Emerging Media

Don’t Mess with Motrin Moms

Apparently Twitter can cause quite a headache for the people over at Motrin (how could I not?).  Yes, this ad motivated hundreds of young mothers to light up the Twitterverse with a defense of their baby carriers and the other tools of motherhood.  Apparently, mother’s don’t like to be told that they “look crazy” and now that mommy bloggers are a significant, and quite cohesive, part of the blogging community it doesn’t take long for them to take action.

Motrin reacted much as you would expect.  There is an apology on their Web site and they are trying to remove the ads from everywhere they can.  Obviously the ads will never go away and now, thanks to the controversy, they will probably reach more people than originally intended.

So, did Motrin do the right thing?  Were the ads offensive?

I say no.  While I can certainly understand why this can hit a nerve with new mothers, I don’t think the message is that far off for a lot of mothers that probably do feel strange walking around with a baby sling and do feel pain from carrying around the extra weight.  Is it disrespectful?  Not really.  Does it stereotype mothers in a negative way?  Not really.

This is a classic overraction by a company that sees one channel flooded with negativity.  I’m sure this spot could still do very well with focus groups and they’d find that the overwhelming majority of their target market isn’t offended.  The reality is that a few very vocal women were offended and the people they influence just fell in line.  I don’t think this affects their mainstream consumer and, if it did, I doubt the reaction would be overwhelmingly negative.  This was simply an Internet phenomenon and it will soon die exactly where is began.

Yes, listening is important but your reaction is equally important.  If every brand acts like Motrin then all advertising will become so safe and white washed that it will lose all impact and just turn into wasted media dollars.

Plus, have you ever held one of those things for a long time?  Dem babies is heavy!  Baby hauling pain may need something a little stronger than Motrin.

A 3.5 Million Page View Flop?

Get out your hankies.  It’s true, Valleywag, the premier Silicon Valley gossip site, is going under.  Well, not exactly going under but it’s cutting some staff and getting folded into Gawker Media’s larger gossip site, Gawker.

The reasoning is pretty simple, as Nick Denton explains in his lovely blog post about “sleepwalking into economic extinction.”  Cut cost or a decline in ad revenue will mean the death of every living thing on planet earth.  It’s recession 2.0, who wants to out gloom Nick Denton?

Actually, you may not need to.  One of the fun things about Gawker Media is that they publish their traffic stats.  Apparently, Valleywag has been over 3 million page views a month for most of the year (topping 6 million in May).  You don’t need to be a CFO to calculate some modest CPM revenue with that kind of traffic.  It’s common knowledge that Gawker pays their writers absolute crap (trust me, I once interviewed for a job at Gizmodo) and hosting blog content isn’t exactly the same overhead as YouTube.  So why the hell would Denton fold this into Gawker and throw all that traffic out the door (assuming Valleywag readers aren’t loyal to Owen Thomas)?

The short answer is that I don’t know.  For some other projects I’m working on, I’ve been reading about ad revenue models until my eyes bleed and I don’t understand how Valleywag can have the overhead that Denton outlines in his doomsday graphs.  I don’t think he’s lying, I just don’t totally get it.

I do know that if he can effectively merge Valleywag’s audience with Gawker’s audience that he will have a much stronger Web property in the long run.  While Gawker has readers from all over, it’s still essentially a New York media blog.  Conversely, outside of maybe the big tech and political blogs, there is no blog property that resonates with Silicon Valley like Valleywag.  If you see San Francisco as an emerging media market due to the obvious shift online, merging Valleywag into Gawker gives Denton a Web property that reaches both the current center of the media universe and the potential future of the media universe.  The audience reading the next generation of Gawker could be more influential in major media purchasing decisions than anyone reading Ad Week, Advertising Age or any of the old guard.

So whether or not this is a gamble or a necessity remains to be seen.  However, if Morgan Stanley’s numbers in Denton’s post are accurate, seeing online ad growth shrink from 16% to 6% still doesn’t make online publishing a bad place to be for the next couple years.

So…is Blogging Becoming Marginalized or Mainstream?

A year or two ago, there was so much irrational exuberance around blogging that it was a foregone conclusion that within a few years there would be five blogs for every person on the planet, no one would get information from any other source and we would have robots in our cars to make us breakfast on the way to work.  Ok, maybe it didn’t go that far but there was certainly no shortage of numbers from the likes of Technorati to make you think that blogs wouldn’t become so prevalent that they would essentially be inescapable.  Sure, blogging was swimming against the current created by traditional media but at the rate it was growing it would certainly take over at some point.

Well…not so fast.

Blogging, like many other infallible social technologies (I’m looking at you MySpace), appears to be slowing down and possibly even in decline.  Technorati has just issued their fifth annual State of the Blogosphere and the numbers aren’t all pointing to the sky.

Sure, many facets of blogging are thriving.  By almost any measurement, blogs now dominate entertainment media, with TMZ and Yahoo’s OMG leaving traditional outlets like People and Entertainment Weekly in the dust.  You see it in technology as well.  It’s hard for me to think back to the time when the WSJ’s Walt Mossberg could be considered one of the most influential people in consumer tech.  Now he’s lucky if he has as many readers in a month as Engadget has in a day.

As with most statistics, the real truth is one or two layers deep.  Are there really 133 million blogs?  Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb was quick to point out that only 1.1% of them had been posted to in the last 7 days.  As he outlines, that’s slightly less than amount of people that have defaulted on their mortgages in the US over the past year or the amount of people that went to the Minnesota State Fair last year.  If only 1.5 million blogs are active on a weekly basis, is it really such a juggernaut?

What about SOV or traffic?  Here’s what Kirkpatrick says about that:

The average number of monthly unique visitors reported by these bloggers? In the US it’s only 18,000. That means 600 people per day. 600 people reading your thoughts each day is pretty fabulous for the vast majority of people on the planet, but as media goes it’s not very mainstream. Especially if there are only a million and a half people doing it.

It’s starting to sound pretty fringe again, isn’t it?  There were about 35% less blog posts this year than there were last year.  That’s a significant decline.

By the raw numbers, yes, blogging is becoming an increasingly marginalized media channel.  The top 1% may be dominating but I think you can make a case that those blogs are becoming indistinguishable to their mainstream counterparts once they begin relying on advertising revenue.

What I found interesting though was some of the demographic information.  About half the bloggers Technorati surveyed made more than $75,000 a year in household income.  While this isn’t impressive to a lot of the people that will cover this story, it’s still well above the median household income in the United States (the last census in 2006 had the median at $48,201/year).  Maybe this can’t be classified at affluent, per se, but these are certainly people with some purchasing power.

But what about the 600 people who read each of these blogs everyday?  Yes, it’s not a huge number but who are those people?  They are most likely peers, meaning that they are probably in roughly the same demographic.  I’d say a blogger that speaks to 600 people everyday with a median household income of greater than $75,000/year is someone significant, especially to marketers.  Does it really matter how many people Fox News reaches if they are predominantly undereducated low-income individuals?  I’m not saying that they are but we now have a pretty good idea of who is reading these blogs everyday.

So I would agree that blogging has become more marginalized but I think that is also where the value lies.  To go back to my old anti-reach marketing credo, it’s not how many people you’re reaching but who you are reaching.  It’s kind of like the picture above in that the fight against the river isn’t as important when you’re mainly interested in the fish.

Let There Be iPhone

While I fully realize that the last thing anyone needs is another post either criticizing or hyping the iPhone, I simply can’t resist.

For starters, the iPhone will change mobile media habits forever.  I’m not saying that everyone will own an iPhone but I am saying that Apple’s mobile OS runs cleaner and smoother than any interface that is currently available and consumers respond to good interface.

Secondly, with the iPhone comes the only real next generation development platform.  Buying and installing an application on your iPhone is as simple as a couple taps.  This is exactly how Apple pioneered digital music distribution with the iTunes store only it’s slightly easier.

The funniest thing about the 3G iPhone is that the 3G network is pretty much irrelevant.  Most consumers will have a hard time finding it in the wild and unless you’re very in tune with download speeds and are downloading a significant file, you probably won’t notice that it’s “twice as fast.”

Then of course there’s the size, or form factor, if you prefer jargon.  Watching video on an iPhone is actually enjoyable and some of the application developers, like Major League Baseball, are really getting it right.  Sports highlights, YouTube videos and most video podcasts make perfect sense for this platform.  Whether or not long format video, like Hulu or traditional TV/movies, will work as well remains to be seen.

Google is going to be taking a crack at this before the end of the year as well.  They’re great content aggregators but they haven’t proven that they can build a usable OS yet.

Apple has one more advantage here.  They now own one of each of the “three screens.”  They are a juggernaut in the PC market, they’re picking up major momentum in mobile and the Apple TV remains, in my opinion, to be one of the most underrated devices in consumer electronics.  I can’t imagine that syncing media between these three devices is more than 18 months away.  Once that hits, you will be seeing a truly seamless media consumer and it will be interesting to see which channels survive and which fade.

Should You Retire from Blogging?

Jason Calacanis did.  You may remember Jason from founding the Silicon Alley Reporter in New York.  Or perhaps from Weblogs, Inc.  Or maybe even Mahalo, his new social search engine.  You may even remember him from when he friended you on Twitter, something he did to try to gain the most Twitter followers (he follows 34k and is followed by 31k).  You may even be one of those VC stalkers who just knows Jason because he sold his company to AOL for a lot of money.  Either way, if you haven’t been following him closely, like the “Jason Nation,” you probably won’t be hearing much from him anymore.  Jason has retired from blogging.

Calacanis claims that he has retired because he wants to have a more meaningful relationship with a smaller amount of people, which is quite the 360 from his Twitter spamming.  If you were one of the lucky few to make it into Jason’s treehouse, you have been privvy to his email newsletter, which goes a little something like this:

Most folks have no tolerance for ambiguity, and when faced with it are extremely uncomfortable. This lack of comfort makes them think, and my goal with the blog was always to challenge people’s thinking–most of all my own. Confusion is attention of the best kind–I long to be confused. I’ve become addicted to playing poker because your constantly faced with confusion, and winning is trying to make sense out of nonsense.

The email goes on at length to say how blogging has died because bloggers spend more time on SEO and social bookmarking than they do on content so the conversation becomes secondary.

Sadly, he’s probably right.

While blogging remains highly interactive among bloggers in certain industries, it is largely becoming a broadcast platform.  Social distribution of content seems a lot more geared towards garnering more eyeballs than it is about inspriing great conversations.  The original purpose of technology like trackbacks was to let the blogger you were responding to know that you have written something but now it’s more about getting your link on their page and gaining residual traffic.  Maybe it’s about the natural desire to be heard or some dream of making millions in advertising revenue off your blog but somewhere it has moved away from being a platform for organic conversations.

In all fairness though, it depends on how you do it.  Jason, like most bloggers, is an attention whore.  If you go into blogging with the goal of connecting with a small group of people, there is a good chance that your platform can remain effective.  In just PR alone, there are many bloggers that produce great content without trying to get on the front page of TechMeme or embed their links into the comments of a more popular blog.  A few of them are in this blogroll over here to the right.

So move to Friendfeed or Ustream or your own private Ning community if you want.  Heck, you can even keep your blog.  Just keep yourself in check and make sure you’re using the right channel for what you really want to accomplish.

As a side note, Jason is actually a great guy in my limited exprience with him.  When I was starting in PR during the dot-com boom in New York, Jason would always give me a fair shake and helped me to determine what was news and what wasn’t.  I once even had a client at PC Expo in New York and we had a interview booked with Stuart Elliot of the New York Times.  Elliot never showed up and my client was growing increasingly pissed off.  I ran out into the hallway and noticed Jason mulling around, as he always was at industry events, and he agreed to save my ass by doing an impromtu interview with my client.  It never appeared in the Silicon Alley Reporter but it saved my ass for a day.  Thanks Jason!  Too bad I missed the cut off for your newsletter.

Stepping on the Long Tail

Ah, the good old Long Tail.  Chris Anderson‘s concept of the Long Tail will be having it’s fourth birthday this fall and, like many four-year-olds, the more time you spend with it the less you like it.

Or at least that’s what Harvard Business School associate professor Anita Elberse seems to conclude.  Her story in the Harvard Business Review gained a lot of popularity this week when it was picked up by TechCrunch and even garnered a response from Anderson himself (summary: “your Long Tail is different from my Long Tail”).

What I got most out of Elberse’s article was that social behavior is much more likely to move people up the long tail than down it.  Consumers, as general rule, are not wholly independent bodies who gravitate towards the most narrow niche that will accommodate them.

Just look at the success of Facebook or Twitter as media properties.  There is no shortage of choice when it comes to either platform but consumers – even highly sophisticated consumers – are driven up the Long Tail due to social reinforcement.

Of course, Anderson is also right about this being a very fluid concept that is as easy to support as it is to dismantle.  It could be said that the constantly evolving taxonomies of top tier media are actually making their properties more Long Tail-friendly.  You no longer have to enter the New York Times through the front page and increasingly complex aggregators like TechMeme are, in a sense, democratizing a segment of the media and helping to level the playing field for Long Tail publishers.

The more I look at the Long Tail, the less sense it makes as a universal theory but I still find it to be a valuable way to show the importance of low impression media.  However, I think the trend worth noting is more likely related to how the peaks are moving into the tail than how the tail can equal or exceed the peak.

Personal Brand and Other Things That Probably Make You Uncomfortable

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Although most bloggers try to avoid the issue and appear as purists, the act of blogging is generally driven by a desire for visibility or share of voice in a given industry or topic. Some blogs are focused on a personality, like Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World, while others, like Ad Rants, keep their primary bloggers, in this case Steve Hall, behind the curtain. It’s a decision every blog and blogger needs to make eventually. Is your content the primary value of your blog or do you want to be Internet famous?

The embedded Gary Vaynerchuk video explores this topic a little deeper. Maybe you have no real interest in being the Run DMC of your particular industry but it’s important to know that there is a tremendous opportunity for personal brands in the current Web 2.0 blogosphere. Yes, Jonathan Schwartz would be an industry leader regardless of whether or not he blogs but when you type his name into Google you get his blog and relevant industry insights as opposed to some historical bio.  Which of those would you want to shape your reputation?

I think that people who have been immersed in this industry since the dot-com boom sometimes forget how young it is and how much share of voice is still very much up for grabs. Sure, nine times out of ten the domain name for that idea you had has already been taken but chances are it’s still sitting there empty. There’s plenty of room for new ideas and many of the people that will shape the future of online media are just getting started right now.

Sure, a blog can help your client’s brand index better on Google and sell more products but it can also turn that quiet CEO of yours into LL Cool J. Well, sort of.

The PR Practitioner Guide to Wikipedia

WikiGeoff Livingston surfaced the topic of marketers’ tumultuous relationship with Wikipedia a while back so I’ve been tinkering with this post for a while.  Considering how the next major Wikipedia/PR snafu is due any minute now, I figured this might be as good a time as any to share a few of the things I learned this year about existing as a PR practitioner in the dangerous nerd jungle that is Wikipedia.

First of all, contrary to what some social media purists think, everyone belongs in Wikipedia. This includes PR people, internal employees, disgruntled customers, academics and anyone else you can think of.

The Wikipedia rule that scare most people away is the conflict of interest (COI) section of the guidelines.  The most important passage is as follows:

A Wikipedia conflict of interest (COI) is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor.

COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. Where an editor must forgo advancing the aims of Wikipedia in order to advance outside interests, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.

COI edits are strongly discouraged. When they cause disruption to the encyclopedia in the opinion of an uninvolved administrator, they may lead to accounts being blocked and embarrassment for the individuals and groups who were being promoted.

While I think everyone agrees that Wikipedia should not be used to “advance outside interests,” the real gray area is in the neutrality.  Put simply, neutrality is rare amongst Wikipedia editors.  The kind of people that actively write and edit the articles you find in Wikipedia are generally enthusiasts who have a distinct point of view and are able to mask it with varying degrees of success.  As a brand participating in Wikipedia, you have to be very careful to not interject your point of view and preserve a very high level of transparency but there is still some content that you are probably the best person in the world to edit.  If the number of employees is incorrect or your stake in investments is misrepresented, I firmly believe that you are in the right to edit it.

Ok, so these are all grand principles, which PR bloggers are all great at pontificating about, but how exactly do you do it?  In my opinion there are a few rules that brands can follow to participate organically in Wikipedia:

  1. Create a profile – Your user profile is your best tool to promote complete transparency.  Say exactly who you are, who you work for and what exactly you plan on doing in Wikipedia.  Maybe you won’t be editing but you will be contacting editors so it’s still important that it is clear who exactly you are.  This goes for both PR agencies and client side representatives.  Anonymous edits hold very little weight and are usually overwritten within days.
  2. Know your editors – Chances are that you’re only monitoring a few Wikipedia entries and you are more than likely to come across editors who participate in more than one article.  These editors have Talk pages and this is generally the best way to engage with them directly but keep in mind that Talk pages are public so you shouldn’t call them out or expose them in any way that might make them defensive.
  3. Know your Sandbox – For some reason, very few marketers seem to know about the Sandbox in Wikipedia.  The Sandbox basically has all the functionality of a normal Wikipedia page except that it doesn’t get published to the community.  It’s a place to work on entries and get an article up to the guidelines without risking the violation of any policies.  You can still flag your articles to get help from other members of the community and, ultimately, get other more established editors to finish them and publish them without raising COI suspicion.
  4. Know the language – If you can learn basic HTML, you can learn most of the important codes and rules of Wikipedia.  There are many ways to flag articles to get the attention of other editors if something is wrong.  There are also fairly strict formatting and content rules that you should be aware of before doing any editing.
  5. Don’t just stick to your brand – If you work for a dishwasher detergent company, I’m sure you’re an expert on more than just your detergent.  Don’t be afraid to tell the world about what you know about different dishwashing technologies and the environmental impact of different kinds of detergent.  The more you contribute, the less you will be suspected of astroturfing.
  6. Only edit articles relating to your brand as a last resort – Sure, if there is a factual error on a Wikipedia page about your CEO then I believe you have a right to correct it but that doesn’t mean that jumping in and making an edit is the best way.  Try contacting the creator of the article on his or her Talk page to make a correction or flag the article for an inaccuracy.  There are people policing Wikipedia for every possible flag and, if you flag something, they will generally find it and act surprisingly quickly.

Although I don’t think this justifies it’s own rule, it should go without saying that Wikipedia should never ever be used as an SEO tool.  Yes, Wikipedia is one of the most valuable properties to Google but if you start manipulating the links on your Wikipedia article to move search rankings, you’re really doing a disservice to both organic search and social media as a whole.  You might get away with it but if you don’t you will feel the wrath of a lot of people.

That said, Wikipedia is not the playground of purity that social media pundits would like you to believe it is.  It’s a sector of media that brands have a right to participate in as long as they understand the rules and leave everything they know about PR and advertising at the door.

Finding the Sweet Spot

So maybe you’ve noticed that there haven’t been many blog posts the past couple weeks.  Very astute of you.  Yes, I have been writing less, which has mostly been due to being busy and traveling.  I’ve also been conducting a little experiment.

Now, you see, I’ve only been doing this little experiment in blogging since October of last year.  At first my goal was to write every day, regardless of whether or not I had anything really interesting to say that day.  It was a learning process.  The blog didn’t have much of a theme and personal stuff got wedged in with the business stuff.  Then I lightened up and decided that I would only really write if I came across something really interesting and I would keep the personal stuff out of it (and post it over on my Tumblr blog called Intermumbles).

Then, of course, I got really busy.  Unlike many PR bloggers, I work at a large PR firm across many large accounts.  Put simply, client work comes ahead of blogging.

So, guilt has set in.  I’m a bad blogger.  I still check my blog stats almost every day and wait for the traffic to drop and all the RSS subscribers to go away.

But they didn’t.  In fact, I saw some of my largest increases in RSS subscribers and some of the steadiest traffic in the weeks that I didn’t blog at all.

The blog experiment has taught me another important lesson (apart from the fact that whatever you write about someone will eventually be found by them no matter how small you think you are).  That lesson is that the amount of people that pay attention has very little to do with how often you write.  In the past month, while the volume of the blog has significantly slowed down, RSS subscriptions have gone up 30%.

What does this mean?  Well, it answers the question that every client always asks when they’re considering blogging…how often do I have to blog??  The answer is that you don’t really know until you get started.  I’m not saying that I would have less traffic or subscribers if I blogged every day but in an on-demand media world you don’t need to fear dead air.

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