Friday, February 29, 2008

Is the Engagement Metric Evolving?

Microsoft’s announcement of its new Engagement Mapping metric at the IAB conference this week created additional buzz around what was already one of the hottest online marketing topics of the moment. And not just this particular moment—it has been ongoing for awhile. Last summer ARF Chief Research Officer Joe Plummer defined it this way, "Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context." That’s an interesting concept, but it doesn’t give me any guidance as to how I could measure it.

Several marketers have proposed approaches to measuring brand engagement, especially online. Forrester has a concept that includes four factors--involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence. That appears to combine attitudinal and behavioral measures, and that would be a strong approach. The public information makes it clear that it requires both online and offline data. That doesn’t make it cheap, but it makes it comprehensive, which is essential.

Brand Keys offers measures of engagement that are category-specific. Their measure relies heavily on customer expectations of brands in the category. They publish a list of highest-scoring brands in various categories each year.

Nielsen//NetRatings has changed its key measure of web traffic from page views to time spent on the site. They tout it as a better measure of engagement, and it certainly beats page views, which have well-known problems. However, that goes back to an old academic argument on the definition of brand loyalty (is engagement a precursor to loyalty--I think so). The argument is that loyalty is more than repeat purchase behavior—that can be just habit. True loyalty—and I suspect true engagement—requires understanding of attitudes as well as behavior.

Earlier this year Kevin Mannion wrote a three-part article (1, 2, 3) for MediaPost’s Metrics Insider Newsletter that gives an excellent summary of efforts to date. He references the work of Eric T. Peterson and Avinash Kaushik, both prolific writer/speakers on metrics issues. Mannion’s analysis of this body of work produces an engagement metric with six components. They are:
Loyalty: how often visitors return to a site over a long period of time.
Recency: how frequently visitors come to a site within a narrow time period.
Duration: how long visitors remain on the site.
Click Depth: the degree to which visitors view site content.
Interactivity: the kinds of actions visitors take with content (downloading content, viewing videos, attending webinars, posting content, etc.).
Subscription: the extent to which visitors register for services or content.

In the third installment he gives an example of how this metric would work. Note that it is all behavioral; to be specific it is all based on online metrics. That means it is based on data that online marketers currently can access.

That brings us full-circle to the Microsoft Engagement Mapping platform. According to Brian McAndrews of Microsoft, “Our Engagement Mapping approach conveys how each ad exposure — whether display, rich media or search, seen multiple times on multiple sites and across many channels — influenced an eventual purchase. We believe it represents a quantum leap for advertisers and publishers who are seeking to maximize their online spends.” I can visualize what such a map would look like and how useful it would be, especially to the multichannel e-retailer.

It doesn’t solve the metrics issue, however. Engagement Mapping is all behavioral—more a measure of impact than engagement in my mind. If engagement is indeed an attitudinal state that is manifested in brand behavior of various types—both on and offline—we still don’t have a metric that truly captures the concept.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quarterlife--New Incubator For Programming?

Did you see the first episode of the new NBC series last night? If you’re anywhere close to my age, you probably didn’t unless you just stumbled upon it as I did. Actually, I knew that the first series to have originated on the web and move TO television was to be aired, so I stopped and took a look.

To me, while there was no obvious story line there was the usual navel-gazing andtwenty-something angst. It’s interesting, though, that the first episode prominently featured Dylan’s video blog as sort of a centerpiece of the social interaction.

For all of us who didn’t know, the webisode series debuted in November on MySpace. It got media attention because seasoned Hollywood producers were behind it. About the time it debuted on the Internet it was picked up by NBC for a broadcast series. The interplay between broadcast TV, Internet and the writers’ strike is interesting. The timing made the independent content attractive; how much pre-planning went into that I do not know.

The series had its own website, Here’s what it says about the series today. There’s lots of video, a community, and a dozen or so channels on which users can post UCG and discuss subjects ranging from art to love. The ones I looked at seemed to have active content.
With the debut of the TV series the show has a page on the NBC website where, among other things, you can watch full-length episodes.

The package has a clear target audience—young, creative professionals. It has interesting cross-promotion between web and television. What is says about the future of programming on both screens (until/unless they converge to become one) is less clear to me. It occurs to me that the Internet may prove to be a faster, lower-cost way to test story ideas. If television is first, will movies be far behind?

It’s an interesting new wrinkle in the already-chaotic new media world!
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is Media Convergence Really Happening?

This video from AlwaysOn discusses disruptive change in media and looks at where media business models may be going. The kind of convergence they are talking about is the increasing media and marketing integration between traditional and online media. Or you could simply describe it as “survival”—see the newspaper headline in Friday’s post!
View the video here.

The venture capitalists at the AlwaysOn network survey media industry leaders and what they found is not hugely new but backs up the contention that new media is on the move. It doesn’t illustrate the fact that old media is behind much of the growth in new media, but it (necessarily) is. News of venture funding for Glam and British network Adicon makes the connection.

With that in mind respondents to this survey forecast that the move to new media would continue unabated. They believe that neither advertisers nor their traditional agencies have a good grasp on how to take advantage of changes like social networking or how to get a satisfactory ROI on their expenditures in new media. Other posts on this site discuss the need for better mobile standards, but nonetheless respondents see the mobile web assuming greater prominence in the near future. See all the survey results here.

Convergence is one description of what is going on. It’s not hardware convergence—everything available on a single device. The variety of content has probably outgrown that type of convergence. But media are coming closer to a seamless ecosystem in which users can get the content of their choice on the device of their choice at the location of their choice. Is that the ultimate goal or a milestone on the way to an even more disruptive innovation?
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Dove Does It Again!

Did you catch the Dove body wash commercial on the Oscar last night? The finalists were announced by actress Amy Brenneman, viewers could text their votes, and the winner was played late in the broadcast.

Assuming there was interest in the contest, there are two winners here. The Dove brand, surely, because it continues its “Real Beauty” theme. Also the Oscar telecast; this may have helped Jon Stewart draw younger, hipper viewers to the program.View the winning video here

But what also struck me is that I hadn’t heard of the contest until the broadcast last night, and I think I keep an eye on this stuff. So I went on a journey to see how it was promoted. Here’s what I found:
•The usual press release, which gives the basics but isn’t going to be read by Dove customers
•A dedicated website; again this is necessary but it’s not going to draw viewers on its own
•Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez was selected to promote the contest, and she did so actively. Thanks to ClickZ for a good summary of the promotion. And now I remember; I did see the initial video, so it was clearly out there.
•The contest was heavily promoted on AOL. Sara Ramirez appeared on Good Morning America and the video was posted on AOL and YouTube.
•The final voting was heavily promoted in the run-up to the Oscars.

The Campaign for Real Beauty has its own website and I didn’t find mention of the contest there. However, it’s the focus of the Dove homepage today with the $2.00 coupon offer that’s also on the contest site, so the follow-up is there also.

The point is simply this: success with this kind of marketing program doesn’t come automatically—or cheaply. There is, in fact, a carefully-planned IMC program behind it. Even though every opportunity is taken to make it viral (“send the video to your friends”), heavy promotion is necessary and I don’t see that changing. In fact, it may get more demanding as more companies solicit UGC with contests and anything else they can think of.

It reminds me of a comment I quoted in an eBrandMarketing post last week. Talking about adding social media to branding efforts the CEO of a Havas Media unit says, “To do it right costs money. . .It’s just allocated in different ways.”

So true!
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Friday, February 22, 2008

The New Media Drumbeat Continues

Buzz throughout the industry yesterday was about the ANA/Forrester study that shows marketers increasingly skeptical about the impact of television advertising on their brands. What caught my eye was the top three headlines in Marketing Charts. Each is significant, but their presence, one after the other on a single day, was powerful.
According to Advertising Age:

Sixty-two percent of marketers believe traditional TV ads have become less effective during the last two years. Given that belief, it's no surprise that close to half of them already have experimented with other ad formats that work with digital video recorders or video-on-demand programs. And more than 50% of marketers reported that when half of all TV households use DVRs, they will cut spending on TV advertising by 12%.

Looking at the report on purchase influence by BIGresearch (available for download on their Top Line Findings page) we see clear evidence of continuing gains by new media over traditional between December 2006 and 2007.

In the electronics category:

•Instant messaging and blogging showed the greatest increase for all adults 18 and over. The increase in purchase influence was greatest among African-American adults and least among Hispanics.
•Broadcast TV and cable TV were the biggest losers. That was true across Caucasians and Hispanics with African Americans reporting the greatest decline in purchase influence from TV. Hispanics showed an inexplicably large decrease in decline of purchase influence from direct mail.

Ditto for media influence on car and truck purchases. The same pattern of decrease in the impact of television and increase in new media applies. Instant messaging and blogging are gaining influence among all 3 groups. Web radio shows a huge increase in impact among African-Americans, with video on cell phones showing a decrease among Caucasians. One assumes that the sample sizes were relatively small for both web radio and video on cell phones. Newspaper continues its slow but seemingly inexorable slide among all groups but actually showed an increase in influence on car and truck purchases among Hispanics and African-Americans. The third headline speaks to the growth of newspaper websites at the expense of their print parents.

The theme doesn’t change—new media continue their growth trajectory. The details are fascinating in the study that looks at ethnic groups, just as it is in studies that look at other segments.

The message for marketers is also unchanged but increasingly urgent. They must learn to reach consumers by new media, and there aren’t yet many rules of the road. Experimenting with better ways to reach your own target audiences is the only way to go.
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Being Expressive on Social Networks

Digital content site Kiwee has been getting a lot of attention lately. That’s partly because this property of American Greetings is managing to reach and engage the Gen Y demographic. It does it with greeting-card-like applications and something called Emoticons. Check out their home page, but be careful. If you have your sound up high the Toolbar Emoticon may shriek at you. Scared me out of my wits, but it certainly did get my attention! And it shrieked at me only once and then shut up—pretty good manners. Kiwee says this toolbar helps in its acquisition of some 14,000 new customers each day. At the end of January it reported 500 million downloads since coming out of beta six months earlier. Something is going on here!

So I explored. First I tried to just set up a personalized postcard. Not difficult; just like sending a personalized e-card. Just wish the vacation part was true! I sent it to myself and it worked fine. No big news there.

Since Facebook is the only application I have in common with this site (which, of course, I had to join to use), I decided to explore a bit more on Facebook. I’ve written about their huge selection of widgets and I wanted to try one and to see if and how they were different. So I searched for a widget that I would actually like and use—not easy, since as I’ve frequently pointed out, I’m not really part of the Facebook demographic. However, I found that National Geographic, one of my favorite sites, had widgets available and I downloaded their Green Guide. It went onto my profile page; somehow I had expected it on my home page, but the download was clear that’s where the icon was going. The link shows up on my home page. Now I can get a new green tip each week—cool! The link takes you to the National Geographic widget page; they have several. The content is all controlled by National Geographic.

At that point I decided to put the Kiwee postcard application on my Facebook page. Since I’m a member of both, it was a one-click effort. And there it is. Now I can send personalized postcards to my Facebook friends. Or I could add the application to my email. When I downloaded the postcard application, it contained a video from Microsoft (a Kiwee partner) promoting Office.

If I wanted to go a step further, there are applications that would let me download my Facebook address book to Outlook; I can’t find any that allow direct transfers from Outlook to any of the social networks. There are, however, applications that let you synchronize your various address books. There is also the Google Social Graph API, which works off public contacts.

So the opportunities for building communications networks are great—and some are even a bit scary. But for marketers, the question is how we can take advantage of the social and personal communications networks that are ubiquitous today. National Geographic is doing a good job of making its content widely available. Microsoft is using the Kiwee download as an advertising opportunity. Kiwee is inherently viral.

Each is a different kind of marketing opportunity. What best fits your needs, especially when it comes to the hard-to-reach Gen Y market?
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Managing Multi-Authored Corporate Blogs

A couple of weeks ago some of my students at Harvard Extension got me thinking about the benefits and challenges of handling multi-authored corporate blogs. We were looking at the Direct2Dell blog, which I’ve written about previously. I made the offhand statement that you simply have to have an editor to make a corporate blog like it--which gives voice to many different executives on many different subjects—work as a positive communications tool. Students asked, “Why?,” and that started me thinking.

One of the students followed up with a post on our class blog that referenced an interview with the person who (in 2006) managed 38 corporate blogs for Google. As I started looking a bit more, I found multiple people identified as an editor on the Direct2Dell blog. So that’s two models already.

I looked around Debbie Weil’s site; she’s one of the most prolific writers on corporate blogging. She focuses mostly on CEO blogs. They can be highly useful, but they’re not the kind planned multiple authorship I’m talking about. I’m also thinking about blogs targeted to external audiences, not internal blogs as useful as they can be.

I’ve been involved in a couple of multi-authored blogs lately (the class ones don’t count; students are assigned to make posts and comments on those!), and I’d like to contribute a few words of wisdom.

An editor is essential. The editor motivates contributors, manages the flow of posts, and does all the back-end work like monitoring comments. If the blog is actively marketed, that task probably falls to the editor also.

A plan is essential. A blog is a marketing communications program and it requires the same kind of planning as other programs. I’ve used a simple strategy brief (agencies are more likely to call it a creative brief) to state the basics in a page or two.

Which comes first—the editor or the plan? The usual marketing answer,”It Depends!” If the internal champion (and there has to be one or we wouldn’t be having this discussion) wants to edit the blog, that person might prepare the plan. If the intent is to hire an external editor, that person will need guidance on what the blog is meant to accomplish and how it fits into the overall communications program. The external editor needs to understand who will contribute and how they are to be motivated or incented.

Give the editor the necessary tools and make the person accountable for achieving communications objectives. That means that one thing the editor will be doing is studying the blog metrics (constantly) and reporting to responsible executives (regularly).

The internal blog champion will probably have to be the person who navigates issues of corporate policy and legal requirements. Those issues need to be understood before the blog is launched because the last thing you want is for posts to be held up for endless checking and approval. Unless your blog is timely and fresh it’s going to do more harm than good—assuming anyone reads it at all! And remember that there’s lots of competition for the reader’s time, so it’s going to have to be not only good, but also relevant to the audience’s needs and interests.

The responsible executives should have RSS feeds for the blog to motivate them to keep up with what’s being said. It’s important for contributors to know the blog is being read internally as well as reaching the external audience. Executives should consider commenting occasionally on items of special expertise. That’s highly motivational.

Does all of this sound like it’s terribly time consuming? It absolutely is. That’s a strong part of the argument about careful planning for a corporate blog. You probably don’t have an internal person who is currently underworked and can take it on easily. Can you identify and are you willing to pay for an external person with the necessary skills and ability to work with your organization? Those are not small questions.

Here’s an interesting list I found—Fortune’s wiki listing blogs by the “500” firms. It’s a good place to see what some large organizations are doing and think about how it might apply to your situation.

While I don’t want anyone to think it’s easy, I’d recommend serious consideration of blogs as a corporate communication tool. If the goal is to get close to your customers, to interact with them instead of just talking in their general direction, a blog may be the way to go. And, in time, it may lead in other interesting social media directions.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who Are Heavy Video Viewers?

Heavy user segments are not news to marketers—virtually every product category has them. Heavy usage continues to demonstrate the universal application of the 80/20 rule. A recent study conducted by comScore and the Media Contacts unit of Havas Media and reported in Marketing Charts shows that it also applies to video viewing. Only 20% of heavy video viewers account for a huge portion of the use—140 times that of light users!
YouTube reaches 54% of all video users (3.3 billion videos viewed in December 2007), but heavy users are much more likely to use niche video sites. How many of the rest of us have heard of (web television)or MegaVideo (international user-created videos)for example? Less than 99% of us, based on their smaller than 1% penetration, according to comScore. Except for Google/YouTube other video sites aren’t much larger with Fox Interactive and Yahoo! (next largest behind YouTube) each getting only about 3% of the video viewership.

The study identified four video-watching segments and provided some detail about the types of content they prefer and their demographics. The segments are:

Sights & Sounders (over 1/3 of the online video audience) who prefer the variety of television programming as well as its sound quality and screen size. They are light video viewers and are older than the other segments and watch more television.
On Demanders who dislike advertising and who find it difficult to find desirable content but like the convenience of watching video online, especially movies. They are more likely to be heavy viewers and fit the mold of being younger and more affluent and are only a bit less likely to be female than male.
Television Devotees who look to network sites for television shows, especially episodes they missed. They are more likely to be female and watch more television than the other segments.
Content Explorers who like user generated content and surf and search to find videos and tv shows. They have a tendency to be moderate or heavy video viewers and to be female and to be in the desirable 35 to 54 age range.

This echoes findings of a summer 2007 study that found online video having broad appeal to all age segments. Younger viewers were more likely to prefer funny videos while older people are more likely to watch news videos. Media Post describes the segments identified in this study as

Escapists, who compose 30% of the audience, are low-frequency male viewers looking for some type of entertaining distraction. Power users (19%) are heavy users who watch a wide range of video, while news junkettes (24%) are older females who watch a moderate amount of video. Buzzy bees (27%) are young viewers focused on entertainment and viral videos.

There is agreement on one issue: video watching is becoming pervasive among all Internet users. It is no longer a domain solely of the young. However, older vs. younger and, to an extent, male vs. female do have different content preferences. Beyond that, the segments depend on the type of data and probably will continue to do so for a long time. Marketers who want to integrate video into their content or advertising programs will need the assistance of behavioral targeting and their own marketing research for some time to come.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Are You Ready for "Reality Internet?"

It is no surprise that reality TV is big, even if you don’t watch much. If that’s true, it probably puts you in my age demographic, and that’s no compliment. But the numbers are clear. American Idol held both number one and two Nielsen ratings for the week of February 4. As the season ended last spring, Pew research clearly showed that the older you are, the less likely you are to watch closely. Women, especially younger ones, are more likely to be following it closely than are men in the same age cohort.

Given even that smattering of data (and the fact that reality TV has spawned its own industry), it’s no surprise that the Internet is following suit. AOL and Attention Span Media debuted a series of webisodes on February 4 that features the residents of a floor in a fictional dorm.Watch the 5 minute first episode here.
Watch the 2 minute first season trailer here.

Watch it and form your own opinion—of the entertainment value or the advertising potential, depending on the generation you belong to!
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The General Motors Wiki

Last week GM launched a corporate history wiki as part of its centennial celebration. At first glance that appears to be a risky idea. Won’t it draw out every GM-hater who’s had a bad experience with a GM car or truck? Won’t it become a public relations nightmare? Won’t it suck up a lot of the time of GM executives who ought to be contributing to returning the corporation to profitability? The answer to the last question is that it will absorb some time. Having looked around a bit, the answer to the first 2 is not so obvious.

First, GM has a history with social media. The best-known effort is the Fast Lane blog, the voice of Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz and other GM execs. It’s been going strong since early 2005. Lutz started podcasting in the fall of 2005. GM now has several blogs, but it probably says something that the blogs have their own microsite, GM Blogs, that cannot easily (at all?) be located from the main GM site. Was GM initially skeptical about what kind of public commentary Fast Lane and the others would draw? Probably. I’m not a follower of car developments and I haven’t visited these blogs often. However, when you look around, you get the feeling that a lot of these people are pulling for GM, whatever their reasons. Some are critical, some compliment something specific, and a lot have suggestions to offer—everything from design to advertising. I took a look at some of the recent posts, and I see Bob Lutz and many other GM executives responding, not to individual comments, but to themes that have come up. I also see notes from two people identified as “blog editor.” It takes some organizational infrastructure to keep this sort of multi-authored blog going. Is this a better role for PR people than sending out endless press releases that no one reads? I’d judge the blog efforts so far to be successful. GM is not escaping criticism, but it has a voice in the discussion.

With this experience under their belts, they decided to ask the public to help them write the history of GM. They put it in an interesting context—GM Next. They want to honor their history, but they’re moving on into the future. Good spin. The GM Next initiative is featured on the corporate home page. Does that suggest a level of confidence about their ability to manage the program? Any of the links on the home page take you to GM Next. The conversation threads are design, tech, green, ideas and global. The wiki is prominently featured. The home page of the wiki itself shows a well-thought out structure and there’s lots of information to get you started if you want to contribute. It shows that it’s a serious wiki with View Source and History tabs to help HTML-knowledgeable contributors and those who want to see previous versions of the page. Categories that are well worth exploring are the “How to Use, FAQs and Meet the Experts” pages.
A strategy issue worth considering is that the wiki was open to the experts before it was made publicly available. There is already content that sets the tone. There are “Rules of the Road” to be followed, but they are pretty minimal. In several places it is made clear that all contributions will be moderated for adherence to those rules and that their team of experts (which will grow as the wiki becomes active) will moderate disputes about factual matters. They promise that contributions will not be edited, just screened to ensure they meet basic standards.

I’ll admit that I started this exploration with considerable skepticism, even though I was aware of Fast Lane. What I wasn’t aware of is how many GM people are active in the various social media efforts and how seriously they seem to take it. As a long time advocate of managers at all levels actually meeting and talking to customers, how can I not be impressed? My sense from the beginning has been that social media provide a way for managers to interact with customers in a way that is both effective (in communications terms) and efficient (in terms of managerial time).

GM’s wiki is an experiment in social media worth following. My sense is that their intentions are good, and I wish them well.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Parsing Facebook User Data Policies

Read part 1 here.
Third Parties and Facebook Data. Continuing on down the Terms of Use we find a section on Third Party Websites and Content that is inclusive, although once again they try to exclude offensive material and protect intellectual property. Just below that is a section called Share Service. This is a direct quote from that section:

Company offers a feature whereby users of the Site can share with others or post to their own member profile, videos, articles and other Third Party Applications, Software or Content from, and/or links to, Third Party Sites through the Service (the "Share Service"). You acknowledge and agree that your use of the Share Services and all links, User Content or Third Party Applications, Software or Content shared through the Share Service is subject to, and will fully comply with the user conduct rules set forth above and the other terms and conditions set forth in these Terms of Use.

Does that mean that “perpetual, irrevocable and distribute. . .for any purpose” apply here? I’m not a lawyer, but that’s what it looks like to me. It goes on to talk about Use of Share Links by Online Content Providers. Are these the 15,000+ widgets shown on Friday’s post? That’s what it sounds like to me. Here’s what it says:

By including a Share Link, Online Content Provider automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the Share Service in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarize, and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which Online Content Provider places the Share Link.

That should drive potential developers to the Developer Terms of Service page, which is also quite extensive and technical. It seems to repeat the same data policies. There are many links, none of which I investigated.

Finally, I took a look at the Privacy page (from the top nav bar; the Terms of Use is one of the text links at the bottom of pages). This page allows users to set several parameters for the sharing of their data with other Facebook users. It’s user-friendly and when I’ve tried, it has worked as described. The introductory statement is designed to make users feel comfortable:

Facebook wants you to share your information with exactly the people you want to see it. On this page, you'll find all the controls you need to set who can see your profile and the stuff in it, who can find and contact you on Facebook, and more.

However, it is not their Privacy Policy, which is another text link at the bottom of pages. It is also extensive. This is a short quote from the lengthy Information We Collect section:

If you choose to use our invitation service to tell a friend about our site, we will ask you for information needed to send the invitation, such as your friend's email address. We will automatically send your friend a one-time email or instant message inviting him or her to visit the site. Facebook stores this information to send this one-time invitation, to register a friend connection if your invitation is accepted, and to track the success of our referral program. Your friend may contact us at to request that we remove this information from our database.
Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience.
By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.

There are lengthy sections on sharing information with third parties and advertising that I haven’t quoted. They are worth reading. Facebook’s Beacon service for advertisers has generated considerable controversy. This is the current statement:

Facebook Beacon is a means of sharing actions you have taken on third party sites, such as when you make a purchase or post a review, with your friends on Facebook. In order to provide you as a Facebook user with clear disclosure of the activity information being collected on third party sites and potentially shared with your friends on Facebook, we collect certain information from that site and present it to you after you have completed an action on that site. You have the choice to have Facebook discard that information, or to share it with your friends.
To learn more about the operation of the service, we encourage you to read the tutorial here. To opt out of the service altogether, click here.

From my perspective as a marketer, not a lawyer, Facebook seems to be honest in describing its policies, and the documents are detailed and inclusive. Does anyone believe that teenagers will read the material—only a tiny portion of which is quoted here? If you do, I have time-honored bridge to sell you.

Marketers should give these issues consideration from several perspectives. Do you want to participate in advertising on Facebook itself? There are numerous ad networks that serve the Facebook applications (widgets, etc.); that’s another alternative. Recent articles from Randall Rothberg of the IAB and Esther Dyson, IT maven, are both ad-friendly and give worthwhile perspectives.

Put all of it together and two things emerge. One is that marketers need to tread carefully as they consider advertising on social networks; both the contextual and the data privacy issues are troublesome. The second is that marketers may want to build their own networks. We’ve been doing that with email addresses. Why not extend permission-based activities to relevant networks? Either create your own or partner with an established network that is relevant.

Whichever of the several ways you choose to go, think carefully about how you want to inform and prepare visitors for the kind of advertising they will see or receive. We all want to do targeted advertising. But behaviorally-targeted advertising can get downright creepy—“How do they know that about me?” We don’t want to creep-out our customers!
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Parsing Facebook User Data Policies

Facebook and User Data. In Friday’s post I noted that I had actually taken time to read the Facebook Terms of Use. Since I’m encouraging people to set up Facebook accounts I have some responsibility to point out issues. The people who read this blog aren’t likely to post personal information as thoughtlessly as teens and young adults do, but we all still need to be aware. As I pointed out on Friday, at the very least we need to decide whether, as advertisers, we want to take advantage of profile data like Facebook’s. At best, we need to become advocates for policies and practices that will be in the long-run best interest of our discipline. Facebook is not the only site that puts these issues front and center, it’s just the largest and most visible and therefore a good example. Detractors of Google could question that statement, but my experience is that Google has a much more restrictive set of information policies and practices than what I’m describing here.

Facebook’s Terms of Use is several pages long and full of detail. In all fairness, it has good information and warnings. It tries to keep children under 13 off, although we all know how much good that does. It also tries to keep dangerous people and practices off the site, and it appears to have been taking that responsibility more seriously recently. They talk the right talk about intellectual property but we all know that is difficult to enforce.

That said, Facebook’s policy on data is eye-popping. This is a short quote from the section entitled User Content Posted on the Site:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

Some of the scary words are “perpetual,” “irrevocable,” and “distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise.” But there's so much more that it's gotten to long for a single post. Tomorrow I'll get to the third party/ad networks issues.

And, in the meantime, if you have teenagers you might want to talk to them about implications of sites like Facebook. Are they aware, for instance, that colleges and employers are searching social sites for information that might affect the future of users of these sites?
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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Traveling in Vietnam

Read first installment here
Read second installment here
Read third installment here

Three-Day River Cruise. Having taught for an intensive 6 hours a day for five straight days I was ready for some r & r. The cruise left from Can Duoc, an hour-plus drive from Saigon and ended in Can Tho, about three hours away. The cruise company arranged the transfer for me, this time an air-conditioned Toyota SUV. It was another interesting trip through the countryside, but I’d suggest trying to arrange a package when you book instead of paying separately for the transfer.

Arriving at the end of a road in Can Duoc, I saw what was clearly the tour boat across the river. The small boat that is towed behind for excursions was sent across to get me. With help my heavy suitcase and I made it down the worse dock I have ever seen—simply various sizes of boards affixed to the muddy river bank in a semblance of steps—and safely onto the little boat, and my adventure had begun. I took a lot of pictures, the best of which are in my Flickr slideshow.

I was greeted with a hot towel and glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and shown to my stateroom. The boat is mahogany, or something that looks just like it, throughout and only about a year old. The stateroom with double beds and built-in furniture was small but efficient. The bathroom was one of those “the bathroom is the shower stall” affairs, but that’s ok. Water pressure was only a trickle and the difference between hot and cold water was negligible, but it was serviceable.

Having rid myself of some of the mud I accumulated on the trip across the river I went up on deck to meet John and Irene, my traveling companions. They hail from Cardiff in Wales and couldn’t have been better company. They are both well read and well traveled, and John is a retired ship’s captain who was a great source of information.

The boat had been waiting for me and pulled out into the river almost as soon as I got on. It was always a relief to get the breeze from being underway to take the edge off the heat and humidity of the delta. Although it is the dry winter season in January, it is still hot and the sun is fierce, so pack good sun block.

It was soon time for lunch in the open-air dining area. What ensued was a parade of courses that was the equal of the multi-star restaurant I had experienced earlier in the week in Saigon. It began with a plate of shrimp on greens that would have been a perfectly good lunch by itself. I may have lost track of the dishes, but there was also a roll-your-own spring rolls course, a whole deep-fried fish (just for me), a generous stir-fry, and of course fruit—and I may have missed one (or two). That began our three-day--and largely unsuccessful--campaign for fewer courses at each meal. The food was wonderful if you like the Vietnamese cuisine, which I do very much. If you didn’t like Vietnamese, you were out of luck.

Late afternoon we disembarked with Hai, our English-speaking guide, for a walk around a village and its marketplace. The excursions were planned for early morning or mid/late afternoon to avoid the heat of midday, a good choice.

The sunset viewed from one of the upper decks was indeed spectacular. We had drinks on deck, accompanied by some of the best fried dumplings I’ve ever tasted. That was followed in due time with another multi-course feast. The boat docked around 9 p.m. each evening, “so we could have a good sleep.” I was tired to begin with, and the activity and the massive amount of food made that easy.

The next morning (after a multi-course breakfast) we passed the first floating market, which is quite a sight. We disembarked and toured a village factory where rice paper and rice wine were made. The working conditions are primitive and the hours are long. The redeeming feature was that these rural workshops are open air, but I really can’t image what they must be like in summer. That afternoon we had a rather adventurous walk around a very rural area. The path was dry, caked clay—rough walking but manageable. Again, I can’t imagine what it must be like in the rainy season. The people were generally welcoming and unfailingly polite. Even watch dogs were polite—barking but not threatening the strangers walking down the village paths.

The people are dependent on the river to get their goods to market, although we saw bridges being built at several points. Barges were loaded with sand and gravel for construction. Family boats took produce of all kinds into the cities. Entire families live on their small boats and we were told that children were able to go to school on land when they were old enough. Our boat was engaged in the leisurely cruise we had been promised, but it was constantly being passed by heavily-loaded boats in one direction and empty ones flying back in the other direction for another load. It was a fascinating panorama that went on from early morning to late night. Children on the banks of the river got great delight from greeting and waving at us and having us wave back. I never got over how welcome the Vietnamese made me feel in their country.

On the last morning we got a close-up look at a large floating market, which was a real treat. Our final excursion was a pleasant walk around an area that is thickly planted with fruit of all kinds. Some like pineapple, papaya and mango are familiar to Westerners. Others like dragon fruit and water apple and many others whose names I can’t remember or never knew are unfamiliar, but wonderful. On my trip a year ago I decided that Vietnamese fruit is special. This trip confirmed that.

We were taken by boat to our destinations about 10:30 that last morning. John and Irene were staying in Can Tho for a few days while I was returning to Saigon for my flight the next morning. The crew of the boat was busy preparing for the next group of tourists who were due to start arriving at 11. There had been only three of us on this trip; there were 11 boarding on the next cruise. I was careful to specify a group on this multi-day cruise, but clearly numbers vary if the size of the group is a concern.

I’m really glad I made the effort to get out and experience some of the countryside. It was an unforgettable experience, although it definitely does qualify as adventure travel. It’s not for people who want all the modern comforts and conveniences and expect modern transportation at every turn. For me, it was well worth a bit of roughing it in return for sights and sounds that I’ll never forget.
Marketing in Vietnam environment
Marketing in Vietnam infrastructure
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Friday, February 8, 2008

Visualizing the Social Graph

One of the fun things about doing research for a blog like this is that one thing leads to another. Yesterday I briefly mentioned the term “data visualization” in the context I think most marketers use—how can we transform mountains of raw data into graphics we can use for understanding and decision making? At least, that’s how I’ve thought about it ever since statistics and marketing research courses.

But I ran across a couple of sites that reminded me of something else—the “social graph.” With the rise of MySpace, Facebook and specialized social networks, it’s a concept that has been much discussed over the last year. My personal opinion is that it is not different from the idea of social networks that many of us remember from sociology courses; Wikipedia has an article that describes the sociological concept. Chris Brogan has a brief video that does a good job of tying the two concepts together and Mitch Joel has a thoughtful post on the subject. The Economist had a contrarian view last fall.

“Social graph” is clearly the term used in the social networking space, so I’ll stick with that. We are all part of multiple networks today, for better or for worse. Even for us as marketers, some of it is personal, as when I posted my travel photos on Flickr and invited friends to view them. Others are clearly work; probably most of the people who read this are on LinkedIn or some other professional network. Some would be best described as research. I continue to maintain that all marketers should have multiple accounts on sites like Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and other new media sites. We should join some groups and visit from time to time. How else do we know what’s going on? Having it filtered through employees or our teen-aged children is just not the same thing.

The really cool thing I ran into is a set of applications listed on that allow users to visualize networks of various kinds. These are only two of the 16 applications they list:

That lead me to check out similar applications on Facebook. I’m not a serious user, I’m a research user, so I was astounded to find that there are over 15,000 apps that Facebook users can put on their sites. Here are some of the currently most popular—notice how many of them connect users with one another. No wonder that WSJOnline reported this week (subscription required) that MySpace had opened its platform to allow developers to build apps for it! Lack of this “fun stuff” may be one reason MySpace has fallen behind Facebook. If you are into diy, Google recently announced a Social Graph API that allows users to build graphs from publicly-available data and connections.
Finally, it made me stop and read the Terms of Use and Privacy Police on Facebook. That’s a subject in and of itself; I’ll return to it next week.

The implications for marketers and advertisers are clear. In the past, we had to conduct segmentation studies in order to identify homogeneous groups of customers and prospects. Now users are doing it themselves. How far should we go to take advantage of the social groups that are forming on the web? That presents troubling issues of privacy and trust that marketers need to consider openly and carefully.
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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Covering the Coverage

It takes me a while to catch on to some things. It’s that phychological mechanism again—selective attention? I had written a post about touch screen technology earlier that day when I sat down Tuesday evening to watch the marathon coverage of the Super Tuesday primaries. I always surf around a bit just to see if any other news organizations have discovered anything new, but mostly I watch CNN because I like their coverage.

Sometime after midnight my foggy brain realized that John King was pulling up maps,zooming in and out,
but mostly drawing on the maps with his hands to illustrate his points about who was voting how, where. I was reminded that I see this every day, especially when Internet reporter Abby Tatton pulls up items from all over the net. Must be the same multitouch technology, right?

When I looked around I found that it is not. It’s still called multi-touch, but, unlike say the iPhone, the CNN screens react to multiple objects and users and they are pressure sensitive. CNN debuted the technology on Wolf Blitzer’s huge Situation Room wall in January.

The uses of the technology are well explained by developer Jeff Han who gave a demo at the 2006 TED conference. In the demo he mentions data vizualization but he doesn’t give an example. There is a more recent video on the home page of Perceptive Pixel, Han’s company, but it isn’t as informative as the earlier conference presentation. His presentations give a lot of ideas about applications, and suggest that CNN has so far just skimmed the surface.

Jeff Han’s presentation reminds me of early computer scientists who predicted that someday most everyday devices would have computing power and they would be genuinely easy to use. Multi-screens look like the closest we have yet come to the early concept of “ubiquituous computing.”

What are the marketing applications beyond broadcasting? At about $100,000 per screen (before customization, one presumes), the military was the earliest user, and they aren’t talking although one can remember the wired glove application in Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report” and make some guesses. Data visualization appears to be an attractive possibility as marketers look for an easy, user-friendly way to deal with their data avalanche. Killer presentations are another. However, it will take awhile for the cost to come down to the point where any except the best-funded organizations can use this technology. But stay tuned for the rest of the political season. I’ll be looking to see what else CNN is able to do with their screens and when and how other broadcast networks implement the technology.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Marketing in Vietnam

Read first installment here.
The Marketing Infrastructure. My first trip to teach in Vietnam produced two immediate, huge surprises:
•How well grounded in the basics of marketing the students in this executive training program were. Many speak excellent English and some have lived and/or studied in the West.
•How warmly I, so obviously an American, and my American marketing expertise were welcomed.
Over the week of teaching another important realization grew; that the marketing infrastructure I was accustomed to in the US and Europe simply didn’t exist in Vietnam.

The basic media structure we are accustomed to is present in the cities. Media, especially outdoor and interactive, seem to be growing rapidly, but I haven’t been able to find any data in English. Many print and broadcast outlets are controlled by the government, but I didn’t see any direct effects of that on advertising. Just looking at what’s available from street vendors, there are many newspapers and magazines available. Internet connections are slow but they work, even to the extent of allowing brief streaming video in the classroom. I didn’t hear any discussion of government control of Internet content, but I wasn’t operating in a space where political issues were often mentioned.

One student had an advertising story that illustrates the need to beware of western expectations when using media in Vietnam. When he tried to use newspaper inserts for advertising purposes, he found one major distributor removing the FSIs and selling them for waste paper. Back to display advertising!

The biggest issue for marketers in Vietnam is the lack of a trusted payment system. In 2007 most of my students agreed that it was difficult to get a credit card. It is like poor credit in the US—put up a large amount of money in order to obtain the card. Some older professionals assured me that is not true, but I suspect they bank in non-Vietnamese banks. I specifically asked the question this year and was told that “if your company has relationships with banks, it’s easy to get a credit card.” However, one student added that he was unable to use his credit card to make an Internet purchase from outside Vietnam. I believe that it’s still not possible to sign up for a personal PayPal account from Vietnam, although you can transfer money to firms “in the PayPal network.” It sounds to me like my experience with Western Union—transfers have to be cash-based, not credit card or bank account.

Add to that the fact that the mail system is considered unreliable. In 2007 one magazine manager told of sending representatives out to collect for magazine subscriptions in person; they just didn’t find it possible to collect by mail. The result is that mail marketing and e-commerce as we know them in the US are non-existent. In addition, the majority of students seemed to believe that email marketing absolutely does not work in Vietnam. The reason is a huge amount of spam, resulting in filters that prevent most commercial mail from getting through. Email wasn’t a large part of my subject matter, but they were interested in registration forms, incentives and other aspects of permission marketing. One of the consumer products companies represented does seem to be using a website and email successfully. Careful permission-based email marketing seems to have promise but I recommend that the permissionning process be very careful and informative with clear value offered to the consumer for signing up and receiving email communications. Coupon distribution seems one obvious application.

The growing economy and middle class are attracting companies that provide marketing infrastructure. Media research, marketing research, and advertising agencies have offices in either Hanoi or Saigon or both. I’ve talked to other firms that operate in the Asia-Pacific that are watching Vietnam as an opportunity. So the infrastructure is growing. This slideshow appears to be a product of Yahoo! in Vietnam, which seems reasonable because Yahoo! is highly popular there.

My own opinion is that the lack of a trusted payment system is going to be the greatest barrier to a vibrant consumer economy, and that’s something that marketers cannot fix on their own.

One final story has a lot to say about marketing and the consumer in Vietnam. Several students were from AIG, the global insurance company. The story is that a year or so ago AIG had a sponsorship relationship with Manchester United. Soccer is wildly popular in Vietnam, just as in much of the rest of the world. However, AIG is a new brand and not yet well known in Vietnam. Consequently, there is now consumer confusion—many seem to believe that AIG is a soccer team!

I believe that Western companies that establish offices in Vietnam or who are looking for Vietnamese partners will find a reasonable supply of well-trained and highly motivated marketing personnel. Beware, however, of media and marketing infrastructures that require strategies specially designed for the situation there—and expect that situation to continue changing rapidly as the economy matures!
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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Computing (and Ads) Everywhere

Talk about your captive audiences! Yesterday the Hawthorne Videoactive Report highlighted results from Nielsen Media Research that found 70 percent of respondents recalling advertising seen on gas pumps. Even more impressive, 84 percent said they will pay attention to the next gas-pump advertising they see. When you’re pumping your gas, you truly are a captive market! But think about how many other times that is true—at the ATM, standing in line at a retail store, stuck in traffic on an urban expressway.

Also think about how often you are willing to use free-standing kiosks to perform a routine task—checking in for a flight and placing your deli order in a supermarket come to mind. Staples recently announced a new customer service application that uses in-store kiosks to connect shoppers with product experts at other locations. I remembered a store associate using something similar to find out if the items I wanted were in stock, so I went down and took a look. I found 2 kiosks where you can scan items to get the price, one where you can design your business cards and saw that they called their self-service copiers “print kiosks.” Their applications seem to be a mix of sales and service.

More broadly, the WSJ’s Walt Mossberg (subscription required) says the iPhone points to a wave of “multitouch” items we can expect to see blossom in the near future and gives some examples in an accompanying video.

The big kahuna of this set of products is Microsoft’s Surface computer. Microsoft describes the product as multi-touch, multi-user with ability to recognize different objects and provide direct interaction. At about $5,000 per screen not many of us will have a surface computer coffee table soon, but you will see them in locations like Harrah’s Casinos and Starwood Resorts.View the video here.

Service and sales applications of multitouch devices suggest intriguing possibilities. The eventual advertising implications are unclear. Just how many times, in how many places are we going to be willing to accept advertising before we completely tune it out? The limit seems to be a moving target, but new devices and channels heighten the need to provide more relevant and engaging messages for an already-jaded public.
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Monday, February 4, 2008

The Super Bowl and New Media--One Last Time

It’s the Monday morning after and most of the pundits are working on Super Bowl ad reviews. My interest was UCG content, and I also watched for ads that were designed to drive traffic to websites.

Of the UCG contests I listed on Wednesday, the only winner actually played during the game was Doritos “Kina: Message from Your Heart.” Doritos introduced it by saying they were offering her a large stage, and as far as I’m concerned she represented the brand better than most of the celebrities that were ubiquitous (obnoxious?) in the agency-produced ads. The Upper Deck winner apparently made it to the game, but not to the advertising slapdown. Hope the KFC winner enjoyed his big party; the players followed league rules and didn’t engage in “hot wings dance”—thankfully. The NFL invited text messages to vote for MVP during the game, not an innovation, but engaging nonetheless.

I found myself watching for ads that were designed to drive viewers to web sites. It reminds me of the golden days of direct marketing in which a classic question was, “If it contains a 1-800 telephone number, does that make it a direct-response ad?” The answer to that is a resounding, “No;” the ad must have an explicit call to action in order for it to be direct response.

The same is true of listing your URL in an ad. It doesn’t qualify as direct-response but it’s still a reasonable thing to do as brand building. The usual suspects—GoDaddy with its teaser on the rejected ad and Sales Genie with its free sales lead offer—have drawn huge traffic in the past and surely did so last night.

The Tide ad in which the interview was disrupted by the talking stain was pretty bad. I took the bait and visited Another contest, but this one is fast paced with daily prizes. It’s an application of mashups—pun intended. Another that had a direct call to action, even though I thought the commercial was uninspiring, was Sunsilk shampoo. It turns out that the tie in with the commercial that opened with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe (young women even know who they are?) is a chance to become a “new international icon” by posting your hair-care story on MySpace. Well, maybe. . .

Because I found so little that was inspired or inspiring, my favorite hands-down was "Clydesdale Team.” How can you loose with a goal-oriented horse, a dog, and one of the most inspirational movie themes of all time? The one I disliked most was the first eTrade spot, which ended with the baby throwing up. Appropriate, I thought. It was closely followed by the Coke commercial that parodied political season. Neither James Carville or Bill Frist are particularly appealing personalities and the idea they would bond over a Coke is ludicrous. Actually I agreed with Bob Garfield who didn’t like most of them—does that make me an old curmudgeon? Seriously, Garfield's video has some social commentary worth thinking about in the struggle to be heard over all the advertising noise.

If you missed anything, AdAge has all the spots posted. MSN has them all and a contest to boot. Nielsen will do a webcast on its ad reviews today at noon. And all the rest of us self-appointed pundits will continue to pontificate for some time to come.

But enough’s enough. It’s time to get back to the serious business of a new media age in which our audiences are looking to us for more than the same old thing. For my money, they didn’t find it on the Super Bowl!
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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Traveling in Vietnam

Read first installment here.
Read second installment here.
Day Tour to Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai Temple. Saturday morning a comfortable air-conditioned Toyota Corolla complete with driver and guide picked me up at my hotel for a day trip into the delta. The destinations were the tunnels of Cu Chi and the Cao Dai Temple. We drove out of the city in the general direction of the airport, about 100 kilometers northwest to the area near the Cambodian border. Both destinations are near the province capital of Tay Ninh.

The drive itself was fascinating. It was mostly through countryside and small villages. The rice patties were incredibly green and we saw many fields planted with rubber trees. Some were being tapped and others appeared to be too young. Hai, my wonderful guide, pointed out that this area had been bombed extensively during the war, with population scattered and farms and forests destroyed.

I remembered the tunnels being in the news during the war but knew little about them. Both the extensiveness of the tunnel system and the small size of the tunnels themselves were amazing. At the height of their usefulness there were three levels with small living spaces, workshops, and kitchens. Tourists can enter the tunnels if they wish, but they are small and dark. Please see my slideshow on Flickr for more photos.

We reached the Cao Dai temple in time for the noon worship ceremony, which visitors are welcome to attend. The Cao Dai religion is a fusion of many religions, both Eastern and Western, with the goal of religious harmony and peace. The ornate temple is full of symbolism. I stayed for about half the hour-long ceremony of meditation.

If you are interested, there are numerous sites that have further information on both the tunnels and the Cao Dai religion and the grand temple. I’m not giving links because I’m not qualified to judge which are authoritative, but I’d encourage you to search for more information and photos.

I was then taken to a restaurant in one of the small towns for luncheon. It was the usual Vietnamese multi-course feast with soup, several types of seafood, spring rolls, noodles, rice, wonderfully fresh greens, and always fruit to finish. The restaurant obviously catered to the tourist trade, with a fixed menu that could be served quickly and efficiently. The tourists around me seemed to be eating just as happily as I was, but I wondered if many of us would have known what to order. This type of meal was a good solution, although as always, I could have done with fewer courses.

Hai managed to divert me from the statuary shops I had seen on the drive out of the city that morning. I had seen lions and dragons and Buddhas that must have been as tall as I, and I though one of them would look wonderful in my garden. Even at the reasonable Vietnamese prices shipping would have been a major issue, so it’s probably just as well I didn’t get there. Most people in the shops in Saigon have at least a few words of English, but a native speaker would be necessary to help negotiate a major purchase like this.

Back in Saigon, he helped me satisfy my shopping urge by taking me to the government-run lacquerware factory. The factory promotes this traditional craft and provides work for people with disabilities. Tourists can take a guided walk through the factory which, of course, ends in a well-stocked store. There you can find anything from small bowls and vases to large platters and wall plaques to beautifully inlaid pieces of furniture. It’s well set up for the tourist trade and they are happy to ship the larger pieces.

I arrived back at the hotel mid-afternoon tired, laden with lacquerware purchases, and very pleased to have seen this slice of Vietnam.

As a footnote, I’d point out that I signed up for a tour, but I turned out to be the only client that day. Labor costs in Vietnam are low and they don’t cancel outings for one or only a few people. That was fine for a day trip, but women traveling alone should take note and make decisions that are comfortable for them.
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Friday, February 1, 2008

Do These Blog Policies Make Sense?

A post on CNET news caught my eye a few days ago. I read Business Week online and in print. I’ve used their material in textbooks—with permission, which they are notoriously slow to grant). I’ve probably linked to their material on this blog. (No, I don’t ordinarily read user agreements.) I do, however, assume that online publications are happy to have links because they attract more people to the site.

So imagine my surprise when I read the CNET article which in turn referenced a post on the Gawker blog. This quote captures the issue perfectly:

Gawker points to the example of SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill, who writes in his blog that after being interviewed for a feature story in BusinessWeek, he was expressly told not to link to the story. "Yes, that's right, an ad-driven publication doesn't want us to drive traffic to them," he says in his blog. In addition, he was urged to review the company's user agreement. Mr. MacAskill also has critical words for the LA Times in his post.

Note how many links to various online publications have been generated by this dialog. As you well know, every time you follow one of these links you’ve upped their traffic and advertising rates. Why doesn’t any online publisher want that?

But I did check the user agreement and the Gawker post is exactly right. This is the item in the BW user agreement. Note that it does not say I can’t copy it (it’s well within the 100-word limit for direct quotes with attribution but without permission), but it does say that I can’t “deep link,” which is a link to any page except the home page. And every Internet marketer knows that if you want people to find things, you don’t just dump them onto your home page!

2. use or attempt to use any "deep-link," "scraper," "robot," "bot," "spider," "data mining," "computer code" or any other automated device, program, tool, algorithm, process or methodology or manual process having similar processes or functionality, to access, acquire, copy, or monitor any portion of, any data or content found on or accessed through, or any other information without prior express written consent of BW;
Source: BusinessWeek Online Terms of Use

The BW policy is even more ludicrous in the context of a subsequent announcement by editor John Byrne. He says BWOnline is going to use a new reader engagement metric, the ratio of comments to stories on the site. One assumes they can also use the metric for individual stores as one gauge of the most popular topics. So why would the publication shut off one source of traffic to their pages—and therefore potential comments? Beats me!

It makes about as much sense as this statement, attributed to Target:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets,” a public relations person wrote to ShapingYouth.

The owner of the ShapingYouth blog had complained to Target about an ad that it found demeaning to women. As I write this the original New York Times article (free registration required) has drawn 102 comments—pretty engaging! The comments show a fascinating divergence of opinion about whether blogs should be accorded the respect routinely given to traditional media outlets. Interesting and provocative!

Both Target and BusinessWeek Online seem to have policies that are counter to their best interests as a customer-friendly retailer and as an online publication that thrives on reader traffic. It might also be noted that the New York Times achieved a ratio of 102/1 on this particular article compared to the 23/1 average ratio quoted in articles about Byrne’s announcement. I did look on the Business Week site and couldn’t find a press release or other description of the policy—but then I couldn’t have linked to it anyway!

Enough bashing! There is a lesson here for all who participate in the new media space. The lesson is to be sure that all our policies are aligned in ways that promote our success instead of creating barriers to success.
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