Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

This week, the focus shifted to the practical application of the academic readings. The emphasis was placed squarely into the real world.

Key Concepts of Strategic Planning – Industry versus Academic Readings

Perhaps the most industry-related reading of the week was Ashkenas, Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning. Unlike the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) approach covered in the academic readings, Ashkenas leads with a kind of off-shoot of implementation and evaluation, wherein he insists on first field testing to evaluate assumptions.  While the academic readings, such as Smith, seem to save the evaluative process for either the end of a campaign or the middle of one (say, after a major milestone or after an iteration), Ashkenas pushes for a form of evaluation to happen even before a campaign gets off the ground. As Smith notes, on page 331, “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.” Outcomes, by definition, come at or near the end.

Smith goes on further to say (page 331), “The key to creating any program evaluation is to establish appropriate criteria for judging what is effective. This research plan considers several issues: the criteria that should be used to gauge success, timing of the evaluation and specific ways to measure each of the levels of objectives (awareness, acceptance and action). It may prescribe the various evaluation tools, and it also should indicate how the evaluation would be used.” Yet the timing in Smith seems clear – the campaign has to be complete or near completion or at least running on all cylinders and then it’s time for an evaluation. Not so with Ashkenas, who gets it out of the way early in order to prevent the creation of a campaign based on faulty premises.

Another Ashkenas tip is to ‘banish fuzzy language’, e. g. to torch weasel words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy.’ For Ashkenas, a campaign plan needs to be straightforward, such as laying out clear and unambiguous goals and relating them directly to an organization’s stated mission. Similar to Anderson, Hadley, Rockland & Weiner’s objectives, e. g. “(a) clear and shared sense of purpose distills program tactics and focuses financial and human resources on those areas on which they have the greatest impact.” (Page 5), Ashkenas seeks to narrowly focus an organization’s campaigns. The plan is not much of a plan if its language is impenetrable. HootSuite, on page 2 of their Guide for Social Media Strategy, voices a similar call for clarity, where they say, “(a)ll business planning should start with defining clear goals, and social media is no exception. One of the biggest reasons why social media strategies fail is because goals aren’t aligned with core business values. For long term success on social media, choose goals based on traffic, leads, and sales.”

Wilkinson’s Four Steps – Relating them to the Academic Readings

Turning to Wilkinson, he outlines four major steps in what he called a Driver’s Model for strategic planning.

RPIE
SWOT analysis diagram in English language. Français : Matrice SWOT en anglais. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first step is to perform a situational assessment, which is a lot like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. As defined by Williams, “(a)t its most functional level a SWOT analysis will help you obtain information and assess a situation.” Wilkinson adds some specifics to this basic form of preliminary analysis, wherein he provides fairly universal questions for a strategic planner to use when assessing an organization’s customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and more. Wilkinson provides more of a roadmap in this area than Williams does.

The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics and turns to broader organizational data such as vision statements, mission statements, goals, and objectives. These are far more organization- and industry-specific, so a generalized statement about them would not be of much help to a strategic planner. Smith, on page 41, defines a vision statement as looking, “to the future. It is a brief strategic description of what the organization aspires to become.” And a values statement, according to Smith (page 42), “is a set of beliefs that drive the organization and provide a framework for its decisions.” Hence, again, Wilkinson’s methodology is congruent with the academic readings from this semester.

The third step is implementation planning, whereby Wilkinson performs a somewhat modified PEST Analysis. While Wilkinson does not look at all Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors, the implementation plan he touts is similar. He urges the strategic planner to investigate the barriers to achieving an organization’s vision. He also suggests developing key conditions (between two and seven) that must be met in order to consider a campaign to be successful. The roadmap combines the two, as the strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” The implication, also, is that a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan needs to either be changed of jettisoned from the plan.

The fourth step is the monitoring of progress, much as is included in the Smith and Anderson, etc. readings, and in Dr. Place’s paper, although Place notes an ethical element must be included in evaluating campaign plans, on page 129, where she states, “(t)he role of ethics in public relations evaluation, according to participants, is to guide practitioners as they conduct truthful, effective evaluation and weigh an organization’s needs with its publics’ needs. Ethics’ role appears to be most salient during the reflection or reporting phases of program evaluation.” For Wilkinson and the other readings, evaluation is a crucial step. Otherwise, how is an organization to truly know a campaign’s effectiveness? And, more importantly, evaluation is the only real way for an organization to be able to intelligently determine whether a campaign should be budgeted for another year, or if it should get the axe.

Relating RPIE to Business, Social Media, and Communications Industries

RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) relates directly to all industries, it seems.

In the business world, particularly in light of Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires financial accountability and transparency, clear and well-defined research and evaluation are paramount requirements. Corporations cannot simply throw money at a problem; they have to have a plan and that plan has to demonstrate a reasonable chance of success. While not everything works, a campaign plan with germane and well thought out research has a far better chance of success than one where the dice are rolled. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.

In the case of social media industries, research and planning can make the difference between staying in business, or not. For a social media organization such as Facebook or Twitter, to not understand their buyer personae or how their platforms are used is a recipe for a platform going under. In a way, this seems to be what has happened to Myspace. For a social media organization which was originally heavily social and popular, Myspace missed the boat, did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity, and did not plan beyond its own website. According to Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, Myspace also fell down because it never made itself particularly business-friendly. Planning and evaluation could have helped Myspace keep Facebook from eating its lunch.

In the communications field, implementation is perhaps the most vital of the four pieces. Communications is obviously all about messaging, as is strategic planning, and these organizations are often adjudged – fairly or unfairly – based upon image, message, and look and feel. In communications organizations, research and planning have to cross the implementation finish line. Understanding what a communications organization’s publics are interested in, and planning to give them what they want, is not enough if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation

In the real world, RPIE does not just apply to strategic planning. It can apply to nearly every aspect of a business or nonprofit organization.  So much of what we see online was tossed out there with little thought to how it would look in a year or in twenty. So little of it is altered or updated when new information or technology mandate that changes be made. An organization of any type can set itself apart by following RPIE principles in all aspects of its existence.

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Program Evaluation

This week’s readings were about evaluating a strategic plan and program.

Key Concepts

As Smith said, on (Page 331), “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.”

With a plan in place and measurable, clear objectives included in it, the next question is whether anything is working. This comes from figuring out how to measure results and what’s ‘good’ or at least adequate. In Module 8, we studied Cans Get You Cooking, where the idea was to increase awareness of cans’ use in cooking via cooking shows and blogs. However, another objective was increased sales (after all, why bother with such a campaign if sales don’t increase?), and in that respect the plan was unsuccessful. According to Companies and Markets, the purchase of canned goods declines because of improvements in the economy. When consumers have more discretionary income to spend on foodstuffs, they purchase fewer canned goods – no matter how well-crafted a campaign is. There was increased awareness, yes, and under that criterion, the campaign worked. But under the criterion of increased sales, it did not. It seemed a little as if the goalposts were moved in that campaign, that increased sales were seen as being a less attainable goal. Awareness was a far more readily attainable goal, and so awareness was presented as being the premise behind the campaign.  

These moved goalposts are the difference between what Smith refers to as awareness and action objectives, on pages 332 – 335, with the third type of objective, acceptance, straddling a line between both of the others. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, it seems as if the attainment of the awareness objective was the only cause for celebration.

Smith makes a compelling case on page 334, that creativity, effort, and cost don’t count as measures of effectiveness. All of those facets of a campaign are on the side of the organization, but measures of awareness, acceptance, and action are all effects felt (and acted upon) by publics. By definition, creativity, etc. should not be seen as having anything to do with the effectiveness of a campaign.

The Eight-Step AMEC Social Media Measurement Process

Jeffrey (Page 4) outlines, “The Eight-Step Social Media Measurement Process

  1. Identify organizational and departmental goals.
  2. Research stakeholders for each and prioritize.
  3. Set specific objectives for each prioritized stakeholder group.
  4. Set social media Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) against each stakeholder objective.
  5. Choose tools and benchmark (using the AMEC Matrix).
    • Public Relations Activity
    • Intermediary Effects
    • Target Audience Effects
  6. Analyze the results and compare to costs.
  7. Present to management.
  8. Measure continuously and improve performance.”
Quinnipiac Assignment 10 - ICM 527 - Program Evaluation
Avinash Kaushik, author of Web Analytics 2.0

This process compares favorably to methodologies learned in ICM 524 – Social Media Analytics. In that class, we read Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. On pages 29 – 32, Kaushik outlined his Step 3 – Identifying Your Web Analytics Soul Mate (How to Run an Effective Tool Pilot) (average time: 2 years) Evaluate the following –

  • Usability
  • Functionality
  • Technical
  • Response
  • Total cost of ownership

Also –

  • Get enough time
  • Be fair
  • Ask about data sampling
  • Segment like crazy
  • Ask about search analytics
  • Test site content grouping
  • Bring on the interns (or the VPs!)
  • Test support quality
  • Reconcile the numbers (they won’t add up, but it’s fun!)
  • Check the daily/normal stuff
  • Sweat the TCO (total cost of ownership)

What Kaushik said, and what Jeffrey said, are similar. Measurement is an objective activity. This is why objectives need to be clear and measurable. Five percent is measurable; better exposure (in general) is not.

For both authors, the idea is to have specific objectives and then act on them, whether those objectives are to launch a strategic campaign or select a web analytics vendor. Then, once the vendor is chosen, get the yardstick in place, and use it. Kaushik further reminds us that, while our intention may be to select a vendor and essentially ‘marry’ it, we still need to be evaluating the evaluator. If it’s not performing up to our reasonable specifications, then it’s time for vendor divorce court.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

On page 7 of Jeffrey, it says, “Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology (www.holtz.com) defined a KPI as a ‘quantifiable measurement, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors of one’s effort.’”

This puts KPIs on a par with what we have been referring to as objectives. Wanting to ‘get better’ is one thing. But it’s vague and subject to weaseling. Wanting to improve recognition of the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration  (ILSC ) and its missions by 5% as is measured by surveys taken during the second quarter of 2016 is a measurable key performance indicator. Anyone who can read numbers will be able to determine whether the KPI has been met.

Applicability to the ILSC

Beyond just recognition measurements, there are any numbers of KPIs which can be measured, including the number of schools served by the Small World Initiative by a certain date, or increasing donations by a particular amount, subject to a clear deadline.

Currently, the ILSC website in particular seems to be just sort of thrown together without any sense of how to deal with technological and design changes, or scalability. Keeping measurements out of the mix means that the ILSC website can be tossed up and then forgotten about – and it seems a lot like that’s exactly what happened. However, a website cannot be a flash in the pan, as that can cause the publics to feel the organization behind it is also fly by night. Particularly when asking for money, an organization needs to give forth the impression of trustworthiness and solidity.

Adding Key Performance Indicators and measurements means there needs to be a sea change in how the ILSC views the website. It isn’t just something thrown together in an afternoon, to be handled by some temp hired for a few weeks and then never seen again. Instead, it needs to be an integral part of the organization. While the organization’s work is (generally) offline, there still needs to be room for the website in the minds of the organization’s board members. One facet of their thinking has to include how to best utilize the website and social media, in order to better communication the ILSC’s mission and goals, and to communicate with its publics. The website has got to have a place in those conversations, and it currently does not. That has to change.

Quinnipiac Assignment #12 ICM524 – Final Project (Journalism)

Should Journalism Be Data Driven?

For my final project for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Analytics class, I created a short presentation about journalism and data. This video is available on YouTube.

My essential question was whether data and story popularity should be drivers for journalistic choices. Those choices are everything from what to put on a ‘front page’ to what to bold or italicize, to where to send scarce (and expensive) reporter resources, to what to cover at all.

Popularity Breeds Contempt

For news organizations looking to save some money, it can be mighty appealing to only cover the most popular story lines. News can very quickly turn into all-Kardashian, all the time, if an organization is not careful. For a news corporation searching for an easier path to profitability, hitching their metaphoric wagon to the popularity star might feel right. After all, and to borrow from last semester’s Social Media Platforms class, they have buyer personae to satisfy. If all of their readers or viewers or listeners want is to know the latest about Justin Bieber or Queen Elizabeth II, then why shouldn’t a news organization satisfy that demand?

But there is a corollary to all of this.

Quinnipiac Assignment #12 ICM524 – Final Project (Journalism)
Journalism is going to survive. I just don’t see how the businesses that have provided it will survive – Clay Shirky @cshirky #openjournalism #quotes (Photo credit: planeta)

News organizations often have dissimilar foci. If I am reading, say, the Jewish Daily Forward, I am looking for news, most likely, about either the Jewish people or Israel, or at least for stories which are relevant to either of these two not-identical (albeit somewhat similar) entities. Hence a story about the Kardashians, for example, is not going to fly unless it can be related somehow.

Ethics

Dovetailing into all of this is journalistic ethics. Shouldn’t journalists be telling the stories of the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the forgotten? I well recall the coverage of Watergate as it was happening (even though I was a tween at the time). I’m not so sure that many people today appreciate the sort of courage that that really took.

What is the future of journalism? I feel it has got to be both. There must be a combination. News organizations need to show profits just as much as all other businesses. But that should not come at the expense of their responsibilities.

This was a great class, and I learned a lot. My next semester starts on August 25th.

Quinnipiac Assignment #11 ICM524 – ICM Top 5

ICM Top 5

The Quinnipiac Assignment called ICM Top 5 was a look at trending topics on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, in an effort to determine what was really big.

As would be expected, the biggest news story, both in traditional news spreading and via social media sharing, was the situation in Gaza.

Gaza

ICM Top 5
English: Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chose a news story about Benjamin Netanyahu talking about Hamas (according to him) violating cease fires.

I had wanted so much to avoid tweeting or blogging or otherwise amplifying the signal around the Gaza situation. But the assignment more or less forced my hand. It was simply far too large a news story to ignore. I am still less than thrilled, and have been attempting to avoid promoting any of the rather incendiary rhetoric I have been seeing in my news feeds (from all sides, I might add).

Central America

My second choice trending news topic was about Central American children fleeing persecution and ending up at the United States-Mexico border, plus all of the reactions that have been going along with that. This has been a particularly compelling news story here in Massachusetts, as Governor Deval Patrick has been trying to determine whether the Bay State can and should accept some of these children.

Ebola

My third choice for a trending news topic was the Ebola scare. With an American angle – there are a couple of Americans who have succumbed to the virus (these were people who had worked in places like Liberia) – the story was a good one to follow. It is evidently being followed around the world although the heaviest concentrations of hashtags are in the Sierra Leone area of Africa.

Films

For my final two choices for trending news topics, I decided to go a lot lighter and instead followed the release of trailers for the new Hobbit (Battle of Five Armies) and Hunger Games (Mockingjay) films. The Hobbit trailer, at least during the time period I was looking at, was the more popular of the two.

The assignment was fascinating. Journalists often see themselves as champions of the underdog, telling the stories that are otherwise not heard. But news organizations are commercial enterprises. If a topic is trending, it often behooves them to try to ride that wave.

Quinnipiac Assignment #10 ICM524 – Google’s Monopoly

This week in class, we prepared HTML code with semantic categories and we also wrote about Google’s monopoly.

My essay is reproduced below, in its entirety.

Google’s Monopoly

Introduction – Ma Bell and Her Demise

We in the United States have been down the monopoly road before.

I well recall the telephone company being a monopoly. We were told, back when I was studying economics in High School, that it was a “good” monopoly. The teacher said that it was just the way that communications ran, and that it all made sense. The technology all went together. Installation, repairs, number assignment and indexing, and recordkeeping all went together perfectly.

Then came the 1980s and a court order to break up the Bell System. Apparently this “good” monopoly wasn’t so good after all. I had moderately high telephone bills then. Also, I was living in a dorm but we were still responsible for our local and long distance bills. I even recall standing on a line to get a landline telephone and sign a contract.

In 1984, Bell was broken up into a few regional holding companies and I had moved to an apartment in Delaware. My telephone bills, particularly for long distance, had climbed. Then later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, there would be all of these commercials for long distance carriers. But the prices remained high.

Fast forward to today. My bill is pretty close to what it was when I attended school in Delaware. But I don’t just get local and long distance service; I also get Internet and cable. For nearly what I was paying when the phone system was in the regional holding company stage thirty years ago, I get considerably more for my dollar. Breaking up Ma Bell ended up, after some initial chaos, saving me money and getting me, the typical consumer, much better services.

Google and Analytics

Let’s look at Google.

As Steve Ballmer of Microsoft puts it, “This [search] is a scale game because the market for advertising is auction-based economics. If we have exactly the same quality of algorithms but less scale in search advertising we get less revenue per search than Google which means they have more money to pay for distribution on Samsung or Apple.Rumor is they pay each $1 to $3 billion a year for distributing their search products. We have to generate volume to step up.”

It’s pretty bad when even Microsoft says you might be a monopoly.

Is Google’s attitude toward analytics driving some of this? After all, they offer it for free, and they strongly encourage website owners (commercial and noncommercial) to make use of it. But much like a man in an unmarked van offering candy, it seems to come at a price. A great analytics system definitely makes more online businesses successful. And what do successful and/or ambitious online businesses do? They buy search. And they buy apps. They click on ads and convert more, and then those ads can be sold for more. And that’s where Google makes its billions – Google websites and Google member websites. The analytics program seems to be yet another great advertisement for Google.

Furthermore, a great, free analytics package definitely inclines one to think more favorably about Google. Microsoft, on the other hand, feels like it is bribing Bing users by offering rewards. Yet when Google offers better search placement in exchange for using Google+, it doesn’t seem so disingenuous. After all, what’s Google’s slogan? Don’t be evil. What’s Microsoft’s? Where do you want to go today? It is still positive, yes. But it’s not specifically assuring a customer that no harm is intended. Is that a requirement? It might very well be, given today’s skeptical consumer culture.

Google lulls the website owner into a comfortable sense of security, that a small business can be better analyzed and make more money, if only you could rank higher in searches! Except they’re selling the same bill of goods to that website owner’s competition. What happens when everyone is perfect at search? Then it’s more money for Google, as website owners buy more paid search to try to get back on top of the heap. The analytics package rather neatly tells website owners where they’re failing. The subtle hint is – buy search and you could improve again.

It’s Not a Monopoly If you’re Really That Good

There is one corollary in all of this. A superior product or service should always rise to the top, given the free market. Consumers naturally are going to seek out better products and, when price is no longer a factor, then quality is going to be the main driving force behind usage, with convenience being important as well. Is Google a better service than Bing or Yahoo? Maybe. It’s bigger, yes. But is its size defining its superiority? As Ballmer stated above, it’s a scale game. Search Engine Watch says that Google has just over 2/3 of all searches. Bing held the second spot with 18.7%. Yahoo had 10%. The remaining 3.7% was divided between Ask.com and AOL.

A site that enormous is going to, by definition, have considerably more money to throw around. This will result in the hiring of better engineers, more development, more frequent updates, and more innovations. Right now, it just seems like Google has the best product. It does not seem to be actively trying to require usage of its services (unlike Microsoft, which bundled Internet Explorer with its PCs and was court ordered to stop doing that). An active attempt to require usage of goods or services would be a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act. Google has been careful to not stray into Clayton Act territory. Yet if it continues to crush its competition, it may end up there anyway.

Conclusion

Google is offering the best search experience. It’s also offering the best free analytics package, which strongly encourages businesses to put their advertising eggs into the Google basket. Being better is not a Clayton Act violation. But I think Ballmer’s got a point (although of course he’s also got an agenda). The scale is so wildly out of proportion that almost anything Google does essentially promotes it as a monopoly. Much like Facebook, Google is the category killer.

Monopoly
Theodore Roosevelt

Perhaps the United States government needs to step into both areas, and put on the brakes a little on this kind of wild growth. It’s not your father’s monopoly anymore, but it sure seems to be a monopoly all the same. And the last time one that was this big was broken up, it resulted in an eventual win for consumers. Maybe it’s time the heirs of Teddy Roosevelt took an axe to Google.

References

Quinnipiac Assignment #09 – Semantic Search

Quinnipiac Assignment #09 – Semantic Search

For the ninth week of class, we talked about semantic search, the semantic web, and semantic SEO. I had read a bit about rich snippets before, but this lecture and the readings began to really bring that home for me, finally.

Quinnipiac Assignment #09 – Semantic Search
Semantic Web “Layercake” (2006) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Semantic Web is defined by Amanda DiSilvestro as being, “… a set of technologies for representing, storing, and querying information. Although these technologies can be used to store textual data, they typically are used to store smaller bits of data.”

Essentially what happens (and should happen a lot more, as webmasters continue to implement these markup protocols), is that similar sites will identify themselves similarly. Perhaps that’s an overly simplistic way of describing that, but the bottom line is that all writers, say, will identify themselves as persons. Consider the above paragraph. How does Google understand that Amanda DiSilvestro is a person? You might scoff and say, “that’s obvious!” To you and me, yes. But not to computer software, not yet. After all, what if her surname was something that, to Google, might be more ambiguous? What about the Harrison Ford character in the film, Witness?

Quinnipiac Assignment #09 – Semantic Search
Cover via Amazon

His name was John Book. But a john has multiple connotations, and a book of course is literary art. But Google does not understand that that’s a person, unless, of course, someone tells the search engine that.

So semantic search and markup ends up as essentially a means of teaching Google about ambiguity. In the current state of technology, we have to be the ones to add the ambiguity and the fuzzy thinking. Machines can’t, yet.

Practical Application

I felt so interested in, and energized by, this topic, that I installed a new WordPress plugin (called RDFace) to try inject some semantic entity classifications of my own into this blog.

So thanks, Quinnipiac!

Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Once again, I reviewed NESN. But this time, it was in order to understand a few basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) choices that their management had made.

Programmatic Decisions

I strongly suspect that NESN has some form of fancy programming behind their online page creation. NESN SEO just seems to be way too good.

If I were to guess, I would say that their program (possibly developed in house) scrapes the title of a submitted article, wraps it in H1 tags and copies it to the meta descriptions. That same article title is the basis for that particular page’s custom URL. Hence the article, A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox is connected to the following custom URL: http://nesn.com/2014/07/a-j-pierzynski-designated-for-assignment-christian-vazquez-to-start-wednesday/ The page title is: A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox | Boston Red Sox | NESN.com. The meta description for that same page is: The Boston Red Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday. Manager John Farrell confirmed to WEEI‘s “Dale and Holley” that the team has designated veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and promoted 23-year-old Christian Vazquez from Triple-A Pawtucket. Finally, the keywords were: a.j. pierzynski, christian vazquez, christian vasquez, boston red sox, red sox catcher, a.j. pierzynski released, a.j. pierzynski dfa, red sox prospects, christian vazquez promotion, christian vazquez red sox.

Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Double quotation marks truncate meta descriptions. This meta description was no exception – in Google search, it simply reads: “A.J. Pierzynski Designated For AssignmentChristian VazquezJoins … Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday.” (Note: the bolding comes from Google itself).

The Power of Programming

NESN SEO programmatic work (if that’s what  it is) was just great. Pages are named properly. The URL structure is organic and easy to follow. The meta descriptions are generally excellent (the double quotation marks in my sample were probably the doing of the article writer. Perhaps the program should be refined to replace all instances of double quotation marks with single marks?) and are enticing to human searchers because they are written by professional writers.

With a programmatic solution, NESN can get this work done quickly and turn around better online product for more abbreviated deadlines. Having the computer system do this does not require writers to master SEO beyond the basics of naming their articles properly and making sure that the keywords in the titles show up with those articles.

Even better, any time the theory of SEO changes, there only has to be one change made at NESN. Simply (probably not so simple!) tweak the program to accommodate any changes, test it, and roll it out. All without missing  a deadline.

Conclusion

NESN continues to impress. NESN SEO is great. NESN.com is a well-crafted website. No wonder it’s an advertising cash cow.

Quinnipiac Assignment #07 – A Crash Course in SEO

Quinnipiac Assignment #07 – A Crash Course in SEO

This week’s assignment was to either write an essay or record a video about a problem that a company was having with being found online.

Quinnipiac Assignment #07 – A Crash Course in SEO

The company chosen was the Miami Seaquarium, which I have never been to, but apparently they are located near Key Biscayne.

The specific task was to find a way to attract Internet searchers to their dolphin swim adventures.

Quinnipiac Assignment #07 – A Crash Course in SEO

With information about their competition, I found a way to showcase their keywords, and those of their competitors. The tool (and it is free, which is even better) is called MozBar. It allows you to look a little bit under the hood on websites. While I am also able to right-click any website and just select “view page source”, the MozBar laid things out a lot more comprehensively. The tool calculated the percentage of verbiage on that site, versus coding.

The thing that leaped out immediately was that the site did not have any keywords!

Quinnipiac Assignment #07 – A Crash Course in SEO

Without keywords, they were inadvertently making it more difficult for people searching on Google to find them. They also did not seem to realize that their site (which really is beautiful) is barely readable by search engines. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others can really just read verbiage, numbers, and special characters. They do not yet have the ability to read images and truly comprehend them. You and I look at a picture of a dolphin and we know what it is. Even people wholly unfamiliar with dolphins can figure out that they are animals of some sort. But search engines are completely lost. Further, the site had a lot of great verbiage, but it was all a part of the images. It was, e. g. pictures that said things like dolphin swim. But there was no alternate text to cue in the search engines.

How do you fix these problems? My essay (which I will not reprint here, as the grade is still pending) goes more into depth but there are two easy, low-hanging fruit actions that the webmaster can take.

  1. Research keywords and add them, and
  2. Add alternate text to every single image on the site.

There are a lot more things that can be done, but those two are quick and fairly easy. And, psst, they work!


 

You can find me on

Quinnipiac Assignment #06 – NESN Key Indicators

Quinnipiac Assignment #06 – NESN Key Indicators

This week, our video assignment was about  Key Performance Indicators. Once again, I chose NESN (the New England Sports Network). They are admirably open about their online metrics. I love how they never seem to shy away from revealing all.

What was perhaps most amusing about this particular video was when I checked out NESN’s listed demographics and came up with a buyer persona.

My typical buyer persona turned out to be – ta da! – Spoiler Alert! – my husband, Jay Siegel.

Why?

NESN Typical Buyer Persona

Quinnipiac Assignment #06 – NESN Key Indicators

NESN’s audience, by far, was dominated by men. Their age group was mainly within the 25  – 54 age range, although that was not anywhere near as dominant as the gender imbalance. Finally, their geographic placement was mainly clustered around the New England and New York areas.

What was rather fascinating for me was that the biggest American state for NESN viewership isn’t in New England at all. It’s California. But that is, perhaps, more a function of California’s gigantic population than anything else. California accounts for a good fifteen percent of the American viewership of NESN. Massachusetts holds the number two slot, with ten percent. New York is third, with nine percent. Hence the New England/New York combination is already greater than that of California.

Unfortunately, Chartbeat did not show (on their free report) any states beyond the Top Five. But it would not shock me if the Top Five were rounded out by at least one or two of the other five New England states, and other Northeastern states, such as New Jersey, or Maryland. The map rather clearly indicated a bias in favor of the Northeast.

Conclusion

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at what a great choice NESN has turned out to be, for class assignments!

 

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics

Instead of creating a video, this week we wrote essays about basic web analytics.  I covered Maps of India and NESN (again). Below is my essay about NESN.

Company Brand Overview

New England Sports Network (NESN) is a regional television channel with a wide and varied social mediapresence and an emphasis on New England sports, although national and international events are also covered. The industry is cable (Xfinity) media; their home page is: http://nesn.com/, which is a WordPress blog.

The company’s Twitter handle is @NESN (https://twitter.com/NESN). Their Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/NESN. Their Google+ page is at: https://plus.google.com/+NESN/posts. Their Pinterest board is here: http://www.pinterest.com/nesn/. Their Tumblr blog is here: http://tumblr.nesn.com/.

This report will cover certain quantitative metrics for NESN, in an effort to understand whether their online campaigns and presences are providing fullest value. I will concentrate on the channel’s website and will only touch upon their social presence on various platforms.

Company Business Objectives

For NESN, their objectives appear to be to draw offline traffic to their television programming, and to increase clicks on advertisements found peppered throughout the website. The objectives for their social media presences appear to solely be to direct traffic back to the website, although a secondary objective is probably to increase offline viewership for the television channel.

Website Overview

NESN’s home page changes; advertisements and stories evolve from day to day and even hour to hour. The basic layout is of a top menu with drop downs, with a banner ad just beneath it. The live blog is in the upper left corner (it has the largest news image on the page), with top stories also available above the fold. A second ad is in the upper right corner, with a video just below it. These videos mainly seem to be interviews and short highlights; there are video ads interspersed in there. I believe these are similar to, if not the same as, the ads that a viewer would see on television.

Scrolling below the fold, just below the videos, there is a static list of website sponsor logos. There are more links to stories (all story links have an image) and then there are, on the right, links off the site which go to Zergnet, an entertainment website. Circling back, the center has News Max headlines (and links), and on the left are more video ads. Below these, there are more links to stories. There’s a long vertical skyscraper ad on the right, yet another video ad on the left and then, at the very bottom, there are links to various sports topics (e. g. horse racing), NESN’s sources, and even their social media pages. Interesting enough, their Pinterest page is not listed; perhaps it is new.

The entire website is overlaid over yet another ad as the background image. I counted nineteen advertisements: the overlay, the top banner, three videos, the upper right corner, the twelve sponsor logos, and the skyscraper. This does not include various smaller banners, such as one for Red Sox Nation which contains the Dunkin’ Donuts logo. This total also does not include the links to Zergnet and News Max.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN Home Page

 

Twitter Overview

The Twitter page shows a rather plain background and a branded logo being used for an avatar. Recent tweets are listed chronologically and there does not seem to be a chosen highlighted tweet. There are no advertisements on the Twitter home page itself. Tweets are a mix of programming news, images, and links to videos and less timely content, such as an interview with Ted Williams’s daughter which could have conceivably been tweeted any day this month. NESN has 164,000 followers.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN on Twitter

Facebook Overview

The Facebook page (this image is a little older, but the design has not changed in the past two weeks) has a branded background image and logo for an avatar. Wall posts vary, and can be photos, status updates, or sports opinion pieces.  NESN has 222,000 likes.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN Facebook page June 3, 2014

Google+ Overview

The Google+ page had the same plain background as on Twitter. NESN has just under 31,000 followers.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN on Google+

Pinterest Overview

There were twenty-one pin boards.  But NESN has fewer than 220 followers! This figure is comparable to my own following on Pinterest, and I don’t have an advertising budget. However, I suspect that’s more due to the demographic disconnect (Pinterest is overwhelmingly female; sports fans are predominantly male) than anything else.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN on Pinterest

Tumblr Overview

The Tumblr blog appeared to be a feed from the website. I cannot tell how many followers they have.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN on Tumblr

Audience

Compete.com’s most recent data for NESN was for April. The most interesting trend was to see the number of visitors spiking in October of 2013 and then April of 2014, probably due to the Boston Red Sox capturing a World Series trophy and then the Boston Bruins being in the NHL playoffs. There were nearly a million unique visitors in April.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
NESN analyzed by Compete.com

As would be expected, according to Chartbeat, the site’s visitors geographically cluster around New England. However, there are also somewhat substantial numbers of viewers in California and Illinois. After the United States, the audience countries drop off dramatically, with Canada having only a 3% share of the audience.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
Geographic placement of NESN online audience

According to Alexa, the average visitor views over two pages, however, the bounce rate is high, at nearly 80%. Time on site is less than two and a half minutes; presumably this is to quickly check scores and top stories and move on if the audience member fails to see anything new.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
Alexa analysis of NESN site visitors

 

Acquisition

Chartbeat’s data was current, and showed that visitors came from a variety of traffic sources. Internal traffic was highest – although visitors were still bouncing off. Direct acquisition was the next-most common source of visitors, with links trailing a bit behind that, and then search. Social was dead last.

The top landing pages were the World Cup live stream and then the home page. After that, was a page about trade rumors about Carmelo Anthony, and then a more in-depth story about the World Cup.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
Chartbeat analysis of NESN visitors

 

 

Chartbeat’s view of NESN’s traffic sources showed key words and phrases. From the below screen shot, the most frequently-searched terms clearly had to do with the World Cup or Boston plus either the Bruins or the Red Sox. The mix of new visitors to returning was about 40% to 60% of all visitors, respectively.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
Chartbeat analysis of NESN.com traffic

Behavior

Chartbeat lists top pages. Combining these with search, we can get an idea about landing pages. Searches for the World Cup are drawing the audience to the live stream. The second-most visited page is the home page, understandable for a site where the second-most common means of acquisition is direct clicking, and the third is linking.

Exit pages are more difficult to gauge but, since the top links are generally to home page ads, my assumption is that audience members are clicking on the ads and, therefore, are perhaps making a conversion, but they are also leaving the site.

Quinnipiac Assignment #05 – Basic Web Analytics
Chartbeat top pages for NESN

 

Results

Possible Ratings Boost

If NESN is using its online presence in order to bolster its offline television channel ratings, the cause and effect is unclear. According to Sports Video.org, April 2014 ratings were very high. However, those ratings seem to have been connected much more intimately to how the Boston Bruins were doing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, versus NESN’s campaigns on its blog and varied social media platforms. Per the article, “NESN earned a 12.7 average household rating in the Boston DMA [Designated Market Area] (20 share) for Tuesday’s [April 22] 3-0 Bruins win over Detroit, which marks the best Game 3 rating in NESN history and the second best rating for a game that was not in a series clinching scenario. The only game that was not a clinching scenario that garnered a higher rating was a double overtime Game 5 vs. Montreal in 2011, which averaged a 12.9 HH rating. The 12.7 HH rating on Tuesday now stands as the 10th best Bruins playoff rating in NESN history. NESN’s highest-rated Bruins game ever was Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals (4/25/12) which garnered a 19.6 HH rating (31 Share) in the Boston DMA.” (Emphasis mine)

Advertisement Monetization

Fully monetizing the website is clearly a major objective for NESN. How successful is it? Probably the ads found above the fold get the most clicks. Would ads for Dice (a jobs website for techies) and the plain text ad for SEO firms get a lot of clicks? The Ray-Bans ad might do better, as it’s less techie-centric. But these ads don’t seem to be targeted to the audience. As for the ads that show up with the videos, if these are sufficiently similar to the commercials seen on NESN’s televised broadcasts, then potential buyers might be too fatigued with these messages to bother clicking on them.

What are clicks worth to NESN?

A visit to NESN’s advertising sales site (there is a tiny link at the bottom of the website’s home page) shows the channel boasting a reach to an audience of 4.5 million, mainly throughout the New England region. But these sales are for either advertisements on television or sporting venue sponsorships at Fenway Park or the Boston Garden. However, the contact page does include a means of requesting information on advertising on NESN.com.

So I repeat – what are clicks worth to NESN?

The Chartbeat data shows hundreds of daily clicks on advertising links. If a click is worth one-tenth of a penny, then 200 clicks makes a measly twenty cents. Multiply that by 365 days and the campaign is a disaster, at $73/year. So that is not what NESN is dependent upon.

Far more likely, NESN is dependent upon advertisers renting space on their Home Page, on their banners (both large and small), and as filler in between short video clips. The most recent article I could find on NESN’s rights fees was from 2002, and that showed NESN bringing in a cool $60 million in rights fees. After three World Series championships and the purchase of the Red Sox by John Henry, et al (the Red Sox own a controlling share in NESN), that figure has undoubtedly skyrocketed.

Clicks are nothing to NESN. The rights to the rental of space on the blog are where it’s at. No wonder the presences on Pinterest, etc. are fairly small – none of the followings on social media come anywhere near the 4.5 million reach boasted by the advertising department.

Conclusion

NESN has not come anywhere near tapping the fullest potential of social media, when it comes to audience acquisition and conversions. But right now, given their enormous offline presence, they don’t really have to.

Yet.