Thursday, March 05, 2009

On blogging and social networking... art & science

I went to a fascinating talk on these subjects last night at Cardiff University.

And, as a consequence, the next blog is born. The speaker, Dr. Kelly Page, shared and raised many aspects that I, at least, valued, and would suggest that if this is a topic you are interested in too (as content creator or just surfer/reader/seeker of stuff), this link is to be recommended, as this seminar, and other topics, will be uploaded, covered, and discussed.

A gifted speaker, she sparked a lot in my imagination and, I am sure others present.

As she was open to helping if she could, I have written to her, in the hope she may be able to help me with the issues, problems and opportunities I face with and this associated blog.

It does also serve, in edited form as a summary of some topics covered to 'give you a flavour', but mainly this shares, warts and all, what I am facing here. Read on at your discretion. Feel free to offer advice if it's constructive!

Talk about topical!

No sooner do I sit down to gather my thoughts whilst engaging in my morning trawl of the 'net and newsletters and feeds, and look what contradictory, depressing and/or inspirational information one gets bombarded with (how this is currently happened being relevant, which I'll come back to later on):


By way of a quick potted history, I am a creative (this is significant, as so much with the web requires business experience rolled in) ad man from a dinosaur age, who nonetheless saw and still sees technology as the way forward. And as a karmic correction for being a wee bit too good at getting folk to buy stuff they don't need and fly places more often than necessary, I created

Basically it was... is... 'Friend's Reunited for rubbish'. In many ways it was ahead of its time (no good thing), combining social networking with communities with databasing and search. It was, at the time, cutting edge. Now... it is steam-driven. I designed the basic concept, but it was created by experts. The kind that get Linda Evangelista to wake them up, and she famously claimed not to do so for less than $10k.

And I have blundered along, alone, making it what it is. There have been highs, such as many awards and even awesome PR on occasion, and one point a few years ago when (possibly due to that PR) it had a high of 120,000 unique monthly visitors. And even my relatively new, opt-in newsletter grows daily, now around 3,000 registrants.

But there have been, and are still lows, such as taking my eye of many balls and seeing the monthly visits drop to the few thousands, the Forum stutter and die (you mentioned possible bolt-on scripts to help here, but do remember this site is steam driven and I think HTML rather than XML, especially 'back-end') and all other manner of missed opportunities. Not good for something with a model based on ad revenue based on traffic.

I attended the talk based on a simple notion... getting the traffic back up. And when that happens, the ad revenue might yet appear to allow me to run the site as I would wish. But this belies the fact that I did have it 'working' once, and dropped that ball. There is no reason that, even if I do drive traffic again, using the methodologies shared, the same will not eventually happen again.

I lack key areas of expertise, skill sets, and strategy. Maybe there's a chance that at least I may be pointed in better directions, or indeed to some who may help. I can't work much harder, but I can work smarter. Sadly, much is down to having the personnel, but as that is an area that cannot be addressed until the chicken starts making golden eggs, I need to prioritise first, make money next, and then delegate.

I commissioned a full consultant report recently, and the site got slaughtered, over a dozen jargon-heavy pages. I think it has huge problems to be sure, but none that cannot be addressed, and make it worth persevering. Too many people like it, and what I am trying to do wit it not to at least try.


This would lead to my first comment about the lecture. It is hard, if not impossible to be all things to all people, but often I sense that such events, from overarching funders (EU, RDAs) down, that while the target is SME's, very often the pitch is the high end of the big "M", and very often the majority of attendees, like me, are from the very small 's' rump.

Hence, many things, whilst inspirational, can be outside of our financial, expertise and hence practical reach. Like I joked, when folk say 'get your head of IT to call our head of IT', I rather have to choke on the reply that, along with most other daily functions, that person is me. Equally, whilst I'd love to hire an intern for a year to (wo)man a webcam, that person has to eat to live, as do I. The ROI can bite, in all senses of that word. I actually had one who came for two months and ended staying two years, but sadly my funds could not sustain her immense value and contributions, hence a tail off in the site's performance and visitor levels.

The issue of monetisation was all rather left to the end, and also a tad 'high-end'. I think I identified three basic 'models', with the first two being perhaps the more highly represented in the audience and hence being satisfied more by what you covered:

* e-commerce - even to most basic levels, social networking can of course be a driver to the site, and hence purchase opps.
* branding - again, this can be of great value, but may even not result in any site linkage. Merely keeping the brand top of
mind at POP is enough
* traffic - my situation. I am trying to operate a publisher, 'build it and they will come... and if they pass through so will guys who want to reach them', rather discredited old dot bomb model. Kinda what I am stuck with.

But though advertising was referred to, it was not really in the context I would have valued knowing more about. In fact few, if any of the examples showed do I recall having a banner or button, which required a person to visit first and then click on to generate revenue.

I know, I need massive help here. I knew enough to build the site for this very purpose and did much I am proud of in this regard (inc: 1) a fortune on legals, to protect not only myself and the site, but and brands who engage with ideas and or ads; it is still well ahead in this, 2) data protection; again at the top limit, with positive opt-ins or newsletter and/or 3rd party follow ups and 3) health and safety warning options. It is not great on disability compliance any more, but that is a matter of money and the vast database I need to address, mainly uploaded by the public. I am sure it can and will be sorted).

Sadly there was not enough time for more questions in the room, but one I was going to ask related to CRM, though maybe this does not fall under social networking umbrella. I refer to reaching out to and staying in touch once someone has expressed an interest. Again my knowledge is limited to talk sensibly at this juncture, but I refer to such as RSS feeds and/or emails, etc. I can only share my own experiences, on both sides of the coin here.

Though I am registered with almost all of the social networking sites mentioned (FaceBook (hunting down after I write a possible avenue I noted on a slide... Green Patch?), MySpace, twitter, Bebo, Linked In... and many more) I barely 'use' them (may explain a lot - can't even recall half the log-ins) even as in individual (as a business not at all, yet, hence my attendance). It's a sad excuse, but I don't feel I have the time. One too many initial pokes, friend invites from 'Candy' or pointless 140-character rambles draining my day and I switched off. I have to, and enjoy reading prodigiously, and turn much into content of value for my site and/or blogs.

But I have noticed that my time-poor life means that RSS's are now left unchecked, at least as I have them on my Mac/Safari combo, as they come in to a folder I forget to access. Equally I don't check the Times or Telegraph online unless I remember I should. What I do do is open and read email summaries that come in, especially with pictures, a brief line and a link. This ranges from The Guardian to the Indy to Trade rags... to some blogs.

This, my main blog, is on Blogger. I know it is widely read and by useful folk (a pommy whinge once resulted in a Tesco Director giving me a £1k invite to a conference he was at). It is not linked to anything, and especially the very site it refers to!!!! I have tried to pop a few things as Google ads on them, but they are poorly coordinated at best.

I have no clue on Adsense vs. Adwords on any of them.

I get great stuff from folk daily (I think weekly is better, mind) usually from such as Feedburner.. FREE! I use dotmailer (waaaay too infrequently - losing hordes between mailings through folk changing newsletter recipient hot/g-mail email addys like they do underwear and firewall issues), which is as mailwashed, spam-safe as you can get... but cost me £35 a mailing... monthly... if I get my act together.

Other areas were covered, such as Wikis, the IAB (should I join?), google, vlogs, podcasts, etc. So many to check, so few to really add value?

I see the value, and hence need to do all you suggested, and get on all you shared. But my ad experience restrains me because you 'shouldn't do it until you can do it right, keep on doing it... and keep on making it ever better'. I don't want to go in half-cocked, and make a mess with the set up, running, responses, moderation, etc.

I see value in creating entities to complement a and Junkk Male RE:view that are themselves much better integrated first, and then use these to drive traffic in, and around, and up. Then get round to addressing monetising. The first I might be able to do on my own, with a bit of help from my basic-HTML savvy, pro-am web-designer-skilled, Second Life (we have plans to integrate this too! She runs global concerts all the time - I see enviro apps aplenty. Plus, as they present, others) champion missus.

Being very immersed as a user, one direction I see much more value in pursuing is focussing on solutions, rather than discussions. There are billions out there having spats on climate change and knocking spots off each other. The core of is a niche, reuse and repair, with elements of pragmatic reduction, and the much more popular (though low end-benefit to consumers, IMHO) recycling in there too. Plus it offers ideas, and the opportunity to share them.

I would seek to make the site the pre-eminent global portal for these topics, offering true, free value to the public, and in so doing a sustainable business model by 'green' marketers seeing the benefit of being there too to talk to and/or reach this highly targeted audience.

Sorry for the ramble. I'd have sent this as a tweet, but it may have run a tad over 140 characters:)

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