$1 billion for Instagram was a bargain

There’s been a great deal of controversy about Facebook’s purchase of photo sharing site Instagram for $1 billion. As always, people are heralding it as a harbinger of a new social media bubble.

How can a site like Instagram possibly be worth that much, and how can it add to Facebook’s share value? But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How much is the future worth?”

Facebook is in the same league with Google and Apple as a company that transcends commerce and is defining how we live digitally. Steve Jobs didn’t make decisions based solely on immediate gain, as anyone who has read his biography knows. And I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is making decisions based on share price. (I don’t claim to know anything more about him than anyone else who saw that movie, but I bet they have some interesting board meetings.)

Instagram has changed the way people share and engage around photos, and has brought together photography and mobile in a way that nothing else has. I’ve waited patiently for a good Flickr app for the iPhone. I finally got it with Instagram. I would go so far as to say Instagram is helping define a new visual paradigm for communication.

Facebook has so much money, that, like Google and Apple, they can afford to spend it on buying things that make sense, that are cool, that work, that define the future. Whatever Facebook does with Instagram, they own it now, and no one else will. In Zuckerberg’s mind, I’m sure that sounds like a bargain.

Now, when will Amazon buy Pinterest, and for how much? 2 billion?

What I want in a blogging platform

I’ve had a self-hosted WordPress blog at dbthomas.com for several years, because I wanted to have control over my content for the long haul, and because, frankly, I thought as someone working in social media, it imparts at least a little bit of geek cred.

These days I find myself using Facebook more than anything, along with a new fascination with Pinterest and a lingering obsession with Instagram. I also find myself coming across a lot of excellent and interesting Tumblr blogs. In fact, when I designed this blog on the Thesis framework, I intentionally wanted it to have attributes of a Tumblr blog. I wanted to be able to post quick photos and thoughts, and share images and videos.

I suppose I could do that, but I seldom do, except for the Daddyblog posts. It just occurred to me this morning what’s missing:

When I go to a Tumblr blog or a Pinterest board or an Instagram photo, I see items that people have shared from other sources, and shared items from people in that network I haven’t yet discovered. Often that leads me to those places and those people, and I find a new source I want to follow. When I do that, those new sources show up, for instance, in my Pinterest or Instagram feed.

That doesn’t happen for me anymore with blogs, because I just don’t get any pleasure out of using Google Reader. I have a lot of blogs loaded into Flipboard, but I don’t read them as much as I used to.

I want a blogging platform that is:

1. As easy to post to (desktop or mobile) as Facebook.

2. As easy to follow people (and be followed) as Twitter.

3. A good bookmarklet and mobile app that makes it quick and easy to grab and share images from the web and photos I’ve taken.

4. Allows for serendipity.

5. Treats images as well as Pinterest does.

6. Allows me to share posts directly to Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. (I know Facebook doesn’t want me to do that.) And not a plug-in that does those things; I want to be able to pick and choose. That’s a check box in Instagram that asks where you want to share your photos, why can’t it be one in a blogging platform?

7. Let’s me easily export my content, or maybe archive it to this blog. Or something. I still have a hard time getting over the idea that any platform I pick other than this one is likely to be gone in five years.

What do you suggest (other than medication for OCD)?

How to survive as a marketing or communications professional in 2012

I’m a little frustrated right now. Over the last several years, quite a few people have asked me for advice about getting into social media. Some of them are good friends, and a lot of them are people with a professional communications or marketing background.

My advice has been the same for the last several years: if you’re a professional communicator or marketer, you must understand and use social media if you want to stay relevant in your profession. Some of them have heeded that advice. Some of them haven’t.

And that’s fine. I have no problem with people ignoring my advice. I am far from always right. Just take a look at my resume. Or ask The Mrs.

Here’s why I’m frustrated: if some of those people had taken my advice when I gave it to them, I would be hiring them right now. I need to find smart, resourceful people who understand the enterprise business world, and also understand how social media fits into it. Those people are few and far between, and the really good ones have really good jobs.

The people I’m thinking of as I write this post have all of the requisite skills I need, except for experience in social media, which they could have developed on their own in the time since I first gave them that advice.

You don’t need to be doing social media as part of your job in order to build your own understanding of how companies use social media, and in the process make yourself more valuable as an employee. There are dozens of webinars, blogs, e-books and podcasts—free and paid—to help you learn more about enterprise social media.

When I am evaluating a potential hire for my team, I am willing to except a lack of professional social media experience if they can show me a well-written blog, a well developed LinkedIn profile with recommendations, and an active Twitter presence that addresses business issues. If you can show me that you understand business and know how to engage with people and to write, I know I can teach you the rest of it.

So here are my recommendations for any communications professional who wants to stay relevant:

1. Start a blog

Start a blog on WordPress.com and write about the industry you’re in or want to be in. I’ve said this before, but if you can show me a blog post that I wish you had written on our company blog, that carries more weight than all the superlatives you can cram into a static resume. I hired somebody this year in part because she had already written an informative, well-written post targeted at the audience I need to reach. I didn’t need to wonder if she could do the work; she had already done it.

2. Build your LinkedIn presence

Build up your LinkedIn profile with people in the industry you want to be active in. Get recommendations. Get active in the LinkedIn groups that discuss your field, and show me how you’ve added value in those groups.

3. Develop your Twitter, Facebook and Google+ presence

I don’t need to see 5,000 followers. I need to see you understand how businesses are using these networks to meet their bottom-line objectives. You can show me that by showing how you are using these networks to meet your career objectives. Then I’ll know you can do it once you’re hired.

4. Show a sense of wonder and curiosity

The people who are the most successful and interesting in social media are the ones who just know, without someone having to prove it to them, how cool this stuff is. They knew it the moment they first saw Facebook, or an iPhone, or Twitter. They hate the idea of being left behind. We are in the midst of a revolution, and I want to work with people who know that and are excited to be part of it.

If building your personal networks feels like a chore, either you’re in the wrong business or you haven’t dug in enough to see the real excitement, wonder and value.

Sure, go ahead and question if you really need to be on Google+. But get on it anyway and see what it’s like. No, you don’t have to be on every network. But the people who feel a tingle when they hear about a new network and think, “I really need to get on there before someone grabs my username,” are the people with the attitude I value most.

I know it’s a tough job market out there. I know there are a lot of smart, capable people who are unemployed, underemployed or in jobs that are going nowhere. Social media is not going away. Don’t limit your opportunities by leaving yourself behind.

Why Google+ will replace ice cream

The Boy eating ice cream with two spoonsDisclosure: Post title is fatuous linkbait.

I was on vacation last week when Google+ happened. I kept my email inbox in pretty good shape when I was away, but when I returned I felt like I was a week behind on creating circles and +1’ing and learning all the new stuff. Some folks dove in head first. Chris Brogan, for instance, is all over Google+ and has even replaced his Facebook icon with a Google+ logo with the phrase, “I have moved,” and unless I’m missing something, he’s shut down his personal Facebook wall. He really has moved.

I’ve seen lots of useful how-to articles, and lots of posts from people pondering the significance of Google+ for social media in general, business in particular and, inevitably, whether or not Google+ will replace Facebook. That’s a big, thorny question. So I’m going to ignore it.

I’ve joined quite a few new social networks over the last decade and a half, starting with a (pre-WWW) forum on the old Delphi network (a competitor of AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe) called “The UK American Connection.” It consisted mostly of Yanks asking Brits questions like, “I watched Cracker last night. What the hell does ‘naff’ mean?”

I joined Friendster just in time for my girlfriend (now The Mrs) to tell me it was dead. I joined Twitter in May of 2008. I still remember the first person who followed me (former colleague Jeff Batte), and pondering my next follower, an American journalist living in Germany. I spent hours trying to work out how I knew him and why he would follow me.

My point, if there is one, is that I have yet to see a new social network take off as quickly as Google+. I’m sure there are statistics that either support or refute that, but for me it seems that my nerd friends (and I have created a circle for you called “Nerds”) are taking to Google+ extremely quickly. (Cynical Girl and Pixie of the Apocalypse Laurie Ruettimann linked on Facebook earlier today to a Mashable post that said Google+ was about to hit 10 million users, so as you can see, I’ve done my research.)

It takes me a while to work out how I feel about a new network or online tool, and I’m the kind of person the slow, dull-witted “how to” videos were created for. Unlike Brogan, who within minutes had written a post outlining 50 ways Google+ could be used, I have to be shown it, and shown it again. And again. Then I will become a violent convert.

So far I think Google+ has tremendous potential to unite messaging, photo sharing, video calling, chat, document sharing and other features. This may be the locus that brings the value of Google’s various services and applications into one place. But here’s why I think it’s gotten so popular so fast:

This morning I was flipping back and forth between Facebook and Google+. I have lots of good friends on Facebook, but also a lot of people I’ve accepted as friends who I don’t actually know, or know very well. I accepted some of those out of politeness, and I haven’t taken the time to hide or unfriend the people or companies who clutter up my stream. I scroll for a while before I come to an update from someone I really want to keep in touch with, or something I really want to read.

My Google+ stream, on the other hand, has been filled with interesting posts and long, enjoyable comment-thread discussions with clever people. It feels the way I’ve heard other people describe the early days of Twitter. Everyone I’ve added to my circles so far is someone who I know personally or have built an online relationship with.

So maybe we like Google+ so far because we haven’t cluttered it up yet, and because it’s easier to keep tidy? Time will tell. Just like Twitter, it will be months (years?) before we know the real value.

Should you join now? You don’t have to (and Doug Haslam has posted a cogent argument in favor of Google+ patience), but so far it’s fun. And if you’re a marketer or communicator, I suspect it will become mandatory before too long. Google’s previous attempts at social networking (Orkut, Buzz, Wave) didn’t take off, but Google+ is so much more than even the sum of all three.

image by me

If I love buying local so much, why do I buy so much from Amazon?

I am a huge fan of buying local. I got a warm glow at a coffee shop this morning when I saw the list of their local sources of ingredients. I pay more money for locally-made items because I want those businesses to succeed and stay in my community. Heck, I buy soap from Piedmont Biofuels. I know it’s a by product of something or other and I don’t really care, because it’s local.

But today I’m trying to buy a chair for my new home office. I did a Google search for furniture stores in my town and got a more-or-less useless mishmash of results. Only one of the stores I had in mind showed up on the first page of results, and it doesn’t appear to have a website.

Then I searched for a store by name. Its site won’t open. I followed the link to its Facebook page, but that has no useful information.

Ten years ago, I would have spent the day driving around to furniture stores. I don’t have that kind of time anymore, and I don’t think The Boy would enjoy it very much. (Or he would enjoy it too much: “Cool! A hundred beds to jump on!”)

Local merchants, I love you and I want to buy from you, even if you cost a little more. Please, make it easy for me. Before I come to your store, I want to look at your website. And I don’t just want stock photos and your hours. It would be nice to know what brands you carry, but I also want to know what your prices are and if you have what I want in stock. Before I get in the car, I want to know there’s at least a reasonable chance I’m going to come home with what I want.

If I can’t get that, why wouldn’t I just order it from Amazon?

Image by me

The day I stopped defending Facebook

Facebook, as you know, has gotten a lot of grief in the past for the way it treats users’ privacy. Seemingly every few months, they make some change that has users up in arms because more of their information is exposed.

I understand why people get upset, but at the same time, most people who use Facebook every day don’t take the time to learn how it works under the hood, even when there are hundreds of posts online that explain in simple terms how to manage your privacy settings. If you opt in to use a free service that provides a lot of value to you, is it too much to ask that you put in a little effort to understand it?

That attitude went out the window today, thanks to the new Facebook Groups feature. This article in PCWorld does a good job of laying out the problem (and the prank Michael Arrington of TechCrunch pulled on Mark Zuckerberg that clearly shows one of the fatal flaws). Essentially, anyone can create a Facebook Group and add anyone else to the group. You then start getting emails any time anyone posts to the group. If you don’t want that, you have to go and opt out.

Someone I know, although not very well, added me to a group this morning. By mid-afternoon, my inbox had more than ten emails telling me that other people had posted in the group. Who do you know who is eager to get more email, especially without their knowledge and possibly against their will?

Yes, I can go in and turn it off, and I did. And just like everything else with Facebook, it took me a long time to find that control, and I’m not entirely sure it did what I think it was supposed to do.

And if you go to that group’s page, I’m listed as one of the members, even though I didn’t actually join it. So, as we saw from the Arrington – Zuckerberg prank, I could go create a group called “Kitten-Hating Devil Worshippers Against Springtime” and add you to it. You’d show up as a member, and get an email whenever another member posted about how the sight of a flower in bloom makes them want to punch a tabby.

(If you now feel you need to go and create that group and add me to it, I’ll understand.)

Imagine what this has been like for the big name social media folks. I wonder how many groups Chris Brogan, Scott Stratten, Amber Naslund, David Armano, Brian Solis et al have been added to?

I wrote a while ago that Facebook needed a business board of advisors to help it make better decisions about its functions that affect the way Facebook is used by companies. I still think that’s a good idea.

But now I think they just need some people with common sense.