Searchtastic Enables Export of Twitter Search Results


In October, I first introduced Searchtastic, a new search engine for Twitter, whose claim to fame is archiving Tweets longer than the standard database, as well as letting you refine your search through live addition and deletion of keywords. This weekend, the site upgraded with a minor addition that has major potential - the ability to export search results to Microsoft Excel databases with a single click. This opens up significant opportunity for marketing and sales teams alike who are looking to track who discusses their brand or select keywords, and track this data offline.

As social media aware businesses are looking closely at Twitter and other online networks for potential prospects and influencers, it comes as no surprise that it would be desired that these future customers be stored in the company's CRM, or as part of a marketing database, even if not all the information is complete. Also, as third party social media contractors are often hired to find these folks, there becomes a need to compile frequent mentions of your brand and products and report into Marketing or Sales.



Any Searchtastic Result is Now Exportable to an .xls File

Now, I can go to Searchtastic, enter a keyword or string of words, and see the results, powered by standard Twitter search.

For example, I may search for the word Maytag.

On the right side of the search results from Searchtastic, there is a new function that says "Excel Report". If I click that, I am asked to enter a simple number-based Captcha, and the report is downloaded.

Included in the report are all the relevant details around the mentions, including:
  • Login of the individual
  • Name listed on Twitter
  • Homepage provided on their profile
  • Location (if reported)
  • Followers (by number)
  • Following (by number)
  • Total Tweets
  • Tweet Date (of the mention)
  • Tweet (the tweet in its entirety)
  • In Reply To (the URL of a reply, if there is one)
Then, the smart marketer can sort by location, if they have a geographical focus, or by total number of followers, to see perceived "influence" and reach, by total tweets to figure out how frequently the person updates, or by time, if they want to work the list sequentially.

Since our initial report on Searchtastic, the developer has made a number of behind the scenes enhancements, fixing search string bugs, adding the expansion of URLs from URL shorteners, and migrating to more powerful servers to enable a greater number of tweets for indexing. You can check out Searchtastic at http://www.searchtastic.com. It is obvious to me that this new addition could be very powerful and useful. I will absolutely be using this.

How To Let Twitter Be Your Brand’s Resume With Widgets

As more companies, marketers and PR reps wake up to the world of Twitter, the art of discovering what is being said about businesses and their products is hardly a dark art at this point. Most have figured out the basics of tracking customer responses, or individuals are able to set vanity queries to get alerted each time they or their works are mentioned in Twitter streams. But so far, this data has only flowed one way. With the use of Twitter's free widgets, and some creativity, you can let Twitter users' updates speak on behalf of you and your company.

Twitter has what they call a "Goodies' page, which includes code for customized widgets, which can be placed on your Web site and blog, or social networks, like Facebook and MySpace.

The four widgets offered today include a profile widget, which displays your own updates, a search widget, which can track any keywords or hashtags you enter, a faves widget to show off those tweets that are your favorites, or a list widget, which presents outwardly lists that you have created.

Of these, the search widget and the faves widget have the most potential for your business.

The first, a search widget, can be set up to query for your brand or its products. Pretty straight forward. You can see an example below, enabled for Apple or iPhone:




The same script for SocialToo, where I am an advisor:





The above search widget grabs all activity on Twitter that mentions these products. It is great for showing volume, but it has no filter for what is a positive mention or a negative mention, and could include spam.

A better way to create a solid representation of you, your brand or your products, is to use the Faves widget. While some people are using Twitter favorites the same way that I use Google Reader shares, to capture top news as it flows in, others, including me, are using it to track positive mentions. In theory, as you amass significant favorites this way, this faves widget can be presented as unsolicited endorsements of you and your company online.

Take a look:




The above widget, which I have embedded on my About LouisGray.com page, gives a list of recent updates on Twitter that have presented me or my content in a positive light. All it takes is a combination of using the typical vanity searches, monitoring @replies, and favoriting the best of that list.

The process is easy:
1. Search for the desired terms on Twitter. (like this)
2. Mark those you like as favorites.
3. Go to the Twitter Goodies Widget Page.
4. Choose the Faves Widget.
5. Customize the title, appearance and dimensions.
6. Add to your site!

If you don't want to have your individual account (or your corporate account) using Twitter in this way, there is always the option to add a second account just for favorites. For example, you could make an account called "fordfaves" that favorites the top mentions of Ford and its cars on Twitter, and then show that widget on the press mentions page of the Web site.

As I have often said, Twitter is what you make of it. It can be a tool for conversation, or for broadcasting. It can be a tool to talk with friends, or to communicate with brands. But no matter how you use Twitter, a ton of information is being poured into the site, and it's up to you how you can extract value.

Three ways to avoid dog whistle marketing

(Editor’s note: Jim Nichols is a senior partner at Catalyst:SF, a marketing capital firm focused on entrepreneurs. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

Many start-ups have trouble making an impression. They make a lot of noise, but no one seems to hear them. It’s the business equivalent of a dog whistle – inaudible to human ears.dog

There are, however, some simple ways to avoid this. Here are three reasons why people may not notice you – and what you can do to be heard.

Speak $&#^ing English! Prospects don’t want to whip out decoder rings for buzzword-bingo sales pitches. Tell them, in simple terms, how you will make lives easier, better or less expensive.

I once worked for a start-up that told potential clients it offered “professionally managed virtual personal computing information technology services for distributed workforces.” What we actually did was outsourced IT, which saved clients time and money.

By contrast, two companies I recently encountered know how to deliver a message beautifully.

Track Simple’s  reporting and insights dashboard dramatically reduces the time that media planners spend producing and analyzing performance reports. Reporting takes up two days of every planner’s week. So as it put together its marketing, the company went with the claim that it “gives media planners their Tuesdays back.”

OKCupid, a dating site that makes money through advertising, is another good example.  I asked their CEO how they stood out in the crowded online market and he said, “Single people spend their money differently from marrieds. We help advertisers reach free spending singles.”

In both cases, the benefits were described in plain English – and were infinitely more effective than polished, but overly wordy, pitches.

Talk to people. There’s a misconception that B2B marketing is totally different from B2C – that a 100 percent rational sell is the way to get through to businesses.

Bull.

Your decision maker is a person. Rational benefits are important, but don’t forget to appeal emotionally to deciders.  Will picking you make them feel safe? Smart? Innovative?

Big business gets this. Consider Oracle’s  “20 out of 20” ads. Seemingly dull facts, but the implication—that if you don’t pick Oracle you are clearly imbecilic and will probably be fired—is there in the subtext. Like us or not, the campaign says, we’re the safe choice.

Use reason, but also touch spirits – and you’ll be heard.

Are You Real? There are hurdles to clear before you’ll matter to most customers. For example, in online advertising, most companies won’t give you a second glance until you have a million unique users a month.

Focus first on scale. Find those prospects that like to be first. In virtually every industry, there are blessed souls who like innovation more than scale. Find them. Sign them. Reach critical mass. Then build from there.

Sometimes entrepreneurs believe so much in what they’re doing that they miss thinking about the prospects. Prospects don’t care about your goals. When you put their needs first, though, you might be heard.

Photo by adgray2k via Flickr


Companies That Set the Market’s Agenda Win

When I was very young, I remember hearing the debate in advertising of whether you should mention your main competition by name, or simply allude to them, such as saying "the leading cola brand", or "the leading paper towel", when comparing your product to theirs. While I've often been told you should never introduce your competition into the conversation when with a potential client, the vagueness of alluding to the competition actually has the reverse effect - getting the viewer or reader to think in their mind of just who that leader is, instead of taking in your message - defeating your sneakiness.

If you are a frequent consumer of news or advertising, you can see who is also being smart in terms of setting the agenda by which other competitors are measured, or putting them on the defensive. As a big Apple fan, it is very easy for me to see when Cupertino is pushing the agenda, and when they are not. When they are not, the situation is always much worse. But for any company, if they can set the agenda, and the stage, forcing competition to play by their rules, they have a significant advantage.

The iPhone Agenda: Thousands and Thousands of Apps

First, take a look at the iPhone's success and message:

The phrase "There's an app for that" and the climbing total number of applications has had Apple in a happy place - blowing past 100,000 individual programs. By setting the focus on how many total applications, the handfuls available for the Palm Pre, and the admittedly rapid growing ten thousand from Android seem relatively small. Apple set the stage in terms of how smartphones were measured, not just in terms of forcing a touchscreen, but also in the yardstick being the application store itself.

So long as Apple keeps the lead in total applications, other companies are going to be in a defensive posture when talking about how many programs they offer, or trying to suggest that most people only need a few, or that they have higher quality. It's not a good message.

Verizon's Agenda: Our 3G Coverage Is Better

But look how Verizon changed the game, and threw AT&T under the bus:

After months and months of hearing "There's an App for That", Verizon got sick of it, and started their "There's a Map for That" campaign, saying that Verizon's 3G service is much more widely available than is AT&T. Even if most pundits say that AT&T's 3G service is faster than that of Verizon, the image that remains with people is one full map for Verizon, and a sparsely dotted one for AT&T. AT&T's response to Verizon has been lackluster, not just because they were thrown together quickly, but because they were fought on Verizon's turf, by their rules.

Apple has even had to jump in to bail out their ball and chain network buddy, by trying to highlight the use of the iPhone for voice and Internet at the same time. But the whole time, we're thinking of those darn maps. Point to Verizon.

I'm a Mac, and You're a PC

Sticking with Apple for a bit, the company's Mac vs. PC commercials, as long in the tooth as they are, have set the agenda for how PC users are perceived and how Mac users are perceived, for better or for worse.

Microsoft tried to fight back, on Apple's turf, with it's "I'm a PC" ad line, but that was largely panned and ineffective, because they were unable to wrest control away from Cupertino's mindset.

It wasn't until Microsoft was able to turn the conversation away from "I'm a PC" and to "Lauren" with her low budget to push a different agenda around price that Apple was caught on the defensive.

Setting the agenda is important for any company to promote their agenda. If you are Google, you might once have said your search index is bigger, due to its billions of indexed pages, and that was why you are better - forcing competition to try and show how large their own index was, and coming up short. If you are Facebook, you will highlight your vast population of users, in the hundreds of millions, making competitors fade in comparison.

Will Android Force a New Agenda?

The battle for an agenda is especially interesting in markets that are unsettled, or at a point of change. In addition to the Verizon vs. AT&T battle mentioned before, we are at a very interesting point in the smartphone battles, with Google pushing Android into the market with Motorola's Droid, HTC's Eris and the rumored Google branded phone (coming soon). Droid has tried to make a mark on Apple by saying it "Does" things that Apple's iPhone cannot, but there hasn't yet been a cohesive approach by all Google-powered handsets to promote whatever their agenda will be. Will it be on openness in software? Will it be on openness in terms of supported voice and data carriers? Will there be a killer app that is on Android and not the iPhone at all? And if you are Microsoft or Symbian, or God forbid, Palm... what do you do? You can't win on total apps or touch, or openness, so do you make a new agenda, or call it quits?

I've seen the agenda game play out at previous jobs, and seen colleagues struggle to try and meet the criteria set by the competition - fighting a never-ending battle of certifications and partnerships or benchmarks. While we (and others) spun in place trying to catch up to others' previous mark, the competition nimbly pushed ahead with the new agenda, and changed the game again. It would make more sense to find out, for each of us, what your benefits are and how you can present the agenda to win.

Leveraging Social Marketing for Business, Sales and Startups

Following on to the post last month on leveraging social networks to build Web traffic, courtesy of YourBusinessChannel, filmed while in the UK with Ecademy, three more short videos have surfaced from our extended interview on the impact that social media tracking and activity can have for companies big and small on the Web - be it through connecting with potential customers, or simply expanding their brand. The three videos are embedded below - proving to me that I sound as tired as I felt, having just completed a five-hour presentation following the San Francisco to London Trip the day before.


Social Marketing Strategies a Boon for Business


Sales Advice for the Social Web



What Can Social Marketing Do for Startups?

Shoestring marketing for start-ups

(Editor’s note: Serial entrepreneur Scott Olson is president of MindLink Marketing. He contributed this column to VentureBeat.)

In a startup, there is no more precious commodity than capital. It’s hard to come by and easily burned – and marketing budgets can quickly become one of the biggest line items.shoestrong

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

There are more cost effective and free marketing tools than ever, letting companies get a lot more marketing bang for their buck. Here are some ways to accomplish three of your most critical marketing tasks without breaking the bank.

Create a killer website – For companies just getting started, it’s important to balance the desire to have a professional web presence with the costs associated with bringing in a professional developer. By using a trio of low cost tools, though, you can save thousands of dollars.

If a blog is part of your roadmap, consider creating your initial website using WordPress. This tool (along with Blogger) is one of the most well-known blog-creation destinations online. It’s flexible and has a wide user-monitored support system. Personally, I love the flexibility to use or modify pre-existing design templates and add pages as needed.

As you address your initial logo and graphic design needs, crowdSpring is worth a look. Logo projects can start as low as $200 and the site guarantees at least 25 results. For my own logo and business cards I paid $400 and received over 80 logo submissions. You may eventually refine and update your graphic look and feel, but this is a great way to get started.

Google Analytics, which tracks and analyzes your web traffic, is a must for any start-up. This free service is very powerful and integrates directly with WordPress for statistics and analysis. It’s essential in understanding what drives your web traffic and the effectiveness of any Pay-Per Click marketing.

Connect to your audience – Hiring a PR agency can be a large expense for start-ups – often too large, since you’re still putting together a proven marketing message. Still, this doesn’t eliminate the need to begin connecting and communicating with your ideal audience.

Social media has changed the game here. A strong content strategy (i.e. white papers, webinars, regular blogging) is a good start. From there, build relationships and conversations with online influencers.  Engage them for interaction on your content. Make sure that all of your Website’s pages have calls to action and places where your customers can connect to you (and you can capture their lead information).

Put out regular press releases for search purposes and general pickup. I would recommend PRLog for putting out free releases for the purpose of search (it goes to Google immediately). If you want broader pickup by the news services, there’s PR Newswire or PR Web.  Both have press release distribution starting less than $200 for a single release. (PR Web is a little less expensive and starts at $80.)

Generate leads – Once you’ve got product in hand, your marketing focus immediately turns to lead generation. It’s important not only to generate early revenue, but also to provide important feedback into the product development process. Unfortunately, it can also significantly drain marketing funds.

One of the biggest money pits is the trade show. You can easily spend $100,000 or more exhibiting at a single show. For a select few mature businesses this is a sound investment (due to the quality of the contacts and effectiveness of face-to-face conversations). For most startups, though, it’s wasted money.

You’re better off simply attending the event and employing selected networking and pre-show telemarketing to set up meetings with key companies who will be in attendance. Attend the sessions and blog and tweet about them. You will be surprised at how many people you can connect to through the simple act of reporting and giving your own perspective on a show.

As your marketing database begins to build, use a newsletter to stay in touch – linking to any content you create. (It’s a surprisingly effective drip-marketing tool.) Fill the newsletter with plenty of calls to action, but keep it as informative and crisp as possible. Think like an editor, not a marketer: What’s valuable and interesting to your audience?

Marketing on a budget is more attainable than ever for a capital concerned startup. As your product matures and your company grows, you’ll eventually upgrade your marketing systems as appropriate to include sophisticated CRM, e-mail marketing and more powerful campaign analytics. In the meantime, it’s possible – even easy – to stay lean and preserve your capital.

Photo by House Of Sims via Flickr


Are you creating or stealing customers?

(Editor’s note: Michael Greenberg is COO of Loyalty Lab. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

It’s easy to think that your start-up is centered in a green field or blue ocean, but typically, that’s not the case. Only the lucky few are truly creating new customers out of thin air. Most have to steal them from someone else.hamburglar

This is a fact that few entrepreneurs want to hear.  But smart start-up owners know when to face reality and focus on luring customers to their side of the fence. The most important consideration before doing so is determining whether they’re chasing a regular expenditure or one that only occurs once.

Regular expenditures are the easiest and potentially most lucrative to attack.  There is long-term recurring revenue available, plus customers are more likely to try a new option when it’s just one in a series of purchases - think home DVD delivery (like Netflix), SaaS software, anything retail or ad networks.  In these cases, purchasers spend money regularly and are more open to trying something new. The downside risk for them is low, as they can always revert to their current provider.

Winning these customers entails two tasks – trial and retention.

Sales and marketing have to work together to generate the first purchase, convincing customers to shift their spending, at least temporarily, away from the current choice.  Your operations team then has to deliver on marketing’s promise, ideally exceeding customer expectations.  Customer relationship management and social marketing are crucial to support and engage customers throughout this period.

Irregular expenditures – for products such as laptops, enterprise software, car tires, or tuxedo rentals - don’t have a regular purchase cycle.  Customers generally have a brand or provider they trust and fall back on them when they’re looking to buy – or they go through a short, intense research period to find the appropriate source.

Winning these customers is a much harder process – and primarily comes down to trial and error. It’s critical to be in front of the buyer when she is ready to buy. The time between original intent to buy and choice can be very short, meaning all of your resources need to be in front of her when she needs to make a choice.

You’ll have plenty of ways to do this, but things like search engine marketing, positioning on Yelp, good word of mouth, SEO, thought leadership, strategic locations and good reviews from independent editorial sources can be crucial.

Whether you’re targeting regular or irregular customers, you can drive business by creating alternate products with vastly superior price or quality attributes. Without this, in fact, there isn’t much point to launching a new enterprise.  Good examples of this include Craigslist for classifieds and job postings, Amazon.com (when it was competing solely with bookstores), Southwest Airlines or Salesforce.com for sales force automation.

The rarer, more difficult - and potentially more lucrative - scenario is when a company creates demand for a product or service that didn’t previously exist, such as iTunes, eBay, Bazaarvoice, Google AdWords or Facebook. When these launched, there were few, if any, alternatives. It’s an entrepreneurial dream – owning a market completely.

Customers, in these cases, create a new mental category for spending.  And while they do need to reallocate spending in one sense, they’re not taking that money from something similar.

Instead, something else less useful goes away.  Because there isn’t an explicit trade off to try these products or services, uptake can be much faster.  The advantage is the product pulls business away from the least useful expenditure in the mix, which is a really, really easy win.

Early position, fast uptake and minimal competition usually mean superior margins and early adopters, both of which allow faster iteration and improvement.  Play your cards right and you can end up with vocal supporters who both act as advocates and provide you with valuable feedback.

Uptake is sometimes slower than normal, due to higher prices or barriers to adoption, but you still have a time and learning curve advantage over new entrants.  Free trials are particularly effective here, since there isn’t allocated budget just yet for your product, and you may need to stick around for a while and wait for money to be freed up elsewhere.

It’s important to be sensitive to where your customer’s money will come from.  Never lose sight of the fact that every buyer has a finite budget.  Align your strategy with the source of funds and revenue growth will follow.


Why Posterous Is a Smart Tool For Informal Government Blogging

For a few weeks, I've been testing a tool called Posterous, and I've come to like it a lot. You can see my account here. If you're not familiar with Posterous, it is essentially a very simple blogging platform. It may in fact be the most simple one; yet it is very feature-laden. And it has one relatively unique feature that could make it the most powerful tool for informal blogging by government employees.

That simple, amazing, singular feature is email as a primary interface. In other words, you can post blogs simply by emailing post@posterous.com or a similar address - you don't even need an "account" or a "login" or a "password." Even in the private sector, this is considered a cool feature. But for government employees, it could be a breath of life in an otherwise locked-down state of cybersecurity affairs.

You see, many government computer systems block domains like YouTube.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and so forth. There's a current debate about the degree to which government employees can access such sites because of cybersecurity and other reasonable concerns - after all, there have been some very recent instances of bad things being passed through these social media tools and onto your computer. But when you can interact with a blogging platform through email - and in principle even through your official government email account accessed through a traditional program like Microsoft Outlook - you can get the functionality without the risk, and without needing permission from the IT shop.

As information is more decentralized and as more computing is done on mobile devices, quickly communicating information will be more commonplace - and more in demand by consumers of it. So to citizens, government content will still be king, but the speed at which it travels to them may be queen. And being able to blog on-the-go can increase that speed. Recently I've experimented with blogging while walking eight blocks to a date, blogging incredibly fast in reaction to breaking news, and blogging during a conference and posting my "journalism-style" article precisely at the end of a talk. There are innumerable other tactical applications of this tool.

Posterous has a lot of great features that I like. Perhaps most important among them is that links to the content you post can be instantly pushed to other social services like Twitter and Facebook - even if they're blocked in your office. Another great feature is that if you attach photos, videos, or documents to your email, Posterous automatically embeds them in your blog - and will also push them to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Scribd (which may also be blocked in your government office). Still another great feature is that multiple people from multiple email addresses can contribute to one Posterous page (say, for an office), and conversely one email can be associated with multiple Posterous pages (say, a formal public affairs page, and an informal tech thoughts page). In brief, you can be very powerful from your BlackBerry.

Posterous has been described by a Mashable writer as "unremarkable," but frankly, that's what a lot of government employees are interested in. The government has a lot of outstanding content, and their primary mission in many cases is to get it out; customizing the blog theme is definitely secondary. A standardized, simple blog platform controlled through email sounds like just what the doctor ordered, and it offers numerous advantages over something more complicated like WordPress; for example, it's easier to teach people how to use! Oh, and did I mention it's free?

Posterous would probably love it if people in the government wanted to jump on this bandwagon in a more official manner, too. If I understand the numbers correctly, Posterous currently only has about one million unique visitors a month - total. The U.S. Government has more employees than that. I'm not picking on Posterous - it's only been available since June 2008 and has some tough competition in the blog platform world - but my guess is that they'd be very willing to work with the General Services Administration and other appropriate people (as have companies like YouTube) to make Posterous work with official government interests and missions. And the same goes for local and state government employees too, who often deal with IT situations similar to those of their Fed counterparts.

Many agencies are working on social media policies and guidelines for employees, and education and training are no doubt part of successful use of tools like blogs by government employees. But assuming that people are trained and empowered to create online content, can you imagine if even 5% of Postal Service or FEMA or Army employees had a Posterous blog, and citizens and journalists could mine that information about what was happening in the country, or the world? It would be amazing.

So, for the 99% of government employees that can blog in their private lives and informally talk about their careers and more generally about their lives, I recommend getting a personal Posterous account. And because many of the things I said about the government also apply to large corporations, I think there's a huge opportunity there, too. Everyone's workplace has different rules about what you can and cannot use your computer and mobile devices for, and you shouldn't break them. But if you can interface with Posterous via email and help to achieve workplace goals by mobile live-blogging of conferences you attend, or posting photos of critical emergency situations, or provoking discussion over the issue-of-the-day, I say: Go for it.

(If you work in government or closely with it and use Posterous, I'd especially like to listen to your feedback as I help prepare content for the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo in May 2010.)

How to make friends and influence people (and convert them)

(Editor’s note: Adam Toren is co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He contributed this story to VentureBeat.)

You’ve heard, time and again, how critical engaging in social media is to your start up – but you probably haven’t heard it laid out this succinctly: “[Social media] represents a powerful and additional channel to first listen to customers… and in turn, build two-way paths of conversations…. we also earn a place within their network as a trustworthy resource.”twitter

The thoughts come from Brian Solis of PR 2.0 – and he really strikes at the heart of the matter - establishing your business as the trustworthy resource.

To the entrepreneur, a successful conversion rate is everything, which is why so much is written about measuring the success of marketing initiatives. With social media, though, it’s nearly impossible to track how well things are working.

While it’s possible to track traffic using things like Google Analytics, that doesn’t present the full picture – not even close.

Social media is primarily a public relations tool and is most beneficial in building brand and company awareness. To succeed, you need regular interaction with the general public.

That said, there are some tangible effects you can tweak. Use these sites to drive links to your website (though not in an overbearing manner, which could turn away members of that social media network’s community). These links, in turn, will boost your website’s ranking and Google “page rank” status. As your primary site gains authority in relevance to its primary keywords it will attract more organic traffic and qualified visitors to spur conversions.

There are several projects underway at several development hours to analyze the impact and conversion potential of social media sites. For example, Buzz Logic indexes millions of tweets and posts to identify trends and influences, including factors such as linking activity, blog popularity and author credibility. The company offers complex reports detailing the impact of various strategies and discussed subjects.

You might be used to click through rates and conventional advertising methods establishing conversion rates. As the market changes, social media is a helpful tool to augment an overall marketing campaign.

One word of warning: It’s not a quick fix. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Establishing this trust is as hard, if not harder, than establishing your company’s your credibility in the business world. You need excellent customer relations and customer service, over delivery and quality product.guest-post-box-adam-toren

Before the days of the Internet, commerce was driven by complex human interaction and by relationship with past and potential clients. Social media presents this to us once again, virtually.


Four short links: 5 October 2009

  1. Brown Cloud Marketing -- advertorial "interviewing" GM of a company offering "DNS in the cloud". This might be a worthwhile service, but the way he markets it (by saying open source is "freeware" and the market leader is "legacy") reveals a rich vein of bozo. Freeware legacy DNS is the internet's dirty little secret (actually, it's the reason we have a functioning DNS), Nominum software was written 100 percent from the ground up, and by having software with source code that is not open for everybody to look at, it is inherently more secure. (security through obscurity is equating clothing with being naked yet blind). The Internet kindly did the poor man's homework: screenshot of a cross-site scripting vulnerability in their customer portal, a Nominum security advisory from 2008, and the Nominum web server is running Linux, Apache, and PHP (all legacy freeware yet apparently not the Internet's dirty little secret). (via Bert Hubert and Securosis)
  2. Public Annotations on Healthcare Bill -- using technology from SharedBook, Congressman Culberson hoped to get citizens marking up the healthcare bill. They're using the software but many are just commenting on page 1--turning the hosted annotation platform into a forum with an odd user interface. It's a UI challenge: designing a way to let focused people comment on specific things, while also permitting impatient unfocused people to comment on the general topic. It's like asking for a SmartCar that seats 80. See also OpenCongress and their annotation system which also has hundreds of comments on the first few lines of the bill (including 39 on the one line "111th Congress"--apparently more contentious than you'd think!).
  3. MyConnPy -- pure-Python MySQL client library, useful because it requires no C compilation to install (and thus can work on systems without C compilers installed, e.g. mobile). (via Simon Willison)
  4. The Infinite Book -- design concept for an ebook reader (not a product you can buy yet). Sexy. (via Gizmodo)

White paper guidelines – less glory, more story

(Editor’s note: Serial entrepreneur Scott Olson is president of MindLink Marketing. He contributed this column to VentureBeat.)

Every good marketing professional knows when it comes to Internet marketing; success depends upon high quality, original content. It’s critical to any number of goals, including search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC), sponsored links, newsletters, drip marketing and web click through and conversion.book-stack

Of all the web content available, white papers are the strongest in terms of conversion rates and value to the company. So how can you create a compelling marketing tool, that not only generates downloads, but engages the individual to read it and investigate what you have to offer? Simple: Make it narrative.

Far too often, corporate white papers read like boring technical manuals or patent applications. Though technology may be an important element of your company’s success, it’s not the key to a readable white paper.

Successful white papers depend upon telling a compelling story to your intended audience; a story that is uniquely relevant to the problems and obstacles they face in their business and how your product can uniquely solve it.

Marketers could learn a lot about crafting a compelling document by looking at guidelines for writing a novel. Camy Tang, an award-winning author, describes the five basic story elements for a successful novel in an article for suite101.com.

These elements are just as applicable to a successful white paper.

Introduce the main character – Remember, the main character in your white paper should be your prospect, not your company. This is one of the most frequent mistakes. You white paper needs to describe a scenario that your prospects can identify with personally. Your title and opening paragraphs need to reflect this.

Establish the situation of danger – If you don’t have any trouble, you don’t have a story. What compelling need is your product addressing? What problems are currently occurring and what are they costing the potential customer’s business? And what happens if this need isn’t met? This is usually the baseline for ROI analysis. I do a lot of work with security companies, so the danger is often very real. If you have a hard time with this part, it could be a good indicator that you have a technology in search of a market need.

Define the character’s external goal - What do your customers want to accomplish? Of course you want to address their goals, but you also need to paint a picture of their requirements. Do they need to do it without adding headcount? Are they lacking in time or a particular expertise? Is there a budget constraint that they must deal with?

Introduce the opponent - Your paper should address the situation that is working against your character/customer and should describe why this need hasn’t been met. Whether it’s a legacy technology or an internal process, something simply isn’t addressing the need and goals of your customer. In this area, the opponent may be an external factor - like a security threat or intense competition - or an internal reality like shrinking budgets, time, and staff.

Build to a specific climax - Here you make your case for your technology offering. Explain the key elements of your approach that allow this need to be met in a way that was not previously possible. This is a good place to lay competitive traps without naming competition. Explain the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches in achieving success with the approach you advocate in the spotlight.

These guidelines are applicable whether your audience is technical or business oriented. For most businesses, your white paper is about building credibility and influence with your potential customers. Ensure that you are writing for them and you will be on the path toward a happy ending.