The Blogosphere Concludes The MBA Is Worthless

These results irk me to no end (because I have a lot of professorial friends in the b-schools that look to improve their programs all the time), but the blogosphere consensus as seeded by Seth Godin appears to be that the MBA is not an education. He is not alone in his claim. He is supported by a number of other prominent MBAs referenced in blogosphere conversations (click here, but note that the Blogpulse computation may take a while).

Note there are some potential measurement errors here in terms of what is tracked (looks like only formal trackbacks are included) because other conversations have clearly been spawned from Seth’s thread.

That said, presuming the Blogpulse measurement is representative of the crowd consensus, is the wisdom of crowds correct here? I’ve casually thrown in the "crowds" argument to support some of my prior posts, so I can’t have it both ways if the crowds argument is a valid argument, and the crowd concludes the MBA is bunk. Have any pre-conditions for the wisdom of crowds been violated in the Blogpulse chart?

A Few Link Pointers On Venture and High-Tech Compensation

Some of these are older references, but these contain information on stock options (Be forewarned that one needs to be very careful that one is comparing apples to apples when looking at this data or getting compensation benchmark information.):

  • Brad Feld – on board compensation for directors (no cash for you early-stage directors)
  • Ed Sim – on HBS compensation study
  • reference – here (one of the most detailed breakdowns I have seen on the net albeit potentially biased to include companies that have filed S-1s)

Other sources I have used for getting this information from: law firms, serial entrepreneurs, VCs, CFOs, other execs, and sometimes executive recruiters. Stock option compensation can be a bit of black art in my mind (as I mentioned in comment section of Brad’s post).

Weblogs As A Game – Musings On The Levers (Long Post)

I blogged previously about Michigan Business School’ s foray into corporate blogging by having MBA students help a small enterprise. Real kudos to Bud Gibson and the others involved in this bootcamp effort.

Bud’s post made me pause to think about and write down what I have learned about corporate blogging, building blog traffic, getting cited by opinion leaders, etc. My thoughts are based on personal experience, analysis of best practices in other blogs, some loose benchmarking, and search for cases which defy what most people think of as best practices. My thoughts are a work in progress (it is hard to do this kind of research "as a side effort"). I have tried conducting some controlled experiments to see what factors result in different "outcomes". I use the word "outcomes" because blind recommendations don’t work in blogging – not everyone has the same goals in what they want for their blog. People should just be aware of how different levers work and then experiment and apply what works for them.

Here are some thoughts (I reserve the right to change my mind!):

  1. Some people say write original content:  If one wants traffic, then perhaps the statement is mostly true, but then I would qualify this to say that one needs to write original content from time to time. I have found that I can get away with this on my blog. I have seen more successful bloggers (if there is even such a measure of any blog being better than another) do it too.
  2. Some people say post frequently: I don’t think this is a necessary condition, but posting semi-annually is probably too infrequent. There are bloggers like Ed Sim (venture capitalist) that are reputed for having quality, thoughtful posts on a less frequent basis.
  3. Anecdotal experience on getting cited by experts or uber bloggers: Offline networking works best for me. My wife and I met Virgina Postrel a couple months back (her husband is a business school professor with my wife). When Virginia cited my blog a couple of times in the past, there were thousands of hits to the blog posts.
  4. Some people say quality of writing matters: Poor writing style doesn’t help, but I suspect good writing style may not be as important as some people think. I have seen people write way better than I do (not hard to find I might add) and have less traffic. I have also seen myself write great posts (or similar posts on another platform) that get little traffic compared to poor posts I have written that fit into the blogosphere better. What I have found is that contributing to dialogue matters more (in the way of using trackbacks, writing something about things currently on people’s minds in the news, having an angle, having a different takeaway, etc.).
  5. Some people say commenting on other people’s blogs helps: I have found that trackbacks tend to work better by 2X or so. My writing style was largely the same on my old Tripod blog (ignore the ads that weren’t there previously), but that blog didn’t support inbound or outbound trackback. When I shifted to my new blog on Typepad (well writing efficiency went up), I found that traffic and commenting went up very measurably in about 1/4 of the time.
  6. Some people say having commenting capabilities on one’s blog helps a lot: Not sure on this one although intuitively I would like this to be true because I like to respond to people (whether by email or response post). People like the concept of intimacy. While I feel having commenting can’t hurt you if you know how to respond to it effectively (see Bob Lutz’s blog at GM), it may be sensitive to how much clout one already holds (by way of what position you hold, what company you work for, what name you’ve established prior to blogging, how much traffic you already have). Seth Godin is a perfect example of someone that does not have commenting on his blog (yet he supports inbound trackback), and he has something like 2%+ of all Typepad traffic on the Internet (as reported by Alexa).
  7. Some people say use blog "electrification programs" like Carnival of the Capitalists: There is a good account of how traffic peaks for the host (I couldn’t locate it offhand – was done earlier this year). There are also sites that report increases in temporary blog traffic as the linked-to blogs. How sticky the readers are after the click-through, and how many of those readers become continued blog readers varies.
  8. Some people say don’t use blog magnet or traffic explosion programs: Here you get readers that aren’t sticky. Likely true. But if your model isn’t based on stickiness (e.g., impulse buy), then heck, it’s another tool to be aware of. The tool is not my style for this endeavor.
  9. Be aware of the mechanics around "The Tipping Point": If the goal is to get word around virally, here’s a great post on how a blog post got diffused through the net.
  10. Some people like Robert Scoble say use granular posts so that word can spread around: Conceptually, his idea sounds good to me having been an engineer (breaking things down into components and thinking about the concepts of ideaviruses also make sense). However, to be frank, I have not researched whether this is statistically true and borne out in actual data. Requiring granularity strikes me as a little weird though because political blogs are some of the most popular blogs, and these can be the wordiest/most packed blogs out there at times. That said, if one recounts how blogs became legitimized in the political area (e.g., in Hugh Hewitt’s book on Blogs), there does seem to be a role for distributing concise fragments of blog ideas.
  11. Some people say write a manifesto that can be passed around: Robert Scoble’s manifesto and Seth Godin’s free pdf book on unleashing the ideavirus come to mind. Need I say more here. Manifestos can really work if you can invest the time and find an angle from which to write.
  12. Learn about how things like search engines and the folksonomy software interact with blog traffic: This is probably a moving target given how rapidly blogs and search software are evolving. My current anecdotal experience is that this works better than commenting and about the same as trackbacks (in some cases much better than trackbacks). How sticky the traffic is … well, my impression is that trackback methods are stickier, but then I don’t have good sources I can cite to back this up. A little bit gut feel. Not a real strong gut feel yet.
  13. Link policy: No conclusions here, but it does have an impact. Need to think about this one. I posted my policy here. Jennifer Rice has some good thoughts on her site (see link to her link via my post).
  14. Placement of sideboard items: No conclusions here. Stickiness seems to be influenced by how the blog is laid out, and prior concepts about websites do not necessarily seem to carry over to the blogging world. On a somewhat related subject related to layout, consider Seth Godin’s post on having a sticky top line post.
  15. Hosted blogging platforms need to make advances to support corporate users: YES! Please do. RSS integration needs to be easier (e.g., adding Feedburner). Being able to track what people click (as opposed to having to add some funky php code) needs to be easier. Being able to add things like "email this post to a friend" should be there. Being able to automatically suggest other posts should be available. Being able to subscribe to commenting updates should be available to readers. Being able to interface with email updates (e.g., via Bloglet) should be there. Adding search engine capability … the list goes on and on. Without going into agonizing detail on this, there are improvements that seem like they can be made to improve viral spread and ability of bloggers to create stickiness. Unfortunately for the end user, hosted blogging platform R&D doesn’t look like it’s going into this area yet. Bloggers currently need computer science degrees and versions of HTML babblefish decoder rings to add these features in the aftermarket.

I have many more thoughts on this subject, but I just wanted to bang out some of the blogging levers that immediately popped into my mind. I guess my main thoughts are that depending on the game or business model one wants to create, then there are levers that are consistent or inconsistent with those goals. There’s no one way to skin a cat.

Hope this helps some future Michigan MBA students get some additional ideas.

Steve Shu

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A Sponsored Marketing Blog Post Example

For those interested in seeing a sponsored marketing blog post about online webconferencing, here’s one that I did for Citrix over at The CIO Weblog. I guess a couple of key things to note here are that third-party bloggers have an opportunity to both put their own spin on corporate products and use a more informal writing style than might be used on a company’s website.

Wharton Professors Weigh In On Blogging

From the Knowledge@Wharton site on blogging (bold emphasis added by me):

"At its most basic level, it’s a technology that is lowering the cost
of publishing" and turning out to be "the next extension of the web,"
says Wharton legal studies professor Kevin Werbach.
"Blogging is still in its early days. It’s analogous to where the web
was in 1995 and 1996. It’s not clear how it will turn out."

What is clear is that opportunities for blogging abound.
Companies can use bloggers to put a more human face on interactions
with employees and customers; marketers can create buzz through blogs;
and bloggers can act as fact checkers for the mainstream media. There
are dozens of applications for blogs, Werbach notes, and many that
haven’t even been conceived yet … "Blogging is really driven by interest and desires, not
commercial activity," says Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader. "It’s rare to see something take off like this when commercial prospects are so minimal. People just want to share ideas."

… Werbach predicts that multiple business models will emerge. Individuals
ages 18-25 are spending more of their time online, and marketers need
to reach them. That means blogging could become a way to target the
most coveted audience for media.

If that isn’t an attractor for experimentation and innovation, I don’t know what would be. Read the whole Wharton article here.

Saving Krispy Kreme

My sources tell me that a big Krispy Kreme in the Chicagoland area just closed up. The world is not eating enough doughnuts? Reuters just reported that $225 million loan was extended to help with the cash crunch. I suppose good word-of-mouth donut-in-mouth marketing is not enough here.

Musings on Maven Havens (Not Fully Thought Through)

Malcolm Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point," uses the term "maven" to describe very knowledgeable people. These mavens are people who would know instantly whether a particular product is priced 10% too much (whereas the average person would not). They are the types of people voracious for product details in magazines like Consumer Reports and Road & Track. They can be the type of people that call the 800 number on the back of a box of Ivory soap to get the full scoop on what the soap ingredients are. Mavens may be both connoisseurs and fanatics.

Gladwell’s basic premise is that under the right conditions when mavens spread their knowledge to connector-types (networked people) which then in turn spread the knowledge to salesmen-types (charismatic, evangelist people), there is the possibility of information spreading virally. Anything from a mini-epidemic to a major epidemic is possible. The best example I have found on how blog ideas spread (in the context of the Tipping Point framework) can be found here.

Building business models around the concept of mavens, connectors, and salesmen seems like a powerful concept then. Businesses want to sell ideas, products, and services in epidemic proportions for sure.

From my vantage point, the social bookmarks platform is becoming a maven haven for certain Internet resources. As an example, it was there that I near instantly discovered the "wisdom of the crowds" was focusing in on this tremendous compilation of search engines. Never would have found that on my own. In part, I wonder whether the maven haven environment is supported largely by the fact that the user interface can seem so intimidating on first blush (see here for screenshots and screencasts of I made a recent comment to an organization that might be able to improve its workflow by utilizing, and the comment was made back to me that "less than two people would know how to use it". Applying my high-end MBA quant skills, that means one person, right? Duh.

These observations also lead me to believe that features like different GUI interfaces for tagging Internet resources (as a user configurable preference) and the ability to both restrict use by and generate reports for different groups and demographics of people might be useful for better building businesses. More generally, it would be very valuable to be able to lincoln log together and monitor maven, connector, and salesmen puzzle pieces. The magic of creating business epidemics could then be "reduced" to world-class R&D and reading the tea leaves on introducing products in the right market conditions.

Pipe dream … perhaps. As for improving on the tagging of Internet resources, the search engine companies seems like they could move in this direction, but there also seems like there could be opportunities for some vertical integration plays to control the companies that support the maven (e.g., and maven-connector (e.g., Technorati) model-based companies. From an empowerment perspective, it’s probably too simplistic to view some of these technologies just as "search engines for blogs" or "tagging and folksomy companies". If the world of finance is any example (albeit finance is a quicker market to adjust to information possession and release), the value of proprietary research and information goes up when a single entity has it and goes down significantly as more and more people have it. On the flip side though, it seems as though overall economic value can go up if the technology is designed such that proprietary solutions can be built on top of trusted and broadly available maven and connector technology foundations.

Steve Shu

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