BlogWorld Expo: Observations The Day After

Well, I’m back from Vegas, thoroughly exhausted, but glad I went. I met some great folks I’d previously only “known” online, and some new people as well. I went to one great party and one really sucky one. I’ve already blogged the notes from some of the presentations I went to – I also went to others that were not as good, but decided not to blog those. And I finally got to experience Las Vegas.

I can’t say I learned anything completely new at BlogWorld Expo, but I did fill in a couple of knowledge gaps (thanks Avinash!) and also came away feeling much more confident about my knowledge base.

Blogging well is not rocket science, after all. You only need three things to blog: a willingness to commit the time to do it, basic writing skills, and something to say. Ideally, what you have to say is topical, focused, entertaining, insightful, and/or informative. And if you can combine all those with a flair for self-promotion, then you have a shot at running a successful, well-read blog.

(You might ask, if I know this, why isn’t my blog more successful? Easy. I lack focus.)

Although I think the show was generally a success, I think it suffered a little by trying to reach the biggest possible audience. With dedicated tracks for sports bloggers and political bloggers and military bloggers and “god bloggers” as well as a range of more general blogging topics, the show and the attendees were all over the place. If the goal was to pump attendance as much as possible in order to make the sponsors happy, then I can see why they’d choose that tactic, but if you’re going to do that, you need to build more into the conference program to help people connect with each other. Adding some “BOF” (birds of a feather) networking sessions, for example, would be a good start. Maybe a few “unconference” slots, or a demo pit for bloggers to show off their blogs. Heck, even an easy to find OPML file of attendees would help.

BlogWorld Expo’s show floor was a mixed bag. A few interesting startups – Cocomment in particular looks like something I should give a thorough test-drive (plus they had great swag) — but also a bunch of political / military booths, and a big pile of vendors who were all about either 1) adding content to your blog (widgets & feeds) and/or 2) monetizing your blog (mostly via ads). Since I was there with my “corporate” hat on, I wasn’t all that interested in either category.

One other thing that jumped out at me was how bad the marketing was at a significant percentage of booths. Now, trade show marketing isn’t easy. You have a limited amount of space and time in which to get your message across, in a space you don’t have a lot of control over, and generally without enough budget. Plus, odds are several of your competitors will also be there. Doing it well is a real challenge.

But still, this is not brain surgery here, and some companies really dropped the ball. For example, I saw several booths where the entire display had no clear statement what the product was. I suppose those companies though that if they used clever teasers they’d get more people talking to the booth staff, but I found it annoying. Another booth featured a poker table. Yeah, I get it, poker is a Vegas tie-in, very cute, but it seems to me the subtext you’re putting out is that doing business with your company is a gamble. Not the message I’d send.

And then there were the booths where a couple of different groups or companies were piled in together. It worked in the booth, where they loaned space to a couple of relevant non-profits, but when you’ve got companies that have no clear link to each other jammed into a booth with sloppy piles of completely unrelated brochures, you’re not fooling anybody. I am a big fan of the “if you’re going to do something, don’t half-ass it” school of thought. If you can’t afford a proper booth, find something you can do well within your marketing budget and do that instead.

(I didn’t intend to spend so much time writing about the show floor, actually, but there’s an outside chance I’ll be in a booth at Macworld, so I’ve spent some time recently thinking about the subject. I guess it’s rubbed off.)

This is getting very long, and I’m ready to call it a night. So I’ll wrap for now. I might add some more tomorrow, we’ll see.

One For The Books

BlogWorld Expo wound down about half an hour ago, capped off by an entertaining closing keynote by Mark Cuban. So far I’ve just been posting raw data dumps from some of the sessions; I’d like to do an overview post but first I need to let everything settle into place. Expect something over the weekend.

Right now, I need to unwind. Preferably with a nice steak.

Session Notes: Creating a Coherent Social Media Strategy

Here are my notes from the interesting and fun session Jeremiah Owyang & Chris Brogan gave on social media strategy today at BlogWorld Expo.

Topic today: social media and creating a coherent strategy.

What keeps you up at night? What do you want to know?

J: Definition of web strategy: long-term decision-making for your website that includes three areas: users & community / business objectives / technology.

B: People talk more about how to use services to push content. Few people ask “how do I listen?” You need to listen as well as make noise.

J: Here’s how you can listen.
-Use Google Alerts for yourself AND your competitors
-Use Technorati, Google Blogsearch (there are many others listed on J’s blog) Radian6 another new one to look at.
-Track regularly; weekly if not daily. You don’t want to find that your biggest customer flames you 2 weeks ago and you said nothing.

Once you’re listening, take a look at: Who is talking about you? Track them in a centralized way (spreadsheet or database, for example).

Start tracking early so you can create benchmarks. This helps you measure success.

B: Find the people with bullhorns and turn them into party hats. Example: Dell Ideastorm, Saturn cars at BlogHer. Customers spend time and attention on you; make that valuable for them.

J: Use tools to help energize your customers and empower conversations, but the tools themselves are not as important as your strategy.

B: What if you had 2 fairly similar USB flash drive companies, and one of them came with all sorts of cool stuff? You’re differentiating by extending products and making them more people connected.

B: The elephant in the room – what do you do if someone says something bad about you? If I wrote that Blogworld Expo is stupid, what should Chris Calvert do? First off, say thank you for the comment.

J: Let’s imagine there is a really big elephant in the room. Example: A video company that stole content. What they did – they took the well-deserved beating they got and said thank you.

Case Study: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign.

An integrated campaign theme across ALL mediums and regions. They embraced parodies. They also launched a campaign across school systems to educate young girls about beauty. Successful.

Case Study: Hitachi
Integrated system across a number of organizations within Hitachi, throughout the product cycly.
Hired a company to provide reports on initial state of the social market vis a vis Hitachi.
Took on thought leadership by launching a blog (CTO blogger). Integrated it into the rest of their marketing.
It took time!
Figured out how these could be sales tools:
1) “Living white paper”
2) Door opener for sales – they could send the CTO blogger’s posts as conversation openers
3) Ongoing training
4) Rapid Response tool
Notes: they did not force registration for comments and did not pre-moderate, only pulled spam and swearing.
Created a “User to User” support forum to build community.
It built community AND reduced support costs; win!

B: Veering off to talk about Zoomr & how their launch went so badly. They turned on uStream and live cameras, showed themselves working hard to try to fix the problems. It generated a ton of sympathy and turned the bad PR right around.

J: Back to Hitachi & showing the forums. It integrated podcasts, videos, even stuff from competitors. He took a camera and shot videos of people at work, uploaded it, it became very popular.

J: Strategy on the next level – he created an industry tool, the Data Storage Wiki. NOT Hitachi branded (but had J’s name and title on it). Linked to everything a customer could want to help them pick a vendor, from all media and across a number of competitors. It got a lot of positive press & reception.

B: In short: Be helpful! The more helpful you can be, the better it is for you in the long haul.

Some baby steps & takeaways:
-Understand the Elephant
-Bullhorns into Party Hats – make a party or join theirs
-Develop a Plan
-Be Holistic – these tools work in a lot of different ways. This is not just about marketing.
-Just Tools – it’s about the connections. Don’t get hung up on the technology.

First figure out where the party is before picking the appropriate tools to help you join the party.

For example, Facebook has more people [than Ning]. But can you engage them there? Do you need lots of people or do you need the right people?

Twitter. Also a good microblogging tool, kind of like a chat room. More of a personal tool than a professional one? Some thoughts about twitter etiquette – don’t just post links, also engage and communicate. Be careful of the SEO repercussions of Twitter.

How do you get people to care? You can’t force them. Best bet – find what they care about and help them get it.

What about small businesses? How does the corner store do this stuff? Example: Chris’ mom, a jewelry artist. She started with a blog & talking about why she started making jewelry. Now the blog is on her business card & she gets ~20 customers a day visiting it.

Running out of time……

Session Notes: Understanding Blog Analytics and Measuring Success

My notes from Avinash Kaushik’s awesome BlogWorld session: Understanding Blog Analytics and Measuring Success.

He introduces himself….

I was always a quant geek but I started a blog and it has changed my life. I write about analytics. Starting the blog was revolutionary for me because it introduced me to a new ecosystem. Giving back resonated with me, and a blog is a way to give back. Six months later, a publisher contacted me about writing a book – thanks to my blog. It’s incredible. 100% of the proceeds from my book go to my two favorite charities. $25,000 has been raised for them so far and that is all though the power of blogging.

Getting to the topic…..

You need a different mindset when analyzing blogs, they are a different animal.

In the old days – content was created, distributed & consumed in a very simple straight-line way, and even many websites follow this simple model. All of the information you need to analyze the traffic is in one place and it is very easy (even though many people still don’t do it, it’s easy to do).

In a blog world measuring success is harder.

Example: Amazon. When is a page “done”? The page is living, because people keep adding to it (reviews, ratings etc). Then bloggers post stuff on their own sites as well as on mason. Content creation becomes distributed.

Content consumption – RSS, aggregation, mashups – means people read content in a lot of different ways.

In short – An analytics tool (Google Analytics, etc) on your own website only gives you a slice of the picture, not the whole picture.

There are other tools out there to help measure some of this information. Here are some favorites:
Comment reporting: MeasureMap (closed to new customers currently, damnit)
RSS analysis: FeedBurner
Link analysis: Technorati
Event Logging: for figuring out if your content is being scraped. Unica.

It’s challenging! If anyone says it is easy then they are full of crap.

He will tell us how to measure some attributes but there is no easy solution right now. Someday we’ll have unified tools but we don’t have them yet. The good thing is, we’re the cool people because we are at the cutting edge.

Three areas to focus on; Clickstream, RSS, Citations. Also, TRENDS.

1) Raw Author Contribution.
Uses the Generalstats WordPress plug-in to measure core stats on the blog’s author. He does roughly 9 posts per month, 1600+ words per post. Looks for trends. “Success is not a god-given right.” Quantity is not a measure of quality.

Do you deserve to succeed? Not everyone does. 3x posts per day of crap is still crap.

2) Audience growth: Onsite.
Is anybody listening? Key stats: Visits and Unique Visitors. Look at trends: are the numbers growing? Audience builds over time (at least it should). Look at the number over time (every 4-6 months).

Being on Digg is overrated, because the traffic does not last.

3) Audience growth: Offsite.
People who read via feed readers are more valuable because they have committed to letting you push your content out to them. They really love you. I feel this number is more important for that reason. Again, watch the trends over time.

Next step: aggregating on and offsite readers

Unique Blog Readers = RSS readers + Unique Visitors.

At the end of the day, are you making a dent?

4) Conversation Rate
Blogs are the most social of social animals. He wants to have a conversation. So he measured the conversation rate.

Conversation Rate = # of visitor comments / # of posts

His initial goal was that every post should have an average of 3 comments. Currently he gets an average of 17. Again, the trend is increasing. Interesting this is that there’s more words in the comments than he has actually written for the blog.

Blog is a social environment. Your blog should not be a monologue. That’s why you measure the comments.

5) Citations
He likes Technorati as his reporting tool. “In my space I want to have influence.” Technorati measures the chatter that is going around your blog (number of links), # of unique blogs that have linked to you in the last 6 months (authority), and your dynamic ranking. “For now it’s the best we have.”

He focuses on Authority because it’s the key ranking for the measurement that matters most to him: unique blogs that cite his blog. It’s about expanding the conversation. (It’s also good for SEO).

6) Cost
Nothing in life is free. Including love and blogging. For a blog there are three cost areas: technology (hardware & software & hosting), time (your time has a value), opportunity cost (what else could you be doing with that time?). Compute all three. His net is over $220,000 a year.

7) Benefit (ROI)
Once you have a cost, what’s your benefit? Comparative value. Are you building an asset of value? Are there other direct benefits like getting a new job or a book contract from your blog? Also, advertising revenue.

Other benefits: “Social objects.” New marketing is about creating social objects that create conversation. “Non traditional value.”

“And of course I blog because I love it. It makes me happy, and that is an unquantifiable value.”

Ultimately, your blog’s benefits need to exceed the costs. Especially if you are a business blogger. If your goal is an online diary it might be different.

“If you have a business and not a blog you are committing a crime against humanity” (all laughed)

Last tip: Set some goals. They motivate you. And then once you meet your goals, set some new ones.

Avinash’s Top 3 Measurements
Feed Subscribers
Conversation Rate
Technorati Authority

That’s it!

Q&A Bits

Bounce rate – not really a good metric for blogs because most people will only read your home page and/or your most recent post. (His is 70%) Ditto time on site. They are great for regular websites but not so much for blogs.

Alexa – useless. Especially if your traffic is less than a million a month.

Only 5 to 7% of traffic surfs without cookies. Not really meaningful enough to impact on overall measurements.

World Bank buzz monitor tool – good.

UPDATE 11/19: Avinash has published his own notes on this session, including some of the graphics he used. Don’t miss it.

Session Notes: How Online Conversations Change Markets

My notes from Paul Gillin’s session at BlogWorld Expo.

One link from one blogger can drive more traffic than an email sent to 30,000 people.

Example: the Vincent Ferrari AOL cancellation video. In the old days this would have been an anecdote over dinner, but since he was a blogger, he posted it to YouTube, his blog and to Consumerist. It went viral and Ferrari went on Today, Nightline, and got a ton of coverage in the media.

Example: the Dell exploding laptop batteries. Less than 2 months from first photos published online to a 4,000,000+ battery recall.

Who are the New Influencers?

Examples – Google Blogscoped, AdRants, Fark, Craigslist(?), MommyCast
What makes these guys influencers? Quality content, unique voice. They tell stories and have passion for their subject. It’s about being specific.

[me: Craigslist isn’t a blog, though.]

New media model: immediacy. Getting new info up fast! It redefines a paradigm that had previously been set by the long lead times of print.

The nature of high-growth markets is a lot of churn. It makes it hard for marketers to place bets & know where to put their money. Last year it was MySpace, this year it’s Facebook. Next year, something else.

It’s traffic and it is very sticky.

“Newspapers aren’t dying, our readers are” [lol]

Change point: fast networks, cheap technology (both hardware & software). Allows new types of services to emerge. Also Google and how they figured out how to monetize sites of all sizes. Software is mostly free, means you don’t need to spend half a mil on Oracle when MySQL is free. Makes startups much cheaper.

Seth Godin = “Small is the new big.”

Smaller, focused sites with an engaged customer base are better than big sites. New media model is emerging –smaller markets, larger margins, low fixed costs, but no barrier to entry and lots of choices. Thus – very competitive and quality is the differentiator.

This compares to old media – big budgets, big markets, high barrier to entry, but also high margins.

New journalism – customers are also participants. Editors still necessary.

The new marketing – Influence points are proliferating. Harder to figure out your focus, because you probably don’t have the time to have conversations with them all.
Influencer’s motives are different from the MSM. You cannot control the message the way you used to.
Conversation is key.

Old tactics do not work anymore.

Example: Dell. “22 Confession”. BAD idea to turn it over to the legal department and to send a takedown notice. Just made things worse. The old threat tactics do not work.

The good news: the blogosphere is forgiving – IF you’re willing to step up and admit it when you’re in the wrong.

Joining the conversation:
This is the good news. You can get involved.
If you do get involved, you can have some real success in reaching your customers directly, without media filters.
Content and credibility are king.

Segmentation is not going away. Get used to it.
Leadership will emerge but will change over time.

Session Notes: PR Do’s and Don’ts

These are my session notes from the panel discussion “Pr Do’s and Don’ts” at BlogWorld Expo.

Moderator: “We’d like this to be a very open and sharing session.” But then went ahead and asked a long list of pre-set questions. She was more than a little underwhelming, actually.

Intro the panelists

Mike Prosceno from SAP
Jennifer Cisney from Kodak
Henry Copeland from Blogads
John Earnhardt from Cisco
Joe Beaularier from PRWeb
Brian Solis from FutureWorks

Q: “What’s the difference between how bloggers cover company news versus journalists?”

Solis – more personal opinion and feeling than fact.
Earnhardt – blogs are more like trade publications in technology than anything else these days.

Q: “Does every company need to reach out to the bloggers in their space? What are the benefits?”

All: yes.
SAP: Another route to converse with the market. You’re talking to a microcosm with the market, allows you to have a 360 degree conversation. Financial implications, product development, how you bring that product to market. It helps not just get your message across but also listening and taking that information back with you when you go to market.
Cisco – you can really take the temperature of what people are thinking in successful posts.
Kodak – shows that “yes, we get it, we are becoming a digital company”

Q: “What is different about what you plan for blogger outreach?”

PRWeb – Don’t do it assuming that they’re going to be at your beck and call. These are human beings who may or may not like your brand, may or may not be interested. Ask permission.
Cisco – really, no differences. Get a knowledge base on the bloggers, learn who to deal with, how to deal with them.
SAP – recognize that people who are good PR professionals before web 2.0 will be good professionals now. It’s about relationship building and that has not changed. There’s a difference between dealing with ZDNet blogs and community bloggers. Some are looking for news, other are looking for interaction.
Solis – not many good pr people have good skills. It’s about figuring out who you want to reach and why. A press release should not be in blogger relations at all. Get involved by commenting, reading, figuring out where you want to be, then reverse engineer. Come up with stories that will matter to them. Personalization. Know how people want to be reached.
Kodak – OUTREACH. Don’t try and pretend to be something you’re not, that’s spammy.

Q: “What about bloggers who say something negative? How should you respond?”

PRWeb – Directly. Link to the negative comments, respond to them. Get a conversation going, ask for detailed feedback.
Blogads – it’s good to have the right enemies sometimes.
SAP – excluding sheer maliciousness, it can help you come to some consensus. Your friends will come to your defense.

Q: “What is the worst thing a PR person can do when coming to a blogger?”

Solis: Not reading their blog & not knowing why you’re going to that blogger.

[repeat of some information from the AM session]

Q: “Has the blog you started changed over time?”

Cisco – yes.
Blogads – Read Cluetrain manifesto, it got me blogging.

[Lost the train of conversation for a sec, conversation migrated to codes of conduct.]

PRWeb: it’s nice to hear from individuals speaking about their expertise, in a natural voice.
SAP: talking about building their conversation community. CEO wants to meet with bloggers now. Engage online as well as offline; face to face still matters. Comment threads can be just as interesting as the post itself.

Q: “How does a blogger get on the company’s radar?”

SAP: just like we get to know the blogger community, bloggers should take the time to get to know the people at the company.
Blogads: be careful of backlash, bloggers do not like to feel used.
Cisco: separation of church and state (ads and content) matters.
SAP: difference between private blogs and commercial blogs. Advertising is more appropriate on commercial sites.

Opening to questions from the audience. Finally.

Q: “How do you learn to be successful in this new space?”

Solis: A lot of PR people haven’t been groomed this (web 2.0) way and have been failing in public because they don’t know what they are doing.
Cisco: Doing a lot of internal training to help people get it.
PRWeb: there is hope. I was stunned at the number of new media, social media sessions at the PR annual conference recently.

Jeremy Pepper (in the audience) – so many people don’t get it, and it’s even harder with segmented teams & overspecialization. What happened to the generalist?

Solis – in a way outreach is a new form of customer support.

SAP – True PR should belong to everyone in your company. It’s about how every employee talks about the company. Try to understand the issue or problem and solve it, not to push a message.

Q: “Do you worry about companies who are bad actors soiling the space? Will that make things harder for you when dealing with bloggers?”

SAP – people will do it, I’m sure.
PRWeb – there will always be bad actors, you can vet them out without too much trouble. It won’t tarnish the opportunity.
Blogads – slightly less optimistic – look at PayPerPost. The low road is being taken and seems to be doing well.

Q: “How do you use a blog to become a thought leader?”

PRWeb: David Meerman Scott does this well.
Solis: Depends on whether you really are a thought leader. Your opinions might suck. But seriously, you need to promote yourself as well as have good content. It’s a process.

UPDATE: Jeremy Pepper also blogged this session.