Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing ideas to help you grow your business

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Marketing and an open mind – The undeniable link.

When it comes to marketing, how often do you question what you believe?

Black hat – White hat

I was prompted to write about this, when I read a very interesting blog comment earlier today. It really made me think.

Here’s the gist of it. The commenter stated that in his opinion, all SEO could be defined as black hat (or unethical.) His point was that Google claims it wants only the most valuable sites to rank the highest, yet Google actively encourages so-called white hat (or ethical) SEO tactics. In other words, business owners who learn SEO or pay for professional SEO, are welcome to gain an advantage over sites with better content, with Google’s blessing.

The interesting thing for me there, was NOT whether black hat SEO is worse than white hat SEO.

The interesting thing for me, was that until I had read that comment, I’d never really thought about things that way before. I saw SEO as a very black and white thing (excuse the pun). White hat was good, black hat was bad – period. Now, I see there are shades of grey, too.

In short: It’s so easy, maybe too easy, to become stuck in our thinking. It does us all good, from time to time, to question our beliefs and check we’re not making decisions based on incorrect assumptions.

Photo: Heather

What everyone needs to know about Passive Support

Passive support is interesting and it’s everywhere. It’s why prices can be artificially inflated, why some companies can run roughshod over us and why other companies are able to get away with offering us poor quality service.

For example:

  • I know a guy who regularly has lunch at a local place, which he is constantly slamming for it’s high prices. The fact he eats there so often, means it’s hard to take his complaint too seriously.
  • We see passive support all the time on Facebook, where people will rant about the Facebook approach to privacy, yet still decide to use the service daily. After all, they enjoy visiting Facebook and it’s where their friends are. The same is true of Google and other services.
  • Phone and cable companies see passive support all day every day. Millions of customers decide to carry on paying them each month, even though the service is poor, because it’s easier than switching providers.

Passive support is the child of inaction

The reason passive support is so common, is that it is the natural by-product of inaction. Yes, it’s easy to talk the talk and fail to back it up with action, but we have to be aware that there’s a price to pay for taking the easy route.

The price?

Every time we elect to passively support something, which we claim to be against, we feed the very thing we are opposed to. It acquires our support.

Passive or otherwise, each time we give support to something we are opposed to, we fail to be the change we want to see in the world.

Love and Light

Someone recently asked me why I often use the 3 word term ‘love and light’, when I comment on other blogs or chat with some friends on social networks. So, here’s the answer.

Love and light

I grew up in a very tough environment, the son of penniless immigrants. I saw people try and fight hate with deeper hate and I saw what happened when good people embraced darkness. By the time I reached 21, I’d already seen many of the kids I grew up with incarcerated, addicted to drugs or dead. These were not bad kids, just kids who made some bad choices.

I’m not capable of explaining why I use the term love and light, as elegantly as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr did. Here’s what Dr. King said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever challenges you are experiencing today, I wish you love and light!

Bloggers: How I went from thousands of daily spam comments, to zero!

comment spam, blog comments

I wrote recently about a real challenge I was facing, regarding spam comments here on the blog. Today, I have the answer I need and also a wonderful piece of advice for any of you, who use WordPress and have a spam problem.

My comment spam challenge

As I wrote a couple of days ago, the volume of comment spam here was around 2,500 a day and increasing. Almost all this spam was being successfully caught by the Akismet plugin, however, in with this spam were some legitimate comments from readers. My challenge was the amount of time it took, for me to find legitimate comments, when a reader emailed me to say their comment had not been published. This was made harder, as many would forget to send me the email address they used for their comment, so I had no way to do a quick search.

When I wrote about this challenge, I saw 2 possible solutions:

  1. Install a 3rd party commenting system, like LiveFyre or Disqus, with everyone needing to register in order to comment.
  2. Turn blog comments off and have readers respond to the posts via social networks.

In the end, I did neither!

How I cured my comment spam problem (for now)

This morning, for the second day running, I went to my blog to find there were no spam comments in my spam filter. There were also no emails, from people whose comments had not been published. So, no spam comments, yet every legitimate comment went through. Here’s how I did it!

I received a huge amount of feedback from people regarding how to resolve my issue and 5 different people recommended the same simple plugin, which they said would solve the problem in minutes. They were right.

Conditional Capture for WordPress

The plugin is called Conditional Captcha for WordPress.

It works with Akismet, so whenever Akismet identifies a spam comment, it asks the sender to complete a simple captcha (see image.) If they complete it successfully, their comment is accepted. If they don’t, the comment is deleted.

Another thing I like about this plugin, is that unlike other captcha plugins, where everyone has to fill it in, this one is targeted. Unless Akismet thinks you are a spammer, you will never see it. This means it’s as quick and easy to comment here now, as it has always been.

Two additional lessons learned

After writing the blog post asking people for their feedback, two things became very clear, very fast.

The first was no surprise. It seems a lot of people dislike commenting on blogs, which use 3rd party commenting systems. Some, including me, find them unnecessarily confusing. Others dislike the idea of handing their details to a 3rd party Internet start-up or giving them access to their Twitter, Facebook accounts etc – Just to leave a comment. Many also said, they disliked how sites using 3rd party commenting systems often loaded slowly. Speed is a big deal to me, which is why I have dedicated hosting.

The second thing I learned, came as a huge surprise! I was amazed that the majority of people thought it was perfectly fine to simply turn blog comments off and have the conversations about the posts, on social networks instead. I was ready to be attacked for even suggesting this as a possibility, yet it seems people spend so much time on social networks now, that it’s easier for them to comment there, rather than on the actual blog. This was especially the case for those, like me, who usually read blogs on a tablet or phone. I currently get around 80% – 90% of my comments AWAY from this blog.

Best of both worlds

I can now provide you with the best of both worlds. Readers who like to comment here (I’ve had almost 30,000 comments so far) can do so and without any fuss. Those who like to comment on social networks will carry on doing so. I have also been able to save myself a lot of time and frustration, now that comment spam is no longer an issue.

I’m hesitant to recommend anything after using it for just 2 days. However, as I was getting as much blog comment spam in 2 days as many get in a month, I can confirm that Conditional Captcha for WordPress has been extremely accurate and easy to use. This plugin is also free, though ‘d have liked to have been given the option to either buy it or at least donate to the plugin’s creator.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who chimed in with their feedback, suggestions and fixes.

It’s beautifully ironic, that it was you, the reader community, who solved the problem for me.

THANK YOU!

Photo: Andrew Hyde

Can you help with this, please?

Blog comments have changed a lot, since I started blogging.

Initially, the vast majority of feedback I received from my posts, came from comments, which were left on my blog. Today, I get most of my blog comments from people on Google+, Twitter and Facebook (in that order.) There are posts here with 10 comments, which received 40 or 50 comments from people on social networks.

Comment spam has become a much bigger challenge

Back when I started, I would get maybe 10 or 20 spam comments a day, which was easy to control. It took just a minute, to spot any genuine comments that were incorrectly identified as spam and approve them. Today, the volume of spam has increased so much, that this is no longer sustainable. Comment spam to this site is getting out of control.

In fact, that’s what has prompted this post. For example, in the past 48 hours alone, I have been hit with over 4,000 spam comments (see image), all of which were caught in my spam filter. This has been getting steadily worse for years.

Here’s the problem: Sadly, somewhere in with those 4,816 spam filtered comments are legitimate comments from real people, who probably wonder why their comments have not been published. I regularly have people contact me, to ask where their comment is. I used to sift through the filtered comments to look for real comments, but it’s just too time consuming now. With so much spam to wade through, I now have to wait until someone asks me to look, so I can do a search using their email address, fish the comment out and then approve it. It’s time consuming, frustrating and getting slowly worse.

Clearly, something needs to change.

I’m looking for an answer & your feedback, please

My current thought is to either try using another commenting system, something that was better at allowing real comments through – or have comments here turned off and get all feedback from social networking sites.

I’d like your opinion on which of the 2 options you think is best.

Option 1: Install Disqus or LiveFyre

I spent much of Monday researching the various commenting systems, but none did exactly what I needed. The closest I found were Disqus and LiveFyre. If I use LiveFyre or Discus, you would need to either set up an account with them or sign in via a social network, before you could leave a comment here – in order to block comment spam the way I would need it to. This approach encourages accountability, though it wouldn’t eradicate non-automated comment spam.

A major plus is that either system should ensure that all legitimate comments get through.

As with any third-party commenting system, when these services are down, you won’t be able to comment here and I won’t be able to do anything about it. I’m not thrilled with that. Neither of these platforms would provide me with exactly what I want, which is to spend all my blogging time creating content for you and connecting with you. I would still have the aggravation of non-automated comment spam and the frustration of relying on a third party company, for my comments to work.

Although not perfect, I’m very happy to work with one of these systems if enough readers want to comment on the blog.

Option 2: Turn blog comments off and have feedback from you via social networking sites

This is already where the vast majority of reader feedback comes from. It would mean there was no spam to deal with. Also, there would be no need to slow my site down with plugins or worry about the third party commenting systems slowing the site down or not working. Time wise, as I am already responding to people’s comments about my posts on social networks, there would be a huge time saving for me. This would give me more time to produce content and connect. However, none of these benefits matter, if they result in the value of the blog decreasing to enough of it’s readership. That’s non-negotiable and it’s why I am keen to get your feedback.

What do you think?

I’d love to know what you think and I truly respect your opinions. This is especially the case, if you are one of those who comments on my posts, either here on the blog or via a social networking site. Which option would you prefer to see?

(UPDATE)

Problem solved. Here’s how I fixed the problem, quickly and easily, going from 2,500 spam comments a day, to zero!

Photo: j9sk9s

How to be massively more influential!

influence, social proof

If you would like to be massively more influential, in a really meaningful way, this post is for you!

Influence

Here’s what we know about real influence: It’s powerful. Politicians seek the endorsement of influential celebrities, because it influences how the public vote. Brands pay sports stars to appear in commercials for their fragrances, because it influences people to feel good about (and buy) their product. Companies will often pay influential former political leaders to sit on their board of directors, in order to influence investors. People with real influence have huge commercial value.

Online, what people often think of as influence is something very different. Today, many people confuse influence with something called social proof. They chase social proof, rather than build influence. So, what is social proof?

Influence and social proof are very different

Influence is real. It makes things happen. A truly influential person can take action and solve your biggest problem. They know the right people and have the respect of other, highly influential people.

For example: I once saw how one phone call from a truly influential person, stopped a business owner from losing both his business and his home. He made just one call and a 3 year old problem, which had driven the business owner to the brink, was solved in 60 seconds.

Social proof is very different. It’s about providing people with independent (looking) proof that suggests you are influential. It works well on some people, less well on others. Here are 2 common examples of social proof and how it can work:

  • When we visit someone’s blog and we see lots of people sharing their posts, that’s social proof. It works like this: If lots of people seem to value this person’s content, it must be good. This blogger must be popular.
  • When we see someone has thousands of followers on social networking sites, that’s social proof too. It works like this: If thousands of people follow this person, they must be some kind of leader, with great information to share.

Unlike influence, social proof online is super-easy to fake!

Yes, here’s the problem with social proof: Even a child can fake it. Here are some extremely common ways that people fake social proof.

  • Any blogger can make it look like every post they write has been shared by lots of people, by simply setting up lots of dummy social media accounts, which automatically share everything from that blogs RSS feed. It takes a few hours to set up 20 or 30 accounts and that blogger can make themselves look like a social media rock star, to those unaware of what they are doing.
  • Many people use the number of comments on a blog post, as social proof that the post was of value. The thing is, any blogger can post as many dummy comments on their own blog as they wish. Boom – every post they write can look like it has lots of comments. And of course, it’s easy to display a fake RSS reader number, so it looks like 50,000 or 100,000 people have subscribed to their blog.
  • Anyone can have a hundred thousand Twitter followers, by simply using a script that randomly follows a thousand people a day and attracts ‘follows’, from the 20% of Twitter users, who feel compelled to follow everyone back. If you want faster results, you can just buy 10,000 or 20,000 followers for thirty dollars a time.
    • BTW: If you want to spot who’s using the Twitter software trick to boost their numbers, it’s easy. Just click on who THEY follow and look for accounts, which have only tweeted once or twice. Because the software used for the trick works randomly, it follows people who’ve not even tweeted yet. It also follows people, who are totally inappropriate, like accounts from people who tweet in a language that person can’t read, etc. You’d be surprised how many social media and marketing ‘gurus’ use that trick!

The social proof trap

Most small business owners try to legitimately build social proof and invest valuable time into it, every working day. They work their butts off, to encourage people to comment on their blogs and share their blog posts. They strive to encourage people to follow them on Twitter, join them on LinkedIn, circle them on Google+ or ‘like’ them on Facebook. The challenge here, is that the enormous time spent on building social proof the legitimate way, could be used earning influence. Less time spent on social networking sites trying to boost your Klout score and other social proof numbers, means you have more time:

Develop influence, then the social proof will follow

An alternative approach is to focus on developing influence, first. When you spend the time earning a position of true influence, you will get the most impressive social proof measurement of all – When you speak, people will listen and then act!

As Seth Godin said last week:

“Hang out with people who aren’t looking for shortcuts. Learn from them.”

That’s a hard message to sell, because it goes against the online trend for instant results. However, Seth is absolutely right.

No, you can’t automate your way to true influence and you can’t buy miracle software to develop the trust of your marketplace either. You have to get them the old fashioned way… you have to earn them and it takes time.

Image: Sean MacEntee

Word of mouth: How to get people talking about your business!

Do you give your marketplace a powerful reason to listen to you?

Do you then make it extremely easy, for them to share what you have to say with their friends?

If you just answered ‘no’ to either of those questions, you are missing out on the best opportunity you have, to generate massive interest in your business.

In short: Develop a compelling story about your business, product or service that’s worth spreading. Next, make it super-simple for people to tell your story to their friends.

Then watch what happens!

The Klout Problem: Why multimillionaire investor Ron Conway has a lower score than you!

It’s week number 3 of my Klout experiment and I have already seen enough, to be able to form some solid conclusions regarding Klout and how it scores people.

I have invested many hours of my time digging into Klout, monitoring not only my own account, but also the accounts of people I know. I have also studied some ‘Klout Superstars,’ people with very high scores. I wanted to see what Klout was rewarding. I wanted to see what they ‘thought’ was influential.

Here’s what I found

The good:

  • Klout can tell if someone has lots of social media connections. Within days I had a Klout score of 62, which is apparently a good score, though it looks uninspiring.
  • Your Klout score is regularly updated. The number changes slightly every day.
  • Klout was able to see lots of people sharing my Google+, Twitter and Facebook updates.
  • A new Klout button may soon allow content providers to have the popularity of their content included in their score. This could be helpful, if implemented correctly.

The bad:

  • The Klout algorithm can’t seem to tell the difference between an influential person who posts 1 update, which is shared 20 times, and someone with little influence who posts 20 updates, which are each shared 1 time. I’m basing this on my own results and monitoring those with high Klout scores, who posted all day long with very few people resharing them.
  • Klout is too easily fooled. There are thousands of web pages dedicated to showing you how to easily game the algorithm. This needs to improve as anyone with enough spare time can get a high score.
  • Anyone who really cares about their Klout score, needs to be careful about taking a holiday! Your 2 weeks in the sun can hit your score hard and take you weeks of over-sharing, to get back to where you were. I spent just 1 day where I hardly used social media and my score dropped from 63 to 62!
  • Currently, even though my blog posts reach thousands of people every day, this has zero impact on my influence, according to Klout.
  • The Klout scoring method encourages people to post masses of updates, if they want to get a higher score. This can damage your reputation with your followers, who may not want a constant barrage of updates from you all day.
  • Klout can’t see how influential Ron Conway is. More on that in a moment!

Klout has potential

klout, influenceOverall, I believe Klout has a huge amount of potential if it makes the improvements required. The core idea is valuable to individuals and brands. It also seems like the problem of gaming it should be solvable or at least, that the algorithm can be vastly improved. Just as Google constantly works hard to try and stop black hat SEO from ruining their search results, Klout must up its game and do the same.

Otherwise a high Klout score will cease to mean anything.

Klout doesn’t know how influential Ron Conway is

The example of multimillionaire businessman, Ron Conway, exposes the current problems with Klout scoring.

Mr Conway is not someone who spends most of his days sharing information with his buddies on Facebook. He’s a busy guy. Ron is what’s known as a super angel investor. He invests millions into companies you may have heard of, such as Google, Paypal, Facebook etc and has built a fortune in the process. This extremely influential person is a business associate of; Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal.

Ron Conway’s Klout score is just 48. That’s a lower score than many of my readers have. It’s also an indication of the challenge ahead for Klout, as it strives to accurately reflect influence.

What did I learn about Klout?

The key lesson for me has been that the Klout score is currently too easy to game, for it to live up to its self-proclaimed ‘standard for influence’ title. It also seems unable to score people who have huge influence, but who are too busy to spend huge amounts of time on social networking sites. I see the latter as their main challenge.

Overall, I am optimistic that Klout will improve. No matter how much love Klout gets from its powerful friends in the media, it has no choice other than to improve if it wants to truly become the standard of influence, which it NEEDS to be, for it to succeed in the longer term. With so many people voicing their concerns at the accuracy of Klout and others very publicly deleting their accounts, Klout CEO Joe Fernandez will be very aware of the need to improve their scoring. And fast!

FYI: Joe Fernandez has a Klout score that is almost 50% higher, than Ron Conway!

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