Archive for July, 2011

If, like me, you are watching Google+ fever spread across the twitternets with a mixture of bemused fascination and eye-rolling annoyance, read on.

If, however, you have jumped heart and soul onto the Google+ bandwagon, gorged yourself on its koolaid with such gusto that your sweat now tastes Googlicious, and think Google+ would make a fine spouse were you able to marry a digital platform… read on.

Based on some of the questions I have been asked repeatedly these last few weeks, here are 8+ things you probably should know about Google+:

1. Will Google+ change the world or the internet?

No. Google+ will not change the world. Or the internet. But if it scales, it might help Google buy a lot of really big yachts, really fast private jets, small countries whose names end with “-Stan,” and install a few hundred thousand solid gold toilets in its offices and server farms around the world.

2. Will Google+ kill Facebook?

No one really knows. I suppose it could, but the odds are not in Google+ killing anything anytime soon. If it does, it will be to some degree related to Facebook’s inability to compete both as a social network and as viable revenue model and not because Google+ is particularly awesome or groundbreaking.


_ Facebook needs to stop antagonizing people (privacy concerns are still a major Achilles’ heel for Facebook, for starters). Love = loyalty. No love = well, you know.

_ Facebook’s functionality is still very limited. It doesn’t really plug into productivity and collaboration tools, and this is a problem as users (consumers) increasingly look for seamless integration of word processors, email, video conferencing, VOIP, calendars, mobility, spreadsheets with their social platforms.  The simplicity of Facebook’s design and the limited amount of customizability that helped it compete against MySpace (and win) may also bring about its own undoing now that digital platforms have matured.

_ Facebook lives in a fairly closed and limited search ecosystem. What this means is that its advertising revenue model is also rather limited compared to what Google is trying to build. Facebook has kind of backed itself in a corner with its model while Google has a lot of breathing room. That gives Google an enormous strategic advantage. (It does not, however, mean it will succeed in doing anything with it.)

_ Speaking of search, it is a lot easier for Google to build and scale a social network than it is for Facebook to build and scale a search engine. And moving forward, you kind of need both to win. (Or at least a model that incorporates rich, real-time consumer data and massive reach.)

_ Facebook is the biggest fish in the pond because it is pretty much the only fish in the pond. It’s the default winner. That isn’t a good long term survival strategy. After all, what is the cost of jumping ship? $0. These platforms are free. Social equity can be both moved and rebuilt pretty easily. Can Facebook stand up to a better, cooler alternative?

So basically, Facebook needs to adapt very quickly in order to stay relevant. Size alone won’t carry its dominance forever.


_ Facebook is huge. HUGE. As a social platform, Google+ has an enormous challenge in scaling to size. It has to do it, and it has to do it fast unless it wants to become the Yahoo of social networks. Without scale, Google+ is just a nice little productivity interface, and the only company it will be competing against is Microsoft, not Facebook.

_ Google+ isn’t sexy. Sorry Google+, but you kind of look like crap. Remember that you aren’t just after middle-aged computer nerds, bloggers, social media “gurus” and… well, yeah, what I said: computer nerds. The rest of the world has to want to use you too.

_ Google+ isn’t compelling enough for most people outside of the nerdy middle to want to bother with it yet. Facebook may be annoying, but it’s familiar, everyone is already there, and the effort of having to leave it and start over isn’t being driven by excitement or necessity. (It has to be one or the other in order to enjoy any kind of velocity.) What’s missing in Google+ right now is a compelling reason for people to want to make the effort (and take the risk) of making the switch. For most people around the world, it is missing the compelling “why.” (“It’s new” won’t ever be enough. After 5 months, when the tech bloggers get bored of talking about it and move on to the next Quora or Empire Avenue or Spotify, what will drive an accelerated adoption?)

_ Google Wave and Google Buzz were going to revolutionize the interwebs too. Ooops. Sure, Google does search VERY well, but that doesn’t mean it will do anything else well, even in the pursuit of taking search to the next level.

_ Google and Plus will have to deal with the same privacy concerns Facebook did. Perhaps more so. You don’t have to be the most trustworthy company to win. You just need to be less shady and risky than everyone else. If Google finds itself at the center of enough privacy concern discussions, Facebook might come out the lesser of the two evils. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is a pretty important element when dealing with an adoption campaign. If Facebook begins to feel threatened, expect this topic to magically surface at regular intervals.

In other words, it could go either way. Facebook and Google+ have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

3. Is Google+ really the “Blue Ocean” product some tech writers claim it is?

No. Google+ is simply Google building a better data acquisition mousetrap and advertising delivery pipeline. It is Google’s natural evolution. Let’s quickly look at that in more detail.

Data acquisition: Seeing the majority of search queries isn’t enough. Google also wants to be able to see what Facebook sees, what Twitter sees, what Foursquare sees. Not only that, but it wants to own that data. It wants to be able to understand and profile consumers better based not only on their searches and the content of their emails, but also on the types of conversations they have, on the content they share, who they share it with, where they hang out, etc. This paints a far more granular (see “complete”) model for consumer tastes and behaviors, which allows Google to better target them with ads.

And yes, selling ads is how Google makes a chunk of its money.

Advertising pipeline: In the same light, Google has looked at how much time people spend on Facebook and did the math. If they can build a platform that will attract as many eyeballs as Facebook and for as many minutes (even hours) per day, it will be able to sell a lot more ads.

This isn’t “Blue Ocean.” It’s just the evolution of an existing model.

And yes, if it pulls it off, Google will pretty much own the web.


Everything else you hear about how awesome and cool and functional Google+ is, is basically window dressing. If you want to get to the heart of what Google+ is really about, this is it: Data, eyeballs, behavioral modeling, better targeting, ownership of advertising revenue on the web.

4. What about Microsoft?

Google+ seems to me a bigger threat to Microsoft than to Facebook right now. Think about how Google has gone after Microsoft Office and Outlook. Think about what Chrome is doing to Explorer. Now bring the Google+ interface into the mix and see how Google’s productivity tools offer a compelling, very well integrated alternative to Microsoft’s aging core products. If you have been paying attention these last few years, you have probably watched as Google has been systematically working to erode Microsoft’s market share, one product at a time. Now Google+ promises to give collaboration and productivity a forward boost. What is Microsoft’s answer?

Here’s the irony though: Microsoft’s R&D people are 5-10 years ahead of everyone else in their ideation and prototyping, but the company still refuses to bring its coolest product ideas to market. Google and Apple are where they are today in great part because Microsoft chose to pass on projects it figured it could always get back to someday. Its weakness has never been technical. It also hasn’t been due to a lack of imagination or access to talent. It is purely cultural. If Microsoft is going to be a contender in anything except gaming (XBox) five years from now, the aging giant needs to change its approach to product development, product diversification, and it needs to work faster. And for that, it has to step away from itself and realize that not fully understanding who you are as a brand, as a company – in other words, having a static vision of yourself – kind of gets in the way of being a market leader. I am rooting for Microsoft, but something has to change. Microsoft simply has to start thinking bigger. In a way, Microsoft has to unMicrosoft itself in order to move forward.

5. What about Twitter?

What about Twitter? It is still evolving and growing. Unless Google builds a solid substitute for Twitter that plugs into its little universe and it all scales really well, Twitter will be fine for a little while longer.

6. What about Amazon?

Amazon has a history of partnering with Google (1)(2)(3) and it makes a lot of cash. Amazon is fine with or without Google+, but yeah, if Google+ scales, Amazon won’t be hurting for chewing gum money.

7. What about LinkedIn?

If Facebook didn’t kill LinkedIn, chances are that Google+ won’t either, even if it becomes the Goliath of the interwebs.

8. What else should we know?

For starters, you should know how to get started with Google+. Whether Google+ is the next big thing or the next big flop, these handy videos by Chris Brogan will help you get started with the new platform and find out for yourself what the big deal is about. And if that isn’t enough, check out Mashable’s complete (and very handy) guide. If you love Google+, great. If you don’t like it, great. The world spins on either way.

Beyond that, I caution you against drinking anyone’s koolaid. Shiny object syndrome is a major source of noise on the web these days. Tech bloggers make a good living creating content on their blogs with the purpose of attracting as much traffic as possible in order to make as much advertising revenue as possible (and catch the eye of larger media outlets like Mashable, CNN, etc.) So every tech story they can get their hands on has the potential of earning them stacks of cash. The incentive then isn’t to truly analyze or report (or even wait and see), but to sensationalize every new platform release, from Quora to Google Buzz. There is nothing wrong with it, but just be aware of how the web “thought leadership” and content curation bubbles work. A lot of noise doesn’t mean a whole lot except a feeding frenzy of web traffic and incremental revenue. Right now, Google+ is the big story. A while ago, Google Wave was too. Don’t fall for the link-bait.

No one can predict the success of a digital platform. No one. Google+ could be the coolest thing in the world and yet never go anywhere.

Apps moving the the cloud is nothing new. SaaS (Software as a Service) is nothing new. Digital social networking platforms are nothing new. Integration of productivity and collaboration tools is nothing new. Will Google+ do it better? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. maybe all Google+ will manage to do is inspire another company to build something that blows everyone out of the water and truly revolutionizes the web and computing. Google+ may simply be a milestone in a fast and long technical evolution. A footnote. A catalyst. No matter what happens, Google+ will be replaced by something else eventually. Maybe in 6 months, maybe in 6 years, but this is inevitable. So stay adaptable and flexible, and don’t get too attached.

If you want to leave Facebook and put all of your eggs in the Google+ basket, that’s fine. No one says you can’t try out Google+ and stay on Facebook as well. There is no need to take sides. You can own a Mac and a PC too without tearing a hole into the space-time continuum. You can like tea and coffee, paper and plastic, surf and turf, Lady Gaga and Mozart. Don’t make Google+ (or any social or digital platform) into a religion. Do you think the first people who tasted Pizza stopped eating spaghetti? Did headlines in the newspapers read “Pizza: The Spaghetti killer?” Did people wear buttons on their lapels at social events reading “I’ve switched to Pizza?” A little perspective goes a long way.

If you want to wait 3 or 6 or 12 months before jumping into the Google+ universe, nothing says you can’t. There’s no rush. Ease into it at your own pace. In the meantime, people will still be able to reach you by email, through Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even by sending you good old hand-written postcards – you know, with stamps.

I hope this helped. Cheers.

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And if you haven’t picked it up yet, “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Programs in your Organization” (the quintessential social media operational guide for executives and business managers) is now available worldwide in both print and e-format at fine book sellers everywhere. Read some reviews, sample a free chapter at smroi.net, or if you just want to order it from Amazon, click here.

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If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding the intricacies of social media R.O.I., chances are…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

I know. Coming from me, the guy who literally wrote the book on “Social Media R.O.I.” this might seem like a strange thing to say. But hear me out. It will all make sense in a few minutes.

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem, however, is that the question cannot be answered as asked. Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. It is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

2. To get the right answer, ask the right question.

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

In fact, to ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. For example: What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011? That’s a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media.

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up “formulae” mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used)


Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

Don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure.

If you want to measure this across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes incidental.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model to determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, put together an amalgam of ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving it, and each particular type of activity within its scope. Can measuring all of that be complex? Yes. Can it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources. If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss in this domain. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Not all social media activity needs drive ROI: Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors: the manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective, and the degree to which specific social media activity helped drive it. In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

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By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a handy framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs. Check it out at www.smroi.net.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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Digital articles of faith

Most disciplines, at some point in the course of their development, fall prey to their very own articles of faith. This is true of all things man is passionate about, from spirituality to war, from politics to mathematics, from geostrategy to literature and art: All develop different schools of thought, many of which eventually evolve into rivals.  Hence we invariably arrive at Catholics vs. protestants, liberals vs. conservatives, nationalists vs. federalists, Macs vs. PCs, Pepsis vs. Cokes, Xbox360s vs. Nintendo wiis vs. Playstations 3, etc. Social media, if indeed we can call it a discipline (perhaps digital social communications is a better term for it, since “social media” describes the pipes, not the activities themselves) is no different: Some believe that the DSC discipline is purely about content (the “content is king” crowd). Others believe that the DSC discipline is a (digital) marketing function, while others still, view it as a PR function. And on and on and on.

Before companies even realized the potential of DSC and social media, this new frontier in communications was already being fought over, flag in hand, by various groups wishing to lay claim to the lion’s share of its ownership, and thus define it for the business world by their own unique standards.

If to name a thing is to own a thing, then to define it certainly drives the flag of ownership deeper into the ground for those who manage to get there first, which perhaps helps explain the fervor with which various schools of thought have been battling for philosophical supremacy in this newly discovered digital world.

The thing is, this race for ownership of social media and its intrinsic value – through the minting of its principal function(s) – is complete bullshit. From a business perspective, no specific function or department owns social media: Not marketing, not PR, not customer service, not digital. Just like the telephone and email – which both also differ from paid mass media in that they allow senders and recipients to communicate with one another – social media plugs into any and every business function with equal ease: Social media belongs on every desk, at every workstation, with an equal measure of risk, opportunity, and perhaps more importantly individual professional responsibility.

From marketing to HR, from digital advertising to billing, social media finds its uses defined by whomever logs on to any of its platforms at any given time. Whether they are doing research, sharing news, linking to a special promotion, live-tweeting a bank robbery from the inside, letting someone know they are running late for an appointment, posting videos of a crime as it is committed, asking for restaurant recommendations, having a religious or political debate, checking into one’s favorite coffee shop, posting photos of their new grandchild, breaking up with a boyfriend, connecting with academics and celebrities, following events you couldn’t attend or recruiting your dream team’s final missing piece, the medium is as pliable as it is versatile: It serves any and all purposes, not just the ones flag-bearers with something to sell would like you to draw your attention to.

The Tyranny of content

Is content really king? The answer depends on whether or not you make a living selling, editing, or monetizing content. Professional bloggers, for example, use “content” to generate revenue: A short but carefully crafted blog post with just the right title, coupled to a solid mailing list and a little SEO savvy, will attract readers. In the short term, more readers = more chances someone will click on an ad or affiliate link. In the long term, more visitors and more clicks = higher valuation for potential advertisers = more potential revenue per click. Is it any surprise then, that so many bloggers-turned-social media experts spend so much time pushing the supremacy of content?

As for media outlets whose entire revenue model is based upon a similar model (advertising), what used to be news has now become mere content as well. Why? Because easily digestible, easily shared content with catchy titles attracts views. Views = revenue. Clicks = revenue. The real product being sold is the advertising. “Content,” which used to be news, valuable insights, art, entertainment, even, is now simply the pull, the bait to the proverbial switch. If you have noticed a progressive weakening in the quality of articles on the web in the past year, it is because much of it has become mere “content:” Filler with which to plug the empty spaces between ads, stuff to make you look, but not think, just interesting enough in the first two seconds to make you click on a link, but not enough to grab you once you are there.

An increasing number of media outlets couldn’t care whether or not their articles are interesting, well written or worthy of their long history of quality, relevance and importance. It’s just the web, after all. Journalists are being replaced by bloggers, many of whom aren’t paid anyway. The web, for many such organizations, isn’t about quality. It is a parallel world in which news and insights have been replaced by mere content: The fast food version of a porterhouse steak. Cheap (and often free) crap people will consume with a breadth and velocity not compatible with quality. More and faster keep the wheels turning. Keeping the public interested by an everlasting churn of quickly produced, quickly published bits of content means more opportunities for traffic, unique visitors, time on site and clickthroughs. Capture those eyeballs as fast and as wide as possible. Grow those numbers as quickly as possible. Yipee! Get me more of that link bait/content.

Yes, for that world, content is king.

From tyranny to federation: Curing operational myopia in the social media world

And you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Ethically, it’s fine. Advertisers are happy, content producers and curators are happy, media outlets are happy, and the wheels keep right on turning, at least in the short term. But aside from the social mechanisms of new digital platforms – the shares, likes, retweets and digs that allow people to spread information through their networks – what the hell does any of this really have to do with being social?

Does setting up a discussion group on LinkedIn about a piece of content really stem from a desire to learn something from “the community”? Has Quora really been used to foster dialog by the content producers who used the platform to spread their product’s reach a little further? Or is it all still just another eyeball-capture play? In other words, has “social” simply become a new battlefront for the same old mass marketing it promised to transcend?

I ask this not to indict proponents of the “content is king” philosophy, but to remind you of three things:

  1. Motives drive interest. Not everyone who works with social media is motivated by the same impulses, outcomes and interests. Just like gamers and multi-level marketers don’t view or use the web in the same way, content professionals don’t view or use social media the same was customer service professionals. So take a step back. See the field from beyond their very focused (dare I say specialized) scope. Learn to discern biases so they don’t end up becoming your own.
  2. “Social” means different things to different people. The definition of the term as it applies to online uses (especially once operationalized) transcends the definition of the term as it relates to our lives offline – the definition we have known and understood for centuries. In the same way that a real world friend is not the same as someone you accept as a “friend” on Facebook, being social in the real world is not the same thing as a company being “social” on the twitternets. The familiarity of certain words, now used in a completely different context, can lead us down paths of false assumptions (and sometimes even impossible expectations). If you never assume that your definition of what it is to be “social” is the same definition used by a politician, a celebrity, a blogger, or a major consumer brand, you will be okay. If you make that assumption, get used to being disappointed.
  3. What works works. Social or not, “content” does plug giant holes between advertising banners on a computer screen. It attracts visitors and gives them something to share across their social networks. It is the fodder that motivates “likes” and “shares” and “tweets” and “digs” and “+1’s”. Opinions about what “social” should be or shouldn’t be are irrelevant. There is what works and what doesn’t work.

And since with different objectives come different tactics and activities, allowing for a pragmatic (rather than a philosophical) interpretation of what constitutes good social or bad social activities on the interwebs will give you an edge on the “either/or” crowd. Do what works. If all of it is 100% social and human, great. If it is 99% marketing and only 1% human or social, that’s great too. As long as it yields the right results, nobody really cares.

Do Huffpo and the AP really “engage” with their Twitter followers? No. Does that make their feed on Twitter any less relevant, any less effective, any less valuable? No. Ideally, you want to be as human and social as possible in these new channels. Of course you do. But not everything that happens within social channels needs to be about “engagement” and “conversations.” Broadcasting and messaging work well also. Every company is different. Every community is different. The ratio of push to pull, of monologue to dialogue, of sales to genuine human interactions has to be established by each company, by each Twitter account and Facebook page based on its own needs and circumstances.

In short, the “content is king” crowd has as much of a right to be there as the “customer is king” crowd, or the “engaging in real time is king” crowd, or the “listening is king” crowd. They all just need to understand that there is no king. There is no throne. There is no universal supremacy or hierarchy of purpose in the social space. Content, like engagement, are just two of many pieces on the chessboard. Two small kings in a federation of interwoven kingdoms, none of which can be effective without the other.

The social media salesmen

Every time I run into a so-called social media “expert” whose narrative seeks to counter this simple fact, every time I run into anyone bent on pushing a single element of digital social communications over the others, I know I am dealing with someone with something to sell.

“Content is king” usually comes from a crowd that makes money from content. “Measurement is king” usually comes from a crowd that makes money from measurement. “Engagement and conversations are king” usually comes from… “engagement experts” and “conversation strategists.” (Don’t laugh, these are real terms now.)

Look for the 360° approach. Look for analysis. Look for the professionals who will first audit your business for weaknesses, strengths, risks and opportunities. Look for people who can custom-build a social media integration program for your organization. Look for professionals who understand PR as well as customer service, and IT as well as HR. Look for people who can negotiate internal politics and drive buy-in, not just pontificate about how social business ought to work and how your company ought to change with the times. Look for people who understand that even antisocial company cultures can find a place in the world of social media without faking “being social,” and know how to make that work. Look for people who see the whole field.

Everyone else – the “social media marketing” and “social media content” salesmen – they aren’t selling anything new. Just the same old trinkets that have always been around since long before the internet. Creative has been repackaged as “content.” Editors have been replaced by “content strategists.” Web has been replaced by “social media.” Same stuff, simply repackaged to fit into a new demand pipeline.

Same old pig, new lipstick. Everyone has something to sell. Remember that next time someone tries to sell you on the notion that their little corner of social or digital rules the others.

(To be continued…)

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