Should your company blog?

iStock_000004684908XSmall.jpgThere are a lot of blog posts out there about whether companies should create blogs of their own. Blogging seems to be an entry point that most marketing people can easily wrap their heads around. For me it's always come down to five questions and the answer to all five has to be yes. Those five questions are:

  1. Are you listening to your online community? - Are you spending a minimum of two hours a day searching, reading Google alerts or using a monitoring tool like Radian6?
  2. Do you have something unique to say? - How will you differetntiate yourself from other blogs and other companies? This could be your people, the information you publish or other forms of thought leadership.
  3. Are you willing and able to say it? - Can you talk about your industry and are you willing to put it out there?
  4. Are you willing to be challenged and criticized? - This goes with the turf. You have to be able to facilitate conversation in a respectful manner to grow a community.
  5. Are you willing and able to dedicate the resources to succeed? - People always underestimate this one. A good rule for this to succeed is to have one person dedicated to the success of your strategy for a minimum of 4 hours per day (2 hours of which is listening and commenting). That is one half of a full time person's week. Have staffing plans in place as you grow and start realizing your success.

Here is a visual decision tree that I use to see if clients/readers/individuals should create a blog. I'm a visual person and these help me think things through.

So, should my company blog?

blog decision tree.png

My caveats:

  • Identifying a voice is a next step once you're past this point
  • I know not everyone should create a blog, but it's what companies "get"
  • A blog is not always the ideal entry point with every audience, audience analysis will tell you more

What are your thoughts on this? Would you add any other questions? Do you think any of these are not necessary? Let me know what you think.


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Do one thing well

There is a lot to be said about doing one thing very well. Services like Twitter started as a way to update friends on what you are doing and it has stayed true to its mission. Other services have started simple and have fallen victim to feature creep and trying to be everything to everyone.

I am particularly fond of online applications that have some focus, use the medium very well and extend the focus in strategic, well-planned ways.

Take this new site called Umbrella Today. If you go to the site and enter your zip code, it tells you whether or not you need an umbrella that day. Super simple, very useful and they extend it to mobile very logically and at the right point in the interaction.

Picture 18.png

Once you see if you need an umbrella, they offer you an option to see if you would like an SMS alert should you need an umbrella in the future.

Picture 19.png

Simplification of complex systems and applications is a niche market in itself. This is a perfect example, think about how many clicks and how much reading it takes you to find out the answer to this simple question on a weather site.

There are very few sites that can maintain their focus, but those that do remain useful and relevant. What examples of simple websites or programs do you love?


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Great examples of product integration in social media

Recently, a couple of product launches have caught my attention and I noticed them (100%) because of social media. I saw them on blogs, through my feeds, in Twitter messages and on Facebook. I did NOT see them on TV, in a newspaper/magazine/billboard or even on a traditional website. A year ago, that may not have been the case.

images-1.jpgProduct: Tiger Woods '09
Two videos have caught my eye. The first, Tiger walks on water, is a very cool example of a brand listening and responding using their assets. This could have passed Tiger by, but it turned out brilliantly. The second video is just odd enough to be passed along.

Interestingly, if you search "Tiger Woods 09" on Google, the walking on water video is the number 2 result.

Tiger walks on water

Tiger square peg, round hole

*Note EA Sports is a Fleishman-Hillard client

D90_1.jpgProduct: Nikon D90
I am an avid Nikon user and I am a huge brand advocate (you're generally either a Canon or Nikon person in photography). I had not heard about their newest digital SLR, the D90, until I came across a video by commercial photographer Chase Jarvis. Chase caught my attention last year with a very cool presentation to NYC's Photoshelter. He creates awesome videos that apply at all levels of skill level.

For the D90, Nikon asked Chase's team to evaluate the camera in a professional environment and they documented their experience. This, to me, gives the product instant credibility (I trust he would not BS me) and makes me interested. (Though I am really looking at their D300.) Nonetheless, I saw it on a blog which drove me to the product site which prompted me to write this post. Here is the clip. I love the espionage aspect and the fact that they turned this into content. Nikon uses the video on their D90 microsite as well as a dedicated site at www.chasejarvisandfriends.com

Marketing Takeaways:
Are you listening to what your top customers are saying online? Are you agile enough to respond without weeks of legal review? Are you engaging your evangelists to create real, pure branded content?

If you are I think you're in the minority of companies out there who get it. If you are not, what can you do today to make steps toward this? Maybe its listening, maybe its having lunch with an advocate. Doing nothing is the worst thing anyone can do.


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Inside//Out: Fire Eagle

Picture 10.pngLocation awareness has a lot of potential to tie the gap between digital and the physical world. The iPhone's integrated GPS clearly hints to the future of mobile social networking. Fire Eagle (a Yahoo product) aims to make updating your location easy.

The service is very simple and has only one true function. Tell the world where you are. Once you tell Fire Eagle where your location is, they allow third parties to tap in and use that same data. This way you don't have to update your location on 4-5 different sites, it is done automatically.


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Key Takeaways:


  • Social utilities, like Fire Eagle, are going to make network convergence a reality
  • The privacy settings that Fire Eagle uses are robust and should allay most fears of intrusion
  • The open API they are providing developers has picked up the adoption rate and made some major players take notice
  • Competition from Google/Apple/etc. will be quick to come about

As always, I want to know what is on your mind. If there is a video you would like to see me do just email me or leave a comment on the post.


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Video week day 4.5; pioneers and visionaries

As I prep the final video installment in video week here on the blog I wanted to share some shining examples of video at its best. The following should serve as examples of what to consider when you look at the power of video and what it brings to the table from an informational, branding and education point of view. Enjoy.

Gary Vaynerchuk - Wine Library TV
If Gary doesn't make you want to get up and create video content then you may be hopeless. His enthusiasm is off the charts, his knowledge of wine is incredible and the content follows suit. He has created an empire in the wine industry, his posts average 200-300 comments and people love him. His honesty and authenticity should serve as role models for us all.

Ask a Ninja
Yes this is more comedic, but these guys have created a character, a loyal following and a merchandise business to back up the demand.

BlendTec - Will It Blend
Will It Blend is one of the best examples of a company realizing the potential of the video space, choosing to fully engage in a valuable way and letting the conversation happen organically. BlendTec makes a line of high-end, powerful blenders. They're so powerful that you can blend everything from a leaf rake to a crowbar to an iPhone. They stay extremely relevant by looking at trends in social media and creating content around it. When Weezer's "Pork and Beans" video took off on YouTube, BlendTec created a video.

BMW - BMW Films
This is from a few years ago, but BMW's creation of webisodes to promote their cars in the format of short films took the Web by storm. This video featuring thier M5 sedan and Madonna was the most popular. It's engaging, showcases the product and is absolutely memorable.

BMW - GINA concept car
Not to harp on BMW, but they absolutely grasp the power of video. While most companies hide their innovations and forward thinking, BMW uses video to position themselves as thought leaders and true innovators. Check out this video featuring their new concept car, GINA. Do you hide your innovations or showcase them?

These are just a few examples, but I hope they bring you inspiration in your thinking about video as a viable, powerful medium.

What companies are doing video that you enjoy or get value from? Let me know!

If you missed the first videos in the series you can find them here:


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Twitter for marketing, branding and customer service

iStock_000003099857XSmall.jpgYesterday I had the opportunity to speak to the Cleveland Web Association on the topics of micromedia (Twitter, Pownce, FriendFeed, etc.). This was a follow up presentation to the one I gave back in February and is meant to dive a bit deeper into the subject.

I thought the audience was very receptive to the topic and the examples absolutely help out with that. David Meade of Optiem gave a bit of a more technical primer before me and is who I reference in the first few minutes.

The presentation is available below as a SlideCast (meaning I have added an voiceover audio track to it) which you can access by hitting the green middle button that looks like this Picture 18.png.

Enjoy!

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If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, you can check out my other SlideShare presentations here and feel free to contact me for more information.


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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.

095059.gif

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 Moo.com 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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Reader poll results; what medium has the most influence?

In an ongoing bi-weekly series, here are the results of the most recent poll question "What type of media has the most influence on your decision making?". The question stemmed from the post I did about the results of the Fleishman-Hillard (my employer) Digital Influence Survey. In that survey digital was found to be twice as influential as the nearest competitor, TV.

Not too surprisingly digital ranked as your top influential medium at 74% while magazines and television tied at 12% each. You said that digital is six times more influential than the nearest competitors. Newspapers can a very distant fourth at 3% while radio didn't have one single vote.

The results:

Picture 10.png

Where the information came from:

Picture 12.png

This is about where I thought my audience would be, but I was interested to see magazines tied with TV and was also surprised to see newspapers running so far back. I was not surprised to see radio dead last honestly. Between iPods, satellite radio and the Internet who has time for radio anymore?

Did this end up the way you expected? Anything you think is under- or over-rated? Let's hear what you think! Be sure to check out the current poll and weigh in on the question "Where should conversations take place?".



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Facebook's DIY ad targeting explained

facebook_logo.jpgEver time that I show somebody what is possible with Facebook's advertising system, they immediately see the future of advertising. Facebook allows marketers to create ads that are extremely targeted to a unique, specific audience. The ads are pay-per-click so you only pay when somebody is interested enough to engage with you through a click.

In the example I go through in the video (which you can see in the image below) I show you the full range of targeting capabilities within Facebook. While it is very robust, there are some missing elements including ethnicity. Though you may not be able to target the exact individual you are looking for, you can use interests and keywords to achieve the same result.

Here is an Inside//Out look at Facebook's advertising system:

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

Here is the screen capture from the video.

Picture 23.png

Picture 22.pngSo what does this look like when done right? Here is a good example that I saw today when I logged in to Facebook. The ad to the right is promoting a Chris Brogan "Twebinar" that is hosted by Radian 6. The ad is targeted to my interests, the headline caught my eye and I recognized Chris' headshot immediately. I clicked through to the Twebinar in short order.

Key Takeaways:


  • Micro-targeting your audience using these services is easier than ever
  • Determine how you can target people directly with ads as well as using meta data to reach them indirectly (for example reaching people who watch Monday Night Football to target football fans)
  • Ads that speak to the audience with the right message at the right time are highly effective
  • The prevalence of broad, un-targeted advertising inside social networks is nearing an end
  • Invasive ads like Facebook's social ads should be used sparingly if at all (there is too much risk at this point)


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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:

rep-patterns.jpg

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.

472E4A77-4380-4EEA-B7ED-77A106C45D91.jpg

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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On widgets and micro interactions

Picture 6.pngNext Monday I will be on a panel discussion at first Widget Web Expo to be held in the US. The panel is full of brilliant thinkers including David Armano (who is moderating), David Malouf (an Interaction Designer for Motorola), InternetGeekGirl herself Steph Agresta, Steve Rubel (SVP at Edelman Digital) and Ian Schafer (CEO of Deep Focus). The panel is centered around a passion of mine, micro interactions.

0FA51418-95CB-453E-9A4B-A1DCF7439D6E.jpg  6AC8254A-41EA-4E0E-A4C9-E011A0477ECF.jpg  1B32941F-71C8-4FF4-B43A-E5B532BC9666.jpg  3C4DEB21-F487-48A6-A2EE-4A140119BDD3.jpg  02E53C6C-E2D4-4535-B49B-000DA7C07805.jpg

Micro interactions with brands are very powerful tools for marketers to engage with users where they live online. What I mean is that widgets and other micromedia are location agnostic. You can take an experience like a widget (or a service like Twitter) and put it on your phone, blog, website, desktop, etc. You move them as you like and engage with them in the way you want.

Widgets are portable, brand gateways

Widgets can live on websites and blogs and look like containers for third party information like these:

Picture 7.pngPicture 8.png

Services like iGoogle and MyYahoo are made entirely of widgets. You select what you want on the page, move them around and remove them when they stop adding value.

Picture 9.pngPicture 10.png

If you run OSX or Vista you can have widgets on your desktop that do any number of tasks.

Picture 11.png

Most importantly, these widgets enable you as a marketer to allow your customer to have a window into your brand. Are you taking advantage of that? Widgets can stream live video, include maps, offer exclusives and really add value.

So what is a widget to you? Do you have a model that is stuck in your mind or do you think broadly about widgets? Considering that you can have an entire website or transact commerce inside a widget there is no real limit to what you can do.


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What would it take to topple Twitter?

Picture 1.pngTwitter has a double unfair advantage over its competitors; a huge user base (estimated at over a million users now) and a very solid head start.

This hasn't stopped a host of new competitors from trying to give it a go. Among the latest competitors are BrightKite, Jaiku (who is owned by Google), Plurk, Utterz and even Facebook and LinkedIn have begun enabling micromedia updates on user profiles.

Picture 2.png
[Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod]

However, as Twitter's service woes keep mounting and user sentiment keeps edging toward the negative, I have to wonder...what would it take to topple Twitter?

In order to understand this, we need to look at what makes Twitter work. Let's break them down so we can see how it's gained such wide-spread popularity.

  1. Simplicity: Twitter does one thing really well. It lets you communicate what you're doing right now. Now other functionality (no matter how easy it would be to implement), 140 characters, one text field and one button. Anybody can look at it and start using it in minutes.
    What competitors need to do: Though I think that there is room beyond 140 characters of text on a service like this (think video and photos), it needs to remain easy to use. Design and usability needs to be where the majority of the development time is spent. The technology should, as I've said before, fade away to the background. If it's not clear on what the user should do within 5 seconds of opening the page it's too complicated.

  2. Ease of use: This builds on the previous idea of simplicity. Twitter let's you use it. It gets the heck out of your way and adds value by supporting conversation. The interface guides the user smoothly through the interactions. Posting a message is easy, replying is easy and the content is simple text. That's ease of use.

    What competitors need to do:This is a no-brainer. Any competitor who is going to topple Twitter will have to have an extremely easy to use service. Like I mentioned before, a lot of attention needs to be paid here. Too many services offer more features/better technology, but are a pain to use.

  3. Mobility: Twitter has a very strong mobile platform. Not only is the SMS (text messages) updating solid, but the mobile site allows most of the regular site's functionality from nearly any device and network. Either option allows for seamless use when away from the browser.

    What competitors need to do: There is no option for the competition to miss this crucial piece of the equation. The portability of the user experience has to be in place. Users need to be able to update and receive updates from any device in the world. SMS is growing in popularity and allows quick updates from US networks. The mobile site allows more reach and really lets the user step away from their computer with confidence. SMS also serves an important role in getting messages to people and breaking through the clutter.

  4. Platform agnostic: We just touched on the mobile platform, but Twitter's open architecture has allowed developers to extend the service to IM (AOL/GTalk/Jabber) as well as desktop applications. For IM, users add Twitter as a friend and send it their updates. Applications like Twhirl work like any desktop application (think Start > Applications > Twhirl) and don't make you keep a browser open at all times.

    What competitors need to do: This is another area that any competitor worth their salt will need to copy. The open architecture allows the development community to do its work and enhance the service faster than the competitor would be able to.

  5. Strong RSS: Twitter has a very strong RSS architecture. You can subscribe to individual's feeds, your own feed (messages and replies) and use the RSS feeds to build other services. Other services like Twitterfeed use RSS to update Twitter accounts automatically. You can look at my "Techno//Marketer" twitter feed for an example. That feed is 100% auto-generated by Twitterfeed.

    What competitors need to do: No question here either. RSS is a staple of the new digital frontier.

  6. Widgetization: Twitter had this right from the start. One of the most powerful ways that Twitter spread through the social media space was from the blog widget that allowed people to promote their messages as well as the service. It added value to the reader and drove new users. You can see my example in the right-hand panel of this blog.

    What competitors need to do: The more options people have to spread their content the better. Formats should be adjustable (width, height), customizable (color, branding) and should work everywhere possible.

  7. The community: This is Twitter's ace in the hole. No matter how good other services are, no matter how easy they are to use, no matter how comprehensive the utility there is no use for a service like this that doesn't have a community. While some competitors have been around longer they have not been able to build the buzz and following that Twitter has. Some of this is due the founder's background (having founder Blogger.com) having an immediate, connected audience.

    What competitors need to do: You have to transplant the community. What I mean is that a competitor that's looking to topple Twitter (not build a new, unique audience) will need to use the openness of Twitter against it. Accounts will need to be moved over while keeping all of that user's connections in tact. to move user's networks in whole. Accounts and logins will need to be moved to make it as easy a transition as possible.

What would you add to this list? Is Twitter indomitable at this point or are they Yahoo in 1999 with Google just around the corner?


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Owning your digital identity

iStock_000005643508XSmall.jpgDo you own your corporate domain name? It sounds kind of silly in 2008 doesn't it?

Let's go a level deeper. Do you own your personal .com name (i.e. www.mattdickman.com)?

That may be a bit more of a stretch for some of you, but it's crucial from a personal branding perspective. Just ask Shel Israel who did not have www.shelisrael.com purchased and someone else put up a site devoted to poking fun at him.

Other heavyweights like Robert Scoble (www.robertscoble.com) don't own their domain names either. Re-acquiring a domain name from a cybersquatter has some legal precedent, but it can rack of legal fees or large one-time purchase amounts.

Do you own your Twitter, YouTube and Flickr usernames?

However, let me ask you this. Do you own your personal/corporate Twitter username? How about your YouTube username? How about your Flickr username? If you don't, it's probably a good idea that you do (they're mostly free anyway). I lost out personally on my YouTube name because I used my nickname instead. You may not acquire them all, but you can sure try. These usernames do come up with search result pages adding to the importance of owning your identity.

The risk to your reputation that you run when somebody does register your username is potentially huge. There is no legislation (which I am aware of) that addresses these micro level identity-squatters. It could get to a point where people/companies have to pay for their usernames ala the late 1990's domain name deals.

Once you have acquired the usernames you will need to decide how, if at all, you use the account. While I don't like the fact that accounts may sit empty in the short-term, it is advisable that you secure your ID as soon as possible.

What are you waiting for? Go get your identity!

[Update: It looks like Shel Holtz and I are on the same page today. Check out his post on the same topic with FriendFeed.]


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The scalability of language; machine translation

iStock_000001812081XSmall.jpgThe scalability of language is something that's been on my mind a lot lately. In my post yesterday, I looked at the top issues that the language hurdle presents with digital content and conversations.

Today, I want to look at the error of using machine translations. If you're not sure what I mean, let's look at an example. Let's say you wanted to go to Univision.com and get it translated into English. You would go to a site like Google Translate and enter the URL into the "translate a web page" option. Google then goes through the site and does a literal translation for you.

The problem is that the translations don't account for many factors including local dialect, slang and trendy language. As Mario Vellandi put it in his comment on my last post:

"I'm trilingual and must say that although I adore languages, especially English, there are many phrases that are culturally bound and cannot be translated without some serious human assistance to the computer. Sometimes it's metaphors and similes. Other times, humor and irony are at play. Then there's slang and trend/fad language...It's crazy, but fun."

The real test
The true test of any language translation service is the ability to translate language two ways. What I mean is take a sentence that you want to use. Translate that phrase to the other language and then take the translated version and translate it back to the original.

Here is an example:
Take the first two sentences from yesterday's post:

There is a game that every American kid plays in school at one point in time called telephone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all of the kids line up in a single-file line and then the person on one end of the line whispers a sentence to the person next to them like "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, pass it on".

Now I'll translate it into Spanish using Google Translate:

No es un juego que cada chico juega en América en la escuela en un momento llama por teléfono (también conocido como chino susurra). La idea es que todos los niños de la línea en una sola línea del archivo y, a continuación, la persona en un extremo de la línea susurra una frase a la persona junto a ellos como "Steve Jobs es el CEO de Apple, dárselo".

And now let's look at it when we translate it back to English using Google Translate:

It is not a game that every kid plays in americas in school at one point called by phone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all children of the line in a single file line, and then the person at one end of the line whispers a phrase to the person next to them as "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, giving it".

Pretty clear isn't it? The overall meaning is totally gone (even reversed in this case). Just imagine what would happen if you were trying to do real-time translations. Google does take steps toward humanizing the machine with their "Suggest a better translation" link which lets native speakers contribute a new, more accurate translation. Here is a screen shot of that process:

Picture 13.png

The point here is that if you automate translation, you are not going to communicate clearly to your audience. It's worth the expense and effort to make sure that your key information is translates by a native-speaking human being.


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The scalability of language and conversations

iStock_000005475259XSmall.jpgThere is a game that every American kid plays in school at one point in time called telephone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all of the kids line up in a single-file line and then the person on one end of the line whispers a sentence to the person next to them like "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, pass it on". What always happens though, is as the message is passed along it evolves and changes until the last person has something like "Apples are oh so good for you". (The game only works until the age when kids know what the experiment is and then they start intentionally changing it.)

Now, imagine you were playing the same game in a room where nobody spoke the same language. One of the biggest challenges for most marketers, journalists, advertisers and PR practitioners who leverage the Web to operate in the global economy is the scalability of language. This is something that I think about often as I blog, record videos and audio and I work day-to-day on global campaigns for major brands.

Machine translation is nearly useless. What I mean by machine translation is the use of automatic translation scripts (like Google Translate or Systran). This is almost 100% useless unless you only need a vague idea of what is being talked about. There is no substitute for localized translation by a native speaker.

The normal tactic for most marketers, when dealing with language, is to create multiple versions of content all translated into the local dialect under a global umbrella. This works well for written content (outside of having multiple copies of content), but you end up with divergent conversations even though the ideas overlap and each would benefit from the other's experience.

The limitations of video
One area that I feel the effects of more often than not is the limitation of video. When I create a video in English, I am almost entirely locked in to only reach English speakers. It doesn't do much good to Spanish speakers or German speakers, because so much of the value is in the spoken word.

At the same time, video is a superior tool to bridge distance and make people feel like they are together. It's also great for education purposes. So, how can we bridge the scalability of language as marketers, content creators and human beings?

The challenge of conversations
Another big challenge happens when organic customer conversations cross languages. Right now there is no real good way to combine conversations from language silos. Imagine the perspective we could have if people from around the world could have cross-language conversations. That would certainly be powerful.

Most social networks are separated as well where each language is kept separate from each other. Bi-lingual users have a very hard time crossing back and forth. The experience is certainly not fluid. Word of mouth suffers the same limitations.

Over the next couple of days I am going to feature a few of the ways that language is slowly and methodically starting to scale with content.

In the meantime, how do you deal with language? Do you ignore it for now or is it something that is always at the back of your mind? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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First//Look: BrightKite

Picture 3.pngIn a world of shiny new things, BrightKite is the current top of the list. Beta invites are hard to get and new ones go quickly. So what is BrightKite all about? BrightKite is a social network that hinges on one key differentiating factor. It knows where you are. Users of the site update their locations (manually for now, but I could see GPS updates in the future) and share information with friends as well as other people in the same location.

The content on the site includes Twitter-esque messages about where you are/what you're doing and photography. One very limiting factor at this point is that BrightKite doesn't integrate with the content users are already creating on sites like Twitter and Flickr. BrightKite will push your updates to Twitter, and has a cool way of co-updating your Twitter location, but it still means that you have to create content twice. That's not going to happen in large numbers.

The idea of social, location-based networks aim to close the gap on contextual relevancy that has resulted in irrelevant information overload. I have found that proximity adds context and makes things more relevant to me. This is BrightKite's beta so I'm really looking forward to seeing how they evolve this and bring out more mobile consumption elements (iPhone app, BlackBerry app, proximity alerts, etc.). Advertisers will undoubtedly be perking up at the targeting ability that location brings. That's for another post. If you're on BrightKite make sure you add me.


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

Key takeaways:


  • Location-based social networks are growing in number and will be standard in the near future
  • Location is manually updated, but will move to real-time, GPS-based updates when the technology catches up
  • BrightKite has good privacy filters in place which is crucial for the promise of this level of off-line connectedness
  • BrightKite does a good job of pushing its content out, but needs to do a better job of pulling it in
  • Social media overlap (creating the same content more than once) is a growing problem and needs to be planned before sites get to launch stage
  • Location-based ad targeting is a way to monetize this very quickly, but has to be in balance and aim to add value (like if I am standing in line at Wendy's it could offer me an immediate coupon)
  • Mobile plays a large part in the success of this network and will for all social networks in the near-term
  • Would love more consumption options on the phone (not just publishing) to get the most benefit from the service

If you know of a new service that you think I should take a look at drop me an email or leave a comment.


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Video from Startup Camp

Thanks to the multi-talented Neil Vineberg and his stealth video abilities (it's a long story) here is a set of videos from our panel discussion this past Sunday at Moscone South. Kudos again to my fellow panelists CK, Jyri Engestrom and Adam Metz.

Brand

Messaging and Positioning

Social Media

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Redefining reach; the new marketing equation

iStock_000003345269XSmall.jpgWhile I was at StartupCamp this past Sunday here in San Francisco a few of the future founders came up to me asking my advice on how they should approach PR/advertising.

Many of their questions (as small pre-startups) echo the same quandary that major marketers are facing. What is the right way to get the message out in a measurable, cost effective manner. In larger companies it really seems that they value the medium (seeing a spot run in primetime, an article in a major newspaper) more than the benefits that come out of them.

One of the ways that I tried to help guide them and explain why social media is so powerful is the following scenario. Look at these two equations and let me know which one has the most benefit to you:

1. Message 1,000,000 to possibly reach 100

2. Personally reach 100 who influence 1,000 who influence 10,000 who influence 1,000,000

They are two very disparate scenarios, but that is social media in a nutshell. You're not wasting millions of untraceable impressions on TV, radio and print buys. You're forming real relationships with people that spread their version of your message along the chain.

It seems pretty clear right? But this is a huge mental leap for most marketing organizations. The new model is about building relationships that grow and spread to new relationships. Here is a graphical representation of this shift. Advertising will have diminishing returns over time as social connections will deliver more and more value.

value paradox.png

There is a huge value paradigm shift that has to happen here. The traditional scenario is very front weighted with value, but it is constantly in a state of decline as time goes on. You pay for the creation of the ad and the media buy and then sit back and pray.

With the social media option, you invest up front, but your spending has to scale as your message spreads to new audiences over time. The value you get takes longer to build and catch up with the advertising model, but it will eventually exceed it. That's a hard thing to budget, but it's important to note.

How do you help people make this jump? It's possible, but it takes time and dedication. What are your thoughts on the equations?



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Do you communicate at the speed of Google? Why you must

google_logo_blur.jpgCommunication is happening at a faster pace than ever before, but many companies are not adapting their communication strategies/processes to keep up.

Search engines are indexing content within minutes, micromedia outlets like Twitter are delivering messages real time and blogging allows mass communication to happen with very few barriers. Rumors and leaks will never go away, but companies now have the tools to be the first to provide key, relevant information.

The 15 minute Google rule.

Almost without exception within 15 minutes of posting to this blog I receive a Google alert email that there was a new post matching one of my keywords. (Seriously, if you haven't done this yet, do yourself a favor and click here to set them up.) I have "Matt Dickman", "Techno//Marketer", "technomarketer" and "Fleishman-Hillard" alerts set up as well as alerts for competitors and clients. I often get Google alerts for items before they show up in my RSS reader or are floated to me in email.

[Update: I posted this entry at 9:43pm and I received my Google alert email that it was indexed at 10:02pm. See screenshot below.]

Picture 1.png

This is invaluable information to have and it illustrates the point that I am trying to make. Companies who have typically thought that they could control the news and release it when and to whom they saw fit are at the end of the line.

Mergers and acquisitions, executive departures, layoffs and regulatory approvals are just a few of the topics that employees, shareholders and the general public are hearing about in near real time. It takes just one blog post, a Twitter message (the example that comes to mind was the Yahoo layoffs that were broadcast on Twitter as they happened) or an email that sneaks past the firewall and the story is broken. Google's search spiders are constantly scouring servers looking for new information and once found (or told) they broadcast it to the world.

Danger Will Robinson
There is danger for companies in communicating in real time. Facts still need to be vetted and rumors that are unfounded can hurt a company's reputation. However, the tools are in place to allow faster, transparent communication to all of the stakeholders so that they don't find out from a Google Alert. Companies should be using these tools to become more connected with their audiences and be the first voice on any issue that impacts their people or their business.

How might this play out?
Here are a couple of ways that I can see companies adopting new technologies to communicate more quickly and more accurately in the future (and some are already doing this today):


  • Sales force empowered by micromedia. Go beyond names like Twitter and Jaiku to the core technology behind those services. Imagine a company that has a private version of Twitter to communicate in real time with their sales force. Price changes roll out in seconds, questions are answered quickly and customer service follow up is prompt.
  • Internal communications blog. Some companies are using internal-only blogs, but more will definitely start. This is a great way to create a two-way dialog and communicate information and changes quickly and transparently. Once information is in the open, everybody feels like they're on the same page.
  • Targeted blogs. Companies will start creating blogs that are focused on key audiences (investors, customers, employees) and communicate to each in a more open and rapid manner.
  • Email is still key. Many executives and employees will be more easily reached via emails that fit into their existing workflow. Companies will need to adapt their processes to use this as a key delivery vehicle for internal communication.

Need to adapt the communications process
How many times have you read a press release or seen a story that you heard about weeks ago? I would venture that happens a lot and a big reason is the outmoded model most companies use to create, refine and release information. Let's look at two models, first the old model and second the new model.

Do you want to communicate information to your audience or do you want Google to do it?

The old model: In the old model (which is still the predominant model) news is written in the form of a release. It goes from agency to client with some back and forth for refinement. Then it gets refined to a final version. This version goes through legal review and some type of corporate communications review. If there are changes, it goes back and loops through the process again. The final version gets scheduled for release, the wire service queues it up and on the agreed upon date/time it drops.

The new model: In the new model, communications are an open book. Issues are addressed in real time, communicated quickly with thoroughly written copy, supported with video/audio and open to feedback/discussion. The good and bad are handled in the same way. Everyone stays on the same page and nobody feels like they're the last to know or that they've been blindsided.

This won't work for highly regulated companies, but it could work for a majority of the rest. Companies have to get over the command and control mentality to communications. Don't get me wrong, there is still strategy to messaging and communications need to be thought out, but it needs to happen more rapidly, more flexibly and less forcibly.

What do you think? Can this work? Have you seen examples of companies using new technology to communicate more quickly with the right messages? Let me know what you think.


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Speaking at Sun Microsystems Startup Camp

On May 4th and 5th I'll be attending, and speaking at, Sun Microsystem's Startup Camp 5 in San Francisco. The event is about 1/3 panels and 2/3 unconference (where the agenda is set on that day). I am really honored to be sitting on the "Notes From Mission Control: Rules For a Successful Media Launch" panel alongside S. Neil Vineberg, Jyri Engestrom (co-founder of Jaiku), Christina (CK) Kerley and Mark Modzelewski (CEO of Stealth Startup).

Picture 3.png

Other panels on the 4th include the likes of Matt Marshall, Stowe Boyd, Pete Cashmore, Brian Solis and Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz. You can check out the full schedule here and see the impressive attendee list here.

I'm really excited to go to the startup capital of the world and learn from some of the best minds in marketing technology. I plan on shooting lots of interviews, meeting people that I've admired from afar and sharing my expertise (and midwestern perspective) with an audience who is willing to be bold with their marketing and use of technology.

If you're going to be there or would like to try to meet up while I am there (I'll be there through the 6th) drop me an email or leave a comment!


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Power 150 roundtable

P28bloggertable041408 The week before last, in between attending Virtual Worlds and the start of Blogger Social, I had the great opportunity to take part in a roundtable discussion at the Advertising Age HQ. AdAge Editor Jonah Bloom invited 12 bloggers from the Power 150 list to have a conversation about blogging, social media, new marketing and the future of print and digital publications.

Jonah has received a lot of flack in the past from bloggers (myself included) for not fully engaging more marketing bloggers to add insights and ideas for stories in the publication. Although AdAge has been making moves to add more blogger input, it's been a bit slow. That seems to have changed for the better. AdAge is looking to (and really should make a big push) add more content from this blogger community and it's a relatively untapped market right now. Some bloggers have connections to print pubs, but for the most part our thinking is confined to those who seek us out. Publications like AdAge reach a much broader market and the thinking that this community provides (along with the comments from you the reader) are invaluable, poignant, timely and unique.

Advertising Age roundtableOne of the key discussions centered around the challenges that marketers are facing and what content they may be looking for. It was great to see and hear such a great mixture of thoughts and experiences from around the table. That, to me, is the power of engaging bloggers as content creators. Ad Age has the opportunity to leverage a veritable army of authors with highly targeted experience to write about nearly any topic from nearly any opinion. You need a digital guy who's working in design with luxury goods manufacturers? David Armano is your man. Looking for a guy with lots of mid-market, hands on experience and a background working for a rock band and Starbucks? Just call Lewis Green. There are thousands of people with very unique voices who are talented storytellers. I am personally looking forward to seeing what else comes from this.

Other bloggers in attendance included Ann Handley, Mark Goren, Gavin Heaton, Lewis Green, Daryl Ohrt, Anna Farmery, Geoff Livingston, Sean Howard, David Armano, Rohit Bhargava, Paul McEnany and Todd Andrlik. You can read the AdAge article here.

*Top photo credit: Andrew Walker (Advertising Age)

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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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Launched: MyVegas

Launched is a new series that I am doing to highlight practitioners who are using social media in consumer and B2B campaigns. The goal here is to show you what companies are doing out there, no theory or rhetoric, just real world examples of social media in action.

This edition features a private, branded social network for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority called MyVegas. The campaign comes from the folks at Critical Mass in Chicago and is a great example of creating a social utility around an experience. The site also does a great job of adding value to the user experience by making trip planning something fun. The RSVP (Really Simple Vegas Planner) boils down hours of frustrating phone calls and website visits into one fun, interactive tool. The site also allows for users to customize the look and feel as well as invite friends (or "entourage" as they call it) to partake in the planning.

Here is a quick video overview:

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

Key takeaways:

  • Creating a private social network isn't for everybody, this works because it centers around an experience and it adds value to the user
  • The look and feel and copy writing are very much in tune with the Vegas theme and convey the attitude they're looking for
  • Fun and interactive elements add value by simplifying a very complex and laborious process into a couple of easy steps
  • The site uses the social elements of a network to connect people around the theme and make the planning experience better
  • I'd love to see more takeaways (applications or widgets) from the site that I could use on other networks like Facebook and Twitter

Overall this is a great example of how to do this type of branded network the right way. If you are launching a new site, application, widget or campaign let me know and I may feature it in an upcoming Launched post.


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Social objects as marketing

Gohome_vertical Shel Israel's new show on FastCompany.tv is now up and running. In one of his first interviews, Shel sits down with Gaping Void's Hugh MacLeod. In their discussion, Hugh talks about social objects, and their subset of social markers,  as the future of marketing in a social environment.

I tend to agree with Hugh and I love how this concept makes social media more attainable. You create something cool that benefits others and then let them know about it through social connections. If they accept your cool thing they will spread it around. If they don't like it the idea will die.

Per Hugh, a social object is:

the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

Similarly, the social marker is an object (person, place, thing) that allows two people to put a social object into context. If, for example, you are at a charity dinner and you start talking with somebody about venture capital, you both may drop some names to let the other person know you are in the same social sphere.

Here is Shel's video with Hugh.

This idea happens all of the time and is a great bit of ethnography by Hugh to bring it to light and give it such an approachable and simple name.

What social objects do you have in your life/business? Are you doing something cool enough to get people to talk about you? What social markers do you use to identify people with similar interests and ideals?

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