Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Amid the constant barrage of last week’s industry news, there were two particular announcements that stood out from the rest. Both were creative related (albeit one is actually more of a social graph story). For the first time in a while, I was excited about some new creative potential, something that the industry needs really badly.

Richer Rich Media Units

For the first time in a very long time, a new rich media player is on the road to  approval among major publishers. In some ways Pictela is no different than what exists today, and in other ways is a breath of fresh air. Their position statement is that “Pictela seamlessly distributes high definition brand content across online advertising, publishing and social media”. While intriguing that the units can run hi-def content, the ability for a consumer to discern the difference is marginal. The in-page units provide a multimedia catalog-like experience. Of course social sharing options are built into the platform (is there any other way at this point?) I do like the fact that Facebook has approved Pictela units to appear as is in the newsfeed. The units also provide the ability to deliver dynamic content based on geography and demographics, although I have yet to do my due diligence on the technology, and am unsure at this point how comprehensive that dynamic content delivery really is. I also do not know whether or not third party tracking tags can be embedded, but we’ll make the leap of faith that they can be, otherwise they will limit the opportunity to work with agencies at scale.  All in all, it is nice to see a new kid on the block.

Facebook Open Graph Coming to an Ad Near You

MediaMind (formerly EyeBlaster) is running a campaign for Mountain Dew that incorporates the Facebook “Like” button in the ad units, a first for the industry. This sets the stage for advertisers to consider incorporating the open graph, which goes beyond the Like button, into ad units. Expect this to become a very common addition to rich media units in the not-to-distant future. The Like button, and other open graph functionality, is already fairly ubiquitous across the web, but within an ad unit as a primary or secondary call to action, it extends the ability to recruit brand advocates even further. Of course the bigger strategy for the brands is how to engage consumers and make the most of these new direct [social] relationships. Adding the Like button to ad creatives opens up one more pathway to the initial connection.

Media + Creative

As a career media strategist, it’s been bittersweet to watch the industry’s focus shift so much towards media dynamics. Of course, we should focus on how to better identify and reach consumers, and understand their relationships with the media. Heck, my career has been based on that. However, great media strategy, planning and execution is only as strong as the creative that runs. With the increased shift to data-based audience buying, media trading desks and automation of workflow and optimization, the creative conversation is rarely given its day in the sun anymore. Lest we not forget that one in nothing without the other.

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Most people don’t realize that I started my career in the music industry. Prior to my ventures in the digital marketing industry, I founded and managed a couple of independent labels and also ran a division of one of the larger independent distributors in the US. I learned many valuable lessons about business back then, but the one lesson that has best stood up to the test of time is that content can be a currency. This was is true for music, and it is true for web-based content today. But just what do I mean by “Content is Currency”?

Content in the Attention Economy

As marketers, we must understand the attention economy. As media fragments, attention becomes scarce. Content becomes the conduit to earn consumer attention – it becomes the currency, if you will, that creates the marketer’s side of the value exchange.

The cries of Content is King have reverberated through the halls of agencies and media companies forever. However, sometimes, content value seems to be misinterpreted by marketers as production quality, clarity of the marketing message or brand voice.  At the very least,  the definition of “high quality” content has become such a given that it is  not properly planned for, thus resulting in content that can easily have little relevancy or value to the consumer.

While  compelling content buys attention in all media, digital media presents the opportunity of discoverability, one of the unique  and most valuable attributes of the web in general. Most notably, search and social media play the largest roles in consumers discovering brand relevancy and value via content.  Search explicitly matches consumer interest and demand with content and products. Social media  on the other hand implicitly facilitates discoverability via sharing. Social media both further fragments attention and facilitates discovery of relevant content through the social graph at the same time. When consumers find content relevant and compelling, the psychology of human interaction and the  mathematics of network theory facilitate sharing. At a certain scale the content “goes viral”. Folks, viral is a result and not a tactic, but the goal should always be to produce compelling content that consumers value.

Do You Have a Content Strategy?

When planning your company’s content strategy, here are a few vital elements to not forget.

  • Frequency: if content is a currency, you might as well have a lot of it. More importantly, develop an editorial calendar for your different types of content across owned, earned and paid media.
  • Relevancy: for content to be compelling it has to be relevant to the consumer. Content should also be somewhat related to your product category or the lifestyles in which your product is used. Don’t forget that for some channels, like email, elements of relevancy come in the form of personalization.
  • Voice: without getting into the specific type of content (videos, blogs, tweets, mashups, or any other experiential content type), every brand needs to develop a voice beyond that of the brand voice. Are you going to be funny and witty, serious and informative, irreverent and unexpected? A little of each? This will tactically drive the content. Of course, there are some givens – like, humorous content often facilitates sharing. But it all has to be on strategy.
  • Authenticity: consumers want to see the personality behind the contrived brand voice. A little human authenticity goes a long way. Marketers are human too – at least most of us are. There is a place for the brand voice – know where it belongs and where it doesn’t.
  • Transparency: Consumers want to feel like they can trust your brand. They want to know more about the inner workings of the companies they chose to support. Consumers know that they are being marketed to in all facets of media, don’t hide the fact that you still want their business, but prove that you are willing to earn it. We all make mistakes, consumers want to know that you acknowledge that when necessary and that you learn and apologize. They’ll support you, within reason.
  • Immediacy: consumers expect an immediate response to negative news, as well as rampant and even individual customer service inquiries or complaints.  The immediatecy response plan needs to include all owned media (ie: your website or blog, social spokes like Facebook or Twitter, and CRM channels). This is a prime example of how PR, customer service and general marketing communications have all merged.
  • Discoverability: take the time to map out the distribution channels of your content and optimize the discoverability of each channel. Blogs, for example, provide excellent search engine visibility; Facebook’s open graph and api’s from all of the popular social platforms make sharing easy; while a recruitment and engagement strategy for specific social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube build a base of consumers with an interest in your brand who are potentially willing to share it across their social graphs.

From a strategy perspective, prioritizing content just may be one of the most cost effective, albeit unsexy, line items on your next marketing plan, if it is not formally there already. Content as a currency creates the value exchange for consumer attention, which marketers spend billions of dollars for otherwise. Social media and your content strategy are not replacements for advertising and promotions, but part of a holistic marketing mix,  boosting brand perception and  trust, which doesn’t come easily these days. Additionally, the discoverability of valuable content can help reach consumers who are light users of other media.

So does your brand have a formal content strategy?

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With the announcement of the Open Graph, Facebook has once again provided an evolutionary leap for the entire industry. Publishers, brands and consumers alike will benefit from “a smarter, personalized web that gets better with every action taken”, as concisely described by Mark Zuckerberg at yesterday’s F8 conference.  With Facebook’s critical mass (nearly 500 million members as of today), the Open Graph is poised to become the most powerful move the company has made so far – if successful it will revolutionize the web as we know it and propel Facebook into a position to compete with Google for the throne of dominance.

The Open Graph – We Like

Facebook is already fairly ubiquitous among consumers. Facebook Connect has extended that ubiquity to sites outside of Facebook, but the process for consumers, publishers and marketers was not seamless. While successful, Connect was not the technology that extended the social experience of Facebook to the entire web. But that is exactly what the Open Graph will do. Facebook has simplified the process of implementing the code for developers and for sharing and connecting with content and brands for consumers. It is truly a win-win-win. One line of code (an iFrame for those who care), will enable publishers to include a “Like” button, which will facilitate social actions anywhere on the web. As long as you are logged into Facebook, your cookie will allow your social graph to augment the experience on any site with the code. Bret Taylor said it best during F8  yesterday that “Lowering the friction of sharing will increase the volume of sharing”.

Vaults of Data

Facebook already sits on a data goldmine, but these vaults will become far deeper with wider ranging application as the Open Graph further connects social graphs of individuals, brands and publishers around the web. For now the targeting opportunities resulting from the additional data will be limited, most likely providing marketers the opportunity to target interests “liked” for the time being. But the potential of the data applications are profound – think Minority Report-like, as mobile and geo-location converge on the Open Graph.

Privacy

Inevitably there will be some privacy backlash, as all forms of behavioral data applications are under severe scrutiny by the FTC and advocacy groups. Of course Facebook thought about this too – and they will be rolling out a new simplistic privacy panel where you can opt out of the Open Graph. Ultimately there will be collection of an amount of non-personally identifiable data at a scale that we have never witnessed before, and the proximity and ability to connect it to personally identifiable information will most likely become the issue at hand. But the benefit of the Open Graph adding significant value to the overall consumer experience, and the affinity with Facebook as a trusted brand powering the collection, storage and usage of the data will trump any privacy backlash. Make no doubt about it – there will be some backlash – there always is – but we will get past it rather quickly. The social web is here in a big way, and our lives have been changed forever – and soon everyone will realize it.

A Monumental Day

For marketers, in the short term this turning point will make it exponentially easier to turn fans into advocates, identify new prospective customers, and drive peer influence through the coveted Facebook newsfeed. In the long term, the potential is far wider reaching and as mobile and geo-location (Facebook is launching their own geo-location service as well) converge with the Open Graph, this may be the catalyst that soon connects the online and offline world. It is truly a monumental day.

You can see the F8 conference videos here.

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Over the last two years of explosive social media growth, I have written several times about the growing issue of information and inbox overload, and the dunbar number and ambient relationships. I’ve observed a segment of consumers going on social media diets, if you will, eliminating social media from their lives or at least restricting it to limited networks and a limited amount of time.

Enter SuicideMachine.org, a service that automatically deletes your social media life, in some instances with no possibility of reinstating it. Facebook is taking them seriously enough to ban the service from accessing their servers.

I’m still not sure how much of this is parody and how much is serious. The service itself is for real, but is this a trend that taps into consumer desires? Are that many people this fed up with social media infringing on their “real lives”?

“My internet life is dying, but my real life is starting”

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At the risk of sounding cliche, welcome to a new decade of marketing. Indeed it is an exciting time to be a marketer. The past decade may prove to be the most pivotal ever in terms of the changes in how we communicate with consumers. It was also the decade of aggregation – or better put, the decade that killed the “big idea”. The era of the big idea is over (in the context of marketing communication). Since the explosion of digital marketing during the last decade, the new big idea morphed into an aggregation of many smaller “ideas”. This aggregation has a bigger impact than any one “big idea” ever could, by distributing risk and providing more chances to develop successful approaches.

Marketing evolution continues in 2010, and here are some of the areas to keep your eyes on.

Mobile Forges Forward

We keep joking about how “this year has been the year of mobile for the last few years”. Well, we’re waist deep the age of mobile and moving further along every day. We’ve crossed the proverbial tipping point. The handsets and data speeds provide better experiences, and the data plans are affordable. Over 60 million US consumers access the web via mobile device.  Globally we’re on track for more people to access the mobile web than the PC web (of course I’ll need to save that post for Jan 2020). The thing is, the distribution of this access is skewed, significantly towards the iPhone. While the iPhone catalyzed mobile web usage, competition is not far behind with the Droid, Pre, new Blackberries and other devices to come in 2010. Consumers are using, and even paying for mobile applications and mobile websites that provide value. Of course, as with any marketing channels, there are plenty of misguided executions that do not focus on the consumer, provide little value and flop. Unfortunately oftentimes the medium gets blamed for poor strategy on the part of the marketer and/or agency. Provide experiential or utility-based value to consumers and you’ll reap the rewards of consumer engagement. Additionally, keep your sights set on the convergence of mobile and social experiences as well. This will prove big in 2010.

Location Based Applications

As consumers become more comfortable with GPS enabled smart phones and the first generation of applications that incorporate GPS into the experience, the marketing opportunities that utilize geo-location data will come to fruition. However, it will be 100% predicated on permission, transparency and trust. Of course the recurring theme of providing actual value to the consumer experience is key as well. An early success story is FourSquare, which combines social actions and geo-tagging. But FourSquare is definitely not for everyone. Marketers will have to provide utility in order to gain access to consumers’ private lives and  geo-location data. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch very easily here. Where your brand attributes meet consumers’ needs is a good crossroads to  aim for. Note: If would be interesting to see Facebook acquire and incorporate FourSquare into their current platform.

Real Time Search & Social Search

As social media has become ingrained in the digital media experience for consumers and marketers alike, real time search was inevitable. Information is distributed via so many channels including consumers’ social media feeds, that not including real time data in search results created a void in the relevancy of search results at the major engines. Google’s roll out of social search results from “people in your social circle” also fills the void that was otherwise filled directly from the social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Real time search will indeed make search results more relevant, but the algorithms for filtering signal to noise will be an interesting evolution to watch and participate in.  The implications for marketers is a new era of SEO that ties even more tightly into social media.

Social Media Expands Its Journey

There are two major areas to keep an eye on here. First is the portable social graph. Facebook Connect really took off in 2009, and 2010 marks the tipping point for social graph / data portability. The social graph is just beginning to become part of the overarching digital platform. Through this ubiquity consumers are empowered, taking the influence and social activities of their social connections with them everywhere they go (well not everywhere, but soon enough). Check out one of my favorite implementations of Facebook Connect so far in the Prototype trailer. Try it out. It takes a minute to load, but it’s worth the wait.

The social graph has become portable on the PC-based and mobile web, and the second area to keep an eye on is the expansion of the social graph to your television. Samsung was the first to release high end flat screen TV’s with internet based widgets that allow you to access Twitter on your TV (currently via Yahoo, but inevitably this will become more open very soon). Expect the social graph to become a standard part of our TV viewing experience in the future (note: not in 2010).

Multiple Attribution

While all marketers would agree that reaching consumers at multiple marketing touch points is essential, most marketers still maintain disparate data systems and utilize the last ad standard protocol when it comes to attribution of influence or conversion.  Multiple attribution tracking capabilities have existed at the major ad servers for a couple of years now, provide a solution to attribution modeling, yet are underutilized by the industry. Third parties, such as ClearSaleing, also offer dashboard, reporting and analytics platforms to provide multiple attribution reporting for marketers. Let’s face it, we are constantly increasing the number of digital marketing channels we are working in and as an industry our analytical capability, or more accurately – marketers’ and agencies’ willingness to utilize the tools available,  has been lagging behind . Some of the dashboard tools can also incorporate a limited set of non digital channels as well. If you are not using a multiple attribution system currently, make 2010 the year to do so. There is simply no excuse not to.

The Privacy Issue Marches On

Privacy is always a heated topic. This has been true since the dawn of digital data collection. The issue is over-hyped by the media and advocacy groups, however there are some underlying truths to the hype. As we have seen with the privacy policy changes on Facebook over the last year, if nothing else, consumers do pay attention and now have the means to spread the word quickly.  As digital marketing technologies evolved, more parties gained access to more data. Although most of this data does not actually contain personally identifiable (PII)  data, in some instances it can be associated with other data assets that do. Tying the  vast amounts of anonymous and PII data together will become a bigger focus of the FTC and advocacy groups as the portable social graph  continues to morph the internet as we knew it into one big social web. The FTC warned the industry in 2009 that a day of reckoning was near, and that the self governance was not working due to a lack of enforcement. The industry will have to take the issue more seriously in 2010 or the government will do so for us.

Augmented Reality

For the uninitiated, augmented reality (AR) is conceptually any technology that ties the real and virtual world’s together. For the mobile device, AR will utilize the built in GPS, compass and video camera, creating an unlimited potential to layer content onto any physical location in the real world. On the PC, AR utilizes the webcam to overlay data, usually in the form of a virtual hologram. Most of the augmented reality executions to-date have focused on the novelty factor and have not provided consumers with much actual value. The few mobile AR applications available, including Yelp, are beginning to provide actual utility. I see a bright future there. On the PC side of things, the USPS Priority Mail box simulator is by far the most useful application of PC/webcam based AR implementation to date.

The key to AR is to hone in on the utility aspect, and provide real value to the consumer. (That concept is starting to sound awfully familiar, huh)

Long Live Display

Display ads get a bad rap. The reality is that online advertising works, and not only for direct response. While search see’s the lion’s share of industry ad spending, display is a standard part of the mix and will continue to be for the long term. That is not to say that display doesn’t have its issues. Lack of creative prowess, challenges with media currency and an inefficient process still plague the industry, but all are common topics of conversation and ad hoc work-arounds are being implemented every day. Most agencies and media buyers have had to develop large infrastructures to support the inefficiency of digital media. Clients constantly challenge the process and costs. Yet very little industry-level research is being conducted to better the situation. The IAB, nor any other industry body has set forth to develop the correlational research required to make advertisers feel more comfortable about the market-level impact of online advertising. The last industry-level research was released almost 10 years ago. Some individual agencies embark on this type of research on a client by client basis, but there is little public domain research readily available for most marketers, who for the most part, park the vast majority of their brand budgets elsewhere. Hopefully in 2010 we will see more industry collaboration to develop research and studies and the tools and systems to create more efficiency in the media buying and management process, without commoditizing it.

Even with all that said, display ads do work at creating influence, this can be and is measured by many marketers and agencies, and display is a standard part of the media mix just like any other medium. The degree of inclusion is what is in question, and hopefully we will at least see more discussion and proposed improvements that make advertisers confident to allocate more brand dollars online.

The Elephant in The Room … The Economy

All indicators lead to a slow and steady economic recovery ahead of us.  But this will happen at a different pace for each category and client. The reality for digital marketing is that most marketers have not been and won’t be experimenting much, and focusing on the more accountable (read – DR) focused channels and tactics. I do expect budgets to open up for social media and mobile. Amid the greatest recession of our lives we witnessed the explosive growth of social media. Some marketers had the budgets to allocate proper resources to understanding, monitoring and integrating social media into their corporate culture, while others put forth a minimal effort and yielded an equal impact. The brands that embraced social media have developed social voices separate from their brand voices and are on their way to becoming accepted social brands. Most are still playing catch-up, and we’ll see a lot of that in 2010.

So there you have it, some areas to keep your sights set on for 2010 and beyond. Have any additional thoughts about what else will be big in 2010? Post your ideas in the comments.

mobile-socialFollowing last week’s DigiDay Social & DigiDay Mobile conferences,  I had a chance to brainstorm about how social and mobile marketing were becoming such interconnected bedfellows. The trend is only strengthening.

Consumers are looking for experiential and utility value in social and mobile channels. The experiences we provide consumers are converging, and becoming less about the channel, platform or destination, and more about experience itself (I’d argue that it was always that way),  the development, distribution and measurement of these distributed experiences must strive for complete interoperability.

Currently, devices and platforms have various protocols and standards that make this a lot of work for developers, and more importantly, a major expense for companies. The end result – few companies have a consistent digital experience to offer consumers that transcends any platform or device the consumer chooses. Consumers want this, marketers want this.

Enter Adobe…yes, Adobe.

Apparently Adobe plans on creating uniformity across social and mobile applications.  Essentially a developer could build flash-based apps in a to-be-released authoring tool, that will be customized to deliver experiences to consumers in each native environment. Sounds like the holy grail of a uniform experience across various social platforms and channels. Of course the acquisition of Omniture will provide deep analytics into the performance of these distributed experiences. Adobe, I applaud you for taking this stand.

Not The First Time

Flash has been the basis of rich experiences online for over a decade. And why wouldn’t the makers of Flash want to maintain and even bolster this ubiquitous position? Those who have been in the digital media space for sometime remember when Macromedia (original brand that developed Flash) partnered with Doubleclick to develop DART Motif. Well, Macromedia’s involvement was limited, but the strategy was the same – create a level of uniformity between otherwise disparate systems that develop and deliver Flash-based experiences. Times have changed, and Adobe has far more skin in the game now. This is a big play. This can be a major boon for the  entire ecosystem – developers, marketers, content providers, and of course consumers.

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Iidea_bulb‘ve been so busy with projects that I have actually let a month go by without posting to the DigitalBlur. I can’t believe it – shame on me! 

Therefore, after a bout of silence, maybe kicking off  with a fairly self-serving guest blog post is a little cheesy. But hey –  in this crazy fast paced and often thankless world we live in, it’s always nice to get some additional inspiration from the kind words of others.

Thanks to Tim McHale, Managing Editor of Madison Avenue Journal, for the (unsolicited) words of inspiration.

by Tim McHale

I’m compelled to shout from the rooftops about a career-enlightening moment, facilitated by Jason Heller.

I recently attended a social media marketing course led by Jason for Laredo Group. He was outstanding. It was like the perfect screen play.  Each line and/or action draws you into the story so quickly that you almost immediately experience a “Suspension of disbelief.”  The difference here though is that I experienced a “Suspension of belief.” The belief that I thought I knew almost everything I needed to know about social media, before I walked into the room.

When is the last time you did not step out of a conference room or event to take a phone call or catch your breath? When Jason announced we should take a 10 minute break, everyone around the room was almost like, “Oh, really? Why?” That is no joke.

At the end of the day I was speechless. Those who know me can vouch that is indeed a rare occasion, even when I sleep, or so my wife tells me.

In essence, the ultimate reason I found myself short on words was due to the fact that I had what you might call an “aha” moment. I wanted to savor it personally because it happens all too infrequently. Most insights we enjoy come about more gradually.

It was a paradigm change in how I view social media, and now, the media business overall. Did I know a lot about social media going in?  Yeah. But for me, what I walked away with was that all-too-rare sense of buoyancy, the feeling of being nimble, a Butch Cassidy quality that makes you smile and excited about what awaits you. You can’t put a price tag on that.

As consultants, sales people, agency execs and many reading this blog might agree, we make a living from sharing credible knowledge about the media business of yesterday, today and every so often, about tomorrow. For me, those who boast that they have the same level of confidence and insight into the future are kidding themselves.  Or at least that’s what I thought before the training.

Actually come to think of it, there was only one thing that really p-ssed me off; envious in fact. Heller not only has a full head of hair, he has a pony tail, no less!

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