Anyone Coming to SOBCon08?

Sobcon08_logo189x60imtherebadge I am entirely tickled to announce that I’m going to Chicago to attend SOBCon at the beginning of May. (As a marketer, I have to say the name of this event causes me physical pain, but never mind.) I can’t wait to meet some virtual pals and make a whole lot of new friends.

The conference is being billed as "Biz School for Bloggers," and there are some heavy hitters coming. Brian Clark’s going to talk about online business models that work, Chris Garrett will be riffing on editorial ROI, and I’m especially excited to hear what Chris Brogan has to say about new media communities.

I’m even more excited to be meeting my blogging cohorts F2F. When I started out with all this social media stuff (we used to have modems that attached to our computers and made funny squawking sounds, my children. And we walked twelve miles in the snow, uphill in both directions, just to be able to log in . . .), there was a significant F2F component–the rowdy and invigorating WOPs (another bad acronym–WELL Office Parties) thrown by The WELL. Virtual community has never been just about pixels to me–I’ve always associated userids with quirky, difficult, lovable, annoying, messy and unpredictable human beings.

Plus, maybe I can convince Liz Strauss I should be on her "SOB list" (that’s successful and outstanding bloggers).

If you’ll be there, leave a comment and let us know! And if you’re a blogger and you’d like to become a better businessperson (or a businessperson who wants a stealth tactic to deeply, quickly "get it" about social media . . . ), think about registering. The conference fee is very fair as these things go (half what the Ragan PR organization will charge you for their social media conference), and the group promises to be first-rate.

What a Toddler Easter Egg Hunt Can Teach You About Success

By Sonia Simone

Success is like a basket of easter eggs

My little boy went to his first easter egg hunt last weekend. Racing around to pick up cheap plastic toys filled with gross candy is his idea of a wonderful time, and he enjoyed himself thoroughly.

As usual, I discovered myself painfully out of the mainstream. While everyone else’s parents were mainly there to make sure their kid got a whole bunch of easter eggs, my main goal was to encourage my kid not to steamroll anybody else’s kids.

He did fine on the easter egg front–he got four, which when you’re 2 1/2 is a great haul. But the whole event got me thinking about how people view success, especially material success.

A lot of us look at jobs, wealth, and material stuff as being like that easter egg hunt. There’s a finite number of eggs on the ground. We’re surrounded by a large group of amoral, voracious toddlers primed for action. When we get the signal to go, we race around snatching up as many eggs as possible. And we don’t take any time to notice who we elbow out of the way, because when they’re gone, they’re gone.

There is actually another way to play the game.

Make your own eggs
During my little boy’s nap, I hid some more eggs around the house. I found some nicer metal ones that he could play with for a long time. (He has long had a weird fascination with easter eggs.) I put better stuff in them, stuff that he was actually interested in.

(Off topic: What kind of idiot puts Laffy Taffy in eggs for a toddler hunt? Note to all you easter egg hunt planners out there: toddlers are not physically able to eat Laffy Taffy.)

When you’re freaking out because the good stuff seems scarce–and maybe even not very good–and your competition looks overwhelming, consider how you might be able to step out of the game.

Instead of applying for jobs, make up a job and pitch it. Instead of jockeying with competitors selling the same junk you do, and letting Wal*Mart annihilate all of you on price, come up with something entirely new to do.

Make something no one else knows how to make. Do something no one else knows how to do. Create interesting conversations around that. Develop relationships with customers who become raving fans and bring their friends in for more of what you do.

Laffy Taffy is highly overrated. Its only benefit is to keep your competition busy chewing on nonsense while you make something cool.

Step out of everyone else’s game and make one of your own. It’s a lot more fun, and the goodies are better as well.

Related reading: Nice Seth Godin riff on this idea from March 31

Flickr Creative Commons image by booleansplit

How to Become a Better Writer

There may be a few of you who don’t read Copyblogger–if so, you might enjoy a guest post I wrote for them about a simple (but not easy) three-step process to become a better writer.

It’s aimed chiefly at bloggers, but the technique will work for any kind of writing, from journalism to novels to ad copy.

3 Sure-Fire Steps for Beating the Boring Content Blues

Can Social Media Be Analyzed?

Is Social Media like Burning Man?

There are a lot of questions floating around about whether or not it’s possible to apply methodical analysis to business uses of social media, including buzzword-rich realms like content strategy, permission marketing, social media marketing, online community, virtual reality, PR 2.0, and whatever the hipster term of the week might be.

The diehard old school will tell you that conversation can’t be measured, that information wants to be free, and p.s. take poison and die.

(See Bill Hicks’ hilariously bitter and profane riff on advertising, Twittered by DoshDosh and not remotely safe for work unless your boss has a very good sense of humor.)

There is a traditional belief among social media oldsters (some of us have been doing this since the late 80s, god help us) that normal business ideas like ROI have nothing to do with the brave new world. It’s too weird, it’s too chaotic, and it changes too fast.

This view basically holds that online community is like a vast, 24/7/365 Burning Man, each participant vying with the next to be less predictable, less ordinary, and less interested in any conceivable commercial engagement.

Here’s my take
There is some truth to the oldster view. You can think of social media as a kind of hopped-up primal ooze, with various critters evolving out of it in no predictable order.

Trying to run predictive quantitative analysis on a MySpace or Facebook or Twitter campaign is a sucker bet. And a blog or content/community strategy isn’t like direct mail–the results aren’t linear. You can’t build a mathematical model and start plugging numbers in, unless your spreadsheet has a way to quantify "8th dimension," "monkeys" and "naked girls riding bicycles."

Taken as a whole, the social media world is not manageable or predictable. It’s a swirling ocean of chaos. The fashionable 5% of social media is in love with the weird, the disturbing, and the radically new.

Consider Boing Boing
Once you get the sensibility, it’s not hard at all to predict a Boing Boing story. But it’s impossible to manufacture a Boing Boing story (there is nothing on earth that shines brighter than faked weirdness). And it’s impossible to know how getting onto Boing Boing would affect your business.

Other than a brief but massive traffic spike, none of us knows what a Boing Boing hit would bring. "Make something Boing Boing likes" is a strategy for dopes, unless you’re doing it for the pure fun of doing it.

But, you know, there’s a lot of social media that is not Boing Boing. There are stay-at-home parents who blog about air freshener. (Really.) There are a whole bunch of normal people with day jobs who blog about their commute, or the jeans they like best, or who they’re thinking about voting for.

The great secret of social media is that most of its participants don’t have much desire to drop acid and wander the desert wearing only a feather boa.

Because social media is vast (and growing at a breathtaking pace) and populated by human beings, it’s inherently unpredictable. It’s a classic chaotic system. The weirdness of social media, on the other hand, has been overstated.

Sure, you can still find magnificent weirdness if you know where to look, (and some of us dig that) but you can also find rather nice, normal people who just want some good advice, some useful tools, and a place to hold a conversation. Possibly even about air freshener.

Additional reading:

  • Ranching Butterflies
  • Flickr Creative Commons image by MikeLove

    Are You a Wimp or a Warrior?

    little warriors The actor Vince Pastore, whose character name on The Sopranos has taken on an unfortunate irony, bowed out of this season’s Celebrity Apprentice because he didn’t like the pettiness, the ugliness and the relentless bickering.

    Trump was apparently rather nonplussed at this. "Every morning I wake up and go to war," he said with visible pride.

    Do you need to be a warrior to be successful? Is the world of business (and especially small business and entrepreneurship) really just an unending war, with victory possible only for the ruthless?

    Should the rest of us respectful, kind people who don’t think much of war just go home and hide?

    One of my favorite Buddhist stories describes a monk and a samurai who meet. The samurai draws his sword and demands that the monk step aside. "Don’t you know who I am?" growled the samurai. "I could strike off your head with this sword and never blink an eye."

    The monk smiled (in that maddeningly calm way monks have) and said, "Do you know who I am? You could strike off my head with your sword, and I’d never blink an eye."

    There are different kinds of strength

    There is a model, heavily promoted by certain marketing "gurus," that holds that there is only one possible kind of temperament that can support success. If you do not possess this temperament, you can subscribe to the gurus’ expensive product suites and they will beat it into you.

    You must be highly aggressive, pathologically stubborn, with an ego the size of Mount Rushmore and a complete intolerance for points of view that contradict your immense vision. Any other personality type is weak.

    The salesmen for this "business is war" model tend to use language like "sickening" or "disgusting" to describe people who operate differently than they do.

    Tell that to the millions of successful entrepreneurs, business owners and heads of nonprofits who don’t fit the Ego Warrior model and have no interest in deforming themselves to try.

    Of course you need to set boundaries and hold to them. Yes, you need some audacity. You can’t build what you don’t dare to dream. You will have times when you need to hold yourself and others to a high standard. You will need to show strength. You will need to be tough. That doesn’t mean you need to go to war.

    There are a lot of kinds of strength. Slaughtering your enemies and scorching the earth is just one possible path to success, and not necessarily a very effective one.

    Don’t let anyone tell you that your kind of strength is less worthy than another. The earth is a pretty big place. There are enough people on it to supply an abundance of customers who treasure what you have to offer.

    (Bonus: here’s another monk and samurai story.)

    Creative Commons Flickr image by mshades

    Some Good Free Resources for Online Marketing Newbies

    There is a scary amount of information out there about Internet marketing, and a lot of it is garbage. In fact, probably 95% of it is garbage, beating out even Sturgeon’s Law.

    But some of it is very worthwhile, so I thought I’d share the best links I’ve found over the past six months or so. The latest fad from successful (and rich) marketing gurus is to give away a ton of good free stuff to entice you into buying their (generally very expensive) paid stuff.

    Now I can’t tell you if any of these people is worth buying a product from. (Except Caroline Middlebrook, who strikes me as insanely honest.) But I’ve found solid, usable advice in each of these. None of the links below is an affiliate link, by the way, in case you were curious.

    Also, I haven’t found any of these folks to be too horrible about sending 20 emails a week, a practice I cannot stand. If they do go a little overboard with the email, you can always unsubscribe.

    • Frank Kern’s Mass Control blog. I think I received more frantic emails to sign up for this expensive (and now theoretically sold out, although something tells me we’ll get an opportunity to spend more money down the line) e-course than I get for Viagra, Canadian lottery winnings and philanthropic Nigerian millionaires combined. Not from Kern, but from the army of affiliates he lined up to promote this thing. However, I will say that the guy puts a hell of a free series together. There is a tremendous amount of useful stuff here. I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO BUY HIS PRODUCTS, which might be great and might be mediocre, I have no idea. But the free stuff is good.
    • Thirty Day Challenge. I’ll be honest–I think there is an awful lot more to creating an Internet-based business than you’re going to learn in the Thirty Day Challenge. But the information given is mostly solid, especially for beginners, and the technique they use to research keywords (for free) is the best I’ve seen. It’s day 7 or 8 of last year’s training. Well worth a look. (After you sign up, click the Training link.)
    • Caroline Middlebrook’s How to set up niche marketing sites on WordPress. I’ve linked to this before, it’s a very handy free little resource and everything I’ve seen from Caroline tells me she’s an honorable person who likes to help people. You can use this to set up any kind of blog or static site on WordPress, it doesn’t have to be a money-making or niche marketing site.
    • Ken McCarthy pre-seminar interview series. My new friend Laurie Weiss turned me on to Ken McCarthy. I haven’t bought his stuff and I don’t know if it’s good, but Laurie can vouch for his seminar and I can vouch for the quality of this free audio series. Lots of in-depth material with minimal shilling for the seminar. Classy series from someone who seems like a classy guy.

    A Simple Technique to Capture and Keep Search Engine Traffic

    Ductcrop Patrick Meninga, who has a great blog on overcoming addiction, asked a question over at the Authority Blogger forum about how to make his blog stickier for readers who found him on search engines. He’s getting a good amount of search engine traffic, but they don’t stick around.

    This was a simple tactic I proposed to him, and it struck me that the rest of you might find it useful as well.

    Capturing the search engine reader
    Let’s say your blog (or Web site or Squidoo lens or whatever) ranks pretty well for the search term, "How to make organic dog food." When the people who search on that term find you, do they stick around and make themselves comfortable, or do they hit the back button and try to find something more relevant?

    If you’re getting a lot of the latter, try this. Create a post called How to Make Organic Dog Food and then provide a simple, clear and reasonably complete answer as the body of your post.

    Your only goal with this post is to answer the question the reader had when she typed the term into Google. Don’t comment on why people might want to make organic dog food. Don’t summarize the state of the organic dog food community. Don’t tell cute stories about your dog. Just answer the question.

    You may, of course, want to provide some links to other resources, if that helps provide a better answer. For this use, if for no other, I recommend that you use a _blank tag to open those links in a new window. The point here is to keep some traffic for yourself, not to turn yourself into a portal for organic dog food makers.

    For extra credit, I might juice that post up with a tiny bit of easy SEO, something like a Squidoo lens or a short ezine article.

    Finally, add links to other posts on your blog that organic dog food makers might find interesting and useful. And while you’re at it, go back to the older posts that originally ranked well for the term, and add a link to the new post you’ve created. I’d add that link to the top of the old posts, not the bottom, so the search engine user immediately sees a link to the answer she’s looking for.

    Why it works
    What you’ve done is created a post that is highly search-engine optimized and that answers the question your searcher is looking for, but that also introduces your searcher to the wonderful world of content that is your blog. And you’ve done it without any spammy tricks or manipulation–just by making yourself useful and creating a single, highly focused page that answers a common question.

    I won’t claim this is a dazzlingly innovative tactic, but I don’t see it used very often. If you try it, will you leave a comment and let me know how it works for you? I think I will give this one a shot myself.

    Are We There Yet?


    Have you ever signed up for an interesting-looking freebie online, only to regret it within 48 hours as you were deluged with offers to buy whatever stuff that particular individual was selling?

    You know the kind I mean. They make their first pitch, ok cool, fair enough.

    Then they follow it up. "Mr. Fancypants, did you get my last email?!?!?!" Three or four times a day you’ll get some version of "Did you buy it yet? How about now? Now? Now? Now?"

    If you bring this up with the guys who employ this particular tactic, they invariably give you a withering look and tell you, "I do it because it works." And I’m sure, on some level, it does. They’ve done enough testing to know that the 19th message probably squeezes out an additional 1/16th of 1 percent. For some business models, that’s enough to "work"–at least on paper.

    However, if you keep talking, you’ll find out that your pest-based marketer hasn’t tested a real alternative–the gradual development of a thoughtful, trust-based relationship. The marketer hasn’t tested talking to customers like they were friends whose opinions he valued. The marketer hasn’t tested a sequence that delivers genuine value over time, and not just a one-shot freebie special report or video. The marketer typically has no sense of the lifetime value of any customer other than the 1 percent who, for whatever reason, will buy anything this guy offers if they get hit up often enough.

    (I’m not saying that some repetition doesn’t have a place. Messages, especially email, slip through the cracks. And almost all of us procrastinate. A few well-timed nudges are a good idea. But apply the road trip test. If you were ten and in the back seat of your dad’s car, how tempted would he be to pull over and refuse to drive any farther until you quit whining?)

    Are you creating true fans?
    Like everyone else in the metaverse, I really like what Kevin Kelly had to say about 1,000 true fans. That’s the approach I’ve been advocating in this blog, in the work I do with customers, in my day job, and in the super secret marketing project I work on in what I laughingly call my "free time." It’s the approach I try to take as a parent and a friend.

    It’s not about limiting your community to some arbitrary number, whether it’s 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000. It’s about showing yourself to be trustworthy. It’s about delivering exceptional value and an exceptional relationship in a way that feels personal and respectful. It’s about turning "share of customer" metrics into human loyalty and advocacy and passion.

    As people get more and more weary of the clutter and noise, it’s going to get harder to squeeze out those last few fractions of a percentage point with 10 or 20 more pieces of spam. Most people won’t even unsubscribe, they just send you directly to their junk folder.

    If you’re running a permission campaign, allow me to make a suggestion. Spend less time on ways to bleed that last percentage point dry, and more time what you can do to create a meaningful relationship with the other 99%.

    Flickr Creative Commons image by makelessnoise

    Social Media Workshop: Ranching Butterflies

    1522199012_862dab06b0_2By Sonia Simone

    There is one highly predictable aspect to social media.

    Your best results will come from the least predictable part.

    An interview with Seth Godin revealed all of the smart, sensible biz dev deals he cut to promote Squidoo, and how miserably they all failed. Smart deals with media companies and major magazines, with celebrities and major sites, pfffft.

    What worked, massively, was individual people picking up a useful tool and doing something unpredictable with it, then talking with their friends about how cool the experience was.

    Not unpredictable like a Fellini movie, but unpredictable like breastfeeding, banana bread recipes, and American Idol.

    If you make something in the social media world that is highly useful to a bunch of folks, whether it’s a great content series or a fantastic new tool, you can guess you’ll do well, but you probably won’t be able to predict exactly how. That part isn’t up to you, it’s up to your community. Your part is to avoid getting in the way and to make yourself helpful at the right points.

    The social media universe is an intensely chaotic system that’s highly susceptible to the butterfly effect. A butterfly flits its wings in North Texas and ten days later you get a hurricane in Singapore.

    There’s some question about whether you can analyze social media at all. I know from experience that you can, but it calls for a special skill set.

    Social media analysis calls for an exceptional ability to filter out irrelevant BS, an acute ability to sniff out patterns and undercurrents, and a thorough knowledge of butterfly ranching. The more butterflies you can get flittering, the better your odds of a hurricane down the line.

    Photo courtesy of aussiegall on Flickr Creative Commons.

    Free 115-Page Tutorial on Marketing to Women

    beautiful women

    Flickr Creative Commons image from the wonderful babasteve.

    I was reading a perfectly good blog the other day, and he started talking about the new(ly perceived) importance of marketing to women. The marketing mainstream is slowly waking up to the fact that women make a lot of buying decisions, and it might be a good idea to start communicating with them in a way they can relate to. So the blogger (a smart and reasonable person, who has many intelligent things to say) says something along the lines of, "And, you know, it’s not just about putting more pink on the Web site. Some sites women like don’t have any pink in their design at all."

    My poor little forehead is just flat from banging it on the table.

    So I am offering my loyal blog readers a great free gift. Take every one of my blog posts. Add the words, "To market to women," in the front of it. Optional step: slavishly follow all of my advice.

    Voila, 115-page (including this one) tutorial.

    That sounds flippant (ok, it’s a little flippant), but it’s not BS. I didn’t set out to do this, but every technique you’ll see me discuss on this blog works exceptionally well when you’re marketing to women.

    It’s not that these ideas and techniques won’t work on men. In fact, some of the most intense emotional customer reactions I’ve ever seen have come from men. But a lot of "traditional" or "interruption" marketing seems to work better for men than for women.

    What’s new marketing about?
    Relationships, right? Connection. Community. Communication. Sincerity. Permission.

    I entirely reject the idea that men don’t care about these things. Obviously they do. However, traditional marketing based on interruption, bluster and one-way communication tend not to work too well with adult women. (They may work quite well with teenage girls, I’m no expert on that market.)

    So all this time I thought I was writing about creating stronger customer relationships by improving communication with human beings, and it turns out women are human beings as well. Go figure!

    Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold, in EVEolution : Understanding Women–Eight Essential Truths (which I haven’t read yet–if you have, drop a comment & tell us what you thought of it) write, “Women don’t buy brands. They join them.” Sounds kind of like Social Media Marketing, PR 2.0, etc., doesn’t it?

    Tom Peters makes much of how different men and women are. I agree (and this is well supported by research) that there are some important innate cognitive and communication differences between men and women. And frankly, given the numbers (check them out below), in most businesses it would make a lot of sense to pitch all of your professional communication to women.

    But as the mother of a two-and-a-half year old son, I’m not quite ready to write off half the human race. Men hold up the other half of the sky, you know.

    The statistics
    These are courtesy of Tom Peters’ insane manifesto Re-imagine. According to what he’s dug up, women make the primary purchasing decision for:

    • All consumer purchases, 83%
    • Home furnishings, 94%
    • New homes, 91%
    • vacations, 92%
    • DIY projects, 80%
    • Consumer electronics, 51%
    • Cars, 60%
    • New bank accounts, 89%
    • Healthcare, 80% of decisions

    He makes a great deal out of the colossal cluelessness of most big companies and their relationships with their primarily-female paying customers. And he’s right. But the solution isn’t just, "pitch to women," it’s "create relationships with the people who buy your stuff–on their terms and in the language that works for them."

    I do enjoy how pissed off Peters is about all of this, though. Incidentally, he did a Google customer search on "customer is king" vs. "customer is queen" and found about 1,000 times more pages for the first. (Edit: on rereading, actually it was 4,440 to 29 when he wrote the book. Today a healthy 6,000+ show up, so maybe the world is getting smarter. Or at least smart enough to capitalize on a potentially useful keyword string.) Maybe this post will turn up in that second search some day.

    Peters also makes the point that there are no major female marketing gurus. So if you, my loyal readers, would like to elect me as the first, I would be proud to serve. Someone let Godin know so he can invite me to the good guru parties.

    If you like this post, please Stumble, Digg or it!