for both candidates and issues – often see their social strategies fail because they try to adapt their campaign to online tactics, rather than adapting online tactics to the campaign.

Will politics turn Gowalla vs. Foursquare into Facebook vs. MySpace?

In the world of location-based social networks, Foursquare has been the early leader, closing in on four million users.  Gowalla and SCVNGR have been battling for a distant second place.

Gowalla’s move to cut into the lead came back in August, when it released a set of tools for campaigns – tools that many campaigns have been taking advantage of.    Last week Politico’s Morning Tech followed up on the campaign toolkits:

Since the tools launched, Gowalla tells us, hundreds of political events, such as a rallies and town halls, have been created on the location-based service and thousands of people have checked into these events. And Gowalla users like to share which events they’re at on other social networks, too. About half of people who check into political events on Gowalla push out their status, comments and photos to Facebook, Twitter or both social networks.

And it sounds like interest in the politics-geared tools is growing. Gowalla says it has already started talking with both Democrats and Republicans about using its service for the 2012 elections. In Gowalla’s home state of Texas, the tools have gained traction with several candidates competing in local races.

Gowalla smart to take the long view, since location-based tools probably won’t be as prevalent until the Republican presidential primary campaigns.  But since those campaigns will start on November 3, Gowalla is equally smart to start catering to campaigns now.  At the same time, Foursquare has been somewhat deaf to calls for better political engagement, such as Jordan Raynor’s “I Voted” badge concept.

Foursquare still has a dominant market share of close to 70-80% (by the rough numbers).  But in the early days of online social networking, MySpace was similarly dominant.  The key is that the location-based market in 2010 is similar to the social network market in 2004 – it isn’t mature yet.  By most counts, the top three location-based networks boast five or six million users – or 1% of Facebook’s membership.  There are simply an awful lot of people who haven’t plunged into the location-based markets yet.

So what are the current also-rans to do to expand the location-based market – and make sure the new recruits choose something other than Foursquare?  By targeting campaigns, Gowalla is actually recruiting political activists – passionate users who will join their network (or possibly even switch from Gowalla) in the pursuit of a bigger goal.  By starting in 2010 and targeting 2012, Gowalla isn’t just executing a political strategy, but a business strategy as well.



No Twitter posts from the Washington Post – Is that a good idea?

The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial.  The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy.  It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.

It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees.  In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:

The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.

Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.

Think of this in terms of a classroom debate.  A teacher poses a question.  A few students argue for one side, other students argue another.  The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right?  In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.

It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers.  But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate?  Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?

Digg, Reddit, and activists

Anyone who seeks to build an online following should pay close attention to the hot steaming mess that Digg stepped in this week.

The social news site announced changes which sounded like a good idea (at least I thought so) a few weeks ago, changes which promised to expand Digg’s following by making it more accessible to outsiders.  The one problem was Digg’s existing audience, which liked the way the site worked just fine.

Over the past 12 hours, Digg’s main news page has been riddled with submissions from competitor site Reddit – and it looks like Diggers offended by the site renovation are more than happy to help the enemy game the system, given the amount of complaints that have been flying about the redesign.

Digg’s mistake lies in not understanding what their community was passionate about.  Diggers liked a community that worked on certain rules and had certain values, and changing those rules and values to let others in diluted what they held dear.  Put another way, you can get more people at the Star Wars club meeting if you let the Star Trek people in; but the people who started coming to the meetings in the first place may not want more people if it means half the room will be wearing Spock ears.

Any membership organization runs a similar risk.  People join groups – whether it’s a social news site, a political party, a club, or a gang – because of some common ground.  When you peck away at that boundary, you risk alienating your members.

Location based social networks and the 2010 campaign

As discussed previously, no one is quite sure what to make of location-based networks yet – to the point where Christopher Walling of Project Virginia makes a compelling case that such technology won’t be impactful until at least 2012:

Not only are campaigns unable to reach a significant amount of voters, but I also don’t see using an LBSN [location-based social network] to disclose your candidate’s location as an overly effective tactic.  Most of the venues that candidates will “check-in” at are campaign events or fundraisers, which most would expect them to attend anyway.  If candidates choose to “check-in” at more “off-the-radar” locations, then they are essentially giving political trackers and their opponents an upper-hand, (don’t forget this is the year of the tracker) which could lead to more unsavory “gotcha” moments.

Not only is Walling right on about the time frame, he’s also right on about the concept of candidates checking in being kind of dumb – thought not because of the army of interns on both sides with flip video cameras and attitude problems.

Social networks involve two-way communication rather than one-way broadcast communication.  That’s why good online strategists look for opportunities to engage with supporters, rather than simply building giant email lists.  The bottom line is that few voters give a crap where a candidate is.

On the other hand, an activist may want everyone to know that he or she just checked into Campaign HQ to stuff envelopes for three hours; or they may want to know where polling places are.  If they have three hours to kill on a weekend, they may want to know if there’s a neighborhood nearby where no one has gotten around to knocking on doors.

In other words,it isn’t important for the candidate to be active for a campaign to get a lot out of a location-based social network; but as Walling mentions early on in his post, the supporters sure have to be.

Grading the new new

The RNC re-relaunched this week.  The last reboot, back in October, was a better site than they had before, but was met with scorn and derision from the tech world. So how is the new version any different?

Design: B-

The site is clean, simple, and open, and the red-white-and-blue motif isn’t terribly over the top.  It’s definitely pleasing to the eye, even if it is a bit boxy.  It moves much quicker than the old site, which was bogged down with technical problems from day one.

But use the site some more and there are a few things that are just out of place.  For instance, incorporates video into several blogs and other elements, but these videos are sometimes tough to find.  For instance, in the screen shot on the left, the video player is buried at the bottom.  That may be due to the fact that President Obama’s image is on the player, but that’s still too valuable to bury.  Further, other sections of the site miss out on drawing the eye with video – opting instead to post a link to the YouTube channel rather than a recent video.

Content: C-

The good news is that a section highlights Republican women running for office this year, which is something the party should be playing up.  Unfortunately, some of the cringe-inducing aspects of the old site remain – such as a Republican Hall of Fame featuring Jackie Robinson (who wasn’t a Republican) and Frederick Douglass in a bend-over-backward attempt to reclaim the black vote.

The Issues section has a nifty carousel of the big issues of the time, plus a brief blurb on each.  This is a missed opportunity; in 2008 Barack Obama used the issues section of his campaign website to dive deep into various policy proposals.  Obviously, a party is different from a candidate in that there are many different opinions and angles on any given issue.  The solution might be to have candidates and party VIPs weigh in with policy briefs.  The RNC could set overarching policy positions, but the site could act as a repository of opinions from Republican politicians. It’s the same principle both parties use in tapping a specific elected leader – rather than the party chairman – to deliver rebuttals to the State of the Union address or the party’s weekly address.

I also found it hard to find out who the Republican candidate is in my Congressional district and what I could do to help.  I ended up going through the state party’s website to do so.  Also missing on the main Action center was any obvious link to voter registration information, which is pretty basic.

The chairman still has a blog – mercifully not called “What up?” anymore – and the RNC seems intent to create most of the official content in-house.  This is a waste of effort down on South Capitol street – it seems like an aggregation of Tweets, blogs, and conservative media outlets would be a better way to go, and underscore that the party’s ideals permeate outside the beltway.

Now, the good news: the Blogs section, while having maybe one or two blogs more than they need, has a developers blog to discuss technological aspects of the party infrastructure.  That could be fun to watch.

Utility: A

This isn’t the most obvious part of the site – I had to click around a bit to stumble on it – but the community aspect has some promise.  Aside from the basics of allowing users to set up profiles and blogs, there’s this:

And this:

These two features allow Republican activists to define for themselves what it means to be a Republican activists.  That invites involvement, which makes it easier later on to ask those activists to participate in more defined campaign activities when the time comes.  It could also make activists better, not just by promoting great ideas but also by tapping into the wisdom of crowds to help fine-tune messages and materials.

The site also integrates user IDs from other online sources, so you can easily sign up with a Facebook, Aol, Google, etc. account.  Besides streamlining the process, that will help the GOP identify where and who the activists are, and target future communications accordingly.  It also translates actions taken on to social networks, and increases the likelihood of virality.

Overall: A-

I logged on to the new wanting to hate it, but even with plenty of room for improvement, is has the elements of a very good tool for activists.

I spent 16 years of school trying to convince teachers and professors that grading on potential rather than actual product.  They didn’t buy it, but I did, and that gets over the hump and into the A-range.  What it lacks in content can be made up for by the social elements of our.GOP.  For the rank and file voter, the lack of local information and voter registration details makes this site less helpful; hard core activists, however, should find it useful.

5 reasons Facebook advertising is up 1000%

Businesses are advertising on Facebook more – ten times more, to be exact.  This is more than simply another channel for businesses and brands to reach internet users and peddle wares – although the fact that Facebook is the web’s top-ranked site doesn’t hurt.  (Political races have already felt a limited impact of Facebook ads – recall that in 2008, a $51 ad buy helped a Dartmouth college student win a county treasurer race, and 2010 Congressional candidates are building their follower lists now.)

So leaving aside the obvious reason of the network’s large – and growing – audience, what has been driving the rapid growth of Facebook’s ad platform?

1.  Budget justification through analytics, flexibility, and (most important) measurable results

The internet has been to advertising what the Moneyball approach has been to baseball – it allowed stat-crunchers and analysts to break down real-world activity into numbers, and optimize their activities according to what yielded the best results.  (This had, of course, been going on as long as advertising had been around, but the internet allowed for more variables and more precise measurements.)

Like any successful online ad platform, Facebook allows advertisers to examine what trends work and what don’t, and change things like creative and targeting accordingly. This is what has made Google the world’s biggest advertising company.

It’s especially important for Facebook because, as ubiquitous as the site is, many businesses are concerned about dipping a toe in Lake Facebook.  Put another way, the question for the budget-masters to ask themselves is: What if we built a Facebook page, and no one likes us?  Having a dead Facebook page is worse than having no Facebook page at all.

Facebook ads can give advertisers and brand managers ammunition to go to these budget managers and identify key, reachable metrics to justify not only the ad flight, but an entire Facebook strategy.

2.  Ease of use for advertisers

Another page from the Google playbook for online advertising is the ease with which anyone can build a Facebook ad.  It requires creativity, strategy, and writing skill, but you don’t have to be a technological genius.

This is important for two reasons.  First, if you’re in the business of selling ads (either directly or as part of an overall brand or issue management strategy), the advertising model is easy to understand and sell to a potential client.

Second, it expands the universe of potential advertisers.  Local businesses could target users in their neighborhood with limited buys that are put together the same way as the ads of a national brand like Old Spice.  Like Google, Facebook makes very powerful advertising tools accessible to small businesses and individuals as well as large companies.

3.  Peer pressure

The first two drivers of Facebook’s ad success involve its adoption of features that Google and other networks perfected; the next two involve advantages Facebook enjoys over Google search advertising.  The first and most obvious is the “like” feature on ads, which allows users to see whom among their friends has clicked on it.  This is a small feature, but it taps into what has always been the driving force of activity on Facebook: the idea that people get most of their information from their friends.  That’s a big reason why Facebook drives more web traffic to news and other sites than Google.  By leveraging peer pressure where it can, Facebook gives its ads that much more impact.

The platform also allows advertisers to target friends of existing members of fan pages or group members.  For instance, if my friend likes Organizing for America, then OFA can direct an ad at me, figuring that I might be a potential supporter as well.

4.  Attractive ads

Back in the early days of online advertising, display ads checkered websites the way print ads checker newspapers and magazines.  Google’s search ads were less attractive but more effective, since they were based on a user’s searches and interests.  There were no pictures, because that would have only cluttered the space.

Facebook’s text ads with a small thumbnail both draw the eye and allow for some illustration of the brief message.  Facebook ads require the same pithy writing as Google ads, but the small picture makes a big difference.

5. Cost

Facebook’s ad prices haven’t grown with its user base, so it has remained a cheap cost-per-click option for advertisers.  That, combined with an extremely flexible pricing structure, results in a platform that lends itself to very limited and easy ad flights.  This allows for a $10 or $20 test campaign – low enough that curious individuals can run one on their own, or front the costs on a project for a client and work on a contingency basis.  That low barrier of entry that promotes experimentation helps win over new advertisers – and, once they figure the platform out, gives them a reason to stay.