Community Archives - Stephan Spencer

From FooCamp to Ypulse to BlogHer in 8 days

By | Blogging, Community, Shameless Self-Promotion | 2 Comments

I went off the radar for a few weeks. Apologies for that. I have a lot going on in my life right now – not all of it good – that is taking up a lot of my time and headspace at the moment. Plus I’ve been traveling a lot. I just got back from a 10 day trip to the Bay area for 3 conferences — FooCamp, Ypulse, and BlogHer.

me at Foo CampIt was my first FooCamp (I’m so psyched that I got an invite!). For those of you unfamiliar with Foo Camp, it is the predecessor to BarCamp with the word “Foo” an acronym for “Friends of O’Reilly.” Besides being a huge fan of O’Reilly since about 1994, I’m co-authoring an O’Reilly book with Rand Fishkin and Jessie Stricchiola called The Art of SEO and I’ve spoken twice at O’Reilly/CMP’s “Web 2.0 Expo” conference. So yes I’m an unabashed “Foo”. FooCamp is invitation-only and limited to several hundred people. It’s an “unconference” — where the program is developed and presented by the attendees. The more proactive you are at Foo Camp (in terms of sharing/participating), the more you’ll get out of it (and the more likely you’ll be invited back again). It’s completely free – free to attend, free food, free drinks, free “lodging” on the grounds – just bring your own tent. And yep, a lot of folks brought tents and camped out on the lawn. Some folks slept in the office buildings on the floor in sleeping bags. I’m not into “roughing it”, so I stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn Express. My older two daughters got to hang out at the Holiday Inn while I went to the conference, which was pretty boring — so they told me… about a MILLION times! Arrgh. Gotta love teenagers. Speaking of my teenagers, the middle one (who is 15) drew this flattering illustration (on the left) of me wearing a Foo Camp t-shirt. She finds it quite hilarious that I wear a T-shirt in public that says “Foo Camp.” Of course I live to embarrass her (or so she thinks!).

Foo Camp attendees run the gamut – entrepreneurs to authors to venture capitalists – but they can all be described as leading thinkers and innovators. It was a real treat. I got to meet a lot of amazing people. Way too many to list. But here’s an example: the founder of Drupal, Dries Buytaert. Dries blogged about his Foo Camp experience. Nobody has a bad time at Foo Camp.

After the Foo Camp weekend came Ypulse, a youth marketing conference. It was excellent. If you market to kids, tweens or teens, you should have been at this conference (so go to the next one!). My oldest Chloe was a speaker on the “Totally Wired Superstars” panel with other teen entrepreneurs. I really enjoyed the conference, but Chloe was in heaven — she met directors (Chloe wants to be a director), journalists, folks from Disney, Seventeen.com, MTV, and her hero, Ashley Qualls, the teenage “MySpace millionaire”.

Then a couple days later came the BlogHer conference, a conference focused on the women blogger community — a powerful and diverse voice in the blogosphere that includes “mommy bloggers”, foodies, political bloggers, techies, etc. It was my second BlogHer conference. I went last year too, when Chloe spoke. This time we just attended. Chloe did manage to get on the local (Bay area) news (see the video here) – she was interviewed as an attendee.

Chloe on ABC7 News

BlogHer was great. I did sometimes feel like the “token male” in the audience, because women so outnumbered men (I never felt unwelcome though, just to clarify!). Instead of feeling out of place, a male could look at it as an opportunity. For instance, I remember a guy telling me at last year’s BlogHer how he loved coming to their conferences because “it was like shooting fish in a barrel”. Ha ha! I presume he was single, but I probably shouldn’t assume that. ;)

Now I’m back and it’s back to the grindstone. I have articles to write, the book to work on, conference presentations to prepare for, a ton of emails to respond to, and personal crises to deal with. *deep sigh*

Rock on.

SEO Communities and the Echo Chamber Effect

By | Community, Search Engines, Social Networking | 2 Comments

Jill Whalen started a great conversation the other day on Sphinn titled “Have we run out of things to write about?” This same thought has gone through my head a few times as inspiration for great posts comes and goes. Every time I feel this way I remember one thing: I love everything SEO and could talk about it forever.

What happens in a community like Sphinn, or really any niche social networking group, writers and readers get hooked on a specific topic and then write everything about it. People write their opinions on other author’s stories or simply rewrite what someone else has written. Weeks can go by and only one topic has been the center of attention.

This is the nature of a social network – a group of like-minded people all talking about the same things. Naturally, when a topic is so interesting everyone wants to keep reading about it people will keep writing about it. They do this because they are actually interested in continuing and adding their thoughts to the conversation or, and I fear this is what perpetuates being stuck on a topic longer – when a topic is hot, writing about it will make their stories hot and send them traffic.

It’s the comments, stupid!

By | Blogging, Community | 18 Comments

Ok, I admit it. I haven’t been walking my own talk. I say how important it is to comment on others’ blogs, that a blogger should spend as much time commenting on others’ blogs as posting on their own blog. You might have read my (hopefully compelling) case for this here or here. Yet, ashamedly, I have been terribly lax in commenting in the blogosphere. I’ve been, for the most part, a lurker. My excuse — “I’m busy enough as it is just trying to keep up with my blog” — isn’t going to wash any more. It’s about time I get out more.

As of the past few days, I’ve made a conscious effort to start chiming in. For example, I commented on the personal blog of a well-respected WordPress code contributor and plugin author. I commented on Google engineer Adam Lasnik’s blog to inform him of a typo in one of his links that was sending link juice to a domain squatter. Why bother you ask? Because it helps build relationships! Being successful in the blogosphere is as much about relationships as it is about content. Heck, being successful in LIFE is about relationships. For instance… what SEO in his/her right mind WOULDN’T want to nurture a great relationship with “Mini-Matt”?! (Mini-Matt is the nickname affectionately used by some SEOs to refer to Adam Lasnik. Matt being Matt Cutts.)

Another thing I’m going to do RIGHT NOW (as soon as I hit the “Publish” button on this post), is turn off moderation. Yep, that’s right. Call me crazy, but I’m going to risk having some comment spams (those that sneak past the excellent Akismet plugin) showing up temporarily (until I discover ‘em and nuke ‘em) on my blog. The reason being: I want this blog to give instant gratification to commenters. Having to wait a day for the blog author (me) to approve your comment is a let-down. It’s not conducive to an intensively participatory blog. I’m going to remove that barrier.

Care to comment? :-)

Deriving Value from LinkedIn

By | Community, Social Networking | No Comments

I had been on LinkedIn for quite a while but I never gave it much thought or attention. I had never bothered filling out a meaningful profile for myself. And I had never sought to add any contacts to my network.

This year I saw the light — I saw how valuable LinkedIn can be if you know how to work it. I witnessed my colleague Brian Klais use LinkedIn to find some amazing candidates for SEO positions at our company Netconcepts. At the best of times it’s hard to hire for SEO positions, as those who are the most qualified are undoubtedly already pulling in a very respectable paycheck. LinkedIn made it a breeze for Brian. Brian’s success spurred me on to give LinkedIn a bit more of my attention.

So I completed a profile, worked to quadruple the size of my network, and obtained several endorsements from clients like SuperPages.com and Eurekster.com. (You can view my profile at www.linkedin.com/in/stephanspencer, if you’re curious.) Lo and behold, simply the act of adding friends and acquaintances to my network had within days resulted in a number of them renewing their conversations with me — including an SEO client from several years back who I hadn’t spoken to in many months; out of that renewed conversation he agreed to become a reference for our firm. Sometimes all it takes is to reach out to old friends and acquaintances and things start to happen. LinkedIn helps faciliate that process.

Some folks remain unconvinced of the value of LinkedIn. Like David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals, who tried to pull the plug on his LinkedIn account but encountered difficulties doing so and very publicly riffed about it on their company’s Signal vs. Noise blog. I was pleased to see LinkedIn staffer Konstantin Guericke chime in and defuse the issue with a very constructive comment. I also noticed buried in that post’s comments several other excellent bits of commentary from LinkedIn users who have had similarly positive LinkedIn experiences to Brian’s and mine.

For example, Gordon Strause, a Senior Product Manager at Yahoo, had this to say:

…I have found Linkedin useful. It’s reconnected me with some former co-workers; I’ve used it to hire contractors and employees; I’ve even researched some competitive start-ups with it. I’m curious–is there anyone here claiming that Linkedin isn’t valuable, did they try to do anything? Did you try to find someone you’d lost touch with? Did you try to find someone that might be helpful to you (contractor or employee or expert)? Or, is it, I signed up and I’ve been waiting for my cookie? Waiting around for more invitations is clearly not that useful, unless someone finds you interesting.

And Ted Shelton, Founder and CEO of Personal Bee had this to say:

I have been using Linked In for a long time and feel that I have gotten a lot of value from it. I also feel that, as with any tool, it is the amount of time and effort that I invest in the tool that has determined the value that I have derived.

I don’t believe there is any magic bullet to having and making use of a social network — no software tool is going to replace the need to meet people, provide value to those people, develop relationships with those people etc. A tool can make it easier though to keep track (or rediscover) those people and can make it easier to handle routine communications requests.

Here are my rules for using Linked In–

(1) I never invite anyone to join my network that I don’t have a good real world relationship with.

(2) I never agree to join a network of someone else that I don’t have a good real world relationship.

(3) I never ask anyone for assistance through Linked In if it isn’t the kind of request that I would respond positively to.

As a result, I have hired employees referred through Linked In, I have been reconnected to colleagues from the past, I have done reference checks on people through the people we know in common, and I have been able to refer jobs to people in my extended network, helping my friend who are in my immediate network.

Some great points made by Ted and Gordon! (Funny how the comments on a well-trafficked blog like Signal vs Noise can actually exceed the quality of the post itself!)

For those who want to become masters at using LinkedIn to recruit great talent, you might want to check out the book Happy About LinkedIn for Recruiting, which is co-authored by Bill Vick and Des Walsh. (Des is a smart guy, I know him as a fellow contributor to BusinessBlogConsulting.com).

Bottom line: you’ll get out of LinkedIn what you put into it.

So all you social butterflies out there, put some effort into LinkedIn! Mark my words: it’ll be worth it. :-)

Understand MySpace Before Marketing in MySpace

By | Blogging, Community, Web Marketing | 5 Comments

With tens of millions of users (but probably not the purported 100 million though), MySpace.com is a force to be reckoned with. Especially when you consider that MySpace apparently drives more traffic to online retailers than MSN Search, according to some recent Hitwise data.

But MySpace is hard for us adults to get our heads around. It just doesn’t seem logical: How does it hold the interest of so many — young people, with short attention spans, in particular — despite the facts that the design/usability is so atrocious, the web page creation platform is so frustratingly restrictive, and it’s chock full of so many junk/spam/abandoned profiles?

Um, it’s about looking cool, fitting in, and hanging out. Duh!

Then where do us adults feature in this? Besides offering a tempting place for stalkers and voyeurs to hang out (can you say “Creepy!”?), it’s a promising venue for marketers to hawk their wares. But do you have what it takes to crack it? The most unlikely of marketers seem to have it — bars, bands, and quirky dotcoms (disclaimer: these guys are a client) , whereas big brands like Blockbuster don’t seem to have a clue.

MySpace is a real slice of humanity. Amongst the throngs of teenagers (many of which have their profiles set to private), the MySpace ecosystem is host to concerned parents trying to keep tabs on their kids, college students, obsessed sports fans, CEOs and realtors. In other words, the Average Joe or Jane. And of course marketers. Clueless marketers. I’ll readily admit I’m one of the clueless ones. Thankfully there is someone I can lean for guidance through this teen marketing minefield… my 15 year old daughter Chloe. You may recall she’s the one with the Neopets blog whom I’ve blogged about before (BTW, she was featured recently on BloggerStories.com… I’m so proud of her!). Chloe has a MySpace page (a private one, so don’t bother looking), and she gets MySpace. I plan to enlist Chloe’s help in marketing within MySpace. At 15, she’ll be the youngest marketing consultant I know!

Before you start marketing in MySpace, you’d better understand it. Because if you don’t, the MySpace community can turn on you the moment you make your first misstep. Just like bloggers can. (Note: many MySpace users are bloggers too. MySpace supports blogging within its platform.) The cardinal rule in MySpace is the same one as in the blogosphere: ‘Keep it real’.

You know who else gets MySpace? Site owners like this one who provide layouts, backgrounds, funny photos etc. to the MySpace community. Those folks are sitting back, sipping pina coladas and watching the moulah from Google AdSense roll in.

Sometime when I get a chance I’ll write a follow-up post to this one and share some specifics about MySpace marketing, like getting large numbers of Friends, using photo animation, customizing your layout, etc. So stay tuned!

Ecommerce Best Practice Tip #8: Incorporate discussion forums into your ecommerce site

By | Community, Ecommerce, Online Retail, Search Engines | One Comment

Discussion forums encourage customer participation, getting customers and prospects to stay longer which means more interaction with your brand. They drive repeat visits too. Some customers become “regulars” on your forums — which should, hopefully, lead to you being top-of-mind more often when they are in the market for products that you sell. In other words, discussion forums make your site sticky. Not a bad thing!

Woot.com is a great example of an ecommerce site that encourages participation with forums. They consistently get dozens of comments per day; frequently it’s even hundreds. For example, this blog post from a week ago generated 1200 comments in their forums! Their weekly contest is brilliant: they get customers to Photoshop images to a particular theme (which changes week by week) and then post their creations to the forums. Viewing the submissions is a lot of fun.

Online forums also generate wonderful search engine fodder. If the forum is architected correctly, each forum posting will become a separate page that ends up in Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, etc. And each of those pages will have been engineered to rank well (the HTML, the URLs, the anchor text of the back links, etc.).

We set up a forum for Van Dykes Furniture Restorers for their core customers (furniture restorers) to collaborate, share tips, ask and answer questions, etc. This user-contributed content is written in the language of the customers. For example, if a post is written about “gluing wood to metal” and that’s the language that furniture restorers are using, rather than the product-focused industry lingo that the supplier is using, then that’s new search engine visibility that hasn’t been captured before by the online catalog. Multiply that effect out by the hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of forum posts and you’ve got the beginnings of a Long Tail search optimization strategy.

On Orkut, I feel like a voyeur

By | Community | No Comments

This weekend I finally got an invite to Orkut, the exclusive closed social network site developed and run by Google. I feel like a voyeur, inconspicuously ascertaining who’s friends with various mega millionaires like Sergey Brin and Steve Jurvetson. It’s rather surprising what some business people reveal in their profiles — stuff you certainly wouldn’t reveal to your own mother. Don’t they realize people actually read these things? Anyways, Orkut was great fun for a while but now I’m already getting bored with it.

Google Video vs. YouTube

By | Community, Search Engines | 4 Comments

I have to say I prefer YouTube over Google Video, although the audio tends to be out of sync with the video, it’s hard to locate the gems from all the crap, a lot of the comments are “if you liked that then check out this video” spams, and you can’t download the videos for offline viewing.

Here’s why I think YouTube rocks:

  • It’s developed a large, active community of users who comment on videos, rate videos, become friends, create favorites and playlists, etc.
  • The way you can embed videos into your blog or site (see example below) is really well done
  • Videos can have tags associated with them
  • It’s so easy to get sucked in to watch more videos once you’re in there, through Related Videos, Playlists, Director Videos, Most Viewed, Top Rated, Most Discussed, Top Favorites, Most Linked, Recently Featured, Most Recent and Random

I’m not alone in my opinion that YouTube has Google Video beat. The Church of the Customer blog offers up 10 reasons why YouTube is better than Google Video, which include the vastly superior user interface, the viral “pass it on” and “put on site” functions, superior playback performance, the display of the number of times each video has been played, the user accounts, better search functionality (e.g. the ability to sort search returns by date added, title, view count and rating), the way three random frames from each video are displayed next to search results, the display of trackbacks, and the related video functionality.

Here’s my favorite YouTube video to date. It’s a segment from a Japanese game show called “Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende” (Silent Library), where contestants suffer more and more outrageous tortures without being able to utter a sound:

My second favorite is the series of Star Trek action figure videos, including Crib, Karaoke and Poolside. You’ve got to check those out too.

Got any favorites to share?

Digitally augmented collaboration: Ning, Flock, Writeboard, Rollyo, Swicki, Memeorandum

By | Community | No Comments

Ever feel like you blinked and you missed some hugely important new trend online? I admit it; sometimes I feel that way. I take a break from my RSS aggregator for a day and I feel totally out of the loop. But I usually catch up pretty quickly.

For those of you who don’t live and die by your RSS aggregator (i.e. you have a life outside of your computer), there’s some exciting stuff happening:

I love it when disruptive technologies leave “old school” companies wondering “Wha’ happen’d?”. One behemoth that won’t be left in the dust, though, is Yahoo. Despite Yahoo’s size, they are poised to cash in big-time to the transition of the Web from passive browsing to a platform for collaboration and social networking (in other words, Web 2.0). Yahoo!’s made some really smart Web 2.0-ish purchases lately, including Flickr and Upcoming.org. Not to be outdone there’s also Ebay who just bought Skype and AOL who just bought Weblogs, Inc.

Sticky blogs work best

By | Blogging, Community | One Comment

Stickiness is a primary goal for most websites. A site that is sticky gets people coming back again and again, and staying longer too.

It is easier to build a relationship and engage your reader if your site is sticky. My blog’s reasonably sticky because the author is so good and has such insightful things to say. ;-)

But seriously though, there are things you can do to engage your readers in some of the dialog. For instance, you can form a community where they are all talking to each other — most blogs are really abysmal at that. Even my blog really doesn’t do a very good job of bringing readers together and getting them to talk to each other.

So how do you get off your soapbox as a blogger and start conversations without finishing them, and let your readers take over?

Performancing has a nice list of practical things you can do to build online community of your blog:

  1. Design for repeat visits
  2. Keep advertising minimal for repeats
  3. Provide a recent posts list
  4. Answer your comments
  5. Use the right language
  6. Post frequently
  7. Have a private message system
  8. Allow member posts
  9. Include members in decisions
  10. Don’t neglect the distributed community