There is only one thing that you can learn from The Muppets social media strategy

ImageI’ve read about 5 or 6 blog posts in the past month or so about the popular social media campaign surrounding the latest Muppet movie. In the past few weeks, they’ve been everywhere: YouTube, Google +, Facebook, etc, and of course all the big social media marketing blogs are weighing in on what other social media marketing people can learn from it.

Personally, I think there’s only one important thing to take away from The Muppets social media campaign: Be awesome like the Muppets. I personally don’t know anyone who dislikes the Muppets and if I did, I would probably judge their lack of humanity. The Muppets are the best. They are hilarious and fun and full of cheer and for many of us who grew up with them, they are like beloved friends. And of course, since it’s been proven (at least by Pew Research)  that most people are active on social media to connect with their friends, it’s a perfect venue for the Muppets to reintroduce themselves to the public.

So, if you are thinking that it may be great for your product/brand/company to have a cool Google + Hangout or mobile app like the Muppets did, I beg you to ask this question of yourself: “Is my product/brand/company awesome like The Muppets?” if that answer is no, you may wish to reconsider your strategy. Or more importantly, consider how you can channel a little bit of the awesomeness of the Muppets in what you do. Whether that’s a musical routine, or costumes, or movie parodies or wakka wakka jokes  do something that will make your company more fun and approachable (like actual fun, not marketing fun). THEN you can do that Google + Hangout and people will be more likely to join in, because you are awesome. Now if you will excuse me,. I’m going to go put on makeup and dress up right.

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Are music startups killing online music fandom?

Turntable.fm dubstep room

It’s the end of the year and time for one of my favorite annual book purchases, the DeCapo Best Music Writing series. It’s a great time to catch up with all the music writing I have generally ignored for the past year. (Not on purpose!)  It’s also an excellent opportunity to go back in time and discover some of the releases that may have slipped under my radar in the past 10 or so months.

But I haven’t been ignoring music, it’s just that my attention has been more focused on music streaming platforms like Spotify and Rdio to get my music, or (very) occasionally poking my head into Turntable.fm. The popularity of music discovery startups has been one of the hotter tech stories of the past year , with Spotify’s celebrated arrival in the U.S. and controversial integration with Facebook, not to mention this summer’s love affair with Turntable.fm among music bloggers and social media folks.

But even with the popularity of these services, I can’t honestly say that I discovered more new music this year, or made more informed music buying choices because of them. Honestly, I think I discovered more new music when MySpace was the only game in town for burgeoning bands to share tunes. Thanks to Facebook, I know how little most of my social circle and I have in common when it comes to music preference. More broadly, I think the music startup explosion hasn’t really done much to promote new music discovery at all, but mostly encourages an echo chamber of musical tastes where friends and acquaintances share the same small pool of artists, bands, and songs with each other.

My other big problem with algorithmic-based music discovery platforms like Pandora is that musical taste (like food, and romance/dating) is often too complicated for an algorithm. Music communities are a huge arbiter of  musical tastes; the shared, collective sense of identity, emotion and memory that comes from music fandom is just as important as musical, style, production, and genre when determining listening preferences.

A couple of music startups do address this. Turntable.fm opens up that closed network of music sharing a bit more, with its real time, chat-room like element that allows for moments of serendipity, and more importantly, real time conversation and opinion sharing. One of the elements that stands out about Soundcloud’s approach (I SWEAR I don’t work for Soundcloud, even though I talk about it all the time) is the company’s use of community managers to act as music/sound curators while also encouraging in-person and local community building in the form of meetups.

And of course, music blogs remain a major player in online music fandom. I’ve written about my take on the future of music criticism before.  Music blogs like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan don’t appear to have the same level of  cultural authority  as tastemakers that they did several years ago but still remain well-read. And it seems odd in the age of social everything, that Pitchfork still doesn’t allow reader comments. But do blogs compare with the ability to sample, rate and share music almost instantly? Will music blogging and long-form writing be disrupted by music startups the way food/restaurant criticism was disrupted by Yelp?

I can’t see Rdio or Soundcloud ever replacing the experience of music fandom or reading writing music criticism for me personally, but I have seen it impact how I consume music on a daily basis. I’m curious to hear from other music junkies:  has Spotify/Pandora/Rdio/Soundcloud replaced music blogging or personal recs for you in finding new music?

Be the Brand: Required Involvement in Social Media – Part 1

Based on our presentation at MIT: Media in Transition 7

There’s been much written about the professional risk of social media use for individuals and for businesses; in media reports as well as a recent National Labor Relations Board decision regarding employees use of Facebook to complain about a supervisor

But what happens when employees are encouraged (or required by the terms of employment) to publicly represent a company or brand through personal use of social media?

Several years ago, many companies were skittish about employee use of blogs and other social networking tools. More recently, however, some brands are increasingly creating “official” company social media profiles as well as establishing social media policies to encourage employees to unofficially represent a company via social media during the work day and off-hours, with the understanding that transparency and personal contact are widely seen as important to success in social media communication and marketing. This article discusses issues involving intellectual property, privacy, and the bounds of employment within personal and professional social media use.

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Thinking Out Loud: But I’m not a “personal brand!” I’m a person!*

I am pretty sure this post is navel-gazing. I don’t care.

I’ve been blogging for about 10 years. Holy crap. My life has changed both a lot and very little since I started. I don’t blog as often as I’d like, but when I do it, it always feels like home.

I’m a writer, even when I am not writing for money or even an audience. I blog to get things out, creatively, emotionally, whenever I need to. I’ve met great lifelong friends because of it, I’ve gotten a couple of jobs and numerous unpaid speaking gigs because of it. I fell into my current career in part because of it. So yeah, I owe blogging a lot, and I’ve never been ashamed to call myself a blogger, even back in the days when “real journalists” would sheepishly mutter the word “blogger” under their breath.

I attended the Blogalicious conference this past summer. Very cool , passionate people here and it was nice to take the time to recharge and remember why I am doing this in the first place. As my friend Maura says, it’s about community, and connecting and expression, that’s at least why I started blogging. I wanted to write and maybe have other people read it. When I come to a conference like this, though, and people ask “hey, what is your blog about” I usually answer: “I dunno. Stuff.” And then the “personal brand” discussion starts up and I tend to wig out a little.

I struggle daily with the gray area between my personal and professional life online. There is still quite a bit I don’t share regularly online, I do save such detailed information for my actual friends, and despite the fact that I blog, that I’m on Twitter, etc. I still consider myself to be a very private person and a bit of a wallflower, which I am OK with. So being in a position where I deliberately present a public presence, doesn’t come naturally to me.

I do things online to connect with my friends, and I am happy and excited to make new ones, but when I think about what I do personally being consumed by an “audience” and thinking of it as such, it still makes me uncomfortable. It freaks me out to think that present and future employers may be checking out the times when I live-tweet a Converge show or publicly ogle Dolph Lundgren or snark about the emo geek boys on OK Cupid or fret over my family or talk about bourbon.

Yet, here I am, doing it.

But (especially with Twitter) my personal use morphed and evolved into a professional use so quickly and so organically that there was never an opportunity for me to comfortably separate those two sides of my life. Also, I can’t really separate those sides of my life. Many of my professional colleagues are also trusted friends. For example, I started a “professional” Facebook account for the sole purpose of managing Facebook fan pages. Two of my friends found me in a half hour. D’OH!

Now I know some people may be reading this like “whatever social media so-and-so. Tough life, navel-gazer, Go check-in to Foursquare or something.”

Fine, fair enough. But the convergence of my professional/social life was not something that I thought I was getting into when I started getting into web design and blogging a zillion years ago. And that convergence is happening to us all, I think. For today’s babies and toddlers, an online persona is being created for them before they are even old enough to decide if they want one. But for those who work in the so-called “social media space” it is expected to be out there on some level. To be”genuine” and “real” and craft a specific “personal brand.” (Man, that’s a lot of quotation marks)

So, once again, just thinking out loud, but I’ve been continually struggling with this for awhile now and trying to figure out how to continue doing the work that I do, express myself creatively while still maintaining my sense of self for the real life people I care about.

*ironically, this was originally posted at my personal blog

Is the Golden Age of Blogging Over? Part Two

We’ve talked about blogging’s premature death announcement way back in 2008, and it’s interesting for me to read how I felt back then about the future of blogging as I set here in the present. Back in 2008 I said:

Clearly, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, who needs a blog to get your ideas across, right? [but] blogging has evolved as a medium, as all media do. I don’t think this evolution will affect the old workhorses of the so-called “blogosphere,” the ones who started blogs back in 2002 or earlier, who now blog out of habit, or because they have something new and creative to share, or they have an audience of friends and acquaintances and random people who read regularly.”

In some ways i was pretty wrong and Paul Boutin, who wrote the original “Blogging is Dead” article for Wired was more spot-on than I ever thought. Long gone are the days when having “blogger” on your resume was a mark of shame. Check out the reports from Technorati’s 2009 “State of the Blogosphere Thousands of professional and semi professional bloggers are making a living through their blogs in ways unheard of back in 2002. Meanwhile, hobbyist bloggers have updated less and less, moving to microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr to express themselves.

This evolution has fundamentally changed what it means to be a blogger, with new bloggers jumping into the fray with the intent of making it a career direction, rather than something to do for fun or as a hobby. Which is fine, I am personally thrilled there are opportunities for individuals to create careers from their passion.

On the other hand, those bloggers that have no interest in monetizing their blog, and simply want to create a platform for their own creativity are now the outliers. Expression and inspiration threatens to take a back seat to SEO strategy and personal branding. Again, not a bad thing for professional blogs, but it is a bit sad to see the end of an era, where anyone with an original voice and a personal passion could build an audience through serendipity.

Still, I disagree that old school bloggers should hang up their hats, or that new bloggers shouldn’t bother. There is still room for original voices and new ideas in the blogosphere; it just means that hobbyist bloggers may have to work a lot harder for an audience.

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Thinking out loud: What it meant to be a “fan” on Facebook

Yesterday’s announcements from Facebook’s latest developer conference, F8. dropped news of major changes that have rattled online privacy advocates (and everyday users). I am among the rattled, and will get into the privacy implications of Facebook’s Open Graph in an upcoming post.

First though, I’d like to ruminate a bit on a more seemingly innocuous change implemented by Facebook recently, the move from “Become a fan” to “like” in the lexicon of Facebook fan pages.

If you didn’t already know, Facebook fan pages are in theory, Facebook profiles specifically for brands, organizations and public figures. If you have a personal Facebook profile and you’ve ever “become a fan” of something on Facebook, whether its Mr. Peanut, Jason Statham, or “Not being on fire” well, that’s a Fan Page.

The point of these pages, in theory, was to keep personal profiles and brand profiles separate. The interface is slightly different than personal Facebook profiles for both users and administrators, and for marketing professionals there are more bells and whistles on Fan pages. But until recently, the use of Fan Pages was never limited to brands and organizations. The aforementioned “Not being on fire” fan page and similar gag Fan pages (like Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Hat) have existed since fan pages were introduced.

The recent introduction of Community Pages for Facebook, seems to be a way to discourage the creation of gag pages by users and to insure that brand marketers control the use of Fan Pages exclusively.

Mashable cites an e-mail from Facebook to online advertisers, explaining the meaning of the change:

Facebook is alerting advertisers to the impending change by explaining that “Like” links offer “a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in … in fact, people click “Like” almost two times more than they click “Become a Fan” everyday.”

Little wonder in that; the word “fan” implies a level of engagement and commitment that the word “like” doesn’t quite cover. There’s a lot of things I “like” that I’m not necessarily a fan of. Of course more people would choose to click “like” more than “Become a Fan,” because being a fan tends to mean a little bit more to people.

Not to mention the fact that the “like” button was way more ubiquitous than “Become a Fan” button on Facebook. You could “like” a picture, a news item, someone’s stupid status update. “Liking” something on Facebook essentially implies a user vaguely acknowledges the existence of a piece of content, but doesn’t mean they’re passionate enough  about it to potentially opt-in to regular communications about it. (which is what Fan Pages are about, really)

But  that’s exactly what Facebook is counting on.  Here’s more from the previously mentioned memo:

Like’ offers a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in. These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages. We believe this will result in brands gaining more connections to pages since our research has shown that some users would be more comfortable with the term ‘Like’. The goal is to get the most user connections so that you can have ongoing conversations in the news feeds of as many users as possible.

I think of the times I randomly click on “like” for a piece of content I’ve scanned on Facebook. In some cases, “liking content” on Facebook is essentially saying “I’m too lazy to actually leave a comment on this, so here you go.” It’s the lowest level on engagement I can muster.

By making “like” and “Become a Fan” equivalent on Facebook,the more passive user behavior of “liking” something is now essentially an opt-in to a brand’s communication stream. Maybe you’re not into Coca-Cola enough to “Become a Fan” but surely you “like” it, right?

It’s pretty shrewd. Facebook is quite transparent that this change was made to increase user interaction with Fan Pages (now the exclusive domain of brands) but it is interesting to me that the implied exclusivity and discrimination of the term “fan” was seen as a liability for Facebook interaction. Traditional marketing values the fan above all others. In the case of Facebook, being a fan meant that you care just a bit too much.