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December 29, 2008

Social Media is People (but more enriching than Soylent Green*)

Everyone wants to know how to take advantage of social media. Whether it's to promote a business or an academic program, it's not unusual to hear people as, "How should we be using Twitter?" or "What should we do with Facebook?" The questions often focus on the tools, but as I've mentioned before, in Social Media: Your Interactive Information Resource, social media is about making connections—human connections. While this has been apparent to me for sometime, it's become increasingly clear over the past month. So rather than writing a typical how-to or advice article, today I'll just tell you about two recent events that really drive this message home.

Heidi thinks the veil between the 'brick and mortar' world and the 'cyber world' becomes more elusive each day.

Cleveland Social Media Club Members Page

That's what I wrote as my Facebook status message when I returned home from the Cleveland Social Media Club party on December 10. As the name suggests the Cleveland SMC is "a community for the champions of Social Media and those seeking to learn." (If you live in Northeast Ohio and work with, or are interested in, social media you should join.) What makes this group different from many online communities is the regional nature of it. We're all here so we can actually meet in person. As such they've already had several events, but this was the first one that I attended.

My friends tell me that I'm no longer shy, but I am an introvert, so I have to admit I was just a wee bit nervous. Although I knew a few people in the group—either in person or online—many were unknown, or at best vague cyber-acquaintances. Thus I wasn't sure how well I'd handle the small talk. As it turns out it wasn't a problem. I knew the host, Dave Stack, from the real world, his best friend is friends with one of my best friends, I'd previously met a few folks from a Cleveland bloggers meet-up, and George Nemeth was there and George knows everybody and is more than happy to make introductions. Within no time I felt as at ease as I would have with people I'd known much longer.

I met some great people and look forward to seeing them again at a future event. But I don't have to wait until the next event to continue the conversations. Members of Cleveland SMC can friend each other and converse on that site, but we also post our other profiles there. Since the event I've connected with several of them on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. And thus the conversations continue.

It doesn't matter if/when we meet again face-to-face. It doesn't matter if one person prefers Twitter and another prefers Facebook. Once the connection is made it can be continued on any one or more of the online services available. Cleveland Social Media Club (on Ning) provides an information hub, but it's also enabled us to easily create multiple redundant pathways to one another. Thus, if one service goes down, the connections aren't lost, we still have other channels available.

When a service goes down: the demise of Pownce

Pownce Home Page

While multiple channels are available, Pownce was my social media tool of choice. Alas, in early December, Leah Culver announced that Pownce would be shutting down on December 15.

Pownce was the service that hooked me on social media. It's where I learned that you could forge real connections online. Pownce gave me access not only to my peers but also to leaders in the field. If I went to Pownce with an idea I had about a Web project I wasn't getting feedback from just anybody. I was getting feedback from people in all areas of the business—ranging from the managing director of Octane Interactive, Wayne Smallman, to the lead designer at Digg, Daniel Burka. Pownce was an incredible resource.

Of course, it wasn't all about work. Powncers shared photos, absurd videos and thought-provoking articles while also conversing about everything from politics to bacon. My friends group contained liberals and republicans, atheists and born-agains and people from several different continents and cultures. But we had our geekiness in common, so everyone played nicely together in the sandbox. As we shared media and stories, personal experiences and jokes we got to know each other on many levels, much as one does in the brick and mortar world.

By the time December rolled around we'd become a pretty tight community. Then we heard about the shutdown. As you can imagine, the community reeled. Where would we go? What would we do? Sure we're on Twitter, but how can you discuss global warming or share pierogie recipes in 140 characters? It was clear, the sky was falling and there was very little we could do about it. Or was there?

A community comes together

All gnashing of teeth and wailing aside (and yes there was a lot of that) one of the first things people did was to start announcing where else they could be found. Pownce always made it easy to post our other profile addresses on the site, but now people were indicating where their primary addresses would be. People posted their addresses for Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed. People shared e-mails. One fellow declared that he preferred IM and shared 5 different ways to connect with him that way.

We had this information, we had the ability to download our data, but it was clear that we were scattering into the wind. In my panic, I decided I needed to create a new, possibly temporary home for us, someplace that would still exist after December 15, where we could continue to share our contact information. Given that I was already familiar with Ning, I created Pownce Refugees, a place to keep the community alive after Pownce shutdown.

My Pownce Refugees Page

At the time I really wasn't certain about my long term goals, I just needed something I could launch quickly. I configured the page to use the colors from the Pownce home page, enabled some features that I thought might be useful and spread the word. As I and others started playing with it I added RSS feeds of Pownce mentions on Twitter, the Pownce Exiles Room on FriendFeed, the Pownce Exiles group on Vox, Pownce in the news and so forth. This way I thought we could use this page to keep track of Pownce-related activity elsewhere.

The next thing I did was to start creating groups for Pownce theme days. On Pownce we would often post content related to a day's theme. Thus we had Music Video Monday, Wordle Wednesday, Foto Friday and so forth. It sounds silly, but it was a good way to get new people involved as it gave them ideas on things to post. When you are new to social networking, it can be intimidating, but theme days provided some great starting points.

As I was busy priming the pump with groups and content, people started joining. Then they told other people to join. They spread the word on Twitter and other places, and within no time we had more than 100 members.

100? That's not much, Twitter has 6 million users

100 isn't much (we're now at 139), but it was enough to begin a new community. It was also enough to catch the attention of the Ning staff. As a result of our rapid growth, they featured us on the Ning Blog in an article entitled, Former Pownce members find a new home.

This was actually a fairly major accomplishment as Ning is a rather large enterprise. In April 2008 there were over 230,000 networks on Ning, and they were growing at over 1,000 per day. Only 3-4 are featured on the blog in any given day.

The other good news was our traffic. I created Pownce Refugees on December 1, and installed the analytics on December 6. As of December 15 (Pownce shut-down) we had

  • 933 unique visitors
  • 1,870 total visits
  • 12,836 page views (6.86 pages per visit)

By way of comparison this blog was 20 months old by the time it started generating that level of traffic.

Our traffic sources also told an interesting story.

  • 56.2% were direct traffic, meaning members (or others) who already knew the address,
  • 40.11% were from referring sites and
  • only3.69% were from search engines.

The top referring sites were Pownce, Stumbleupon, Gmail, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook (I'd created a Facebook page for the site), Plurk and Ustream.

Those of you who check stats regularly know that this is atypical. Search engine traffic often plays a much larger role, often times 50% or more. But this was a social media site, marketed through social media to active social media users. It worked well because we (I credit our early adopters for spreading the word) were focused on a very specific niche (Pownce users), who were well-versed in social media tools, and we had a deadline that affected everyone involved.

Where are we now?

Since then we've lost a bit of momentum and probably need to refocus marketing on community building strategies. But traffic is steady and we have a core of regular visitors. As of yesterday we've had a total of:

  • 3,000 unique visitors
  • 5,193 total visits
  • 25,741 page views (4.96 pages per visit)

Traffic sources have shifted slightly. The increase in direct traffic is from membership growth and usage.

  • 67.8% are direct traffic
  • 27.09% are from referring sites and
  • 5.1% are from search engines.
Where will we be next year?

Who knows? The goal was to stay in touch. That seems to be working. In the meantime various members of the community and others are also working to build services with features more akin to the original Pownce. And while the economic climate is gloomy, new services continue to emerge. In another year we could be spending our lunch hours exploring some yet unknown site with yet another funny name.

But what this has shown me is that social media works. In the right situation it can be a very effective marketing tool. But it's the people and the connections between them, that make it so.

* For those 7 of you unfamiliar with the science fiction classic, Soylent Green, there is a classic line towards the end that states, "Soylent Green is people!" Alas, soylent green was also what people ate.

What is the secret of Soylent Green?

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Posted by: Heidi Cool December 29, 2008 09:43 PM | Category: Heidi's Entries , Social Networking , analytics , marketing , social media

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How much the social sites are helpful ?

where 64.35 % visitors are coming from search engines, 30.64% from referring sites and 5.01% from direct traffic. And our unique visitors' count is 300+.

what should I do to increase the count of unique visitors like 3000+ / day?

Posted by Web Designer Abir on December 30, 2008 12:34 AM

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Social sites are helpful if you connect with people of similar interests to you and your site. But the main thing is content.

If you are looking to grow your readership, you need to give them high quality content, and you must add to it on a regular basis. (More regularly than I manage here!) From there, make sure your site adheres to Web standards, incorporates SEO, offers an intuitive navigational structure, etc.

If that's all there, then spread the word. Make connections on Digg and StumbleUpon and build a reputation for sharing worthwhile content (not only your own.) Leave insightful comments (that add value for readers) on related blogs, etc. You can peruse my marketing entries to learn more.

Posted by Heidi Cool on December 30, 2008 01:09 AM

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Heidi,

Nice article. I wish I could have made it to David's party on the 10th. I'll be getting more involved with SMC in 09...I love the people!

-Brad

Posted by Brad Kleinman on December 30, 2008 10:41 AM

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Thanks Brad,
It is a great bunch. I'm going to try to make it to the January meeting. I believe the plan is "taco night."

Speaking of Cleveland and Social Media, Tech Czar, has come up with some interesting ideas on how we can promote social media in Cleveland. If you've not already read his article, The Cleveland Social Media Experiment, give it a read through and share your ideas.

Posted by Heidi Cool on December 30, 2008 11:57 AM

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I have to admit, it was the "Soylent Green" reference in your title that drew me in. (That's what a well-written headline is supposed to do, right?) Because I didn't think I needed to read yet another blog post about social media. But I'm glad I did. Good work.

Posted by Andrew on December 31, 2008 10:24 AM

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Thanks Andrew!

Soylent Green popped into my head as soon as I'd typed "social media is people" so I immediately typed it as well. Then I pondered it a bit and wondered if it was too creepy or tangential, but decided to keep it for that very reason, it would get people's attention because they'd wonder what it was about.

I'm glad you mentioned it because it is a good reminder that we're writing for people—not just robots. These days so many are consumed with the idea of ensuring that our keys words are in the right places for SEO, but it's worth remembering that other words impact our reader's choices. Happy New Year!

Posted by Heidi Cool on December 31, 2008 04:50 PM

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I know everyone loves Twitter; I just don't and I really don't have the time for it. I keep reading articles like yours and realize I must find the time. Stumbleupon obviously brings me a lot of traffic, but my best quality traffic is from Facebook and Reddit. I agree with Andrew on the title. Good job!

Posted by Melissa on January 4, 2009 09:21 AM

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Thanks Melissa!
Time is the critical element. None of us have enough of it, so we have to focus our energies where it counts. You've paid attention to your traffic and realize that Facebook and Reddit work well for you so it makes perfect sense that you should focus your attention there.

My top referring site is StumbleUpon. I don't use it as often as I should but at least the toolbar makes it easy to thumb things up when I see them.

I was always more of a Powncer than a Tweeter (I feel constrained by 140 character limits!), but I would still follow Twitter from time to time. I get some good leads there on articles I should read, strategies to apply etc. I've found that TweetDeck makes it much easier to sort through the stream. And now that Pownce is gone, it is a good destination for me to keep track of people I once followed on Pownce.

For you I wonder if it wouldn't be helpful to set up a Twitter search on your topics of interest. For instance, if you do a Twitter search for SEO, you can then also subscribe to its RSS feed in Google Reader. Then you can just peruse it whenever you peruse your other feeds and if you see things worth replying to, you can do so then.

FriendFeed is also a great way to keep track of the people you follow so that you can see what they are posting on a variety of services.

In the end it's a matter of balancing priorities. We still have to work, eat, sleep, socialize, etc. So we just have to pick the social media tools that work best for us. Best wishes on finding the time!

Posted by Heidi Cool on January 4, 2009 08:29 PM

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Soylent Green was the reality we all think we've escaped. Canibalism isn't just the physical eating of flesh. We've canibalized our own kind since the beginning of time. Today, I watched two people I love dearly ravage each other through conversational sarcasm. It's like a desease, once the competition starts, we don't seem to have the ability to stop it and sarcastic witt takes over and destroys relationships.

Posted by JanVerhoeff on January 6, 2009 07:38 PM

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Jan,
Sorry to hear about your friends. Ideally sarcasm is applied with care and moderation. But it can easily slide into cruelty. Especially if it evolves into a competition like you describe. But as cruel as our species may sometimes be, I think there is also a lot of kindness in this world. Best wishes to you and your friends.

Posted by Heidi Cool on January 7, 2009 12:21 AM

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Those sites are all well and good, but they're all limiting themselves to fit older versions of IE. Imagine what we could do if IE was not here anymore? This article brought a smile to my eyes:

http://digg.com/software/Mozilla_IExplorer_biggest_problem_in_advancing_the_Web

"Mozilla: IExplorer biggest problem in advancing the Web.
news.cnet.com — IE still doesn't remotely approach Firefox, but we do hope to see IE standards compliance and its modern features improved. The single biggest problem now in moving the Web forward is having to deal with people using back versions of IE."

Posted by Johnathan on January 9, 2009 02:07 PM

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I agree stumbleupon is useful and I really need to start using twitter as a lot of my friends use it.

Posted by Eric on January 9, 2009 06:24 PM

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I keep reading about obtaining links from sites such as Twitter, Delicious, Digg etc, as part of SEO and marketing, but I wonder if there is any true value in this approach and how the search engines will consider these links & efforts in future updates?

It's become quite apparent that the search engines, especially Google are looking at and evaluating Link Reputation for many sites, and I'm wondering if these sites will be considered "spammy" in the future and lose their luster?

Plus, I can't see how the business models of these types of sites are viable in the long-term.

Don't get me wrong, I utilize them as well, they drive considerable traffic, but as stated, how much longer are they going to?

Posted by Barry Wheeler on January 20, 2009 11:08 AM

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Heidi, great example of social media and the power of a community. I didn't realize that so many folks were on Pownce (I never ever got started with it)... And you get a gold star for the social media/Soylent Green title! :)

Melissa, I hated Twitter too when I first started using it. There weren't a lot of conversations back then, just a lot of feeds and what I call diary entries (ate a muffin, went to the bank...). What I didn't realize was that all these little entries give you exposure to people's lives and as you get to know them and finally meet them in person, it's like you knew them forever. It really is quite powerful! :)

Posted by Beth Harte on January 21, 2009 07:29 PM

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Thanks Beth!

Barry,
Those sites might get spammy at times, but the communities there don't have much patience for that sort of activity. If I only Stumble my own material, people will soon ignore my Stumbles. The same goes for Twitter, Digg, etc. But if I regular submit things that I find interesting, and that I think my followers would find interesting as well, then I can share my own material as a fraction of the mix. (And I should make sure that my own material is of interest too.)

How Google et al factors these types of links may play some role in SEO, but I think it behooves us to remember that SEO and SERP aren't the end goals. The end goals are to get traffic to our sites to read our blogs, share ideas, buy our widgets, sign up for our programs, etc. In that case link traffic from these sites is critical. I get a lot of traffic from StumbleUpon but also from elsewhere, including Twitter.

As an example, look at Beth's comment above. Beth recently wrote an article called, Social Media...it's about the tools right?. I saw the link to her post on Twitter then commented on her blog entry and included a link to this one since the topics were related. She then came here, commented and also posted the link to this post on Twitter.

So now she and I have discovered each other's blogs and commented on them, but search engines weren't involved in the process. Instead it was merely a matter of her starting a conversation and having it wander across a few different sites.

Posted by Heidi Cool on January 21, 2009 10:51 PM

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Posted by: hac4 (Heidi Cool) December 29, 2008 09:43 PM | Comments (15) | Trackback