Experimental Lex

Playing with words.

Tag Archives: social

The Social Media Hammer

I have to share a fun story about some old friends. A small group of us still reside in NYC. A few in Los Angeles. And a few overseas. We were having an online group-hug via e-mail and it was noted that the California contingent had disappeared… for weeks, maybe months.

I was getting tired of waiting, so I hatched a plan to force them out of hiding. I replied all to one of my NYC friends with this message:


We need you to photoshop some milk cartons with the photos of our lost friends in california.

And 5 minutes later, he responded with this:
And I responded to all with this message (apologies for the grammer):


Jimmy, Eric. You have til end of day to send your status update.
Otherwise, this is going on your facebook wall!  social media. BAM!

Quite spontaneously and by accident, I had committed the equivalent of social media blackmail. And it worked. Jimmy and Eric were suddenly engaged in our discussion.

This concludes our lesson of the day.

Instant and Implied Social Networks

Powerful words were spoken by Sequoia Capital regarding their investment in Color Labs along with other major investors.

“They told us that every 10 years or so a company and a marketplace and an opportunity come together that’s transformative,” …. “Not since Google have we seen this.”

All told, the series A funding total was $41 million.  The funding was announced in conjunction with the launch of their iPhone app and website at color.com.  (sidebar:  If it looks like a bubble, walks like a bubble and talks like a bubble.com, then it is probably a bubble).

And if you ask around, you will find mostly negative opinions of the app, the website, and the 41-million-fucking-dollars.  Maybe a good question to ask is: Does bubble equal stupid? I think the answer was yes during the first bubble over a decade ago.  This time round, I don’t think this is automatically true.

In the case of Color Labs and Sequoia, there is a rumored rationale at work here.  It was said that the Color app demonstrates the “implied social network”.  By making the assumption that a bunch of people using the same photo-taking and sharing app within close proximity of each other, they should automatically be treated as “friends” or at least the same social network.  The result is a digital photo album based on the aggregated people and photos taken at an event.

So what?  That might seem underwhelming as a first product for a $41MM investment.  Yet, the premise is intriguing.  If you look at the big social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), it feels like there is too much work involved with creating and managing your social profiles.  The beauty in life is randomness … the serendipity that makes you accidental friends with people you meet through interesting circumstances.  Often, that moment lasts for a very short time.  And sometimes, it is a catalyst that extends that moment for a very long time.

Regardless, the beauty in that moment is still there.  I believe there is something important to be explored and discovered here.

The Social/Mobile CRM Opportunity

I keep thinking there is a big opportunity for innovation with social/mobile CRM, though I am still figuring out the details.  Like last time, I think I will just riff on the topic until I get my ideas sorted out.

In the traditional CRM world, businesses are concerned mainly with sales, leads, and marketing campaigns.  For some businesses, CRM is the process of contact management in the context of getting customers and making sales.  From this point of view, a CRM is a system where you can enter and manage data relating to opportunities and leads with the objective of converting leads to customers and generating sales.

Another major area of CRM is e-mail marketing and its offline counterpart, direct mail marketing.  E-mail marketing is a really big industry that continues to thrive.  10-15 years ago, there were startups making it big by offering tools that helped businesses manage and send email blasts.  In fact, I had the privilege of working with Rosalind Resnick a few years ago.  Rosalind pioneered opt-in e-mail marketing through her company NetCreations.  She took the company public in 1999 and later sold it for $100+ million and only moments before our beloved Internet bubble had burst.  Not too shabby.

Today, I still hear stories about young (and old) entrepreneurs building startups that help businesses with e-mail marketing campaigns.  And I get especially annoyed when I hear stories from teenagers talking about making their first $million by age 18 doing exactly this. (i hate them)  If there is a lesson here (besides drop out of college and build a startup), it is that e-mail marketing will continue to be a powerful and obvious channel.  To reach the inbox of a person who has not explicitly unsubscribed is like a perfectly targeted Google ad.  The nonstop brand awareness you get is worth it and it might lead to a conversion or two.

There’s really too much information to cover on the topic of CRM systems and e-mail campaign management.  I will just say that tracking and measurement of user actions in e-mail campaigns is the critical thing.  When you open an email, that activity is tracked as an “open” event and later reported as part of the e-mail campaign metrics.  When you click on a link in a campaign e-mail, the activity is tracked as a successful “click” event.  The laborious effort of creating and delivering an e-mail campaign is validated by successful “opens” and “clicks”.

Each the CRM models discussed above is focused on a transaction within a workflow.  A new opportunity or lead is entered into the CRM, which triggers a series of followup interactions with the objective of generating a sale.  A marketing campaign that generates new website registrations (also a transaction) has the objective of converting the new registered users (aka, leads) into real long-term customers.

With this speculative social/mobile CRM opportunity, the same basic guidelines apply, although the contact management and end-game are different.  Whereas traditional CRM is focused on eventually making a sale, social/mobile CRM is more about customer service.  At the core of social and mobile technologies is the ability to interact and share while you are “on-the-go”.  In this mode, buying stuff online is not the priority.  Often, it is something that you need in the moment.  Such as, answers to questions about how to get the thing you need.

Thus, social/mobile CRM looks like another branding and customer service exercise.  Is that all there is? Perhaps.

It all depends on whether you can guide the customer down a conversion path.  Not necessarily a path to buying stuff.  The real conversion would be social sharing.  Social media is all about the network effect.  If you can get one person to share with a few more people, the overall effect can be 1,000 times more powerful than lead generation and another 1,000 times more powerful than sales conversion.  The real objective here is to understand and collect as much social data as possible.  If you walk away from the campaign with thousands or millions of new social contacts, that’s a mighty powerful thing.

Title Hashtagging

I saw the most remarkable thing today.  At work, we were happy to see a nice blog post about our Flurrious.com site, where you can design your own snowflake and share it with friends.  I wanted to share the article on Twitter, so I clicked on my Bit.ly bookmarklet which opens up a sidebar where I can share a shortened link on Twitter.  Bit.ly automatically crawls the web page title and other metadata and the page title looks like this:

#GoodSpotting: Flurrious Makes Snowflakes, Grants Wishes

The #GoodSpotting hashtag at the beginning of the title was automatically included as part of the default Twitter message.  Facebook also crawls URLs to obtain the web page title.  When anyone posts a link to this article through Bit.ly, Facebook, or other sharing sites, the title and hashtag will likely be included.  Now that’s clever.  I’ve never seen that trick before and it’s astounding to me how simple and effective this is.  The basic principles of website SEO and SEM are pretty well-known.  Yet, social networks and content sharing force us to re-examine our SEO strategies.

Personal Attention Databases

A number of years ago, the well-known entrepreneur Seth Goldstein, along with Wall Street legend Lew Ranieri, launched a startup called Root Markets. The focus of Root Markets was the attention economy and the concept was to give users the ability to track their online interests and share that data with Root Markets. The theory was that your attention had value because you were a potential sales lead for various products and services. And therefore, your “lead” data along with everyone else’s could be traded as commodities in an exchange marketplace. Highly speculative definitely and perhaps a little ahead of its time.

It’s probably been a while since I or anyone else has thought about Root Markets. It seems that they quietly closed up their operations and very few noticed. Yet, the attention of Internet users is as important as it ever was and the attention economy continues to thrive and evolve. With the dramatic growth of mobile computing and social networks, the attention economy is expanding along new trajectories.

I bring up this obscure reference to Root Markets to introduce this concept of personal attention databases. One of the challenges that Root faced was storing and presenting your attention data in a useful way for users. While thinking about The Social Content Graph, I have been contemplating this problem – how to track the content and people that you like as you hop across devices, services, social networks, and content publishers. I called it a “complex beast” and that is an accurate description.   To simplify things, I will start using the acronym “PAD” as a replacement for personal attention database.

In the first decade of the Internet, users bookmarked the content they wanted to keep or revisit. Social bookmarking sites like Delicious.com made it easier to manage thousands of bookmarks by applying “tags” to bookmarks and therefore making your bookmarks database searchable. Delicious.com is definitely one of my favorite Internet innovations ever created and I certainly hope they survive and continue to keep my universe of bookmarks at my fingertips. This was the first generation of PADs. And now, we are contemplating the next generation of PADs, capable of mapping the social content graph.

Attention Spaces

This supremely complex goal of mapping attention in your social content graph requires that we toss around some ideas about how it might work. One feature that does not exist today with social bookmarking is the logical separation of your attention “spaces”. For example, work versus home. I use Delicious avidly and it is really the only bookmarking tool I want to use. Yet, I sometimes use Google Bookmarks and Faves.com, because I want to separate the different pools of content.

The need for separate attention spaces becomes more critical when you try to imagine a personal attention database that includes your social graph. A useful comparison is the logical separation of your social networks across Facebook and LinkedIn. Obviously, you want to keep it professional on LinkedIn and not share YouTube videos or party pics, and vice versa with Facebook. Hence, our theoretical PAD design would automatically provide separation of Spaces, like Work Space and Personal Space. (If you have a better name for “spaces”, please let me know.)

Editor’s note: This article has already taken several days to write, so it’s time to wrap it up and come back to it later.

You heard the man. I’m closing out this post and will continue with it later. I’d like to avoid publishing something really dumb while pretending it is not. Next time, we will look at the content types we like to follow and the different patterns of content consumption.

The Social Content Graph

Greetings and happy holidays! Apologies for not publishing anything lately. I feel physical pain every day that goes by when I am not writing anything. Possibly, my choice of long-form articles have hampered me from reaching that tipping point where writing becomes an easy and fluid task. So, we will try a new approach by writing lighter pieces. Many of these might look like “fluff” pieces based on current news, personal views, and speculation, yet still within the general universe of digital publishing and mobile content. We can worry about how to re-assemble this content into a book some other day. The only thing that matters is actually writing.

With that said, I would like to discuss my vision of the social content graph. This is not a new term and I have not researched prior usage of this term. However, I do feel it is a meaningful term that has relevance to digital publishing. When you look at the entire spectrum of companies, platforms, software, and content in the extended digital content ecosystem today, you will recognize that reading is becoming more social.

That may sound like Captain Obvious talking. Nonetheless, this is the essence of the social content graph. The term “social graph” is well known and widely used in reference to a person’s social network. A person with a large number of Twitter followers and Facebook friends has a large social graph and the content they share has a powerful “network effect”. Perhaps it’s just the technical and contemporary way of quantifying popularity.

So is there such a thing as a content graph? A quick search on Google shows that it was a significant term in 2010. For example, here’s an interesting quote from this article called The Content Graph and the Future of Brands

In the Social Graph, you’re defined by your friends. In the Content Graph, a content brand is defined by its distribution relationships with other content brands.

Unfortunately, that’s not the Content Graph I am thinking about. Instead, I am trying to express how digital content is published, consumed, shared, aggregated, republished, and consumed again in the digital world today. Publishers and content creators seek to publish content that is original and popular. Content is given life by consumers who share the content with others. Until the content is consumed, shared and discussed, the content barely exists. (Call up metaphors like “tree falling in the woods” or “Waiting for Godot”)

Consider the inter-twining relationships between content creators, consumers, and companies like Twitter, Bit.ly, and Flipboard in our digital content ecosystem. Sharing content via Twitter is usually done with shortened urls (generated through services like Bit.ly) which redirects users to the original URL. The importance of short URLs is a by-product of the 140-character limit that is built into Twitter. While this limit originates from the character limit of SMS messages, it also provides a universal rule that makes all messages short and easy to browse.

Anatomy of a Tweet

When browsing through Twitter messages, you see a microcosm of specialized syntax to accommodate as much content and meaning within the 140-character limit. For those new to Twitter, it can be a daunting experience trying to grok the meaning. The most basic tweet is just text from a Twitter user. In addition, a tweet can have any of the following:

  1. link: usually a shortened URL (example: http://bit.ly/eOsrVQ)
  2. #hashtag — one or more topic tags that serve as searchable metadata
  3. @username — used for replies and mentions using the “@username” format
  4. RT (retweet) — a flag that signifies when one user has republished another user’s tweet

In addition, your Twitter feed contains not only the people you follow, but also the extended conversation taking place between between people in your Twitter network and their network. Each “@” mention is a clickable link that takes you to a user’s Twitter page. Thus, it becomes another point of interest as you browse for interesting content. Yes, it seems overwhelming and yet it happens to be the best way of getting the latest and most interesting content. In the end, the Twitter messages that contain links are often the ones that are the most interesting, and the Twitter users who share the most interesting content are usually the ones worth following.

Curated Content

This brings us to curated content, which is content that is shared and republished by tastemakers and thought leaders within different areas of interest. In contrast, content that is found through organic search is not hand-picked and the quality of search results can vary greatly.

Flipboard is an iPad app that presents streams of curated content that the reader chooses, across a number of topics. Most notably, Twitter integration in Flipboard presents the links shared by people in your Twitter network in a pleasing user interface that resembles a magazine. Hence, Flipboard and other reading apps like it are an important part of our social content graph. Of course, the content you consume in Flipboard is easy to share with others through the usual channels (Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc).

Social Reading

When you have reading devices and apps that have social networking “baked in”, you have the beginnings of a social reading experience. Curated content that is recommended to you through your social network is an entry point to social reading. Social reading is also found at a deeper level, where readers can share bookmarks, comments, and quotes from the content they are reading within their social network or with everyone. Such social reading features are found in the Amazon Kindle reader and may have originated there. We are starting to see this kind of social reading and sharing in education reading apps like Inkling.

Mapping the Social Content Graph

I’m going to admit that my concept of the Social Content Graph is still half-baked, and I think that’s ok for now. The point I am trying to make is that the social content graph is a complex beast, since it is a chain of people and content links. The reason why Flipboard is such an excellent reading experience is that it understands that this is a complex beast and it tries to organize it for you in a way that makes it pleasing to browse and consume.

And yet, Flipboard is just a reading experience and does not help you understand and organize your social content graph. You still need to bookmark or republish the content you like if you want to be able to find and re-read content in the future. That feels a little weird to me… sharing by Twitter just because I don’t have a convenient way of mapping and saving the parts that I want to keep.

In my mind, I have this mental image of a social content graph somehow looking like that clever visualization that you see in a LinkedIn profile that shows how you are related to another person. It nicely illustrates the “degrees of separation” between you and others on LinkedIn. And the ideal visualization of my social content graph would be something like that. It would show me a 2D/3D spatial view of the people I follow and the content I like, and it would let me pivot the view along the people axis and the content axis. Someday, it would be nice to explore the reverse angle and see the people who follow me or like the content I have shared or created. Yeah, whenever that happens.