Blog World LA: The State of the Blogosphere & the New Media Wisdom Void (#BWELA)

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Blog World Los Angeles 2011

Last week, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Blog World Expo appeared in its fifth incarnation.  I spent a couple of days watching, listening, and engaging with a dense concentration of experienced and enthusiastic new media evangelists.

The keynotes were well done. Peter Shankman is hilarious and gifted. Amber Naslund shared passionately and enthusiastically her observation and exaltations to the digerati to change the future of business.

However, the keynote address that arguably provided the most valuable insights and takeawys was provided by Shani Higgins, CEO of Technorati as she shared findings from Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere” report.

Keynotes: Shani Higgings – State of the Blogosphere

I’ve pulled out some of the most interesting slides:

Technorati 2011 State of the Blogosphere - Why Blog?

 

Passion, networking, and sharing are primary drivers behind what bloggers are doing, as evidenced in the slide above. One of the most interesting findings is that consumers prefer blogs for nearly every reason over news websites and mainstream media (see below). Overall, the passion and genuine pursuit of the interests of bloggers creates more trust and is the first place consumers go to learn about what interests them.

 

Technorati 2011 State of the Blogosphere - Why Visit?

 

However, instead of becoming more genuine and passionate themselves, brands seem to still be operating in a 1.0 world seeing bloggers as individuals to be leveraged for the distribution of the brand message (see below). It will be very interesting to see if the social web genuinely evolves as the platform of the empowered customer, or if the major brands once again seek to control the channel for branded information distribution – an interesting mega theme for the next decade.

 

Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2011 - Brands View For an answer to the megatheme question asked above, you might find a clue by finding what some brands recognize “that there really is no such thing as message control”. One respondent envisions a world where “social media will act as a campaign leader, rather than a supporter”, and greater fragmentation will continue to emerge as a challenge for brands and advertisers.

 

Technorati 2011 State of the Blogosphere Blogger Revenue

The fact that only 4% of bloggers use blogging as their primary income and the average salary amongst full time bloggers is $24,000 may give pause to anyone looking to make the full time jump. However, for those who are interested in improving their blogging efforts and results, Darren Rowse offered some sage advice from one of the leaders in the blogging business.

If you’re interested in the full deck, you can find it here

Blogging from the Heart and Blogging Smart

Darren Rowse is known to many as ProBlogger. During his session, he shared a great blend of stories from personal experience, coupled with sage advice and best practices as how success in a blogger’s world comes from a perfect blend of blogging from the heart (fuel and find your passion), while also being smart enough to generate revenue and make it worth the time and effort involved.

The core theme of his presentation was that if you want to blog, or improve your blog, be passionate. He underscored his point by sharing a short anecdote from Robert Frost:

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No Tears in the Writer
No Tears in the Reader

No Surprise in the Writer
No Surprise in the Reader

– Robert Frost

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The more passionate you are, the more passionate your audience will be. However, a focus on engagement, monetization, and revenue will help sustain you over the long run, as countless hours of pouring your heart, soul, and mind into anything without any tangible return inevitably leads to burnout and disillusionment.

If you treat it like a business; set goals, know your readers, build your brand, create hooks, create great products, market effectively, and continually experiment, test and tweak your approach, then there is a place for you on the widening road filled with the next generation of citizen journalists, and the barriers to entry are virtually non-existant.

“Google+ is to Facebook what Macintosh is to Windows.” – Guy Kawasaki

Bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki riffed for a bit on Google+ and whether businesses and brands should spend any time there. Ironically, today (November 7) Google+ made pages available to brands for the first time. Quickly after their announcement, pages from Burberry, Dell, and The New York Times hit the network, and thousands more are springing up as you read this.

Guy Kawasaki highlighted several reasons why he believes in the future of the newest social network, and he’s placing a big bet with his time.

He highlighted one striking difference between Google+ and Facebook: While Facebook is about connecting and sharing with those you know, Google+ is for discovering those you don’t quite know yet around topics of interest and passion. When Kawasaki got 50 intelligent comments on his first post, he nearly abandoned Twitter and has been putting in several hours each day manually reading, commenting, and sharing new stuff on Google+. His overarching view on the network currently is that it is a landgrab. He’s paying the price now to build his tribe. In return, to date, he has nearly 300,000 followers, partially do to the fact that he is a recommended user for those just signing up for the first time on Google+.

Chris Brogan largely agreed, and has actually already written a book on the subject.

He likened Google+ today to Twitter in 2006, and Chris likes leveraging Circles functionality for segmenting those he is following. Circles gives the ability for users to narrow the stream based on topics and segmentation of users, whether you’re mutually connected with them or not. He also likes to push messages to certain circles. From my perspective, it’s a mechanism of targeted messaging, instead of blasting everything to everyone.

Another major consideration that both Brogan and Kawasaki mentioned is that Google search indexes Google+ content right away, while it does not index Twitter or Facebook posts. Brogan shared that his biggest piece of advice was to go back to your Google+ About page and work on your profile, as it will help you connect with others that are looking for what you can offer.

From my perspective, Google+ is early in its adoption. Today, it IS mostly filled with tech pundits, authors, speakers, and personalities. The masses aren’t on it yet, and don’t see a reason to be.

For those who understand the power of networks – connectors, marketers, and those that have or are trying to build strong personal brands, spending time on Google+ is a calculated bet that the company that intends to organize the world’s information will be able to layer Google+ on top and within a growing suite of ubiquitous tools and capabilities that reach deep into our lives (Google Apps, GMail, Android, etc.) The bet holds significant promise (as well as some risk) as the potential payoff will largely come down the road, if at all.

Giving Substance to Online Influence

One of my favorite sessions of the conference was led by Matt Ridings and Chuck Hemann and focused on the subject of influence. It’s a topic I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to, over the past couple of years, and even more so recently, as shared in my recent post: “In search of: A meaningful measure of Influence” .

Online influence and reputation are two concepts that will become central to the way the world works over the next decade. Their session triggered some additional thoughts, which I’ll publish in a follow up to this post.

In summary

My observations and research indicate that there is plenty of confusion in the marketplace about what these new mediums mean for business. Most execs are interested in learning more about how trends in human communication are shifting, what it means at the macro scale, and ultimately what it means for their companies, and respective customer and prospect communities.

Today, most executives are swimming in a sea of noise and data, trying to grasp what these new realities really mean, how much weight and attention to give them, and how it should impact how they communicate within their organization and to their customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

The tectonic shifts under way not only require organizations to shift to listen to what their customers are saying, but also will allow those who truly understand how to leverage new media to gain market share by leveraging network effects that social channels provide.

Sadly, however, there appears to still be a significant gap between the evangelism taking place amongst the digerati and the understanding and support of executives. The conference had its share of valuable insights to be learned, but was also rich with hyperbole and ephemeral euphemisms that have no tangible connection to the core practicalities of business leaders today.

We are largely in an experimental phase, with some success stories emerging, but most case studies highlighting some very successful individual outliers, or celebrated measurements sitting on the fringe of significant tangible impact to the enterprise. We will begin to see this shift dramatically over the next 2-5 years.

While many business leaders seek to understand the new media and communication frontiers, many of the digerati who understand the channel and tools well, still struggle with connecting the dots to meaningful business value. Those that understand both and can bridge the gap between the two will be in high demand now and into the foreseeable future.

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In search of: A meaningful measure of Influence

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I will be phasing this blog out soon. Please visit my new blog at
http://www.brianvellmure.com and subscribe to the new feed there. Thanks!
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Influence. It’s a captivating word. It’s an alluring word.

We all want it, and we want to know others who have it.

In high school, if you could get the “cool kids” to the party, the rest would follow.

If the most famous and glamorous people in the world use it, like it, and talk about it, it must be great.

INFLUENCE: THE DEFINITION

But is that influence? From our good friend, Webster, Influence is:

1. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort:
2. Power to sway or affect based on prestige, wealth, ability, or position

WHO, THEN, ARE THE INFLUENCERS?

As part of a thought exercise, I asked myself two questions:

(1) Who are the most influential folks in history?

Names like Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Adolf Hitler, FDR, Mohandas Ghandi, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs come to mind.

Nelson MandelaMartin Luther King, Jr. Steve Jobs

(2) Who have been the most influential people in my life?

My wife, my parents, a former NBC Universal Executive, a business man turned global missionary, the most successful enterprise sales executive I know, a Navy Seal turned pastor and non-profit Executive Director, and select football and basketball coaches throughout my athletic career.

The irony is that many or most of the most influential people in my life literally have no or limited presence on Social Networks (yet). There are dozens of others who influence my thinking as circles cascade outwards, and as contexts become more detailed and narrowly defined, but these are the ones who have spoken into my life, and who have the most influence on my decisions. Their actions and influence on my behavior is for all intents and purposes, not measurable.

THE “INFLUENCE” OF NETWORKS ON THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER

But I am also a social customer. I read reviews. I ask, comment, and interact in public social networks and forums, and these interactions and the things I learn and observe do influence my buying decisions.

WOMMA put together the following infographic about what fuels our collective purchasing decisions. These are the things that have marketers so excited and quite frankly, confused.

Word of Mouth Marketing

LEVERAGE AND THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF INFLUENCE

As the restricted and proprietary ivory towers of media, global communication, and information flow have given way to citizen journalists, we have witnessed the great democratization of media, celebrity status, and, in turn, the democratization of influence itself. Or have we? Has anything really changed?

In the end, business is all about leverage. It’s about maximizing the return on available time, talents, and resources. The social web, ubiquitous connectedness, and the ongoing digitization of everything finds marketers both forced and opportunistically looking to leverage the new influencers (their reach, their networks, and the trust that they’ve established in their tribe) for their respective interests.

Watch this short clip from a fascinating talk by Deb Roy and you’ll see a fantastic example of how an action by one can truly effect the actions of tens, or hundreds, or potentially thousands of others.

So, then, as marketers, the next obvious questions are:

How do we find the influencers?

How do we engage with them?

How do we entice them?

And, ultimately, how do we provide these influencers with a message that they can carry to their audience(s) that benefit our brand, our company, our products, and ultimately our interests?

FINDING THE INFLUENCERS

Who do we reach out to?
This first question is where most people start. Who are the influencers in our marketplace? The answer to that question, in and of itself, may be tougher than it initially seems. The unaware may start with their offline network, and extend their research by finding those with the highest number of Twitter followers. But studies have shown that there is little correlation to numbers of Twitter followers, facebook fans, or similar social network as measures of real influence.

For more reading on this, check out On Twitter, Followers Don’t Equal Influence and Celebrities’ Twitter Followers Have Zero Influence

Some online services have begun to tackle this problem by attempting to measure influence in a more scientific way. By now, you may have undoubtedly heard of Klout, or PeerIndex, or Traackr, or several other upstart influence measurement tools.

  • Are these valid?
  • Should they be used? And if so, how?
  • Does it help me identify the influencers who can allow me the greatest amount of leverage for distributing my message, and more importantly, help make a measurable impact for my organization?

THE EMERGENCE OF INFLUENCE MEASUREMENT SCORES



Klout, the most widely recognized service, recently stirred a sea of controversy when they changed their algorithm score. Perusing through the comments, it was apparent that some had so deeply embraced these influence scores, that they were literally upset that they might lose their jobs, their clients, and for a moment, I was concerned that many of them might even lose their lives.

While Klout’s messaging spun this as a “More Accurate, Transparent Klout Score”, I have to wonder. They’ve never been very transparent about the mechanics of what makes up the Klout score. While Klout started with Twitter, it has since expanded to Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and a host of other social sharing sites. At first glance, it appears that facebook, in particular, has taken on a far more significant weighting in their recent shift.

When trying to understand the motivations behind actions, I often start with the looking at the money trail. It’s important to know that Klout is a for-profit corporation with venture capital funding. It’s also important to know that they are monetizing their service by providing social data to large consumer brands. Alignment with the world’s most popular and mainstream social network probably makes sense and may contain the most valuable unstructured data for what has emerged as Klout’s primary paying customers, the world’s largest consumer brands. To their credit. it seems that Klout has perhaps taken a big step towards alignment with their customers in providing relevance. Perhaps I’ll no longer be the ideal candidate for pre-screening and behind the scenes previews for new release movies and TV shows, which I’ve received numerous Klout Perk offers for, ignoring all of them.

Watch this editorial video from the Wall St. Journal as it gives deeper insight into Klout and its effect on many participating in digital media today.

THE STATE OF INFLUENCE MEASUREMENT

Is this really a measure of influence, and if so, in what context, for whom? Or is this simply a service that major brands can leverage to gain access to more targeted recipients of their ads?

How does this concept of influence measurement apply to the billions who choose to make significant changes in their communities, in their businesses, with their customers, and behind the walls of their organizations without doing so on public social networks? How will Klout or something like it really measure actions and communications that truly inspire change and affect thoughts, behaviors, and actions of others?

There is a long way to go. These fledgling measurement scores are valid experiments and I firmly believe the precursors to something more meaningful, more relevant, and more useful, but there is only so much they can measure today. Couple that with the extreme potential and propensity for inaccuracy and fraud, and the system’s reliability breaks down.

Ironically, Klout specifically has suffered quite the backlash on social channels. Recent alarms have sounded over privacy concerns and the inability to remove one’s self from Klout. (Though you can do that now.)

In closing, there are several challenges that the world of influence measurement must overcome before being truly valuable for organizations and brands. I’ll start with a few and let others weigh in.

(1) Klout (and other measurement tools) will act in their best interest. As long as their interests are aligned with profit, their is opportunity for corruption. Witness recent allegations against the major ratings agencies in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis for an example. (To be clear, I have no problem with Klout specifically, nor is this in any way any allegation against them)

(2) As evidenced by the video above, online personalities will act to game their score, something that has been proven to be easy to do. High “Influence” scores then have the potential to be allocated to those who have the most time on their hands to play an online game, then actually make any meaningful change or impact on the world.

(3) True influence is about changing behavior. It’s hard to measure anything truly meaningful today and correlate to something measurable (ie. a purchase, a referral or mention that led to multiple purchases)

(4) Measurement scores must be relevant to the motivations and priorities of the ones utilizing the scores.

(5) *** Perhaps the biggest one that will only be resolved with time and the eventual “digitization of everything”:

Only a small percentage of most of our actions happen in the digital world today. Though, this is changing rapidly , digital influence measurement systems can only evaluate a very small percentage of what’s happening in the real world.

THE REST IS UP TO YOU

I’m sure I’ve missed a ton so I’ll leave the rest to you.

What are some other challenges / gaps you see in today’s “influence measurement” scores? How would you improve them?

Or, maybe you can surprise me, what are some ways that you have used one of the emerging influence measurement systems to measurably impact the bottom line of your organization?

And if you still want more on the topic of influence, my friend Dr. Michael Wu has written quite a bit on the subject, especially as it pertains to social networks.