The Izea Insider program is currently in a bit of limbo. It is unclear to those of us that were in the program last year (2009) whether or not the program will continue in 2010.
Contracts were only for the 2009 calendar year, so technically we are all out of the program as of the 1st of the year.
That said, it would appear that Izea does have some interest in continuing the program, and it is probably more a question of
- (a.) whether or not to fund it
- (b.) the cost of winding it down -> lots of programming went into setting it up
- (c.) Refocusing the program for 2010 if it does continue
- (d.) whether to continue with some or all of the IzeaInsiders from 2009
- (e.) whether to bring in new insiders etc.
All of those points are my own speculations on the program as an IzeaInsider from 2009.
In general, those of us that were in the program last year did pretty much the same type of work in 2006, 7, 8 without any formalized program to support us with or without money. We will likely continue helping people the same way in 2010 with or without the program.
The program’s goals were a little soft. One of the main goals seemed to be in blogger recruitment or education.
In this, I think Heather (@heatherinbc and Drew (@benspark) hit it out of the park recruiting more bloggers. They are both naturals at this and even better at managing relationships online after they are created.
Several of us, myself included, always felt a little weird competing for blogger recruitment with people that are essentially our friends.
It was always a bit of a zero sum recruitment game. If I encouraged someone to sign up, that might take a recruit away from say Heather, who might have also helped the same person.
I mention this because I suspect this same issue probably made it difficult to track in metrics and in $$$ the success of the program. It was hard for us Insiders and Ashley, running the program at Izea, to develop a good understanding of what was working with our efforts and what was not while it was happening, I doubt that cloud has been removed after the fact.
On other fronts, speaking for myself, I did quite a bit to develop some improvements in the terms of service for PPP and SS about this time last year. Some of those upgrades did happen, but some of them did not. We had a lot of conversations online and on the phone with several people in Izea, but I suspect its hard to buy off in changing the status quo of something as mundane as the TOS in hopes of improving the culture and quality of the blogosphere.
I still think it was necessary, especially as it concerned collaboration and multi-writer blogs, but I’m not sure that the energy spent on this really bore fruit.
update We were all very vocal about updating the sign up and claim process in Social Spark and I missed this update that came out about 3 weeks ago, drastically over hauling and improving the process.
Throughout the year, I myself covered a lot of conferences, camps, meetups, tweetups, social media club things, startup weekends, brain storming sessions, think tanks and more. Some of the expenses for these were at times partly or fully funded by my travel allotment from Izea of $1500. I slept on floors and couches, hotel beds, my car, van, and airport terminals to save money and stretch that money as far as it would go. I drove and flew more miles than I would like to count covering events all around the southeast in Atlanta, Raleigh, Durham, Orlando, Savannah, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Holden Beach and some to more distant locations including New York City, Peoria/Bloomington, IL and several trips to Las Vegas for 8 different conferences.
In short, I worked & traveled my ass off. I was not soley working for Izea, I was working for myself.
During those trips, I rarely recruited bloggers. Most bloggers that I ran into, were already monetizing their sites and knew what they were doing. There were many that were new to the business, so new that they didn’t even have blogs at all. I worked with quite a few companies and personalities as part of my business with Softduit setting up websites, blogs, and (hate the cheesy catch phrase) social media marketing plans.
In marketing and seo conferences in particular, I found myself primarily providing education and insights to fellow advertisers, marketing firms, marketing professionals etc in regards to blog marketing and Izea. For the record, unless asked only about Izea itself, I almost always provided information about all of the blog marketing firms I have worked with in any capacity. I even continued to give referals to PayU2Blog despite the fact they think I’m evil incarnate after I pushed a medium sized campaign to Izea instead of their network the year before.
I simply referred people to the right network for any given type of job that would fit best in that network.
Most advertisers or firms seem to lack any blog marketing industry experience at all, let alone know which product or service to run with in any given circumstance.
My efforts to help companies and marketing firms understand blog marketing came to a bit of a crescendo with IzeaFest with the panel What Advertisers Want. At Blogworld, an event that I attend every year, (podcast Expo before it every year as well), I also found myself working (sans pay) in the role of connector. I helped a large number of companies come together and meet each other in October, knowing the industry and having worked with quite a few of these companies over the years, I saw the synergies and introduced people all over the show.
That was a whole lot of fun, partly because I helped so many people and companies.
I think the goals of the program need to be tightened up a bit. I don’t think it should be shelved.
I think there need to be 4 roles targeted
1) Blogger recruiting
2) Blogger Training
3) Advertiser Recruiting
4) Advertiser Training
If the program continues, I think these are the areas that will reap the most rewards for everyone in and out of Izea or the blogosphere.
Some people can touch on any one of these areas at any given time, no one I know of, myself, Ted and Ashley included, can hit on all 4 cylinders all the time.
Also, there were some definite communications problems with the program. A couple of these were technical in nature, like how to do a conference call type stuff, which I’m not worried about nor am I worried about the difficulties of getting a bunch of bloggers in different time zones and countries on a call together either.
But one of the bigger problems was How Izea can talk with Insiders about Anything that is not public?
There were several times where Izea launched a new system, service etc where we Insiders were shown the new whiz bang 24 hours before or less. Yes we had a little advance notice, but as Insiders it was always questionable whether or not we were allowed to ‘blog about it’ (and we’re bloggers ) at the time we learned about it.
When contracts and NDA’s enter the business relationship issues like this get a little muddled.
But maybe more importantly, with only a few hours before going live, it was difficult to give any meaningful critique or feedback in a timely way such that a new system or service could be improved.
Case in point Sponzai
Great service, great product, love almost everything about it. Over a year ago when I was working on my last major ad campaign through Izea (yeah been awhile!) Dan Rua asked me some questions leading up to whether or not that type of process (in PPP or SS) might be useful to me as an advertiser based on some real world challenges I was facing in both those networks at the time. I essentially created a manual campaign based on the Sponzai concept and ran in through PPP. Then I gave a whole bunch of feedback to the Izea team about that experience.
A year later they developed and rolled out Sponzai. Very cool to see the idea incubate go live, but there were some opportunities missed during production. It was a long time coming that product, I was happy to see it roll out, but after so much time, even with my high interest and relatively high level of buy in as an Insider and as an advertiser that had given a lot of feedback, I felt (touchy feely word that has nothing to do with business) distanced from this tool.
Along the way, if asked I would have requested several different things:
1 – Include it in PPP and SS as functionality not as a stand alone product
2 – Name it with something that includes one or more of the words or root words ‘guest’ ‘guest article’ ‘guest post’ ‘guest author’ etc.
Izea Challenge Point
So look I’m not perfect, don’t claim to be, but here is a challenge point that Izea seems to have. They work in a fast paced advertising business where knock off competitors pop up quickly. Izea has a modus operandi of creating a thing in secret and then featuring a grand reveal to the world ala Steve Jobs.
They are not great at taking conversations in social media, forums, blogs etc and bringing those discussions in house to work on them WITH the folks that kick them off whether they be other businesses, bloggers or customers. There is something that is not transparent about the process and like a supporting character in a scary movie, the lack of communication about what is going on or what is needed, that lack of transparency about the situation, decreases the buzz, the momentum and the effectiveness of the end result.
A magician on YouTube is only as good as their latest trick. Once you’ve done the trick and everyone has seen it, there’s no magic left until you create a new trick. A master magician however can take a suggestion from the audience and work a trick on the spot. That’s essentially what companies (not just Izea) but all companies working in this ridiculously named space of ‘social media’ -> ‘people talking with each other media’ have to do. They have to listen to their stakeholders, take their requests and suggestions and work some magic.
If that magic can not be done in real time, then it has to at least happen while the company/magician continues to talk with their audience, keeping them engaged in the trick, the potential of the trick, and the hope of future magic.
You can’t go into radio silence for a year and then come back with a trick and expect your audience/stakeholders to still be there and still be present with the same level of connectivity and buy in that they had before.
Too much media down the stream at that point. In a world where attention spans are measured in 5-15 minute segments, a year is more like a millenia.
Sooo there’s my insights on the Insider program. I have heard ruminations about some changes at Izea that might also play a role in whether or not the program continues or not or how it might morph. I suspect money will play a role.
The former accountant in me, suspects that the program needs to tighten up significantly and maybe consider some alternatives to keep the program financed.
Less emphasis on travel and distant conferences and more emphasis on local/regional events (like this).
Less emphasis on blogger recruitment and more emphasis on blogger development.
More emphasis on advertiser recruitment and development, afterall that will drive new revenue and $$$.
Hell maybe even some out of the box thinking like trying to use Obama’s ‘proposed’ incentive providing $5k per new hire in tax credits paid out of payroll taxes.
I wanted to mention that I did receive a big benefit indirectly out of the Insider program. As part of the program we insiders were to get a blog makeover. If you’ve ever seen some of the blog makeovers created by Izea and their partners, they are generally off the charts stellar.
I received a mock up for a makeover of my own personal blog There’s Something About Harry. (it was really ugly) But the point is, that really drove me to figure out how to design wordpress themes myself and during a year when my blogging revenue dropped by half compared to the year before, I was able to makeup that revenue performing WordPress implementations using WP as a CMS with themes I started designing.
I got a bit of a lemon and made lemonade out of it. That was a huge opportunity, and I view it very positively.
We bloggers have received a lot of ‘freebies’ over the last few years. It has had the extremely negative result of creating a sense of entitlement by bloggers that is at best ugly, and at worst is completely disgusting.
Out of necessity I had to fend for myself and I learned a whole lot more than I would of if I had not. Yes, I did burn a lot of cycles learning yet another discipline, but I did Learn! Offer me a freebie or an opportunity to learn and I’ll take the opportunity to learn every day of the week.