Ancient Memes and the Keys to Social Media Success

What makes for a social media success? What critical elements must be in place for the site to come alive? Today I am exploring some ideas I’ve been considering and I’d really appreciate your feedback in the comments below.

Please note, the following thoughts have never been committed to print before and have only been edited lightly – I didn’t want to crush the creative spark that often shows up in such things. So without further ado, here they are:

— Is Technology Key?

The first thing I’m asked about Social Media usually relates to the technology. I ‘get’ this, I understand we think the tool is what makes the solution. It is, and it isn’t. Consider this, if technical wizardry was responsible for social success then why do nerd and geeks seem to have the worst social-life in school? It’s true the nerds built the web and Internet infrastructure, but it was the rest of the world that made it social.

— The Engagement Factor

The site needs to engage the visitor. Actually with the advent of social media sites, we should stop calling people ‘browsers’ or ‘visitors’ because they’re now active participants in the web experience. Social media sites are interactive and include blogs, voting mechanisms, posting features for text, video and audio, message boards, forums, chat groups, and site-wide private messaging to name some common features.

Remember, the key here is not technology, but how the tool is used by the site members. “The best tool is often not the most advanced or cleverest tool. The best tool is the tool that is understood and gets used daily.” This is why email is still the #1 web application.

— Mass and Momentum

There are many “social ghost towns” littering the web, why is this? Each is likely different, however I have noted the successful sites are like engines: they need a spark – an injection of energy – to get them started.

This initial injection of energy is required to create momentum and gain the first critical members which in turn attracts more members and keeps the system growing. It snowballs, and like a snowball it’s fragile and prone to crumbling in the early stages of that fateful first roll.

Ironically, the tool that allows us to forge out and create our own online communities doesn’t allow us to break the laws of human nature. These communities still need to render qualities that ‘real world’ environments provide – if only in a psychological aspect.

Review history, it has the answers to the fate of little communities; they got swept away by marauders and ultimately rolled into bigger cities. Sound familiar?

— Ancient Memes and Mind Viruses

But is that all a successful social media site needs? A group of people and some cool technology – NO. The most important factor is much older and far simpler and lies buried deep within our primitive nature. Success is locked up in something called a meme, or if you prefer a more dramatic image, a “mind virus.”

Richard Dawkins introduced the concept of the “meme” and “memetics” in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ referring to the imitative process whereby humans transmit ideas, values, beliefs, and practices to each other. The memes that catch on are conditioned by repetition and continued by subsequent generations.

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.  Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by a process similar to how an infection spreads – ergo a mind virus.

But why did I mention ancient memes? Simply because I believe the most successful social sites leverage our oldest most ancient memes as well as our newest, and this allows us to embrace these base natures in a socially acceptable and even productive fashion. Consider how many social sites pander to aspects of our natures that as children we were discouraged from participating in: gossiping, time-wasting, forming cliques and more.

I’m not saying social sites succeed because we want to express our darker nature, but those sites that have gained the most momentum have done so by allowing us free rein over our basic human nature.

Something to consider isn’t it?

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Is Your Website a Beautiful “Hotel Nowhere?”

Lately it seems I’ve been explaining to more and more people about Internet Marketing. You see, for some reason, folks think that IM (Internet Marketing) is really all about putting up a great looking website. It’s not – it’s so much more than that.

In fact, although a website is a crucial piece in the online marketing puzzle, you can still beat the best-looking website with great online marketing. And what still surprises me is after all the education, all the articles, all the proof, people still think, “If you build it (better) they will come!”

Sorry to disappoint folks – but that’s a dangerous assumption.

— Just Do It Over

For instance, I was just speaking with a prospective client; they were explaining to me their newly developed site was not working for them as they had hoped. During their explanation, they told me they had a ‘solution’ for their problem – they were going to replace all or part of the site with Flash elements.

I politely explained to them Flash wasn’t necessarily going to solve their problem and what they had on their hands was a beautiful ‘Hotel Nowhere’ website, lost in the Internet Wilderness. A ‘do over’ wasn’t going to solve their problems. Permit me to explain my analogy – I think you’ll like it.

— Hotel Nowhere 101

A Hotel Nowhere website is beautifully designed one, it may have some Flash animation, perhaps some cool rollover images, maybe even active menu buttons that pop up and disappear as you move across them. It’s likely to have shading and other graphical elements that are visually appealing. And it’s probably got some words written on it too…but they’re secondary to the ‘look.’

The #1 problem with these types of websites (and some are not as bad as the image I painted above) is that they all suffer the same affliction…

They’ve been built in the middle of the Internet Wilderness!

Now let’s think about this for a moment. What good does it do to knock down your nice shiny new ‘Hotel Nowhere’ website and build another one in the same spot if no one knew about the last one?

If your Hotel Nowhere website is ‘out there’, how do you expect people to find you? A real hotel needs roads leading up to the hotel, it has tour guides, maps, TV shows promoting vacations at the resort, radio adverts telling people about the next special, advertising in the nearby towns, agents and reps out there talking it up and generally promoting it and creating buzz.

In other words, your ‘Hotel Nowhere’ (your website) needs to be promoted and connected to the rest of the world AFTER it’s been built. Simply knocking it down and building another is a waste of time!

— Going from Room to Room

If we continue the Hotel analogy, you need to know your lobby is your main page (usually index.html or default.html) and it’s where guests arrive once they’ve been brought to your hotel. By the way, the bus or coach analogy is a good one for search engines – think traffic and you’ll start to see the imagery.

So you have people in your lobby. If you expect them to stay you’d better give them a darn good reason to ‘stick’ around. And if you want them to explore your hotel you need to give them a map. Oh yes, and more importantly, you will need to ensure that they can get from room (page) to room.

It sounds goofy, but many sites are built with no ‘doors’. A door is a link between pages. I know, you think that I’m wrong – sure You can click on the button and be taken to a page. But did I tell you that search engines are visually impaired?

They don’t see the picture buttons or the image maps like you do; they look for text so they can ‘read’ it. If your doors are not described via text links too, you can expect a lobby full of visitors for about 2 seconds before they get back on the bus and leave.

— Going from Hotel Nowhere to Hotel Somewhere

Building the site should be the second phase of the project – the first phase should have been creating the architectural Internet Marketing plan. However, this is often not the case and the I.M Architect (consultant) is usually ONLY called once the client realizes they have a ‘Hotel Nowhere’ website on their hands!

The good news is that even if you have done things ‘backwards,’ it can be remedied quite easily, and a good I.M Architect (consultant) can work with your designer and other web resources directing them accordingly for proper changes.

In addition, a good I.M Architect will also help you develop other strategies and tactics for connecting your website to the rest of the world and into your overall Internet Marketing plan. Then, and only then, will you start to significant differences. Your once Nowhere website will have become a found Somewhere site.