AniBlurbs (Column)

Anibal's thoughts on Online Marketing Strategy, Service Design, Tech, Innovation, Business and more…

Discuss: Why Social Media Agencies Are The Emperor’s New Clothes (Column)

“There’s demand in the marketplace for creating a new type of agency,” said Sean Corcoran, an analyst with Forrester Research. “The question is whether that’s viable long term.”

Because it can touch everything from Communications to Marketing to Customer Service to Product Development, Social Media has created a muddied playing field that some see as ripe for creating agency opportunities …

Now the question for social media firms is whether they’ll translate the short-term demand for Facebook pages, Twitter campaigns and audits of social chatter about a brand into a long-term strategic business … Otherwise what they’re offering clients will quickly become the domain of established agencies in Public Relations, Advertising and Digital.

Source: AdWeek – The New Social Gurus: Social media agencies are popping up to address new strategic demands — but will they last?

              

The jury is still out on this one

First of all let me state clearly that there is no silver bullet with regards to whether a Digital Agency or a PR outfit should be leading the charge when it comes to Social Media.

Furthermore, one size certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to whether your company or organization should be utilizing Social Media or not, and if so with whom.

Mitch Joel (@MitchJoel), from Twist Image (Canada), also weighed in on this subject:

Going back to that quirky quote from AdWeek, it’s like saying, “we can help you build a Facebook fan page or a Twitter profile, but if you need a microsite or some banners to promote it, you’re best off calling a Digital Marketing agency.”

Newsflash: Social Media is Digital Marketing.

Sorry to break this news to the Social Media Gurus and social media agencies of the world. You can dance around this statement all you want … let’s face it: all Social Media strategy and first-contact happens in the online channels.

The results of that strategy and activity may filter through how an organization communicates, markets, handles after-care or customer service, but Social Media starts and lives in the Digital Marketing channel….

And, if it does live in the Digital Channel, but as a social media agency you can’t help your client also build both the platforms and presence online, what does that say about your skill level?

Let’s not make it bigger than it is.

Like a strong direct marketing strategy, advertising campaign or affiliate program, Social Media is one spoke in the marketing wheel (it just looks more shiny than the other spokes because platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are new and exciting).

In fact, Social Media is much more like a spoke in the Digital Marketing wheel. This doesn’t mean it should be diminished, but to think that a strong Digital Marketing shop doesn’t have the abilities or capabilities to lead Social Media is downright silly and unfounded.

A great Digital Marketing agency that truly meets the clients’ needs is one that can develop the digital strategy and then execute on it (the design, content, technology, marketing and communications).

It’s going to be interesting to see what unique offerings these social media agencies bring to the brand table that the Digital Marketing agencies were missing.”

Read the whole post and the comments over at Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel at Twist Image: Social Media Gurus – That Old Chestnut (Who Owns Social Media?)

              

Challenges for Businesses with regards to Social Media

A few days back  Liz Pullen(@nwjerseyliztweeted the following on twitter (see screen grab below):

              

httptwitter.comnwjerseylizstatus7867919994

              

I tweeted in reply that Social Media on a personal level doesn’t scale:

              

httptwitter.comAnibalDoRosariostatus7867997686

              

It´s a scientifically proven fact that there’s only so much meaningful interaction, friends, interconnectivity, sharing, status updates and ReTweets one can take at any given moment in time.

              

httptwitter.comAnibalDoRosario

              

And this isn’t even taking time management or life hacking into account; strictly speaking there’s (Dunbar’s number) a bio/psychologically maximum amount of social interaction and stimulus our brains can handle – be sure to keep an eye on the latest Oxford findings regarding this.

What this also means today is that people in general -becoming ever more acquainted with Social Media and most of its apparent benefits & setbacks- are increasingly critical about whom they connect, or “friend”, with online (quality/potential Vs. quantity). And, as a result, how much time they spend with them on any given social network.

The analogy goes that you could compare it to standing in a café socialising with friends and familiars; you wouldn’t appreciate someone breaking in the conversation or party (with a commercial message) without introducing properly first.

These developments have spin-off effects for your brand in this space as well.

              

Think about this for a minute.

              

Now, let’s take a look at the slight nugget called Legal, as Clorox has done:

That could help explain why the marketer has taken the unusual step of advertising for a full-time in-house legal counsel to focus on social media — a rather surprising sign of how entrenched social-media marketing is becoming even for relatively established household products.

Currently, having such expertise in-house and full-time at a marketer is rare, said Jack Greiner, an attorney with Cincinnati’s Graydon Head & Ritchey, one of the few attorneys on LinkedIn to list social-media as a specialty. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he said.

“Social-media channels are a growing focus for consumer communication and stakeholder engagement for our brands and company,” a Clorox spokesman said in an e-mail.

“As a newer communication channel, the application of existing laws to this medium is evolving. For those reasons and the rapid pace of communication in the Web 2.0 world, we’re seeking an attorney to focus on social media as well as talent rights.”

The primary duties, he said, are to clear and procure intellectual property rights regarding production and distribution of advertising, including Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Recording Artists issues, consumer privacy and video licensing.

              

Comment addendum by Antone Johnson:
Regarding social media policies, I think it’s helpful to divide the universe of communications into two distinct buckets.

The first category is the everyday online chatter by thousands of individual employees, which may or may not touch on the company’s business or products.

This kind of communication can and should be regulated by a well-thought-out social media policy, enforced by HR and/or IT in the same way they enforce other employment-related and IT usage policies. (A little training during employee orientation goes a long way.)

The second category is messaging from authorized corporate communicators:

Senior executives, PR, MarCom, Customer Care, Community Managers on online forums, etc. A social media policy alone isn’t enough; these folks need individualized, timely, thoughtful legal guidance.

Their statements can and will be taken as the corporation’s official view of things. Social media make it easier than ever to make misstatements that can be used against the marketer as “Exhibit A” in litigation.

This is particularly true for large corporations, which are perceived as having deep pockets and become targets for class action plaintiffs’ lawyers and government regulators.

Source: AdAge – Clorox Seeking Attorney to Oversee Social-Media Programs: Marketer’s Move Seen as Testament to Importance of Twitter and Facebook

              

As the quotes above underline, social media expertise should occupy two seats: one inside the advertiser itself (I’ll get back to this in more detail later on) and one inside dedicated Digital Agencies, since, inherent to their DNA, they’re better suited at this than pure traditional Agencies are right now.

              

Dedicated social agencies can’t create effective Social Strategies

Though I’m all for entrepreneurship and an avid fan of innovation, I’m quite sceptical about yet another specialist niche branch forming, (viral seeding agencies anyone?) be it inside or independent of traditional or Digital Agencies: yes, I’m looking at you, social media agency.

Especially since in this specific case the subject matter ties so close –too close- with the core business of any organization: i.e., taking for your customers / prospects / leads.

Why exactly is your company contracting a newly formed “social agency” to do the crucial interaction with these people in such a delicate environment (sometimes volatile even)? A few more questions:

  • Can this freshly formed organization handle the scale 6, 12, or 18 months from now (community management, moderating in real-time 24/7, mob behaviour even)?
  • What about legal liability (see the quote above from Jack Greiner) when it comes to international operating brands on Facebook?
  • What about accountability (towards customers/end-users, partners and B2B clients), lead follow-ups, customer retention and so on?
  • What about integration with the online display, SEA campaigns and the mini site?
  • And what about the connection with the core brand values “as seen on TV”?
  • Do they understand the finer intricacies of your business goals on the one hand vs. customer service & needs on the other hand?

Make no mistake about this, many industry thought leaders are (the dotcom bubble freshly in the back of their mind no doubt) rightfully questioning this trend of social agencies and self-proclaimed guru’s:

Do they even know your competitors, the field your operating in, the challenges you face, regulations, et cetera? You know; the stuff any Marketing Agency worth their salt actually takes into account before helping you set a long term strategy? If so, then why set up a separate one-trick-pony-entity instead of integrating it in the (digital) media mix? It just doesn’t add up.

Social Media is Anthropology, meets PR, meets Customer Service, meets Sales, meets DM, meets Sociology, meets Business Intelligence, meets Legal, meets… what-have-you, all for the greater good of meeting Business Objectives at the end of the day.

So. Exactly what are the business credentials of the people employed in this social agency, apart from having set up a Facebook fan page for their local small-town barbershop?

[Note: I’m not talking about credentials in a “certified social media company” kind of way, nowadays most of us are aware that in IT -for the most part- certificates (Google AdWords and the like notwithstanding) don’t prevent disasters, nor do they guarantee a pleasurable partnership or outcome. How many big IT projects had multiple Black Belts overseeing certified .NET implementing professionals and failed big time?]

Getting and staying involved in Social Media isn’t the same as setting up a one-way Interruption Marketed Advertising campaign for six weeks and it isn’t action based Sales Promotion with a short term focus either.

Nor is it about hiring a Web Care Team after the damage has been done in order to clean up the online response on a subpar product coupled with bad customer service.

UPC (Cable giant) has felt this here in The Netherlands as recently they’ve been indexed as the company with the worst customer service in a research conducted by the Customer Insights Center from the University of Groningen, intelligence agency MIcompany and Dutch research firm MetrixLab.

This despite being an innovator online by being the first Dutch company to deploy a Web Care Team with varying success. Sweet Irony to some, Social Media in full effect to others (as sharing bad customer experiences has become ubiquitous).

              

Social Media is a mindset ideally to be adopted throughout the whole organization, just like company values. Larger organizations will have to act on this in the coming decade.

              

Joseph Jaffe: In my opinion, this isn’t about tactics or platforms….it’s about a mindset shift. Commitments versus Campaigns. Retention versus Acquisition. Conversation versus Communication. And in the former cases, we’re dealing with decidedly post-marketing platforms that are – for the most part – decidedly brand unfriendly.

It’s an ongoing process, not to be automated.

Au contraire; it’s actually about interacting with human beings(!) in a passionate and authentic way, all whilst keeping the mutual interests of the organization, as well as the customer in mind. Though balance to strike.

              

Earned Media vs. Paid Media (Dealing with The Shift)

Who knows? Maybe over time they’ll embrace your efforts and your brand.

Then again, maybe they won’t because a few days back your Call Centre Manager was focussed more on her maximum allowed Average Conversation Duration Per Service Employee instead of solving the problem of a frustrated customer. So, said customer has started a flame blog, which TechCrunch has picked up, turning it into a trending topic on twitter overnight, which in turn has been indexed by Google in less than an hour, effectively making your SERP turn off potential customers and would-be B2B partners, despite that carefully planned and crafted Super Bowl Ad…

As you can see, Social Media is much as it has always been in real life actually, with the critical difference that these interactions between your brand and “them” are online, out in the open, for all to see, to monitor, to be spread in real-time and archived. Forever (or until Singularity at the very least).

This, combined with the fact that your organization has to structurally change internally for any meaningful long-term results, make this quite a complicated and challenging era, as you cannot afford not to be at least somewhat social, yet it can backfire significantly when implemented in the wrong way. Or with short-term focused expectations from shareholders, the board or senior management for that mather. Oh, and I’ve left the whole Social Media ROI debate out of the equation.

Still convinced that fancy social agency is well equipped and worth the check/PO?

              

Possible solutions: Internalizing the knowledge

The point I’m trying to make is that these new upstarts are either interested in making a quick buck over the back of you and your customers, or they’re focusing on the “What?” (“Which social tools should we deploy? YouTube or twitter?” -in other words: operational tactics), instead of focusing on the “Why?” and on what Social Media could mean for you and your customers.

Take heed of the former, and as for the latter, well, benevolent though their intentions may be, know that the way to hell is paved with good intentions…

Notable exception / leading example in this discussion are the Social Media Monitoring companies like Radian6 as they have a very tasty asset, or two actually: hard data and experience.

They’ve been busily beavering away for the past years, before Social Media became de rigour and have actual added value in the partner chain around your project/organization. They have the data, the knowledge and experience to translate social media output into actionable insights.

To my eye the solution is as follows:
Your organization must internalize Social Media as soon as possible -not tomorrow or next week necessarily, but do start as soon as you can (word has it your competitors are already a few laps ahead -sensing the urgency yet?).

Then, drilling further down, you should have one or more internal champions, digital marketers along with their traditional kin, who can sit down at the round table with IT partners, Social Media Monitoring Companies, Digital Agencies & Traditional Agencies alike, and get down to business.

You don’t outsource Sales, you hopefully are not outsourcing your Customer Service* and you definitely should refrain from outsourcing direct contact with your target audience and customers. If you’re not convinced yet, then feel free to take a look at an interesting development over at one of the biggest brands on the planet: Coca Cola are internalizing Social Media as they go .

Ford Motor Company is, arguably, one of the leading big brands in the world when it comes to having garnered considerable achievements in/with Social Media; admittedly having Social Media rock star Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) aboard as an internal accelerator or catalyst as well as a CEO backing him helps a lot. Ford’s Scott Monty has the following take on this topic:

“If you have a dedicated social media agency they need to be well integrated with the rest of your team because none of this stuff stands alone,” said Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford.

Rather than have a single social media shop, Ford works with several for different needs. It leans on the social skills of OgilvyPR, while also working with Social Media Group and Undercurrent. “This is the year that will separate the pretenders from the practitioners.”

Source: AdWeek – The New Social Gurus: Social media agencies are popping up to address new strategic demands — but will they last?

[* In twenty years time we’ll have a jolly great laugh looking back on the days when you actually didn’t help the customer yourself because… err, business books and MBA’s thought us it was the right way, we never questioned its merits out loud towards senior baby boom management and the internet, social media et al didn’t exist to expose this mindset, but I digress…]

              

Off course, your mileage may vary, depending on whether your organization is strategically focussed on either Cost Leadership, Innovation or Customer Intimacy.

And it could be both Mitch, Scott and many others in our field, are proven wrong over time as, like I said above, the jury is still out on this one.

Speaking of Mitch Joel, he posted the following piece regarding ROI and Social Media:

Richard Binhammer (from Dell‘s Social Media team) gave a presentation and when one of the audience members asked about how Dell measures the ROI of their Social Media strategy, Binhammer responded that ROI was nothing more than an accounting term and probably has little to no place when it comes to measuring the success of any Social Media marketing initiative.

How would that make your clients, team members and supervisors feel?

Binhammer … concluded by saying that he doesn’t think about ROI, rather he looks at the overall business objectives and if Social Media can help him meet those objectives, then that is what is ultimately the most important thing.

Let’s repeat: forget the ROI and look at the business objectives.

In looking at business through this prism, Dell has changed the way they do business and – in doing so – they have made lots of money by being engaged and using everything Social Media that is under the sun.

In a more primal way, they’re focused on using Social Media to meet practical business objectives and not looking at the overall ROI…

              

Comment addendum:
My argument is not against metrics and measurement as it relates to social media and business. My point is that we sometimes get lost in the forest for the trees….and one step further, some of the traditional metrics and insights need revision when we think about social media and business….but fundamentally we do measure measure and measure more.

Source: Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel at Twist Image: Killing ROI

              

Conclusion: Due Diligence/Beware the Snake Oil

All in all, the debate regarding ROI in social media and the added value of social media agencies still has yet to give birth to a definite, industry wide accepted outcome, and maybe won’t  for some time.

To my eye, all facts point to one conclusion which I’ve summed up in the title of this very column.

Bold statement?

Dunno, like viral agencies we’ve yet to see a yearbook worth of big brand cases produced by dedicated social media agencies that showcase their worth, yet they tend to position themselves with the swagger as though they have seeded viral or social media campaigns with an 80 to 99% success rate…

Should anyone care? Aren’t we “all in it for the money”?

Well, yours truly is not and I’d like to believe most of us are “in it” out of a passion, which happens to provide us with the means of getting food on the table, paying the rent/mortgage, etc.. Make no mistake, I’m an entrepreneur at heart and a positive minded one at that, but with great power comes… (well, you know the drill)

Remember the dotcom bubble bursting less than 10 years ago? We’ve seen what self-proclaimed consultants in green field markets/industries are capable of if left unchecked: wrecking havoc amongst clients eventually seriously damaging everyone in this space.

Sounds farfetched? The Credit Crunch demonstrated to us what happens when an influential industry is left unchecked and nobody calls out the cowboys.

Granted, social media is new, standards are yet to be fully understood, found and implemented. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take pride in our work, our profession, our science, our art. It is a professional responsibility to call out the snake oil sales men.

Perhaps more than anything Social Media is also about the “echo chamber”; about memes being spread. By adding my voice to the ever increasing echo of industry specialists, agencies and bloggers, I hope to amplify the growing consensus that social does not an agency make. That you should be mindful of letting your company in with any self-proclaimed guru or social agency. Due diligence.

This column turned out somewhat longer than expected, so thanks for bearing with me. I will be keeping a close eye on this topic as it continues to evolve.

In the mean time I’m really curious if there’s an angle I might have missed, so feel free to drop a comment below.

              





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The Future of MarCom and Media: Mad Men Meets Silicon Valley?

“The truth is, advertisers and brand marketers are entering a brave new world — one where code is on par with content. The 21st-century ad isn’t something to be looked at, it’s something to be used… …”Consumers” are now “Users.” So are “Marketers” now “Developers”?”

“…having someone who at least can help a creative team understanding how the software should look is very helpful. “I think having somebody like that, even if they are not the ones coding the app, helps bridge the gap between the technical and the creative…”

Source: AdAge – Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies

              

Business Value = Subscribers * Demographics
Business Value = Eyeballs + relevance * intent

Last week’s talk of the town among media in crowd and digerati was that spending on Online Marketing in the UK finally has taken pole position from Offline Advertising.

Make no mistake: this is significant. (Remember this is BBC territory!)

              

For years eyeballs, attention and now -as predicted and long overdue- budget weight have shifted from TV, Radio and Print to Interactive Media, culminating in this milestone.

              

Why this change from spending budget on Offline Advertising to investing in Online Marketing Strategies?

And why this plea to repurpose the inner workings of agencies (and ASAP at that)?

              

Well, to answer the first question, here’s a list of activities people in general are currently undertaking (online) instead of massively tuning in on prime-time (or, indeed, instead of buying and reading newspapers) like they used to:

  • Checking news anytime, online, for free;
  • Discovering and consuming online content, via “Social Distribution”, for free;
  • Shopping online, any time they like;
  • Spending days on end playing videogames;
  • Spending evenings (cocooning with friends or family) watching TiVo or DVD’s;
  • Leaving comments and reviewing products on that very same e-commerce site;
  • Discussing and reviewing artists, movies, products and brands on niche online communities;
  • Logging in daily to update their status in social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook (or even several times a day – thanks to mobile flat-rate data plans and apt mobile devices and smart phones such as Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry and the Nokia N series, to name but a few).

              

Okay, I’m bound to have missed many, many more, yet even the online media consumption / activities I’ve inevitably missed, share core characteristics with the ones mentioned above, which, when indentified and aligned next to each other, should underline my statement that agencies need some unadulterated tech DNA should they hope to help their clients connect online with their audience.

              

Creatives need to be specialists in the spaces where consumers live that are defined by new technology.

“If agencies are to continue to offer the highest value to their clients, and realize the full potential of new media on behalf of their clients, they need to make sure every department is as technology literate as consumersSimon Mainwaring

              

So, why the need for new fresh Silicon Valley Blood for agencies in this post-Madison Avenue MarCom ecosystem? Well, for starters, all the activities mentioned above:

– are On Demand;
– are personalized;
– are ubiquitous;
– are interactive (vs. passive content consumption);
– put the user in control;

-And… they’ve become a habit.

              

Habits slowly but steadily ingraining themselves in modern culture on a global scale.

All of these activities have replaced, or are in the process of replacing, the habit of, say, going home after school or work, watching the same mass orientated, one-size-fits-all TV shows like the rest of the populous, within timeslots deemed fit by a few network coordinators, all the while zapping away the interruption marketed ads…

              

(On a side note, what has also been replaced is blindly following the opinion of a select few elitists, or opinion leaders, so you will. You don’t need (trust?) one or more reporters from the New York Times to tell you that The Dark Knight or District 9 are movies worth an evening out to the multiplex, what book is a must-read or which restaurant should be on your shortlist, as even more so than usual, nowadays people are forming their own opinion by reading online peer reviews or discussing their customer care experience online, no holds barred.

Internet killed the middleman.

And the platforms facilitating this have a reach of millions and sometimes even billions, globally.

This continuous two-way online dialogue is another reason why the one-way message sending, branding specialists need to acquire interactive skill- and mindsets…)

              

It’s The Internet, Stupid

Why doesn’t the traditional model work online? In short, the web is too fragmented (millions of videos, millions of web sites), too loosely coupled (countless hyperlinks, embed codes, APIs), and too nascent (too few revenue models, too little clarity about the future) to fit comfortably into a media conglomerate as they exist today.”

“The challenge is that the scarce resources are different: while the media business continues to rely on “talent,” today’s talent may be writing code rather than screenplays. Distribution still creates value, but it can mean a quickly passed link on Twitter or Facebook instead of an 8 p.m. slot on a broadcast network”.

Source: Giga Om – New Media Demands a New Kind of Media Company

              

But these factors are not the only causes for this disruptive re-allocating of budget.

Sure, everyone agrees that you should “fish where the fish are”, but the main reason that budgets are finally being freed up from political unwillingness or irrational conservatism, is that in these times of crises, true accountability in marketing and advertising has finally become key.

              

There’s no need for (hiding behind) second guessing or causality in MarCom anymore: Plausible effective advertising maybe was “fine” yesterday, today proven effectiveness by conversion is vast becoming the golden standard.

              

The current recession has acted as a catalyst for this silk media revolution, merely accelerating the inevitable.

Now the marketer finally knows which half of her marketing euro, dollar, yen or what have you, is wasted on naught and which half is an investment; generating leads or spurring your core hyper targeted audience into action. All in real-time, if necessary, meaning you can act real-time.

              

“It’s to no fault that many account teams have no concept of what web development entails in terms of budget and time. Too many times there are promises made that cannot be fulfilled. Having a cross functional, technically savvy professional on hand to lay out accurate budget and time frames in real time ensures that the client is not mislead by a traditional account person reliant on third party estimates.”

              

It’s no longer about the clever award winning Creative Director and his team of witty art-director/copywriter duo’s.

              

This also means that the sole focus in marketing and advertising isn’t about “sending content” anymore, but it’s about the underlying technologies that facilitate dialogue between brand and stakeholders, and empowers them both.

It’s about, for example, creating branded tools that might prove useful in everyday mundane tasks for the user: Apps-as-a-Brand-Utility. Eyeballs. Attention.

              

Now it’s about the pragmatic award winning Managing Director and her team of developers and creative technologists.

              

“Code” and “(meta)data” have earned their rightful place next to “design” and “gut-feeling”, thus switching the demand from pure creative output to actionable insights based on real-time data; apps and open platforms for effective communication, feedback and co-creation. All of this fundamentally challenging the very raison d’être and modus operandi of traditional agencies.

“Various models have evolved over the years but the successful ones have at their core a few talented individuals who “get it” when it comes to the nuts and bolts of technology, the subtleties of strategic brand building and the figures that justify an ROI…

the more multidisciplinary people an agency can employ without forcing generalists into specialized silos, the better equipped they’ll be to provide true integration.”

              

As it is becoming increasingly clear that consumers are changing their daily work-, leisure- and decision-making(!) systematic from Analogue- to Digital based; brands/advertisers and traditional MarCom specialists will have to adapt & change their Tech know-how (what vs. why), their thought patterns (creative top-down factories vs. embracing digital natives and co-creating), and their priorities (branding vs. true empirical accountability) to match this new reality or ultimately end up like that frog in the slow-boiling pan.

The long-term solution however, is not going to be purely a technological one, but rather an anthropological and sociological one; the real challenge lies in the cultural change and organizational restructuring needed to save traditional agencies from the same dark fate (or worse) as the music industry and newspaper & magazine publishers. Out with the old…

              

[Yes, the very fact that it’s 2009 and I’m posting this rant as being new(s), means that somehow there’s still a need for summaries and musings like this, however obvious and stale it might seem to fellow digital natives and digerati in-crowd alike. Yet, I believe that this needs to be heard and echoed. I’m merely trying to add a drip in the quite -possible very pretentious- hope all the accumulated drips will eventually flood the ivory tower of cognitive dissonance that some board rooms and CEO’s (across all traditional agencies and entertainment outlets) dwell in.]

Read more thoughts about Apps-as-a-Brand-Utility, the future of advertising, “Creative Technologists” and the ideal DNA composition for successful marketers and agencies in the 21st Century in this excellent article by Allison Mooney on Advertising Age.

              





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Pay with Facebook: The “One-Click” Solution to Save Newspapers Online?

“…there is a group of executives inside the company that believe “Pay With Facebook” could end up a bigger revenue source than Facebook’s advertising revenues. We’ve estimated Facebook’s advertising revenues will reach $475 million in 2009.

To get an idea what kind of challenges Facebook will have to overcome to get there, consider that during the second quarter, eBay subsidiary PayPal’s revenues were $669 million, up 11% y/y.

It got there with:

  • 75 million active registered accounts
  • A total payment volume of $16 billion in the quarter
  • With accounts containing approximately $3 billion in stored value that is spent every 2 weeks
  • Supporting 19 currencies
  • With a .30% fraud rate

Facebook can’t approach any of those numbers yet, but it does possess one distinct advantage — nearly 300 million monthly active users.

What’s more, the rousing success that is Facebook Connect — the service that allows users to log in to participating third-party sites using their Facebook IDs with one click — hints that Facebook users might appreciate a similar “one-click” simplicity when paying for merchandise on the Internet.”

Be sure to check the whole article at BusinessInsider.com

Privacy concerns aside, one can imagine that Facebook’s One-Click payment solution, along with the social sharing of articles and posts through Facebook Connect, could be the panacea for newspaper publishers looking for ways of monetizing content beyond the stale and flailing “generate-pageviews-sell-banners” business model.

How so?

Well, besides the general mentality that digital content should be “free”, one of the major issues in monetizing content on the web by surrounding it with a “Pay-First wall”, is the fact that visitors don’t know in advance what (quality) they’ll exactly be paying for; consumers fear buying a shrink-wrapped magazine purely based on its cover, only to be disappointed afterwards.

Whereas on iTunes or with Steam you usually know that what your getting is guaranteed to have a substantial replay-factor or, in the case of iTunes, since the price is relatively low, you can afford the risk of a dud every now and then.

This, arguably, is not the case with ubiquitous news, or in-depth articles.

Utilizing Facebook’s micro-payment solution combined with Facebook Connect however, publishers will have the opportunity of using a “hassle-less” One-Click online payment solution, powered by trusted(?) recommendations of friends: “Hey Todd, here’s an article I just read about Obama’s healthcare reform,  touching it from a viewpoint I believe you’d find interesting, check it out. Cheers, Brian.” Ching!

Farfetched? For a showcase of the true power of social sharing: Think the Bit.Ly-shortened links being universally shared on twitter, spreading idea’s, content (and malware) virally. Only this time it’s done by folks with verified Facebook ID’s so you know they’re actually real and can be trusted.

Off course, should the scenario sketched above come to fruition, Facebook will have to get a piece of the revenue pie too, but the publishing moguls ‘d be wise to carefully re-consider jumping into their fabled “No-Can-Do” reflexes, since it’s becoming increasingly clear that the other option for them and their companies’ stakeholders is not having a pie to share at all…

(PS please note that I deliberately left all privacy concerns regarding Facebook out of this exercise, since I believe that we should topple the online publishing troubles in a concentric way; shilling away to the core, tackling the multifaceted problem layer by layer, instead of pre-maturely obstruficating any possible solution by thinking in limitations only.
This, however, does not imply that I don’t see the possible dangers of Facebook not only owning your social graph and personal data, but also knowing when you bought what (and whom approved said purchase!) and where you’re likely to go to form a political opinion or otherwise.

Though I feel and see that having this kind of aggregated combined profile data of possibly more than 300 million people in the hands of one party could pose a real threat when falling into the wrong hands, I urge you to go and take a look over at Alexander van Elsas’s blog, as he has already indentified and dissected this problem with great abandon.)





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Your Online Identity Hosted In The Browser?

Weave Identity is a very interesting component from Mozilla Labs (of Firefox fame) and a possible disrupting one for the Facebook Connect’s, OpenID’s and OAuth’s of this world:

“Offering a single sign-in solution for the web is currently a hot topic. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace and countless other sites are all offering to host your identity for you. Many of these key players on the social web are also offering tools to allow third-party sites to let you log in using the identity you have hosted with whoever your provider is – Google through FriendConnect, Facebook through Facebook Connect and Twitter through its recently debuted OAuth-based system. But in the end, who knows how long any of those sites will last? It seems to make more sense to hand these duties off to something more permanent than the hot site of the moment.

That’s where Mozilla’s latest implementation of Weave starts to make sense. You can store your credentials anywhere, including on Mozilla’s servers or your own web server.”

Source: WIRED’s Webmonkey

If the Weave add-on is implemented as a standard feature in the next version of the 2nd largest browser in the world, it stands a reasonable chance of becoming THE default Online Identity Manager/Social Media Passport; allowing you to safely and seamlessly log in to your favourite Social Networks, blogs and communities, across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS) and various devices (think Mobile, Netbooks, Thin Clients).

All the while giving you complete and FULL control over your online identity (you can even store your Weave login credentials on your own server!), which positions it directly opposite of the Walled Garden approach that Facebook is fast becoming notorious for.

The ease of use, combined with the fact that your average internet user hasn’t even heard of Google-, Facebook- and Twitter’s Online Identity Management solutions make Firefox Weave a serious threat to the aforementioned parties. After all: Wouldn’t it seem more logical and feel safer for her to let the browser take care of her online identity?

“Something that often goes unsaid in the discussion about online identity is that while most websites right now require usernames and passwords, many people actually use the password manager feature in the browser-effectively turning their browser into a limited identity manager.”

Source: Mozilla Labs

MozillaWeaveWillSolveThisProblem
By offering this One-Log-In-To-Rule-Them-AllTM feature as a standard option in the browser, much like Yahoo’s- or Google’s toolbar, a lot of the hassle and security issues associated with web based ID alternatives are removed from the user’s table:

“User experience in general suffers as protocols for federation (e.g. OpenID) involve complex redirects which jump the user from page to page and leave them open to phishing attacks…”

Source: Mozilla Labs

And there’s another major USP that promises a bright future for the Weave project: Firefox is an Open Source initiative, and even though OpenSocial, OpenID & OAuth are Open Source projects as well, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google and Microsoft are commercial parties with a deep interest into becoming your single sign-in partner, so they can monitor the sites you visit and the time frame in which you did: pure data mining for marketing purposes. In a time where privacy issues are within everyone’s crosshairs, this could become Mozilla’s trump card in the battle for your Online Identity.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Google (note that they have 300 Million accounts!) from implementing such a feature in Chrome -it’s very own browser- using Friend Connect, or Microsoft from doing the same with their Live toolbar/Live Passport and Internet Explorer. The point is that the former hasn’t yet managed to get any serious foot in the browser market. And though the latter is the current incumbent in browser market share (for now), it has failed for almost 10 years to make it’s .NET Passport/Live ID efforts a true cross-web success, even as younger initiatives from the likes of Facebook and twitter have taken off in the past year or so.

All in all, it’ll be very interesting to see how the developments around Identity Hosting continue to evolve…

[Update: Netlog now accepts Google FriendConnect, more on TechCrunch.]





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Spreading a Viral: Honda Demonstrates Content Integration on Vimeo

Honda recently did a take-over on Vimeo.com which was much talked about by marketing insiders.

Instead of posting or explaining the concept here, I’d like to suggest you’d first take a look over on the site and experience it for yourself -especially if you’re a creative/interactive professional and haven’t seen it already.

[Performance warning: close down any other browser tabs/windows or any other application that has a direct net connection right now, I know I suffered from some serious lag the first time.]

Apart from the novelty(?) factor of this kind of creative content-integration, I’m not quite sure where the real added value for Honda and its customers lies in this particular case.

I’ll get back to that thought in a moment though; first I’d like to point to a section on the page that caught my attention. It clearly depicts how a viral starts spreading (see the 2 images below):

Honda Insight Vimeo TakeOver

Honda Insight - Vimeo Take over Stats

The table contains the statistics of said video on a daily basis, i.e.: how many times it was watched, “liked” and how many comments were made on the page itself, all in relation to each other and non-cumulative (note that the numbers are displayed on a per day basis!).

Clearly, the usual exponential viral mechanisms are at work here, which is fascinating in of itself, yet I believe that despite these pretty impressive numbers this mini-campaign as is will not enjoy a widespread viewer base and live up to its true potential, mainly because of the following 4 reasons:

  1. The content isn’t “spreadable”;
  2. A lack of a clear call to action;
  3. The quality of the content itself and
  4. There’s no follow-up.

The content isn’t spreadable, technically speaking:
Notice how I didn’t embed the video right here as I usually would, instead referring you to Vimeo, because there was no other way you could undergo it the way it was meant to be experienced.

In other words: people will first have to go to the Vimeo page and have a true broadband internet connection(!) to experience it smoothly and in full effect; detach the video from the context of this page and it becomes just another (attempt at a) cool viral. Pure branding, zero capitalization of the ensuing conversations.

Nowadays it’s more effective to take a channel-neutral and/or federated content approach to reach out to your audience on the net, and part of that means making your content spreadable through widgets, embeddable video’s, etc.. The Vimeo video is embeddable of course, but the page -and thus the experience- is not.

There’s no call to action:
The concept itself doesn’t trigger the visitor to do anything: You just sit and watch, just like on TV…

The creative team apparently embraced the technological and creative possibilities that the internet offers in marrying video with a webpage, yet somehow failed to capitalize on the buzz that it generated and thus at the opportunity to generate leads.

Honda‘s rich media take over is no interactive advertising but more akin to an online guerrilla advert, which could have been done offline, possibly generating more buzz and brand-awareness outside the digerati niche.

Then again, it was created by Wieden & Kennedy (Amsterdam), a traditional agency with it’s roots firmly grounded in offline advertising campaigns.

The quality of the content isn’t worth spreading:
If it’s aimed at the Marketing/Tech/Creative niche: they’re already accustomed to these “Breaking-The-4th-Wall” take-over actions by now on YouTube or dedicated viral mini-sites, and this example isn’t remarkable.

If it’s not aimed at said niche, then one has to wonder why on earth it was posted on a niche social video site like Vimeo.com in the first place…

Adding all the numbers together from the stats image above, there are over a 1.750 likes, 300+ comments and 177.000 views generated in less than two weeks(!), pointing to a cult hit and/or people watching it more than once (it’s not clear whether Vimeo filters out non-unique views/cookies).

On the other hand, the numbers in the table don’t depict all mentions of the video across the Social Media space, and it was only posted a few days ago, so this is just merely the tip of the iceberg. Here’s hoping that Honda’s campaign team has access to social media monitoring tools from Radian6 or TrackUr and have activated their BackType Alerts to keep a clear overview.

All in all, in terms of buzz and people interacting with the page this is no bad example of content integration at all, it’s just a shame there’s no apparent follow-up or integration in, say, a 360˚campaign for maximum effect.

Now of course at this very moment we have no idea what Honda’s campaign objective was in the first place: It could be a proof of concept, trying it out for a small fee, with little risk, before scaling it up on YouTube allowing the numbers game to come into play, leading to massive exposure and off course more ways for the community and consumers/prospects to interact with the brand.

As I’m a firm believer in the merits of content-integration instead of plain display bannering, for me personally it will be very interesting to see how this plays out and if Honda will release an evaluation on their company blog or industry titles like Ad Age or ReadWriteWeb.





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