Three Briefs About Your Web Presence

I had three brief things come to mind, neither of which really need a whole post to describe.   I’ve been thinking what works for a web presence in a Microblog world, and what real competitive advantages & disadvantages websites have over other media.

Are You Ready for Your Blog?

One of the things that is overstated about web-based promotion is ROI — the idea that you put little work into a website and return pretty good results nonetheless.   With blogs, this idea has become even more apparent since with typical WYSIWYG editors, you literally just have to type into a box to make a web post happen.

The institutional side of things, it’s not so easy.  This came up at the last 4th Thursday event, in fact.  When you open a blog for yourself, there is little to no brand associated.   You can pretty much use any template and away you go.  Institutions need to manage brands, reputation, target markets and quality assurance.   If you want your business or institution to be successful, it cannot look like every other blog.   As an individual, people can perceive you poorly and you can still have a successful blog.   Not so with an institution — if your library looks like a jerk, no one will show up to your branches.   Even though web presence has little to do with product/service development, people will associate poor writing on a website with the quality of a product or service.  Libraries cannot afford to have their services downgraded because of poor web content.  In short, you need to add a whole lot of editing, design and marketing time to the denominator of your ROI.

If you are institution, you need content before you establish your web presence.   A blog that has been doing nothing for a month will look bad.   Take a look at what happened to Google when they left their Google Librarian blog to sit for a while.   This does not work the same for individual blogs.   Go away for a month as an individual and people will just think you are on vacation or something.   Those same users will have higher expectations for your library, however.   If you want to start a blog, you need to commit 52 pieces of 800 words or better per year.   Then you need to manage spam, comments etc.   In short, add the costs of content creation and management to the denominator of your ROI equation as well.

In the end, the ROI is still going to look good — just not as good as most people assume.   If you do not put some time and money into the denominator of the ROI equation, the numerator will be zero — or worse, it will do damage to your library/company.

Thinking About Metrics — Total Time Viewing?

Television ads or well-placed bulletin boards are sure to find a good number of eyeballs, but how much time do you really have to get your message across to them?   More importantly, does your website offer a better alternative to these options?

Two popular ways to measure the effectiveness of a website are total visits, and time duration of visits.   Is it possible with typical statistics packages to estimate how much total time users access a website per month?   Yes.   Does it matter?  I am not sure.

For example, my statistics package (AWStats) will tell you the percentages & number of visits in each of the following time-duration categories:

  • 0-30s
  • 30s-2mn
  • 2mn-5mn
  • 5mn-15mn
  • 15mn-30mn
  • 30mn-1h
  • 1h+

A calculation of total time visited per month would be the mean of each category times the total visits that lasted each amount of time.   So, if you had 1000 visits in the 2mn – 5mn category, you might put (210 seconds * 1000 = 210 000 seconds or 3500 minutes or a little less than 60 hours total).   You would do that for every category, except for the 1hour + category.   Although you would definitely lose some numbers, I would remove the 1h+ completely from the list.   These durations almost always mean that someone left their browser running on this page, so the number aren’t really valid.

Then I would have pull two numbers from your stats.   The first is the total number of minutes per month that someone pulled from the sight.   The second is the total number of minutes in 30s-2mn, 2-5mn, & 5-15mn categories.   These are the categories that show the most engagement with a website (anything less could be a mistaken visit; anything more could mean the person was lost).

In the end, you can have an argument for your promotions people that you can expose your users to promotional content longer than other media.   This should shape how your make promotions on your website.

How Do People Come to Your Site?

Another misconception that many people have about a website is that a service merely has to “win the battle of priorities” and find its way to the front page of a website to get traffic.   The reality is something different.   Having a whole bunch of stuff on a front page merely gets people lost on the site.   You may get slightly more traffic to your page, but they might not be happy that they got there.   Further, you may, in turn reduce the traffic of all other pages in the mean time.   You really need to think about how people use your site before you “plop” something on a front page.

Some things people will immediately associate with your library.   These are the things that you should put on your front page.   Other things will be value-added services.   You have a logical pathway to these pages, but they should not take up the prime real estate.   THEN, you find excellent ways to ensure that these pages show up in Google and other search results.   Why?   Because if potential users do not immediately associate the service with your library, they are more likely to use Google instead.   Take advantage of common Search Engine Optimization techniques that can help you in this regard.

You can go further than this.   When I launched our website, one of the first complaints we had was that staff counted on the website to find simple things like the halifax weather, basic mapping, provincial catalogues etc.   My first reaction was “just Google it.”   But then I thought about how staff were using the site.   The website was part of their daily routine — they load up their operating system and then search the main links, most of which were already established on the website.

How are non-staff using the site?   I’d love to know.    Ideally, it would be great if key customers would have a library “visit” scheduled every Thursday morning, for instance.   In fact, I would be surprised if a few people had this exact routine.   Getting good data on this sort of thing could really help your respond to customer need on a website.   I’d like to see more of this kind of research in fact to go along with usability tests and statistics taking.

In the end, I think we still need more people thinking about web presence in all institutions.   The more librarians understand the technical benefits and limitations of the web, the more effective our services will be.

Halifax Rentals Go Viral

UPDATE:   I HAZ Embed Code now!

Killam Properties (the people who run Quinpool Tower) team up with Picnic Face ( the people behind the PowerThirst Video ) to bring you Landlord Lou, the only sane presence in a world full of murderous property thugs, annoying roomates and er, WTH?   a dancing panda?   (I’m not mentioning his siberian white tiger girlfriend.)

Yes, of course I know its an ad.    But I’m happy to see a little viral action coming out of my hometown.   And, I’ll let you sell me something as long as you entertain me first.  🙂

Navigating Online Cultures

I’ve had a tongue-in-cheek post-in-waiting for a while now that would look at traits I notice in online cultures as a way of understanding whether or not a particular service is for you or your library.    It had been percolating, percolating, percolating. . . and then I read Greg Schwartz’s post on Managing His Own Social Network.   In it, he describes how he offers a quiz to people who request being his “friend” because he does not want people in his network that do not want to converse with him.   I appreciate this trait alot.   I met Greg at CIL and you can immediately tell that he does not take interpersonal contact lightly.   He is all the positive aspects of extroversion personified.    I don’t blame him for expecting dialogues from his online friends.   I approach things a little differently, because I am more than happy to have people lurk around in the social networking world (so long as there is no spam).   Like any or all things interpersonal, there’s alot of discretion that happens within and without social networks.   The only way to tell if something is going to work is to try it out.   Or is there. . . ?  

One of the things I’ve decided is very important is to understand a bit of the culture of an online space.  I thought, “If we can look at a few features, measure them on specific scales, and then align them with our own personalities — then maybe we can have a tool to see if the service works for the organization.”    Well, as a tester, I have 12 things that could be assessed on a social site to give a flavor of what does or does not work for individuals or organizations.   For added fun, I gave them goofy names.

Here they are:

Friendsliness  

  • Friendliness would refer to the extent that a service expects you to collect friends as badges on a profile.   MySpace and Facebook would score high on this as they practically force you to expand your network into outerspace.   Twitter, surprisingly, would not rate as high — you can follow, but it really is more on your own terms.  The “friend” aspect of Del.icio.us and Flickr really focuses more on whether an individual likes the content than it does on whether there is a social connection between two or more individuals. 

Ratingsliness

  • How much does ratings matter to a social site?    For sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Amazon, it’s just about everything.   Del.icio.us, by comparison, is much less Ratings friendly.   Delicious doesn’t care if people think something is cool — they merely want to know how many people bookmarked it.

Folksonomics

  • How important are tags in the service?  LibraryThing and Delicious score high.   Facebook scores low.

Hiveability

  • Hiveability would describe the extent to which a readership needs engagement, discussion and even outright flamewars to remain successful.   I would pit Wikipedia and the Blogosphere high on this scale.

“You Ness”

  • “you” ness would refer to the extent our narcissistic desire to show people our whims factors into the web service.   YouTube is the obvious example, but Flickr applies as well.

Collabability

  • Different from hiveability in that it merely opens doors to encourage more than one user to act on a project at the same time, Google Documents, PbWiki would score higher on this than, say, Wikipedia because they provide easy answers to specific collaboration problems.   One would not want to say “let’s go on Wikipedia to work on a project!”

Anonymanimousness

  • Does it matter to the web service that you use your real name for your identity?   This is an interesting one.   For example, Twitter does not force you to use your real name, but I think it matters alot whether or not you do.   Facebook requires it.   Del.icio.us actually makes it pretty hard to make your identity known.

Dumbanomics

  • This is not intended to be an insult at all.   How friendly and/or forgiving is the service to newbies?   Is there an expectation of lurkership, or can people just go ahead and be dumbasses in spite of themselves?    The easy-to-use Google and Yahoo! products are definitely high scorers for being accessible to just about anyone.   Metafilter would score lower — not because they are unfriendly to newbies, but because they work hard to ensure that the content appearing on the site is relatively asshat-free.

Graphicality

  • Some services depend on graphics more than others.    This should be fairly easy, but Flash/Gaming sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate would score high.   Text-based social sites like Twitter and delicious would score lower.

Contribattitude

  • How much does the site depend on the contributions of users?   Blogger and WordPress are high on this, of course.   Let’s put BoingBoing.net on this one as a second tier, because user comments often add a lot to what they have to say.   Miniclip, the gaming site, doesn’t score high, because if all the reviews on the site were gone, you’d still have the games to play.

Carrotomics

  • Does the site provide something of values in return for your participation?   The classic examples are Second Life and World of Warcraft.  The more you play, the more points, money, levels or whatever you score adding to your prestige.   Your average blog gets attention through usage stats, but that’s not the same — those stats exist anyway, not a “carrot” provided by the service.

Noseyamourousness

  • To what extent does the service enable the nosey online user to peek into the lives of others.   I won’t link them, but porn sites would be an obvious qualifier.   YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and MySpace all appeal to the nosier side of human behavior as well.

That’s my 12 for now.   Even as I write this, I could go on with more examples.   For instance, how tolerant is a service of profanity?   What are the privacy settings and TOS like?  Add your own, please!  

I also think some of my suggestions could be grouped together to make a more tidy unit of measure.   Let me know if you have any ideas.

I think it would be a good thing to look through this list and see what would match library culture the best.   What do you think?