What does it mean to be influential online?

No doubt I’ve got all kinds of theories on how to measure online influence, and even went so far as to outline them a bit in this comment, but for now, I just thought I’d just share my excitement that Sarah Needleman of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great article about one of the theories I’ve been working on with the D&B Credibility team and the resulting list of the most influential twitter people in the small business community.
(and if you’re interested in lots of details from an earlier iteration of this concept, check out this post: 50 Most Influential Real Estate People on Twitter)

Update:
Just noticed the WSJ published an interview that the journalist, Sarah Needleman, did for the show “Digits” about the list:

BuzzRE: Internet Marketing Education for Realtors

About two months ago, the HomeQuest team put on a real estate educational event in Portland that I thought rock’d…  With four great speakers (Gahlord Dewald, Garron SellikenDavid Gibbons and myself) and some help from some local title reps, we brought together a few hundred agents to teach them about how they could improve their online marketing.

It was so much fun that I started pushing the team to create a similar event in Southern California…  and the team not only supported the idea, but everyone seems genuinely excited.  Assuming you’re a SoCal agent, then the only details you need to know are that we’re going to have the event on April 29th (9am to noon), it will cost only $20 and you can reserve your spot here: http://buzzreoc.eventbrite.com/

But for those that need more, here’s the catch… I want to improve upon the Portland event! And here’s my four ideas for how we can do that:

  1. Make sure we have even more great speakers!
    • We’re gonna have 8 formal presentations instead of 4… and a panel of 3 local agents who have successfully incorporated internet marketing in their business
  2. Make sure the presentation part of the day is extremely focused
    • We’re going to follow an overall structure that generally follows an Agent’s Work Cycle
    • We’re going to do it all in 2 hours, meaning each speaker will be giving approximately 15 minutes forcing them to focus on the stuff they find most important
    • We’re going to create one “overall” presentation so that we don’t spend time flipping between laptops/presentations and someone (in this case: me) is in charge of making sure the presentations will have a logical flow
  3. Make sure to include local agents who are actively generating substantial business from their internet marketing activities
    • So far, one local agent who has been rocking Facebook has agreed to be on the panel and I hope to announce the other two panelists in the next few days!
  4. Make sure the event is memorable!
    • For this, we’re giving it a fun name: BuzzRE OC  and…
    • We’re going to make sure it’s the most cost-effective educational event for every agent who attends.

So who’s involved?

Here’s the list of speakers as well as the tentative name of their presentations:

I’m convinced we can cover all of these super interesting topics in only 2 hours!   This means that we can plan for a solid 45 minute panel conversation with local agnets are doing interesting internet marketing and be able to wrap the whole event up in less than 3 hours!  As of right now, I have one panelist confirmed, one who has tentatively agreed and on the hunt for one more. The panelist situation:

  • Robin Milonakis:  who’s been rocking the Facebook world.
  • “Blogging” agent: I have a tentative agreement from an awesome blogger agent, but I don’t want to give her name until she’s confirmed
  • “AdSense” agent: I want one local agent who’s generates serious business from online ad buying to round the group out… If you have a recommendation for an appropriate agent, I’m all ears!

And please, please, please… If you have ideas for what we should cover in each section (or you have a better name for any of the presentations!), let us know!   In an ideal world, we’d be able to take the general presentation (from sphere marketing to lead generation to client management and back to sphere marketing) and bring it to many other parts of the country!   (Bringing in local experts where appropriate!)

I’m really hoping to create a can’t miss educational event for real estate agents and would love any and all help you can give in spreading the word. One more time, here’s the details:

Can’t wait to see you in the OC!

Sometimes it’s the little things that c…

Sometimes it’s the little things that count… and one of those little things is that now that I’m using Gist in replace of my feed reader, twitter reader and facebook newsfeed, I no longer need to worry nearly as much about “who” I follow on sites like Twitter… and no need to pay any more penance for unfollowing people.

Now, if someone is too noisy or uninteresting I just set their importance to 1 out of 100! The result being I’m finding myself willing to follow people much more freely because the noise never has to hit my Gist feed…

NEO, or the Study of How to Optimize Content for Social Networks

This past weekend while giving a presentation in Chicago, I was talking to the following slide:

… about the importance of understanding how Facebook’s algorithms work when creating your Facebook marketing strategy when someone from the audience asked, “is this similar to understanding how SEO helps explain how Google ranks websites?”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks… EXACTLY! I’ve been working towards this idea for the past year few years, but had never articulated it that clearly.

So after a bit of refinement, I think it’s time for us (internet marketers) to add a new word to our vocabulary: NEO or Networking Engine Optimization.

In a nutshell, the idea of NEO is that by studying how social networks determine relevance, we can better understand how to optimize our marketing strategies.

Having spoken about using social media for business to many different professional audiences, I feel extremely confident in saying that very few people have any understanding of the algorithms that Facebook users to determine it’s “top news” or “suggested” friends/pages… some people, Dale Chumbley comes to mind, intuitively understand how to use these algorithms, but I’m not sure even he has put a ton of thought into why…

Assuming the feedback on this idea keeps me going, I’m hoping to explore a couple different areas of NEO… but the most interesting will definitely have to do with understanding how the “hard” algorithms interact with the “soft” people (friends, followers, fans, etc.) that really determine success.

In other words, whether talking about Facebook’s “top news” or Twitter’s “trending” topics, there’s no way to get any traction without having others interact with your content. My take is that there’s been a ton of thought into understanding the importance of engaging others in your social network (Jeff Turner’s done a particularly impressive job of this with exploring YEO), but engaging with others is only a piece of a successful internet marketing strategy and just about everyone who’s actively marketing with social media would benefit from a better understanding of the algorithms that determine the relevance of their content/presence.

Anyway, this is obviously an idea that I’m still in the early stages of exploring… and I would love to hear your thoughts. But especially based on the recent news that Facebook passed Google in terms of total traffic, isn’t it time to seriously explore how the social networks are determining the relevance of our content?

Love a good SWOT analysis and just came …

Love a good SWOT analysis and just came across one that Jeremiah Owyang published last month that looks at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats of these four social networks: Google Buzz, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

I find it most interesting that he would even include MySpace in the equation seeing as how they just don’t seem to offer much these days… and definitely seem to be becoming more irrelevant by the day.

With a month’s perspective behind us, I also find it interesting how he puts Google Buzz at the same level as Facebook and Twitter. It seems to me that Google Buzz is quickly going the way of Google Wave… Interesting technology that will definitely be used heavily in a few niches, but it’s not likely to change the way the majority of people interact online.

Interesting that Seesmic just launched a…

Interesting that Seesmic just launched a contact manager (as part of their web app)… The MG Siegler at TechCrunch seems to think they’ve perfected management of Twitter followers, but it’s still missing my favorite feature of Gist: the ability to view updates sorted by how important I’ve ranked people. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see Seesmic going down the route of improving the sad state of contact management within Twitter.

“How likely is this person to send me business?”

Lately, I’ve been putting a huge focus on thinking through how we (as professionals) can use social networking tools to build and strengthen our relationships... and in particular, our relationships with people who are key to growing our business (i.e. our “sphere” or “referral network”).

And this has led me to my new favorite tool, Gist.  (much thanks to Gahlord Dewald for the intro!)

The main idea behind Gist is pretty similar to other social media aggregators like MyBlogLog, FriendFeed , Seesmic and Google Buzz in that you add all of your other social media accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc) and then use one tool to see all your updates.

However, there’s one HUGE improvement they’ve made.  Rather than forcing you to view updates based on a timeline (i.e. most recent updates first), they allow you to view updates in a “people” mode where you can view all the updates from that person (whether they are on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, foursquare, etc.) based on the importance that you’ve selected. (Facebook has tried to do this with their “top news” feature, but it’s crude at best and doesn’t do a great job finding updates that are important to me).

After a few days of using Gist, I can tell you that there’s no turning back to this style of update consumption.    If I’ve got 5 minutes, then I can quickly navigate all the people that are super-important to me, whereas if I have a bit more time, then I can dive deeper into reading updates from people that are less important.   And because I’m not missing out on updates from super-important people any more, I’m finding I’m MUCH more active on places like Twitter and Facebook because I spend less time sorting through the noise.

However, there is a HUGE problem with the tool.  There are so many options and ways to configure things that it could definitely be off-putting because it can take a few hours of configuring before the system is humming.   Nonetheless, it’s totally worth taking the time, so let me walk you through the steps to setting up a configuration that’s working really well for me.

1) Import contacts (connect) from four main tools:  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Email. For Facebook, Twitter and Gmail (my email), this only needs to be done once and then will get updated automatically afterwards.

2) Configure your dashboard view to get updates.  My configuration is listed below, but the important parts are:

  • show all news, blogs, twitter and facebook updates
  • show people and companies
  • show importance level 1 and above
  • show all tags
  • Sort by “importance”

In other words, just show EVERYTHING and then sort the results by importance.

3) Start prioritizing people within your sphere.  All you need to do is go through your people and start ranking them on a scale of 1 to 100. Initially, I’ve been adjusting EVERYONE’s priority, even if only just a bit to make sure I put some thought into how important this person is to me.  To make this as easy as possible, I’ve been basing my ranking of each person based on one simple question:  How likely is this person to send me business some day?

Here’s a screenshot of my page where I’ve ranked Scotty Brown a 100 (out of 100!).

Using the criteria “how likely is this person to send me business some day?” might sound a bit cold and calculated, but I’ve found it works quite well.  The people close to me (family and good friends) are almost always referring business my way, so they show up highest.   Other people have been ridiculously great to my consulting practice in terms of referring business my ways, so of course I want to see and respond to their updates whenever appropriate.

4) Use Gist instead of Facebook, twitter.com, seesmic, tweetdeck or whatever else you use to check status updates of your contacts.   If you configure things just as I have, you’ll find that there are a ton of updates coming into the system all the time… almost definitely too many to check on a regular basis.  However, there’s no need to read all the updates.  Start at the top (i.e. the most important people) and wind your way down as you have time.

To move from one person to the next (and this is critical!), all you have to do is click on the check mark to the right of the “importance” bar (this is the “mark all as read” option).  For example, while I’m reading Linsey Planeta’s updates, if I click on the check mark, the tool will bring up Scotty Brown’s updates because he is the next most important person with an unread update.

And, of course, if I want to respond to any of these updates, there’s always a link that takes me to the appropriate place to respond.

Another useful feature is the “remove” button to the right of the check mark.   This will remove this person’s updates from showing up on your dashboard.   If you find a person or company that you never want to see updates from, simply hit the remove button.  In order to make the tool as useful as possible, I’ve adjusted just about all of my contacts by either revising their “importance” or “removing” them.

5) The hardest part of using gist is configuring the importance for all your contacts and this is only hard because it takes a decent amount of time.  However, if you ignore tags and all the bells and whistles besides “importance”, it doesn’t have to take all that long before you can start using the dashboard and getting some decent value from the tool.  At least a few times you’ll almost definitely want to give yourself an hour or two in order to filter through updates from everyone on your list. Gist tries to auto-prioritize folks for you, but tons of folks from Facebook and Twitter who might be super important to you will likely be have the default importance levels of “50,” “25” or “1”.

The beautiful part of the tool is that once it’s configured, you end up with so much more control over which updates you see.

Here are just some of the most obvious benefits to this style of consuming updates:

  • Better focus: rather than letting the “noisiest” people (i.e. the folks who tweet the most) take up the most mindshare, you can rank those people low on importance and only see their updates on a day when you’re bored and get to the people who rank at lower levels of importance. By the same token, if there are a few folks rarely update, but whose updates you never want to miss, you can make sure to rank them high in importance and you’ll get to see everything they say.
  • Remove noise. If a friend is having a super-busy day on social media, you can quickly scan their updates and hit “mark all as read” rather than have them clog up your twitter and/or Facebook stream all day
  • Network integration. For the people I care about, it shouldn’t matter where they are active (Facebook, Twitter or their blog), I just want a tool to connect with them where appropriate, so I’m loving that Gist mixes and matches updates based on the person, not the network.

Finally, Gist is still in “beta” and there are a few bugs (and they mention they will likely start charging some day).  However, even if they start charging some outrageous amount, or go under for lack of funding, I can tell you that this approach of  filtering people based on the importance you place on them is here to stay.  It’s just too darn useful!

Been a ridiculously great morning at the…

Been a ridiculously great morning at the HomeQuest Social Media Summit in Portland.

We had a packed house… Great audience. Wonderful crowd. Engaging speakers. So much fun!

And the speakers were unbeatable. There’s always so much to learn from:

And if you were at the event, we’d love your feedback… What did you think? How could we improve the event/presentations?

[Photo from Dale Chumbley!]