Q&A With Guy Kawasaki by Kory Kredit , Thursday, February 19, 2009
"I'm kind of a big deal." Those are the immortal words of the legendary Ron Burgundy as he introduces himself to lovely Veronica Corningstone in the movie "Anchorman" (One of my all-time favorite films). As an accomplished newscaster, pseudo-celebrity and owner of many leather-bound books, Mr. Burgundy carries himself with an air of confidence and arrogance that allows him to approach anyone he chooses with an expectation of their immediate acknowledgment of his awesomeness.
As a marketing guy for an ad network, I'm certainly no "big deal" and would have about as much of a chance to successfully approach and interview someone like Guy Kawasaki as any one of you might have to become Commerce Secretary of the United States -- although I understand they are still accepting applications. However, as a columnist for MediaPost's Online Publishing Insider, I am VERY loosely associated with the press, which has provided me opportunities to speak with industry experts and thought leaders who most likely would not have given me the time of day under normal circumstances. (Disclosure: My company, PV Media Group, sells advertising for Kawasaki's company, Alltop.com, but it's a safe bet that, if not for this column, he would just as soon have kicked me off the bridge like Ron's dog Baxter as he would have carved out 30 minutes of his day for me.)
While I'm no Ron Burgundy (although I do own one leather-bound book), I put on my press hat last week to conduct an interview with Kawasaki, Alltop.com 's co-founder and managing director of Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy has written nine books including his most recent, "Reality Check."
Kory: What was the market opportunity that you identified that led you to create Alltop.com?
Guy: I had another Web site called Truemers where people could upload true rumors. It was placed on an aggregation page called PopURLs.com. We noticed that PopURLs was sending us as much traffic as Google search, so I got curious about what PopURLs was and talked to [PopURLs founder Thomas Marban] and asked if he was going to do anything besides tech and business. He said 'no,' so I decided I was going to do all the rest. We saw what PopURLs was and decided to put it on steroids.
Kory: Is there anything that would stop anyone else from recreating a model similar to Alltop?
Guy: Nothing. Theoretically someone could grab our OPML files and recreate Alltop. I've come to believe in my career that there aren't really too many companies that are defensible for technology reasons. What makes Twitter defensible? Is Digg defensible? What is defensible about Digg is that they have reached critical mass. So, it's kind of a catch-22, if you reach critical mass you're defensible, if you're defensible you reach critical mass. I think it is not a chicken and the egg thing, it's a matter of reaching critical mass. So, what will make us defensible -- and I don't think we're defensible yet -- is, when generally speaking someone asks 'how do I find a good food blog?' because when they search on Google they get 38 million matches. Instead, someone suggest that they go to food.Alltop.com. That's when I win.
The problem is people will write that down as if [achieving critical mass] is a strategy, but that's not a strategy, [that is the end goal].
Kory: If critical mass is the key, how are you currently driving traffic to Alltop.com?
Guy: Twitter is very good for us and sends us a lot of traffic (more on that later in the interview. You can also read an article he wrote on that topic here). We are also very high on Google searches, typically ranking on the first page for any topic. Many of the blogs that we aggregate will write about being listed on the Alltop site, which creates a lot of high-quality links and traffic back to our site.
Kory: The way people consume content online is evolving from a more traditional publisher-controlled model to a user-controlled model via social media tools/RSS feeds/aggregation sites. With that evolution, how do you think publishers/brands must adapt to remain relevant, position themselves as a trusted source of information, and drive traffic to their sites?
Guy: If I knew that, I could solve the newspaper industry crisis. That's a real concern. My fear is that with all of this user-generated content/citizen journalism stuff, how do you do the deep background research, nine months of investigative reporting about the addictive qualities of cigarettes, or others stories like that? Who does that if the newspapers go away? Because the odds of somebody tweeting that they just saw a memo from a tobacco company that says they are addicting people to cigarettes on purpose [is not very likely].
It may be that the model eventually is that foundations have to support investigative reporting. That would be an interesting model. Let's say that the MacArthur Foundation, in addition to doing genius awards, now [funds] journalism, too. That would be cool.
Kory: Now that you've solved the newspaper crisis, let's circle back something you mentioned previously, which is your use of Twitter. I heard you say in a recent interview that Twitter was more critical to you than your cell phone. Why is that?
Guy: There are substitutes for my cell phone. There are landlines or email that my wife can use to contact me. There are no substitutes for Twitter. In Twitter, I have 63,000 close friends, I can reach millions of people and there is no other marketing tool that is free and can do that. The only equivalent is maybe a Super Bowl commercial, but that isn't free. I would die without Twitter. And I don't mean because I need friends and I need to have social relationships. Twitter to me is a weapon.
Kory: How do you think publishers/news outlets should be using this weapon for themselves?
Guy: At the very least they should be auto-tweeting their news feeds. So one [tactic] is pushing their own stuff out, and the other [tactic] is to monitor it to keep up with current events. I also think that you can foster loyalty. If I were a newspaper and [I'd] just published my quarterly venture capital roundup, I would be searching for the string 'venture capital.' Every time I found that string, I would send that person a [tweet] that said, 'my newspaper just published our Q1 venture capital roundup and you would probably be interested in it because I see you [tweeting] about venture capital.' Who is going to resist clicking on that link? The person that gets that message is going to be flattered that my newspaper even found him, is going click on it, read the report and retweet it. And this can all be accomplished with one $10/hour intern. We're not talking about a $5 million acquisition.
Final Notes: While my interview skills leave quite a bit to be desired, I was able to unearth a few nuggets of wisdom and insight from Guy -- including how he drives traffic to his Web site by utilizing Twitter and Google, and how to solve the newspaper industry crisis. It's still not up to the standards one would come to expect from the Action News team, but acceptable for a marketing guy masquerading as a member of the press. You stay classy, MediaPost subscribers!
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