Socially Awkward


(WOW. Sorry this post took so long! I started it on Thursday, went out-of-town sans laptop Friday, and the rest is history…)

More Dinosaur Comics @ quantz.com!

I waited… a solid 24 hours I waited. 24 hours of me whining and tweeting and status updating to the interwebs about how Google was taking too long to give me Buzz, about how they didn’t love me like I thought they did… 24 hours of begging and pleading, the last 4 of which I spent watching angrily from the window of my RSS feed as friends who I knew didn’t RSS added me, indicating that they had the Buzz that I didn’t. I impatiently hit refresh over and over and over again to no avail. And then, around noon on Thursday, the magical Buzz window suddenly refreshed, spun around and welcomed me into my Gmail. Just like that, it was there! It was finally there!!! Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last for too long…

You see, Google Buzz didn’t just grant me access like the applications before, inviting me to come inside and check out their new digs. There was little getting to know you, little personal space, little of the “come! explore! dream!” experience that I was used to with Google. No, instead, Buzz stormed into my Gmail like a drunken adopted “uncle” mid-way through Thanksgiving dinner, cursing and wearing sweatpants and drinking cheap booze out of a paper bag, randomly calling exes and lovers and one night stands out of the blue and not only letting them all know that I did not in fact move to an inaccessible corner of Madagascar to help save a rare species of lemur like I said I did, but was alive well and closer than they ever thought… and apparently wanted to be friends with them again. (Trying to have a conversation with this “uncle” is like talking to the school nurse about why you need to call your mom to bring you new pants because you peed the ones you were wearing jumping too high off the swing on the playground, only when you finally get to make the call you pick up the school intercom instead of the telephone because both handsets look EXACTLY THE SAME AND HOW WERE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT YOU WERE BROADCASTING TO THE ENTIRE SCHOOL WORLD AND NOT JUST ONE PERSON? It’s not like you were given a manual.)

I’m not saying I hate Buzz; if I did, I would’ve turned it off by now. (At least, I think I would’ve… I’m not so sure these days. Part of me thinks that I may be too addicted to social media overstimulation to quit any of it, and I’m not sure what will explode first: the internet, my head, or the computer. The other part of me just doesn’t want to miss a potential train wreck.) I think what I’m trying to say is that Buzz… isn’t exactly what I expected it to be.

For the sake of research I’m leaving it on and active for now, but from what I can tell, hardly anyone else is taking the bait here either. After being out of office for the last 3 days, I was behind maybe 300 newsfeed posts on Facebook. Missed Buzz updates? 4, and they were all in the same message thread.

Meanwhile, across the tubes… Google Maps most recent updates are looking promising, and there’s definitely room for more Buzz integration there; I could see this potentially causing a user to need Buzz in the long run, rather than simply having it sitting there creepily watching your every move. (Shudder.) Filing this one under To Be Continued…

Advertisements

So I’ve decided to save part II of Showdown in the O.S. Corral until I actually get my hands on Buzz and manipulate it a bit over the next day or two. Apparently Google doesn’t think I’m important enough as an online journalist to give an early copy to. Pssh. Tsch. Pfft.

In the meantime, allow me to wax poetic (and I promise, this isn’t another 3am posting with random ramblings and old west references that simply serve as a teaser to nowhere. Not that the last post was! That teaser went to here:  See? Not pointless. Very important to this post in fact. Segue!)

Back in the 90s, everyone I knew had their own self-created pages on Angel Fire. They’d spend hours writing HTML, formatting their personalized pages with backslashes, parenthesis, and less than signs. Because I always wanted to be a part of whatever was going on (and was a closeted tech dork at that point, as being a teenager was awkward enough) I quietly hit up our little town’s IT guy for help. He in turn smiled, gave me a stack of programming “For Dummies” books, and sent me on my merry way.

Two or three weeks later, I had fumbled my way through my first adventure in coding (on dial-up no less; talk about page preview time! And with un-tabbed browsers! The horror!!!) and I eagerly showed my wonky masterpiece to everyone and anyone within a computer’s distance, dork title be damned. It was, in its full glory, a static scroll down homage to my favorite 1980s cartoons, basically an acid trip of a background covered with glittery Smurfs and My Little Ponies and He-Man Warriors and Transformers. And I was so proud. I was even prouder when the “Children of the 80s” web ring accepted my application to be a part of their database, as I had spent many hours marveling at their perfectly centered and slowly animated GIFs, built-in trivia pages, and multi-page fan sites that made mine look like your average 6 year old’s arts and crafts project. (Not that any of that stopped me from constantly attempting to add more content and links, but I digress.)

These days, if a teenager wants a webpage, all they have to do is register on a blogging site, find a template they like, and upload the content they want to include. Sure they can spend hours customizing every inch of it, but why bother? Gone are the days of frustratedly DIYing your online world; I’d even wager to bet that you’d be hard pressed to find a teenage (or even tweenage) kid who doesn’t have a personalized online presence in some capacity. Thanks to the likes of Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, Flickr, and Friend Feed, anyone from ages 8 to 80 can figure out how to use as little or as much of the online world to their advantage. (Seriously though! I have an eighty-something year old great-aunt on Facebook. She is a Farmville junky.)

But with all the social networking applications currently available, do we really need another one to keep track of? As much as I’d like to say no, that hasn’t stopped me from hitting refresh on my Gmail since 11am this morning in hopes that Buzz will magically pop-up for me to play with. Meanwhile, the internet is buzzing (pun intended) already: will Buzz destroy Facebook? Will it invade our privacy even further? From Microsoft’s official statement to the original buzzers at Yahoo being buzz kills (ok I’ll stop now), there is no dearth of opinions on this new “social networking” tool that hardly anyone has actually gotten to try out yet. (Warning: If you haven’t at least watched the video above, you might want to because I plan on referencing some of the features from here on out!)

From what I can tell so far, Buzz’s biggest asset is that it may help Google revive (the pretty much defunct) Friend Feed, while bridging the gap to Google Wave (which many Google users have but hardly any use, myself included.) But why have a social network built into your Gmail? The most interesting thing about Google is the fact that they encourage their user to customize the G-applications to their advantage. Not that this has ever worked particularly well in the social sphere. (I’m looking at you, MySpace.) And not that I want to have to think about customizations… but if you can look past all of this, there is a far bigger picture to be had here than just the potential Gmail information overload functions.

In my opinion, the mobile app’s presentation for Buzz was far better than the web app’s. (This I can actually see getting some real use out of!) By utilizing multiple Google products your buzzes are essentially geotagged; what’s more, you are given  the option to get “buzzes” from all around you based on your location, letting you know what other people have recommended as far as what to do, where to go, etc. It’s huge news for businesses looking to further promote themselves, and yet another door left wide open for further programming developments that will connect our real and virtual worlds even more so.

Still, the question remains: do you really want to deal with another social networking site? Google has thought of this: If you’re a Gmail user, Buzz is already there. (Or at least, it will be in the next few days.) It’s supposedly ready to use without much tweaking. It’s supposedly as intuitive and simple as the email you already use. It’s supposedly as connected to all the other (Google-based) applications you already use on the web. So instead of expounding on the reasons why you shouldn’t (more time-wasting and inbox pile-up), I’m going to give you the reasons why I will anyway, as well as why I think Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

First, we have to stop thinking of Buzz as Google’s attempt at a “social networking site” and start thinking of it as a potentially handy application for wrangling our existing online presences. How amazing would it be to see what you look like, across the board, on every site you are registered with? What would be so bad about the simplicity of having one singular location from which you could evaluate your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Photobucket, even iLife all at once, and then click through to make adjustments or share via a master IM to people who you may not be as connected with elsewhere? Much like the 80s web ring of yesterday, many of us are continuously building a web ring styled presence online without even realizing it. Why not add another link to that ring? Or better yet, why not have a hub to wrangle the other links from? While I like to update my statuses on varying sites to different effects, I wouldn’t mind having one that kept me in the loop with all of the above. This doesn’t mean that I’m leaving Facebook for it- I love Facebook and it loves me and it’s good at what it does. And it doesn’t mean I’m leaving Twitter either- it’s an entirely different circle of friends and I like the variation between them and the people I know on Facebook. So II guess I’ll just have to wait and see with Buzz- if Google continues to do what they do best, which is aggregating content and providing more targeted search results, and if they can give this to me simply and effectively, then I’ll be buzzing along with the rest, seeing it as the completion to my “webring” of online pages. (Dear Google: Please add FB Connect! We’d be set!) But if they simply try to “be another Facebook”, I may have to reject their cracked out invasive Friend Feed until another day…

(Oh yeah, I went there. Because a showdown in the wild west 2.0 would definitely be Trekkies vs. the Tombstone gang in their Sunday’s best.)

Tomorrow, there may be a new cowboy in social media town… or at least that’s what the hushed tones from the far corners of the internet’s peanut gallery have been gossiping about for the last 48 hours. Tomorrow, Google is going to ride in on his painted pony with his sidekick Gmail, guns a blazing, in hopes of chasing Facebook the Kid out-of social town. You see buckaroos, Facebook has run this town for quite some time, and Google has let him play with the regulation spurs and wear the shiny badge, but the old Sheriff never wanted to actually be replaced… and along the line, the Kid might have stepped on the Sheriff’s ostrich skin boots, and he doesn’t like it when people step on his boots. This town may only be big enough for one of them… will the Sheriff wake up tomorrow and dethrone the Kid at his own game? Or will the Kid prevail by doing what he knows best, leaving the Sheriff even further behind in his socially savvy dust?

(Seriously though, the Googs is making a big product innovation- aka “social status update feature for Gmail”- announcement tomorrow @ 10a.m. PST. You can catch the play-by-play on Mashable, or, you know, just bumble on over to your- oh the irony!- Facebook or Twitter homepage around lunchtime to see what your tech-savvy friends are saying. Or… come back here. Cause you know this little tumbleweed of a blogger never stops!)

Image via hitwise.com

A few days ago I suddenly realized that somewhere along the line, Facebook somehow became my go-to source for news. When the site’s redesign finally displayed in full-effect this week, I even wondered if that’s where they were intentionally headed to next- turning themselves into a one stop shop for all of my online needs. Today, a friend confirmed my suspicions: according to new data from Hitwise, Facebook is in fact the world’s largest aggregated news reader, above Google or anyone else. So how did this happen, and where do I think it’s headed next?

I’ve been trying to sell friends on the idea of using RSS for years, but not too many seem to grasp the concept or usefulness of a news reader (and those that do say they’d rather visit the webpages individually so they “don’t miss anything that could be interesting”.) It wasn’t until Facebook’s News Feed came along that I finally had a way of visually explaining exactly what a RSS does to people who didn’t know and were having trouble understanding. (“Oh, like Facebook! I got it.”) The fact of the matter is that Facebook is one of the only sites thus far that has consistently utilized and simplified old and new online technology (RSS, customizations, short-links, embedding) and then trained the average user to use these functions without the user even needing to know how they’re doing what they’re doing. As allfacebook.com‘s Nick O’Neill said recently, “The best technologies don’t need explanations of how they work, they just work.”

Though I’ve heard people say that Facebook is as much of a trend as Myspace, I’d like to be one of the first of many to argue that they’re wrong. For what was a small college project 6 years ago has quickly evolved into one of the most massive online powerhomes to date. Now, between their newest layout and murmurs of Project Titan, it has become very clear that Facebook does not plan on going anywhere anytime soon. And why should it?

The reality is, the more overwhelmed our world becomes with information, and the more accessible that information is, the more likely we are to seek news, products, and services from people we know and trust rather than “randomly searching” out in the ether. Facebook is unique in that it allows us to not only share the news and information that matters to us, but also have a personal discussion about these issues with friends and family a thousand or more miles away on a daily basis. It simultaneously gives us insight, good or bad, while filling that void for human socialization, providing the everyday interaction with other people that we so primally crave. No longer are we relegated to discuss an article on a comment board with people we don’t even know; instead, we can easily gain a wealth of opinions and ideas from the people we value the most in our lives, openly debating these subjects from the comfort of our living room couches.

So where am I going with all of this? For starters, this is huge news for content providers (as well as for advertisers.) While Facebook already dabbles in “targeted” advertising to some extent, if the ads that pop-up in my Facebook sidebar are any indication of what the website thinks of me, then I think they are being quite presumptuous. But with the addition of a more news reader friendly homepage, and the ability to add your favorite RSS feeds and blogs to your News Feed (thusly creating a personalized news channel), poorly targeted ads could be a thing of the past. Not only can Facebook now monetize Ad Views more successfully, but give the average user more useful ads as well. Each user’s demographics, interests, friend circles, and news preferences are at the site’s fingertips- they simply have to integrate a powerful meta data search function to capitalize on what is already there (the wheels of which I’m sure are already in motion behind the giant curtain.)

Despite these new advances that may help to pull the site out of the red, there’s still the looming question of whether or not Facebook will eventually charge for access once it becomes an invaluable if not necessary asset to our daily online usage. Even though I’m on-board for a low-cost per year model, given the transparency of the internet, why do such a thing? Instead, I propose that Facebook presents each user with an array of choice advertisers for them to opt-in and personally discuss on a monthly basis. By targeting the demographic that each advertiser wants their message to be received by, the site can still find revenue where it counts while simultaneously creating a user-generated open forum where all positive and negative comments can be heard, discussed, and reviewed by various companies to further meet their consumers’ needs. Many brands already have fan pages that are highly successful examples of this feedback model. I say take this a step further and create an integrated marketplace that thrives on it.

Initially, this model may not seem like it could provide the ROI that most advertisers claim to seek. But the proof is in the pudding here folks- how many advertisers can actually produce a detailed analysis of their ROI from the millions they spend on magazine or TV ads? Newspapers? (The only significant report to date that I can remember reading about advertisers being able to track the cost effectiveness of advertising was actually, believe it or not, through social marketing, and it was in reference to Dell Outlet’s Twitter feed, which now boasts over 600k followers.) Advertisers need to stop looking at their ROI in terms of dollars and brand awareness, and start looking at it in terms of customer loyalty and brand integrity, because that’s where the real money lies. The same brand awareness that they get on TV is now achievable (and more specifically targetable) online, but by focusing on constantly improving their products rather than their sales pitches, they will finally create a connection with the people who matter the most: their consumers.

(And isn’t that what this is all about?)

They’ve done it again- Twitter, my favorite SNS (Social Networking Site) to troll for randomness, has rolled out another feature that is quickly making its content a little, well, less random (and consequently might lead to a little more posting and a little less prowling from this bitty blogess.)

Cut the alliteration- what on earth am I talking about? And how the heck does it relate to the billion dollar question? Three words: Targeted. Trending. Topics. (Okay, I lied about cutting the alliteration bit there.)

Over the last few days, Twitter has announced the release of Local Trends, giving the average Tweeter the option of hash-tagging globally as well as in their own backyard. Now for some reason, Mr. Jack Dorsey’s minions don’t think I qualify to be part of that 1% that has access to this particular feature just yet- but if you’re dying to know what it looks like, Mashable has screenshots here of what we can expect in the next few weeks. (On a sidenote, apparently Mashable’s own Ben Parr has yet to receive access to this feature as well, so I honestly feel a little less rejected.)

Yeah yeah… so why do I care? Because unlike Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, or the ever-floundering Friendster (yes it still exists!), Twitter is fairly devoid of the capacity for intense personal connections on a first name basis. (Case in point, I have a group of friends that are food bloggers and hardcore Twitterazzi. I randomly followed them on Twitter one day, won a beer in a contest they were having, met them at a bar, and was introduced as my screenname- thank goodness I didn’t pick something more embarrassing, because what you are online is what they refer to each other as in person. For real.)

Not that these sorts of connections are a bad thing- on the contrary, it’s great for Tweeters looking to monetize their feeds and doubly great for advertisers looking to push their product on a select group of people with minimal effort and maximum impact. Twitter is simply icing the cake at this point, selectively aggregating content for a desired region, and adding more bang to a demographic-specific ad’s buck in the process. Don’t believe me? Check out this example:

Image Courtesy of TechCrunch

Image Courtesy of TechCrunch

Since I have gone to Coachella several times over the last few years, I can attest to this example both hypothetically and literally. So say you’re consulting for a company like Coleman, or Coppertone Sunscreen, or American Apparel. All three of these companies make products that festival-goers will undoubtedly purchase before they make their yearly trek into the desert for several days of scorching heat and amazing music. (At the time of this article, Coachella had just over 24,000 followers on Twitter, with that number growing daily and not including other Coachella-related Twitter feeds. They claim close to 50,000 fans on their official Facebook, and almost 61,000 on Myspace.) But are a potential 100,000 combined eyes and ears really worth it in this day and age?

Most advertisers look for eyeballs numbering in the millions, but I really feel that many of them are missing a huge opportunity here. What’s the point of flooding a space with ads that a million people will see but only 20,000 of which will buy your product in the long run, when you essentially have all of the tools to address your specifically targeted demographic of 100,000 willing consumers? We are basically knee-deep in Wild West 2.0, and advertisers will either continue loudly tramping along with business as usual (and face extinction,) or adapt and learn to breathe underwater before the big meteoroid hits. (Or something like that- I’m pretty sure I combined a few stories there.)

Yeah okay, maybe that example was a little extreme, but for advertiser’s losing more and more money every day, this is no laughing matter (otherwise, they’d be sitting at the Jonathan Club drinking 18 year scotch and playing Yahtzee, not scrambling to hire “social media experts” as many of the job postings are lately.)

The demographic with the purchasing power is constantly shifting and evolving, much of this being dependant on how their social networks shift and evolve. From people talking and sharing ideas in person to print and video to online, our everyday information overload capacity has expanded, and our intake and output of concepts has sped up dramatically. Entire generations are now growing up in a virtual reality; thanks to social media and aggregated content, people’s interests are changing faster than ever- and in order for these advertisers to maintain interest, they have to engage with the consumer and have a constant conversation on a regular basis. They have to see what the consumer is talking about, and talk about it with them. They have to respond to thoughts and ideas and articles and not just talk about themselves all day long. In short, advertisers need to learn how to talk WITH us instead of yelling AT us.

Going back to the Local Trends query example on Twitter, say Coleman noticed that Coachella was trending in California (although personally I’d recommend they do a search that includes the entire US since people come from all over for this festival, but this is a moot point since it is not particularly conducive to the example.) Prior to social networking, Coleman’s main advertising option would have been to go to the content producers (in this case, Goldenvoice) and strike up a promotional deal that would hit Goldenvoice consumers (and soon-to-be-campers in need of tents and gear.) They also had the option of grass-roots and guerilla marketing, but these methods are generally only able to target small groups on the street, on college campuses, or at the festivals as attendees enter or leave the gates (not really grabbing them during the prime equipment buying hours weeks before, wouldn’t you say?)

But what if Coleman decided to adapt, create their own Twitter profile, and become a part of this conversation instead? (which as of this post I couldn’t find one, although it looks like there may be a few squatters on similar user names.)  Interactive social marketing is easily the most underrated and inexpensive form of advertising online, and yet I am still regularly surprised how often major service and item providers use it incorrectly, overcomplicate it, or worse, turn to more expensive and outdated alternatives instead of getting their feet wet for their own futures. Why am I surprised? Because there is a formula that works, and it’s just about as easy as it sounds. (Warning: Alliteration Ahead.)

Seven Simple Steps to Social Sphere Survival

1. Create Twitter profile

2. Say HI WORLD! I’M HERE! I’M NOT A SPAMMER! I CARE ABOUT MY CUSTOMERS AND WANT THEIR FEEDBACK! (Maybe not in all caps though. That was only to convey excitement.)

3. Brace for feedback storm. You will get good and bad. AND you need to respond to as much as possible, with retweets (RT), @ tweets, link backs, etc.

4. Run contests. If I was going to Coachella and saw that Coleman was giving coupons to their Twitter followers or a tent away to whoever sent in the funniest camping picture, you can bet your last buck I’m going to follow them, send ridiculous pictures, RT whatever they ask me to, and I’ll do it, other people will too. This causes your “community” to grow quickly, exponentially, inexpensively, and gives you a direct line to your targeted audience. (Funny enough, these exact reasons are also why I follow Southwest and Jet Blue, two airlines who have the best Twitter deals and feeds. They have both created an online community solely based on their Twitter feeds, often saving me money when I fly and saving them even more money when they advertise. And yes, I do actually click their #topics to see other people’s funny picture contest entries and replies, bringing us to number 5…)

5. HASH TAG EVERYTHING. Getting your name out there? Don’t know what you want to talk about? The great thing about Twitter is you don’t have to start the conversation- thanks to trending topics, you can just as easily join in on one. (Ex. Coleman post: Are you guys ready for an amazing show? Tell us what camping gear you’re looking for! #Coachella.) Easy peasy. Especially since hash tags are now being run through more narrow search parameters than ever before. BUT!!!

6. Don’t tell people what they want- ask them what they want. Are your consumers looking for coupons? Free shipping? Special weekly deals? More cowbell? Once the conversation ball has started rolling, don’t be a butterfingers and drop it, and don’t fall back into your old ad-habits. Just talk with your audience. Give em’ a good Q&A session after the show. Really, we don’t (always) bite.

7. Lather rinse repeat.

And that’s enough on this topic for now. (Coming soon: what the social media sites are going to have to do to counter social marketing to still pay their rent without stepping on any toes…)