social

The President on Reddit

After the President Obama made a surprise visit to Reddit yesterday to host an AMA, I knew the post I planned for this morning was going to get bumped.  Whatever you may say about his policies, I don't think anyone can deny that the President is a master marketer.  His appearance on Reddit yesterday cemented this–Romney and Obama are not fighting on equal footing in the realm of ones and zeros.

The President on Reddit

The President on Reddit

The Verge posted a better writeup than I could hope to produce.  I'd suggest reading it to get a top line on what went down, and what this means in terms of marketing.  I'd rather focus on some of the specific things the President and his team did right in approaching a community like Reddit.

One of the most important lessons organizations must learn about social media is the power of culture.  Different sites and communities around the web have different norms and etiquette, and you really need to understand the law of the land before you approach a given site.  Old Spice has done this really well. Even though social media communities can be hostile to marketing and advertising, Old Spice managed to get near universal accolades from every site from YouTube to Reddit and even 4Chan.

Here's how Obama & Co insured their foray into Reddit was a success.:

  • They selected the right community.  Supporters of Obama and Ron Paul are over-represented among the nerdy crowd on Reddit.  There are plenty of conservatives and Romney fans on Reddit, but they don't have the same voice they would have in the general population.  Choosing Reddit isn't partisan in the way moveon.org would be, but it's still friendly territory for the President.
  • They used the right venue.  Reddit is organized into communities called subreddits that are organized around a topic or style of communicating.  The IAMA subreddit is for As Me Anything posts where someone answers questions posed by the crowd.  No question is off limits, although you don't have to answer anything you don't feel comfortable with.
  • They didn't announce it too early.  Obama's last minute announcement lead credibility to his participation in the community by making sure only existing members of the community had a change to interact with the President.
  • It was a well executed AMA.  Obama did everything right, from verifying his identity to picking a good user name.  Obama provided updates in the original posts and even referenced the not bad meme in his close.
  • Obama didn't venture too far off scripts, but his replies were clearly not massaged by an aide-typos and all.  I enjoyed reading a thread where someone corrected his grammar and then was chided for it.
  • Obama answered questions that resonate with the Reddit community. The top question was about NASA funding–one of the topics with universal support across all of Reddit.  Most of us won't be happy until NASA is 90% of the Federal budget.  He also answered a question about the White House beer recipe, which is another crowd favorite.

To me this was a historic moment.  It was a big win for Reddit, and helped Obama as well.  More than that it showed how much technology can be used to connect the public with its leaders.  I hope to see more of our elected leaders on forums like this–and hopefully not during the election cycle.

Twitter Stumbles

Twitter has always been special to me.  In our industry, social networks and platforms come and go.  Some are innovative.  Some gain incredible traction.  Some not only make a mark, but persist.  Almost all are driven by a vision and a business plan.

But Twitter is different.  Twitter was an accident.  Born from Odeo, Twitter was originally built as an easy way to text groups of people.  It worked so well they grew it into a product, and then into a company.

The Fail Whale

The Fail Whale

If you look at Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, Path, Pinterest or other platforms, you can a cohesive, directed design.  Twitter grew up in a much more organic way.  @mentions, #tags, and other Twitter features were community driven.  The logo and branding are offshoots of visuals created by the Icon Factory.  Most of Twitter's UX innovation was driven by third party app developers, and even Twitter's official apps were purchased.  Even Twitter's search function was born out of a third party.

Twitter became a platform.  It's messaging model and API made it easy to use Twitter as glue between desktop, mobile and even SMS based platforms.  Twitter made great efforts to support and grow this community, and it helped Twitter grow into what it is now: one of The Great Platforms.  It may not have the reach of Facebook or YouTube, but who does?  What Twitter has is a community of connected, savvy followers.  It often acts as a place of refuge from the more dramatic Facebook.  It is a place where people who don't know each other, but share interests can connect and share.

But there's never been a business model.  Twitter has been a "let's just grow and figure out the money thing later" organization.  Facebook and Google are honest: we wan't your eyeballs to sell ads.  Dropbox or Valve want you to buy a product.  Twitter has never known.  The most I heard for years was "maybe we'll do ads one day."

This has created a tension for Twitter.  They now believe the way to revenue involved alienating some of the developers that helped them grow.  This is quite a gamble: Twitter's users may be uniquely sensitive to the plights of developers.  The distinction between influencer and developer is quite thin in the Twitterverse.

There is a lesson to learn here.  Business model decisions do not age well.  When you build a platform, there should be a clear path to revenue from day one.  Failure to make such plans means you may one day find your needs in opposition to those of your users.

Klout

Have you heard of Klout?  Klout is a service that measures social media influence and distills it down into a numerical value: the Klout score.  This number can range between 1 and 100, but it's not a linear scale.  Klout scores are exponential.  It's an interesting concept, but it's not without controversy.  The methodology behind Klout scores has never been disclosed.  This secrecy lead most people to question the legitimacy of the score.  After all, how accurate can an influence measure that ranks Justin Beiber as more influential than Barack Obama really be?

Klout logo

Some of this criticism is unfair.  How many people get upset over the search placement Google assigns to them?  Unlike Google, the Klout score is personal in a way search listings are not.  This is an attempt to describe your role in the world to a number.  This number already has consequences.  Customers with higher Klout scores are sometimes treated with greater deference by companies.  

Many customer service organizations have been trained to examine the Klout score of customers who engage the brand via social media.  Klout has become a staple of community management.

I know that I've been given goods, services and upgrades just because my Klout score is above 60.  Flawed though it may be, Klout is still the most popular and known service of its kind.  It's become the de facto measurement of social media influence.

In my life, Klout is mainly an inside joke with my coworkers.  We "+K bomb" each other.  You can use a virtual currency called +K to indicate who you consider an influencer and in what areas of expertise.  My coworkers have resoundingly agreed that I am an expert in the Fancy Dress Political Party and Kittens.  This information appears on my public Klout profile.  It's possible to hide this activity, but I don't.  Good natured +K bombs are fun, and I don't want to imagine a world where social media is stripped of whimsy.

Yesterday, Klout announced major changes to its scoring system.  I can't remember an update from any company that seems so tailored to my criticism!  The new Klout score pulls in more data points, and discloses what those points are.  Klout makes better use of LinkedIn and Wikipedia to gauge influence, so someone who is prominent-but-not-active like Warren Buffet receives a Klout score more inline with their real world stature.  Klout is also using "moments" to show its users what specific pieces of content resonated with their audience, and in doing so contributed to their Klout score.

The results of the new system are positive.  Barack Obama now (rightfully) scores higher than Justin Beiber.  Don't misread me: I don't want to detract from Mr. Beiber's influence.  His audience is large and devoted.  It is likewise clear to me that the elected leader of the free world wields even greater influence and Klout now scores this correctly.

As I've looked through my own network, the scores seem likewise validated.  Some of my friends are influential, but relatively quiet in social media.  Their scores have all risen–probably based on LinkedIn data.  They are influencers of the influencers, and I'm glad to see their score reflect that.

From my perspective, the new scoring system is a great win for Klout.  The increased transparency makes this metric more trustworthy.  The addition of more networks and platforms acknowledges and addresses that rapidly shifting landscape of social media.  Moments will be a great tool for individuals and companies alike to understand which content posts are most meaningful to their audience across their entire social media presence.

If you haven't tried Klout yet, I can finally recommend the service with a straight face.  Click the link below and sign-in with your Facebook or Twitter account.

Try Klout.

App.net raises $500,000 via crowdfunding

On the heels of Ouya, the Twitter alternative App.net smashed their $500,000 fundraising goal.  Interestingly, they did not use KickStarter and instead built their own funding platform.  Kickstarter funded projects share some of the raised capital beyond credit card processing and it looks like App.net decided that they were better served by holding a greater share of their fundraising than they would receive in value from Kickstarter.

Interesting.

Also interesting is the frustration this project embodies.  There is a high correlation between Internet savvy and antagonism toward ad-supported social networks.  For many people, Facebook is a necessity they resent.  A few even resent it so much they've elected to disable their accounts–at considerable social cost.

I'm interesting in App.net because they are another example of a startup bucking the conventional path to funding, but also because they represent a something more profound.  over 10,000 people have raised more than $680,000 to support a fee-based social network with no ads.  The issues of privacy, data ownership, user experience and third-party developer access are important enough to a group of people that they are building their own platform.  Have a look at the app.net core values:

•••

  • We are selling our product, NOT our users.

    We will never sell your personal data, content, feed, interests, clicks, or anything else to advertisers. We promise.

  • You own your content.

    App.net members will always have full control of their data. Members have the fundamental right to easily back-up, export, and delete ALL of their data, whenever they want.

  • We will align our financial incentives with members & developers.

    In this paid model, the more people that value our service highly enough to pay for it, the more money we make. Our financial incentives are entirely tied to successfully delivering a service you can depend on, not on holding our ecosystem hostage.

  • App.net employees spend 100% of their time improving our services for you, not advertisers.

    Rather than waste most of our engineering time coming up with new and exciting ways to sell your personal data to advertisers, 100% of our engineering and product team will be focused on building the most innovative and reliable service we can.

  • We will operate a sustainable, predictable business.

    App.net will always have a clear business model. We know that depending on services that could go away or desperately squeeze users for more and more money is a toxic cycle.
    We want our ecosystem to rest easy that App.net is built on a financially solid foundation.

  • We respect and value our developer community.

    We believe that developers building on our platform are increasing the value and attractiveness of our service to paying members, and thus our financial interests are fundamentally aligned. We hope developers build large, robust businesses on top of our platform. Even if it means that we will likely forgo some huge future revenue streams, we will NEVER screw developers acting in good faith.

  • Our most valuable asset is your trust.

    •••

    Many people have become so cynical about user-hostile, privacy-violating social services that they refuse to participate at all. We can understand why. Earning your trust is the most important thing we can do. It won't be easy, and we will make some mistakes, but we will do our best to be honest and transparent.

For sometime, Twitter has been the place where people concerned about these issues connected with each other.  Unfortunately, Twitter is a neat product with no clear path to profitability.  This search for revenue is driving Twitter into being more controlling, less cooperative to third-party development and more ad-focused.  Twitter becomes more like Facebook over time.

This is the Internet at its best.  I believe that the social changes the Internet will bring are just beginning, and governments, large corporations and other organizations are unprepared for the market disruption will follow.