Social Networks for Grownups

1 11 2007

Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn get all the press when it comes to online social networks. But according to an article in Fast Company by David Teten and Scott Allen, those sites are new to the game and have far fewer users than good ole’ Yahoo and Google Groups that operate through basic emails. In fact, Yahoo Groups alone accounts for 108 million users in 8.7 million groups – more than twice the 50 million members of Facebook.

The problem, they say, is that people get so turned off by all the notifications, alerts, and random news items they receive through the groups that they end up blocking all the good stuff that goes with it.  

Many people have told us that they have turned off notifications from these groups because they were getting too many emails. But this is a lot like not using the telephone because too many telemarketers call you. Eighty-four percent of American Internet users have used the Internet to interact with a group — more than those that have used the Internet to read news, search for health information, or buy something. Online groups are where your peers are; they are the “social networks” for grownups.

The solution is fairly simple: consolidate your inboxes.

Teten and Allen then give a step-by-step clinic on creating filtering folders to help us get the good stuff faster. They also make a key point about online group involvement. It isn’t important to be very active in the groups, but when you do get involved, make sure to add value to the group by accessing your particular expertise or your business.

But even without the useful tips on consolidating the information, Teten and Allen are right about online groups. There really is action there we don’t think about in discussions of Web 2.0. But these groups have a lot to offer in a setting that many people naturally relate to and know how to use.

The groups I know tend to develop elements of community simply because the same people interact with one another on a regular basis and get to know each other, at least on the email level. Each group has people who are extremely active, people who seen to be completely inactive, and people we wish weren’t active at all (but almost always seem to be among the most active).  

Because these groups coalesce around people with common goals, or at least common interests, they present opporunities to spread information to the “base” – the people most likely to accept the information and possibly spread it themselves. The stronger an idea stands within its base of support, the deeper it penetrates into the collective.  

While Facebook may be growing beyond all measure and new groups continue to spring up and offer all types of new opportunities, its important to remember where we can count on finding people we most want to reach. And nothing has displaced the simple email affinity group from its status as our greatest connector.


NATO Plans New Attack on the Taliban – On YouTube

21 10 2007

It took a while, but the coin finally dropped. Even the ultra-conservative NATO has realized that the battle for hearts and minds is in the social media. The Toronto Star reports that NATO is making a sharp policy shift and declassifying video long considered too risky to make public and preparing to put it on YouTube.

Addressing a Copenhagen gathering of insider delegates, including a sizeable contingent from Canada,  Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO is “frankly in the Stone Age” when it comes to many aspects of public diplomacy.

“When there is an incident in Afghanistan, the Taliban are quick to say there have been high numbers of civilian casualties. The wires pick it up, then the TV stations, then the Web,” Scheffer said. But by the time NATO has investigated, checked the results and passed the information through its approval system, “our response comes days later – if we are lucky. By that time, we have totally lost the media battle.”

The issues will be picked up again in a meeting next month in the Netherlands.

“The Taliban is making videos every day and NATO is not on TV,” Senior NATO spokesperson James Appathurai told the Star. “The Taliban has websites. We don’t have websites, certainly not an effective Afghan website.

Sources say NATO will put new emphasis on Web videos, including the declassification of images previously thought too sensitive to publicize, and place a premium on fleet-footed communication, possibly using rapid-reaction teams to mobilize when Taliban-conceived falsehoods hit the press.

“This is a turning point because now there is consensus that NATO needs to do much, much better at communication, first and foremost with video,” said Appathurai.

“We need to be on YouTube.”

Web Discovery: The Next Wave in Web Search

12 10 2007

Google remains the undisputed heavyweight champion of Internet search technology but the tech giant may require some tweeking to stay relevant in the long run. People are beginning to shift away from key word searches in favor of “discovery search” – engines that offer a bit more scope than a list of sites with the key word in them. 

The New York Times discussed the phenomenon in a recent feature on StumbleUpon, a social media site that allows people to share sites they find interesting.

 Say you are a soccer fan, but you are neither in the market for new cleats nor in search of the buzz on Greg Ryan, the coach of the United States women’s team. Instead, you just want to see interesting soccer sites. Googling “interesting soccer” or “great soccer stuff” is not likely to be satisfying.

A Web service called StumbleUpon has spent the last six years trying to satisfy such a need, perfecting a formula to help you discover content you are likely to find interesting. You tell the service about your professional interests or your hobbies, and it serves up sites to match them. As you “stumble” from site to site, you will feel as if you are channel-surfing the Internet, or rather, a corner of the Internet that is most relevant to you.

The article describes discovery search as “niche activity” but pointed out that StumbleUpon has grown from 600,000 registered users to 3.5 million in the past two years, suggesting that the concept is beginning to take off.

Facebook and ‘Open Source Politics’

5 10 2007

Facebook continues to grow as a mini-web inside the World Wide Web, except that it is clean, easy to use, and free of the excesses associated with Internet anonymity. It is a great platform for marketing events and services on a local level and connecting with like-minded people across the world.

And with about 30 million members and growing, it is perfectly positioned for political activism. According to Wired magazine, activists looking to organize dozens of simultaneous rallies for the people of Myanmar turned to Facebook to spread the news.

Amateur activists and big-league political nonprofit groups find Facebook an easy way to connect citizens around the globe and help them push their collective concerns to the top of politicians’ agendas, a development that marks the beginnings of what might be called “open-source politics.”

“We’re working very closely with the people from Facebook,” says Mark Farmaner, Burma Campaign UK’s acting director. “They’re able to do things that we can’t because we’re a small organization with a small capacity — they’ve been able to mobilize people, and there’s been a division of labor.”

Open source politics, or politics 2.0, helped energize Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and spawned the “netroots” in the blogosphere and on social networking sites. Despite these successes, however, the concept has remained on the fringes of the political word, embraced primarily as an “alternative” approach to activisism partially because of a generation gap in relating to technology and partially because it has appealed mainly to progressive activists. 

But with Facebook’s rocket trajectory sweeping through virtually every segment of the population, the very concept of “mainstream” is evolving before our very eyes.  And organizing political rallies is just the beginning of Facebook activism. The New York Times reported recently on a Facebook-based direct action that saved a popular candy bar from being discontinued.

Users of Facebook, the social networking service, make up for any shortcomings in spelling, grammar and punctuation with their sheer numbers. After nearly 14,000 people joined “bring back Wispa” groups on Facebook, the food conglomerate Cadbury Schweppes announced on Aug. 17 that it would reintroduce the candy bar in October.

Keeping a candy bar in production may not sound like much but it illustrates that nearly anything can be achieved by organizing on Facebook, from the trivial to the crucially important. Indeed, a few weeks later the Times had another story of Facebook activism, this time involving an effort to ban a group accused of hate speech against Muslims. Within days, some 75,000 people joined the effort to block the group.

And that’s what I call open source politics.

Taking the Elevator Pitch to the…Elevator

3 10 2007

Everyone attempting to secure funding for an idea knows about the “elevator pitch” – what you would say to a potential funder if you found yourself alone in an elevator with him.

Well, Wake Forest University’s Business School has taken the concept to the next level. For the second year in a row, the university is sponsoring The Elevator competition, which gives MBA students a chance to pitch their ideas to a venture capitalist inside an elevator while traveling 27 floors.

Filmmaker Jeff Giordano documented last year’s competition in a short film called “27 Stories.” Watch a two-minute preview of the film:  

Who Are the Influentials?

25 02 2007

A word of mouth campaign is the most most basic and effective way to spread information. People believe their friends’ suggestions about products or services, particularly when the advice is based on personal experience. But even if the advice comes from someone outside our social circle, there is still something seductive about information passed on without ulterior motives. 

The same is true about the spread of ideas. When people talk about something they heard about or read somewhere, their interest in the idea is communicated along with the idea itself. That package makes the idea much stickier – and much more likely to be passed along to other groups of friends. 

The key, then, to spreading any brand or concept lies in finding ways for people to talk about it to their friends.  But not everyone is equally likely to spread the news. Some people – the influentials – are far more likely to form strong opinions and pass them along to anyone who will listen. Those people, according to Louise Rijk, co-founder and Vice-President of Marketing and Sales at Advanced Media Productions, are the 10% who influence the choices of the other 90%.

“They are sitting at the top of the WOMM pyramid and possess usually three main characteristics: larger social networks than the average person, persuasive power and the drive to disseminate product or service information within their expertise,” she wrote. 

Of those three characteristics, the third may be the most important. Today’s influentials are people who are likely to comment on a blog or forward something they like to their e-mail list. They do not have to be persuasive; they simply need to want to push ideas forward. Anyone looking to spread ideas needs to identify the influentials in their field. But that shouldn’t be too hard. Influentials don’t tend to be the types who work behind the scenes.

The important thing is to keep an eye out for them and then supply with sticky ideas they’ll want to spread.

Writing Persuasive Copy

3 02 2007

Brian Clark, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Copyblogger, offers his Five Immutable Laws of Persuasive Blogging. Since blogs are marketing vehicles, these laws make them more effective.

It might be a stretch to call them “immutable,” but each law would certainly help push the message along. I want to take a deeper look at #2 (Law of Headlines and Hooks) and #5 (Law of the Story).

#2) It’s hard to understate the importance of headlines in communicating a message.  According to advertising guru David Oglivy, “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.  It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.”

With so much riding on headlines, it may be tempting to load ’em up with as much information as possible. But according to Return Path Solutions, a short headline is far, far more likely to be clicked-through than a long one. In fact, the Return Path research shows that “click-through rates for subject lines with 49 or fewer characters were 75 percent higher than for those with 50 or more.”   

Forty-nine characters is enough to communicate a clear message. The key point here is to keep the headline crisp and clear. It reads better and it even says more than a headline with extra words.  

#5)  There it is again. Stories get through when other types of messages get stopped at the door. Brian Clark says it’s because “they allow you to present a problem, the solution, and the results, all while the connotation of the story allows readers to sell themselves on what you have to offer.”  

Stories also illustrate Malcolm Gladwell main thesis in the The Tipping Point. Gladwell set out three ways epidemics spread: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Stories have a bit of all three, letting you create the context that’s right for your message, make it deeper and more interesting (and therefore more sticky), and reach the types of people who like to pass along good stories.