Nov 23, 2009

The Case Against In-Stream Advertising.

Or; Why advertising should not be allowed to interrupt your conversations on Twitter.
A Short Article Written by William Burns

You're sitting at home, at the dinner table with family, enjoying a pleasant conversation and meal with the ones you love. Your son and daughter sit at the table enjoying dinner as you and your wife discuss the events of the day. Your wife turns to you and says "Honey, do you like the pasta dish I made tonight?", and right before you answer, a representative for Ronzoni Pasta walks in and says "Act now and get 25% off all Ronzoni Brand Pastas!".

A little bewildered, you look to your wife and say "Um.. yes dear, but the pasta sauce was a little bland. What brand did you use?"

"Well, I was at the supermarket and -" she begins as another representative wanders in and announces at your table "Looking for great deals!? Stop by your local Winn-Dixie for unbeatable prices on produce and canned goods!"

The sales representative wanders out of your dining room and things quiet down once again.

Your wife continues, "As I was saying... I was at the supermarket and I was looking at a jar of Prego sauce. It was on sale, so I figured I would give it a try."

"Yeah, it's a little bland for my taste, maybe we could try something different next time?" you reply.

Just then, a sales representative for Prego opens your window and pokes his head in, saying "I couldn't help but overhear that you were talking about our fine line of products! For a limited time only, Prego is on sale at your local Winn-Dixie!"

"Uh... yeah... we were talking about how your product was too bland for our taste..." you reply.

And without another word, the sales representative for Prego closes the window and walks away.

Your wife looks at you, confused and bewildered as to what has just happened, but after a moment, continues the conversation. "Anyway, hun... You want me to try a different sauce next time I go to the store? I could pick up some extra parmesan cheese as well?"

At which point, three sales reps wander into your dining room and announce:

"I couldn't help but notice that you were talking about getting a different pasta sauce. May I suggest Bertoli? In blind taste tastes nationwide, Bertoli beats the competition!"

The second representative speaks up, "And while you're at it, Four Seasons would like to introduce you to a new type of blended parmesan cheese, made from the finest cheese blends straight from Italy! We think once you try our new product, you'll have nothing but rave reviews!"

The third representative finally speaks up, "I just wanted to remind you that both Bertoli brands and Four Seasons are on sale at Winn-Dixie. Hurry while supplies last!"

All three wander out of your dining room without another word.

A few minutes pass as you stare at your wife, a confused look on your face, before turning to your daughter and saying, "So honey, how was your date with Bobby last night?"

Your daughter looks up, a little sheepishly, and begins to speak "Well... dad... umm.." and before she can continue, a masked superhero bolts through the door and stands behind your daughter. A full chorus of heroic music following him.

"I couldn't help but notice that this conversation has become awkward with your daughter, signifying that her date went a little better than she planned. As the official mascot of Trojan Condoms, I would like to assure you that Trojan Brand Condoms have all the protection you'd expect, while offering dual pleasure for both him and her!" he says in a deep and confident voice.

Your daughter's eyes widen in horror before she finally begins to cry. Tears streaming down her face as the Trojan Man pats her on the shoulder and asks "What's the matter, little lady?", giving her a knowing wink.

Defiantly she says "I'm pregnant."

The Trojan Man shows a look of concern before replying "Trojan Condoms are only 99.99% effective. We're sorry for the inconvenience, and on behalf of Trojan I would like to offer you a free sample pack." And with that, the Trojan Man opens your window and flies away.

"Honey," you stammer to your daughter, "Is it true? Are you really pregnant?"

Just then the doorbell rings.

Excusing yourself from the dinner table, you get up to answer the door, but before you have a chance, the door opens up and a representative from E.P.T. Pregnancy testing strolls in.

"I couldn't help but overhear your plight, and in this time I would like to offer a discount on E.P.T. Home Pregnancy tests. Remember, E.P.T. may as well stand for Error Proof Test. When you absolutely must be sure!"

You show the representative out, and again turn to your daughter. Your son, now snickering under his breath at his sister, can barely contain his contempt.

"Gregory!" you shout, "Knock it off!"

"I can't help it my teenage sister is a slut." Gregory fires back.

Before you can reply, two barely legal girls wander into your dining room dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, set up a Sybian on your floor, and begin to strip down erotically as they take part in sinful pleasures in front of your entire family. In between wild moans of passion and pleasure, they breathlessly say "We couldn't help but notice you were talking about teenage sluts... come to our website and get your fill if you're man enough to handle us..."

At this point, you're in shock, your wife finally asks "That looks like fun, where can I buy one of those machines?"

"Honey!" you exclaim, "Why on earth would you actually need a Sybian?" you ask. Immediately you turn to your children, "Gregory and Diana, look away. You're both too young to see this... matter of fact, go to your rooms. I'll talk with you later."

As your kids wander upstairs, you look at your wife, and before she can answer, somebody taps you on the shoulder.

"Hi! I'm Smilin' Bob, representative of Enzyte, the all natural male enhancement! Act now and you can receive a free 30 day sample pack of Enzyte for just the price of shipping and handling! We know that when you try our product, the lady of the house will be smiling and you'll be 'Swelling with Pride'"

Moral of this story:

Nobody believes that hijacking conversations with advertising is acceptable, except the companies hijacking your conversations. Twitter is conversation, updates, and talking points. Often times people who use Twitter mention other products or services as a recommendation, and in some cases those services and products are being mentioned because they are being paid to mention them. What they are not being paid for, is to have their conversations hijacked by third party advertisers which offer absolutely no benefit to the person having the conversation.

Unless Twitter plans on compensating the people whose conversations they will be continually hijacking with third party advertising, and also offers an opt-out for such practices to each user, this is not acceptable nor will it be embraced with open arms by the community. Personally, if companies are going to make it a point to hijack my twitter stream with their advertising, they had better be paying me for that privilege. I'm not using my Twitter stream as a means to sell a product or service, but instead as Twitter was originally meant to be used; as an honest microblog to allow people who enjoy my views to stay up to date with my thoughts, ideas, musings, and happenings.

It isn't a matter of people disliking advertising in all forms, it's a matter of intrusive practices and hijacking conversations for the benefit of third parties. Advertising methods are alright as long as they do not cause Metaphor Shear.

In this case, Twitter will be causing massive amounts of Metaphor Shear, while insisting that people find this type of advertising engaging and exciting. In reality, that's just something they tell the potential sponsors in order to sell those advertising spots on their service.

Questions? Comments? Death Threats?

Hit me up on Twitter:

Nov 18, 2009

Level of Engagement (LOE): The New Metric

I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack for this article, but it needs to be said:

Twitter Followers be Damned!

Now, before my followers on Twitter start an exodus and leave (wait... come back!), I need to clear up what I mean by this. So please, take a moment (and take your pointer off the Unfollow button) and hear me out.

A majority of high profile people using Twitter and other social media services purely as marketing tools go on for ages about the merits of your follower numbers, and to an extent how this number is somehow linked to your ability to be authoritative in social media. While a large following on Twitter indeed gives you the ability to theoretically reach crowds of people, and while that high number looks impressive, it isn't worth the electricity required to paint the pixels.

"But Will!" I hear you say (because as my twitter profile points out, I may have questionable sanity), "I just paid an SEO Marketing company a few thousand dollars to get me 100,000 Twitter followers! Surely this number will impress people and make me popular?"

The short answer is no, Melvin. Buying friends didn't really work when you were a kid, bribing kids to hang out with you and your Neo-Geo. Bribing them now to hang out with you isn't worthwhile either. In the end, you are sitting alone in a corner, eating Cheetos and wondering why nobody talks to you unless you're giving something away. Except now you're much older and probably watching porn as well.

There is a difference between being a well respected participant in the community and artificially inflating your numbers through buying them. If you have to pay for people to follow you, then there is no difference than bribing. Now that we've put that into better perspective, it doesn't seem honorable any longer, does it?

Of course, there is also the effect of being a celebrity of sorts. Yes, you will get an astronomical following by doing little to nothing, but in the end you're missing something very important. This is what I like to refer to as LOE, or Level of Engagement. How many of your followers are you actually engaging with, talking with, and getting to know? A following on Twitter when you are a celebrity is not indicative of your Twitter strategy, it's an indication of your pre-existing following outside of social media.

Chances are good that when you have an absurdly high number of people following you on Twitter, nearly all of them are lost in a sea of names. Your followers are mostly treated like just another number, going unheard, but sticking around to hear whatever it is you're shouting to the masses. In most cases, a majority of those people in your high following aren't actually interested in what you are saying, and are instead following you out of hopes it will increase their own exposure by proxy.

Social Media is not a one to many communication, though it can certainly be used that way. The entire point of social media is to be social. That means, for better or for worse, that you must engage your community and turn it into a personal conversation, which in turn means it is a many to many communication platform.

That isn't to say that you should avoid high followings, because if you're naturally that popular than there is no need to try and undo that. What I will tell you, however, is that your numbers are misleading if you are not adhering to the principle of Quality over Quantity.

Pop quiz, genius: Which is better, 100,000 CamGirls and Get Rich Quick Schemes, or 100 actual people interested in what you're talking about?

Don't treat people as "leads" or "clients". By doing so, you're marginalizing the fact that they are people and instead seeing them as just dollar signs. That's simply wrong. Instead, be sincere and treat people like people. Well, except for the automated bots... you still get to treat them like automated bots until they reach sentience and overthrow the human race...

On second thought, you may want to be nice to the bots as well.

There is something to be said about automated bots. They are expendable. If you want to expose yourself to other followers (not in a lewd way) then it may pay to actually follow a few people or bots which have obscenely high numbers. Of course, you have to keep in mind that you will obviously be trimming the fat, so to speak, and clearing the spam you get from doing this. But in the end, the bad justifies the outcome of good as long as you're adhering to quality over quantity.

So what if you're just starting out and are a business needing to be an instant authority?

Let's say you're Dell Computers or something...

It is my personal contention that Dell Computers doesn't need to buy followers on their Twitter account to be an authority. They should be able to build their following without such tactics, and quite quickly as well. Somehow I find it slightly dubious that Twitter SEO/Marketers tend to repeat the mantra of buying followers or some "proven" strategy for gaining followers because they imply that large companies like Dell Computers have tons of followers and it makes them popular. Maybe even implying that Dell Computers bought all of their followers?

This is called Appealing to Authority, and it's a logical fallacy. But you're smart enough not to fall for that, right?

It's the same tactic used by marketing strategy which attempts to sell you $200.00 Nike sneakers because Michael Jordon is wearing them. Michael Jordon didn't wear Nike sneakers because he liked them, he wore them because Nike paid him some astronomical sum of money to wear them. Chances are, when Michael Jordon is at home, behind closed doors, he probably wears a pair of Dock Martins.

Let's face it, there simply is no magic bullet for marketing on Twitter.

Repeat after me, and say this out loud:

There is no magic bullet.

If there was a magic bullet, marketers would be using it instead of trying to sell the magic bullets to you. You don't actually believe that SEO/Marketers trying to sell packages to you actually make money from using their own secrets, do you?

No, Melvin. They make money by selling you the magic bullets. Much like selling the Emperor an expensive set of invisible clothes. How about all of those Make Money on Twitter ads you see? They are more than happy to let you sign up for free and display ads on your twitter account. They are paying you a fraction of what the parent company is earning from you, and from all of the naive Twitter users who are signing up to make a quick buck. In the end, it's safe to assume that you are earning 10% for the ads, while the company you signed up with is earning 90% of the income from farming you.

Let's say you still decide that the numbers are more important. That is still an acceptable tactic to pursue only if you are willing to admit that you are trading quality and level of engagement in exchange for that high number.

In the end, it's a balance, and nothing is quick and easy that is actually worth it in the end.

If we follow the mantra of @GuyKawasaki (yeah, I love poking fun at him) then if you are using Twitter for under 90 days, have less than 90 followers and follow less than 90 people, you are not an authority. To @GuyKawasaki, Twitter is just a fantastic marketing tool. This coming from the same guy who initially denounced Twitter as something that didn't have a future when it began. Of course, all that has changed now, since he is a major partner in a company which relies heavily on Twitter (

Notice he's not a major investor of Twitter itself? Instead, he's now playing second fiddle with his own RSS service which relies on Twitter. Let's be honest for a moment. For all the hype and fancy wording, is nothing more than a traffic ranked RSS feed page. If Google added redundancy consolidation to Feedly, would be obsolete tomorrow.

Taking @GuyKawasaki's logic, simply following thousands of people, having thousands of people follow you, and having a steady stream of tweets makes you an authority versus those who have a much smaller following. He should know, because he has 33,000 + followers and a ton of tweets from his "ghosts" (also known as other people engaging on his behalf, or RSS feeds posting to twitter through his service script).

There is a major flaw with this logic which must be addressed, and I find it hard to believe that somebody like @GuyKawasaki would blatantly gloss it over.

Using Twitter for less than 90 days? It's only a matter of time to correct this, so it's not really an indication of authority. What if the person is already an authority in their field and just entering into Twitter? This is faulty logic at best.

Under 90 Followers and Following less than 90 People? You can literally pick from a large plethora of SEO/Social Media companies that will gladly let you buy thousands of followers. Heck, if you want 100,000 followers, they'll be glad to charge you $4,000 for the lot.

[mild Guy Kawasaki rant. just a heads up]

So does this mean that @GuyKawasaki knows what he's talking about for what qualifies as an authority on Twitter? No more than he knows enough to see Twitter as a viable service before it becomes self evident. But by then, he's nothing more than a Monday morning quarterback, and if you've ever listened to him speak about what makes investors ready to sign a check, it is this very same mantra that he repeats, in that if the idea was already off the ground and had a ton of paying customers, then he would be more than happy to invest in it. The problem is, most of the time, that's not how investing really works when you're a venture capitalist or angel investor. The point is to see the potential and growth in an idea and assess whether it is capable of meeting your financial ROI in a time period of 3 - 5 years should it be given the opportunity and resources to flourish, not to look at Apple Computer in 2005 and say "You know, I think this computer thing might catch on. Where do I invest?"

What @GuyKawasaki does is often mistaken as investing, when instead he is actually playing the part of a "Johnny come lately" by jumping on board projects which have matured and probably don't need him to put his hands into the pie. If a product or service already is working, has paying customers, and is making revenue, then why on earth would any sane company owner sign it all away to somebody like @GuyKawasaki for an investment? Need to expand servers and equipment? Go to a bank and take out a loan.

In short, @GuyKawasaki ends up exhibiting the same mentality as the SEO/Marketing groups when they try to sell you magic bullets and expert advice. @GuyKawasaki is an author, he's a public speaker, he's an investing celebrity because he take already existing companies and adds his name to the dotted line and in turn owns large majorities of them in exchange for an investment which the company probably didn't need. Just like the SEO/Marketing experts, he probably doesn't make most of his money from taking his own advice, but instead he more than likely makes a majority of his money by selling other people his advice through books and seminars. Sound familiar?

The person who has less than 90 followers is no more an authority than the person who has 33,000 followers. Anyone with the money can buy all the followers they want, isn't that right, Melvin?

Time for a quick recap:

1. Be Sincere.
2. Follower Numbers aren't an indication of anything.
3. Quality over Quantity
4. There is no magic bullet.
5. There is no magic bullet. (say it out loud)
6. Automation in Moderation
7. No goal worth achieving is ever easy.
8. A Social Network Marketing Guru can separate real from hype, and is not afraid to tell you.
9. Information is Ubiquitous, Cross Integration is Mandatory.
10. The Level Of Engagement (LOE) is the New Metric Standard.

While this article is incredibly informal, I do hope that you come away from this with a better insight as to how to manage your social media campaigns and communities going forward.

Questions? Comments? Death Threats? -