The world according to algorithms

I wrote this post over three years ago! Gosh – kinda of more scary now. Yikes.

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My personal, trusted search agent, my husband, cut out an article for me about DemandMedia, an innovator in offering a service for web owners to pull algorithm driven, highly moentizable content – fast and cheap.

Then a few minutes later I read about Cheaptweet.com and how it uses an algorithm to mine Twitter feeds for deals on clothes, electronics and services.

I began to notice a pattern.

The next day I read about new search methods that were smarter because of, you guessed it, algorithmic technology.

Now with a thud, I realized, a bit to my horror, that algorithmic logic drives a big part of our lives. It drives our searches and, as a result, what we learn about. It drives which ads we see and crunches through a formula to present us with the most relevant, contextual based ad possible. It filters what offers we see or don’t see online.  And the ever iterative algorithmic engines can even choose our future mates.

I even think some algorithm predicted the end of the world to happen sometime in 2012 *sigh*.

It then blindingly dawned on me (better late than never) that my perception of the world was being shaped by algorithms – aggregation of data points. I was taken aback by the fact that my world perception was not formed as I thought by my experiences with real people – but by mechanical machines spitting out numerical answers to questions I had not yet asked.

I realize I see the world through number colored lens. I am not sure I like the effect.

This shouldn’t be bothering me – but it does.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

The Surprised Entrepreneur turns Rebel Entrepreneur

What makes a rebel.

What makes a rebel.

“Judy,” a sweet tech project manager said to me recently after I discussed some of the gaps in the social marketing ecosystem “You are on a crusade.”

I didn’t see that one coming so it stopped me dead in my tracks. What crusade was that I wondered? I probed but she dodged answering me. The word crusade is laden with meaning so it stuck with me – what had I said to give her that impression?

In hindsight it seems obvious but in the moment, I was oblivious to the shift in my thinking from simply being a Surprised Entrepreneur (as I posted here) to becoming a Rebel Entrepreneur.

My cause was simple – to put the human element back into the business of marketing that has been platform’d to a near digital death. I am driven to re-infuse marketing with the sense of wonder, joy and creativity that I had the good fortune to revel in during my earlier career days.

In those ancient days (one generation after Mad Men but before the Internet revolution had really hit) we could put hearts into our work because there were few tools or platforms or technologies to guide the work. It was pure creativity and smarts. It was hard to measure the effectiveness of the much of the work but you knew your work made a difference when the company did better – jobs were created and bonuses were happily doled out.

Over the years, technology improved how we deployed marketing but we continued to be driven by our nobler motivations to create great marketing that improved people’s lives. We knew we could make a difference.

But there’s been a shift in the industry over the past 3 years. Marketing, especially social marketing has become a tech-heavy exercise of manipulating retargeting platforms, or reward systems or algorithmically based big data platforms. Social marketing is reduced to a conversation about content syndication or sentiment analysis.

So it’s no surprise that over that period of time, inextricably, I have seen tech and platforms taking the joy and the nobility out of the system. I have become overwhelmed by the supremacy of marketing platforms over serving people and algorithms over inspiration.

My sense of alarm was quite publicly aired in the digital pages of Ad Age and Huffington Post. I ranted at Facebook when I felt defeated at using Facebook productively. I admitted frustration at the black-box techno-jargon wave that swept over us marketers drowning us in confusion. I’ve even had the chutzpah to question the funding strategies of VCs who are basing their investments on marketing principles that simply don’t apply anymore. But mostly I challenged the 20 something CEOs who created marketing platforms that are long on cool but short on practical application for real marketers.

In the process, I have been:

  • Flamed by Macboys and called a hack (look up “Judy Shapiro” and “mac security”)
  • Accused of being techno-phobic and capable of only kitchen related work, ideally pregnant at the same time thus preventing me from ever writing offending articles ever again
  • Tarred and feathered as an “old line” marketer unable to keep up with the iteration savvy tech guys
  • Harangued for questioning if the “Content as king” model was sustainable
  • And very nearly digitally lynched when I first suggested in 2010 that perhaps Facebook had jumped the shark.

And so against all odds – here I am, founder and CEO of a social tech company, readying the BETA launch of our new network called Eden for Q1.

Against all odds, this little venture that started a year ago will be introducing a different type of social marketing framework that is a based on an “opt-in” paradigm. We are going up against the big “push based” social marketing platforms and networks. It is an uphill but noble fight. In our vision, Eden is a place where users control the action – how they see content or which brands they interact with. It is a reversal of the; “It is our platform so you have to play by our ever-changing rules” social network that dominates social marketing today.

Against all odds, we managed to secure funding including from an early stage VC for which we are eternally grateful. We’ve created relationships with agencies ready to sell Eden to their clients and we’ve sealed meaningful partnerships that help us gain access to the highest levels within publishing and brands.

Against all odds, as one woman in her 50’s, I am privileged to be joined by a community of seasoned marketers to help in this crusade. Our collective goal is to right the marketing ship listing dangerously to one side from the weight of platforms and big data. I can’t express my gratitude to this brave league of fellow crusaders other than to give them full credit for their invaluable role in our noble adventure. I give them a place of honor in our company’s history:

  • Peter Hubbell, CEO of BoomAgers and former Saatchi Board member. www.boomagers.com
  • Griffin Stenger, a founding partner of Concept Farm, a leading social marketing agency [Crain’s]. www.conceptfarm.com
  • Robyn Streisand, Founder and CEO of The Mixx Group – a branding agency and an early investor in engageSimply. www.themixxnyc.com.
  • David Hoffman whose career spans four decades as a film producer and corporate strategic communicator. Wikipedia’s simply calls David: “One of America’s veteran documentary filmmakers.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hoffman;
  • John Bowman, was Exec VP Strategy at Saatchi working on their premier brands and is now authoring a book about his great Grandfather, Archibald Stark Van Orden http://theassassinsassassin.com/about/
  • George Collins, a long time database expert and CEO of Research & Response – a database management consultancy. http://www.rresp.com/
  • Mark Bonchek, Founder of Orbit + Co whose strategic consultancy is “creating a new direction in business by shifting the relationship of individuals and institutions from PUSH to PULL.” http://www.thinkorbit.com/

Against the odds, I have been able to attract a seasoned management team of  marketing practitioners who had to “build it” after the consultants talked about loving it but conveniently left when the real work began. They were the ones who built those first generation eCommerce sites and created the principles that good UE designers use today. Our journalists understand SEO and our artists are offering their images for free all in an effort to be a part in the creation of an alternate social marketing reality – a fresh start called Eden.

So against all odds, I find I have become a Rebel Entrepreneur – so strange especially given my training, temperament and age. The potential high rewards of being a rebel all too often comes at a high price and we’ve seen our share of deals gone bad, betrayal by trusted colleagues and funding plans gone awry (Sandy was devastating to the startup community).

And yet, despite the odds, we are close to the launch of our network.

So I invite you all over to Bit Rebel to experience this journey with us as we sprint to Eden’s launch in Q1. Celebrate our highs and feel the unnatural lows that are endemic to startups. Share our anxiety as our burn rate increases but our funding outlook seems further out (we are doing a second round of seed funding now). Take a peek behind the startup curtain, see what’s really going on and help shape what happens. The success of Eden will be a triumph of us marketing practitioners like web designers, SEO geeks and developers over algorithmic feats of IP muscle.

Our mission is noble and our cause true.  Come join us.

I guess like any good crusade, we need a flag and a manifesto. Stay tuned – I am just learning how to be a rebel. Kinda of exhilarating actually. But

Judy Shapiro

P.S. My rebellion gets its own website: http://judyshapiro.wix.com/rebel-entreprenuer. Viva Le Rebellion.    

Change the name of something and you change its essence.

          

It is a concept that has been explored for millennium. In the bible, to suggest a significant life change, a person’s name was changed… Abram became Abraham and Sarai (Abraham’s wife) to Sarah. That concept still holds true today. Most parents understand intuitively the significance of choosing the name of their child and naming of new products requires careful deliberation about what it invokes.

 So when I saw today Melih Abdulhayoglu CEO of Comodo tweet about DV SSL certificates, it reminded me of the concept only in reverse. Ever one for the clever turn of the phrase, Melih’s post suggested that the name of DV SSL certificates, which usually stands for “Domain Validated” connotes a level of trust that is inappropriate to what it actually delivers. His tweet today asked, “how can Certification authorities issue DV (Dangerous Validation) certificates to ecommerce and keep a straight face????”

 Well said. In the ecommerce world, it is important for the buyer to know who they are interacting with. A DV SSL padlock only tells the potential buyer that the information he is transmitting, like his precious credit card information, is encrypted. But what good is encrypting the information if you don’t know who you are encrypting for. It is like giving the keys to your house to a total stranger!

So friends, buying online a great thing, but do it well and do it safely. Ideally, when buying online, buy at sites with an EV SSL certificate, these sites have a noticeable green color in the address bar. The “EV” stands for extended validation and this authenticates the business information behind the site. That is what you really want to know – that there is a real, verifiable businesses selling you the merchandise.

If the site does not have an EV SSL certificate and you see the yellow padlock, it can get dicey. Some sites have verified business information because they bought an OV SSL certificates – “organizational validated”. To find out if a site has an OV certificate, click on the padlock and you should be able to find the business name and address. But many sites have these DV SSL certificates and these are the ones to watch out. The only thing you know about this site is that someone was able to buy a domain for $10. It does nothing to tell convey trust. Remember that!

Now I realize that the average consumer does not care about the name of an SSL certificates because they probably don’t know what an SSL certificate is in the first place. But for those of us who do know, spread the word…DV SSL certificates are “dangerous validation” …

Let’s see if we can the change essence of DV to be the bad thing it really is. We have to start somewhere.

Judy Shapiro

One man’s technology “bleeding edge” is another man’s mainstream

I was having lunch with a long time friend who has worked at large ad agencies virtually all his professional career. I was complaining to him about the challenges of deploying digital marketing programs from a client’s perspective because digital agencies often black box their services. They often make it hard to understand deliverables, performance metrics or even getting alignment around basic SLA’s (service level agreements).

As I expressed my frustration for nearly 30 minutes, my ever patient friend smiled gently and said, “But Judy, no wonder you are struggling – you are working with bleeding edge marketing technologies.”

That’s stopped me cold because I never thought of myself as bleeding edge in technology and certainly not in this space. There were so many people who knew so much more than me in the technologies that drive social marketing.

I started to protest. “I am not bleeding edge,” I countered somewhat more intensively than I intended. “I am mainstream!” I exclaimed louder than was polite given the small restaurant. Again, his gentle smile came across his face and he said, “I don’t understand why you resist being called bleeding edge – it’s what you are”.

His simple words, again, stopped me in my track.  Aside from the fact that I pride myself on being the advocate for the average non-tech consumer in the tech world, it still didn’t feel right – I didn’t feel like I was bleeding edge. And after another vigorous 10 minutes we both hit on an insight.

In many mature categories, such as packaged goods, mass media is the most efficient media vehicle to get the word out. These brands spend billions in traditional media to gain awareness and conversion and it is a proven model. But in emerging categories, like eCommerce or communications, digital media is the marketing backbone of an organization. For these categories, digital marketing isn’t bleeding edge – it’s mainstream.

Once we came to that realization, I felt better. After all, being “bleeding edge” can get messy (the blood metaphor is not without relevance). I like to live in the main – it’s a lot cleaner that way.

Judy Shapiro

Top 6 Free Social Marketing Technologies for E-Commerce Success

                              

I am often asked by friends who have ecommerce sites what they can do to improve sales. They have noticed current E-Commerce tools like SEO and Pay-Per-Click advertising are no longer delivering the bang they once did. And my friends also know that “social marketing” has become a valuable marketing tool, but they are not sure what terms like word of mouth, grass roots, and viral marketing even mean – much less what they can do to drive business.

 

So I recently posted an article on HostReview on my top 6 free social marketing technologies for E-Commerce. http://www.hostreview.com/icontent/the-blog/top-6-free-social-marketing-technologies-e-commerce-success

 

As I wrote in the article, these tools are … “all free … all powerful … to help drive your business.”

 

1) Create an online community.
Why is an online community important for E-Commerce? It allows a company to utilize their customers as evangelists; enlisting them to advocate your brand to potential customers. Additionally, this expands your ability to engage with existing or potential customers. For example, take a look at a case study put together by Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) about how
customer recommendations influence buying products and services.

 

Myspace offer online networking and Paltalk offers free, on-site communal chat rooms that can include webcam chat.

 

2) Stay abreast of your category by subscribing to Google Alerts.
This is a totally free service that allows a business owner to track trends in their industry. Simply list which keywords you are interested in, and Google will send you news, blogs, web pages, etc…that include those words.

 

Why is this important? It’s because social marketing is about participating in the conversation. Once you see which articles and reporters are relevant to your category, you can participate – and in a meaningful way.

 

3) Deploy a Customer Feedback platform
E-merchants can also take advantage of free customer feedback platforms. One such platform is UserTrust offered by Comodo, a leading provider in online verification and security infrastructure services. UserTrust is a
free tool which allows online merchants to gather customer feedback. Just as important, site visitors can see other user’s real experiences. These testimonials provide one of the most powerful social marketing technologies available on the market.

 

4) Utilize free digital PR
In order to create additional SEO rich content, online merchants can create press releases and distribute them using free digital PR sites such as
i-Newswire.com, PR-inside.com, PRLog.org, Free-Press-Release.com and 24-7pressrelease.com. Don’t be intimidated to write these releases yourself – they need not be brilliant works of literary art. Your press releases should reflect news that your customers or prospects care about (even if the NYTimes will not). You can announce a new product or a big customer win or even a great review.

 

The point is that this tactic is mainly about driving improved SEO rankings and ultimately traffic to your site.

 

5) Blog it
Creating and regularly posting on a blog is another good way to increase SEO value. WordPress.com is a free platform that lets users quickly and easily create a blog.

 

6) “Birds of a feather” affinity marketing
It’s useful to know what your customer profile looks like, not to mention those of your competitors. Quantcast is a
free service that gives you a demographic profile of a website’s visitors. Their reports also include a fair amount of detail on what your audience likes and even other sites they visit. This information can be invaluable in helping businesses identify opportunities.

 

So there you have it – my top 6. I will keep adding to this list as I uncover new tools that really work. If you have had great success with a social marketing technology – I’d love to hear about it. Share the knowledge –

 

Judy Shapiro

The state of things to come – The Trusted Internet

Here’s a laugh. Among my circle of friends I am considered the quasi geek who can answer questions about online security and safety. I am considered the resident expert because of my experience with Comodo, an internet security company. The funny part is that at Comodo, I am considered the LEAST techie person around. 

But the real point is that everyone is looking for ways to stay safe online because everyone is getting MORE worried about online security. Everyone does more and more stuff online that causes them to be jittery. And, unfortunately, not without good reason. The “baddies” are getting better and better whereas most people still use 25 year old anti-virus detection technology to keep them safe.

No wonder people are scared. They should be.

But things are about to turn around because companies like Comodo are really focused on creating this state of the Trusted Internet. Here’s an excerpt from their Trusted Internet manifesto.

“The Internet has become the central communications engine of our time, expanding our reach more broadly than ever before. With this tremendous reach however, the Internet has yet to achieve its full potential as a Trusted Internet. Today, we must contend with an Internet fraught with fraudsters. We go online but we do so knowing that not all sites are equally trustworthy… 

This is why we, at Comodo, have committed our hearts, minds and resources to the vision of a Trusted Internet. This is where every digital interaction, every online interaction will include a new layer of security and trust enabled by an entire infrastructure designed to help us create mutual and real time trust.

And for it to benefit everyone, it must be delivered as a right to everyone; not as a luxury or a privilege dependent on a person’s ability to pay! To reach this state, we intend to change behavior and help people move from not using PC security because they can’t afford it to using PC security because we give away it away for free. We intend to change people’s low expectation of not being able to authenticate anything online to being able to authenticate everything online – identities, content and even a site’s legitimacy.

This will be how the Internet and the power of communications intersect, unleashing new ways for us to communicate, collaborate and exchange ideas that advance us all. And this is why Comodo believes that creating trust online is a mission that inspires us forward towards our vision of a Trusted Internet!”

That’s quite a noble vision. But they are putting their money where their mouth is. They now have in BETA a new Internet Security software that is state of the art in PC protection though prevention technologies combined with AV. You do not have to buy it — it is free – to anyone and everyone.

That is how the Trusted Internet will be built. By visionary companies who understand how a secure Internet will benefit everyone. This is the state of things to come… being online while taking for granted that you can interact within a state called the Trusted Internet.

To check out the BETA version go to: http://forums.comodo.com/beta_corner_cis/comodo_internet_security_35_beta_released-t26993.0.html

Judy Shapiro 

PR or D-PR – how to get the most from your PR agency

  

 

I can’t stand it anymore.

 

If I hear one more friend or colleague complain about their PR agency, I will scream. Within the past week alone I heard 4 complaints about PR agencies. “They don’t get it”. “I am disappointed with the results”. The drone is the same. The question is why does it seem that level of complaints has reached a loud pitch?

 

The answer is because we have not updated our understanding of how to use PR in the increasingly digitally focused marketing world. Well it’s best to start right now.

 

We all know that there is “new media” (a.k.a. digital media) and traditional media (such as TV). Well PR has the same distinction that looks like this.

 

Traditional PR = media outreach. Period. That means your PR agency gets reporters to pick up a news item about your company. If that’s what you want – then many PR agencies are just fine. But for many eCommerce centric businesses, an occasional media pickup does not seem to have the value it used to. It does not build an audience reliably or consistently. And it does not seem to create the “buzz” many companies are looking for.

 

So what happened? A great pickup in the New York Times used to give a business more lift in the past than nowadays. But don’t blame the PR agency.  

 

Part of the reason for the decline of the power of traditional PR is the decline of the power of the media as sole purveyors of our news. Now news can be procured through complex and open channels. Private individuals can capture a video segment on their cell phone that becomes front page news. A person networking on a community site reports on her experience with the government and an investigation is launched. But many PR pro’s continued to cultivate the traditional media outlets even as their influence declines. .

 

That’s how D- PR (digital PR) is different. D-PR is about the ability to create and manage a public conversation through a myriad of digital tools that drive public opinion.  This approach allows for a continuous presence that sustains a business rather than a one time article that drives short term results. That type of planning and execution takes digital PR savvy in knowing the new tools needed to target new audiences that traditional PR agencies don’t normally address.

 

And D-PR turns traditional PR planning on its head. Rather than hiring a PR agency to pitch a story and hope users will follow, D-PR takes an alternate approach. It uses digital technology to seed usage among key user groups and gets them talking about it. Once these champions user groups have been established (they need not be big numbers – just passionate about you), then do the “traditional PR” outreach. D-PR is the “new PR” – true public relations in its broadest and most inclusive sense.

 

So please stop beating up your PR agency. Start understanding what you are paying for.

 

Judy Shapiro

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