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How Bad Positioning Can Obscure Good Data

It worked.  Link bait positioning drew me in to a series of posts from Dan Zarrella, “The Social Media Scientist,” who uses data to punch holes in “unicorns and rainbows” myths about social media.

A trio of posts (two relatively new, another a few months old) all attempt to shoot down the idea that marketers should “engage in the conversation.”  Those three are summarized nicely (here) by Justin Wise.

In looking at Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations, Zarrella observes that likes, @replies and comments are insignificantly or negatively correlated with some desirable outcomes (more links, views, followers).

Here’s a grab from his post on Twitter conversations:

@mentions, @replies, Twitter, engagement, conversation, Zarrella. study, data, charts, graphic, infographic

Zarrella lays out some data about "engaging in the conversation" on Twitter, comparing percentage of @replies to followers.

I’ll leave the specifics to Zarrella’s original posts (Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations) and Wise’s overview.

I simply want to observe that there’s good, interesting and potentially useful data there, but it’s obscured by link bait positioning – that “engaging in the conversation” does not work.  All three posts attempt to destroy unmeasured, touchy feely notions that marketers must “engage in the conversation” to succeed with social media.  The positioning is great for posting headlines and links to generate clicks through, but it’s not especially fair or accurate.  Because the headlines are more specific and fair than the data positioning, link bait may be too pejorative a word for someone whose work I respect very much.  Still, the work doesn’t support directly the notion that “engaging in the conversation” is fruitless and, perhaps, even counterproductive.

A few quick supports:

1 The measures in the Facebook and blog conversation posts have nothing to do with a page admin or blogger “engaging in the conversation.”  Instead, Zarrella observes interactions as a whole.  So, it’s interesting that higher numbers of comments are negatively correlated with higher numbers of views and links, but it says absolutely nothing about the value of marketers engaging conversations.

2 His correlations of Facebook likes and comments to total views are based on just two pages – HubSpot and OnStartups (note: I “like” both pages).  Those two pages have a combined total of 50,000 fans.  Those two pages are also remarkably similar in topic area (online/inbound/content marketing, entrepreneurship, SMB), so the behavior – if not identities – of both pages’ fans is likely very similar.  To make statements about how effective conversation is for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of fan pages among the hundreds of millions of Facebook users from this narrow sample is a stretch at best.

3 The Twitter piece is the most interesting, but even the graphic (included here, above) provides contradictory takeaways.  Don’t bother replying, because those with more followers don’t reply much, if at all … or reply a lot, because those who do also tend to have more followers.  It also ignores strategy outright.  For example, @replies are the foundation for anyone using Twitter for customer service.

So what’s the use of the collective wisdom conveyed in Zarrella’s three posts?  Read ’em for yourself!  I only observe that it’s far more nuanced than their “engaging in the conversation may be a waste of your time and resources” positioning.

The Bottom Line

The single best takeaway from all three posts is more a reminder than anything else: your most successful tactic is providing great content … or links to great content.

These kinds of posts are plentiful.  Many of these posts are very interesting and potentially useful.  Most importantly, many provoke thought and, somewhat ironically in this case, stimulate conversation.  They should not, however, be the basis for calling into question your entire strategy and reacting in immediate or dramatic fashion.  It’s content marketing, hence the tendency toward link bait positioning.

Have a strategy for how you’re using social media.  Established desired outcomes.  Measure actual outcomes.  Learn, optimize and iterate.

Also, stay informed about others’ outcomes, like those observed by Zarrella.  Then, converse!

(Thanks to Michael Worley Jr for bringing this to my attention by tweeting a link to great content)

Inbound Marketing: Put an Unemployed Journalist to Work

Operations like Associated Content, Examiner and Demand Media source news and information from the crowd, rather than from the “professional” journalist.  Add to that the increased sharing of resources between news organizations and disruption of business models around news gathering and the result is more formal, traditional reporters on the sidelines now and in the years to come.

If one of those sidelined journalists was ready, willing, and able to do all that’s described here, he or she would not likely be unemployed.  So, an unemployed journalist might not actually fit the bill.

This post is quite simple and isn’t wholly novel.  I’m writing it to establish basic thoughts toward organizing and designing a program that could be implemented internally by medium-sized businesses or provided externally as a service to small businesses.  Most large businesses – as well as medium and small businesses already operating online with even a slight degree of sophistication – should have this all in play already.

Point of reference: I’ve heard that our local newspaper in Colorado Springs is selling the set up and running of Facebook pages for local advertisers.  If true, it borders on criminal and points to a gaping market opportunity to help small businesses online.

Follow-up posts on this topic could include:

  • profiles of companies killing it with content
  • profiles of companies surprising me with content
  • suggestions of companies for whom this system is feasible and ideal
  • elements, specs and prices of a content creation kit
  • designing a space to shoot photos and video
  • designing a content strategy and plan

Anyway, here’s the deal …

Inbound Marketing

This term is used in contrast to traditional, outbound or interruption marketing.  Inbound marketing tactics attract people actively seeking out your expertise, product or service.  It’s a pull to traditional’s push.

Traditional includes television and radio commercials, newspaper and magazine ads and all those unsolicited pieces of mail you receive; marketers blast out unsolicited messages to anonymous masses.  To be fair, many traditional approaches can be reasonably well targeted, so that the recipient of the message takes it as useful information rather than an annoyance.  For example, we use those 20% off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond; we receive them because we’re customers and have historically redeemed them.

Inbound includes blogs, search engine optimization and social media, among other tools and tactics.  The basic concept: create and optimize online content to help people find you when they’re seeking the thing you do so expertly – the products you make or the services you provide.  Generalizing: inbound is more measurable and cost-effective than traditional.  It’s also got roots in permission – I’ve actively sought your information, message or offer – so conversion rates and word of mouth should be better.

MIT guys and HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah wrote the book on inbound marketing … literally.  It’s called Inbound Marketing.  Both the book and their online software product provide a smart and systematic approach.  The book’s a solid and reasonable read; it’s highly recommended.

It starts with identifying keywords related to your business or expertise.  They must represent real estate that’s both valuable and available.  That’s to say: people must be searching those terms, but they can’t already be “owned” by others.  You should have this focus prior to creating, publishing and optimizing content.

You should also have the whole system organized around customer conversion – that action you want the inbound leads and prospects to take, whether it’s a purchase, a form fill, a phone call or any other behavior.  Conversion is the entire point of the effort.

The Journalist

The content that serves as the foundation for inbound marketing is simply storytelling with words, photos, audio and video.  That’s it.

Gathering facts.  Asking questions.  Telling stories.  This is a journalist’s function.  A print journalist should be more proficient with words and in depth.  A broadcast journalist should be more proficient with video and with brevity.

journalism journalist war outfit wartime embed embedded action figurine

This journalist's ready for anything; he's even got a back-up pair of hands. (Image from:

Your employees, customers, partners and suppliers all have stories to tell about what you do and how and why you do it.  You need someone to identify, develop and publish these stories.  These stories – in words, photos and video – are the magnet for people seeking your expertise.

Success stories.  Employee profiles.  New product development.  Industry news.  Around the office.  Behind the scenes.  Company events.  Industry trade shows.  Who you are.  What you’re about.  How you work.  What’s unique and differentiating.  How customers are successfully using your product or service.

Send me an email or leave a comment on this post briefly describing your business and I’ll send you back three categories of content suitable to you.  The opportunities are not endless, but there’s plenty of ripe, low-hanging fruit.

You just need someone to organize, manage and execute the storytelling system.  Chief Journalist.  Chief of Content.  Content Creator.  Resident Reporter.

The Distribution

You need not buy or earn media to get attention, though both routes may be important parts of an integrated marketing plan.  Increasingly, advertisers are becoming their own media companies, creating content that people are seeking, finding, consuming and sharing.  I wrote a month ago about two major advertisers, Best Buy and Johnson & Johnson, producing, publishing and selling advertising around their own content; they used to rely strictly on others publishing content and packaging audiences (TV, radio, print, etc).

Without turning your retail space into a television network, as Best Buy is doing, you can use basic tools – most of them free – to publish, tag and optimize your content.

A blog is an obvious start.  In addition to being included in your blog posts, any photos you create can be put into Flickr, tagged extensively to help people find them, then linked back to your website, blog or any other context-appropriate place you’d like to direct motivated traffic.  YouTube can be used identically for any video you create.  iTunes or iTunes U are among several places to publish searchable audio (and video).  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are each highly populated places to consume, share and discuss content.  A more sophisticated approach might include landing pages dedicated to particular products, services, concepts, topics or keywords.  You may also want to organize your content into webinars, whitepapers or other formats.

The Bottom Line

A thoughtful, focused content creation strategy can complement beautifully more straightforward PR and marketing functions.  It tells the story of you, your employees, your approach, your customers, your suppliers, your market, your industry and your expertise.  It attracts and informs people.  It initiates conversation and interaction.

Even if you have multiple contributors to the effort, one person should own it overall.  A storyteller at heart, this person should be comfortable working with words, photos and video – writing, producing, shooting and editing.   This person just might be an unemployed journalist … or a resourceful go-getter straight out of school with a journalism, communication or marketing bent.

The Mesh: Marketing, Environment, Culture

For a class I’m taking this semester in the MBA program at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, I got to choose and review the online marketing book of my choice.  The deliverables included a formal book review, a blog post, a video and an in-class presentation.

With my first two choices gone (David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR and Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing), I turned to Rework from the guys at 37 signals.  Rework turned out to be a little too general business for the purposes of the class, but I did write it up here earlier.

Fortunately, a brand new, big idea book was recommended by Seth Godin as I was still in search mode.  I ordered, read and reviewed The Mesh: Why The Future Of Business Is Sharing by Lisa Gansky.

book, business, marketing, online, social, mobile, GPS, businesses, share, sharing, share platform, access, ownership, Lisa Gansky

Cover: The Mesh

The Mesh was very obviously a labor of love for Gansky, whose personal and professional passions are evident in the book’s concept, premises, tone and style.  The describes her vision, illustrates it with examples and backs into the broader driving and enabling trends making Mesh businesses and strategies possible and advantageous right now.  It’s this drawing together of otherwise disparate observations that makes her book feel so fresh.

I’ve already written a review and collected several links for the class blog post.  Here, I thought I’d take a minute to observe how it so nicely connects the themes and sub-heading of this blog – marketing, environment and culture.

Marketing The Mesh argues in favor of a business model that both threatens traditional companies and creates opportunities for new ones.  A Mesh company or a Mesh strategy employs: a core offering that’s shared (access rather than ownership); web, social and mobile networks; increased customer interactions; increased layers of information and analysis of data; and offers that are more and more timely, relevant, personal and location-based.

Think Netflix versus Blockbuster.  Both rent DVDs, but Netflix is, at its core, an information company dedicated to making it easier and easier for customers to find, watch and review movies and television shows.  Meanwhile, Blockbuster is in bankruptcy protection.

Zipcar was another key example in the book.  With your mobile device, you can locate, select, reserve and unlock one of dozens of individually-named Zipcars parked around your city.  Each transaction provides data about who, when, where and how long the car is used.  Zipcar’s partnered with all kinds of other businesses in complementary ways to provide more – and more personalized – value to each customer.

Environment One of the underlying themes behind the share concept is an increasing population and limited resources.  The increasing population is also increasingly urban; this density is required for share platforms to scale properly.  At the same time, it’s clear that our disposable consumer culture is unsustainable.  Mesh companies need highly durable goods from their suppliers.  Through frequent and repeat use of shared goods and real-time data collection, Mesh businesses will understand each product’s strengths and weaknesses, like when and how it’s likely to fail.  While demanding greater durability from suppliers, they’ll be in a unique position to provide information to aid in that mission.

Culture There are many broad, cultural themes in The Mesh.  For example, acceptance and adoption of share platforms requires a shift away from ownership toward access and sharing.  Gansky also covers customers as communities within the same share platform.  So many of the factors that permit the Mesh characteristics and driving and enabling factors to be observed and formally captured in a book are temporal and cultural.

All three themes – marketing, environment and culture – are ever-present in this quick and fun read.  I recommend it to marketers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, futurists and anyone broadly interested in what’s happening out there right now.

My blog post for class that’s loaded with links can be seen here.

My video review can be seen here:


Mesh, The Mesh, meshy, companies, company, business, businesses, Zipcar, Crushpad, Kickstarter, thredUp, Prosper, Roomorama, Netflix

Seven of the dozens of examples provided by Lisa Gansky to illustrate her concept of The Mesh.

Experience is Not Expertise

I came across Albert Maruggi‘s “Marketing Edge” podcast a couple years back in the iTunes store.  Albert’s a smart and likable guy.  He used to be in television and now does social media and public relations consulting with Provident Partners in Minneapolis.

I probably would not be on Twitter if not for his advocacy.  Admittedly, I don’t use it to its full potential.  Regardless, I’ve learned a lot from his insights, observations and guests … which brings me to the topic.

Albert Maruggi of Provident Partners and the Marketing Edge

Last May, I listened to his interview with Dr Paul Schempp, a professor at the University of Georgia and president of Performance Matters.  The focus of Schempp’s life and work is understanding what it takes to be an expert performer.  Consistent with this theme, he consults many world-class athletes on expert performance routines.

Dr Paul Schempp of Performance Matters - Author, Scholar, Speaker, Coach

Schempp’s ideas have been condensed and clarified into 5 Steps to Expert, his fourth book.  Though I’ve not yet read the book (I’ve got so much reading to do), I’ve listened to Albert Maruggi’s interview with Schempp a few times.  I heard it again last night.

A stand-out takeaway: experience is not expertise.  This point is raised in Part 1 (link below) and illustrated by an example involving a student teacher who became teacher of the year in California a few years later.  It seems obvious, but the distinction seems lost on many people.  In my view, the concepts are related, but not in a causal way.

Just because someone’s been doing something a long time does not mean that he or she is getting any better at it.  Many people achieve level of competence that feels sufficient … they settle … they stagnate.  They’re competent performers, but they’re not on the road to expert status.

A smaller takeaway: the gentlemen briefly discussed point guard Terrell Brandon, a two-time NBA All-Star.  I don’t know why, exactly, but I really liked that guy.

Give the podcast a listen.  It’s a good conversation on a powerful topic.

Here’s Part 1 of the Paul Schempp interview on the Marketing Edge

Here’s Part 2 of the Paul Schempp interview on the Marketing Edge

Here are reader reviews of 5 Steps to Expert at

5 Steps to Expert by Dr Paul Schempp

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