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Hybrid social media

If all the excitement around Web-based social media has you nervous about whether people can still hold a conversation in person, fear not. Social networking site Meetup.com has combined the ease and community-building capabilities of the Web with the primal need for in-person interaction.

Meetup.com reports more than 5 million regular users, facilitates more than 37,000 groups, and helps arrange about 80,000 physical events monthly. That’s a large group of motivated consumers, segmented by very specific interests—two attributes that typically make marketers salivate.

As reported by The New York Times on March 19, Meetup.com has found an interesting sponsorship model to support its various special interest groups. The site has signed both American Express Open and Kimberly Clarke, parent company to brands Huggies and Pull-ups, to underwrite and support Meetup.com groups for new mothers and entrepreneurs. Meetup.com’s sponsorships allow brands to provide valuable services to potential customers and opportunities to interact with their brands in meaningful ways. What’s interesting about Meetup.com’s approach is that it combines the best of two worlds: the convenience and ubiquity of the Web and the impact and intimacy of in-person interaction. Bill Golden, managing editor

March 27, 2008 Posted by | Bill Golden, In the News, Social Media, Web Content | Leave a comment

Is news more interesting if your friends are reading it?

The Wall Street Journal thinks so. It just added SeenThis? to its online articles, which allows Facebook users to share WSJ articles they find interesting and see what articles their Facebook friends like.

This isn’t groundbreaking; it’s just a personalized version of the article-ranking systems many online newspapers already have. But it’s more public than the super personalized “email this” feature that allows you to send an article to an individual email account.

Will it boost WSJ online readership? Possibly. I like to scan the “Most Popular” articles listed on some of my favorite newspapers. I’m always curious about what other readers are engaging with, and sometimes I spot headlines I find interesting. (The selections tend to be more fun than useful, but so what?) I think it’s fair to say that this increases the amount of time I spend on the site—and that I can be influenced by the reading habits of others.

The user-review method of boosting sales has certainly worked for Amazon. The ultimate test for WSJ will be whether or not the new article-sharing feature will translate into more paid online subscriptions. People might be persuaded to sign up if they see that highly respected or influential “friends” are reading the WSJ.

What about you? Do the preferences of your peers influence your reading habits? Enough to cough up some cash for a special subscription? Selena Welz, associate managing editor

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Content Syndication, In the News, Selena Welz | 1 Comment

Elections and MySpace

It’s Election Day in San Francisco and I forgot to vote this morning. Mayor Gavin doesn’t need me, but Measure D might. To assuage my guilt about not supporting the city’s libraries with my vote, I’m brushing up on my presidential candidates so I’m not in the same predicament next year.

I consulted the MySpace Impact “channel.” It launched in the spring and it features profiles of the presidential candidates and other info on current events and politics. Turns out that not only are MySpace and social networking important tools for companies (see John Kovacevich’s recent post), but they are also becoming increasingly important for political candidates. But how are these presidential hopefuls using MySpace? Very differently. Here are my initial thoughts:

Chris Dodd’s site could use some attention from his campaign. His “about me” section sounds canned, even as he sings the praises of two-way communication and not talking “at” people. I, for one, feel talked at. Plus the posted comments include spam—fake offers for free Coach handbags and $500 gift certificates at Macy’s—and he asks visitors to join the Dodd Squad. Puh-leeze. Pretty dated reference, especially for the MySpace crowd.

Fred Thompson hasn’t updated his MySpace blog since early September (come on!), yet he has still collected 12,344 friends (more than Dodd and Giuliani, fewer than McCain and Edwards, and way behind Obama, who had 190,120 friends at last count). Mitt Romney has more than 30,000 friends, and five of them are his photogenic sons.

Rudy’s page is approachable. His “about me” blurb is casual, and one of his campaign workers, Dan Meyers, tells us that he and his colleagues are updating the page. Nice that they don’t pretend to be Rudy. Hillary also tries to be approachable, telling us that she’s a “lousy cook,” “never did well at math,” and recently bought a Carly Simon CD.

Most candidates post only positive comments (Rudy, Hillary, McCain), but I noticed a negative comment on Bill Richardson’s page. A mistake? A deliberate decision to let every voice be heard? Probably the former.

Do you think these candidates are making good use of MySpace? Take a look at their profiles and let me know what you think. —Julie Jares, managing editor

November 6, 2007 Posted by | In the News, Julie Jares, Multimedia, Web Content | 1 Comment

The lesson from Google’s latest blog controversy

Google is in hot water this week because an employee voiced a political opinion on a corporate blog.

Obviously, it’s important for companies to have policies about the scope of their blog postings. But it would be a mistake to think that the lesson here is that all corporate blogs should have a Big Brother corporate reviewer who vets every piece of content before posting.

What makes blogging and other Web 2.0 strategies so engaging is that it democratizes communication. It means that you can communicate quickly and engage your customers directly. And it may mean that you get yourself into some sticky situations.

While Google may have wanted to avoid this controversy (although, maybe not…it is being covered widely in the press and they are getting lots of publicity), the fact is that the blog posting did exactly what it was supposed to do: It engaged the audience. People were able to respond to the post and Google clarified its position. That’s a conversation and that’s good.

It may be messier than the old way of communicating with customers, but we might as well get used to it. We’ll be seeing more and more of it. (Full disclosure: My brother works for Google, although I haven’t talked to him about this particular case.) ―John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

July 5, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, In the News, John Kovacevich, Web Content | Leave a comment

Outsourcing to the outer limits?

Two people sent me the same article this morning about outsourcing. Seems that a website in Pasadena, California, is outsourcing its coverage of Pasadena politics to two journalists living in—are you sitting down?—India.

In this case, the decision to outsource seems to be based solely on money. The editor and publisher, James Macpherson, estimates that he’ll pay $20,800 in salary for the two writers, who will write about 15 stories per week per person. Cheap deal. The article quotes professors at USC and UCLA bemoaning the state of American journalism, and I have to agree. In his defense, Macpherson says that Pasadena city council meetings are available on the Internet, but puhleeze. If you’re covering a city’s political scene by watching Internet video, you shouldn’t call yourself a journalist. Where’s the local color and nuance? The “man on the street” reactions? Where’s the real reporting?

That said, sometimes outsourcing makes perfect sense. Plus it isn’t always about lowering costs or about hiring someone on the other side of the globe. I “outsource” plenty of tasks in my personal life, usually because I don’t have the time (cooking), the inclination (housekeeping), or the skills (anything that requires a tool box) to achieve the results I want. I’d save some money if I kept these tasks “in-house,” but to me, the benefits outweigh the costs.

At Tendo, our clients hire us for some of the same reasons. They might be terrific at building cars or developing great technologies, but they don’t specialize in creating customer communication programs, nor do they have the manpower to take on the associated challenges. And they don’t need to: They hire us for our expertise and our outside perspective while they focus on their core business.

Tendo, in turn, sometimes outsources, too. We have a stable of freelance writers, for example, that we use when we need specific expertise in a certain subject area. You can’t always have the resident expert on high-energy nuclear physics on staff.

Outsourcing has its limitations—I don’t want writers in Seoul giving me the scoop about Gavin Newsom’s latest scandal—but it can be an efficient and logical solution to a business challenge. —Julie Jares, managing editor

May 11, 2007 Posted by | Custom Content, In the News, Julie Jares | Leave a comment

The business of March Madness

Every March the requisite articles come out about how productivity goes down due to March Madness distractions: filling out office pools, watching games online, taking long lunches at the nearest sports bar, and gloating over friends who picked a #16 team to go to the Final Four. Since college basketball has been on my mind this week, I decided to think about the life and business lessons I could potentially glean from March Madness. Is this just an excuse to read SI.com and legitimize my NCAA research? Maybe. But I did come up with five lessons:

1) Hard work pays off. If you work hard for the whole season and you come out on top, you will be rewarded with a No. 1 seeding like North Carolina. In the business world, you can work hard and still not be Bill Gates, but it does reap rewards.

2) Prepare for the unexpected (aka, don’t underestimate your opponent). Just when you think your bracket looks perfect, a George Mason will come out of nowhere and spoil your party. This can happen at the office, too, so be prepared.

3) Overall performance is key. Don’t judge a team by its scoring or its famous coach. Look what happened to Texas Tech―one and done. You need to consider the whole package and make informed decisions.

4) Perfection is impossible. I stumbled on a site today that is offering one million dollars to anyone with a perfect bracket. That’s because it doesn’t happen. Mistakes happen, you just need to fix them. Or in the case of March Madness, accept them and hope you’re not eliminated.

5) Office pools have better odds than Vegas. OK, this is more of a gambling lesson, but it might come in handy.

Julie Jares, managing editor

March 15, 2007 Posted by | In the News, Julie Jares, Tendo View | 1 Comment

Freedom of speech?

As the Web becomes more and more interactive, news organizations and others may be shifting away from interactivity. According to an article on KFMB-TV’s website in late January, "Yahoo quietly pulled a discussion feature from its news site in recent weeks. Before, readers were allowed to post comments on individual news stories. The message boards were suspended, according to a note from Yahoo’s general manager for news, Neil Budde, because they allowed "a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion."

The article goes on to say that most news organizations don’t allow readers to freely publish comments on their sites. I did a quick search and found that some news blogs, and also corporate blogs, do still publish comments. Whether readers can "freely publish comments," however, is another question.

As readers, we may never know what’s been weeded out, but a quick peek can be telling. For example, NBC’s Meredith Veira has a blog called "Behind the scenes with Today’s leading lady." After my unscientific perusal of the comments, I’d say they run the gamut from gushing to highly critical.

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz blogs regularly and Sun is courting responses. The February 6 home page asks readers to "comment on what Sun’s CEO is blogging about." Readers are complying, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the comments are being screened, and not just for language or appropriateness. The 21 comments in response to Jonathan’s January 30 blog posting are either positive or somewhat neutral. Is that possible? I have my doubts.

Reader feedback is key to a blog’s success. Comments are often interesting to read, they can spark debates, and they show that the blogger is touching on topics that spark interest. But how does a reader’s right to express opinions co-exist with a company’s right―or desire―to control messaging on its own website? ―Julie Jares, managing editor

February 12, 2007 Posted by | Customer Care, In the News, Julie Jares, Web Content | Leave a comment