Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Since when is a reader a lurker?

I read and comment on blogs. It is what I choose to do. But when I am reading a blog – even one where I have commented – and the ‘readers are lurkers’ attitude comes out, increasingly I am finding I don’t like it. This is maybe just me, but it got me to thinking. Blogging is publishing, and lurking is a negative term. Why would publishers pin a negative label on their audience?

Is lurker a negative term?

There are two camps here. But lets get real – its derogatory if people think it is. Go look it up in the dictionary, and overwhelmingly its a negative. On what basis can we assume people don’t see it as negative? In the absence of research to the contrary, lets assume most people see it as a negative. And definitions don’t matter, what matters is how readers respond. Don’t try and persuade me, the court of public opinion will decide. And denial is more than just a river in Egypt.

Have you heard of the 1-9-90 model (from Bill Tancer)? There are others, but this would mean 90% of a blog’s readers are lurkers, 9% are the ‘participators’ who comment and 1% the content creators. When the ‘lurker’ tag emerges on a blog, in posts or in comments, what if a negative perception is created? What if negative emotions are evoked? What effect might that have on readership? Is it likely to create positive emotions? Hardly.

Imagine this. An author issues a press release stating that he thinks most of his readers are ‘lurkers’. Or worse, that a lot of members of his fan club are wackos. What would be the result? Other than blogging, can you think of an example where a communicator (artist, author, or otherwise) criticises their own audience in public? Criticise others, sure. Communicators aren’t afraid of controversy (or the publicity it may bring). But criticise their own audience? It doesn’t happen. Why not?

Why use a negative label?

So why would bloggers get involved in labelling their own readers – maybe 90% of them – as lurkers? I’ve even seen examples of bloggers criticising their commenters (the 9%) because the comments weren’t in the right style. Wow.

If you blog for your business, its a good thing to enjoy being read! Think like a publisher. The more interesting and engaging you make your writing for your audience, the better. And there is definitely a place for ego, no doubt about it. In the company of great authors, film makers, musicians (and business people) – ego abounds. Ego and an audience are not mutually exclusive (far from it). Enjoy your audience

When non-lurkers lurk

How does lurking appear in other media conversations?

  • If you read a novel and don’t send a letter to the author – are you a lurker?
  • If you watch a film and don’t participate in the fan club or write a review, are you a lurker?
  • If you listen to music on your iPod but don’t go to concerts or be an active fan club member, are you a lurker?
  • If you read a newspaper and don’t write letters to the editor, are you a lurker?
  • If you have seen Star Trek, but don’t dress up in Star Trek costume or attend Trekkie conventions, are you a lurker? (and no, I’m not into Star Trek, but I do think that a diversity of sub-cultures is very healthy)

If your favourite author labelled you as a lurker because you read their book but didn’t ‘participate in a conversation’, how would you feel towards that author? Would you read another of their books? Would you recommend their books to your friends? Robert Cialdini, in The Psychology of Influence, gives pretty strong evidence that if you like someone, they are more influential. And people like people who like them.

My point isn’t to label people lurkers. Quite the opposite. Where is the (‘non derogatory’) lurker equivalent in the author:reader, film-maker:viewer musician:listener etc relationships? Nowhere. The concept of a lurker doesn’t exist in other publishing relationships. Why not? Because communicators don’t criticise their audience. Or maybe not those that have survived. For those blogging to build an audience, it might pay to reflect on that.

Comments do of course continue a conversation, and that is a great characteristic of blogs – they facilitate conversation. But an author also gains a benefit from comments. It shows their blog is popular, and has a lot of readers. Not a bad thing. And because comments sometimes are a form of fan mail (‘great post!’), they make the blogger feel good.

What are the similarities between blog commenter communities and fan sub-cultures? Where egos are involved, quite a lot I am guessing. Film stars, celebrity authors et al often use media consultants to help them learn about dealing with fan subcultures – because there is an awareness that dissing the fans is a very bad move. Imagine a celebrity author being perceived as criticising readers because they don’t send her enough fan mail. Ouch! Maybe bloggers who use the ‘lurker’ term need to research this in more detail. Because there could be a fine line between being perceived as ‘encouraging participation’ and soliciting fan mail. Once again, it doesn’t matter what the blogger (or I) thinks. The audience will make up their own mind. I’m just making the point there is a risk to audience numbers if they decide it is the ego involved.

Journey back in time

Blogging derives from web log, or a personal journal style of communication. But perhaps some bloggers have brought the bulletin board model with them. Or open source / open content models, where everybody contributes because everyone is a volunteer (and equal). The bulletin board is where the ‘lurker’ label arose, after all. And it wasn’t a positive one then.

I take the view that if you want to contribute your knowledge to a community, why not do so freely without expecting anything in return? Others may also choose to contribute, but don’t have to. If you’re not happy contributing if others don’t do the same, then its not going to be as rewarding. Or put another way, if you give a gift when you expect something in return, its not really a gift. People can still set up communities for participators only – absolutely, whatever floats the boat. But if you want to think like a publisher, maybe its not good to assume this is the way blogs work. IMHO, they don’t.

Blogs are different to bulletin boards and Internet discussion groups. People who read blogs aren’t lurkers. They are readers. They are an audience.

Old media and new media

Seth Godin: Respect or Lurk?I like this Google Fight between “lurker + seth godin” and “respect + seth godin”. Its clear what Seth spends more time talking about. Bloggers who learn from the successful communicators of the ‘old’ media, and make use of the opportunities provided by the new media, will be the most successful communicators.

All communication is a conversation, and blogging joins an age old tradition. Respect your audience, respect your customers! There is a huge amount of literature that supports these principles, including some of the best bloggers and influencers of people:

Using the term lurker? Based on the gut test, I feel it shows disrespect to an audience, to readers and may alienate a significant number of readers. Some bloggers might not agree. But until the split tests and Taguchi results are conclusive, the risk is there for them to take.

How about this as a better alternative? Whatever the media, believe in your content. Enjoy people reading it and commenting on it, and respect and encourage both.

Measures and metrics for niche blogging

Niche blogging will eventually change the way people measure the value of blogs. Most of the media attention for bloggers is based on high volume blogs, as measured by traditional website metrics (unique visitors, pageviews) and blog traffic metrics such as Technorati.

But for a small business owner who runs a niche blog with no advertising and yet gains a lot from each new customer, a very small amount of traffic can lead to enough conversions to make a huge difference to his or her business.

Niche bloggers don’t all care about massive amounts of traffic. A highly successful niche blog won’t show up in the top anything at Technorati, and may never get a high page rank. But they have an audience, in many cases a highly profitable one in their niche.

So, if you are a niche blogger, don’t be disheartened by the metrics of the big sites. Track your new clients, track your acquisition costs. Measure and test. And enjoy the benefits of niche blogging!

Blogging as part of Australian Govt Policy-Making?

Governments around the world (particularly ours) are known for their slow adaptation of new technologies and policies. Recent OECD figures show Australia ranking a poor 17th out of 30 developed countries for broadband take up.

So it is with great suprise that we see so much attention suddenly being directed at Australia’s internet access and, even more impressive, its planned implementation as part of Government policy making.

“THE Howard Government has unveiled sweeping plans to employ Web 2.0 practices to encourage greater citizen participation in policy-making.

The Minister (Gary Nairn – Special Minister of State) last week launched a set of “Principles for ICT-Enabled citizen engagement” as part of a wider government commitment to support a consistent experience for everyone engaging with the government electronically.”
— CeBIT Australia News

This comes only days after Australian Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, announces a plan to spend $AU4.7 billion with the private sector on an Australia-wide broadband network!

While I am fortunate enough to live in an area where broadband access isn’t an issue, it is still very encouraging to see how important the government sees Australia’s online future, and shows further how imperative it is that businesses throughout Australia get online and take their place in our global market.

Weblogs and Service Industries

Marketing a product is quite simple. First of all, you have something physical to work with. Your customer can see it, feel it and when it comes to a physical entity, there isn’t alot of room for misunderstanding. Let’s face it, if it looks like a fish, tastes like a fish and smells like a fish, I’d put my money on it being a fish.

Marketing a service, on the other hand, can be a lot more difficult. Services very rarely have a tangible aspect as part of their core offering. Services are largely experiential and, as such, can solicit a wide range of responses. So, how do you communicate the benefits or features of your service? Even worse, how do you communicate the benefits of your service to a person you have no physical contact with?

Business blogging is a tool that allows you to throw off the restraints of factual advertising and tangibility. With a business blog, you have the ability to express all the feelings and emotions brought about by interaction with your service.

This is not to say, however, that you should disregard information on the tangible (and intangible) aspects of your service. That’s what your website is for! When a blog is created as a complement to your website, you are ensuring that every facet of your service is being covered and the true experience of your service is being communicated to your customer.

How old is your audience?

Do you know who is reading your blog or website? I came across a fascinating exchange about WordPress taking on Movable Type (the action is in the comments), which led me to see these age based demographics of Live Journal users

Demographics of Live Journal blog users.

Who is your audience? MySpace and YouTube are well known for their youthful audience, and you can see that Live Journal users (content creators) are predominantly 15 to 25. Creating content is a very active process, and to see youth so heavily represented is significant.

In traditional media, you pretty much had to be a media mogul to have a say on the global stage.

Not any more.

Online marketing and the Three Rs

Mike Moran has written an excellent piece on the Three R’s of Web Marketing.

Be relevant, real and responsive. I like the headline too much to try and add a fourth point. So I’d like to extend the definition of Real to include real emotion and real stories. Yes people want facts, but they also buy based on stories and emotion. I’m not talking spill-your-guts emotional slews across your website, but the use of words that evoke real emotion, and the use of stories that people connect to. This part of real is a critical part of online marketing.

Final point – Mike uses the term Web Marketing.

For me, Internet Marketing means the wild frontier, full of internet marketers selling internet marketing products to budding internet marketers. Online marketing is more grown up version – real-marketing meets the new wave. Online Marketing is the term I like to use.

Mike uses Web Marketing, and I wonder whether it is different yet again. The terms appear on Google in a ratio of approximately 7:5:1. Is Web Marketing different to Online Marketing?

Explaining the importance of the Long Tail for Small Business

If you’re running a small business and interested in new opportunities, you should understand the concept of the Long Tail. I recently wrote an article on The Long Tail and Small Business Blogging, and it was published in the Feb 2007 edition of Marketing Magazine.

The article explains what The Long Tail is and why it matters for small business. It then covers how a small business blog can be used to tap into new opportunities in The Long Tail. The material is covered in a lot more depth than my previous posts on the topic – hope you enjoy.

Marketing Magazine Feb 2007 Cover Page
Marketing Magazine

Getting to online marketing

Since we launched, I’ve been constantly refining the online marketing approach we use for our publicity offerings. The biggest change occurred over the Christmas break in the form of an improved ‘long copy’ description of our services. At the same time, we introduced an autoresponder based education series covering the material from our publictity workshops. This has led to a definite increase in the traffic to our website and our conversion rate, and a range of interesting new clients.

The online marketing approach we use is finding its way into our service line. I am finding that in talking to clients about the kind of on-line marketing we are doing they want to add this into their site as well. Some are keen to launch a new site altogether. When I am talking about on-line marketing I am talking about key word research, adwords campaigns, dedicated landing pages, education via email auto responders and effective offer pages … etc. Its a long list, and helping people understand these marketing tools and how to use them takes more than one conversation.

Putting these elements together into fixed price services that our clients can tap is what I am currently working on.

I’ve been involved in sales and marketing of services for fifteen years. What is currently happening is a change of the rules of marketing for services. The on-line environment offers real opportunities for small players. This is one of those periods of time when everything about sales and marketing is changing. This is not always clear for people who are in the middle of it. Personally I find it very exciting. I’d be interested to hear whether you are getting a sense of these changes too.

Blogs are personal and conversational

Blogs are websites that let you be more personal and conversational than usual. For small business, this means you can explain what you do in some detail, while building trust.

With a blog, its far easier to be more personal with your readers. Your tone can be casual and relaxed and yet still business-like. Blogs come from an identifiable author – a real person. While a website is usually faceless. Not to say you couldn’t make a standard website highly personal – you can. It just doesn’t come as naturally as it does with blogs.

A blog also helps to create a conversation. Websites can have regularly updated news sections (but they aren’t usually updated that regularly!) A blog consists of a collection of posts – a voice, talking to a reader. Comments and emails create a reply. Blogs make it easier for readers to subscribe to the content – RSS, email. And trackbacks make it possible for other bloggers to link your posts into their own blogs. Because people don’t usually buy from you on first contact, engaging in a conversation can be a great way to let people learn enough about you so that one day they’ll want to become a customer.

So that is how I describe blogs. Just websites that can be more personal and more conversational that normal. Its a better way to communicate for lots of business purposes.

Now, what do you call a blog + website? Our sites always have a combination of web pages as well as a blog component. So are they blog enabled websites? Or blogsites? Or just good websites, and you-better-explain-the-benefits-before-i-will-invest …

Always interested to hear other perspectives.

The end of search marketing

Mike Moran Search Marketing
Reading Mike Moran’s Search Marketing was well worth the effort – its a thorough, incredibly well documented text on how search marketing works.

On Mike’s Biznology blog, he has written a post on Open Season on Search Marketing. Its a great post, and I am definitely in the camp that believes in search marketing.

Its just that I think that one day search marketing will be far less important, because Content Marketing will be king (or queen).

Consider that you get traffic your website from three primary sources, two online and one offline:

  • Search Marketing – people search using keywords or directories, and your organic search result or paid search result leads them to your site. To market with search, read Mike’s book, or at least his SkinFlint’s Guide to Search Marketing
  • Content Marketing – people read content or otherwise (e.g. forums, referrals) find out about you on the web, and find their way to your site without search. To market using your content, you actively build content that reaches your audience right where they live (online).
  • Offline Marketing – people find out about your site offline and come directly to your site. Offline marketing would include publicity, writing news or magazine articles, or advertising. ‘Old fashioned’ marketing if you like.

As the web matures and online communities of interest strengthen, I believe Content Marketing will eclipse Search Marketing in importance. Together, Search Marketing and Content Marketing will turn Offline Marketing on its ear. Why bother searching for something if you already know where to find it?

The Googlezillas of Content Marketing? I’m thinking content will be a lot more decentralised. Category killers will exist, but not with the same dominance that Google has. Instead communities of interest will coalese around key bloggers, forums, MySpace networks and so on. Clay Shirky over at Wired Magazine wrote about the Meganiche, and I think he is spot on.

So, Mike Moran is right, and you would be a brave soul to run a business on the web today and ignore Search Marketing. But don’t ignore Content Marketing either. The doyens of Content Marketing are David Meerman Scott and Brian Clark (although he isn’t referring to it using this term yet). Read them, and learn all you can about it.

What do you think?

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