September 9 , 2008
Social Networking: Our Friend or the Next Friendster?

Social Networking: Our Friend or the Next Friendster?

Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group
Minutes of the 9 September 2008 meeting, "Social Networking: Our Friend or the Next Friendster?"

About 27 people attended tonight's meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded the minutes.


Microstaff (www.microstaff.com) provides refreshments, Copy Diva
(www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment, NCAR
(www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility, and ONEWARE
(www.oneware.com) sponsors these minutes.

It seems like we hear the term "Social Networking" incessantly. It's impossible to turn on the TV and not hear about people competing for Twitter or LinkedIn friends or the fact that teenagers spend more time on MySpace or Facebook than any other activity online. Even YouTube has become so mainstream that they were recently part of presidential primary debates.
With a gazillion Tweets and hundreds of millions of MySpace pages, it seems like "Social Networking" is all the rage on the Internet these days.

The statistics seem to back up this phenomenon: comScore recently reported that Social Networking sites like MySpace and Facebook received almost 191 million unique visitors in May 2008 with MySpace and Facebook getting roughly half of that traffic alone.

Social networking has been a huge phenomenon over the years, but those of us who have been working with the Internet for a while have seen trends like this before (anyone remember Friendster?) and can't help be skeptical.
Friendster was popular a couple of years ago, then it went away. Things have changed though--maybe it would survive if it were introduced today.

What are these sites? Why are people attracted to them? How are they different than before?

If the Information Age can be coined the Attention Economy, then eyeballs and mindshare is the currency. Social Networking sites have been getting much of our attention and is important currency. Is it finally time to take notice?


Jason Cormier (jcormier@room214.com) is cofounder and Managing Partner of Room 214, a Google-certified search marketing and social media agency and CEO of RSSReady, a RSS feed product and services company.
Jason is a strategist dedicated to the systems and operations that make Room
214 clients successful. He plays a lead role in the development of customized search engine visibility, online word of mouth and social media programs, ROI analysis, and tactical execution of marketing plans. As Chief Executive of RSSready, Jason also coordinates software development and custom install efforts for Post Zinger, an advanced content management platform for blog, podcast, RSS feed management, and reporting metrics.
Current clients include Alltel Wireless, The Travel Channel, Rally Software, Hive Live, EAS, Centura Health, Best Promotions, Smarty Pig, and the Denver Broncos.



Social Networking / Social Media

Keep in mind I'm a marketing guy, so my perspective is on how does social networking work from a company perspective. Why should a business be interested?

Markets Are Conversations (from the Cluetrain Manifesto). Markets are dynamic, it's where you establish or lose credibility. Word of mouth is the most effective marketing and carries more weight than a billboard or anything else. If markets are conversations, it would behoove us to be a part of those conversations. If we want to dominate in an industry, then we should capture the conversation so people are talking about our products and services.

As Room 214, we used to focus exclusively on pay-per-click marketing and search engine optimization, but our newer focus is on social media. In the mid 90's I walked around telling people why they needed a web site. The business of web development alone at that time was an easy wave to ride, but one that has since crashed. Marketing caught up. Companies learned that building it didn't mean people would come.
Now there's a new wave that has risen with social media. There are a lot of clowns riding that wave right now, but they will fall away as systems of accountability become more defined.

Current metrics standards are not very well established, but companies can still see results from the kind of activity we are engaging in.

Search Engines Are Media. 95 percent of the time, the first place I'll do my research on anything will be on search engines. This is a similar stat for journalists. Optimization, keywords are still important.

Leveraging conversations and search engines is what's needed for creating successful social media campaigns.

Content is still king. There are all these social media properties out there, but just creating an account doesn't do anything for you. You need updated and relevant content. Since Dave Taylor is here tonight, look at AskDaveTaylor.com as a regularly updated blog with relevant content.

The Facts

Social Media is Mainstream. 80 million blogs (we know most are garbage).
69 percent of users participated in user-generated content (blogs and comments). That doesn't say much, it's just the way the Internet is:
There's lots of user-generated content.

Bird's Eye View of Online Marketing

This slide is a bit outdated, but general feel is correct. Traditional advertising is still needed for directing attention to things on the web.
RSS comes into play with Social Media, a part of the larger picture. My company focuses on everything that's on line. Analytics and our ability to measure is critical. When you effectively set expectations in conjunction with points of measurement, it's difficult for the client to be disappointed.

The Pieces

This is just one way to look at it. Certain industry experts/gurus are defining things like this, such as Chris Brogan. Aggregators, Connectors, Feeders, and Publishers.

Closer View of Social Media

Lots of common social media properties: Facebook, Myspace, and many others.

The Conversation: The Art of Listening, Learning, and Sharing

Where is the conversation taking place? The philosophy of approaching someone on line is similar to the off-line approach. For example, it's easier to join a conversation than to start one. Walk into a bar: It's more effective to listen to what's going on around you, find a point of interest, and then find a way to engage. So real life informs the online approach.

The Technology

How things have changed. In 1998 Google indexed web pages. Now RSS is the workhorse that allows Google to index new content instantly. If you're a marketing expert, the big question is what are you doing to leverage this change?
Question from the audience: What is RSS?
RSS is extensible markup language that provides a newsfeed. For example, A major difference between a blog and a web page is the RSS
feed: You can subscribe to receive updated content, and it's totally anonymous. The difference between an mp3 audio file and a podcast is the RSS feed. Again, your ability to subscribe to that audio/news feed is where the power lies. Several aggregators allow you to subscribe to this kind of information. A simple audio file doesn't have those properties. RSS is behind how the features in applications like Facebook are updated.

Google places weight on things that have historical value with relevant content. RSS and web pages are both indexed by search engines, so we pay attention to things like title, description, links and tags. We treat RSS feeds like web pages so they are effectively indexed by Google at the keyword level.


Depends on what you're in it for, like reputation management. Who's talking smack about your brand? Google Reader is good for getting engaged with searches on RSS feeds. There are tools that can help you monitor any conversation on the Internet. If search engine marketing is about keywords, social media marketing is about key influencers.
Companies want to know who's saying what about them.

Your content plan is a big one. It's not just how to announce about what you're about, you engage in a conversation too. Use the 80/20 rule. Set up a Digg account for a client. Comment on interesting articles in the client's industry. Digg 80 articles specific to your industry, but only 20 specific to you. Not a cheesy PR tactic.
FriendFeed is an aggregator that puts all your social media properties
(accounts) on one screen. Take all your RSS feeds and put them in FriendFeed. Makes for more interesting updates to show in your site, Facebook page, etc.

The big trend we see is that content is really moving off of corporate web sites. The old strategy is to keep people coming to your corporate site. But the reality is you have to meet people where they are.


Does the company participate in an ongoing effort? The challenge is we'll present a bunch of tactics to a company to leverage social media. Now the responsibility is on the company to produce the content. We can't do it; the client is the content expert. People will recognize if your content is garbage. Your company needs to realize there's a level of work involved. You need to hire a Community Manager--the voice behind the company that understands how the social networking properties work.

The Planning

How do you pick social networking properties? It depends on your industry.
If you are an aspiring musician, for example, you better have a Myspace page. Sometimes you need some web development, like to set up a blog site.

A piece of a web site that resides on a personal page of yours.
iGoogle: your customized home page brought to you by Google. They are updated by RSS feeds. Check out clearspring.com for a clear description of this, with plenty of examples.

The Measurement

Quantitative metrics:
Total Conversations = about what? Identified by keywords, etc. Tools tell me how many conversations took place about a certain keyword set or theme within blogs and news sites. The tools basically filter RSS feeds. None of these tools work on Facebook. Example tools and services include Collective Intellect, BuzzLogic, Radian6, Filtrbox, etc. Even with tools, nothing is a substitute for human review.
Clients don't like being fed a data dump. The tools are in their infancy stage. We test many of these tools. All have limitations. So how do you provide effective reporting of conversations? What do you do with the information?

Q: Is there a security problem with widgets?
A: I can't think of any cases of that happening.

Twitter Profile:
This is a microblogging application. Only 140 characters per message.
Some people tweet constantly. It's a very interesting application that continues to grow like crazy. There are neat ways businesses can use this.
Tweetscan: scans the Internet on a keyword level to find these short entries.

You don't want to use Twitter as a billboard, but it's a very relevant social media property that will continue to grow. It's real easy to drown in this stuff. I used to think twitter was dumb. But it's not only a source of entertainment, but also a good way to remind people of what's going on. Very applicable for live events.

Q: On Twitter you can subscribe to an RSS feed based on your search results.
A: Yes, "following" on twitter is nice.

Dave Taylor comment: I was in Atlanta once and twittered about it and got invited by a guy at CNN to come have a tour. All because he followed me on twitter. And I don't know how he came to follow me on twitter.

Q: Is this a flash in the pan or this here to stay? All these properties are losing money right now. Does this thing have legs? Is there something different about these sites?
A: That's a good discussion. One thing to pay attention to is what age groups are using it? Popular with some groups, not with others.
There's tons of properties popping up constantly, and I think it's part of the evolution of the Internet.

Q: My wife is hooked on Facebook because it lets her connect to people. But my mom isn't on it. So there seems to a demographic difference. The tools are amazing and matured.
A: You'll see that advertising finds its way into these things.
Companies advertise within RSS feeds and make money.

Q: From a marketing psychology perspective, what human needs are being satisfied? What needs will give this staying power?
A: People want to be a part of something. They want to feel they are contributing and connected. Some companies have been busted by putting cheesy ads in blog comments. Deceptive marketers will get called out by other bloggers.

Q: Would you say the best kind of marketing is from a conversation with people that you trust?
A: People invest with their time. The power of user generated content, like product ratings, is that more people will look at that than at traditional marketing.

Q: What if my product gets bad ratings?
A: You can moderate comments, but people can also manipulate data on rating systems. Some companies will have the CEO step in and respond, and that can earn respect and quiet things down.

Q: Does following the 80/20 rule mitigate being overly solicitous? How do you make your pitch?
A: We'll find 100 influential bloggers. How do you engage them? Polite email to a blogger, a personable approach often works. Pay attention to the blogs, and comment when the opportunity arises. But comment as a regular participant, not a random poser.

Q: Where do you put your blogs?
A: We have a corporate site (Room214.com) that pulls the headlines from our Capture the Conversation blog posts and podcasts. We like to get very calendar about things. Set up a strategy to have certain keywords in your titles.

Q: What percent of blogs are actually read?
A: Just because I have 500 subscribers to my blog feed doesn't mean anyone's reading it. Comments mean it's a conversation.

Q: What metrics do you look at?
A: Number of comments, unique visitors, subscribers, referral sources (that's a big one). Bounce rate: how quickly do people leave?

Q: Most of the conversations are under anonymous handles, and in that situation, people will say outrageous things. People masquerading as someone they're not and trashing your product. What do you do about that?
A: Hopefully you have some moderation in place. We don't want to censor. The way to deal with it is by responding as quickly as possible. That's part of reputation management. It's dangerous, no question. You do open yourself up to this stuff.

Q: Any malicious stuff associated with tinyurl, like servers blocking it?
A: Not that I've heard of.

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