Archive for 'Social Media'

The Hidden Value of a Link

By David Berkowitz

Is PayPerPost evil?

Sure. I can get on board with that. Though it’s a flawed hypothesis, a lot of my column this week tries to explore why. It actually does have parallels in other media, and there are even some blog advertising campaigns enlisting bloggers themselves that tapped into the real power of community, but PayPerPost keeps making me squirm. I’ll take pop-ups over PPP any day. It does have some defenders, such as those who commented on the column on MediaPost (granted, those who emailed me were much more supportive – hardly a surprise, given sample biases).

The column also once again, like last week, stars the link. The full column’s in the extended entry. Is PPP really just product placement or advertorial? Or is it corrupting the fabric of social media, and the entire social media ecosystem? I welcome your take, as this debate isn’t going away.

The Hidden Cost Of A Link

How much is a link back to your site worth to you?

That’s one of the questions that arises with PayPerPost, the service which, as its name suggests, offers a marketplace where advertisers can pay for bloggers to post about them with a link to their site, all within the blog’s editorial content. The link itself is arguably the most valuable part of the whole operation (for more on the value of links, read last week’s column).

The biggest problem with links from PayPerPost is that they’re in the editorial copy instead of with the ads. This presents a double-edged sword for PayPerPost. If the links were off to the side or otherwise demarcated as ads (such as when ads in RSS feeds are set off in a shaded box or surrounded by the word “advertisement”), then there wouldn’t be much controversy over money changing hands for running them.

The backlash against PayPerPost stems from these ads being included as regular posts. The fact that there’s a disclaimer requirement doesn’t do enough to blunt the negative effects of such a slippery slope with ads being included in the editorial content. Additionally, the disclaimer can negate the value of the blogger’s write-up (making the link the only real value) — and bloggers with impeccable integrity, or enough of an audience to otherwise monetize their blogs (whether it’s through ads, new business, or other leads such as speaking engagements) won’t risk their reputations to join.

Some defenders of PayPerPost claim that their model is no different than other forms of advertising. A perfect parallel is hard to find, so this may be a straw-man argument. One somewhat related model is in radio, where hosts will shill a product themselves on behalf of the good folks at the advertiser being promoted. You won’t find such advertising in The New York Times, or embedded in a Fareed Zakaria column in Newsweek. For similar reasons, it shouldn’t be on a blog.

Another parallel can be made with advertorials, which appear in many shades of gray. Some are merely ads that include editorial copy written by the advertiser, and they’re often made to look like other articles on the page or in the publication. As that’s just another type of ad, the parallel is tenuous at best. Some publications, meanwhile, will have their writers interview the advertiser and write the copy for the advertorial, which is the only place that the publication will cover a given topic. In such a case, the advertiser’s only way of getting into the “editorial content” of that issue is by buying its way in.

Bloggers have nothing in common with the second form of advertorial I mentioned. Bloggers can always write about whatever they want whenever they want. I’m a blogger, and I can post 20 times a day or once every 20 days, covering as few or as many trends, ideas, and companies as I wish. I’d never run PayPerPost ads for fear of losing credibility (full disclosure: I did register my blog with them to check out the service, though I never took part in any campaigns).

So how could a marketer reach me and take advantage of those 133 links Google counts pointing to my blog? Blogger relations would work better. I have companies write me every so often letting me know about new Web sites, products, and services. If it’s a really great Web site, for example, I’ll write about it (rarely do I cover things that don’t interest me just for the sake of posting about them), and I’ll provide a link with commentary. Instead of paying per post, the marketer invests time (by themselves, or through an agency) in researching appropriate blogs, developing pitches relevant to each blogger, and then making the pitch — with the occasional added cost of sending promotional items. While such a campaign can be more costly, it’s exponentially more effective. As a bonus, other bloggers will readily post their own links to something they find in another blogger’s copy, though with PayPerPost that viral effect isn’t there (I’ve never blogged, “Hey, check out what this advertiser paid this other blogger to write about!”)

PayPerPost refers to its service as “consumer-generated advertising,” but that’s a misnomer. When I write on my blog that I loved staying at the Ceiba del Mar in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, that’s a consumer-generated ad — better known as word-of-mouth marketing, and from the consumer’s perspective, it’s just sharing information. When Dale Backus won a contest for producing the Doritos Super Bowl ad, that was consumer-generated advertising. When advertisers pay someone to post a link and comment on their offering, it’s a cash-for-link deal that appears in the editorial content. When PayPerPost’s advertisers hire consumers to write the copy and post the link, it’s clearly not in the spirit of consumer-generated media, even if in some way it counts as a technicality.

It’s up for marketers to determine how much links are worth for them. They should keep in mind that the price can include intangibles that harm their brands. And that, by the way, is full disclosure.

Excellent post by Logic+Emotion (Dave Armano):

By darmano on Social Interactivity


I keep thinking about the “blogging killing planning” discussion. It made me think about how much I’ve reaped creatively from “blogsourcing” (which I’ve done a lot of over the past year). But I’m curious—has anyone out there who is either writing or even reading blogs feel that it has impacted their area of expertise in a negative way? If so—why?

Or on the flip side, why do you feel blogs (or blogging) makes what you do better? We all got along fine before the existence of social media, (at least the digital kind) so how is it making what we do better or worse?

From Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” Blog:
I’ve been following the debate started by Brian Solis about “social media press releases” and other forms of doing PR in a way that both works in a conversational medium and doesn’t demean and insult the intelligence of everyone involved. As far as traditional media goes, I suspect none of this matters much–most journalists have long ago figured how to quickly decide if they have any interest in a press release and how best to extract whatever value is in it. The system is no more or less broken than it’s always been.

But what about the Long Tail of media–all those new influentials, from the micromedia of Techcrunch and Gizmodo to individual bloggers? And the social news aggregators like Digg and our own Reddit? They’re where the most powerful sort of marketing–word of mouth–starts, but most of them don’t want to hear from a PR person at all. Blogging is all about authenticity and the individual voice, not paid spin. Many bloggers seem just impedance mismatched with the preternaturally positive PR professionals, and woe to the flack who’s busted trying to game Digg without revealing that they’re paid to do so.

So now imagine that you’re one of those PR professionals. What do you do? Stick with the world you know, and continue calling and emailing releases to the traditional press (trying not to notice that their ranks are shrinking and influence waning)? Start spamming bloggers, too, and hope for the best? Or just treat alpha bloggers like traditional press and shower them with love, while ignoring the rest?

I’ve seen all three of those paths taken, some of them even with modest success. Despite the culture mismatch, there certainly are plenty of bloggers who actually don’t mind hearing from a PR person, as long as it’s in the form of a personal email or comment that reflects that the flack actually reads the blog and gets what it’s about. And companies such as Microsoft and Sun are now shifting their PR strategy to give special attention to influential bloggers, inviting them to private briefings and giving them early looks at new products.

But fundamentally social media is a peer-to-peer medium; bloggers would rather hear from someone doing something cool than from the paid promotional representative for that person. The problem is that the people doing that cool stuff are busy, which is why they pay PR people to do the outreach for them in the first place.

I wonder whether the solution to this is to evolve the role of PR from external relations to internal relations, from communications to coaching employees on how to effectively do the outreach themselves. Take Microsoft’s 3,000 bloggers who are, for many of us, a welcome substitute for Microsoft PR. Internal project managers like Major Nelson of the Xbox 360 team are a trusted and timely source of information, and have largely replaced the formal press release with blog posts. He and other Microsoft bloggers like him are part of a transparency movement that grew out of the company’s developer relations team, but it could have just as easily been driven by an enlightened PR team.

Here’s a start at a curriculum for such in-house social media coaching:

  • Who’s influential in our space (and how we know)
  • What/who influences them
  • How to get Digged
  • Effective blogging
  • Using beta-test invite lists as marketing
  • The art of begging for links
  • Stunts, contests, gimmicks, memes and other link bait.
  • Sharing versus oversharing. How to know when what you’re doing is ready to talk about.

UPDATE: I’ve been chatting with some magazine people about how this would apply to our own industry’s PR. Here’s what I said:

Having just come from running a Sundance panel on how to use social media to get buzz for independent films, I can say that there’s no substitute for plain old hustling. The filmmakers hate to hear this, because once upon a time you could sell the idea to one exec at a big distributor or studio and their marketing team would take it from there, allowing you to get back to what you love–making movies. But those days are gone, and now the creatives have to be salesmen, too.

I suspect the same is increasingly true for a creative industry like our own. While the traditional press still matters, it’s only half the game. And the best people to be getting blog buzz on stories are the writers and editors themselves, even if they consider such self-promotion unseemly.

All bloggers know that the way to get links is to engage in the secret underground economy of sucking up to bloggers with higher Technorati rank than you. Each post is accompanied by personal emails to people who might be interested, ideally referencing their own posts on similar themes. I do it and other bloggers do it to me. It’s just part of effective blogging. There’s a protocol to such hustling, and some do it better than others, but it strikes me that learning and teaching this culture could be a big part of PR 2.0.


2007 Guide to Linkbaiting: The Year of Widgetbait

Found over on Search Engine Land: 2007 Guide to Linkbaiting: The Year of Widgetbait.

A little background from Wikipedia before you jump on over:
Link bait is any content or feature within a website that somehow baits viewers to place links to it from other websites. Attempts to create link bait are frequently employed in the overall task of search engine optimization. Matt Cutts defines link bait as anything “… interesting enough to catch people’s attention.” [1] Typically, users on bulletin boards, newsgroups, social networking websites, or blogs place a link to a website in some copy that further encourages another member or visitor to click. It can be an extremely powerful form of marketing as it is viral in nature.

The quantity and quality of inbound links are two of the many metrics used by a search engine ranking algorithm to rank a website. Link bait creation falls under the task of link building, and aims to increase the quantity of high-quality, relevant links to a website. It is considered to be a white hat optimization method almost universally. Part of successful linkbaiting is devising a mini-PR campaign around the release of a linkbait article so that bloggers and social media users are made aware and can help promote the piece in tandem.

Although there are no clear-cut subdivisions within link bait, many attempt to divide them into types of hooks. This is a short list of some of the most common approaches with brief descriptions:

  • Informational Hooks – Provide information that a reader may find very useful. Some rare Tips and tricks or any personal experience through which readers can benefit.
  • News Hooks – Provide fresh information and garner citations and links as the news spreads.
  • Humor Hooks – Tell a funny story or a joke. A bizarre picture of your subject or mocking cartoons can also prove to be a link bait.
  • Evil Hooks – Saying something unpopular or mean may also yield a lot of attention. Writing about something that is not appealing about a product or a popular blogger. Provide strong reasons for it.
  • Tool Hooks – Create some sort of tool that is useful enough that people link to it.

What is a Widget?
A Web Widget is a portable chunk of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation.

Web Widgets can be utilized by end users to enhance a number of web-based hosts, or drop targets. Categories of drop targets include social networks, blogs, personal homepages, and operating system desktops.

Yahoo! Memo from Brad Garlinghouse (SVP)

This is a memo leaked to the public written by Brad Garlinghouse, a higher ranking management official of the company. It’s been referred to as the “Peanut Butter Manifesto.” It’s an interesting read that further demonstrates you can have a successful company yet still need a LOT of help strategically. Think they could use some of our services? 😉

Three and half years ago, I enthusiastically joined Yahoo! The magnitude of the opportunity was only matched by the magnitude of the assets. And an amazing team has been responsible for rebuilding Yahoo!

It has been a profound experience. I am fortunate to have been a part of dramatic change for the Company. And our successes speak for themselves. More users than ever, more engaging than ever and more profitable than ever!

I proudly bleed purple and, yellow everyday! And like so many people here, I love this company. But all is not well. Last Thursday’s NY Times article was a blessing in the disguise of a painful public flogging. While it lacked accurate details, its conclusions rang true, and thus was a much needed wake up call. But also a call to action. A clear statement with which I, and far too many Yahoo’s, agreed. And thankfully a reminder. A reminder that the measure of any person is not in how many times he or she falls down – but rather the spirit and resolve used to get back up.

The same is now true of our Company.

It’s time for us to get back up.

I believe we must embrace our problems and challenges and that we must take decisive action. We have the opportunity – in fact the invitation – to send a strong, clear and powerful message to our shareholders and Wall Street, to our advertisers and our partners, to our employees (both current and future), and to our users. They are all begging for a signal that we recognize and understand our problems, and that we are charting a course for fundamental change, Our current course and speed simply will not get us there. Short-term band-aids will not get us there.

It’s time for us to get back up and seize this invitation.

I imagine there’s much discussion amongst the Company’s senior most leadership around the challenges we face. At the risk of being redundant, I wanted to share my take on our current situation and offer a recommended path forward, an attempt to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Recognizing Our Problems
We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything – to everyone. We’ve known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it. We are scared to be left out. We are reactive instead of charting an unwavering course. We are separated into silos that far too frequently don’t talk to each other. And when we do talk, it isn’t to collaborate on a clearly focused strategy, but rather to argue and fight about ownership, strategies and tactics.

Our inclination and proclivity to repeatedly hire leaders from outside the company results in disparate visions of what winning looks like – rather than a leadership team rallying around a single cohesive strategy.

I’ve heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.

I hate peanut butter. We all should.

We lack clarity of ownership and accountability. The most painful manifestation of this is the massive redundancy that exists throughout the organization. We now operate in an organizational structure – admittedly created with the best of intentions – that has become overly bureaucratic. For far too many employees, there is another person with dramatically similar and overlapping responsibilities. This slows us down and burdens the company with unnecessary costs.

Equally problematic, at what point in the organization does someone really OWN the success of their product or service or feature? Product, marketing, engineering, corporate strategy, financial operations… there are so many people in charge (or believe that they are in charge) that it’s not clear if anyone is in charge. This forces decisions to be pushed up – rather than down. It forces decisions by committee or consensus and discourages the innovators from breaking the mold… thinking outside the box.

There’s a reason why a centerfielder and a left fielder have clear areas of ownership. Pursuing die same ball repeatedly results in either collisions or dropped balls. Knowing that someone else is pursuing the ball and hoping to avoid that collision – we have become timid in our pursuit. Again, the ball drops.

We lack decisiveness. Combine a lack of focus with unclear ownership, and the result is that decisions are either not made or are made when it is already too late. Without a clear and focused vision, and without complete clarity of ownership, we lack a macro perspective to guide our decisions and visibility into who should make those decisions. We are repeatedly stymied by challenging and hairy decisions. We are held hostage by our analysis paralysis.

We end up with competing (or redundant) initiatives and synergistic opportunities living in the different silos of our company.
• YME vs. Musicmatch
• Flickr vs. Photos
• YMG video vs. Search video
• vs. myweb
• Messenger and plug-ins vs. Sidebar and widgets
• Social media vs. 360 and Groups
• Front page vs. YMG
• Global strategy from BU’vs. Global strategy from Int’l

We have lost our passion to win. Far too many employees are “phoning” it in, lacking the passion and commitment to be a part of the solution. We sit idly by while – at all levels – employees are enabled to “hang around”. Where is the accountability? Moreover, our compensation systems don’t align to our overall success. Weak performers that have been around for years are rewarded. And many of our top performers aren’t adequately recognized for their efforts.

As a result, the employees that we really need to stay (leaders, risk-takers, innovators, passionate) become discouraged and leave. Unfortunately many who opt to stay are not the ones who will lead us through the dramatic change that is needed.

Solving our Problems
We have awesome assets. Nearly every media and communications company is painfully jealous of our position. We have the largest audience, they are highly engaged and our brand is synonymous with the Internet.

If we get back up, embrace dramatic change, we will win.

I don’t pretend there is only one path forward available to us. However, at a minimum, I want to be pad of the solution and thus have outlined a plan here that I believe can work. It is my strong belief that we need to act very quickly or risk going further down a slippery slope, The plan here is not perfect; it is, however, FAR better than no action at all.

There are three pillars to my plan:
1. Focus the vision.
2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership.
3. Execute a radical reorganization.

1. Focus the vision
a) We need to boldly and definitively declare what we are and what we are not.
b) We need to exit (sell?) non core businesses and eliminate duplicative projects and businesses.
My belief is that the smoothly spread peanut butter needs to turn into a deliberately sculpted strategy – that is narrowly focused.
We can’t simply ask each BU to figure out what they should stop doing. The result will continue to be a non-co
hesive strategy. The direction needs to come decisively from the top. We need to place our bets and not second guess. If we believe Media will maximize our ROI – then let’s not be bashful about reducing our investment in other areas. We need to make the tough decisions, articulate them and stick with them – acknowledging that some people (users / partners / employees) will not like it. Change is hard.

2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership
a) Existing business owners must be held accountable for where we find ourselves today – heads must roll,
b) We must thoughtfully create senior roles that have holistic accountability for a particular line of business (a variant of a GM structure that will work with Yahoo!’s new focus)
c) We must redesign our performance and incentive systems.

I believe there are too many BU leaders who have gotten away with unacceptable results and worse – unacceptable leadership. Too often they (we!) are the worst offenders of the problems outlined here. We must signal to both the employees and to our shareholders that we will hold these leaders (ourselves) accountable and implement change.

By building around a strong and unequivocal GM structure, we will not only empower those leaders, we will eliminate significant overhead throughout our multi-headed matrix. It must be very clear to everyone in the organization who is empowered to make a decision and ownership must be transparent. With that empowerment comes increased accountability – leaders make decisions, the rest of the company supports those decisions, and the leaders ultimately live/die by the results of those decisions.

My view is that far too often our compensation and rewards are just spreading more peanut butter. We need to be much more aggressive about performance based compensation. This will only help accelerate our ability to weed out our lowest performers and better reward our hungry, motivated and productive employees.

3. Execute a radical reorganization
a) The current business unit structure must go away.
b) We must dramatically decentralize and eliminate as much of the matrix as possible.
c) We must reduce our headcount by 15-20%.
I emphatically believe we simply must eliminate the redundancies we have created and the first step in doing this is by restructuring our organization. We can be more efficient with fewer people and we can get more done, more quickly. We need to return more decision making to a new set of business units and their leadership. But we can’t achieve this with baby step changes,
We need to fundamentally rethink how we organize to win.

Independent of specific proposals of what this reorganization should look like, two key principles must be represented:

Blow up the matrix. Empower a new generation and model of General Managers to be true general managers. Product, marketing, user experience & design, engineering, business development & operations all report into a small number of focused General Managers. Leave no doubt as to where accountability lies.

Kill the redundancies. Align a set of new BU’s so that they are not competing against each other. Search focuses on search. Social media aligns with community and communications. No competing owners for Video, Photos, etc. And Front Page becomes Switzerland. This will be a delicate exercise – decentralization can create inefficiencies, but I believe we can find the right balance.

I love Yahoo! I’m proud to admit that I bleed purple and yellow. I’m proud to admit that I shaved a Y in the back of my head.

My motivation for this memo is the adamant belief that, as before, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead. I don’t pretend that I have the only available answers, but we need to get the discussion going; change is needed and it is needed soon. We can be a stronger and faster company – a company with a clearer vision and clearer ownership and clearer accountability.
We may have fallen down, but the race is a marathon and not a sprint. I don’t pretend that this will be easy. It will take courage, conviction, insight and tremendous commitment. I very much look forward to the challenge.

So let’s get back up.

Catch the balls.

And stop eating peanut butter.

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