The first three weeks of SocialSpark have been absolutely amazing. We have broken every benchmark we set with launch of PayPerPost and then some. Blogger and Advertiser reception has been strong, but I also want to acknowledge that we have a long way to go and there is much room for improvement.
One of the biggest complaints that we have had is about blog sponsorships. Specifically, bloggers were complaining that the bottom bar was too big and the SocialSpark branding was too prominent. That will change with tomorrow's release. We have shortened the height of the sponsorship bar and made the SocialSpark branding less visible. Here is the before:
And here is the after:
We have reduced the bar by 22 pixels which allows for more content on smaller monitors while still putting the advertiser front and center. We always have to balance the desires of advertisers with bloggers and readers, I think this is a great solution.
The other request we had was the ability to require or not require the interstitial (which we call the blog welcome). This feature has been part of SocialSpark for some time, but not every advertiser may know this. You set that feature on the first page of the create blog sponsorship page, section 3.
I hope you all like the new bar. Keep the feedback coming!
What an exciting day for the team! SocialSpark is now available to the general public as a beta site. This picture says it all! We seem to be missing some folks from our team picture; Ted, Randy, David and Travis from RockStartup are out in San Francisco releasing SocialSpark at ad:tech. How exciting for all those attending today and tomorrow. If you are lucky enough to be out there stop by the booth #6163.
ummm the champagne support team?
Here are some screen shots:
One of the things that advertisers requested the most in our customer experience survey was the desire to target individual bloggers or groups of blogs quickly and easily. I believe that SocialSpark will provide you with that flexibility. Below is a quick rundown of how an advertiser might target in SocialSpark.
Browse Blogs and Bloggers
Many components of SocialSpark are open and exposed to everyone. You have the ability to browse through our blog and blogger database and sort by a variety of filters. You call also use the search feature to locate blogs and bloggers that contain certain keywords or tags.
Add to Blog Roll
Once you have located a blog you like you can add it to one of your Blog Rolls. Think of Blog Rolls as sets of blogs that you want to target.You can have as many Blog Rolls as you like, creating multiple groups for targeting on different campaigns.
Add to Street Team
In the same way you can add a blog to a Blog Roll you can add a blogger to a Street Team. Street Teams target bloggers, while Blog Rolls target blogs. If you create an opportunity that targets a Street Team any of the blogs registered and claimed under that blogger can take the Opp.
Once you have built your lists using Blog Rolls or Street Teams you can target your Opps to just those people.
I am extremely excited about these features and can't wait to start using the tool myself!
The majority of what has been released about SocialSpark to date has been geared towards Advertisers, but there are also a ton of tools and features for Bloggers as well. In addition to Sponsored Posts and Blog Sponsorships, SocialSpark also has what we call "Sparks". Sparks are free opportunities that you can utilize to promote news, cool things you find on the web, or your own blog.
When you use Sparks to promote your own blog we have included a nifty little feature called BlogYouBack.
If you select this feature you are agreeing to write a reciprocal blog post for whatever blog that reviews your blog. You can use this tool to create additional exposure for your blog and build traffic, which in turn builds your earnings.
Do you feel that? That is me jumping up and down with excitement (I have put on a few pounds). The dev team has been absolutely rocking it out and we are getting oh so close to inviting people in to play around with SocialSpark. Next week we enter into bug fixing mode, squashing the last known issues and cleaning up some usability concerns that the focus group pointed out.
I am elated. The process had taken longer than any of us had hoped but the resulting product is something I feel great about. and stand behind. The sales team can't wait to get their hands on SocialSpark and start selling, but in the meantime they continue to deliver. In fact, yesterday we set an all time single day sales record! Special thanks to Joe Vaughn for the extra effort. Way to go Joe!
I appreciate all of your patience. I am sure we will find plenty of issues in the private alpha, but I am confident you will love the new system. We have plenty of other things that will be added to SocialSpark in the future, this is going to be an exciting year for IZEA.
The last month and a half has been a bit crazy around the IZEA offices. I felt like SocialSpark was on track at PostieCon and we would be well through our initial Alpha at this point. Unfortunately we were thrown for a bit of a whirl shortly after returning from the event. The PR issue caused us to fast track a public ranking site for RealRank and make changes in PayPerPost that we didn't intend to make until after SocialSpark launched. We have also been battling an ever increasing amount of spammers who are trying to use Zookoda to sell you Viagra and Canadian Meds. As a result our development staff has been splintered and we couldn't release the Alpha as we intended. For that I apologize. Believe me, nobody wants these sites live more than we do.
If you were at PostieCon we haven't forgot about you. We will hook you up with a SocialSpark test drive as soon as we possibly can, but we aren't there yet. Both IZEARanks (the public site for RealRank and eventually other rankings) are slated to go live in January. IZEARanks will go first and SocialSpark will follow later in the month.
Randy and his team have been traveling around the country showing off the features of SocialSpark and the response from agencies and brands has been extremely positive. I am confident we have a killer app on our hands and I can't wait until we unleash it.
Shaun and I have spent a few cycles coming up with a plan for promoting RealRank to the general blogosphere. I think we have some pretty solid concepts but I can't help but wonder if one of you has a brilliant little gem just waiting to be heard. Think you can out market us? Let's here it! If you had $20k to spend on a marketing effort in December what would you do with it?
In case you missed it, here is the SocialSpark announcement Ted and Pete gave at PostieCon in Vegas. Thanks again to all that attended.
Click here to watch the video.
First off I must echo Mr. Fab and say WOW. PostieCon was amazing! I want to thank everyone who made it possible, especially Brit and Ashley who have been working for nearly a year to make the event a success. It was incredible to meet so many Posties and Advertisers face to face for the first time. You guys are what make my job such a pleasure.
SocialSpark - The Social Marketing Network
The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up as I took the stage late yesterday to unveil what would be SocialSpark. I could feel the raw energy of the concept coursing through my veins, my heart beating so loud I thought it was going to be picked up by the microphone. I truly believed we were on to something revolutionary... my only question was would you? As I peered through the audience over the course of the next half hour I knew we nailed it. SocialSpark is going to be big. HUGE.
Delivering on Our Mission
IZEA exists to empower everyone to value and exchange content, creativity and influence. PayPerPost has been the primary vehicle for executing on our corporate mission, facilitating thousands of transactions each day. The PPP marketplace currently represents 11,000+ Advertisers and 85,000+ Bloggers around the globe and is by far the largest of its kind. We are growing by leaps and bounds each month, consistently setting new sales records. Most people would be thrilled to be the CEO of such a rapidly growing company. Why not just iterate on PayPerPost? Why create something altogether new?
It can be done better
Over the past year and a half I have been absorbing information like a sponge. Feedback from our users, trends in the industry, ideas from our developers and conversations with our sales team. I was publicly flogged by Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, Jeff Jarvis, Matt Cutts and Mike Arrington among others and I would be lying if I said it didn't influence me in some way. It was a lot to take in, but at the end of the day it became apparent to me that there was an opportunity to do things better. I knew it was possible for IZEA to create more value for the people we serve, but there was one small problem. It didn't look anything like PayPerPost. Oh crap. Here we go again.
Starting from scratch
Social media is about relationships and conversations. While PayPerPost can help start a conversation between a blogger and their audience it doesn't provide a framework that promotes open and ongoing relationships between an advertiser and the blogger themselves. The system is essentially closed, only we know who the bloggers are, only we know who the advertisers are (unless you take a particular Opp). It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone if you don't know who they are. If we wanted to enable conversations and relationships we would have to make our advertiser and blogger data public.
Think about that for a second. Bloggers and advertisers are our customers. How many companies publish their customer database for the world to see? I don't see Google providing their advertiser and publisher database along with a link to contact them. This will be the most open and transparent advertising network in the world. We are putting it all out there for anyone to see.
For the first time advertisers and bloggers can search for each other based on interest and create an advertising relationship. All users can communicate openly in the system through comments, feedback and direct messages.
Doesn't that cut you out of the transaction?
In some cases it will. If an advertiser wants to do a small campaign they may very well circumvent the system. We certainly provide the means to do so. However, I believe that the system provides enough value through transaction security, tax reporting, metrics, uniform application of disclosure and campaign management that most users will choose to use our advertising and payment platform. Going direct may save some money short term, but it is a nightmare to manage and requires a significant time investment. That is why I originally created PayPerPost.
Scalable social media campaigns
SocialSpark allows advertisers to build large lists of bloggers and blogs based on easily searchable criteria including actual traffic, pageviews and author/reader demographics. For the first time advertisers can execute a targeted, large-scale social media campaign with the click of a button and watch the results in real time.
Uniform application of disclosure
We are also breaking new ground in the area of transparency and blog ethics when it comes to sponsored posts. Over the past year we have pioneered the concept of a Disclosure Policy and invented the Disclosure Badge. PayPerPost already requires mandatory disclosure, we take this a step further in SocialSpark with systematic in-post disclosure via disclosure badge in all sponsored posts. We have also taken away the tone option, leaving tone entirely in the blogger's hands.
I believe this uniform application of disclosure exceeds all current standards and guidelines per WOMMA's ethic code. That code simply says "We encourage word of mouth advocates to disclose their relationship with marketers in their communications with other consumers." There is a big difference between encouraging disclosure and requiring it. We require disclosure in all IZEA properties.
The WOMMA guideline is also very open to interpretation in terms of how disclosure is carried out. From WOMMA - "We don't tell them specifically what to say, but we do instruct them to be open and honest about any relationship with a marketer and about any products or incentives that they may have received." That begs the question of what is disclosure. With SocialSpark there is no room for interpretation. It is clear, concise and machine readable. In fact, SocialSpark is the only method of word of mouth marketing that provides an auditable trail of disclosure for the advertiser. It is the gold standard for ethical social marketing. I hope that WOMMA and other word of mouth marketers will join us in adopting this new standard.
Search engine friendly
All required links in SocialSpark sponsored posts will carry the no-follow tag (or something more appropriate) because… well, I guess the most advanced search algorithms in the world need our help.
I can't possibly cover everything that gets me excited about SocialSpark in one post. Andy Beard has done a fantastic job (once again) at summarizing my keynote from yesterday. Look for more updates, screen shots and announcements on this blog.
People have all sorts of reasons for blogging. Some people just use blogging as an outlet to emote their thoughts and feelings. Some bloggers want attention. Some bloggers just enjoy writing. However, at the end of the day, I think that most bloggers just want to have their blog read. Payperpost bloggers are probably even more interested in this, because having a large number of readers of your blog usually translates into better Alexa and PR rankings which equals more money. My guess is that with Argus's new statistics engine, blog traffic will become even more important to those wanting to make money using Payperpost.
On that note, I thought I'd throw in a few idea on how to drive more traffic to your blog. I'm not planning on giving you an exhaustive list of things you can do. I'm just going to point out a few things I've seen which help drive traffic to my blogs.
For a new blogger, I'm pretty sure that most bloggers agree that the easiest way to get some readers of your blog is to comment on other blogs that are similar to yours. Many of you new bloggers may be wondering how you find other bloggers with similar interests. It's quite easy. I personally prefer to use Google's Blog search, Technorati is also popular, but there are hundreds of other blog search engines out there. Do a search on your favorite thing and start reading what other people have to say about it. The hidden secret to this method is that the more blogs you read and comment on, the more ideas you'll have to write about on your blog. I recently heard that to be a great writer you have to be a great reader. It's definitely true.
Second, use good keywords in your blog title. If your blog is designed right (which most are), the title of your blog post is one of the most important factors in where you're ranked in Google and other search engines. My wife is horrible at this. I've tried to teach her to create creative titles with good keywords, but she doesn't care. Here's a few of her recent blog post titles "Fixed" "Ebb and Flow" and "Identical Twins." These simple titles won't help at all in getting Google to send traffic your way and would you rather read a blog post called "Fixed" or "My Wretched Computer Has Finally Been Saved?" A well written blog title is like a headline in a newspaper. Make one that people will want to read and Google will find unique.
My final suggestion today is to interact with other bloggers on the PayPerPost forum. Not only is there a whole section on marketing and promotion, but interacting with other bloggers on the forum is a great way to find new readers. I know that the forum is the way that I've found many of the blogs that I read and comment on regularly. Not only will this drive traffic and readers to your blog, but you will also create interesting friendships with people around the world or even your own backyard.
There are hundreds of other ways to get new readers and increase traffic to your blog. We'll cover those later. Until then, these three things will help make your blog happy.