Welcome to the Bribery Economy

I  just signed up for an account on Empire Avenue because I heard it was a great networking site for people who blog. The things I found left me shocked.

Shady business and bribery

Empire Avenue, as you may have guessed from the name, is kind of like Wall Street. People buy ‘shares’ in you, investing in your worth, and you’re expected to do the same. People can offer large sums of ‘eaves’ (EA’s digital currency) if you perform certain tasks, such as retweeting a tweet, sharing a Google+ post, or following them on Instagram. That is where some of the perceived ‘networking’ comes from, as far as I can tell. More on that later. People seem to swear by the networking opportunities here, and that it can drive traffic to your various pages.

First off, the spam-style comments I was bombarded with right from the get go almost made me leave. This stuff was the likes of what you’d see in the spam folder of your blog.

“Welcome. LIKE MY PAGE. FOLLOW MY BLOG. DO THIS FOR ME. CLICK MY LINKS. MY. MY. ME. ME!!!” Well, so much for quality networking. How does that Inigo Montoya quote go? “You keep using that word, but I don’t think it means you think it means.”

I did come across some great people, who I was happy to invest in and comment back. They talked like humans. They used proper capitalization and punctuation. The seemed genuine. The EAbot must not have eaten their brains yet.

The real slap of disappointment came to me when I realized what was really going on. With these ‘missions’, people are pretty much bribing others to engage with them on social media and blogging sites. Not necessarily prospects, potential customers, or even people in your field of interest. People are heading in droves to ‘Like’, comment, +1 and share, retweet, etc. For digital, fake currency. Now. Does it spawn worthwhile conversation and new visits? Sure, but that’s not the point that bothered me.

I look to others in the industry for inspiration, guidance, perhaps some best practices. I feel like I’ve been fed lies. Social media posts that I see that are super successful, blog posts that get tons of comments and shares, so many predicated on bribery. Here I am, thinking I’ve been failing at blogging because I’m not getting tons of engagement, just some, when it turns out I’m apparently just not bribing people. How much engagement would those other folks’ blog posts and updates have seen without bribery? Would the mighty be not quite so mighty? Am I not as much of a blogging failure as I thought, but just comparing myself to impossibly stacked odds? I’m not sure whether to be inspired by this, or completely crushed by a system of underground engagement trading.

Will I still participate? Damn yea. I want a piece of this seedy underbelly of engagement pie. Now that I know how the game is being played. However, THIS guy below. No. Companies just got fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for fake reviews. Buddy, you’re doing it wrong.

Paying for reviews is never cool

Are you a devout user of Empire Avenue? Am I completely wrong in the way I’m viewing this? Tell me in the comments below. Do so, and I’ll give you ONE MILLION DIGITAL HIGH FIVES! They’re worth it. You can spend them high fiving EVERYONE ON THE INTERNETZ!

And I’m done.

Conversation Economy and the Increased Value of Word of Mouth

I recently read an article on Fast Company, in which angel Investor Peter Shankman laid down a $5,000 donation bet that Yelp’s business model will fail by next year. He asks why, in the “conversation economy” that we live in, would he rely on the reviews of complete strangers when the feedback from his friends on Facebook and Google+ is so readily available. This term―conversation economy―really got me thinking. Though we’ve always placed a high value on word of mouth, social media has exponentially increased that, not only online, but in the real world. I’ll give you an example.

You can't beat these tacos.
You can’t beat these tacos.

A newer coworker at Main Street Hub recently became friends with me on Foursquare. She then began the obligatory creeping my check-ins to see what’s good (her words), when she came across a check-in at one of my favorite local Austin spots―Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and the accompanying photo. She asked me about it as we were getting coffee one morning, and I began the effusive raving that this little spot deserves. Amazing food, sweet service, and cheap prices. While we were discussing this, another coworker overheard the words “Pulled Pork Tacos,” and became interested in our conversation. Another was passing by and asked if we were talking about Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and also began talking about how much he loved the place. Remember those anti-tobacco Truth commercials, where the little asterisk appears above everyone’s head? Yeah, it’s something like that.

More than ever, now that Facebook’s Graph Search and Google+ Local search have incorporated your friends into what you’re searching for online, word of mouth is king. Positive experiences, check-ins, and good reviews from friends of potential customers (with Facebook allowing a star-rating and has teamed up with OpenTable, as well) can turn into real world dollars and ROI for a business’s bottom line. Just the opposite can happen if those experiences aren’t ideal or if poor experiences go ignored. Businesses simply cannot allow themselves to remain deaf and blind to the conversations that are going on about them. Participation is mandatory.

How has this change to the conversation economy affected your business? Have you had a similar experience like the one I describe above? Have you been to Elaine’s Pork and Pie? (If you’re in Austin, ever, GO. THERE.) Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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What Yelp’s New Mobile Reviews Capability Means

Yelp-logoWith their latest 7.0 app update, Yelp asks you to sit down, because this one’s a biggie. In their words you can now “visit any business page, tap “add review” and go bananas.” That’s right―Yelp has added the ability for your customers to write a review in the moment, on their mobile device, via the Yelp app. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t go bananas. Yelp responsibly.

A few things that this could mean:

  1. Optimist – More happy Yelpers will more readily share their opinions with local businesses due to the easy nature of typing up a short but sweet review on their mobile device. (bring on the Autocorrect typos.)
  2. Pessimist – Open the flood gates of angry people. Hell hath no fury like a mobile Yelper. Now that people can easily leave reviews in the heat of the moment, without first cooling down and hopefully rationally approaching a situation (or forgetting about it entirely), 1-star review hell will break loose.
  3. Realist – There will likely be some occasional anecdotal instances of both the above, but largely things will remain the same. Elite and consistent Yelpers will continue writing their reviews, possibly more often since they can do so immediately. You may see more people hanging around the table or salon, tip tapping away their experience into their phone, but I don’t expect to see a massive influx of changes to reviews.

Here’s what it should not mean, however. All business owners should not encourage their employees to download the app and write bogus reviews for their business. I have no doubt that Yelp has thought this through, being that it’s taken this long for them to add such functionality to their app, and have put some sort of safeguards in place (geo-tagging or GPS functionality, perhaps?). Don’t be that business. It always turns out badly.

What do you think of this new, obviously overdue addition to the Yelp app? Good, bad, ugly? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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Found Tweet Friday


Found Tweet Friday!

July 7th, 2012 (National Confectioner’s Association-recognized “Chocolate Day!”)

Welcome to the Redlight District of Twitter

I spend a good part of my day using Twitter to find potential customers for my clients. I use the Twitter search function and locate people talking about relevant things that could translate to needs my clients’ products or services could fulfill. During this digging through the nonsense, the marketing messages, the slang and abbreviated hashtags, I find some pretty ridiculous tweets. Many that make my jaw drop. It never ceases to amaze me how many people forget that their tweets are completely public while they treat their Twitter conversations as if they were private. Some of those are simply too offensive or gross (not to mention misogynistic and lewd) for me to bother posting, but below are a collection of this week’s gems that I just had to share. My occasional commentary will be the parenthetical portions. Enjoy!

****Warning: Some content may be inappropriate for young or easily offended readers****

Found tweets:

  • i want to be a milf when im older (We all have to have aspirations, right?)
  • I just had a dream there were ninjas dancing on my car while I was driving
  • Just saw a mother and daughter both reading “50 Shades of Grey” at Starbucks. #uncomfortableconversations (Not the ideal family reading material. But I guess some just have that kind of relationship with their parents…)
  • I’m growing a beard! Not a Katie Holmes or Kelly Preston – I’m talking facial hair. #FB
  • Some days you think you are pretty hot shit and then the dog throws up on you (I feel the same way about my cat’s hairballs. There’s just no way to be cool and clean that up)
  • ZZ Top turned down offer to shave beards for $1 million for Gillette advertisement http://t.co/jkyyWDLL (Now THAT is dedication that few have)
  • Nothing like a giant summer hair chop that you didn’t ask for @XXXXsalon! Oh, the things I will Yelp (yeah, your business doesn’t need to pay attention to social media? I submit that it does. Name XXXXed out for obvious reasons)
  • Every sphincter can relax through conscious connection in anal breathing (Is this just a fancy way to say “Relax and pass gas”?)
  • You know its July when your sandal tan lines are just as bad as your bikini tan lines… #SorryImFromCali (This one is specifically for my girlfriend, who the the most noticeable flip-flop tan lines I’ve ever seen ;D )
  • There will also never be a time when it’s acceptable to wear jean capris w/lime green neon socks & black sparkly wedges. #badfashionchoices (I have many friends who would likely call those good fashion choices…)

There you are folks! Obviously, some weeks will be less interesting than others, but I hope you enjoy it. Also, if you ever see any great tweets worth pointing out, send them to me at robzaleski1@gmail.com and they might make the list!

Now go get your social on!

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The Social Gnome’s Hoard – 4 New Reasons to Monitor Online Reviews

This week we’re discussing the recently increased importance of monitoring and maintaining your presence on review sites, particularly Yelp and Google Places (now called Google+ Local).

June 13, 2012:

Social Gnome hoard image

Yelp rating system
The slow, painful decline from red to yellow
  • Siri uses Yelp to search locally – When your potential customers hit that button on their iPhone and tell Siri asks what she can help them with, Siri then asks her friend Yelp for the highest rated results in that category in your geographic area. This is applicable whether you’re a restaurant, doctor, lawyer, plumber, auto repair shop, anything. You need to make sure you’re looking as clean as you can on Yelp, or Siri may not recommend you. Yes, you are now catering your hard work on your company’s image to a digital assistant. Get used to it and move forward, because this stuff is only getting more complicated.
Google+ Local Austin recommendation
I agree, Mandola’s is delicious.
  • Google loves Google+ – Google has integrated it’s search even more fully into its social network, last week unveiling Google+ Local. Companies’ reviews on Zagat and Google Places are now merged, using the Zagat scoring system, out of 30 points, and allowing rating of multiple facets of a business. Companies can no longer have an abandoned Google Places page. They will now have to create a Google+ business page, or spruce up their Google Places page now that it has ported over and become a Google+ business page. This gives you some great options, visually, but a more social search for customer equals a more complicated job for businesses.
Screenshot from Apple.com
Apple.com explains iOS6 features
  • Apple just rocked your world – The unveiling of new iOS6 features from Apple announced the dropping of Google Maps and the addition of Apple Maps. Once again, Apple is lending preference to Yelp to assist users in navigating the best spots in the very slick looking, and exceedingly functional, Apple maps. Local restaurants, take note that Apple in also utilizing Open Table to allow users to make reservations with Siri. Let the confusion begin.
Visual.Ly infographic on food critiquing
Visual.Ly shows you how much we’re all critics
  • Everybody’s a criticVisual.Ly makes a great infographic that culminates our innate needs to have our opinions heard. From quick shout outs, epic tales of a dinner gone wrong, or outright rude chastising of a business owner for not caring enough, we love to have our opinions heard. Although there are numerous platforms out there that cater to this desire to be heard, Yelp furthers the addiction even more by rewarding those who share their opinions the most (awarding them a coveted Elite status) and Google just made it super easy for Google+ users to share their experiences very, very publicly.
UPDATE As an addendum, Bing is also pushing the local search functionality. Guess what resource Bing will be utilizing for finding local businesses. Yelp. Bing has been making major strides in order to compete with Google and the social nature of Google+ Local. It seems Bing is bringing Yelp along with it.
The push to make the local experience completely interactive has grown so exponentially in the last couple of years, it’s difficult to imagine where we’ll be in a couple more. Social search has grown by leaps and bounds in a very short amount of time. One thing is clear, the phrase “Evolve or die” could not be written any clearer. Local business owners simply can not ignore the growing need to be involved in the social digital sphere. Word of mouth is still king, but that king sits on the throne made of Yelp and Google+ Local.

I recommend you give at least a moment’s look at Main Street Hub. We handle your online reviews for you. We make sure your customers are heard, acknowledged, appeased and thanked. The time is now. Take your reviews by the horns and lead them in a direction that helps your business grow in this ever changing climate of fickle customers who have been handed megaphones to share their experiences. Tell Main Street Hub that Rob Z sent you. Thanks for reading.

Now go get your social on!

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