Thursday, January 31, 2008

Microblogging Scoopers, Widget Ninjas and Bluecasting

Today I went to an interesting lunchtime meeting sponsored by the Web Association, a group of Cleveland-based digital media and marketing professionals. Although the content was more geared towards the ad side of the church/state equation, I thought some of it was relevant for business editors looking down the road at where the media is headed. These marketers are the kind and generous people, after all, who stock the bank accounts from which our precious paychecks are drawn.

(Speaking of meetings, stay tuned for our own announcement for an early March meeting of the Cleveland ASBPE chapter—we're going to do a digital coaching session on Google Tools, RSS and podcasting.)

After introducing the panelists (Mark Geyman of OhioBiz, Matt Dickman of Fleishman-Hillard who also produces the Techno//Marketer blog, and Shawn Riegsecker of digital media firm Centro), WebAssociation president Jon Eggleton of American Greeting’s Interactive division led off with a recap of a survey that the association conducted over the past few months, predicting “modest” growth for 2008’s online spend. In an economy teetering on the brink of (if not already knee-deep in) a recession, any growth is good growth. My colleague Michael (web marketing manager) said he had answered “modest” growth even though IW’s online growth has consistently fallen into the “significant” category in past years. I guess he’s either a modest fellow by nature, or he doesn’t want to jinx himself.

Mark Geyman from OhioBiz spoke next on the state of local search in the B2B and B2C worlds. According to the figures Mark cited, 30% of all searches contain a city name or a zip code; a key metric that magazines with a regional focus or readership should definitely factor into their own online marketing efforts (via metadata, Google AdWords buys etc.)

Mark also sees mapping usage rates on the rise, and counseled business owners to doublecheck their mapping locations and check their basic biz data against the major search engines and big database companies (InfoUSA was one he mentioned prominently).

I thought it was interesting that OhioBiz is looking to offer embedded blog applications as a value-add for Ohio-based businesses that don’t have a Web presence of their own. Great idea, as it combines the ability to post/edit/re-post information quickly with the ease of a “plug and play” consumer platform. (Maybe I should offer him my services as a “widget ninja”…)

Next up was Matt Dickman, who has a day job at Fleishman Hillard but is probably better known as a blogger (he’s got a pretty well-trafficked and informative blog called Techno/Marketing). Interesting side point to be made here—the multiple roles that we inhabit in this fractured media landscape can make it hard to self-identify (I’ve got four blogs myself) much less describe ourselves to others.

Anyway, Matt was speaking today mostly on behalf of his work as a blogger, doing his Evangelism 2.0 thing (with some impressive powerpointing skills, I might add).

He spent most of his time talking about the marketing and communications potential of new social media tools, and along the way he gave some pretty powerful examples of how things like “micromedia” are filtering into the public consciousness. For instance, he described how users of the microblogging service Twitter were able to scoop both the national and local press by almost an hour immediately following the Minneapolis bridge collapse. He described learning about it via Twitter, and going again and again to looking for the story to no avail. Finally, after an hour, it appeared on the local Minneapolis news.

Listening to Matt today, I was reminded of a conversation I’ve had with a couple of other B2B editors, where we’ve come to realize that most trade press Web sites serves two main purposes:

1) To give the audience the up-to-date and relevant news they need to do their jobs in an effective manner; and

2) To offer our opinions and insights to our audience on that news, and place it in context, so that they can relate to it and know what to think of it (or, maybe just as often, and definitely just as importantly, what not to think).

It corresponds well with Matt's presentation as the first point is all about timeliness (and here Twitter- or Seesmic-enabled business journalists might be one method of staying ahead of the pack) and the second is all about “voice” (and what is a blog if not a plug-and-play column?)

The panel discussion concluded with a presentation by Centro's Shawn Riegsecker. Shawn began by making the unequivocal point that the digital age is here to stay, both for marketers and the publishers that rent them space. "This is 2008," he said. "The test is over."

According to Shawn, we've seen an incredible growth in the amount of available media (3-10 times was the figure he quoted) without a corresponding growth in marketing budgets (something that we’ve also seen, especially in the trade press).

He also noted that magazine circulations peaked in 2000, and are now back to 1994 levels. That was the bad news.

The good news, or at least what I took from his talk, is that even the most traditional marketers are starting to catch on to the idea behind the "integrated media" phenomenon. Along these lines (and especially relevant to B2B mags struggling with delivering returns via traditional metrics) is that the current emphasis on clickthroughs may be less than relevant/effective, and for some companies that model is broken altogether. What marketers want now is to surround their consumer with 360 degrees of media, and seeing as we're the media that most of these people are allowed to openly read while at work, we have a definite part to play.

Although you might not care that much, I'll bet your ad sales team will probably be happy to hear that an expert says that online marketing, and marketing in general, are moving towards a more holistic view of the ROI of on- and offline integrated marketing campaigns. “If you’re only doing banners and buttons and only tracking clicks, you’re missing a huge opportunity,” Riegsecker says.

He cites a major telecom provider as an example of an advertiser who thought they had “horrible” ROI from ad clicks alone, but noticed that once they pulled their online campaigns that their Google searches/clicks decreased 30-40%.

To accompany this trend, Riegsecker forecasted a rise in analytics companies that are going to be helping advertising agencies and marketing departments judge the “total impact” of integrated campaigns. Will some of those be in B2B? Probably, but probably (as usual) a little behind the adoption curve. Which isn't that bad of a place to be, if you believe like "The World Is Flat" author Tom Friedman does that "the second buyer always wins."

Following the panel, there was also a really great, if kind of short, Q&A with the panelists. In response to a question about popup ads, Riegsecker stated unequivocally that his company will not work in what he calls “interruptive” advertising/marketing models (i.e., popups, floating ads, interstitial ads etc.) for his clients. “They’re bad for the brand, bad for the consumer and bad for the publisher,” he observed. I agree completely, and was reminded of the flap a few months back when Paul Conley called out Ziff-Davis (among others) for inserting ads in editorial content. Although ZD ceased and desisted, the fact that they are like poison for all concerned certainly isn't stopping other publishers (who I won't link to here) from offering them, or any of the other interruptive ad models, for that matter. It does, however, serve to reinforce the fact that the smarter marketers know that interruptive advertising should be resisted by all parties at all times at all costs.

Finally, and speaking of “interruptive advertising,” Matt Dickman told us a story about how he was on the street in NYC recently and someone in one of the stores had set up a server that was broadcasting—or “bluecasting”, as it's known—an intrusive advertising campaign to every Bluetooth-enabled cellphone in the area.

Although I completely agreed with him that this is uncalled for (as soon as I heard this I disabled the Bluetooth on my Curve) and probably mostly counterproductive, I also found it kind of ironic that Matt was shocked at this violation of his personal mobile phone space only minutes after telling us that his 400-some friends on Twitter are constantly keeping his phone abuzz with “tweets” (Twitter’s name for the text message blog posts). I guess Seth Godin is right--these days, the savvy marketers know that it's all about permission.

My hope is that smart marketers like these three keep spreading the gospel of non-intrusiveness, as our audiences, not to mention our businesses, will benefit as a result.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Your Source Gets Fired, And You Get Sued -- All In A Day's Work?

One of the more compelling stories I read last year concerned a BusinessWeek editor who was sued for breach of a confidentiality agreement she had verbally made with a source. According to the story at IT News:

"A former Microsoft executive who ended up jobless, broke, and separated from his wife after being identified by name and quoted in a BusinessWeek story about dysfunctional workplaces has lost a lawsuit he filed against the magazine and the reporter who wrote the story..

The jury rejected a claim by former Microsoft director of IT audits Peter Tilton that BusinessWeek reporter Michelle Conlin had promised him anonymity in exchange for an interview on the work environment at the software maker."

The story resonated for me on a couple of different levels. Normally, I don't have any trouble finding sources to spout off on whatever topic happens to be on IndustryWeek's monthly editorial schedule. On the contrary, they usually flood my inbox, and it's usually more a question of picking the right voice out of the crowd.

However, I recently wrote a piece on IT outsourcing, and judging from the number of people who didn't want to talk at all, much less on the record (as well as some of the angry posts I've received on the subject at our Reader TalkBack forum) this is an extremely touchy subject. I had to be very specific in my assurances to one source in particular that I wouldn't specify even the industry of his/her company for fear of the knowledge being traced back to him/her (see, I'm still doing it!).

On one hand, any journalist knows that when there's that much paranoia and controversy, it's a topic worth pursuing. However, I'm definitely proceeding with caution, because as much as I enjoy writing about controversial topics, the last thing I want anyone to do is lose their job over a story of mine (much less get sued by the source based on a "he said/she said" oral agreement!)

As if that wasn't enough reason for me to tread extra-carefully with my contacts, I recently experienced the dark side of the coin myself when I served as a source for a Folio: article -- an article I originally thought was about the "digital journalist's toolbox" but ended up being titled "Job Hunting In '08" (and featuring, quite prominently, my LinkedIn profile page as the article artwork!) I don't mean to say that I was misled in the slightest -- in fact, author Matt Kinsman and I had a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation that covered both these topics and quite a few besides -- but I have to say that I was more than a little floored when my group publisher (read: my boss's boss's boss) inquired how my job search was going...!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Azbee Season Is Upon Us!

Katy over at ASBPE's DC Chapter reminds us that it's that it's the New Year, and time for some professional recognition for your hard-earned work:

Enter ASBPE's Azbee Awards of Excellence

'Tis the season--awards season, that is.

The deadline for ASBPE's Azbee Awards of Excellence is Feb. 1. We've made it easier than ever to enter this year with a new Web-based entry system that allows you to enter most editorial and digital categories completely electronically--including uploading files. For those categories still requiring hard-copy entries (all design categories, magazine of the year, and a few others), you can still submit entry information and pay online all at one time. For more details on the entry process, download the entry brochure and instructions from ASBPE's home page.

While you're there, be sure to download ASBPE's latest member benefit--the ASBPE Tip Sheet. In our first Tip Sheet, award-winning B2B editors provide tips and tricks for winning more awards--from the planning stages through the entry process.
Couldn't have said it better myself. A quick reminder that the categories have been refined over the last couple of years, and now include an expanded "How-To" category (among others) and even new categories (such as Web site redesign). Want some recognition for your hard work, and possibly a bullet point to beef up your resume? Go to the national site and read about the Azbee awards program.

Best of luck to everyone!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Resolutions For Busy Business Editors

Happy New Year to everyone!

One of my resolutions as a writer and an editor this year is to become more Web savvy in order to better reach and engage this "expanded audience" of ours. (After all, we're in a pretty good position as most trade magazines are natural sources of expertise.)

To expand my reach in an efficient manner, and keep you informed in the process, I'll be using all the tools I can find, including my new "link blog" available at right and here (basically my Google Reader's "shared items" on RSS).

Here at ASBPE Cleveland, we'll also be posting links and tools throughout the year, starting with a couple quickies below.

Redesigning (or refreshing, revamping, whatever) your Web site on your magazine's resolution list? Here's a whole page of Web usability tips developed through eye-tracking studies. Big takeaway? "Design your site for the average user, not yourself."

Looking to get a better insight into exactly what that elusive "average user" is looking for, content-wise? Try a little keyword research around your magazine's area of expertise, and you might find different, more effective ways to categorize -- or even expand -- your coverage. Here's a whole page of keyword research tools at SEOBook (hat tip to Paul Conley).

And finally, looking to track down elusive sources? Here's a tutorial from one of my favorite sites, Lifehacker, on how to track down anyone online (which also serves as an effective tutorial on why we need to pay attention to Internet privacy issues in '08....!)