Ask Anna: What Do You Think About iSocket?

by anna on November 4, 2010

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Ask Anna Q: What do you think of this iSocket thing? A guy there told me they’re “interested in my vertical” (why thank you, sir!) and all this other stuff. I had filled out a thing on their site not thinking that I had enough traffic to really join up. Now they’re talking about the next step and I’m realizing I don’t even know how it works. I do feel like there might be more growth potential than with [my current network], but it’s also just the simple truth that I don’t want to work very hard. What is your impression of this operation and is it a good idea? I thought of you and figured you would have an opinion.

Ask Anna A: I met the iSocket guys at BlogWorld and enjoyed talking to them about their product. I think iSocket is a good product, but the truth is that I have mixed feelings about its utility within this niche (ie the mommyblogging niche). On the one hand, the service has a real utility, and for the right site, they would make a lot of sense. First let me explain what iSocket does, in case people haven’t heard of them yet: it is a way of making the process of buying private ads on your site self-service, and technologically hassle free, so instead of having to email back and forth with people who want to buy private ads, and then mess around with code, the advertisers can just buy it directly and all the publisher has to do is approve the ad. This kind of funcitonality is already available in some services (for example, you can do it with my site through BlogAds), but the difference with iSocket is that they don’t take a commission on each ad. Instead, they take a monthly fee. This may seem like a small distinction, but if you are a site that is selling a large number of private ads each month, this can lead to a ton of money staying in your pocket, which is why iSocket has a real utility for some sites.

Here’s the catch: I do not think this niche is, generally speaking, going to have a bunch of publishers who should be signing up with iSocket. At present, there are not many mommybloggers who are regularly selling enough private ads on their own to justify the monthly expense of iSocket. The smallest package available is for sites with traffic up to 500,000 pageviews, and most mommybloggers never even get to that level in the whole of their careers, and even if they did, they aren’t selling enough private ads to justify paying for a service to manage their ad sales. I have been in contact with the guys at iSocket about this and I think we just don’t agree on this point, which is fine, but in my mind $49 is a lot of money to pay, at least for many of the people who are out their in the trenches selling private ads within this niche. The people with high traffic in this niche tend to not sell private ads, though for the life of me I will never understand why they don’t.

Here’s how to decide if iSocket is right for you: Do you spend more than $49 worth of time dealing with the technological aspects of managing private ads on your site every month? Personally, I do not. I also have the luxury of already having a self-service ad management system on my site, and so I know that there’s really not much of a reason to install iSocket — though I’ve made some sales through that function on BlogAds, most of my BlogAds come through their ad sales team, and that’s why they get a commission. Please note that at present there is no ad sales team with iSocket, so you are not going to just get ads by signing up with them, either — they are not a typical ad network in that sense, at least not at present. I will not be using iSocket on my site right now because it doesn’t make fiscal sense for me right now, but I do think it’s a good product in general. My thoughts are that there are a few sites, mostly in the design community who could really benefit from iSocket, but I cannot really think of any within the mommyblogging niche that are likely to greatly benefit offhand, though I might be incorrect on this.

As a parting note, Google recently launched a private beta version of this kind of ad management system. It is not available to everyone at present, but if things continue as they usually do, my guess is that iSocket will get purchased by Google and this will all be free at some point anyway. This is all totally unsubstantiated conjecture on my part, obviously.

Why I Won’t Be Attending Mom 2.011

by anna on October 31, 2010

Let me start by apologizing for the self-important topic and for the general who-gives-a-shit, Anna? response many of you will have to this post. The absurdity of me writing a post about not attending a conference is not lost on me, but after recommending Mom 2.0 to anyone and everyone who has asked me about good business-oriented conferences within in the mom blogosphere, I feel like some explanation is necessary for why I’m no longer endorsing it or attending it myself.

Disclosure: I submitted a panel idea for this years’ Mom 2.0 conference (on the topic of maintaining trust capital View definition in a new window while still making a living online) which was rejected. I assume many people will think this is why I have changed my mind about the conference, but actually, I had had planned all along upon attending the conference regardless of whether or not I was chosen to speak (and, indeed figured there was little chance I would be chosen to speak given . . . several factors). My experience last year had been well worth the investment without speaking and I had no reason to believe that this year would be any different. However, after reviewing the loose agenda and the speakers list released last week, I’ve decided my money is better invested elsewhere. My reasoning is listed below.

1. Panels have been cut by 25%

My primary concern about endorsing this conference is that the panel time has been cut by one fourth so that there can be an afternoon spent on “practical application” of ideas presented in the panels “in real life.” The opportunities for practical application will ostensibly be presented by activities such as swamp tours and fashion walks in New Orleans — a claim that raises more questions than it answers. I understand that it is several months before the conference and as such, the complete ideas are probably not fully formed, but what this whole thing smacks of to me, frankly, is a choice opportunity for highly paid sponsor product placement for the conference organizers at the expense of conference attendees. And if that’s not what they have planned, then it should be, because it’s an excellent opportunity for getting a bunch of bloggers to take pictures of each other next to signs that say French Market or Who Dat or whatever it is they sell in New Orleans, and then tweet it all over the planet. Good for them, I say: I’m just not interested in supplementing it with $500* from my already sparse conference budget.

In the interest of trying to determine the actual content of this mysterious third session and its utility to people who read this blog, I’ve had several conversations with the Mom2summit Twitter account and the info@mom2summit email account this week (these accounts are apparently empowered with the capacity of speech, as if they have their own human subjectivity). The Mom2summit Twitter account initially contacted me in response to some tweets I made expressing concern about the third session. I asked the account what the third session (the “time off” as I worded it, and the “application time” as the mom2summit email account worded it) would offer to bloggers who are interested in learning how to land private ads or sponsorship deals, because I see that as a primary concern for my readership. The twitter account told me that monetization would be covered in the first two sessions, but that maybe the Twitter account could add something in the third part. I asked the Twitter account to give me a formal statement via email, and this is what the account was able to compose for me:

We are still in the process of developing this Saturday programming, but it will be designed to include opportunities for the diversity of attendees’ interests, subject lines, and content needs. For instance, we have mentioned a French Quarter fashion tour, which will be a smaller outing for fashion bloggers, site owners, and media to tour the country’s oldest perfumery and to visit with one of the leading hat designers in the world. That’s just one of the 10 to 15 options. Another will be a video session, where those interested in adding video content to their site will be able to develop a video blog entry with the help of a professional crew. There will be a tour and discussion with educational leaders for those who blog on political or public policy issues. For those exclusively interested in “landing private ads or sponsorship deals”, there will be a more in-depth strategy session on business-development application, coupled with a traditional Ritz-Carlton tea service, that will cover that topic.

Some of these options are no doubt interesting from an objective standpoint, but they don’t really meet my personal needs for a business conference. You might have surmised that the last bit was added in response to my query, so there is now a potential option for people who are not interested in a swamp tour and who are not able to get onto the perfumery short list (pro tip: if you are going with the thought of getting onto the perfumery shortlist — don’t is my advice, unless your last name is Armstrong). The response from the mom2summit email account is much longer than this, and includes references to requests from last year’s attendees for “more case studies.” While I wholeheartedly respect the email account’s desire to meet the needs of the conference attendees, I’m a little confused about what this means, unless we are talking about case studies in the sense that people study them in business school, in which case — nope, still confused as to how that involves visiting a hat designer. And now my head is hurting.

It might be that my interests are not diverse enough to go to a conference organized by a corporate email account working in conjunction with an anonymous Twitter handle. In which case, nicely played, electronic agents of unknown third-party social media maven behest!

2. The speaker lineup is light on business/monetizing expertise.

The speaker lineup released on Friday includes one person I would enjoy seeing speak, an executive from Yahoo Shine who sounds semi-interesting, five dads, and a few other people who are mainstays from the mommyblogging speaking circuit. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because there’s not a whole lot of reason to, but suffice to say that from where I’m sitting there’s not a whole lot on this agenda that is fleshing out to be innovative from the perspective of business or monetization. This was not the case last year — last year there was all kinds of stuff shared that was not available elsewhere in the mommyblogosphere. People were speaking whom I had not seen speak elsewhere, and they were sharing information that was not shared elsewhere. The list posted is not the full list of speakers, but this list posted suggests a trend, and that trend does not suggest good things to me for the kind of content in which I am interested, or in which the readers of this blog tend to be interested. It doesn’t mean the conference won’t be enjoyable: I just don’t think it will be a good return on investment for people who are looking for a business conference.

*3. 25% cut out of this conference, for me, works out to about $500. A $500 reduction in value, plus a decidedly fluffier agenda, makes Mom 2.0 look like a smaller, more expensive incarnation of BlogHer View definition in a new window.

A round trip plane ticket from Los Angeles to New Orleans costs $400-500, and three nights at the Ritz Carlton costs about $700, even without room service. Even with my cheaper conference ticket (I bought it last May for $310), with food and incidentals factored in, I would be looking at close to a $2,000 price tag for attending this conference. I’m willing to pay that much for a conference and indeed have on several occasions, but with a lighter agenda and with 25% of the panels cut out, that makes this conference into a smaller, more expensive version of BlogHer. And the one thing that BlogHer has is that it is BlogHer, and that everybody goes to BlogHer — the only argument for spending money on Blogher is the ubiquity of it. A smaller conference has its benefits, but it loses those once it tries to emulate the bigger, crappier one that only has value in ubiquity. Some of these events will probably be fun, but for this amount of money, and time away, I need a higher ROI to justify it.

Caveat: Maybe, *maybe* consider going if you are a newer blogger who wants a chance to meet big name bloggers.

When I was thinking about reasons to go to this conference, I realized that there might be a reason to go if you are a newer blogger who wants a chance to meet some of the big name bloggers in a smaller setting. Several of them are likely to be at this conference (e.g. Dooce View definition in a new window, Maggie Mason View definition in a new window, The Bloggess View definition in a new window, Design Mom, possibly Finslippy?), and it is much easier to get a chance to meet and talk to them in this context than it is at a big conference like BlogHer. Is that worth paying $2,000? I kind of doubt it, but I thought I should leave that possibility open because it is a legitimate plus of this conference. And I’m guessing that it will be far better run than you would imagine would be possible for an outfit run by a corporate Twitter account and an anonymous email account. I’m just not confident that it will have the same kind of business cache it had last year. I would be happy to be proven wrong, though.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about online influence and how to measure it. This is always the case, but most recently the focus has been on Twitter and who is most influential on Twitter and why, which seems particularly absurd to me, since I don’t see how anybody could build Twitter as their exclusive platform anyway, even if we had an accurate tool to measure influence there. Anil Dash wrote another good post about the fact that follower counts are horseshit because of the “who to follow” function and suggested users when you sign up. Also, the new(ish) tool for measuring influence on Twitter, Klout, is attempting to gain ground by doing things like making deals with the Palms casino in Vegas and Virgin Airlines to give special VIP treatment according to Klout score, and rather than interpreting this for what it is — a marketing maneuver paid for by Klout (the Klout party at Blog World Expo was hosted at the Palms, and I’m guessing this was not a coincidence) — some bloggers are using this as evidence of Klout being the same thing as clout. Anyway, this whole thing got me thinking about influence and how it manifests itself, and how it could be measured, if it could be measured. Below are some disorganized thoughts on the topic.

1. My Klout score Is 31, and it was 28 before I registered on the Klout website.

A Klout score of 28 gives me the Klout authority, roughly, of your neighbor’s Persian cat. Maybe a little less Klout than your neighbor’s Persian cat, if your neighbor’s Persian cat happens to be featured on a lot. So, basically, I don’t have any Klout, but I was able to increase my score by 9% just by signing up with them, thank goodness. I wonder how they measure influence — other than buying into the idea of Klout, of course. Let’s see: retweets, and @replies, “amplification of message” and “engagement with influencers.” Hmmm. Well, that would be a tough one, huh? When you are somebody who tweets things that are, say, like this, in reaction to the behavior of one of the “influencers” in question:

You don’t tend to get a whole lot of “engagement” with the “influencers.” You also don’t get a lot of retweets, because people are too afraid to retweet that. But what you do get is a bunch of DMs going on behind the scenes, both to you and to other people. Does that count as influence? I don’t know. Because I have a Klout score of 28. So if I need to get a reservation at The Palms, I’m calling up this @800dailygiveaways woman and seeing if she can get me that suite with the basketball court.

2. The most influential statements are tough to retweet.

Not all retweets are created equal. It’s easy to retweet things that are shallow, just like it’s easy to comment on a post that is about something mundane or that directly asks for practical advice. If you tweet something thought-provoking or controversial, you are less likely to get a retweet or an @-reply because it’s more difficult to respond to those kinds of tweets, particularly on Twitter. There are only a handful of users who will respond to you on those things, and they will make up your core group. This does not mean you are not influencing people with those tweets. It also doesn’t mean that all of those retweets about “awesome, inspiring posts” denote influence whatsoever. The only thing they often denote is some effort to kiss ass or repay a previous retweet on the part of one user to another. It’s easy to retweet a post about zombies or bacon, but that doesn’t mean the person who originally tweeted it is influential.

3. Several of the people on the Klout list of mommybloggers are people I had to unfollow because of Twitter party spam.

This isn’t meant as a slam on the actual users themselves, because as far as I know they are great people. However, I question a means of measuring influence that marks several people as “influential” that I personally unfollowed *only* because the volume of sponsored tweets/Twitter party hashtag spam was so high that I couldn’t stand it anymore. They are being retweeted and engaged with because *they are paying people to do it*.

4. All lists are arbitrary, but this one annoys me because it pretends to be scientific.

Whenever there is a list released in the mommyblogosphere, there’s a problem. There are hurt feelings, people don’t understand why the same people are included, or why one person was left off. This one is uniquely annoying in that it uses some kind of algorithm that makes it seem as though it should be credible, but in reality it’s just as flawed as the others. Influence manifests itself in a variety of ways, some more public than others. Some people are influential in a very public way. People can see how influential somebody like Oprah is in, say, female populations, because there isn’t a lot of shame in saying you like Oprah. But what if you were to try to track Oprah’s influence in a male population? You’d still get an idea that she’s influential, but it wouldn’t be an accurate portrait of how influential she is, because there are huge sections of the male population who are simply not going to cop to being Oprah fans.

5. Best of lists and tools to measure influence in social media are just traffic grabs and/or tools for lazy brands and marketers.

At best, the “best of” mommyblogger lists lead to a huge rush of traffic for Babble (and all of the other websites that publish them on a semi-regular basis). At worst, they are a means of giving marketers an easy and inaccurate way of figuring out who these supposedly powerful mommybloggers are that they should be targeting for their pitches. So all of those awful PR pitches that people like to complain about, in effect, can be traced back to these kinds of lists. It’s annoying. Everything about it is annoying. Stop giving these people credibility by acting as if the process is legitimate.

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