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Why I'm Negative on Google Plus

I hate to be the one who brings a skunk to Google's party, but I'm not as bullish on Google Plus as the rest of the world. Yes, it's interesting and, in some cases, shows a remarkable touch for creating a wonderful user interface. Like others, I'm impressed with how you can put people in (asynchronous) circles. But people are finding even those to be a bit of a chore.

Facebook's biggest advantage right now is its utility. By utility I don't mean how I interact with software, but that it allows me to see information about people and companies I care about without much effort. When Amy Winehouse died this past weekend my Facebook feed lit up. Over on Google+ I saw a smattering of reaction, but really people were still talking about Google+.

In Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece about Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, he notes that Sandberg "would tell people that Facebook was a company driven by instinct and human relationships. The point, implicitly, was that Google was not."

Related back to Google+, it's beautiful and it has the social media elite excited by what it offers in terms of both control and design, but the big question is whether it gains the true utility.

Sure, it boasts plenty of users, but the big measure of any social network isn't the number of people who signed up, it's the number of times a day people share something. How many "shares" per person does it have? What types of information are likely to be shared? Apparently I'm not the only one noticing this. Apparently visitors are down over on Google+ as is the time on the site. Granted, this is still early and not indicative of much long-term. But it's still an interesting development for the site.

I sent a few friends invites thinking that with more people close to me I'd see more sharing. One put up one picture and commented how much easier it was than on Facebook. But then when she took a few days off her updates only showed up on Facebook. So for me to find out about her life, that's where I have to be. So long as that remains true, then my time on Google Plus remains limited as well.

My wife had the best comment of all. After looking at it for a few minutes she said "What do I do with it?" Frankly, after using Facebook and Twitter the answer should have been obvious. It wasn't. Keep in mind that what attracted her to Facebook was her friends, not just that they were using it, but that they were sharing information she wanted to know. Conversations around her would include "Oh, I saw on Facebook...."

Can this change? Certainly. But it's not going to be overnight, it will take years. Facebook is in place, unseating it isn't going to be easy.

Right now my social media diet includes a constantly running Twitter feed and regular checkins on Facebook (for an intermingling of personal information and news). If Google Plus doesn't build true utility, we'll end up waving goodbye.

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Hyper-Everything Video

Last Wednesday, the Social Media Club Boston met out in Framingham for the latest in a series of programs we've run touching on the intersection of journalism and social media. My business partner Chuck Tanowitz has been very passionate about the subject, so it was only natural to invite him to moderate the program. Here is the video of the program:

Social Media Club Boston June 2011 Journalism Panel: "Hyper Everything"

From the front line to the local coffee shop to the courthouse, journalism faces pressure not only to remain profitable, but to remain relevant. This panel of journalists gives an in-depth discussion of the pressures and possibilities facing the journalism profession today.

Our panelists included:

* Ed Medina (@surfermedina), Director of Multimedia Development, Boston Globe and Boston.com
* Kristin Burnham (@kmburnham), Staff Writer, CIO.com
* Tom Langford (@tom_langford), Reporter, NECN
* Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman), New Media Contributor, NESN.com

The event was sponsored by IDG and Business Wire. Thank you to both for their continued support of the Social Media Club Boston!

What did you think?

ADDED JUNE 27:
After the event, IDG's Colin Browning interviewed Chuck to dive a little deeper in a few areas. Here is a recording of that interview:

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Building a Better Massachusetts means more than just Boston

On Tuesday afternoon I attended a fascinating discussion, the first of many, on Building a Better Commonwealth. In the wonderful setting of the Paramount Theater, the Boston Globe hosted a panel discussion as well as remarks from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick., focusing on retaining talent here. I'm not going to go into all the nuts and bolts here, you can read that elsewhere, but coming out of this I had several overall thoughts.

Let me start by pointing out that I chose Massachusetts, and not without cost. Raising children without grandparents can be tough, especially for the little things. As an example, on Wednesday evening my wife was preparing for trial and I had to be in Framingham at 5:30. Meanwhile, my middle son had a baseball game, as well as Chinese tutoring, my daughter was at aftercare and my oldest was finishing his homework. Everyone needed dinner. My friends lucky enough to have local grandparents often are able to have an extra set of hands to step in when these situations arise, but for us, we needed to first build a support network of friends who also have distant families, then call on them to do things like pick my son up from school and get him to the game.

That said, my wife and I have both opened businesses here, we bought property here, we pay taxes here and we employ people here. We want to see Massachusetts utilize all its resources, especially the "talent" resource as pointed out by Governor Patrick. Still, several pieces of the discussion bugged me.

  • Who is having the discussion? -- Nearly everyone who stood up and spoke noted that they came from somewhere else. Jason Evanish of Greenhorn Connect moved from Pennsylvania (his thoughts on the event); I'm originally from New York (though, my mother grew up in Roxbury and Newton); Bobbie Carlton hails from upstate New York; Scott Kirsner cut his teeth in Florida; Trish Karter graduated high school in Connecticut; and even Governor Patrick joked about the differences between his hometown in the midwest and his neighbors in Milton. To be fair, some of the panelists, like Paul English, grew up in Massachusetts. Still, I'm wondering if the discussion on "cultivating talent" is really a discussion among transplants who want to bring in other people like themselves. Or perhaps it speaks to the changing demographics of Massachusetts. To the outside world we look like the state portrayed in The Departed or The Fighter: working class, unintelligible accents, tough... But the Massachusetts I know is very different. My wife is from Pennsylvania, my next door neighbors from Israel, two doors down is a couple born in Germany, go a bit further and you find a woman from France and her husband from Haiti. The joke in Watertown is that you can tell a newcomer because their parents didn't attend Watertown High, but my personal Massachusetts looks much different.
  • The Rent is Too Damn High! -- The event opened with a map of Massachusetts, but the discussion centered on Boston and Cambridge, leading many to decry that "the Rent is too Damn High!" To her credit, Diane Hessen knocked it down saying that people ignore the cost of living in New York if they get a good job. And she's right. But that being said, I want to throw in that the rent is, in fact, too damn high IF you want to live in a trendy neighborhood. You can find deals elsewhere in the Commonwealth, especially in places with a wonderful urban infrastructure. Take a look at places like Lowell or New Bedford. I'm sure Springfield would LOVE an influx of younger talent to build and grow businesses. Which leads nicely to my next point...
  • Who the Hell is this "Gen Y"? -- I get annoyed at these generational discussions. In listening to Nadira Hira I got the distinct impression that she was taking overall cultural shifts in US attitudes and attributing them entirely to a specific age group. She noted how they look at families differently and want a work/life balance. Hey, news flash, so do I. So do most of my friends. And we fall into the GenX demographic that she termed "bitter."

Still, one thing I do see in people in Massachusetts today, both youngish and older-ish, is a willingness to start their own companies and blaze a new career path. So why not take the complaints we heard about the local infrastructure and apply them to businesses?

Feel that there isn't enough of a music scene? Start a music venue. Can't get space in Cambridge? Try Waltham or Lowell or Springfield or New Bedford or Allston or JP or Mission Hill. Feel that the T doesn't run late enough? Start a transportation company designed to run between 2am and 6am that mimics the T routes. If the demand exists then so does the business.

As for the talent in the Commonwealth, we need to take our  entrepreneurial spirit and apply it to companies that aren't just in tech, but create a better life for everyone.

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Die, Embargo, Die! Die! Die!

InkHouse PR hosted a fascinating online discussion on Wednesday about the fate of the embargo. Hosted by Beth Monaghan, it included insights from Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick, Xconomy's Wade Roush, the Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner and USA Today's Jon Swartz.

If I were to sum up the whole discussion in a phrase it would come down to this: size matters. I'll get back to that.

The most interesting tidbit, however, was throw-away line from all four reporters that they don't bother with the press release wires. One reporter said he hadn't looked at BusinessWire or PR Newswire in about seven years. Wade noted that he sometimes uses it for archive purposes.

Even Beth seemed surprised at that answer. Of course, this is a long way from saying that the press release is dead. Kirsner, for example, still runs them on his "Read Scott's Email" page (though, obviously just a selection of those he receives) and reporters routinely ask me for them.

In fact, all four reporters noted that Twitter has become their news feed. Something reinforced just a short time later when Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter (with an associated video). Sorry ESPN, Shaq doesn't need your audience.

Twitter being a primary news feed for reporters is, on some level, a "no duh" moment. It is, in fact, pretty awesome and shows the power of Twitter both as a medium unto itself as well as its influence over "mainstream media." While Twitter is certainly not nearly as popular as Facebook, it is certainly influential. But that also leads to a number of concerns:

  1. Twitter has a high signal-to-noise ratio -- Filtering Twitter to find the good stuff is a major hassle. Personally, I use Twitter lists (both public and private) to select information I want to find. I know that popular stuff rises to the top, but quite often I'll look at an individual's feed and find that I missed something interesting that happened weeks ago. How do reporters filter? What does this mean for their reporting?
  2. Reporters can easily insulate themselves from information -- They can limit themselves to the people they follow as well as a few search terms. That's not everyone. Also, as mentioned above, Twitter is just a subset of a much larger population. Is it truly representative? In the tech world, maybe, but the broader world?
  3. Twitter has a "blink and you missed it" issue -- information on Twitter rots very fast. My main feed scrolls by so fast to render it useless.

Still, it's the reality. A while back Bianca Bosker, tech editor at the Huffington Post, told me that she has two monitors on her desk: one is email, web browser and everything she needs for her job; the other runs Tweetdeck all day. Do the math, the power of being in her news feed and therefore winding up in one of her posts will pay off huge dividends in traffic.

As a related note, Kirkpatrick noted that the best way to get on his radar is to send him your RSS feed so he can follow it. He follows a massive number of blogs, but if being in front of the top editor at a top publication is important, then you need to keep your feed filled with information as to show up on his radar.

But what about the embargo? Well, Kirkpatrick loves them noting that it helps level the playing field so he has time to do his own reporting. As a smaller organization this is important to him, allowing him to compete with much larger and more well-funded organizations, like TechCrunch. The other reporters tended to take a much dimmer view of embargoes, Roush won't bother with them at all and Swartz prefers not to deal with them either, but Kirsner admitted that he'd take them if the news was big enough.

Frankly, that came up a few times. If the news is big enough, or the company issuing it is big enough, the "no embargo" policy flies out the window. It was mentioned that even TechCrunch would take an embargo from those companies and simply break it 15 minutes early, just because they can.

So, in this sense, size matters. When the PR team has the power they'll use it (and get their way), when the journalist has the power they'll use it to avoid taking the embargo. The topic of offering exclusives came up as an alternative, but all the reporters were uncomfortable with that, saying it makes them feel as if they're being controlled by the PR machine.

My take on all this remains the same. Most of my clients are smaller and tend to be more concerned about getting coverage than about timing it. So while we would bring news out to reporters and prebrief them, I'd rarely put them under embargo. Of course, sometimes the client wants the assurance, so you do it. But I believe the news must be big enough to warrant it, and that's a judgement call.

So what does this all mean? Well, a few things:

  1. A news release isn't enough -- You need a content plan to make things work. Yes, a news release can help (and still does drive SEO as well as some coverage from vertical publications) but if your goal is bigger coverage you need more.
  2. Build relationships -- This goes for all influencers, online and off. Reporters are part of the influence chain.
  3. Integrate content -- Your blog is your friend. Your Twitter feed is your friend. Use them, build them.
  4. Finally: if you have real news by all means put it out. Reporters are smart, they know when it's something real and when it isn't.... mostly.

With apologies to Tom Foremski.

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Hyper-Everything!

I'm happy to announce that our own Chuck Tanowitz will moderate next Wednesday's Social Media Club Boston event on "Hyper-Local, Hyper-Social, Hyper-Competitive: The New Journalism," hosted by IDG and Sponsored by IDG and BusinessWire. As a passionate, engaged and opinionated follower of the profession, not to mention a former journalist, Chuck was a perfect fit for this panel.

From the front line to the local coffee shop to the courthouse, journalism faces pressure not only to remain profitable, but to remain relevant. Join this panel of journalists for an in-depth discussion of the pressures and possibilities facing the journalism profession today.

His panelists will include:

  • Ed Medina (@surfermedina), Director of Multimedia Development, Boston Globe and Boston.com
  • Kristin Burnham (@kmburnham), Staff Writer, CIO.com
  • Tom Langford (@tom_langford), Reporter, NECN
  • Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman), New Media Contributor, NESN.com

Hope to see you there!

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Social Media Strategies Summit comes to Boston in September

The Social Media Strategies Summit 2011Fresh Ground is proud to be a media partner of this upcoming event, alongside the Social Media Club Boston!

Following their sold out event in San Francisco with speakers from Facebook, Zappos, Dunkin’ Donuts and much more, GSMI has decided to bring the 2011 Social Media Strategies Summit to the East Coast. They've gathered more of the best and brightest speakers in the social media marketing arena to present emerging strategies, tactics and case studies in the successful use of social media. This event reveals how leading brands use social media to consolidate and expand their market share, as well as, gain valuable market data.

Hope to see you there!

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Checking In is Still a Niche, but you need to worry now

I should be one of Foursquare's biggest users. But alas, I am not. Why? Well, it's just too complicated to check in.

A lot of Location Based Service (LBS) fanboys are going to say things like "But Chuck, it's so simple!" But you're wrapped up in the coolness of it. For most people, checking in has become a cumbersome and only occasional activity. That said, I think it's still going to be big.

Yes, that's right. Despite the fact that I don't use LBS all that often, I believe it's going to be huge. But it won't look like what it does today.

First, let's examine the problems. Checking in requires me to have a motivation. Early in Foursquare's existence I heard a lot about the gaming aspect of it, and for some early users that drove adoption. Now companies like Foursquare, SCVNGR and Gowalla are turning to deals to get you to check in. Certainly better than earning a mayorship or points, but if the number of unclaimed coupons that still land on the doorsteps of people receiving the Sunday paper are any indication, deals only go so far. How many of you now ignore the Groupons and Living Social deals cluttering your inbox? Yeah, I'm raising my hand on that one too.

Foursquare has more than 6 million registered users, but I haven't seen many numbers that address the percentage of those users who are active. I have seen numbers about the number of checkins, but I'm not sure what percentage of users generate what number of checkins. If anyone has that data please let me know.

So what's my motivation to check in? On Tuesdays I like to check in at Taste to let people know that our OpenPR coffees are happening. Sometimes I check in to a restaurant if I love their food or to just give them a bit of promotion. Sometimes I check in so people in the area know where to find me, like if I'm at Sip in Post Office Square. But usually I go through life without checking in.

Mainly, my problem is that it takes between 4 and 6 actions to check in.

  1. Pull out phone
  2. Open application
  3. Find my location (sometimes made easier if it's a place I frequent)
  4. Check in
  5. Write comment (optional)
  6. Take picture (optional)

One of the things that made the Flip camera so successful was the single button operation. Who wants to go through 4 to 6 actions just to check in? (I'm not so crazy, Dennis Crowley brought the same issue up during his AdAge interview and they're experimenting with some different type of checkins as well.)

So what will change things? One word: payment.

Payment is the one action that everyone takes on a regular basis. There are exceptions, of course, like when you show your pass to get into a gym or yoga studio, but even that amounts to a sort of payment. The key is when payment moves from credit card or cash to the mobile phone. Square is probably the closest to making this a reality, considering its announcement today, but other (rather large) companies are, in fact, working on Near Field Communication-based solutions as well.

Regardless, one thing is for certain, we'll soon pay with our cell phones and, if all goes well, check in at the same time.

But, a funny thing will happen on the way to Foursquare nirvana: noise. Lots and lots of noise.

Imagine how useful your Facebook feed will be when all you see is "Chuck just bought a 2-shot small cappuccino at Taste." So the trick for companies will be to figure out when to encourage sharing and when to hold back. The same will be true for individuals. If I clog my friends' feeds with junk, then they're more likely to block me.

The interesting thing is, in order for any organization to understand how a tool works and what makes it effective, they need to begin working with it BEFORE it takes off. So if you have a business that relies, in some part, on location (like a retail store or a well-trafficked office) I would encourage you to play with Foursquare or one of the other services. See what incentives motivate your audience to check in. Measure the reach of those checkins, then see how you can drive traffic through them.

The goal is to avoid being background noise later.

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Stop! Please Stop!

Can we please stop comparing Boston to San Francisco and New York? Please? I'm getting sick of this discussion. It doesn't mean much.

I grew up just outside of New York City, I went to grad school there and remain a loyal fan of the New York Jets (no, that doesn't make me all that popular in Newton). But I chose to live in Boston. Two of my three children were born here,

Let me repeat that: I chose to live in Boston. Boston didn't choose me. Todd is also a transplant (though, I hear he gave up rooting for the Detroit Lions, can you blame him?) and he also chose to be here. There is something about this city that we love, something about the people, the culture and the environment that makes it important enough to start a company here.

Each city has its advantages and different culture. Yes, New York has a 24 hour culture and a vibrant financial market that keeps much of the rest of the city humming (the taxi drivers and Broadway producers all feel the boost when Wall Street gives out good bonuses). Silicon Valley has a vibrant startup culture with great weather and entrepreneurs who become celebrities. But Boston has a quiet confidence that I find endearing. We are who we are, we're not something else.

The main reason I hate these comparisons is that we look to the companies we lost (Facebook, Microsoft, TaskRabbit, Pixable, etc.) and ask "why! why would you leave us? We could have loved you!" Frankly, it's a bit embarrassing. Love the one you're with. But the problem isn't that those cities are cooler, it's that the companies (and their founders) were better fits for those cultures. Rather than focusing on that, maybe we should be focusing on creating companies that fit OUR culture.

Many years ago Evernote CEO Phil Libin told me that Silicon Valley is better for consumer-facing companies while Boston is better for research-based companies that feed government and defense contracts as well as enterprise technology. Of course, we also have a vibrant healthcare and biotech community. Why fight that? Why lament when a consumer company leaves and we're left with very interesting technology that could help create a cure for cancer or change how we get power?

Zigging when everyone else is zagging can be a very good thing. An article in the Wall Street Journal points out that enterprise technology in the Valley has fallen out of favor with VCs while investment in consumer technologies has increased. Sure, fine for them, we can benefit from that by focusing on our core.

As for being "cool," we shouldn't feel bad that we lost consumer-facing companies to other regions, we should be trying to point out how enterprise tech companies that innovate, build jobs and build revenue in Massachusetts are cool, even when they're doing something that seems mundane to the average eye, like helping organizations switch to IPv6. I sat next to a guy on the bus yesterday working on that very problem. No, it's not as easy to understand as a company that helps you get errands done, but it impacts a LOT more people.

Let's embrace who we are and stop worrying about who we aren't.

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Launch Your Website in a Day

I have a few upcoming events I want to call your attention to. The first is a day-long program aimed at people who need to get their web presence in line.

"Create a Killer Web Strategy for Your Business & Launch Your Website in a Day" is taking place on Saturday, May 14, 2011 from 8:30am to 3:30pm, and I will be one of four speakers / workshop facilitators helping out. If you need to build a new site, or are not happy with the messaging, performance or traffic on your existing site, this is the program for you.

The full-day program will help you bring your business strategy to your website. We'll work with you to determine the most effective design, message, tools and channels to achieve your business goals online. I'm helping with the section on promoting your site and building your community. Hope to see you there!

In this very hands-on program, we'll translate your strategy into technical features, visual design, copy and audience acquisition channels–then start implementing. Mini-seminars alternate with open work sessions and one-on-one consulting to help you reach your goals.

What You Need: Bring your positioning statement and your laptop. Each registrant receives a hosted website that is set up and ready to be customized. If you have a website already running on a content management system (CMS), you can opt to pick up from where you are and improve its effectiveness.

What You Get: You leave with your business website online and with the practical skills needed for ongoing development. Registration includes lunch and two months of hosting and phone/email support.

Cost: $420 | Drupal.org members (10% discount) $378 | Students with valid ID (20% discount) $336

Location:
One Marina Park Drive (near S. Station and Courthouse T stops)
GPS: 55 Northern Ave., Boston, MA 02210

REGISTER NOW

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Please Vote for Fresh Ground Intel

Chuck and I are VERY proud of what we've been able to accomplish in the year and a half that we've been together. One of our first projects was to get us smarter about our clients. To do that, we built Fresh Ground Intel: a smart combination of monitoring, competitive intelligence and content curation services.

Now, I'll tell you more about Fresh Ground Intel in a second, but what I really need to do before I go any further is to explain what MassChallenge is, why we entered it, and how you can help us. MassChallenge is billed as "the world’s largest startup competition." MassChallenge strengthens and accelerates finalists "by providing them high-quality, personalized mentorship and by connecting them to potential team members, advisors, customers and sponsors."

There are over 700 entrants competing for about 70 finalist spots. 10 percent of our overall score is based on your votes. Will you lend us a helping hand by voting for Fresh Ground Intel in MassChallenge? Here's how you do it!

  1. Go to http://masschallenge.org/ and either Log in or Register as an Observer/Supporter
  2. Go to our profile at http://bit.ly/freshvote, have a look and click on the number of stars you would like to give us. That's it, you're done, but please feel free to browse and vote for some other entrants as well.

So what is Fresh Ground Intel? In a tweet: Fresh Ground Intel delivers actionable industry insights that help organizations connect, learn and compete. It is a fusion of monitoring, competitive intelligence and content curation tools. By adding human insight and context to the monitoring and filtering process, Fresh Ground Intel can quickly add value to individuals across an organization. Our hybrid technology/services business model was designed to be scalable, yet still remain “intimate.”

Fresh Ground Intel is the cure for information overload. We monitor, filter and add industry- and organization-specific context to the torrent of data coming from traditional, online and social media sources. We work alongside existing listening tools and help marketers get the right information to the right people – whether they are inside or outside the organization. Fresh Ground Intel helps marketers get the most value out of their listening tools.

Want more information? Drop us a line!

And please don't forget to vote!

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