New Blog Coming Soon

After nearly three months of blogging use WordPress.com, I’ll be moving over to WordPress.org. WordPress.com, the free, hosted blogging platform, is an incredible tool for self-publishing. It’s a great way to dip a few toes into the blogging world. Yet it doesn’t allow access to the individual pages, thereby limiting a publishers’ ability to add analytics code, add Add This, or Share plug-ins, and some design limitations.  But it does have many key widgets and plug-ins to get started.  And, remember, it’s free!

At WordPress.org you can download for free but requires you to host the application on an ISP of your choosing. Not a big deal, but an important factor if you want access to your pages for development and design requirements.

I’m incredibly interested in web optimization, web analytics, user experience, visual design and self-publishing. So I’m building a new blog hosted by my ISP, Godaddy.com, who offers a WordPress.org package for a really reasonable fee.

I’m excited to continue to learn how blogging works from a technical standpoint, so as a self-publisher, I can focus on writing interesting, unique content that I’m proud to share, and people will want to read and comment.

Rediscovering Blogging in 2009

View from the summit of the Grand Teton

View from the summit of the Grand Teton

I started blogging (Irwin)  in 2006 to chronicle my climbing, hiking and backcountry skiing experiences. I shared posts with my family and friends but was never concerned with attracting a larger audience or even being found by the search engines.  I considered my blog to be my personal digital journal. It was an easy way to share and archive my outdoor experiences. Even when revisiting it now, it’s fun to remember these beautiful and sometimes harrowing adventures.

Although I’ve not given up my outdoor adventures, I either became too lazy or too busy to keep the blog going past 2008. To be honest, I think the lack of a true readership made me unaccountable, even to myself.

In June of this year, I returned to the blogosphere in earnest to understand and participate in this self-publishing phenomenon with the hope of meeting interesting people who will inspire and challenge me while contributing ideas and conversations of my own. Many times I feel a bit intimidated and overwhelmed when I read top bloggers such as Seth Godin Jay Baer, Danny Brown or Valeria Maltoni.  They make it look so easy with their timely and interesting content, a unique voice and simple but compelling page designs.   Yet these and other bloggers are inspiring to me. I hope someday I’ll have a fraction of the readership they enjoy and, more importantly, the conversations and thinking they generate. In the meantime, I’m learning, making mistakes and search for courage daily to keep writing and posting. As the famous ad copy phrase tells us: “Just do it!”

Facing the Tweets: Interview with @kcnews

by @johnharveyirwin

(This is the first of a series of interviews that put a face with the “@”behind the Tweets for companies and organizations.)

Sabra SchneiderMeet Sabra Schneider(@sabrak), Webmaster and Tweeter for King County, Washington (@kcnews).  Seattle is in King County, which is located on Puget Sound in Washington State, and covering 2,134 square miles. With more than 1.8 million people, it ranks as the 13th most populous county in the nation.

Former King County Executive, Ron Sims, was an early adopter and the first King County government official to catch the Twitter bug approximately a year and a half ago. The business of King County government began Tweeting in November 2008 and Sabra is the primary tweeter. Below is my interview with Sabra.

  1. Are you the main Tweeter for @kcnews?
    Yes, although we have approximately 10 public information officers who have access and regularly contribute. I work closely with the Executive Office Communications team.
  2. What is the main goal for King County using Twitter?
    To augment existing communication channels and reach and talk with our residents directly. We once asked our followers on Twitter why they though it was important for governments to be there and the answers were compelling. People liked direct access to government, the use of free/cheap tools and the two-way conversation.
  3. How are you measuring the value of Tweeting?
    We monitor in many of the usual ways such as number of followers, number of direct messages, number of retweets. We use bit.ly for our links, which allows us to track how many people are clicking the links. In addition, I look at the following tools:
 Klout, twInfluence, Twitter Analyzer, TweetEffect and tweetreach.One of my favorite twitter stories involves a hamster. We had an orange one (ala the dancing hamster of early Internet days ) who was waiting for a home at a King County animal shelter who had been left on a metro bus. I tweeted about our own dancing hamster and the next day received a message from a resident (and the hamster’s new papa) that he adopted Z the hamster. It all happened in less than 14 hours.
  4. What advice do you have for other organizations and businesses using Twitter or thinking of using it?
    Don’t be afraid to have fun with it. Treat it as a two-way conversation. Add value to your existing communication. Maintain it and be active. Lose government speak, you don’t have enough space. It’s also rewarding to connect directly with the residents and or customers, and don’t be afraid of direct feedback.
  5. What are some mechanics behind Tweeting? Do you have a Tweet editorial calendar?
    No. We don’t have a calendar specifically for Twitter, although we do aim for at least four tweets a day. Tweets might include anything from concert information in our parks to schedule for the mobile hazardous waste collection. I generally tweet when we have something interesting happening or to highlight one of our services or services from other government agencies.
  6. How many hours a day do you spend Tweeting?
    Probably the average day is an hour. And that’s a few minutes here, and a few minutes there. Not a solid block of time although it’s more time in an emergency event.
  7. Any interesting or unique customer stories related to @kcnew Tweets?
    Last winter, King County experienced flooding in many of the rural cities in our County and we used Twitter to help get information out to residents about river levels and safety concerns.  We worked closely with emergency management, media and residents to get accurate word out and to follow up quickly. I like how easy it is to work collaboratively with residents and media on Twitter. The online transparency and partnership is unique.
  8. Do you have a favorite “follow”?
    I geek out a lot on what’s going on with government and social media. The Washington Department of Transportation (@wsdot) and their various Twitter accounts is a role model for social media in government. Alaska Air (@alaskaair) and PCC (@PCC) are doing a great job, too on the corporate side. Personally I enjoy @westseattleblog, @grist, @levyj413, @friendsseattle and @moniguzman. That said, I enjoy everyone I follow!
  9. What are some future ideas/uses for social media for King County?
    We’ve had requests to break out from our general account @kcnews into topic specific accounts. We’ve recently introduced @kcpets, which focuses on getting adoptable animals into forever homes.  We’re also in the midst of emergency planning for winter season and will soon debut @kcalerts. We want to augment current communication efforts and find ways to reach less  connected residents too.

Reputation Management in the Blogosphere: Did Whitepages.com Take it on the Chin?

Information today moves in nanoseconds. And a company’s reputation can be damaged or elevated in a matter of minutes or hours with the ubiquity of bloggers and the influence and speed of information distributed over the blogosphere.  There are many fairly current examples of companies not paying attention what the blogosphere was saying until negative sentiment had been solidified and some damage has been done to the brand and company’s reputation.

Last week, the Seattle-based people search company, Whitepages.com announced its “$2.5 million” brand and website redesign. What happened after Seattle Times tech writer John Cook ran a post in his Techflash blog, and what didn’t happen is interesting.

Approximately 74% of the 27 comments posted about Whitepages on Techflash were negative. With stinging critics about:

  • The amount spent on the redesign. “Hilarious! 2.5 millions FOR THAT?!,” or “$2.5m????? thats (sp) ridiculous. Someone needs to be fired over there.”
  • To the technology used. “Ruby has traditional been shown is just about every major benchmark to be 2-3 times slower than Perl, PHP and Python which are the leading scripting languages.”
  • To John Lusk’s Facebook reference. “Facebook comment, wow, how clueless. Boy, if that tiny upstart makes it big, boy.”

Comments good or bad is what the conversation intrinsic to blogs is all about. What’s surprises me though is that Whitepages didn’t respond to any of the comments. So that prompted me to create a list of five things to do to help companies manage reputation in the blogosphere. The principles and strategies of reputation management are really the same as in the offline world, which includes a bit of patience and common sense.

Top 5 Actions to Reputation Management in the Blogosphere

  1. Monitor the blogosphere – There are many tools, some free, to monitor conversations in social media that includes blogs, Twitter and others. Simple and free tools include Google Alerts, search.twitter.com and other more analytics-based tools include SM2 (just acquired by Alterian) and Trackur.
  2. Respond quickly – Not in haste, mind you. But as quickly as can. Today, the absence of a rebuttal to criticism is close to admitting fault. It makes the company seem as if they are hiding something and some trust is potentially lost.
  3. Be nice, don’t flame, ever!–If you are upset, push away from your computer and take a few deep breaths. Once you are cooled down, craft a response and maybe ask for some internal feedback before posting. And don’t forget to thank the person who posted. Remember, you are glad to have people talking about your company or product.
  4. Share more. Be more transparent–If facts were misstated or misinterpreted, clarify. In Whitepages case, the $2.5 million was not actually a fee they paid agencies. Rather it was a number spliced together based on the value of internal effort and resources. My PR experience would tell me that to throw out that large figure in a headline, when it requires further explanation, is risky and misleading.
  5. Befriend the bloggers –If the posts or comments are from bloggers you don’t currently follow, then make sure you subscribe to their blogs and participate. The power of conversation can turn potential enemies into friends.

CompuServe RIP: 1979-2009

compuserveAfter 30 years in business, CompuServe, one of the pioneering companies in Internet technology closed its doors on Monday. Or, rather, AOL shut it down. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting note, at least for me, to remember there was a time of dial-up 2800-56K modems and browser wars. (According to the source in Tom Krazit’s CNET story, “Only 7 percent of U.S. residents still use a dial-up service to access the Internet, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.”) I lived and worked through that era which moved at a breakneck speed and was filled with innovation. Hum, similar to now with all the social media and Web 2.0.

I worked at a Seattle Internet start-up called Spry, which was bought by CompuServe for $100 million in 1996. As the PR manager, I took a position with the newly renamed CompuServe Internet Division. But CompuServe was a conflicted company. Here was a technology company based in Columbus, OH and, at the time, a subsidiary of H&R Block, the parent company.  Because of their traditional corporate culture established by H&R Block, they never had the management or leadership to foresee and make CompuServe a player beyond the dial-up market.  I remember the suits that came to Seattle to start the transition. They seemed so uncomfortable in this new, fast-moving khakis and Polo-shirt environment. They tried, but finally sold off to rival AOL that has kept the company on a respirator for many years.

Still, CompuServe was ahead of its time in the late 80’s and 90’s and should be remembered as one of the early innovators in building Internet communication so communities (they called them Forums) could form and thrive. Hum, similar to where we are now, except with a new set of clothes and a bit more speed!

Optimized Content a Struggle for B2B Websites

MarketingSherpa promotes a Chart of the Week every Tuesday. Today they posted an interesting chart on digital marketing agencies and consultants perspective on how well B2B websites are managed. The brief evaluation of this data (no info on how many people were polled or for what size websites/companies) signals that SEO is an area that company’s are not managing so well e.g not optimizing content for search engines.

Digital Marketing Marketing Sherpa

In my recent experience as a digital marketing consultant and project manager working with companies such as Microsoft, often little effort or thought would be given to content as it relates to SEO. It was always a struggle, and not just for Microsoft, but for most companies to understand the importance of content in relation to SEO. Typically so much time and money is spent on messaging frameworks in relation to the brand and the customer, that by the time the SEO team has input, the content is pretty much hard wired with little or no time or dollars left for another review cycle. (Besides, everyone is exhausted at this point and just glad to have the framework approved.)

Therefore, a simple solution is to have an SEO strategy conversation while the messaging is being developed. And, communicate to the sponsors and stakeholders that the messaging/content should be reviewed frequently based on data gathered from SEO and web analytics reports.

Revealing Update on Dex’s Phone Directory Dumping

Following up on last week’s post about the continuing practice of unsolicited phone directories dumped on my doorstep every year, I received an email from Phil Wojcik, Director – YP DND, e.g. the Yellow Pages Do Not Distribute website. Phil is a former employee of the Yellow Pages Association and holds insider knowledge on phone directory publishers, their business model and current practices.

First, Phil wants to clarify that the YP DND web site has only been live since January 2009. He explained that. YP Goes Green is another popular site, yet publishers do not have a relationship with them. I think that’s where I thought I had opted out years ago. Phil further explains: “We on the other hand, have been working with the publishers to accept our opt out lists. The entire site was designed around their specs, and what information they needed to verify the actual request, including which directory. It has been a very long and slow battle, since many publishers don’t want to take responsibility for their blanket delivery lists and actually manage who gets delivered to.”

The rest of Phil’s email response verbatim is below.

“I will admit, RHD, as well as the other 2 major Telco publishers have been slow to respond to our quarterly list distribution, even though we break it down by directory number and zip code per their request. Given that RHD just filed for bankruptcy, and Idearc (Verizon) is not far behind, I can understand why they are reluctant to loose any distribution numbers. The independent publishers have been great to work with.

The other thorn that we have run into lately, is that many of the independent delivery companies, that delivery the directories, get paid by the book. We have had drivers openly admit that they do not look at the list to see if house number xx is supposed to get a book, they just deliver one.”

In the end, for the publishers, it comes down to money. Take RDH for example. In Seattle, Washington they tout almost a 500,000-book distribution. If 50 or 100,000 households say they no longer want the directory, then they have to adjust their ad rates that the businesses pay, which cuts into their 24% profit margin.

While we may not currently have 100% saturation with all 226 publishers here in the US, we are working very hard to reach that goal.

This is clearly a complex issue and there’s no silver bullet to an easy way to opt-out of yearly Yellow Page and White Page phone directory deliveries. Still, it’s great to learn that some folks such as YP DND and Whitepages.com are actively addressing the issue and working towards ending this archaic and wasteful practice.