Author of The Last Original Idea: A Cynic's View of Internet Marketing, Geri Rockstein is an expert in online and offline business communications, digital marketing and online strategy. I'm pleased to present our Q & A, which illuminates some pillars of the internet and social media that many of us are aware of, but might not fully appreciate. (And we even talked about Geri's native Canada.)
1. Why is your book called The Last Original Idea?
The Internet is an incredible communications machine that exists on hype. Only on the Internet could a company never post a profit, lose $65 million in the last quarter, lose $483 million in its 8 year history, yet be evaluated at $12.8 billion and look to raise over $1 billion in an IPO. Yes, I’m talking about Twitter. And, Twitter isn’t even an original idea; it’s just a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news. In fact there is nothing new on the Internet; everything is just a variation of a theme that has evolved naturally over the years. But, don’t tell that to marketers who are as eager to grab onto the latest fad as a pit bull to a piece of meat and sell, sell, sell! So, Alan K’necht and I decided to have a little fun, debunk the hype, and poke fun at our own industry that takes itself way too seriously. Try to think of one thing that is truly an original idea and not an evolution or a variation of a theme and you won’t be able to come up with anything except for Adam, God’s greatest creation and last original idea. Hence, The Last Original Idea, a book that traces back some of the latest online fads and technologies back to their humble beginnings in a light hearted way.
2. You clearly hit the ground running when you were thrust into working on the internet. But why are so many Baby Boomers so reticent to "get on board"?
I love new experiences and technology doesn’t scare me, so when I landed in the online world in the mid-90s it was a great adventure. But as a Boomer from the Calculator Age I can understand why so many Boomers are reticent to “get on board”. We don’t have technology in our DNA like the younger generations do. Every 3 year old can use a tablet yet my first exposure to touch technology was the Smartphone that I acquired in my 50s. The online world is enormous, with so many facets that it’s overwhelming and intimidating. And, it’s continually changing. There isn’t a how to book or manual with a series of steps in a natural progression. Boomers are fearful of the Internet and technology in general because they’re afraid that they’re too old to learn and they don’t want to feel foolish or looked upon as old and not capable. Instead of looking at the Internet in its totality, it should be approached on a need to know basis. Learn how to use the software, programs, or apps that you need for your work or your leisure. Don’t waste time and energy with things that you’ll never use and quickly forget. When I first got my mother online, I asked her what she wanted to do on her computer. She wanted to use email and search for information. As she mastered the skills she became very confident online and at the age of 82 she is a techno-babe. The reality is that the Internet is here to stay and we all have only 2 options – embrace it or go kicking and screaming. Don’t let fear hold you back. The Internet is a wonderful tool that can open a lot of doors.
3. In your book, you say that the internet is not as new or novel as we make it out to be, because it's just another way of engendering mass communication. But isn't there something vastly different about virtually every person being able to share their thoughts on a mass scale than there is about the very select works that made it to Guttenberg's printing press, or even made it to the magazines and books published pre-internet? In other words, the "quality check" is gone with the internet, no?
Brandon, you are so right! It drives me nuts. The Internet has removed the checks and balances that should be in place. Sadly this has trickled down to respected newspapers and news agencies because they know that if they don’t cut corners and rush to print that they are going to be scooped by someone who is not governed by journalistic integrity. There is a lot of garbage out there and everyone who publishes a 140 character Tweet fancies themselves a writer. It becomes very challenging to sift through the garbage to uncover the gems.
4. Obviously we need to be on social media if we're in certain businesses, but does the average Baby Boomer "need" to be on it? Will the world pass you by, otherwise?
This is part of the Internet hype that is foisted upon us by a plethora of so called social media experts, social media gurus, or social media ninjas.
For Businesses: Social media is not one size fits all and social media is not free when you calculate what your time is worth on an hourly basis and how many hours are you planning to devote to it. Before a business engages in social media:
Although social media is not one size fits all, blogging can benefit every company. Blogging provides valuable information while establishing a brand, enhancing visibility, generating leads, establishing industry expertise, driving membership, and more. According to HubSpot, companies that maintain blogs attract 55% more website visitors, get 97% more inbound links and have 434% more indexed web pages than companies without blogs. The more often a company blogs, the more traffic and leads it will be able to produce. Businesses that produce at least 20 blog posts per month generate over five times more traffic than those that produce less than four per month. Additionally, companies that blog at least 20 times per month generate four times more leads than those without a blog.
For social purposes: Each person individually needs to determine if engaging in social media has a purpose for them. i.e. Do they have children or grandchildren on Facebook that they want to keep current with? No one “needs” to be on social media. The world will not pass you by. In fact I don’t use social media for social purposes at all. I regard it solely as a business tool. If you have no reason to engage in social media, and can’t see any benefit, don’t.
5. Can you explain the key differences between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to someone who looks at them as basically all the same?
They are all very different, serve different purposes and attract different demographics:
Facebook: Facebook originally started off as a way for college students to connect with each other. It has evolved into the world’s most popular social media networking site with 1.26 billion users. You can keep up with friends and family, upload photos and videos, join groups, chat, post news and information, read about companies, research products…..
Instagram: Instagram is a free app available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Take a photo with your mobile phone and then choose a filter to transform the image into a professional looking photo. You can then share the photo on multiple platforms - Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. There are currently 150 million users on Instagram.
Twitter: Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news. Follow people and/or organizations to read their news and follow their conversations. The news and information is delivered in small amounts of data that are 140 characters long called Tweets. There are currently 215 million active users on Twitter.
Pinterest: Pinterest is a social media site that allows users to pin images and videos they find online to a virtual pinboard and share them with others. It’s like online scrapbooking. There are currently 70 million users on Pinterest and 80% of them are women.
6. Is SEO really important? Even with the internet, isn't the only way to really spread something around to make it great and hope it goes viral either electronically or word of mouth? Do we really need to spend an hour coming up with key words to a post that took an hour to write?
SEO is really important. Organic search is the most powerful acquisition channel accounting for 16% of customers acquired. Facebook and Twitter lag far behind. Organic search engine results are 85% of all end users clicks, as opposed to only 15% for sponsored ads. Studies continue to show the click-through rate for the first position on Google to be in the region of 35%. The chances of your content going viral is probably around the same as winning a lottery and no one knows how or why something goes viral. It’s a bad bet. SEO is tried and true and the results are measurable. Doing keyword research is certainly not an arduous task and well worth the effort.
7. Many Americans look at Canada as, basically, the 51st state. We know it's a different country, but it's so much less different-seeming than any other, and you can travel between the two pretty easily. And Canada is in our sports leagues. How do Canadians view the U.S. in this context?
We are proudly Canadian and don’t see ourselves as the 51st state, but our countries are incredibly similar and we enjoy the close relationship. Canadians enjoy the proximity to cheaper prices south of the border and cross-border shopping is a national pastime. More and more our shopping malls are looking like average American malls with stores like Target, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and now Nordstrom’s (personally I’m praying for Macy’s and DSW). A considerable percentage of our population are Snowbirds or Snowflakes who enjoy areas in the U.S. with warm winter climates while we in the north spend the winters freezing. I think that Canadians are jealous that we don’t have the NFL although the Buffalo Bills do play a few games in Toronto. We’re passionate about our hockey teams. I am frequently amazed at how little many Americans know about Canada. They seem to think of Canadians as small-townish and are usually quite surprised that the only cities in the U.S. that are larger than Toronto are New York and Los Angeles.
8. What's your favorite thing about the internet? Least favorite?
My favorite thing about the Internet is that you can have millions of pages of information at your fingertips in a nanosecond. My least favorite thing is that you can have millions of pages of information at your fingertips in a nanosecond. You have to be a really good researcher to be able to filter out the garbage from accurate and up-to-date information. You can’t take anything at face value.
WELL PUT. THANKS GERI!
I worked in a kitchen when I was growing up, 80-90 hours a week, at Camp Sussex. There’s a lot of opportunities like this. Is that work nothing?
When did you do something for the first time and how great was the feeling?