Influencers Who Inspire: Interview with Jon Swartz of USA TODAY

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

In a special edition of our “Influencers Who Inspire” series, we’re chatting with award-winning technology journalist, author and avid San Francisco Giants fan, Jon Swartz. Jon shares his thoughts on smart phones and peer pressure, guerrilla marketing tactics that actually work and how reporting compares to baseball.

We read your article on BlackBerry’s Z10 launch and their plans for a comeback; so tell us, what is your ‘go to’ mobile device?

I used a BlackBerry up until two years ago when the trackball wasn’t working as well as it should. At the time, I faced some peer pressure from my colleagues in the Valley to get an iPhone. There used to be a lot of iPhone bias in Silicon Valley, but it has gone away now for the most part. More people are using Androids, and I would certainly consider a move to a BlackBerry or Android from the iPhone. I can live without the iPhone. I find the battery life is awful, and I have to have a charger with me at all times. As a result, more restaurants and bars have charging stations (at SXSW we saw this all over the place).

You know, BlackBerry CEO (Thorsten Heins) is right; he calls the iPhone passé and says they (BlackBerry) have the same problem that Apple did. “We need to earn our laurels back.” It’s true because in tech things become old fast; the shelf life of these things aren’t very long now. Apple has traditionally done a great job of that, making the old version obsolete as they quickly move on to the next thing. So it’s no surprise others are following suit here.

We know you are huge San Francisco Giants fan. How did your obsession with baseball begin?

When I was six I went to my first game. I also got to see Willie Mays play when I was a kid, so that got me hooked for life. I also loved playing the sport. You become infatuated with it, and it never loses you. Baseball also has a long season, and it takes a lot of patience. It’s a lot like reading a novel. It’s not like other sports where the season is more like a quick sprint. The upside is that you can go to a game and actually explain what’s happening. You can also count on always seeing something different. I have probably been to more than 1000 games, and there is always something new to explain or something you haven’t seen happen before.

Baseball is a half-year long, and it changes with the seasons. In spring there is so much optimism, and then comes the summer when things really heat up. In the fall when things wither away, it gets dark and cold and with it comes a sense of desperation when the season ends. That is the beauty of the game. It’s very logical to me and different to other sports in that you can’t run out the clock. You HAVE to finish the game. No matter how well you played and how many runs you are up by, you have to FINISH.

Are there any lessons from baseball that can be applied to business?

Yes, I would never assume anything about anything. Baseball teaches you that you can’t assume something is over until it’s over. Like in 2002 (World Series game) when the Giants had a five-run lead over the Angels with only eight outs left. They had to keep playing until the end and ended up losing the game.

It sounds a little corny but in baseball it’s a different sport. It’s hard to excel if you have to prove it every day. That’s the same as being a reporter; you have to prove yourself daily, but when it’s over it’s over. With so much content and so many articles, today the shelf life for stories is too short. You finish a great story and you are proud of it for about 20 minutes before you have to do something else. You have to move on.

We are all constantly inundated and bombarded with news from all different sources. So every day you have to reinvent yourself to always do more. It’s like Freddy Lynn (MVP and Rookie of the Year) – he came out of nowhere like a comet. But then pitchers found his weaknesses. Unless you can adapt and reinvent yourself every day, you will hit a rut. BlackBerry went through it, and Apple went through it, too. In tech it happens all the time.

Speaking of re-inventing, with the most powerful images getting clicks in social media today, do you find yourself framing your stories differently with visuals or video in mind now?

I do think more about storytelling and how to interest the reader, but rather than visuals, it’s more about the people and the stories. It is necessary to think that way, though, and I am trying to do more of it.

How has your job changed in the last six months?

It’s crazy. In addition to reporting, I oversee all tech coverage in the paper. So I edit and manage people, too. While I’m talking to you I’m editing a story. It’s actually a story on baseball, and it’s coming out next week. There is no shortage of data in baseball, but trying to figure out which data to use and how to use it is the challenge. Just like in reporting, in baseball they too are struggling with deciding how much time to give to data. I have ton of notes but the bigger problem is what parts to use in the story. People ask all the time, “Why you didn’t include us or mention us?” There is only so much you can do given bandwidth and the amount of content to sift through. I write for people who are on the go and always busy, and you have to find a way to keep your story succinct.

Would you tell a student today to go into journalism?

I would say if you are a good writer you can work anywhere, as everyone wants content today. It is so important to have good writers. Smart companies like Salesforce and Mark Benioff understand you need to tell stories to get your customers to want to buy your products.

Has working with PR people changed?

Not really; I have been working with the same people for the last 10 years or so, and pretty much the same good ones. I always work with a core group of 50 of them that I seem to always interact with. It is like cultivating any relationship you built it over time.

What kind of (PR) people do you like to work with?

They should know their company well. Most people I work with have been there a long time. I like working with internal people who can get you what you need faster. They are usually more responsive. I work with a lot of good people. People at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple; they are all on top of things and respond. Apple is much more responsive, and Yahoo is getting that way, too. They don’t have a choice anymore. Everyone used to have to wait to go to Apple, but now they have to cooperate with us and be responsive.

What was the nicest/most memorable thing someone has done for you?

I have so many stories of people doing something for me in my personal life. But in work life, I would say the most memorable “nice” things people do for me and/or others are services like the airport limos at SXSW and the SXSW survival bag. There was a company called Tagged that provided airport limos to drive us from the airport to town at SXSW. That was nice, convenient and smart.

If you had to cook one meal what would it be?

Pasta. Everyone likes and agrees on it in our family. Jackie is Italian, and pasta is the one thing that I would get no argument on.

What do you do when you’re not working, or at a baseball game?

We have four kids ages 12-25, so it’s a full house, and we are always going from one event to another with them so that means not a lot of free time. We do like to travel a lot to different places and really enjoy our time away.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Writing cover stories and features I can spend time on. It’s rewarding to do something that no one else is doing. Feature writing is a little different than what everyone else is doing. You always remember your great feature stories. They include more original thinking and have a long-term impact on things to come. They give you something to be proud of.

MavenSay What?

Every now and then, I come across a product or service that makes me ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” MavenSay—a new social networking app– is no exception.

mavensayWith this app you’re able to share your lifestyle with a trusted community of enthusiasts and local taste makers. What pair of running sneakers do you love? Where do you get the best coffee heath bar ice cream? Where should I get my eyebrows waxed? What’s a new song I should download?

At its heart MavenSay is about knowing what’s good by sharing the latest trends — fashion, food, music, shopping — through reliable and trusted recommendations. With a soft launch in October, the six month old app is making huge strides in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More than a location based guide, MavenSay wants to be the community for lifestyle curation.

mavensay2So how does it all work? Well, one of the best things about MavenSay is how easy it is to use. Simply, find you friends through Facebook and Twitter to see their recommendations. You can also visit the weekly “Discover” section to find a curated collection recommended by MavenSay. or use the nearby map feature to view favored local finds.
And with a spokesbear named Fred the Honey Maven ¬and creative video ads like this one¬ http://vimeo.com/58834365 — it’s hard not to appreciate this bright company’s creativity to attract Mavens.

It will be interesting to see if MavenSay will stick. Are you a Maven? What are some of your favorite features? What could MavenSay do to enhance their app? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Facebook Just Made Your “Friends” More Likeable with Graph Search

By now you’ve heard the news that Facebook has announced Graph Search, eloquently explained here by Steven Levy at Wired. While the tech world buzzes about Google’s reaction, the everyday user of Facebook is trying to make sense of it all – and probably worried that marketers are going to stalk them even more now – and privacy activists are sure to help them shake in their boots.

But let’s slow down for a minute. Isn’t garnering information from your friends and fans a good thing? Don’t you want to better understand your network, and be able to both gain and share information in a more targeted way? For example, I don’t want to bombard all of my “friends” with my current diet habits as I’m doing a 21-day Paleo challenge. But I would love to know which friends have also done it in the past, what their experience was, and any advice they have to share. Sure, I can post that question on my timeline, but it’s momentary – maybe some friends will see it, but many will not as it gets buried within the rest of their scrolling “news.” I also don’t want to ask the question and tag people because it’s just obnoxious how the question is then plastered on their Wall (or in their notifications, pending approval), and I’m not totally sure which of my 1300 or so friends it would be appropriate to ask. It’s just not a very gracious way to ask your network questions. In fact, here’s what it looks like right now in Facebook:

But from what I understand, with Graph Search, I can easily do just what the name implied – search my network (social graph)  and find those in it who might be interested in this particular topic, based on their updates, information and posts. I could query “friends of mine who have tried Paleo,” and Facebook would immediately provide me with data that I could then use to ask an appropriate question – or share information – to friends who might actually care. That means I annoy less and connect better on topical information. Or, perhaps you’re interviewing for a new job and you want to know if any of your friends have worked at the company you’re considering. Not many of us know the career history of all of our “friends,” and we’re not about to go searching through everyone’s bio – on Facebook or on Linkedin, for that matter. If Facebook could deliver an instantaneous list of “friends who have worked at EMC,” for example, you could easily ask them what it was like, if they recommend it, etc. (Granted, Linkedin allows you to search by people/companies.)

But what about privacy?

This is, understandably, always the first question that comes to mind when Facebook makes a new announcement. We’ve been conditioned not to trust them, and often we have reason. But again, from what I understand, Graph Search simply allows you to make better use of information already available to you. They’re not unveiling information you’re not already sharing – they’re just indexing it in a way that allows your friends and fans to easily search it at any time.

Personally I’ve been wanting Facebook to make it easier to search details on my network. Yes, I have lists and privacy settings, and as long as Facebook is honoring those, I’m happy to be able to go back into someone’s “archives” in a more organized and instant way to find relevancy to what I want to ask or share. Nothing’s changed from the old adage, “If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard, don’t put it on a social network.” (No matter what the privacy settings. )

And anyway – didn’t we all already know that the Internet is forever?

Here are a few of the more choice quotes from Levy’s article – they may help you quick study the news:

  • Nobody has feared this day more than Google, which suddenly faces a competitor able to index tons of data that Google’s own search engine can’t access.
  • Facebook is helping them [users] tap its vast, monolithic database to make better use of their “social graph,” the term Zuckerberg uses to describe the network of one’s relationships with friends, acquaintances, favorite celebrities, and preferred brands.
  • “People use search engines to answer questions,” Zuckerberg says. “But we can answer a set of questions that no one else can really answer. All those other services are indexing primarily public information, and stuff in Facebook isn’t out there in the world — it’s stuff that people share. There’s no real way to cut through the contents of what people are sharing, to fulfill big human needs about discovery, to find people you wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. And we thought we should do something about that. We’re the only service in the world that can do that.”
  • Thanks to Graph Search, people will almost certainly use Facebook in entirely new ways: to seek out dates, recruit for job openings, find buddies to go out with on short notice, and look for new restaurants and other businesses. Most strikingly, it expands Facebook’s core mission — not just obsessively connecting users with people they already know, but becoming a vehicle of discovery.
  • Graph Search will be improved based on how people actually use it. So Facebook plans a slow introduction, limiting the initial rollout to a small number of users. Zuckerberg’s expectation is that by the time it becomes available to millions it will be considerably improved.

And, as GigaOm tells us, “It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.”

As a marketer, I can’t help but be excited about this news – discovering, sharing and positioning information is what we do for a living. But I’m also interested from a personal standpoint because I think it will make me a better Facebook “friend” in many ways. What do you think? Are you excited or nervous about this rollout?

ADDENDUM 

I just learned from Robert Scoble that you can sign up to try it: “To get the Graph Search on Facebook you have to sign up at http://facebook.com/graphsearch and it will roll out over next few months.”

I did, and here’s a look at the sample search it ran for me – looks good, although I’d love to be able to query something more specific.

 

Persuasive Picks for week of 7/2/12

As the business of social media continues to grow, social media tools – and the marketers who use them – are expanding their reach into nearly every social media network they can find. Brian Proffitt at ReadWriteWeb provides some insight as to Why You Can’t Escape Social Media Marketing Any More.

Over the last few months Facebook has come out with a raft of changes, feature enhancements and new releases. While it can be tough to keep up with all these changes, Samuel Junghenn of SocialMediaToday has highlighted some of the most important changes and how they could affect your business in Facebook’s Latest Changes – A Recap.

With the rapid proliferation of social media and social media channels, there’s been an equally as rapid growth in the creation of memes. While memes tend to be light-hearted, when done well, they can pack a serious marketing punch. Mike Lewis of BostInno provides some tips in How to Use Memes to Create Social Media Engagement.

Each advancement in social media brings new methods for measuring digital campaign performance. But which tools are the right ones, and should we be measuring the same metrics we were 2-3 years ago? How should marketers be leveraging data-driven insights to assess, plan, and allocate budget across channels, publishers, and ads? Rachelle Considine provides some New tips for measuring digital ROI on iMediaConnection.

Persuasive Picks for week of 6/11/12

Facebook Engagement is a critical issue for social marketers, not only because consumer interaction has become a cornerstone of the new marketing landscape, but also because Facebook Engagement is critically tied to brand visibility on the platform. Morgan J. Arnold at SocialMediaToday examines how the type of Facebook Post – Photos, Videos, Statuses, Questions and Links – impacts engagement in Optimizing Facebook Engagement – Text, Links, Photos or Videos?

Consumer brand interactions have come a long way in the past couple years. The social web has turned into a consumer’s playground to talk about or interact with brands. People search for the best deals, assess product reviews, share the positive or negative insights with their social spheres of influence, and find locations — whether online or brick and mortar — to purchase a product. iMediaConnection contributor Nicole Rawski explains that every brand can benefit from understanding online engagement in her latest post How to really measure engagement.

10 Social Media Tips From a Top Media Agency – Whether your company is just getting its social sea legs or excelling in the digital world, there is a niche and opportunity for every brand on social media. While Facebook and Twitter are the building blocks that a brand should start with in the social sphere, your level of understanding impacts your brand’s ability to perform on social media. Mashable’s Christine Erickson spoke with a one of the top media agencies in the world to provide helpful tips for brands at any level.

With a predominantly female audience, Pinterest is a popular place to share photos for wedding planning, home redecorating, recipes, vacation destinations, and books. However, despite popular belief, your business doesn’t need to be product-based in order take advantage of the benefits that Pinterest offers. Stephanie Chandler shows Forbes readers how to get started in Pinterest Power: How to Use the Third Largest Social Media Site to Promote Your Business.