Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why I'm Giving My Content Away to Social Media Informer for Free

You don't need me to tell you how valuable content is. After all, how many times have you heard the saying, "content is king?" So if content is so valuable, why on earth would someone give their content away for free? I'll tell you who... me. And Chris Brogan. And Simon Mainwaring. And Dave Fleet (along with another 40+ bloggers), that's who. We're all doing it on the Social Media Informer (billed as the "best social media content for business"). The reason? For me it was twofold:
  1. Distribution - On average, I get somewhere around 4,000 unique visitors/month (plus another 4,000 or so that read my blog via RSS). While that's not a bad number, why not add several thousand new eyeballs?
  2. Influence by association - Being included in the company of lots of other smart, well-respected people doesn't hurt my (or my company's) reputation. Quite frankly, I learned this lesson a few years back when I started podcasting and so far, it's worked!
What I like is that this model ends up being a win-win all the way around. The Social Media Informer gets great content. This enables them to find sponsors to help pay the bills. The bloggers get distribution and additional legitimacy. The readers get curation in the form of hand-picked content creators and business practitioners that they may not have found on their own.

Is there a lesson here for small and big business? You betcha. It's the concept of reaching out to their partners, customers and employees to create informative videos, podcasts, blog posts and tutorials. Yes, in some cases paying these folks wouldn't hurt. But if your company can offer legitimacy and distribution to key stakeholders in exchange for great content, what's not to like?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Samsung Encourages You to Join the Conversation

Apologies to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe, for borrowing the title of his second book, Join the Conversation [LINK], but in this instance, I just couldn't resist. The "conversation" I'm referring to is one that consumer electronics giant, Samsung, is their asking their customers to "join" at the bottom of their home page.

At first blush, you might laugh and remind me that many brands these days are asking their customers to "join THEIR conversation" on Facebook, Twitter and the like. However, not so fast. In Samsung's case, they are taking a clever and unorthodox approach to engaging with their customers. Let's call it "reverse influencer outreach" where instead of asking bloggers like myself to reach Samsung's customers (and prospective customers) via my Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts, they instead are asking their customers to reach out to folks like me, Brian Solis, Mario Sundar and others. And instead of talking about Samsung's products, we're talking about the lifestyles that wrap around those products. Or in my case, more conversational topics like, "If you could write a best-selling book, what would it be about?"

Wait a second? Why would a Fortune500 company like Samsung who enjoys millions of visits a day to its website waste valuable real estate on frivolous conversation? Rather than speculate about why, I asked Samsung's Social Media Manager, Esteban Contreras (the person that invited me to participate in this program) a couple of questions about the program. Here are his verbatim responses:

[Aaron] What was the impetus for your innovative approach?

[Esteban] Samsung's strategy going into this exciting project was focused on creating an online environment that further engages with our consumers. We wanted to develop a customer-centric and socially relevant site that enhanced the overall brand experience.

Our new site provides opportunities for people to engage with us and with each other. From social elements on the homepage and “like” buttons on product pages, to consumer comments, reviews and Q and As.

[Aaron] Some people might say this is a waste of valuable space on Samsung US's home page (I think it's brilliant). What would you say to those detractors?

[Esteban] We are living in a world where consumers expect and deserve more. Being customer-centric means offering an authentic and human experience. That’s why you see photos of real people on our site and an easier experience to find some of our employees and official accounts on Twitter. It’s also why we’ve provided an area for our visitors to engage not only with us, but also with others that have similar interests.

The web has become a social web and all we’ve done is bring a small part of it unto our site. We believe that giving some of our valuable digital space to our customers is important because they are the number one reason why we love doing what we do. Our customers mean everything to us.

While the "join the conversation" program is too new to measure impact, I can tell you anecdotally that I've received a couple of dozen responses (and anticipate receiving hundreds more). More importantly, I can't help but think that Samsung's customers will appreciate the fact that a big brand is taking a few minutes out of the day to get to know it's customers better (all of the inquiries come through as hash-tagged tweets with #samsung in the "@" replies I receive so Samsung can measure the traffic). Even smarter, Samsung is outsourcing the responses to subject matter experts versus tackling them all themselves -- okay, I may not be a SME in book writing but I have supported the marketing/social campaigns around three colleagues' books to date (We Are Smarter than Me, Flip the Funnel and now microMarketing).

What do you think of Samsungs' approach? Is it worth the real estate they are using on their home page? Should Samsung themselves be getting more involved in the conversation? Or are they just being a good host, handing conversations off to the "experts" and then keeping an eye on what transpires?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facebook Fan: $136.38? $3.60 or $0.00?

I've had this post in my head for a while. And given the fact that many of my Twitter friends were complaining about Facebook being down yesterday, I figured that this was as good a time as any to write this post about the value of a fan on Facebook.

Judy Shapiro of AdAge did a nice job this summer of summarizing the findings from two independent studies conducted by Syncapse and Vitrue (more on those in a minute). And my friend, Augie Ray who is a senior analyst over at Forrester has written a blog post about this. His assertion is that a fan is worth zero. It's a conversation with Augie about this topic that was the original impetus for this post. And believe it or not I completely agree with him.

Before my fellow marketers decide to take me out back and shoot me, I should probably offer a little additional information. First, I don't really believe that a Facebook fan is worth $0. And neither does Augie. In fact, it's what the fan can do for the brand that actually makes them valuable. Without getting into all sorts of facts, figures and methodologies, let me paint a picture for you.

I'm a huge Starbucks addict. My wife and I both drink one of their iced venti Americano's at least five times a week. Maybe more. Up until recently, both of us were mayors of two different Starbucks on FourSquare (I no longer own mine) so every time we go to the store, we let our social networks know we're there. In fact, if you asked a number of my friends what my drink of choice was, they'd be able to answer without even thinking about it. BUT... I'm already a fan of theirs whether I've "liked" them on Starbucks or not. And yes, there is an outside chance I would buy more stuff from them if they gave me additional offers. But probably not.

Iced venti Americano
So I am a valuable customer. And I buy a lot of coffee from them every year. But I don't by more coffee from them because I "like" them on Facebook. This is the fundamental "chicken and egg" problem I have with Syncapse's methodology that pegs a fan at an average worth of $136.38/fan. I'm not valuable because I spend more money with Starbucks (my Facebook fandom is a by-product of my passion for the brand). However, I think I am worth something to them because of my network i.e. 1,700 people that I'm connected to on Facebook and 14,000 on Twitter and my blog. Especially when you consider that a lot of the people I'm connected to are like me... they too have big networks.

The tricky part is, it's hard to put a price tag on what I or my fellow enthusiasts are worth because it all depends on how good a job the "brand" does to activate us and ultimately get us to amplify their message (or share our own versions of their message). Some sites like Atlantis Resorts (a Powered client) has done a nice job of activating their customers and the results are not only a steady growth of fans but a CEO that is now such a believer in social media that he is blogging about it on USA Today. Others like Expedia (a natural for social media) has a mere 12,853 fans (only 11K+ more than yours truly) and very little engagement on their wall. Right now, Expedia isn't working particularly hard to engage or activate it's enthusiasts. Instead, it's more focused on a broadcast strategy... one that has obviously impacted their fan acquisition.

In the spirit of being prescriptive, here are a few suggestions on what companies SHOULD do to engage and ultimately activate their enthusiasts:

  • Post educational content vs. informercials. This means teach people how to scrapbook or how to take better pictures instead of telling them how great your products are.
  • Run fun contests. Black Star Beer did a fabulous job of this by giving away a dream vacation that focused on experiences versus cash value. Even I signed up for this and I NEVER sign up for sweepstakes.
  • Ask people for suggestions. My wife's company, GenConnect, did this and they got some amazing responses on their wall.
  • Have some fun! When Dunkin' Donuts is NOT allowing soft core pornos to post on it's wall, they are actually doing an amazing job getting their customers involved in submitting ideas for their dream donut and submitting photos that might get them recognized as the fan of the week on DD's Facebook fan page.
How about you? What are you worth? And are the brands that you love tapping into your full potential?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Geo Location Matters and Why You Should Attend Geo M

Cross-posted from (with permission)

October 4-8, MITX presents Future M week in Boston. On October 4th, brands, marketers, technologists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, students and business people and will gather in Cambridge at the Microsoft NERD to talk about the future of geo location and the future of geo marketing. Yes. This is a promotional post for an event that my company, Allen & Gerritsen is planning, but since you have read this far, I think you will find the content helpful in making a decision as to whether or not you should attend. For the record, I think you should, particularly if you are a B2C brand or working in the B2C space.

Making Money with Location

Everyone needs to be able to make money to be able to be a going-concern. In this panel,Jason Keath of Social Fresh leads a discussion that will look at revenue streams and service models that make sense. We’ll talk to two platforms that started with revenue models. David Chang will represent and Wayne Sutton will talk about Triout’s model. We also have Josh Karpf of mega-brand PepsiCo who can tell us about how applications like Pepsi Loot are important to their marketing and revenue stream. Jason Keath is not known for shyness, so I expect he will pose the tough questions and drive panelists toward talking about useful models and cases that drive business results.
Picture 9

Data and Loyalty

Why does it matter? Location is an important component in doing what every brand would like to do – provide a relevant message to its audience at a time when the receiver is ready to hear and act on the message. Everyone would like a reduction of noise and an increase in overall signal. The future of marketing is not casting a wide net, rather brands conitinue to hone their communications and become trusted companions that better the lives of those who need them. In order for this to happen the way we all would like it to happen, brands need access to data and they need to be willing to give something in return to receive.
Picture 25
In the panel entitled “Data and Loyalty”, Melissa Parrish of Forrester leads a discussion with 2 of the industry’s top thought leaders on LBS, Aaron Strout of Powered Inc and Simon Salt of Incslingers. They have not only been vocal about the space, but built solutions that incorporate their thinking. With the focus of this panel being data, we are elated to have the founder ofSimpleGeoMatt Galligan coming out to talk about how their database / backbone aligns the ecosystem by eliminating the disparity across platforms thereby making near limitless applications possibilities – possible.
Picture 11

The Future of Geo

The day culminates in a visit from 3 of the top LBS platforms on the market. In the last panel we will talk to three heads of LBS technology shops and give them the opportunity not only to talk about their current plans for word domination, but about how they see the industry evolving. Jeff Holden of Whrrl, Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR and Dennis Crowley of Foursquare, three very different location based platforms, will be asked to talk about why location is important today and what it means in the grand scheme and how it becomes increasingly useful for everyone. The end game needs to be a win for brands, consumers and for platforms and currently the fog-of-new is still very prevalent. Each company has a story to tell about engagement with the consumer, rewards, loyalty and relevant content.
This conversation will be 90 minutes so there will be plenty of time to get deep on the topic and to get the crowd involved. I’ll be moderating and as I prepare, would love to get your thoughts on some of the things you would like to hear about from these 3 gurus. Just leave a comment.

How Much?

$130 per person. Beam Interactive thinker and disruptor, Graham Nelson tweeted about the charge and I think this is the proper forum to address the question. We want to be able to provide snacks and libation to our audience and record the event while covering some of our costs. As you well know, it takes a lot of time and effort to plan an event of this size (and it’s nothing compared to the entire Future M event, kudos to MITX!). The point of this session is to provide an atmosphere to push the conversation to the next level. As one of the missions ofFuture M, the parent conference, is to promote innovation in Boston, we are currently talking to MIT about donating any profits to an innovation scholarship.
Picture 6

Where’s Gowalla?

Because some of you have asked: Where’s Gowalla? Brightkite and Gowalla both expressed regret for being unable to attend. Facebook is still a non-responder.

See You There!

Come out for a day of discussion filled with a balance of best practices, ideas, innovation and though leadership.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Next Big Thing? Lot's of Little Things.

Cross-posted on The Engaged Conumer

If you haven't met our VP of strategy here at Powered, Greg Verdino, you should try and remedy that soon. He's a smart guy who brings a healthy dose of wit and snide to any channel you connect with him in. He's also just written a book. A really good book I might add. One that is made better by NOT being about social media. Well, it includes many references to social media tools and examples... but the book itself is about marketing. MicroMarketing. If you're wondering what that is, you came to the right place to find out.

microMarketing FTW!
Before I talk about what microMarketing is, I want to go back and provide a little context for this post. In helping my friend and colleague, Greg, get the word out about his new book, Mr. Verdino and I decided that rather than just send the book out to a bunch of influential folks and ask them to write about it, we'd ask them to cover a single chapter. I'm not in any way criticizing the traditional approach but in the spirit of "micro" we realized that shorter might be better. The roster of people that have agreed to speak is pretty awesome. I've included the names/dates/chapters they are covering and a link to their blogs below. As their write ups go live, I'll swap out the generic blog links to those that point at the actual chapter posts:

Monday Sept. 20 - Chapter 1
Tuesday Sept. 21 - Chapter 2
Wednesday Sept. 22 - Chapter 3
Thursday Sept. 23 - Chapter 4
Friday Sept. 24 - Chapter 5
Monday Sept. 27 - Chapter 6
Tuesday Sept. 28 - Chapter 7
Wednesday Sept. 29 - Chapter 8
Thursday Sept. 30 - Chapter 9
Getting back to "what is microMarketing," the title of the initial chapter of the book, "The Next Big Thing is Lots and Lots of Small Things," does a nice job as summarizing the entire book. To that end, chapter one does a nice job setting the stage for the rest of the book by offering up examples of how the world is shifting from a mass to micro focus. With examples like "Sasquatch Dancing Man," the Iranian election coverage by citizen journalists and Ashton Kutcher's unlikely victory over CNN in a race to one million Twitter followers, the book demonstrates the loss of control by the mainstream media and in some cases, the government, over we, the consumer's, time and attention.

If one were to summarize the entire book into it's bare essence, this illustrative chart on page 21 pretty much says it all:

Chart: Seven Shifts from Mass to micro (p. 21 of microMarketing)

As a marketer or someone running a business big or small, it's these types of prescriptive recommendations that make microMarketing so useful. When you take a quick look at the success of a site like Facebook with it's 500 million members who share over 30 billion pieces of content each month, it's not hard to understand that there is a new sheriff in town and his name is NOT "mainstream media".

I promise that I won't ruin the rest of the book for you. And while the reviews that you'll get from my fellow bloggers over the next two weeks will be useful aids in understanding the new phenomena that Verdino writes about, it's certainly no substitute for all of the useful examples and suggestions in the book itself. In fact, if you're in the New York City area on September 27th, there's a great seminar (I'll be leading a panel with some of the folks mentioned in the book). You can also meet Greg and get your own signed copy of the book which comes with the price of admission.

If you've already read the book and have thoughts on Chapter 1 that I haven't covered here (I've yadda yadda-ed over a lot), feel free to include them in the comments.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking at the Future: Onstar's Live On

It's an OnStar kinda night at Stubbs -- Austin, TX
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a fabulous event at Stubb's BBQ here in Austin. The host of the party was OnStar (a Powered client) and the purpose of the shin dig was to announce OnStar's latest and greatest in mobile technology called Live On. Without getting into too much of a marketing pitch, the crux of what VP of Planning and business development at OnStar, Nick Pudar, walked us last night through focused on these four areas:
  1. Innovative technology
  2. 9th generation hardware
  3. Enhanced safety features
  4. New marketing campaign
Rewinding a little bit, I had a chance to try out some of OnStar's technology a few months back when my colleague, Joe Jaffe, and I were in Detroit for the Future Midwest conference. Friend and director of social media at GM, Christopher Barger, was kind enough to lend us a Cadillac Escalade. In addition to it being a REALLY sweet ride, it was equipped with OnStar technology. What I loved about the technology (in addition to coveting the ability to remotely unlock my doors) was the fact that everything is done via voice. As someone that is married to their iPhone, I can tell you that I know how dangerous it is to try and text or tweet while driving. I also know how aggravating it is to not be able to enter an address into my GPS en route.

Joseph Jaffe, Powered and Christopher Barger, GM
Back to last night... what I like about OnStar's thinking is that they are working hard to keep drivers safe on a lot of different fronts. Considering the fact that over 6,000 people died last year in texting or other smartphone related accidents -- a number that's destined to go up dramatically -- allowing people to do the thing that they will inevitably do in a safer, smarter fashion makes a ton of sense to me. In fact, OnStar President, Chris Preuss said it best in yesterday's announcement:
Giving our customers control of their vehicles with smart phone application technology is a key advantage of OnStar's in-vehicle connectivity. This technology empowers drivers to make decisions about their travels well before they enter the vehicle,  meaning their full attention can stay where it needs to be – on the road ahead.
To that end, allowing for the ability to use your smartphone's bluetooth capability to to perform text to voice OR using OnStar to be able to update your Facebook status (and listen to recent updates) is huge.

Inside a Chevy giving commands to Facebook via OnStar

The live updates coming from our car as we update from OnStar
On the "room for improvement" side of things, it does take a little doing to coordinate the Facebook updates. And once you do an update, it results in a voice >> text >> automated voice update on Facebook itself. However, this is OnStar's first shot of the gate with this stuff so I imagine that the technology and capabilities will smooth out soon. I'm also envisioning that services like Twitter and location-based applications will be included in subsequent releases of this technology.

One other thing to note is the ability to go to OnStar's site, enter in a location and then send it to your car is VERY cool and something that is a no-brainer. As I noted earlier, I can't even tell you how many times I've gotten into my car, forgotten to enter my destination into the GPS and ended up having to pull over onto the side of the road.

So a big kudos to OnStar last night for pulling off a fun and informative evening (something they replicated across the country). Also, a great big thank you to my friend, Kameya Shows, who was kind enough to invite me to last night's soiree. You can see other pictures from the event over on Flickr.

Simon Salt, Incslingers, Aaron Strout (that's me) and Wayne Sutton, TriOut & OurHashTag

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fail or Fab?

At a minimum, I always try and get up a blog post a week. Sometimes I'm really motivated (and have the time) and manage two or three. Given the fact that I recycled some old material in my post yesterday [transcript from my podcast with Mahalo founder, Jason Calacanis] I felt that it was only right to do at least one semi-original post.

Trust me, this one won't be a real thought provoker... but it does summarize a few of my observations on recent web 2.0 and social launches/enhancements. As always, please feel free to disagree with me or share your thoughts on this week's "Fail or Fab" post in the comments below.
  • FAIL: Apple's new music social network otherwise known as Ping. If you've tried it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. To get more specific:
    • One of the first music recommendations it provided to me was the artist, Cher. Now I'm not offended by this but if you take a look at my library, 95% of it is made of bands like Phoenix, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool and The Exies. Yes, my kids do have a few Adam Lambert songs in there but really? Cher?
    • There is no easy way to connect to my friends. I can hunt and peck for friends by searching for them. OR I can invite them to join Ping via e-mail. Not a good way to make this sticky or to encourage viral.
    • Allowing me to connect with artists or to download the songs on their iPod playlists is just pathetic. Yes, I'm sure there will be a bunch of 13 year old girls that do this (and maybe 50 year old dads going through their midlife crises) but I don't see a ton of people falling for the banana in the tailpipe trick.

  • FAB: Google Instant. Now let's not kid ourselves... this is nothing more than a feature. But it's a damn cool feature. One that anticipates what you're thinking before you think it... and then auto suggests it via your search window. Wait, are there little robots in my computer that are watching my every move?

  • FAB: Facebook's auto-translation pop up when you are on a foreign language page. The two things I like are: one, it's subtle (the recommendation gradually drops down from the menu bar) and two, it recognizes that my language is English and that the page I was not. We need more smart technology like this (visual below).

  • FAIL: Like Twitter, FourSquare has screwed with me more times than I can count... yet I keep coming back for more. Call it blind love. But at least Twitter doesn't have a real competitor. FourSquare does. They need to cut back on the checkin fails... pronto!

  • FAIL: Blogger's new "I'm trying to be like Wordpress" spam filter. While I like how it works, the fact that it notifies you that you've got a comment, if it's flagged the comment as spam, you have no way of finding it unless you remember to go and look in Blogger's special spam inbox. As a result of this new functionality, I made poor Jeff Cutler resubmit his comment twice (and almost a third time) before realizing what was happening. With WordPress, I'm notified every time there is a comment, spam or not. At that point, I can decide what I want to do with that comment by clicking on the link in the e-mail notification.
If you like this format, let me know. Maybe I'll try and do one of these every couple of weeks or so.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interview with Jason Calacanis

Back in my days of working on the "We Are Smarter" project at Shared Insights/Mzinga, I had the opportunity to do a lot of cool podcasts with people like Tim O'Reilly, Michael Arrington and Doc Searls. For some reason, a number of the transcripts that we took from those podcasts that my friend, Bryan Person, cleaned up for me happened to appear in my Google Docs folder. Some of the interviews are fairly dated but in particular, there are a few that were interesting including my podcast with Mahalo founder, Jason Calacanis.

Here is the transcript (as verbatim as Bryan and I could muster)...

Aaron Strout:
I’d like to introduce today’s special guest. I have Jason Calacanis. Jason is the founder and CEO of Mahalo. Jason, we met recently at the Milken Conference, and I follow you on Twitter . You actually follow quite a few folks on Twitter. Thank you for joining us today.

Jason Calacanis:
My pleasure.

Aaron Strout:
So Jason, tell us a little bit about how you got started. I’ve read some of your history, and I know you’ve spent some time at AOL back in the day. You founded Mahalo. Can you talk about sort of your past a little bit and what prompted you to go this direction?

Jason Calacanis:
Sure. Well, I started as a technical person in the pre-Internet days doing local area networks and whatnot, but I won't bore you with all that. I was an IT guy, basically. And then in the early 90s I started getting into the Internet, launched a magazine in ’95-‘96 timeframe about the Internet. It was called Silicon Alley Reporter, and I covered the Internet scene in New York. And that grew really big, and I got to meet all the big CEOs and interviewed them and learned a heck of a lot. And that was great.

Just being a journalist, you should learn a ton. And just sat with CEOs who were building Internet companies, taking them public, etc., people like Mark Cuban or Scott Kurnit from or Jeff Dachis from Razorfish, Sergey [Brin] from Google. I mean, I met all these guys when they had no people or 10 people, 20 people at their companies. So I learned a lot and then wound up selling that company to Dow Jones and starting Weblogs, Inc., which is a blogging company.

And after about 18 months of running that, we sold it to American Online; spent a year at American Online; redid Netscape and made it into a social news site which is called Propeller, which is sort of like Digg but with moderators and more sort of political and news based than tech based.

And then after my year at AOL, I decided I wanted to start a search engine called Mahalo, which is a human-powered search engine. You can go see it at – M-A-H-A-L-O, which is Hawaiian for “thank you.” And we’re just coming up on our one-year anniversary. And we have 4 million people coming to the site every month, and it’s doing really well.

Aaron Strout:
Well, it’s a very cool site, so I would strongly encourage anyone that hasn’t looked at it to check it out. I do have a question about AOL. And not to talk trash at all, but will they make it? They seem to sort of change [inaudible] wind a lot, and most recently bought one of the larger social networks out there. They’ve done a lot to try to reinvent themselves and obviously have been dealt some strange blows. But give me your insider knowledge there. What do you see in the future for them?

Jason Calacanis:
My knowledge isn’t so insider, to be honest. The only thing I can really say about it is the brand, – American Online, the AOL brand – I think will probably not exist for much longer, and that’s just based on an outside view. Which is, they are spending on their advertising into this Platform A business and advertising networks – sort of the flavor of the month or the year.

And so, the rumor has been they're going to spin that out into its own company, and I guess that might be true. So if that is the case, I think what you’ll see is … they’ll be less of a focus on AOL at AOL. It’ll just be Platform A. And so, I don’t know how long the brand will be around, as we know it, which is kind of sad in some ways. But, you know, life goes on. Excite and Lycos don’t exist anymore, and they were part of – AltaVista doesn’t exist anymore; doesn’t exist anymore; eGroups doesn’t exist anymore. A lot of brands go away and it’s sad when a brand goes away, but I would bet the AOL brand won't exist in five years.

Aaron Strout:
To that end, you among several other folks have been vocal about the whole Yahoo!-Microsoft thing, and I believe you Tweeted an update today about some of the latest and greatest. What do you think is going to happen there?

Jason Calacanis:
That’s a crazy situation. I thought for sure that the deal was going to get done, and I think that Jerry Yang and his team did a phenomenal job of scaring Microsoft off. And I don’t know if that was in the best interest of Yahoo! shareholders. I think Yahoo! shareholders are kind of pissed off. So … yeah, it’s not a good situation for Yahoo! Shareholders, and I don’t even know if it’s in the best interest of the Yahoo! management.

One of the things is business is very personal, and I think what they're looking at is – what is there goal? And their goal, in fact, might be not similar to what typical shareholders’ goals are, which is to maximize their return. I think for Jerry Yang it’s very personal. I think he loves Yahoo! and for him, making an extra billion dollars or two billion dollars selling it now versus holding onto it and selling a couple of hundred million dollars worth of stock every couple of years and having an incredible lifestyle and owning his company and running his own show is more important to him.

And so, it’s really just this massive test case in when an individual’s concern is divergent from the shareholders’ concern or some portion of shareholders’ concern. I love Jerry Yang. I think he’s a brilliant guy, and I respect him for being an entrepreneur like this and wanting to do his own thing. You’ve got to respect the shareholders and Microsoft for giving them such a huge payday. So it really is an epic battle.
My guess is there's going to be so many lawsuits and distractions for Yahoo! that the deals gonna wind up getting done. However, Microsoft might just be so pissed off at this point, they might just be like, “You know what? This is not worth the effort. Let’s just go buy 50 companies and get those 50 CEOs in here, try to keep 10 of them. And if we keep 10 of them and they're brilliant, we’ll be fine.”

Aaron Strout:
So, shifting back to you guys. You’ve done an interesting experiment recently where you're looking for a new host and you're doing it – I believe I've read about it and sort of poked my head around a little bit – American Idol style. So, it’s these two concepts of using community to sort of figure out who you talent is gonna be. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jason Calacanis:
Yeah. We started a search for the new host of Mahalo Daily. Mahalo Daily is a video show about Mahalo and about the topics we cover. So they might cover capoeira – which is a Brazilian martial arts show – which is what we did today. They might do something Internety, like cover the guy who sings “Chocolate Rain” and interview him on the show – you know internet phenomenon.

So, it’s a range of topics, from entertainment to technology to lifestyle to how to fly a plan or how to ask a girl – how to flirt, we did one. So, it’s just sort of funny entertainment episodes that then might bring you back to content that you like on Mahalo. And what I would say is – you know, we lost our host. She was commuting down here from San Francisco, and she wanted to work more in video games and technology.

So we had to find a new host. So instead of just picking somebody, we decided we’d let the audience participate and we did an open casting call. We had 75 or 100 people show up; got it down to 20; had them do a read in front of some judges; got from 20 to 12; had the 12 go out and do man-on-the-street kind of interviews; and then we narrowed it down from 12 to 6; and now we have 6 each producing their own episode, and we’re going to let the audience debate it and talk about it. And so – so far, so great. It’s going really well.

Aaron Strout:
Now, what happens if they pick someone that – obviously I don’t think anyone’s going to be a disaster if they’ve gotten this far. But it’s this whole dilemma that a lot of companies that are trying to use these idea catchers, or some sort of –

Jason Calacanis:
Well, I have final veto rights. I’m taking input from everybody. But yeah, there's going to be no Sanjiya [former American Idol contestant] in this formula, or whoever the guy was that was the worst.

Aaron Strout:
That was Sanjiya. I loved the fact –

Jason Calacanis:
Oh, Sanjiya.

Aaron Strout:
Yep, it was Sanjiya. So one of the other reasons why I was really intrigued by doing a podcast with you is during the Milken Institute Conference, where I sat in on your – “this is the new way of doing PR.” You sat in with some other folks that were talking about it. You’re incredibly irreverent, but what I liked about it is that you really sort of rang true and you weren’t saying things that I didn’t necessarily agree with.

And so, one of them was how involved the CEO should be in the day-to-day blogging and Twittering. And I’ve had the privilege today, actually, of talking to two CEOs, one who blogs at a company called EDR and one who Twitters – Tony [Hsieh] at Zappos. Talk a little bit about that and why it’s so important, because I think you made some excellent points when you were delivering your message.

Jason Calacanis:
It’s pretty clear that a CEO of a company – a lot of energy gets focused on that position, for better and worse. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, now [Steve] Balmer. You know the CEO position, a lot of energy gets focused on it. And so what happens is if the CEO is not a public CEO, if they're not out there – when I say “public,” [I mean] not publicly traded but just publicly facing – it’s not good on the company, because they lose that opportunity to have a direct dialogue and discussion with their users.

I always encourage CEOs to Twitter and to have a Facebook page, to have a blog, even a video show and communicate with their audience. If you communicate with your audience, then they're going to, I think, consider your project a lot more. And they're going to think about your project a lot more, and they're going to become mavens and people who really you know promote your product.
And so, if you don’t do it, then another set of things happens, which is … compared to the people who do do it, not only do you miss the opportunity of bonding with these evangelists and getting direct feedback, [but] you also put up the perception that maybe you're scared or maybe you’ve got something to hide or maybe you're a dweeb and you're not cool and you don’t get it.

And so, when you see something like JetBlue had all their problems, you know David Neeleman was on TV immediately talking about, “Yeah, we screwed up. We suck. We’ve got a bill of rights.” Boom. That saved the company, you know? Another type of company could have just bailed on that. Name the CEOs of any other airlines and the only one you're gonna come up with is probably Richard Branson, who owns Virgin, who again, is an ├╝ber available, puts-himself -out-there kind of guy. Now, I don’t know if he blogs, but …

Then you look at Steve Jobs. Not only does he blog, but he has a video show and the video show is called “keynotes.” Every 6 to 12 weeks he has one. And that’s his own TV show and people tune into it. And they go directly to Apple’s website to watch it. He gets millions of people who watch that keynote. I mean he – think about that. It’s an hour-long commercial for his products, and he gets millions of people to watch it now. It’s pretty astounding.

Aaron Strout:
Yeah, if we could all be in that position, it could be nice. So you’ve given us one really important nugget, which is why you're a CEO or at least very senior level positions, really should consider being naked and transparent and out there communicating. Any other words of advice? You’ve certainly lived, breathed community and social media for a while. What else could a company that’s just sort of getting its feet wet? What should they be doing? What should they be thinking about?

Jason Calacanis:
Well, I think that not everybody can just jump into the deep end of the pool. A lot of companies have built up firewalls between themselves and their customers, and what happens, then, is some of the toughest issues in the business are sort of trapped in that firewall. And so, think about what are the three things people hate about you most. You know I know those three things people hate about me most.
I know the 10 things that people hate about our product most. And not only that, I talk about those a lot. So at first glance, it’s like, “You’re talking about why people hate you, and why people hate your product.” Well, you know what? It’s kind of freeing. If you know why they hate you, you can at least deal with it. And so, the things people hate most about Mahalo is when they get to a page and we haven't done it. That’s the worst thing.

And the second worst thing is when they get to a page and we have an error, a mistake, a bad link, or a factual error or something. So knowing that, it’s OK. We have to do a really good job communicating to people that it’s going to take five years to build this product out and it’s not meant to have every single word. And errors, we let them know that we’re human, and it’s your job to tell us when we have an error so that we can make it better. And that’s how Wikipedia was built and other things were built.

Basically, if you're going to jump into this end of the pool, you have to realize – and it’s not really a pool; it’s like jumping off a boat in the middle of the ocean. You know there could be dangerous things in the water and you better deal with them and understand that they’re a dangerous thing. So if you understand that you have this massive hatred toward you and it’s like a giant great white shark, you might not want to jump into the water just yet. You might want to have a cage.

And in this metaphor, the cage might be maybe only have comments show up after you’ve approved them so that you don’t just get slaughtered the second you jump in the water. Or you may want to start by doing a blog that maybe is not about the entire company but an aspect of the company. So the example would be if people were kind of pissed off at Dell because of customer service, I wouldn’t suggest they start a customer service blog as their first blog.

But they could start a blog about gaming machines, and here are the people that work at the gaming center at Dell. Here they are talking about the latest video cards and the gaming computers they're making. And then people get used to it, and the company gets used to it. And then you’ll launch your next blog, and your next blog. And here’s a blog about the HR department and people talking about what it’s like to work at Dell and the HR department talking about what they look for in employees and how great it is to be here and interviewing people in the staff.

So, there are ways to sort of dip your toe and not jump into the middle of the shark pit. And, let me tell you something: The blogosphere and the internet – there’s a lot of sharks out there. And if you try to BS people, you might get slaughtered. And so, a lot of that being on message and controlling the message stuff that PR people do – and they control the press and what the press can ask you during an interview and they can withhold access – that stuff doesn’t exist on the Web, so you're basically going to get your bell rung if you try to enforce those kind of controls.

So you basically have to say, “OK, I’m going to be swimming with sharks; I have to be a shark. If somebody comes up to bite me, I have to be able to bite back. I have to be able to hold my own.” And, you know what? A lot of these CEOs, in terms of communication skills, they’re guppies. They're just going to get slaughtered.

Aaron Strout:
So, I have two final questions for you. Great advice, by the way. You follow a lot of people on Twitter; a lot of people follow you back. I think somewhere in the order of 24,000 or 25,000, the last time I checked. Someone asked me when I mentioned that I was going to be podcasting with you, “Can you ask Jason, does he really – does he listen to all those people; does he follow them? Like if people @ him, is he actually paying attention to it?” So how do you manage that on a day-to-day basis? And how much of an eye do you actually keep on Twitter?

Jason Calacanis:
It’s impossible for me to keep up with everybody who I follow. I follow them just be gracious. If they need to get to me, they actually have to put @jasoncalacanis [now just @Jason on Twitter and Jason does not follow nearly as many folks back]. I do read everything that is @Jason Calacanis, so that makes it really easy. If you need me, message me direct or put it @jasoncalacanis. But I can't possibly follow 24,000 people who are doing – if they were doing just four posts each day, that would be 100,000 posts to read. And if – you know I read –

Aaron Strout:
You’d have to read pretty fast.

Jason Calacanis:
Yeah, that would be 10,000 minutes. That would be impossible. So yeah, I don’t, is the long answer.

Aaron Strout:
Which is totally fair and I think – you know Robert Scoble, who is also in a similar boat to you, has been very open about it, and I think he’s even showed on video his Google Talk and basically the speed with which the Tweets come. I follow somewhere in the 900-1,000 range, and similar back. And I can honestly say anytime I get on Twitter, it’s like I got a new batch of them – that’s even more then I can even take care of.

Final question, and I like to ask everyone this just because I’m trying to get a good collection of who influences the influencers. So obviously, this is not gonna be the case, but if you only had one blog to read for the rest of your life, whose would it be? And why would it be that you’d read that one?

Jason Calacanis:
If I could only read one blog for the rest of my life –

Aaron Strout:
And it would be good if you didn’t say an aggregate. I think Scoble said, “Techmeme.” And I was like, “That doesn’t really count.”

Jason Calacanis:
I’m not gonna game it. I'm going to think only individual. I'm not even going to go like corporate blogs. I'm gong to say only individuals. If we’re making the decision based on business – because this is a really hard question, because you have business and entertainment and things you're passionate about. I could give you things in food; I could give you things in cars; I could give you things in consumer electronics.

Aaron Strout:
We’ll narrow it down to business.

Jason Calacanis:
I’m going to narrow it down to business and business people. I think the three people I get the most value from would be Mark Cuban, Mark Andreessen, and Fred Wilson. I think those three guys – I think for me – give me the most value as business people. You know, Scoble’s great, but he’s not like a business guy. So, he’s got great product insights but I don’t really – it’s not like I’m going to get some major piece of advice out of Scoble. I could see what he’s looking at.

It’s kind of cool to track trends, but Mark Andreessen is a guy who really writes intelligent stuff that I actually learn a lot when I read them. And he’s also really funny. Mark Cuban wears his heart on his sleeve; I read him a lot. And Fred Wilson of EV, who I share a lot of similar DNA and beliefs with – although sometimes we diverge and it’s pretty brutal when we do diverge. But I’m sort of simpatico with him. So I’d say those are my top three. I don’t know if you're going to get me down to one.

Aaron Strout:
That’s cool. And actually, I like the fact that you have those three and they're different then most other folks’ choices. So, I don’t think they –

Jason Calacanis:
You said for me – for me personally – what I get a lot out of.

Aaron Strout:
Well, the beauty is that you're not forced to just read one blog. So if I can give people 50 good blogs of what people like Scoble and Jeremiah Owyang and Shel Israel … a big fan. You know folks like that, then people have sort of a diverse range of what people are reading, what they think, why they like it. So it’s just I find it’s helpful to sort of give people the insight.

Jason, I really appreciate you being with us today. This has been helpful. And folks listening in, I’m talking to Jason Calacanis. Jason is the founder and CEO of Mahalo. Give us the blog where people can find you and maybe talk about –

Jason Calacanis: C-A-L-A-C-A-N-I-S.

Aaron Strout:
Wonderful. Thank you, Jason.

Jason Calacanis:
Awesome. Thanks for having me. Cheers.

A link to the original podcast interview with Jason is here. Image courtesy