Don’t Sue Me, I’m Just a Blogger

Some day, I may write a scathing, irony-laced blog posting that draws the ire and fury of some individual or business. It’s not likely, mind you, but it could happen.

Maybe I need MediaGuard blog insurance, which is now being offered by Chubb Specialty Insurance. Nope, I’m not making this up. This, my dear readers, is a sign of modern times.

Y’see, community generated content doesn’t have a big corporate sponsor backing it up. So if a politician is angry at how an article was written, there are ways to address those concerns. The political party can threaten to pull their advertising from a newspaper…but that’s not really going to scare a blogger. Or they can threaten to sue the media organization.

Right now, here in North Jersey, we’re watching a blog-saga unfold in real time, as a prominent political figure is suing a citizen for things that she’s written in her blog. Check out: Free speech, thin skin and cyberspace and 80 take speech fight to streets from our daily newspaper, the Record.

In the case of a newspaper or media outlet, they may have lawyers on staff. If not, there are plenty of corporate lawyers in the yellow pages. Media moguls have a budget and can fight a lawsuit, if they so choose.

But what if you blogged something that someone didn’t like? Do you have the funds to defend yourself against a lawsuit?

Which, of course, brings us to our MediaGuard insurance.

Nowadays, bloggers are no longer just technogeeks who have the ability to understand web development. Nope, blogging takes little technical ability to get started. As a result, there are lots of really influential and important blogs out there that generate lots of traffic and attention. Blogs like the Huffington Post and Perez Hilton get more traffic than some newspapers have readers.

A mention on one of those sites…good or bad…can have a effect on someone’s career. And, of course, that alone could make someone want to sue them. Or you.

Blogger insurance. It sounds funny today, but will you need it tomorrow?

Converging on Convergence

As interesting new web technologies become available, I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of sites I need to visit….just to keep them fresh. (There are some feeds and whatnot to streamline these services, but that just becomes another site to visit.)

Recently, I’ve been trying to leverage these services by incorporating features into my personal website. As web technologies pendulate toward the middle, I am one step closer to converging on convergence.

My goal is to make my personal website a little more compelling for people who come to check it out.

Examples:

  • This weekend, I added my Twitter feed to my personal website. It’s just a little piece of Flash code that I was able to drop right into my web template. Very easy and elegant. (Note: I tried to use the Javascript code, but it just kept breaking.)
  • I also added a Facebook “badge” to my homepage. It’s really basic, but it looks kind of nice.
  • Then I synched my Facebook with my Twitter. Sort of sounds dirty, doesn’t it? Anyway, now, when I post to Twitter, it automatically feeds into my Facebook “current status.” Nice.

You can check out my handiwork at: http://www.buddyscalera.com. Feel free to look at the code and see how it’s done. Very simple and easy to do, even for an HTML novice.

Eventually this blog will probably migrate over to my website too. I really like blogging here on WordPress, but I get frustrated when I can’t control my widgets or outbound links better. So, we’ll see.

Now, I am off to find new convergence tricks.

Techronyms for Search

In the technology business, there’s a new acronym for every new product, idea, or process. They call these “techronyms.”

Anyway, I find that mnemonic tricks sometimes help me remember techronyms and people’s names.

I wanted to share a quick one that comes up all the time when I talk with people about Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing. Here’s one to help you remember the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

Remember that the “M” in SEM stands for “money.” The “O” in SEO is for “zero-dollars.” That’s because SEO is free.

As I think of more techronyms, I’ll post ’em. If you’ve got any, post ’em.

Want to Write Better Content? Ask a Designer

Writers write. That’s what we do, right?

While we’re at it, maybe we should build a wall between us and those pesky Web Designers. Right? Wrong. Very wrong.

Back when I broke into this Internet business (circa 1995), there wasn’t a big difference between writers, web designers, and programmers. If you wanted to create for the web, you pretty much had to learn the technical tricks to get it up there. Basic HTML, Photoshop, etc.

To learn about design, I spent time with print designers. They taught me critical lessons about how to control the eye on the page.

The most important thing they taught me was to…write less.

Designers often use white space to draw attention to a specific element in the layout. Most designers are excited about using their talents to help you communicate your message. But if you weigh it down with too much copy, it ties their hands.

Review every sentence, headline, subhead and picture caption. Ruthlessly trim the total number of words.

If you’re developing website copy, run a draft past a designer before submitting it to your clients. Designers will help you understand how much will fit on a page…and how much will suck the life out of the design.

The web is a visual medium. And writing less copy is one of the best ways to deliver messages with visual impact.

Tissot Thinks I’m a Dummy

I love the Tissot T-Touch Watch, so I’ve been checking out their website to see when they’ll be announcing the new model. It’s a splurge, I know, but I really want one. It’s really the coolest watch on the market today.

But surfing their website, I felt a little sad. This big, powerful mega corporation thinks I’m a dummy. Dont believe me? Check out the screenshot of what popped up when I was clicking around their interactive online demo at the Tissot T-Touch website.

Dummy marketing by Tissot

I mean, so WHAT if I’m not that bright? I never claimed to be the smartestest person in the world. There’s no reason to insert insulting little messages around your site. It doesn’t exactly encourage me to buy your big, mean, bully watch.

Then again, maybe that’s the new marketing trend. Rather than tell people how smart they are for buying your brand, you can tell them how dumb they are. Maybe they call it “Dummy Marketing.” And it’s so cutting edge that they can claim a “first-to-market” status on Dummy Marketing. Brilliant!

Here, I’ll give it a try. Thanks for reading my blog, Dummy.

PS: Dummy Marketing is (c) 2008 Buddy Scalera. So there.

Finding purpose in your website

Most businesses that want to set up a webpage have a basic sense of why they need a website. Simply: Everyone has a website, hence, I need one.

This is pretty sound reasoning. If you dont have a website, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to connect your service or brand with your potential clients.

Unfortunately the rationale stops there. That is, their website ends up being just a digital version of a Yellow Pages ad. Name, address, phone number, and a product blurb.

New technology has created ways for consumers to connect with brands. To explore them, covet them, and purchase them. A website can serve as the ultimate sales team, providing potential customers with answers, incentives, and even comparisons.

So as you work with your web developer, select someone who tries to get a deeper understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you want to tell you brand story. He should be spending a lot of time trying to understand you and your brand story.

Then he should be giving you insight into features and tools that can help you communicate your brand message. Maybe it’s a blog or viral video. Or maybe it’s just something as simple as a comparison chart or an RSS feed.

There’s usually some enhancement that can make your website a little more effective. If you’re not finding this in your web development team, then maybe you should search the web for a new team that’s in tune with your brand goals.

Verticals within Verticals

We were at a team meeting with several people I hadn’t really worked with yet. It was a typical white-board brainstorm meeting about how we could provide digital tactics against traditional-media channels.

If you’re in digital, you know how these meetings can be. Sometimes it’s great, especially if the traditional team is new-media savvy. In this case, we were lucky, since most of the team was somehow personally involved in social or new media. We had a couple of bloggers, several people who listened to podcasts, and just about everyone was on Facebook or MySpace. In short, they all got it. Perfect.

We talked websites, mobile media, interactive video, downloadables, mashups, social media, user generated content. Good stuff.

That’s what made it especially strange when one of the account leaders said something to the effect of “we want a really big tactic, something that will hit a really big, broad audience.”

Huh? Weren’t we just all on the same whiteboard here with new media?

New media is all about narrow audience. The idea that you can get a big demographic on a brand message is sort of an old media concept. Essentially a hold over from traditional broadcast television and commercial spots.

Aside from major television events like the Superbowl, the Sopranos, or a major news event, even television is fragmented into much more narrower audiences. (Note: The one big exception…bad news travels fast on all mediums.)

Yes, there are still several broad-based communication platforms online, most notably portals and central news sites. Destinations. But those are hard to control and not typically easily or cheaply influenced by brand marketers. Then again, if you have a large marketing budget or a really cool brand, you can get prettymuch anywhere. For the rest of us, we have to find alternate channels.

Alternate channels basically mean verticals. And in most cases, verticals within verticals.

If you’re promoting a specific brand, you just want to talk to your target audience. (Except around the holidays, if the brand is something that can be gifted.)

Why talk to teenage boys if your product is for middle-age moms? It makes more sense to spend your dollars to hit the mom market. If you can narrow it to the income, race, regional, or other demographic, you can target your message to make it relevant to their personal experiences.

So you may be looking at women (v1), middle age (v2), moms (v3), high income (v4), living near a major city (v5)…and that’s just for one campaign. Your second campaign may change to target women of middle or low income, which will change the positioning of your value proposition.

The best part of the verticals within verticals is the way you can time and manipulate your out of pocket expenditures and messaging. There’s flexibility in all mediums from magazines to television to radio, but nothing that gives you the hypertargeting that you can get in new media.

Which brings me back to that brainstorm meeting.

After an hour of brainstorming, it was deflating to hear someone start talking about broad-based marketing on new media channels. We finally have the kind of communications structure that marketers dream about, and some of us are trying to get it to act like an old media channel.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen new media struggle in obscurity, stumble toward credibility, and now stagger to mass media acceptance. But for those of us who remember 1200 baud dial ups, this is an exciting time. The promise of new media communications has finally reached a level of maturity that allows us to truly share a brand message….one that gets people motivated to action.

The ability to create targeted, deep-vertical messages is the biggest, broadest appeal of new media marketing. Let’s use it to create messages that are relevant, motivating, and exciting to the deepest verticals that we can identify.

It’s a vertical world created by users…and perfect for marketers.

Google’s Usability – Only 76%?

At first, this may seem like a criticism of web usability legend Jakob Nielsen, but it’s really not. When it comes to web interface, Nielsen was a true pioneer and continues to be a voice within a world that he undeniably influenced.

No, this is a different take on the same data that he uses to inform his clients. And the industry at large, hence, probably even my clients.

A new article in SEORoundtable.com referenced a study conducted by Nielsen that “One-Fourth of All Internet Users Cannot Perform a Simple Google Search.” The lead noted that “usability expert Jakob Nielsen blogged about how difficult it is to perform a Google search

Now, considering what I know of Google, I wondered how “difficult” it can be to perform a Google search.

Anyway, according to Nielsen’s research, there is evidence that suggests that nearly 1/4 of Internet users cannot actually use Google. Now, he readily admits that 76% of the people he surveyed CAN use Google, but he’s more interested in the 24% who CANNOT.

Well, this glass-half-empty perspective is the part the grabs headlines. Listen, Nielsen is a web usability pioneer, so I am not surprised that when he talks, people listen. But this is sort of the opposite of what the headline should have been.

The headline should have read “76% of Internet Users Leverage Google.”

Consider for a moment what Google does. Based on a few words (aka keywords), Google gives you a list of websites that you might want to “visit.” Despite the fact that these are only digital destinations, we’re asking people to consider at least two abstract concepts:

  1. The idea that there are networked computers that lead to an online destination that doesn’t really exist in the real world and…
  2. There’s some kind of engine (another real world object) that helps you find this non-existent destination.

Even if people don’t need to wrap their hands around the abstractness of it all, they do learn pretty quickly how to use Google to find what they want. If 76% of people have learned how to use Google, that is a testament to the usability of the site. Heck, that’s probably significantly higher percentage of people than learned how to set the clock on their VCR.

Nielsen’s research is probably well designed and would likely stand up to research scrutiny, so it’s doubtful that it’s somehow loaded (to get a specific result). But if you look at the “task” they asked people to perform, then it’s even more impressive that they got a 76% success rate. In Nielsen’s own words, “in one of our test tasks, to find “a strong vacuum cleaner that is easy to use, can pick up pet hair, and costs under $300”)”.

Well, Google would only be one starting point in your web search. If you were a user, you might be looking to buy something, so you’d focus on shopping sites right? But if you were in a research mode, you might also try a review-oriented website.

But if you really wanted to know if it was “easy to use” you would have to look past the marketing copy. Because every vacuum cleaner will claim that it is “easy to use.”

So how do people find out if it’s easy to use? Reviews! Professional reviews, social network reviews, and user-generated reviews will tell you if something is “easy to use” which is a highly subjective qualification. Google is designed to find word matches on facts, not offer a subjective opinion on quality.

Now, back to our 76% success rate….considering the test question, Nielsen should be amazed at how many people were able to use Google to actually find information that helped them find a vacuum cleaner. What other tool has this kind of usability success rate?

Consider the huge differences in education, experience, and attitude of Internet users. Yet, Google created something simple, yet incredibly powerful, that bridges the gap between the gap of human diversity. Let’s face it, Google’s success is due in part to it’s ease of use. People like powerful tools that are simple and pleasurable to use.

Finally, this study wasn’t just about Google, it was about searching on the Internet using a search engine. Google may be the biggest player in search, but Google isn’t the whole Internet. It’s just one corporate brand that happens to dominate their category. Would those people tested know how to use Yahoo? Ask? MSN?

Also, if Nielsen polled those same people in a week, would they have still been unable to use Google? It is an exceptionally easy tool that actually fosters learning.

I deal with clients every day. Most of them do their own research, and I wonder how they will respond when they see a headline like this from an industry legend like Jakob Nielsen. Will they wonder if Google is “easy” enough to use? Will they feel that Google may not be the right channel for communicating their brand message to their target audience?

Of all people, Nielsen should have been headlining the fact that 76% of people can actually use a common tool like Google to make use of the increasingly complex Internet. Not the opposite way around.