I Am Not a Terminal Blogger

Time BombIn the last 24 hours there has been a flurry of posts in reaction to an article on The New York Times, basically saying that the bloggers lifestyle is a fatal one. The article goes on to chronicle the recent deaths of a few more prominent bloggers and near misses from heart attacks mostly. In addition to the details about what it is like to be a corporate blogger and how much it is worth. They even mention a quote from Michael Arrington saying:

“This is not sustainable”

This may well be the case with the global giants such as TechCrunch, Gawker Media, ZDNet and others who are in a constant 24/7 race with each other to break the latest news. Even with a huge team and massive financial resources these guys don’t aways win. Yes it is nice when the little guy scores. Despite the fact that they will pretend that he didn’t.

Truth is that there is no point in trying to beat these blogging machines at their game. Why torture yourself? These machines have inside knowledge and get “tipped off” plus they do insane amounts of just poking to see if it moves and then speculate. Their reader numbers and influence makes people take notice regardless of the truth. A search for “rumor” on TechCrunch is a perfect example.

In addition if your a blog that has millions of page views a day and can generate a lot of traffic for companies, the fallout is that these are the blogs that are going to be sent emails about new start-ups, news or “insider information”. The “A-listers” are being used as another cog in the marketing machine. They are making money so everyone is happy.

I think that this means you can’t really have that great a relationship with your readers. Your too busy getting the next big story. Sure they might have a comments section and the “share this” plugin (or some variant) in order for you to participate in the “conversation” but they care more about you talking about them than they do about what you have to say.

In contrast I take a genuine interest in the communities around me. This for me has been the most rewarding part of blogging and podcasting. I actually allocate time and make a point of interacting with our community, especially with regards to the podcast. I have many listeners that are a part of my Skype contacts, twitter, Facebook not only as listeners but as friends. They all have something valuable to say and how much more valuable is that when they know that you have read it and responded to it. I care about them and the fact that they took the effort to say what they think.

But then I am not doing it for a living, maybe things would be different if I was. But to my thinking it is the community that follows you that matters, without them you don’t have much value. Either monetary or the satisfaction of knowing that what you are doing is appreciated. Some bloggers don’t even need this, they are happy with self contentment.

I also agree with what Steve Hodson said about the article. Steve detests the concept of the “A-listers” considers himself a realist and writes like one. Stating that there are plenty of bloggers (the majority) that are adding more value to the conversation by adding substance that the “A-lister” can’t because they are off getting the next story. And they are making a decent living doing it!

So for me the take home message is that death by blogging is not unique to blogging. There are plenty of individuals out there in many occupations that work too hard and forget about life. There are plenty that are dead as well. It is the corporate machine that applies this pressure or themselves. Sure follow the machine just don’t try and compete with it. Ignore the pressure and carve your own niche and community, make them matter and the rewards will come, if that is what you want. Add value to the conversation by providing substance, I get more by reading and hearing about reactions than I do the original story anyway.

I am going to let the machine do it’s own thing, kill em selves in the process and have an opinion about it when they do. I could even write for the New York Times one day.

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Marketing Podcasting

I was reading Don Thorson’s Blog today and he was talking about “Whole Product“. Marketing he says:

“…come[s] down to a few basic rules. They’re basically the same rules we were taught in our first marketing class.”

I am not a marketer, nor have I studied it in any great detail. I would however say that I do marketing. I have been marketing The Global Geek Podcast since it’s inception as well as this blog and the brands associated with them. So given Don’s formulae I thought that I might try to apply them to podcasting and see what I come up with.

The rules of marketing are simple enough:

  1. Does it solve a problem?
  2. Is it easy to understand?
  3. Is it easy to get?
  4. Is it easy to use?
  5. Is it easy to share?

Does Podcasting Solve a Problem?

In my opinion podcasting is an audio or content delivery system. So I would answer yes to this question. You have content that you want to share and “casting” it is a solution. Syndicating your podcast is a method that makes it available to your listeners. Although that statement is a bit of a weird one because podcasting is syndication of audio content.

Podcasting also solves the problem that radio does not always deliver the content that I want to listen to. More often than not the radio is terrible and contains content that I have no interest in at all. The radio also demands that I listen to it at a certain time in order to listen to the content that I am interested in.

I can listen to podcasts when I want to for how long I want to. So podcasts are “on demand” they do not dictate to the listener, the listener gains more control over what they listen to. That in my opinion means that podcasters need to remember that they have an audience that knows these things and that they should “target” their audience.

Is It Easy to Understand?

You say “podcast” to someone and more often than not you will get a dumb look. The dumb look is not their fault. Podcasting is a new media delivery method, it has not become mainstream. This presents a problem, does that automatically mean that it is hard to understand just because it is a new “product”? I don’t think it should be.

I try to explain podcasting as: A radio show on the Internet. That at least fits into the category of a product that can be explained in five words or less. It would probably pass the “Mum test” as well. But I do think that seriously undercuts what podcasting really is and because of stereo types causes the other person to make some inaccurate assumptions.

This is especially true when you look at the Wikipedia definition of a podcast which is 123 words long! But it does take into the account the special attributes that make podcasts very appealing.

However, John Dodds in his “Geek Marketing 101” Post makes me feel a little better in that he states that:

“Reductive marketing that simplifies ideas does not undersell your complex creation.”

In other words, just because you describe something simply does not mean that you are selling your idea short or degrading it’s potential. So maybe my very simplistic definition is a good one for people that have never heard of podcasting. The idea and the medium itself is not a difficult one to understand but the fact that it is wrapped up in “geekology” and “tech” does cause a block. They think that because it uses a computer and the Internet it is hard to understand. Which means the delivery is important.

Is It Easy to Get?

This is where I think the idea of podcasting is a failure as far as a marketing is concerned. No, I do not think it will fail but the current state of podcasting means that there are issues with accessibility, especially for the new listener.

The simplist way to listen to a podcast is a flash player on a website where a podcast calls home. Any podcast should have one for this reason. Vist the page and hit play, it could not get any simpler right. But, this type of listener is not taking advantage of podcasting especially if you are applying the strict definition where according to Wikipedia:

“Though podcasters’ web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their content, a podcast is distinguished from other digital audio formats by its ability to be downloaded automatically using software capable of reading feed formats such as RSS or Atom.”

So someone listening off the web page is not listening to a podcast, they are listening to streaming media that calls itself a podcast. Strange but true according to the definition.

For a listener to subscribe to a podcast via an RSS reader or aggregator that supports enclosures is; in my opinion is one of the biggest failures of podcasting. Podcasts or any feed for that matter are not easy to understand or subscribe to. This needs to be simplified in a big way for podcasts to “take off”.

I have managed to get one friend that I know of to understand how to subscribe to feeds and podcasts and use it regularly. He is a fairly smart person and computer literate, even then on more than one occasion I had to assist him to subscribe to a feed or understand something about RSS feeds, or his aggregator. What hope is there for the person that just uses their computer to email and look at a few [add interest here] sites? Or the person that has no help at all, who I can almost guarantee will give up soon after clicking a feed button and they see the raw RSS feed and write it off, who wouldn’t?:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rss version="2.0">
  <channel>
    <title>Liftoff News</title>
    <link>http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/</link>
    <description>Liftoff to Space Exploration.</description>
    <language>en-us</language>
    <pubDate>Tue, 10 Jun 2003 04:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
    <lastBuildDate>Tue, 10 Jun 2003 09:41:01 GMT</lastBuildDate>
    <docs>http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss</docs>
    <generator>Weblog Editor 2.0</generator>
    <managingEditor>editor@example.com</managingEditor>
    <webMaster>webmaster@example.com</webMaster>

etc…

Once a user has got this far they need to either listen to the media on their computer or transfer the file to an MP3 player. This for some people is put in the “too hard basket”. Listening to it on the computer negates the “on demand” concept I talked about earlier in so much as they are restricted to listening to it when they are on their computer. It also makes a podcast a less attractive product.

There are moves however that are dealing with the complexities of subscribing to content. As much as I loathe iTunes I think part of it’s success has to do with the fact that it makes this process easy. Subscribing, downloading, transferring to a portable player – it is all done seamlessly. I am sure that some iTunes users have no idea they are subscribed to an RSS feed. You can get up in the morning, the iPod is charged with new content and off you go.

Firefox 2 that launched this week is also a step closer to making RSS feeds more accessible, one click subscribing to an RSS feed with the aggregator of your choice. At least when users click on the RSS feed link they get a note at the top of the screen explaining what it is and what they can do about it. IE 7 also has better RSS management as of the latest release. This makes podcasts that much easier to get. Although Windows Media Player is yet to see the light, which is poor to say the least and little wonder Apple has the market wrapped up, at present anyway.

Podcasts and RSS feed subscription has to become seamless and invisible for it to hit mainstream. Otherwise podcasts and feeds will just remain a neat geek technology trick.

Is It Easy to Use?

I think most people can play a music file now, or an .mp3 file. Here is one of the powerful aspects of podcast marketing, if you can double-click or press play then you can listen to a podcast. The fact that even a basic install of a computer recognises file types and associates the appropreate application to play it with. From a listener’s perspective once you can get your hands on the file it is easy and accessible. Even vidcasts would fit into the easy to use category.

Don says that at Apple they had a rule:

“”1 minute after they start to use it , they feel like calling their friends”. ……” You will not believe what I just got””

I am sure that given insight into the powerful medium, a listener would see the advantages of the medium. That is of course assuming they have downloaded a quality podcast and not something that has awful production and content. Podcasters, you are ambassadors for podcasting and it’s future, indeed your own future as a podcaster. I am sure there is a marketing rule that says something like: “make sure that you have a product that people will want”. If I have described a listeners first experience of a podcast and that is you, please just try again there is some great, great content out there of any topic you care to name. There is a pile of rubbish as well, like anything.

Is It Easy to Share?

I had to think about what sharing is within the product of podcasting. Can I easily share an .mp3 file? Yes, I could do that but but it is not really sharing the “concept” of podcasting. That is the key, podcasting is not a thing, it is a concept. How do you convince people that you have a concept that is worth having? You become a podcasting evangelist; that is how.

I talk to people when ever I can about podcasting, blogging and whatever else might be associated with it. I have found that you don’t have to sit people down and give them the Podcasting 101 talk (unless they want it, then great).

I am reminded of someone that I work with, about as much of an anti-geek as you could find. More of a “hippy” than anything geek. She has heard me talking about podcasting and she has even asked how she could listen to a show. Yes she has listened to a show. I have mentioned small things about the show or how things have been going to her. The other day she come right out of the blue and asked me how the new co-host was working out! Blew me away. No, she is not a podcasting guru now, but she knows what a podcast is and she won’t give you the “cow in the headlights look” if you said “podcast”. That in my opinion is marketing podcasting, moving it from the geek arena to the mainstream at this present time involves word of mouth education and enlightenment of everyday people to the medium.

This is not about marketing a specific show, that is a another mega post it is about podcasting and marketing the concept. Making the medium understood in the public. Understanding leads to acceptance, use and finally demand. Understanding exerts pressure on developers to overcome the “Easy to Get” problem.

“Marketing is a conversation, but most people don’t speak geek.”

– Rule Number 2 of Geek Marketing

So yes podcasting is easy to share. Do you know about podcasting and subscribe to some yourself? If you can answer yes to this then tell people about it. You might have a podcast in your iPod, people ask you what you are listening to, offer them a listen. Get them interested in wanting the content then they will want to know how. Why not assist someone to set up an aggregator to subscribe to podcasts? Once you have got someone hooked on podcasts they will want to tell others as well. Demonstrate by example how it is done. Something that I do is to wear my “The Podcast Network” T-Shirt as soon as it is washed and ironed! It is a great way to start a conversation.

This is really my take on Geek Marketing 101 Rule Number 10:

10) Marketing demystifies.

“As the conversations develop, the users comprehend your products better and you better understand their needs. With increased confidence, they utilise more and more of your geekiness and, with increased awareness, you are better able to adapt to their behaviours. They feel more warmly about geeks and you may get the chance to buy them a drink. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”

Nope.

My conclusion is that podcasting is a marketable product or concept but there are significant blocks to it becoming a successful one. Given the rules of marketing it fails. Podcasts solve a problem, are relatively easy to understand, use and share but they are hard to get. Four out of Five is not bad for a new technology medium. But for it to be a successful whole product it has to make five out of five. The main hurdle is that software remains relatively complicated and detailed and the user requires some assistance to set up. For podcasting to be a “whole product” we need to make the process of accessability one that is seamless within the user experience. They should be able to subscribe and listen to podcasts without needing to know anything about an RSS feed or an enclosure. It should be as simple as clicking “play”.

I am not sure how I have done as a marketer in this post, but it has made me really think about podcasting and viewing it as a product. Any real marketers out there have an opinion?