Technology redefines categories and experience

7E99A285-9B1F-4D8B-B72E-036022AEBE12.jpgI was not waiting on line at 5am for the iPad like some other people around the US. It's a device without a niche for me right now.

Think what you will of it, however, the technology behind the iPad and similar devices is helping to redefine categories that have had relatively little innovation in centuries.

Take the book industry. Now, I love my Kindle and it's innovative enough, but it uses the same paradigm as a print book. It works for what I need (quick consumption and ease of travel), but it is limited.

The experience of the Kindle is okay. It could be smoother and reminds me of what Blackberrys were like about 5 years ago. Get your hands on a new Blackberry and you'll see what I am talking about. It's smooth and easier to use yet still functional. The Kindle will catch up quickly.

Now, think about what publishing can look like on a device that senses when you tilt it or when you touch it. Have a look:

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The experience that new technology provides opens doors and lets us shift our thinking about old standards and the experience that can be delivered.

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Don't forget the rest of the digital puzzle

iStock_000005066615XSmall.jpgWith all of the buzz around social media it's easy to overlook the rest of the digital marketing puzzle. Yes, it's fun to talk about Twitter and Facebook and the other new bright shiny objects, but they're just one component of a balanced online marketing strategy.

Take a look at the following chart from e-Marketer that shows how US adults prefer to have companies communicate with them. Note that email is still almost twice as requested as web sites.


That being said, social media has the opportunity to help drive business, create valuable content and serve as a landing point for various customer segments. Content is the foundation of any quality experience online, just ask anyone who's run a website.

Email - Social media (from Twitter to blogs) is centered around constant content updates. It's also a rule that very few people actually participate by commenting or adding content. Most people participate by reading and clicking (which is just as valuable in my opinion). Email is a perfect way, however, to summarize the best, most relevant conversations that are taking place.

Search - Search engines absolutely love social media content. It's categorized, updated frequently and is full of metadata. Results from blogs and other social media outlets are showing up in search result pages alongside corporate websites and official releases. The more relevant, popular, trusted sources will rise to the top...many times they'll be blogs.

Advertising - Sites like Facebook are full of user data that is being leveraged by marketers to create timely, relevant, targeted ads. Facebook made poor decisions early on with their Beacon program, but smart marketers are using the targeting to eliminate waste and only pay for the qualified clicks.

Picture 15.png

With social media as one component of digital marketing mix, keep thinking about how it can integrate with other tactics. How can you use the content generated in emails, ads, mobile messaging, search targeting, etc.? How can you extend it offline into physical items for marketing. Look at examples like that allow you to create social artifacts that lead people back to your space online.

Social media is not an island,
it's a high-power engine on the larger marketing ship.

Social media isn't the end-all-be-all, but it offers marketers unparalleled opportunity to participate in relevant ways. It also provides a launchpad for other marketing tactics. Social media is not an island, it's a high-power engine on the larger marketing ship.

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The influence of digital

cameraphone.jpgAs a rule, I only talk about my work and my company when I know it will add value to what you do. That's certainly the case today as Fleishman-Hillard (my company) and Harris Interactive release our Digital Influence Index Study. This study was conducted in Europe (using the UK, France and Germany as the initial round of countries), but you can see trends emerge that I think are global in nature.

(You can download the key findings, the whitepaper and the FAQ for the study.)

The study looks to really dig in to the role that the internet plays in the lives of consumers. It answers the following questions:

  • Influence: What is the influence of the internet compared to other media?
  • Behavior: What online behaviors are consumers adopting?
  • Impact on decisions: What is the impact of the internet on specific consumer decisions?
  • Attitudes: What are consumer attitudes towards the internet?
  • Geography: What are the differences by country?

The actual Digital Influence Index number shown below in the pie charts is compiled like this:

Picture 18.png

Picture 17.pngThe chart to the right compares the influence of different forms of media on decision making. As you can see the internet is more influential in each country than any other type of media. It's nearly twice as influential as TV and eight times more influential than traditional print media. Interestingly, consumers spend a marginal amount more time on TV than the Internet, but it's not effecting their decisions proportionally.

The study found that consumer behavior falls into one of five categories. They are research, commerce, communication, mobility and publishing. While you can read more detail in the full report, some highlights are:

  • 80% of online consumers use the net to comparison shop
  • 3 out of 4 use the net to manage bank accounts
  • 30% post a comment to an online newsgroup or website during a typical week

Here is how these behaviors relate adoption levels and influence

Picture 19.png

Though the study found the internet influential, it showed that there are still trust issues that have to be overcome for it to continue to grow. Trust of information from other users, trust of government information and information provided by companies were all relatively low. Trust in commerce was a little better and trust of the security of communications channels was pretty high as well.

Key Findings:

  • Across all three countries addressed by the study, the Internet has roughly double the influence of the second strongest medium — television — and roughly eight times the influence of traditional print media. This indicates a need and an opportunity for companies to reprioritise their communications to address the media shift in consumer influence.
  • Consumers use the Internet in different ways to make different decisions. For example, consumers are more likely to seek opinions of others through social media and product-rating sites when it comes to making decisions that involve choices that have a great deal of personal impact (e.g., healthcare options or major electronics purchases), but use company-controlled sources when making transactional decisions on commoditised items like utilities or airline tickets.
  • While consumers see the clear benefits of the Internet on their lives, they continue to have concerns about Internet safety and the trustworthiness of some of the information they find online. In the UK, for example, 66 percent of online consumers state that the Internet helps them make better decisions, but just 28 percent trust the information on the Internet provided by companies.

I think this quote from Dave Senay (our CEO) addresses the key point from my perspective:

"The research shows that the Internet stands out as the most important medium in the lives of European consumers today, but there's a mismatch between the impact of the digital channel across a wide range of consumer behaviours and decisions and the proportion of resources organisations generally are allocating to it relative to other media.

Insights provided by this study will help communicators be more strategic in their marketing mix. At the same time, we need to be mindful about the concerns expressed about safety and trust, which underscores the need for digital engagement with consumers based on open and honest representation."

So what should companies and marketers do with this knowledge?

  • Given the influence of the Internet, audit your current marketing spend and see how it aligns with reality and the influence of the medium
  • Make sure information that is provided is done so in a transparent, honest manner with full representation
  • SEM/SEO are crucial as search drives the way people find information
  • Join the conversation online, support the community and engage in a transparent manner
  • Keep an eye on mobile trends and poll consumers to gauge demand for such an offering

So, what do you think about the information? This is based in Europe, but do you see correlations with the US? You can download the entire white paper here, which includes all of the information above with more charts and graphs.

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Social reputation patterns

Picture 12.pngI found a very interesting post on the Yahoo User Interface blog today discussing social reputation patterns. Reputation is a way to create engagement inside a community and plays an important part in many social networks and other action-driven sites.

Some quick examples of reputation systems are LinkedIn's profile completeness and eBay seller ratings. Having these levels of reputation in the system give interactions an added value. In eBay, sellers are given the incentive to deliver what they say they will, because they know they'll be rated afterward. LinkedIn's profile completeness level is dependent on helping others in the system and encourages more interaction.

Here are the patterns that Yahoo mentions:


These patterns can also be used in different types of community environments. They range from altruistic, nurturing communities to combative, winner-takes-all environments. Certain brands can use each to deliver value to their community.


Take a minute now and think about the communities that you participate in where users are given an incentive for taking action. Where does it fit in these patterns? Most sites use multiple patterns to engage different groups of users and it's a very powerful technique to engage users online and drive repeat visits and extended loyalty.

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Developing personas for marketing strategy

people2.jpgPersonas are an extremely valuable tool for marketers in any field. If you're not familiar with the term, personas are representations of your target audience based on research and interviews. From PR to digital to advertising, any marketing team or agency can benefit from developing client- and/or brand-specific personas.

As an example, let's say one of your target audience types is a 18-21 year old male who likes emo music, skateboarding and high-end electronics. You would come up with a name for this person along the lines of "Nate" and you would find an image of him to use in your planning. When you start making decisions about marketing strategies, you would check back to "Nate" and ask if it would reach him. What would reach him more effectively? What message does he need to hear. That is a basic model of persona development. Here is some more information to guide you through the process.

Why personas are important:

  • Personas put a face on the customer. Some persona programs give people names so you can refer to them and see them in a physical representation. The agency Organic creates persona rooms where their people live so the project team can become fully immersed.
  • Personas remove the tendency to think of yourself as the customer. You have to step back and this gives you the structure to do so.
  • Act as a guide throughout the process of developing marketing communications programs, cross mediums (print, digital, outdoor, TV, etc.).
  • Keeps designers, copywriters, programmers on track and avoids waste by remaining focused on the customer.

How people screw them up:

  • Personas take time and research to get right.
  • This includes some time in the field and meeting face-to-face with the customer.
  • People think they know their customer without looking at data.
  • Personas are often used up front in the marketing strategy process and don't carry through the process.

How you can avoid screwing them up:

  • Get data. Collect it from the web and third party sources. Analyze web traffic. Do in-person interviews and ethnography. Get a big picture view and then analyze it objectively.
  • Talk to your customers. Videotape them. Record the audio. Take notes. Come back with a real feeling for who you are trying to reach.
  • Compare what you saw to the data and look for the insights.
  • Evolve the personas over time. Adapt them as your product lines change or the economy changes. These should be living, breathing entities.

A great sample model.
I found this great model on Idris Mootee's site in a post where he compared the problems that MBAs and MFAs have in the workplace. It's a great start to being able to wrap your head around these ideas.

persona_10 steps.jpg1. Finding the users
Questions asked: Who are the users? How many are there? What do they do with the system/brand?
Methods used: Quantitative data analysis.
Documents produced: Reports.

2. Building a hypothesis
Questions asked: What are the differences between the users?
Methods used: Looking at the material. Labeling the groups of people.
Documents produced: Draft a description of the target groups.

3. Verifications
Questions asked: Data for personas (likes/dislikes, inner needs, values). Data for situations (area of work, work conditions). Data for scenarios (work strategies and goals, information strategies and goals).
Methods used: Quantitative data collection.
Documents produced: Reports.

4. Finding patterns
Questions asked: Does the initial labeling hold? Are there more groups to consider? Are all equally important?
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

5. Constructing personas
Questions asked: Body (name, age picture). Psyche (extrovert/introvert). Background (occupation). Emotions and attitude towards technology, the company (sender) or the information that they need. Personal traits.
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

6. Defining situations
Questions asked: What is the need of this persona?
Methods used: Looking for situations and needs in the data.
Documents produced: Categorization of needs and situations.

7. Validation and buy-in
Questions asked: Do you know someone like this?
Methods used: People who know (of) the personas read and comment on the persona descriptions

8. Dissemination of knowledge
Questions asked: How can we share the personas with the organization?
Methods used: Fosters meetings, emails, campaigns of every sort, events.

9. Creating scenarios
Questions asked: In a given situation, with a given goal, what happens when the persona uses the technology/engages with the brand?
Methods used: The narrative scenario - using personas descriptions and situations to form scenarios.
Documents produced: Scenarios, use cases, requirement specifications.

10. On-going development
Questions asked: Does the new information alter the personas?
Methods used: Usability tests, new data
Documents produced: A person responsible for the persona input from everybody who meet the users.

*Diagram developed by Lene Nielsen of Snitker & Co.

More quality persona resources:

So what else do you do when planning personas? How do you develop them? How do you adapt them? What's the balance between qualitative and quantitative feedback?


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Twitter, the ultimate customer service tool

iStock_000003492530XSmall.jpgTuesday I wrote about why I think some marketers aren't jumping in to social media faster. In part, I think the feedback is too honest, some marketers don't want to listen and the last thing they want to do is create two-way conversations. Overall though, customer service is one of the best uses of social media and can have a major impact on corporate brand and reputation.

Twitter has been around (as far as we're concerned) for about a year. It's often misunderstood and frequently maligned by journalists and traditional marketers. Part of the issue is, in my opinion, the name of the thing. Twitter? Tweets? Twitterers? I feel dumb for saying these things and I always get the same reaction from people who I am guiding through the landscape.

However, to see the real value of Twitter you have to look past the name to the underlying potential. The underlying technology and architecture is the future of communication. It's a seamless publishing tool that you can use from web, mobile web, mobile app, desktop app, IM, widget, etc. and consume the content using the same methods. (You can check out my full presentation on Micromedia here.)

Here is a visual representation of Twitter's publishing and consumption model. The key is choice and flexibility on both sides.

Picture 24.png

Customer Service

Twitter is the ultimate customer service tool. It's live, instantaneous, community driven, open, two-way and multi-way, unfiltered and predictive. This is, however, only for the most advanced, customer-forward companies to attempt to use. You definitely need a black belt in customer service ninja techniques to do this well.

twitter_logo.pngThe first step is a piece of cake. Go to and register an account. Point a designer at the page and have them outfit it with a branded background and custom style sheet so it looks like your brand. The account can be protected while you are doing the legwork to set it up and train employees.

Now comes the hard part. Twitter is live and 24x7. Staffing needs to be done accordingly and it's not something that can be started and stopped. Would you abandon a call center or an 800 number? Absolutely not and Twitter is the same thing.

So how does it work?

Once you have the account ready and have the staffing in place you can start promoting it. Be sure to give an overview of how to use it, make signup easy, create a video that walks people through the system. Most people will just use the web version. You can use Twitter's API to basically re-skin the system on your site so people don't know they're using Twitter. Create shortcuts for them to make interacting easier (like adding the @ sign for them when communicating directly.

Once the messages come in, you have to be monitoring. If nobody is available, set up a responder that kicks them back a message and tells them when you will respond. The key is to be fast in response, be honest in what you tell them and allow the entire community to see the conversation. Get Satisfaction is doing this with crowdsourced service, but isn't using Twitter.

Seems pretty easy right? It's not, but the power of listening, responding to issues in real time, letting your customers see this and get a feel for the level of care that you're providing is priceless. The reps that handle this communication need to be specifically trained on the medium and the "rules".

I'm going to break out each of these steps in posts next week and show how the system could integrate into an existing customer service plan.

What do you think? Is this doable? What companies could pull this off and thrive? Some are doing it one-way (service alerts, etc.), but nobody is doing live, open customer service like this.

[Update: Make sure you read Joshua March's great counterpoint post. Weigh in on this from your point of view.]

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Five ways to stop doing stupid things in digital marketing

clown_small.jpgIn this fast-paced, wild west world of Web2.0 and social networking, too many marketers are making dumb moves online. These decisions are being rushed into the community without thinking about what the social ramifications are. You know who they are so I won't call them out again. It does make you wonder though, who is the voice of reason/community in these companies? I think it's vital to have a community advocate(s) inside the agencies and company marketing group to ask some pretty simple, but very crucial questions.

Here are five ways companies and agencies can stop doing stupid things in digital marketing. Some of these may seem very obvious, but ask yourself if you're actually doing them all.

  1. Engage internal, non-marketing folks in the process. This is a good idea and pretty cost-effective as well. Invite Jim from accounting or Julie from operations and see what they think of new initiatives. Address concerns directly and get their two cents on what you're trying to accomplish. Their personal interactions online will give you a window into how your customers may engage and react.
  2. Get young professionals involved in all aspects of your marketing planning. This is huge. Undoubtedly, you have young people working in your company. Get these people involved in all stages of your planning. Not only will this give them great experience, but they're much more intimately connected to the pulse of social networks. They can tell you if your thinking is lame and will create backlash or if it has a chance to be embraced. Check out the posts on Valeria's blog by young bloggers for some great insights.
  3. Remember, "your brand is not my friend". This is Tangerine Toad's battle cry and it is something every marketer needs to keep in mind. Despite how much we think people love us, friendships are person-to-person. Toad's anthem will will keep you at the right distance and in the right mindset.
  4. Ask your customers. This one seems obvious, but even the most pro-community sites are skipping this one and creating a lot of trouble for themselves. Had Facebook asked a user panel what they thought about Beacon or social ads, they may have been able to avoid some pretty major PR trouble. CK and Doug have already cancelled their accounts on Facebook and I'm sure others have as well. With the switching cost so low, nobody can afford to take advantage of or take for granted the community of current users.
  5. Learn from the past. You'd think more and more companies would at least look at the mistakes that have taken place. From flogs to Wikipedia editing, companies have pushed the envelope and experienced the backlash. Sadly, other companies either don't look or don't care and line up to do the same things. In this digital age, it's nearly impossible to get away with something like this. The trail is there and there are people who love for nothing more than to expose companies trying to pull a fast one on their customers.

This is a start, but there are definitely other ways to avoid looking like a bozo and run successful marketing programs. What do you do when planning your ideas? What would you add to this list?

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Are you social media fading? Dealing with dead apps and inactive users (part 1)

iStock_000003290791XSmall.jpgTime and attention are both finite and extremely valuable. I think we all can agree on that. In this world of BSOS (bright shiny object syndrome) there is a constant desire to check out the next new thing. However, there is a limit to the number of social networks and applications we can use before we start seeing overlap or clutter. At that point we have a decision to make. Cut and run, or stick it out.

If you're anythings like me, you have probably signed up for your fair share of social networks and new media apps with best intentions of using them to their potential. Service to remind me to wake up you say? Great. A social network for dead poet aficionados? I'll take two!

Sadly, it's just not possible to give every community the time it needs due to a lack of relevance or time. So when you let one of these apps sit for a while, do you think about it again? The popular term for this is fading. Simply add the network-du-jour in front the the word 'fade' and you've got it nailed. Twitter-fade, Face-fade, Space-fade, etc.

This is a natural occurrence in the web world and it's been happening since birth. 10 years ago people signed up for chat rooms and message boards only to abandon them or move on to the next best thing. Today it's social networks and micro-media apps which are being orphaned.

In the first part of this 2 part series, I want to look at what site owners can do when people fade and I want your input too.

Identify and classify your faders
Every social network or community site needs to have a plan in place for their members to identify the overall health of the community. There is no right or wrong way to do this either. Simply identify the actions that a user takes which add value and track how your members stack up in a given time period.

Here is an example:

User tracking for month ending 12/31/07:

Action Desired step % completed
Login Log in in to site 15 times 10% Engagers
Log in 6 times 15% Underachievers
Log in 2 times 35% Nomads
Log in 0 times 40% Slackers

Create a re-engagement plan for each segment
You'll find that each segment has its own set of challenges and opportunities and each will respond to different tactics and messaging. Fortunately the web affords us an easy way to test messages and deliver the right one to the right group. For example:

  • Engagers: People who are engaged in a community are often your strongest allies. These are your evangelists in the making and are usually receptive to you reaching out to them to see what their interests are and to thank them for participating. Virtual rewards (status on the site, moderation of message boards, etc.) could be a powerful, cost-effective way to reach this group.
  • Underachievers: This group is active, but something is keeping them from coming back more often. There is a possibility that you could make an impact here and have them move up to the engager group (which is the goal for all of these groups).
  • Nomads: This group is coming to the site at a sporadic pace. Make note of visiting trends to see what content brings them in. It could be promotions, stories in a specific category or simply be the day of the month they remember. The goal in this group is to increase awareness, show the value you add, make it easy to get them the content (RSS/email newsletter/etc.). These nomads wander the web without a home. Your job is to make them feel at home and not want to leave.
  • Slackers: This is the group with the largest number and least activity. All things equal, this group represents the largest opportunity to move members up a level. Email notices with offers or valuable content could be ways to reach this group and get them in the mix. They've most likely forgotten about you entirely so make sure that when you communicate you put your best foot forward, make them see the value and make it easy for them to get out completely. There is no sense in emailing a person who doesn't care about you or your offer.

Create a way to purge your list
This goes along with what I just said. If people are inactive and you can't seem to get them back, set them free. Not only will this make your list look better, but it will make your community stronger. Set up a rule along the lines of 2 stikes via email and you're out. It's fair, calculated and will benefit everyone.

So, you community managers out there, how do you deal with users that have slacked off or camp out every now and then? How do you re-engage people and create better relationships? Please do share!

Part 2 of this series will focus on the user-side. What should you do if things go inactive, what rules should you set and how can you keep track of everything you sign up for. That'll be tomorrow.

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Buzz Friday for December 14, 2007

more-buzz.jpgHere is a look at what is happening across social media and new marketing this week. If there is anything that you would like to see in this post or if you have something you think is Buzz-worthy please drop me an email or leave a comment on this post. I want to make this as beneficial for you as I can.

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Inside the video:

And in other news:

Top Five Web2.0 Movers of the Week (using Alexa data)

  1. Zippy video
  2. Flixster
  3. Oodle
  4. Woot!
  5. Upcoming


Top Ten Marketing Blogs from Viral Garden

  1. Seth's blog
  2. Duct Tape Marketing
  3. Search Engine Guide
  4. Daily Fix
  5. Logic + Emotion
  6. Brand Autopsy
  7. The Engaging Brand
  8. Influential Marketing
  9. Drew's Marketing Minute
  10. Diva Marketing

View the top full top 25

Top 5 "Viral" Videos This Week

  1. Here comes another bubble
  2. Sex and the City Trailer
  3. Straight No Chaser - 12 days
  4. Lost Season four trailer
  5. Led Zepplin O2 Arena

Honrable mention: Tay Zonday (the "Chocolate Rain" guy, has this new Dr. Pepper commercial. Added to YouTube on November 28, 2007 and has nearly 1.3 million views. His original video is nearing 12 million views. Here is the commercial.


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Facebook Beacon, one month later

facebook_logo.jpgWhen I posted my original Inside//Out video on Beacon, I couldn't have known how vehemently anti-Beacon people in this social media space would react. Well, Facebook took notice of the opposition and Zuckerburg himself apologized to users on the matter asking for patience and thanking users for their support.

When I asked people outside of this microcosm if they knew about Beacon, I couldn't find one who did. They all had Facebook profiles and most thought it was an interesting idea to share activities in one network. We're all in the echo chamber and have to remember that a) we're the first line of defense/adoption and b) we're *way* ahead of the normal John and Jane consumer out there. We're all working in unchartered territory, Facebook needs to beta these things better in the future with some community participation instead of unleashing them. Facebook messed up, acknowledged it, made changes to respond and have a pretty good solution in place on their end (minus a few caveats).

On the marketer side, however, we need to make sure we ALWAYS allow people to opt-in to services like this from now on. If we use an opt-in, confirm it with people and let them opt-out, we're giving people full control of what's transmitted to third-parties. These are basic email marketing practices and can be adopted for situations like this.

So what's changed? Check out this video which gives a look at what changes are in place as well as their progression to get where we are today.

[Feed readers, please click through to the post if you cannot see the video.]

Here is a re-post of my diagram explaining how Beacon works:

Click to Enlarge
  1. Marketers apply for and install the beacon code on their site
  2. Marketers then set up actions on their site to send information with Beacon
  3. Beacon looks on the user's local machine to see if they have a valid Facebook cookie, if it finds one, it sends the data to Facebook
  4. When users log in to Facebook, they are presented with a message asking to allow the data to be pulled in
  5. Users can automatically allow all, request to authorize each or deny all on a site-by-site basis
  6. Update: Facebook now allows you to opt-out of all beacon messages (data is still transferred to Facebook if the marketer sends it)
  7. If approved, the message is added to the users timeline (mini-feed) and is presented to their friends on the main landing page

Guidelines for marketers:

  1. Make sure that you are allowing people to opt-in to use Beacon to push information to their profile. This is permission marketing 101.
  2. Allow them to opt in to each action you hook Beacon up to (if there are three places you are using it, that's three opt ins).
  3. Add some explanatory information every time information is sent, as you saw in the video the notification Facebook uses is seen only briefly. Give people a short reminder and allow them to opt out quickly.
  4. Only use beacon for things that will add value to the user on Facebook. Hold off on the mundane things and focus on items that add value, reduce the time spent re-typing it on Facebook or hook into an application the user already has installed.

All of that said, would you recommend a client use it? If you are a marketer, would you implement this right now? Are you waiting for something more from Facebook before you step in? What is your most important takeaway from this experience?

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Are more ads on social networks inevitable?

iStock_000004415349XSmall.jpgOne of the biggest questions on my mind with all of the hype surrounding Facebook (and the ramp up by marketers) is how they plan on making money. There are some ads on the site now (the lack of ads is one of its redeeming points) and Beacon seems to have loads of potential even though it was poorly launched.

Facebook seems to be leading the way among competitors in opening up the platform for developers and that's a key to growth and future revenue. But they're still not making any money outside of investments. Most of the other networks, however, are still more closed and are heavily advertising dependent. Just take a look at these examples of Facebook vs. MySpace. I've removed the portion of the page that I control and left in the ads and other default pieces.

Facebook without my contentMySpace without my content

Given that example and the obvious focus that MySpace places on ad space, take a look at this chart from eMarketer showing the share of traffic and ad impressions for MySpace and Facebook. Note that MySpace has twice the traffic and 6.5 times the ad revenue of Facebook.


Now, let's look at how eMarketer expects ad spending on social networks to progress. Though the anticipated growth is leveling out, it is gaining attention from marketers as a viable outlet.


Taking all of that into account, is throwing more ads on a page the answer? It seems to get more revenue in the door, but it's far from adding value to the users. Click through rates are also notoriously low, so the value isn't really there for the advertisers either. So what's the solution? Here are some options that we're already seeing, but are sure to see more of:

  • Creating rich, branded applications
  • Helping users centralize data into one place
  • Connecting people from multiple networks around a passion
  • Localization and hyper-targeting

What have you seen that gets you engaged with a brand?

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Targeting based on mindset helps ads break through

Picture 22.pngI was poking around LinkedIn today adding some new friends and reconnecting with some old ones. Generally on LinkedIn I don't notice any of the advertising. Most of the ads are very general and the messages don't reach me in the moment and mindset that I have when I am on the site.

Today, however, I noticed a new set of ads in LinkedIn's rotation and they grabbed my attention. As you may know, Starbucks has recently started advertising online and in mainstream media for the first time. Their online ads are in the same style as the TV spots. It's all very harmonious.

These ads on LinkedIn expand on that campaign, but use a very relevant, timely message, geared right at the target audience. The holidays are on everyones mind and gift giving is a big part of that. You can tell these are from Starbucks, it's in the theme of their new campaign, but the message is completely unique.

Picture 23.png

This is something that is very easy to do, but few companies do it. How many times have you seen the same ad on a sports news site and on a hobby site or a crafting site? It happens all too often. This is such an easy thing to do if planned correctly. Sites can be grouped to create the messages more efficiently, but sending out one ad for all sites is not going to get you the results you could achieve.

Your audience may or may not change from one site to another, but the context changes as does their mindset. Do you look at how that thinking shifts from site to site? Just having a simple spreadsheet showing the ad's creative, audience and customer mindset will help you plan it out. Think like the customer and you'll see more returns come your way.

Have you seen other examples of relevant messages in display ads that made you take notice?

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Guest blogging at Drew's place

iStock_000004187609XSmall.jpgPlease take a moment and check out my guest post at Drew McLellan's blog today when you have a moment. The topic is creating a solid 1.0 digital foundation before moving into a 2.0 world.

A quick excerpt:

Pardon the idiom, but if you don't have your marketing ducks in a row it's hard to make a move into emerging media.

Too many companies try to jump to Web2.0 and skip many important steps in the process. This makes for a hard sell internally and an even more awkward transition.

This post focuses on what you're already doing online and how to make a smooth transition to 2.0.

Here is the link to the post. Thanks Drew!

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If you build it they may not come (back)

iStock_000003829565XSmall.jpgYou've heard the old riddle right? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, the same is true with web sites that take the time to create RSS feeds, but don't tag them properly on the page. Not every visitor to your site hunts for the hidden little orange icon buried deep on the page (rss-icon.jpg). The majority of people use the RSS indicator built in to their web browser. Did I lose you? Let's take a look at some examples.

If you go to a site that does this right, when you land on the page your browser should display an RSS icon in, or around, the main URL address bar.

If you look on FireFox on a PC, here is what the consumer sees (note the orange icon next to the URL of the blog):
Picture 13.png

If you're on FireFox on a Mac, you see something like this (very similar to the PC version):
Picture 10.png

If you look on a PC running Internet Explorer, you will see the following at the top of your screen. Note the RSS icon in orange on the lower right-hand side. If there is no feed detected, that icon will be gray.
Picture 12.png

Now, if the short bit of code I am about to show you is not in place, here is what they see. I found it very ironic that this happened on Microsoft's main RSS listing page, go figure.
Picture 11.png

The solution is to add a bit of code to the pages that have RSS feeds available. The code looks like this (but just ask your IT folks to figure out the details).
Picture 14.png

The reason I bring this up is that if I land on a page that doesn't have their code in place, I will keep moving, not subscribe and they've lost the chance to communicate in the future. Bloggers are lucky here as this is automatically built-in, but other sites need to add this into the code.

Each visit is an opportunity to build a relationship and, with the opt-in nature of RSS, this is a no brainer. Even if a page contains multiple feeds, pick one as your default (it is possible to list multiple). People don't want to hunt for icons like they're hunting for Waldo.

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End of the line or beginning of a new opportunity?

iStock_000003947644XSmall.jpgImagine this scenario for a second. You're walking through Barnes & Noble. You've just picked up a hot cup of coffee and now you're ready to browse. You start checking out the new fiction best-sellers and move through the magazine section. Finished there, you head towards the business section picking one of a dozen routes. Just then, BAM, you're standing on the sidewalk. You think to yourself, "what the...?".

This same situation plays itself out every single day when millions of people reach error pages on the web. This typically happens when a user mis-types a link or the link is mislabeled by the site. The errors typically look like this:

Picture 15.png

First, you need to find out how you're currently handling the problem. Go to your site and type in your URL and then add a "/75;yu" (that's a totally random keystroke). If you see the error message above, you have a little work to do. There are opportunities here for marketers who are smart enough to realize it. Here is how a couple of sites handle these errors.

Technorati: Here is a basic approach. Technorati gives you an error message, but adds links to quickly find whatever you typed just in case you were guessing. Picture 8.png
Google: Shame on Google for such a poor error page. The company could easily take you to a search result page similar to Technorati. Picture 10.png
Greenpeace: Greenpeace takes advantage of the situation and uses it to educate the user on its mission. Click the image for a larger view. Picture 12.png
Marvel Comics: Marvel uses a touch of Homer Simpson-esque humor. Picture 11.png
Craigslist: The Craigslist error page is as simple as the site. Very basic, but in line with their voice. Picture 13.png
The Motley Fool: The Motley Fool has a great little page. A Haiku for the error message with a search embedded on the page to get you back on track. Picture 14.png
Bloglines: David Berkowitz sent me this one from Bloglines. Nice little bit of humor. Picture 1.png

So, when your customers make a wrong turn, are you going to help them out or kick them to the curb? Do you have an example of a page you like? Let me know in the comments!

[Links: A List Apart has a great article on the perfect 404 page]

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digg-logo.gifMy latest Inside//Out video covering social news site is up and running now over at the MarketingProfs Daily Fix.

From MarketingProfs:

This video is geared to give you a visual overview, tell you why you should (or shouldn’t) care about Digg, and give you broad analysis of how the technology could help in other situations. You don’t have to sign up for 50 different networks, just let me do it and guide you through the latest, hottest options around.

I am sure that many of you have heard the name or see the tags around the internet and at the bottom of every blog post. Digg is a social news aggregator that relies on the community of “Diggers” to filter, share and vote on the top news. The site is categorized, but remains largely geared toward technical audiences.

Users of the site submit content by clicking on the Digg icon or submitting it through the site itself. Users add a description of the content along with the URL and tags for reference. Freshly "Dugg" content filters to an “upcoming” area where other users vote it up. Content that has a lot of diggs in a short amount of time move toward the home page at a faster pace (diggs*velocity=popularity).

Here is an Inside//Out look at

Key takeaways for marketers:

  • The Digg community is very active and can drive a lot of short-term traffic (MarketingProfs has seen up to 10 fold increases).
  • Digg, like any social network, has its own policing system to control content.
  • It’s advisable that marketers not Digg their own content.
  • Blogs, newspapers, magazines and video sharing sites leverage Digg to share content with a wider audience.
  • Malicious companies do set up fake accounts to Digg things for clients. This is not advisable to any marketer anywhere.
  • Adding Digg code to your site is easy. Just head to this page and use any of the pre-built options provided.
  • Digg also has a cool visualization toolset if you are interested in seeing how active the community is.

Look for a new Whiteboard//Session video Monday where I cover how Digg actually works. If you have anything you would like to see featured in the future send me an email.

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Live blogging from Kent State Media Mindsets Conference

MMConfLogo.jpgI am attending, and live blogging from, the Kent State University Media Mindsets Conference today. Nice speaker list on tap today. Among them Joshua Green from the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, Hollis Towns the Executive Editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Bill Stewart of IBM Digital Media. I will be updating this post through the day and cross-posting it to my agency's blog here. They're streaming this live as well.

You can get real-time updates from this conference at my Twitter account.

Welcome from Robert Frank, KSU Senior VP and Provost
KSU has created their communication college to merge mass comm, journalist, comm, etc. to one curriculum to get students to hit the ground running. Creating partnerships with technology companies to conduct research.

billstewart_small.jpgKeynote from Bill Stewart, IBM Digital Media
"Creative destruction - trends and directions of new and traditional media companies"
Devices drive innovation through history. These devices + the internet are breaking through walls. iPod in Music, World of Warcraft in video games, Netflix downloads in movie rentals and IM/VoIP in communications.

This is leading to a user-centric fluid media lifestyle. Barriers to entry are lowering and will continue in next 3-5 years. Media companies will see an upheaval. New media companies must drive new strategies. Divergent paths will be forged.

Drivers of change. Devices, access, content innovation and buyer and consumer behavior shifts. These are predicated on the devices. The next inflection point will be around 3G+ mobile and broadband, connected devices.

As far as broadband is concerned, cable-to-home has the most US capacity. WiMAX has the most capacity in wireless, but is slow compared to the wired options. A song download from iTunes on wired access is <1 minute. The same song would take 33 minutes on WiMAX.

Primetime TV shift to digital is opening doors for other media. Outcomes include show willingness of consumers to pay, increase total consumption, creates piracy alternatives, shift downstream demand, challenge funding models (PPV) and opening service providers. YouTube traffic bigger than New models are shifting the revenue streams. iTunes = more revenue to the creator, YouTube = 100% to creator.

Business models and leading players are shifting to user contributed open platforms. traditional media is stuck in professional, proprietary quadrant. MySpace uniques in January 2007 close to Super Bowl viewership. Spending is not following the shift to new platforms.

Four prime business models:

  • Walled communities (user contributed, proprietary) - Apple iLife, Apple podcasts, Current TV
  • Traditional media (Professional content, proprietary) - BBC, ABC, EMI
  • New Platforms (user contributed, open) - SL, YouTube, Google, Facebook, MySpace
  • Hyper content syndication (professional content, open) - Amazon video, BBC player

Proprietary networks can either open up or shift to include more user generated content to move models. This shift can lead to more attention, first-hand learning and user intimacy and refresh their brand. Traditional creators need to figure out how to leverage these changes to capitalize on the changes from a strategic perspective. Music industry prime example of waiting and doing nothing.

Ad spending will change as well. TV spending will take the biggest hit by 2010. Internet spending will continue to grow. Newspaper and magazine will shrink, but not as quickly. model. 1 minute of TV programming costs between $1000 and $10000. Same cost on Current is around $500.

10 recommendations for media companies in the new media world:

  1. Put consumers at the center of the business
  2. Convert knowledge of user behavior to competitive advantage
  3. Give control to consumers to get share
  4. Deliver experiences, not just content
  5. Leverage virtual worlds
  6. Innovate business models
  7. Invest in interactive, measurable ad services and platforms
  8. Redefine partnerships while mitigating fallout
  9. Shift investments from traditional business to new models
  10. Create flexible business model

hollistowns_small.jpgKeynote from Hollis Towns, Cincinnati Enquirer
"Gannett and the Enquirer's response to it"
News media is shifting. Content is being created faster and looking at new platforms. Community conversation is very important for the Enquirer. Feedback through message boards, etc. is the new engagement strategy. Using moderated boards (why?) instead of open boards. is one of the top traffic sites in Ohio. 226 community web pages on the site now. Moving into digital in every way possible.

Moving to "total audience reach" instead of circulation. Community + web + print. Heavy focus on boomers. Abandoning the young reader print reach and trying new models of outreach (Cin Weekly). Readers are skewing a bit older than they'd thought.

Reaching out to local communities. Using "get published" platform to allow local officials and residents to publish hyper-local content. site is hugely successful. Attempted to inject experts and other content, but was rejected by the community. Unfiltered community where the users are the subject matter experts. Self-policing area with a single, known moderator to look for libel or slanderous content.

Big push into video. Partnering with Scripps TV station. Have installed editing suites in the newsroom. Doing a daily webcast that is unpolished and unscripted - getting highest page views on the site. Have hired three full-time programmers to integrate 3rd-party data sources. Creating a community-centered resource for residents.

Created a boomer focus group. Reading styles are different. Boomers lean back and read, younger readers lean forward to read. Subtle differences, but important. Reporters are mobile working in Starbucks and Panera looking for new stories and rarely coming into the office.

joshuagreen_small.jpgKeynote from Joshua Green, MIT
"Losers, users and producers: what happens to the audience in a participatory age"
Consumer value chain is shifting. Where, what, how, who are all shifting. Loyalty is shifting as well, could be there today and gone tomorrow. Measurement and categories are changing quickly. Terminology is outdated and tired.

"Convergence Culture". Old and new and merging, shifting in unpredictable ways. Social, cultural and technological shifts = convergence. Transmedia texts - flow across multiple platforms. Conglomeration and cooperation of multiple media sources. Strategic cooperation growing. Media audiences are migratory; consume what they want when they want.

Living in a networked society, growing knowledge communities -> collective intelligence. Participatory culture is emerging as people rework content to be personal. Acquiring skills through play that are applied toward more serious ends. CSI driving interest in science, drives education down the road. Non-linear roadmaps to success.

Four ways to think about consumers:

  1. Old consumers were compliant, new consumers are resistant (GMC UGC ad example)
  2. Old consumers are predictable, new consumers are migratory
  3. Old consumer isolated, new consumers socially connected
  4. Old consumers silent and invisible, new consumers noisy and public

Convergence altering distinctions between platform, medium, audience, channel and "content". Fans are not on the edge any more. Watching Sopranos on DVD through Netflix is still watching TV content, just not as part of the audience. The relationship between content and form is shifting. Content is being dis-embedded and re-embedded as consumers like.

"Viewser" - combines viewing and using content in ways not intended by creator. Watching shifting to interacting.

"Produser" - audiences are becoming content creators, making the flow of information easy to reverse.

"Collaborative media creators" - Wiki applications allow groups of users to great joint content.

Fan production operates in a different economy than the professional production. It's more of a gift economy than transactional.

Measurement. How to measure expressions vs. impressions. Hard to measure and compare.

Ideas changing. Control, value, reward, niche (collective niches).

johnwest_small.jpgJohn West, KSU
LCD: the Next Generation
KSU was the originator and is a top innovator in LCD technology. Industry is moving toward flexible technology and making HD fit smaller spaces. Display technology has kept up with science fiction. Technology is changing design patterns in major industry including automotive.

Kent Displays is introducing flexible LCD into small, commercial applications. Kent is using small, continuous improvements vs. introducing the killer display. Switchable LCD technology (used on glass windows) is moving to consumer products like ski goggles.

New displays will be printed/sandwiched, not in high-tech manufacturing facilities. The material is getting more like cloth and less like molded plastic. Interestingly, LCD technology is born from molecules in cholesterol.

Thoughts from afternoon student panel discussion:

  • News is coming to them, not having to go find it
  • News is coming from non-traditional sources
  • Using mobile to gather and read news
  • Top media option they'd give up is overwhelmingly newspaper/magazine, then radio and then TV
  • iPod is the new radio
  • Using MySpace for music
  • People's friend counts don't mean anything, more about quality
  • Using Facebook to communicate (shift from email/IM is massive)
  • Limited use of virtual worlds

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Virtual worlds colliding with traditional ones

I was watching a little primetime TV last night and saw a spot by Toyota for their Tundra line of trucks. The 30 second spot features the virtual world/video game World of Warcraft (WoW), but even if you're not familiar with the WoW you can pretty easily follow along. I think it's very progressive of them to use this concept and I'm sure it's reaching the younger male audience that they're targeting. Here it is if you have not seen it.

Another example of virtual worlds coming to mainstream is the October 24 episode of CSI: NY. In the episode a parallel Second Life experience will allow users to interact in a whodunit of unprecedented proportions. Users will be able to log in to SL and walk through the crime lab, process evidence and try to catch the killer.

Both of these endeavors by such large companies show me that they believe virtual worlds are at a tipping point for their target audiences. I imagine this type of integration will become more common in certain audience demographics as the technology gets easier to use and the experience becomes more easily accessible.

This definitely appeals to a pretty narrow audience, but it's a very hip, young, connected, tech-savvy one. Have you seen any other examples of this type of virtual world integration? What other brands lend themselves to this type of hook given the audience?

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Inside//Out: Jaiku

logo-big.gifJaiku is a service that has been on my radar screen for some time now and I've been meaning to do an Inside//Out post on them. So why do one now? Simple, Google acquired the company yesterday (10/9/07). That alone has sent a deluge of marketers to the web trying to learn more about this presence application.

To keep it simple, Jaiku is on the same principle as Twitter (see my earlier video on Twitter here) or Pownce. You have 140 characters to tell people what you're doing, promote something of interest or communicate with colleagues and friends. Communication is one- and two-way through the messaging system. Here is the video with a more in-depth look.

[Feed readers please click through to the post if you cannot see the video]

Similarities to Twitter/Pownce:

  • There are 140 characters to each message
  • Brands can participate by creating an identity in the system
  • Users are added to each profile to receive updates
  • There is a developer API to pull information from the system
  • You can send and receive messages from a mobile device
  • Both services allow users to create a badge widget to post on their blog or website
  • Both allow updates from IM


  • Twitter lacks the channel functionality to target messages to users of similar interests
  • Jaiku messages are threaded so that people can reply to an individual message and create a new, focused conversation
  • Jaiku can act a a life streaming repository to pull content from multiple places into one feed
  • Jaiku allows icons for each post to add visual context

Robert Scoble did an interview with the founders of Jaiku on Podtech.

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Blogging from the Marketing Profs B2B Forum 2007 - Day 2

Yesterday was my second day attending the Marketing Profs B2B Forum in Chicago. I met a lot of blog friends and made some new ones. The panel I attended on emerging media and its implications on B2B marketing was a great one and had the audience truly engaged. Here are my takeaways (videos will be coming later).

[From left to right: Chris Yeh, Todd Andrlik, Mike Gamson, Phil Gomes, Matt Lohman and David Armano]

David Armano (moderator) | Critical Mass

  • B2B is made up of people
  • People demand good experiences
  • Technology is an enabler to deliver experience
  • Site progression has gone from Useful -> Usable -> Desirable -> Sustainable -> Social
  • 25% of social media content on the top 20 brands comes from social media
  • Dell example - Direct2Dell for blogging, Ideastorm for crowdsourcing, DellOutlet on Twitter
  • SalesForce example - Merging platforms with Facebook to create FaceForce

Todd Andrlik | Leopardo Construction

  • Social newsroom at Leopardo powered by Wordpress blogging software
  • Appears traditional, but has built in social media hooks
  • Search, RSS, tagging, categories are all built in
  • Looking to niche audiences to create blogs and show thought leadership (green building)

Matt Lohman | Knowledgestorm

  • Knowledge storm syndicates popular, topical blog content and surrounds it with related white papers and research
  • Engagement is over a longer sales cycle
  • Leveraging RSS to aggregate and disperse information
  • Bringing experts to the customers as a service and surround them with content

Phil Gomes | Edelman me2revolution

  • Demonstrated his Bloglines account live (750+ feeds)
  • Segments the information topically
  • Uses this network of nodes to process raw information
  • Looking at small programs that are more cost effective and add up to big benefit

Chris Yeh | Ustream

  • Video equipment is cheap and available
  • Youtube proves the demand for video is in place
  • Ustream does live video over the web for free
  • The interaction is 2-way
  • Chat is built in so feedback is real time
  • The content is embeddable and therefore portable to other networks
  • There is a sense of urgency with live video (if you miss it you lose out)

Mike Gamson | LinkedIn

  • LinkedIn empowers users to solidify offline relationships
  • Use on new biz pitches to leverage connections
  • The platform is evolving, but is professionally focused
  • Facebook is much more social and should remain separate

Related: You can see the MarketingProfs event photo pool on Flickr here.

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Whiteboard//Session: What is an API?

Picture 9.pngNot a day goes by when I don't see complex technical terms thrown around in media press or on blogs. I often wonder if the average marketer knows what half of these terms mean. This new series is aimed at graphically illustrating (this is where the whiteboard comes into play) complex terms in ways that normal, non-geek people can understand.

First up is the API. One of the core tenets of Web2.0 is the idea around "open APIs", you've no doubt heard it before. API stands for Application Programming Interface and is really pretty simple when you break it down. Here is my whiteboard video that explains the process.

[Feed readers please click through to the post if you cannot see the video.]

Key takeaways:

  • APIs open up and regulate a library of data and services that you can access
  • APIs are controlled to give and deny access depending on your permissions
  • Marketers only need to know what's available in the library, not how to get it back (that's the technology person's job)
  • Mashups are applications that use these APIs to get and combine data from multiple sources

Is there a term that's confusing you? Do your tech guys like to show you up and you want a little revenge? Email me or leave me a comment with the buzzwords that you would like to see explained in a similar post in the future. Also, let me know if you have ways I can improve on this concept for new posts.

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Inside//Out: Google Orkut (beta)

orkut_logo.pngFollowing up on yesterday's Yahoo Mash video, here is a look at Google's Orkut social network. There are a lot of similarities between the two search giants as they try to find their place in the social media universe.

Orkut is a little more refined and has more community hooks to join groups, etc. It lacks, however, the integration with third party applications like Facebook, MySpace and even Mash. The functionality in Orkut is pretty basic and requires some more advanced editing to really personalize the content. Orkut also suffers from a bit of identity confusion and sits at the "pro-social" (part social, part professional) divide.

Check out Google's Orkut:

[Feed readers please click through to the post for the video.]

Key takeaways:

  • As with Mash, enable people to do cool stuff and get out of their way!
  • Find out where your target audience is and focus there (Facebook, MySpace, Mash, etc.) - don't get sucked in to the hype of one network over another
  • If you're looking to build on the platform, you will need to wait until Google opens this up
  • Future hooks into outside content sources could make or break Orkut as network consolidation starts setting in
  • Expect Google to make some moves around this network to bring its content into one place and allow users to even further customize their branded search experience

Related Videos:

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First//Look: Yahoo! Mash (beta)

Picture 7.pngFor big media companies, social networks are like lawyers. Everybody has one. The newest company to release a dedicated social network into beta is Yahoo. It's interesting to note that Yahoo has had all of the pieces of a truly engaging social network platform for as long as I can remember. Message boards, Answers, Flickr, MyYahoo!, etc. all operated independently of each other in the past. Yahoo has recently made moves to consolidate properties and is leveraging it's Yahoo ID system as a single sign-on for all of the sites.

Mash is still in beta. That being said, it has a way to go to catch up to the interactivity and personalization of MySpace and Facebook. This beta is hard to personalize, doesn't pull in RSS feeds with consistency and has few plugins from developers (because it is in beta). I would love to see Yahoo use some of it's own UI tools to make the experience better all around. Right now it appears very stripped down way (not in a good, Facebook-esque way).

Yahoo's long-term property acquisition and convergence strategy should help this network gain traction. They will need to determine what a user's forward facing presence is in the system and then let people build on that. For example, I have a Mash profile, MyYahoo profile, Flickr Profile, etc. That's too many for one entity and I could see Mash serving as a mid-range solution for doing some consolidation to make user's lives easier.

Check out my First//Look at the Mash beta:

[Feed readers please click through to the post for the video.]

Key takeaways:

  • Enable people to do cool stuff and get out of their way!
  • Find out where your target audience is and focus there (Facebook, MySpace, Mash, etc.) - don't get sucked in to the hype of one network over another
  • Try to add value to each and every interaction
  • Personalization is key. Let people feel like they own the space and make doing this as easy as possible
  • Leverage user generated content sources within the partner network to add more value (something that Yahoo/Google are better positioned to offer vs. Facebook and to some extent MySpace)

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Predictive analytics

crystalball.jpgI stumbled across a couple of interesting tools today (via Steve Rubel) on the Microsoft Ad Center lab site. These are in beta, but from what I see there are some interesting implications for marketers. Microsoft is using their extensive search and traffic data (terabytes of 1's and 0's) to help predict user profiles and behaviors.

Demographics prediction - This tool allows you to enter a URL or search query and it will tell you what the demographic (sex and age) breakdown is. Major trends are highlighted in the search results. Here are some examples from social media:

  • Twitter - Male oriented (58%) <18 (25%)
  • Facebook - Female oriented (60%) 18-24 (63%)
  • MySpace - Female oriented (60%) 18-24 (37%)
  • Bebo - Female (71%) <18 (39%)

Commercial intent - This is a type of research I've not seen before, but I think is very valuable. This predictive analysis ventures to show how purchase-ready users are when visiting certain websites or using certain search queries. Try out your site and compare with your competitors. Check your keyword buys against this search as well. The results are broken down into three categories 1) non-commercial, 2) commercial-informational and 3) commercial-transactional. Here are some example sites and search terms with their respective results:

  • - 41% commercial
  • - 57% commercial
  • - 44% commercial
  • "phone" - 86% commercial
  • "recipes" - 7% commercial
  • "tape" - 78% commercial

These services are in beta and should only be used for secondary research and trend analysis, but I think this clearly shows where all of this search data we generate can help marketers eliminate waste. I'd love to get your opinion on how accurate the data looks. From what I can tell it's pretty impressive and I've already gleaned some insights for customers and future posts.

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Branding Wire: IT services

bw_logo.gifLate last week Steve Woodruff dropped me an email asking me to be a guest blogger for his Branding Wire project. I was psyched to be asked as a small wave of panic came over me. Some of the most respected branding/marketing bloggers in the world participate in this group. Each month this group of experts takes on a unique branding challenge. The advice is free to the company who serves as the case as well as to those of us who read their isights. Among them Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Steve Woodruff, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Derrick Daye, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll and Olivier Blanchard. Here is my take on this month's challenge.

iStock_000000046053XSmall.jpgAs a quick summary, this month's challenge is from a small Canadian IT company. They are capable of handling all of their SMB client IT needs, but they're challenged when it comes to using marketing and PR to grow their business to its full potential. A growth area that they're moving into is Green IT services whereby they help companies leave less of an environmental footprint. The company has leveraged non-profit work to grow to their current level, but want to expand into larger enterprises who have more demand for their services.

The company has fallen into a situation where a lot of small IT firms wind up. They provide extremely valuable services, have great service, impact the bottom line in a positive way, BUT they're seen as an necessary evil, an ancillary commodity. So how can they move past that?

Thinkers only become thought leaders when they share what they know.

You're an expert, share like it.
The people working at this company are IT experts. They keep up on industry trends, know when virus alerts are being issued, know why (or why not) to install Windows Vista, how to mainstream back office systems and more. That's all well and good, but they're missing a huge opportunity. Share it! Thinkers only become thought leaders when they share what they know. Create white papers that can immediately add value or show a need. Give presentations or host lunch discussions for IT folks to stay up to date on the latest and greatest or just discuss best practices. This company also needs to join the conversation economy and create a strategic social media plan to reach the community.

Listen: Find where people in the area are sharing their IT problems and advice and help out. Offer your advice in message boards, join LinkedIn and take part in their Answers area. This step is about building online credentials as IT experts. Take a strategic approach to this and seek out enterprise problems/solutions and avoid the one-off consumer issues to maximize effort. You never know who will see your replies.

Blog: Kill the corporate site as you know it right now. Chances are your shop looks like 99.9% of the other sites out there. This will help to set you apart. You should add in basic content that explains the services and processes you use, but your thinking is what you need to showcase. Share what you know through a blog. This is key. The blog serves as your hub for activity, a two-way conversation with whomever finds it.

Engage employees throughout the company to give more of a personal touch to the content, but stay focused. Reach out to current customers to add value and send it to people you want to work with as an introduction to your company. Be THE IT resource for the area's businesses and work with the press to make sure they know you've built this blog and offer to help whenever any IT news comes up.

Twitter: Create an account on Twitter, a social presence service, and focus on informing the community of IT issues in real time. Twitter will strategically position the company as a resource to learn about breaking IT news for your area and beyond. Value is added by the immediacy of the information and it's also a great platform to promote blog posts as they're published. Twitter is also very tech-forward and possibly PR worthy in using it to inform IT staff of potential problems and solutions.

Keep the messages simple.
One of the biggest hurdles for anyone in IT is a lack of understanding from the rest of the enterprise. IT people have dug this grave themselves by years of talking in tech-babble and overcomplicating things that should be simple. The goal for this company needs to be to keep IT simple. Focus on the big picture, explain things with visuals, and always show the end-result's impact on the company. If people understand what you're talking about, they'll be more ready to place value on it. Every blog post should end with a recommendation or suggested call to action, not a sales pitch. It's about adding value over time.

Be a partner not a vendor.
This is a problem with most service firms. Are you just another invoice that goes out at the end of the month or do you have the president's ear? There are a couple of ways to help shift from a vendor to a partner.

Staffed solution: One way that companies like IBM and EDS become a partner is by having a physical person in the office of the client. As this company starts to grow into larger contracts, they should look into setting up staffed solutions where a company pays them a monthly charge to cover this individual. The company benefits from this service as it saves the client company from having to pay the salary + benefits of the individual (quickly proves ROI), they get a better response time and the IT shop gets all of the intangibles that come along with it (conversations, infrastructure knowledge, meeting attendance, etc.).

Enhance current customer services: This company does a very good job of providing its clients with detailed end-of-month reporting on the work done, but it focuses on the cost and not the value. They should look for ways to touch on the ROI of what they do on each hour spent. Use the invoice to suggest new improvements, make sure it's easy to understand and pass along to others. If work completed now would have cost more later, figure out the savings and promote it.

Act like a high-price partner: The EDSs and IBMs of the world focus on ROI, provide great service, thought leadership and most importantly they make their clients look good. Our company should look for opportunities to promote their clients by press mentions, speaking on panels, etc. Wether or not they go with the embedded staffing solution, the company needs to use their knowledge of customer's systems to provide broad, reaching strategic recommendations along with specific, tactical implementation. Larger companies support the enterprise and this company needs to do the same even on smaller project work when there is larger potential.

iStock_000001905439XSmall.jpgGreen identity.
The green IT movement is in its infancy, but growing steadily with each passing day. The companies that move in and explain the intricacies in simple terms will probably win out in the end. This should have its own identity for the company. Green logo, category on the blog and an email newsletter to promote it. Get a separate URL for the service to link to the category on the blog along with explanations of how it can be implemented and a DIY savings calculator.

This could be a very easy item to get PR attention (both for the IT company as well as the company implementing the solution) since it's such a national hot-button. Reach out to potential customers with this message and offer to provide a Green IT audit. A quick checklist and report on what they could do and how it falls into your niche. Also check if there is a financial benefit for companies who implement Green IT solutions. Follow up with local government as well to make sure this is on their radar as a legitimate green measure.

Overall it sounds like this company is on its way to success by making sure the service level is high as well as moving into progressive new markets like Green IT. It's time to step up the game, start thinking bigger, acting bigger and sharing information more readily to get new clients and influence existing ones. The blog, and other social media outlets, provide a base for sharing knowledge, but the personal interactions and strategic thinking are what will win new accounts and grow existing ones.

For more thoughts on this topic check out the other author's blogs:

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