Advertising in Web Apps Is So Last Century

First_Horsecar_Run_in_Manchester,_NH

If you look at pictures of public transit systems in the late 1800s, you'll see a lot of horse-drawn streetcars.

Today,
these pictures seem like weird snapshots taken in the middle of an
evolutionary leap — a fleeting intermediary step between the eras of
horse-drawn carriages and self-powered streetcars.

Ads in today's web apps are similarly weird. Web apps are our modern street cars. They're the beginning of something big that will be with us for a while. But just like those horse-drawn street cars, web apps with advertising are flawed with an anachronistic power source. Most advertising on web apps is an inefficient means of matching a buyer and a seller. It's an interruption that's expensive for the advertiser and annoying for the user.

This incongruity struck me as I read Ken Auletta's profile of Google in last week's New Yorker. Google — the company that's done more than any other to launch the era of low-cost web apps — seems set on monetizing its software with advertising, pulling these new streets cars with horses.

Of course, the horses won't last. Google's tools like Reader, Blogger, Gmail and Analytics are part of a foundation of new tools that give businesses an alternative to advertising. Instead of going out and interrupting potential customers, businesses now create content and communities that attract customers. The more businesses use Google's free tools for marketing — the more they attract people via Google Reader and analytics — the less they'll want to pay Google to interrupt people via AdSense.

If you look at young, growing companies you'll see a new approach to revenue evolving. Twitter is adding premium features. Visible Measures charges for access to video analytics. At HubSpot we charge for access to tools that simplify the process of attracting customers.

We're evolving towards a world where companies don't pay for the right to interrupt people, but for the tools they need to attract them.

Evolution happens slowly. There are a lot of people who own horses, a lot people who like horses, and a lot of people who will resist the idea of putting engines in our streetcars.  But it will happen.

Photo: Wikipedia

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A Great Journalism Job — And Why It Won’t Go to a Journalist

At work right now I'm spending most of my time trying to find somebody to fill an amazing job.

I'm looking for somebody to take the HubSpot blog, which we've built from 5,000 subscribers to over 20,000 subscribers in the past year, and make it into a small business media property bigger and more respected than anything else out there.

This would be an amazing opportunity for a journalist. In a world of shrinking headcounts and budgets, this is a utter anomaly. It's an opportunity to build a new type of media company — and to have the full support of an organization with momentum and resources.

But I'll be surprised if we end up hiring a journalist for the job.

I want to, it's just that I'm worried about three basic problems with hiring journalists for marketing content jobs:

(1) Most journalists don't believe businesses can produce high-quality content. The traditional view is that businesses can only produce biased advertorial content. The idea of leaving a news organization to go work at a company like HubSpot is summed up in two words: selling out. Few can get beyond this dogma to see that businesses now have an incentive to produce high-quality content. Or that the hundreds of thousands of people who consume HubSpot's content love it, and are using it to build their businesses and their livelihoods. (I am proud of that.)

(2) Most journalists avoid the business side of publishing.
The news industry tends to keep its business and editorial teams separate. We don't have that distinction at HubSpot. The person we hire to manage our blog needs to be a writer, an editor and a product manager. Most journalists will look at that model and say it's a recipe for biased, low-quality content. In fact, it's one of the few new models of content production that's financially viable. We need a single individual who can churn out thoughtful how-to posts about online marketing — and assess those posts to make sure they're attracting leads for our paid product.

(3) Many journalists don't understand the physics of the web. Because of the extreme division of labor at big news organizations, many journalists don't understand how content moves across the web. They pump their copy into a production line, then go home. They never see how it drives search engine referrals, or travels across the social web. It's impossible to build a media company today without a deep, intuitive understanding of these forces.

Of course, these are generalizations. I know plenty of journalists who display one or more of these qualities. But as a hiring manager (and a former journalist) with one chance to hire the right person, I'm wary of somebody with a background in news.

Of course, I'd love for somebody to prove me wrong. I'd love for some great writer and story teller who's had it with the news business, to embrace the approach to content we're taking, wrap his or her head around the business of content and develop an intuition for the viral nature of the web.

Maybe that's you?

More Data About Your Audience? I Know! Better-Targeted Advertising!

Two reactions to this week's announcement that geodata will soon be attached to tweets:

Department of Stale Media Models: "Biz touts the “cool” factor of being able to read tweets from people in your city or neighborhood to stay updated during an event like an earthquake (or even a cool concert), but the potential for geotargeted ads instantly comes to mind." (PaidContent.org)

Department of Technology & Business Improving People's Lives:
"A small business on Twitter could potentially use the location feature to reach out to local customers, or a Twitter user hungry for pizza could search for nearby pizza joints offering specials, for example." (NYTimes.com Bits Blog)

Let me think. As a consumer, do I prefer the restaurant that blasts my Twitter account with ads because I happen to be in the neighborhood? Or the one that reaches out to me with a personal message when I ask Twitter a question?

Hiring an Inbound Marketer? Here’s What You Should Look For.

One of the challenges of building a company in a new market is figuring out what type of employees to hire.

If
you're Children's Hospital in Boston, you know you
want to hire the best pediatricians you can find; if
you're the HubSpot marketing team, developing a new approach to
marketing, it's not clear who you want on your team.

Earlier
this year David Meerman Scott pointed out that journalists could be
great inbound marketers
. I think that's absolutely true. But journalists and
employers have to be careful about these types of hires. Inbound
marketing
requires qualities that not all journalist have.

Specifically,
after a year of interviewing people at HubSpot, I think there are six
key qualities that inbound marketers should look for new in hires. Journalist can develop these skills, but they do not by definition have them:

(1)
Digital Intuition
— You need to understand how the web works. The web
is an ecosystem, and if you don't intuitively understand the dynamics
of this ecosystem — how Twitter can drive traffic to a blog; the
kinds of headlines that attract attention; the simple things you can do
to build blog subscriptions — you won't be able to help your company
attract online visitors.

(2) Propensity to Create Content — Do
you share links? Do you publish photos? Do you have a website? A blog?
Do you favorite videos? Companies today must do all of this. If you
don't create this kind of content naturally on your own, you won't have the
skills and experience needed to do it well for your company.

(3)
Content Talent
— It's great if you have good intuition and a
propensity to create content; it's even better if you're good at it — if
you write like Hemingway, if you shoot film like Scorsese. Great content
stands out on the web, spreads quickly and attracts people to your
site.

(4) A Salesy, Social Streak — The best inbound marketers
promote their own content. They build and nurture relationships, and
they know how to use these relationships to spread their own content, without abusing them.

(5)
Understanding & Acceptance of Content's Place
— This is the one
where most journalists come up short. For businesses, content is a means to an end, not
an end in and of itself. Every article, tweet and video is
assessed based on its ability to generate visitors, leads and customers, not
on any subjective judgment of content quality.

(6) All That Is Important in Any Other Job
— Passion, raw intelligence, creativity, leadership, toughness and work ethic.

If you're an inbound marketer thinking of hiring a journalist (or any
other type of candidate), you should consider these qualities. If you're
a journalist looking for an inbound marketing job, you should
understand that these are the skills required for success.

News Is a Part of My Life, But Not as a Profession

Earlier this week somebody I respect asked if I ever thought about
getting back into the news business — trying to build Faneuil Media
again.

The answer is unequivocally, no.

HubSpot is an extremely rewarding place to work; we are building something important, and it is filled with people I learn from.

Beyond
HubSpot, there's a more fundamental reason I don't plan to go back to
the news business: Today journalism is less a career path, and more
something people just do. I was a photojournalist last night when I
took pictures of the fireworks.  I was a trade journalist this morning
when I posted video of a talk I gave last month.
I was an editor yesterday when I linked to the Kremlin's video blog.

I got into the news business because I love to create content and
help spread information. I can do that with my iPhone and my blog now,
so there's no need to endure the spiritual and financial pain of work
in a shrinking industry.

As Magdalena Georgieva, one of our many fantastic summer interns at
HubSpot
, put it in her job interview this spring, "news is always
something that will be a part of my life, but not as a profession."

Same for me.

My Talk on Inbound Marketing in Appleton, WI

Last month the fantastic folks at Red Shoes PR in Appleton, WI, invited me out to participate in their seminar, Bottom Line: Social Media for Business. I had a great time, and enjoyed meeting everybody out there. (There's more on the event from a local tv station here.)

Here's a recording of the talk I gave, broken into two videos. (Special thanks to Ross LaRocco for sending me the files.)

Part I

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYGOwBaY6QM%5D

Part II

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYGOxGGY6QM%5D

Clambering on Board The Times?

This is a super video, and I'm optimistic about The Times' future, but one comment gives me the creeps.

Explaining his paper's current situation, Bill Keller says, "It's always
been one of the higher aspirations in the business to work for The New
York Times. Nowadays we're a little bit like the last ship afloat, so,
you know, we have all these life boats floating around underneath us
and people dying to clamber on board."

No, no, no!

People are not trying to clamber on board. They're not
looking for an institution to save them. They're busy building their
own boats, creating great content, solving problems and building small businesses on their own,
independently.

(Here's the link to the video above for international folks who can't view Hulu.)