Blogging, metrics, roi, social networks

The blogging contest that almost killed my Christmas

I recently competed in an international blogging contest in Dec 2009.  Truth be told… by entering an international blogging contest during year end with the Community Marketing Blog – called Blog Off II or #blogoff ,  I wasn’t aiming for gold so much as I wanted to gain greater insight into what makes for a better blog and how people would determine a best of breed blogger.   And as  I’ve never blogged as a competitive sport,  I did gain a lot of great learning on what to put in a blog post, blog title to maximize readership and interaction.

I submitted four original stories in twelve days, all well researched, carefully crafted posts.  And spent other days just reading the mass blog posting from other contestants, relishing in quality content.  I was judged to be among the top ten bloggers at contest end though I am always skeptical on measurement.  The contest held in twelve days in December seriously threatened my ability to shop before Christmas but it was important for me. With today’s focus on social networking, I find the very powerful world of blogging somewhat neglected.  I wanted to advance my skills here and blogging in an international contest was just the ticket.

The contest itself had an impressive setup – 25 approved candidates, six countries all using Typepad (oh god.. not my choice publisher) and supported by 1 official writer (Conrad Hall from Technorati) and the caveat that some blog posts would make it to the Huffington Post for publishing during the contest.

I captured a number of lessons worthy of sharing here:

1. Blogging is definitely a competitive sport – title choice, image use, linking, seeding has become more intensive, more commercial that I  realized.  My blogging experience is in personal blogs since 2006 and corporate blogs since 2007, aimed at mostly post purchase customers.  Both environments are not competitive per se.  But with the noise of the blogosphere, blog posts are fighting hard with National Enquirer title ferocity.

I gained this insight with my first post called Sex, Statistics and Social Media – a cheeky jest because I know from that popular tags can result in a lot of enduring traffic (not necessarily quality traffic) but this was more of a jest.  Jesting was perhaps inappropriate but I was trying to figure out how to compete when my focus in social media has been on collaboration.   Fortunate for me I received some quality comments from Conrad Hall, a professional writer and technorati writer.

“You can quickly give this article added interest and value by showing readers 2 or 3 ways for managing the time they spend on social media. Thanks Laurie. You have a good post with a solid foundation. Looking at it from the reader’s perspective – what’s in it for them – will make it stronger.” he opines

I countered that I don’t always want to suggest the 10 ways to improve something.. as I get quite sick of commercialized tweets and posts.   And so Conrad responded with a beautiful blog post demonstrating what he was suggesting in his comments.  The title?  On social media, prostitution and bartending.

Which leads to lesson no. 2. Groom the post for those who enter the site by the site door – directly to the post itself and not the blog.  [This is an important web design strategy as well as side door entry is prominent for well connected or linked content]

I really liked Conrad Hall’s personalized photo and short bio in the closing.  A great idea for a multiple author blog.

3.  Your blog post is easily buried and fast.

I worked hard on creating original content for my second post – Keeping the Personal Private. using Facebook Limited Profiles Upon posting it, another contestant added EIGHT consecutive posts.  The contest had a maximum of 12 post entries but no mention of adding eight posts in a row.  I was mildly tiffed at what couldn’t have been original, on the spot created eight posts but then – how is this not like real life?   Of course a day later Facebook announced new privacy rules which dominated the blogsphere on my tags.   I did get a number of great comments.. Ah this is real life.

4.  To spam or not to spam in efforts of securing greater traffic & comments in a contest.

One of the key metrics in evaluating bloggers was the amount of traffic and engagement -as measured by visits and comments – a post generated.   In my mindseye – I saw this as the clever use a tagging, digging, linking, tweeting to broaden the blog post touchpoints.  What I didn’t realize was how much other bloggers would rely on their personal networks to jam up their own posts with comments and traffic.

I’m rather opposed to spamming my network – linkedin, twitter, facebook – with explicit requests to comment on a blog due to a contest.  I value my network greatly and though I announced being in a contest and then tweets my blog posts, I didn’t spam my network.   I just was very nervous about making a request that would affect my fans, friends, followers.  And I wanted to reserve my assertive requests for charitable interests.   So when I received the following linkedin message from one of the winners of the contest, I started to debate blog post measurement.


I also would ask that you forward this message to anyone that you can think of, as of now I think I am still in 3rd place. You know how competitive I am and I really would love to win this contest it will certainly help my career and status in my field. I have already been asked to do seminars and workshops both in regards to Product Development and also Advertising/Marketing so all the help you have done for me already has brought me to a whole new level and for that I cannot thank you enough. Once again THANK YOU. If you have any social media Follow Me the links are under my signature line!

Importantly, these are not new thoughts.  I shared these thoughts with my fellow contestants, including the one above, and we had a lively debate which managed to move the needle on my skepticism dial a bit.  {not all the way but the needle did move].

Andrew Ballenthin, the organizer of this blogging contest, discussed active vs passive loyalty of people’s networks.  He considered the open solicitation for network loyalty (action) as a desirable action.  That this comment/traffic spike is something natural expected from bloggers.  Certainly, if one looks at the top ten retweets words – you will find ‘my blog post’ as one of them.  Andrew carries and important message here.

I did debate whether or not spike traffic would be sustainable traffic – likely not if there is little value in the spike.  Nonetheless, Andrew put a lot of time into considering the angles I put forth and came up with a recipe on measuring bloggers and their posts tactics should be evaluated.

5. It must be nearly impossible to control for a contest in a blogging environment. [ or anything goes..]

Okay so during the actual contest, Conrad promoted several blog posts and a specific blogger .   I challenged this in the comments:

I can’t help wondering how traffic can be used objectively as a measure of success in this contest when this post is now promoting some posts and not others. I say this more out of curiosity than anything else – given my nod to other deserving posts. – Laurie

and it sparked a very good debate with Conrad and Sam, one of the winning bloggers, on blogging metrics – which I’d recommend people to read the comments.

At heavy risk of sounding like a sore loser here and god, who wants to pick a fight with someone as eloquent and sharp witted as Conrad, the professional writer – I don’t really get the promotion of blog posts during the contest by a judge of the contest, during the contest.  More importantly, I think it very important to debate metrics – to make sure what measured truly matters.

6. There is wonderful community found in competition

I’ve made some wonderful contacts and blogging among some greats who do, in all their deserved colours of the win, get traffic that shames a website.  I enjoyed the contest and look forward to seeing Andrew Ballenthin and his Community Marketing Blog release a third contest.

Incidentily – my third and fourth posts were

Six visualization sources you should know about

Using twitter? Then you’d better understand the twitter list.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk is the Chief Marketing Strategist and founder of Social Wisdom – a Toronto based digital marketing agency that helps firms and individuals use social media and the web wisely.

You can find Laurie on Twitter at or on her blog at

Text ‘HAITI’ to #’90999′ to donate $10 to the Red Cross relief fund and/or text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti earthquake fund
Blogging, dunbar, social networks, stats

Sex, statistics and social media — the tough job of keeping up on emerging tech.

“Social is like sex… you can’t truly comprehend unless you do it”.

Okay so starting off the #blogoff2 blogging contest talking about sex is possibly a cheap shot for getting comments. And sex talk is not how I typically sell the need for professionals to get on board with social personal adoption to lead their corporate adoption.

But it comes from a still favorite post of mine from George Colony, founder and CEO of Forrester.  As one of few CEOs that twitters [well about 134 tweets anyways] and blogs, George shares his thoughts and quest getting other CEOs on board with personally using social media.

It’s a tough sell for those business owners and executives daunted by the learning curve and time investment for social media.  I know as I coach some reluctant learners on the value of social media.  Does an executive need to be on facebook?

Well.. last time I checked, you can’t see a corporate Facebook fan page without having a personal profile.  Nor can you update a wall and really engage.  But I can appreciate business owners and executives don’t see this as a starting point but it is an easy place to learn.  I hashed some of this out in an earlier post about the tough questions I get on the value social networking.

But what George hasn’t shared yet in his blog is his personal woes of keeping up with what’s happening out there for those CEOs who are social.   I’m not talking about the secrets of using twitter and adding alerts but how much our brains can retain and reaching our maximum manageable network size.   Case in point, George only follows 41 people [albeit Jeremiah O, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff included].

A worthy example.  George’s CEO audience, being early or late baby boomer generation, potentially lags in social networking adoption.   Check out Pew Internet and American Life’s generational differences in social media adoption – modified so that we can just look at social networking site profiles.
Generational differences in usages

Of course, this old chart dated late 2008, which I love, flies in the face of the +55 age group is growing enormously on Facebook – istrategylabs say up 513% in six months ending July 2009, not to mention Facebook across all age groups – up 50 million new users in the last 2.5 months to 350 million active users as of Dec 1st, 2009.
This points out the challenge with any social networking statistics; the exponential growth of social networking sites means the charts are out of date in a couple months.  Just as Mashable points out for E*marketer struggles putting out a forecast of active Twitter users at 12 million by 2009 year end but had to revise to 18 million [and now forecasts 26 million in 2010].

But the real challenge for a social media expert [god I hate that term] is agile development.

I find I have to preface things with ‘last time I checked’ since many of the social networking sites are constantly tweaking and adding new features at the speed of real time.  Major web releases seem a thing of the past.  And if I don’t read my social network blog or page, I don’t know about a new feature.  Yesterday I tweeted about switching to Hootsuite because of its twitter list integration.  Today, tweetdeck has a new version catching up to the Hoote.

This is complicated by the beta blur.  I somehow by election or heavy usage have access to a variety of ‘beta’ features on some social networks.   But honestly, I can’t keep track of what is beta and what is not.  I recently was showing off the value of tagging your Linkedin contacts, a feature that I’ve had for months, until someone mentioned that the feature is not public.  Oh yeah.. a beta feature.

I’m not complaining here but I’d enjoy hearing about how other business owners, social media evangelists or executives are managing with the real time speed of information these days.   I INVITE your thoughts on this.