Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Impact of Social Media

Yesterday the Razorfish newsletter arrived. The October newsletter is not yet up on their archive page, but I imagine it will be soon. There are a number of interesting items, but the big news is the publication of their 2008 Consumer Experience Report (get the pdf here). Fred Aun has done a nice summary on ClickZ that covers some sections of the 84-page report, especially mobile and widgets. I wanted to look at some of the general marketing issues that are highlighted.

It’s important to point out that this isn’t a representative sample of the Internet-using population. They call their sample “connected consumers” who have broadband access, spent at least $200 online last year, visited a social networking site, and consumed or created some kind of digital media. The respondents were distributed geographically and by gender. Most of the respondents were between 18 and 55. Two of the findings about basic behaviors surprised me:

1. 91% of their sample use one of the 5 large portals—Google, Yahoo!,MSN, AOL, and their start point. I thought Facebook and MySpace would be part of that list. Two reasons they don’t seem to be. One is that it’s not obvious you can easily use either as a portal page. Perhaps more important is that people are customizing these pages with a variety of content that’s not similarly accessible on the social network pages.
2. The second was the age issue. According to the report: “Digital Behavior Defies Age: We found today’s connected consumers equally distributed across all age ranges, with a slight skew to older segments." (p. 21)

Their results support and add to other data that emphasize the importance of UGC in product purchase, even though 76% of them are fine with brand advertising on social network sites. They are influenced by what they see on those sites; 40% have made a purchase based on advertising and 49% have purchased based on a user recommendation on a social media site. Search is still king when consumers start looking for a product or service online. However, UGC is key in the decision to purchase. According to the report: “peers are the largest influencers when determining when and what to purchase. The large majority of consumers (61%) rely on user reviews for product information and research, with a much smaller group (15%) preferring editorial reviews.” (p. 19)

How should marketers go about designing consumer experiences in this environment? The report gives 5 recommendations:
1. Share the spotlight. People are coming to the networks because they want to participate. Put the emphasis on the customers, not the product.
2. Leverage the platform, not just the site. Let people post, share, and embed—distribution of content is the aim. Hording content doesn’t make sense in this environment.
3. Embrace the network, but beware of the network effect. The report points out that social activities take awhile to catch on and spread.
4. Make it interactive and plan for multiple levels of participation. Their assessment of levels/types of participation is interesting.
5. Don’t forget the business model. They point out that advertising has not proven to be the key to monetization of social networks. New business models are needed. (pages 21 – 26)

There’s so much more, but I’d like to end with two important thoughts. The first is that people really want to participate, to contribute. Welcome their contributions! The second is the importance of distributing content widely. In the words of the report:

Distribution Trumps Destination: All signs point to the continuing disintegration of “one-stop” digital destinations, at least as far as consumers are concerned. We’ve found that they don’t want a one-size-fits-all solution for their needs. Consumers prefer using multiple destinations, and then aggregating media and services, via simple tools like RSS, into a highly personalized view of their digital world. (p. 24)

Getting your content out there is critical. How great is it when consumers put that content on their personal pages, on their social networks, and share it with their friends? The question for marketers is “where does content that compelling come from?” The answer seems to be “from users.” Then the question becomes, “how and where do we seed with marketer-initiated content that will generate great user content?” That’s the marketer dilemma of Web 2.0!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Viewing Socially

I’ve noticed announcements of CBS’s social viewing rooms for some of its most popular series. I’m not much for watching entertainment videos on the web. However, I have been known to watch a show or sporting event from the comfort of my sofa while talking on the phone to a friend who’s also watching it—I guess that’s the non-social-media version of the same thing.

Anyway I decided to check out the social viewing rooms. I had the direct link, so I looked at the roughly 30 that are available (includes Survivor and The Young and the Restless and lots of sitcoms, which probably indicates a young target audience—surprise, surprise!). However, they have the original Perry Mason series also, so they must have hopes for older viewers.

I clicked on NCIS. That took me to a login page where I could actually register and sign in or just use a temporary name if you want to remain anonymous. I signed in using a ficticious id and was taken to the room for the episode I had chosen. I was the fifth person in the room; 3 of us anonymous, 1 that looks like an avatar, and a kitty with a green hat. I really need a cute identity for these things. . .

In any event, when you sign into one of the rooms you join a program in progress--after viewing an ad, of course. There were two rooms open for this particular episode; Room 2 appeared to hold three of the same people. Were they looking for an earlier entry point? I have no idea. There were occasional quizes about some of the esoterica of the show itself. A comment box was available, but I didn’t say anything.

I thought that in order to watch from the beginning, you have to “View by myself.” That is true, but along the way I got lost. I could get back to the NCIS home page, but I couldn’t get out of it and get back to the page that lists all the series. I eventually had to go to the CBS home page and intuit that the Watch & Chat link would take me to the social viewing rooms. It did, and that might work better for the average user than the “social viewing rooms” link I was looking for.

Some of the comments on the NCIS page are pretty funny. I especially liked the young woman who had to wait until she got home to watch because they’ve taken off her video at work. Wonder why?

But issues of work vs. entertainment aside, it’s an interesting experiment. As is often the case with social media, it looks to me as if it’s going to attract primarily the young, which is fine. I can’t get to the advertiser metrics, of course, but based on my short experience, I’d be careful. I’m pretty sure there were only 5 unduplicated viewers at this particular moment even though the 2 rooms held 8 viewers. I suspect there are engagement metrics—viewed completely, took quizes, commented. Those would be the most interesting, but not terribly relevant unless there’s more advertising at the end. I didn’t stay for the entire episode.

I wonder what other applications might exist for this type of platform. I don’t see anything terribly obvious, but the social media space is evolving in interesting ways. This is a Beta worth watching.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Want to Wiki?

A few days ago I noticed a reference to an article by Scott Cook, CEO of Intuit, in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review. He’s a thoughtful observer of the business scene, so I wanted to read “The Contribution Revolution.” In spite of the fact that I teach at Harvard, I can’t get access to their educators site (read that “free for review” stuff), so I looked around hoping I’d find a summary somewhere.

I found something much more interesting! Cook has posted the article, complete with an incredible number of links to examples and resources, on a PBwiki. (This page has the article enhanced with links, the one originally published in HBR, and a podcast with Scott Cook.)I was familiar with the PBwiki service through a friend, who decided to try it out by posting a resumé there. It look fine, but I think he took it down when I pointed out that it could be edited by others! So I remembered it as an interesting free service (for a wiki with 3 or fewer users) but I hadn’t gotten around to really checking it out.

First, the article by Scott Cook. You simply have to read it—for the content, for the resources, and for the interesting use of the wiki technology. He has a concept of user contribution systems that is useful and that is borne out by the success of Intuit’s Tax Almanac and the TurboTax Live Community. The community is reached on the TurboTax Support page where there’s also a blog written by TurboTax employees. Not all their UGC efforts have been successful though, and that’s another piece of learning that you’ll take away from reading the article.

I was also intrigued by the fact that he put the article up as a wiki, so I joined. I’m now getting emails when users make an entry. I’m underwhelmed by that, but if it were my wiki, I’d want to know. Cook has implemented a number of features on the Contribution Revolution wiki. There’s a sandbox where the inexperienced like me can practice before we try to edit. When I publish this post, I’m going to upload it to the "Company Examples of USG folder". That will be my first contribution, but I have a feeling I’m going to be coming back to this wiki often for both its resources and its content.

PBwiki offers services for businesses, academic users and individuals. A superficial look doesn’t show any differences between the wiki features available to each group. It looks to me as if they’re using that as a way to point out the ways in which each group can use wiki technology. That’s fine, because the knowledge of most of us is probably limited to reading Wikipedia! There seems to be growing sentiment that wikis are going to be most useful for business applications as an important type of collaborative technology. PBwiki has a number of white papers; if you’re new to the area, check out “How Wikis Enable Enterprise Collaboration.”

I wrote about the GM wiki, on which they’re trying to get the public to help write the history of GM, a few months ago. I haven’t checked recently, but when I looked at visitor stats on, it had a large initial spike and then very little traffic. I wonder if many people are interested in contributing to a history of GM, especially in the current economic situation. I’m not a member of that wiki, so I can’t get inside to see whether there is noticeable activity. Control of who can edit is a feature of all wikis I’ve seen.

Scott Cook’s Contribution Revolution wiki is a fascinating example of wiki technology in action. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to first observe and then participate in a non-threatening environment. There are plenty of opportunities to comment, just like a blog. That’s an easy first step.

None of us will understand the potential of various social media techniques for our own organization until we participate in each one. That will mean some stops and starts, because some sites you join, some technologies you investigate, will turn out to be not relevant. That’s fine. But you won’t find the relevant ones unless and until you become active in the space. Scott Cook is only one CEO setting a good example of participation in the social media space!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Email on Steriods

Email marketing isn’t going away any time soon. Can it be made more effective—even viral—by including social networking options in email? Silverpop thinks so and has a product to do just that. Their Share-to-Social product was introduced in early October, so it’s a bit hard to find examples of use, but the prospects are fascinating.

Basically the product allows Silverpop clients to embed links in their emails that allow recipients to easily post messages—social emails?—to their social network pages. It’s new, and there are no detailed case studies. Two users identified in the Silverpop white paper are and GodTube. According to the white paper:

• One of’s emails was posted on 50 different social network profile pages. That kind of customer endorsement turns email “push” marketing into a powerful “pull” campaign. (page 2)
• GodTube, a global technology company that creates social networking tools for the faith-based and family marketplace, achieved significant viral activity from its social email marketing campaign. An email sent with Silverpop’s Share-to-Social links had an open-to-click rate of 31 percent, and nearly 15 percent of those who clicked in the email posted the message to Facebook or MySpace. Astoundingly, 25 percent of the posted emails generated additional clicks, compared to MarketingSherpa’s estimated average clickthrough rate of just 2.5 percent for BtoC marketers using third-party lists. (page 4)

The potential communications impact is obvious. Beyond that the product allows the marketer to track the resulting messages, something that can’t be done on the social network sites themselves. According to the Getting Email Delivered blog:

The SilverPop service also offers tracking “which social network the recipient posted the message on, telling marketers which one achieved the best results. Silverpop creates a unique tracking code for every shared message, so marketers can tell, for example, that an email posted by a recipient on Facebook was opened 1,000 times while one posted on MySpace was only opened 100 times.”
Their tracking system even measures the number of click-throughs generated by the posting at a given Facebook or MySpace page, so you can know which of your user’s posts to Facebook or Myspace generated the most clicks. SilverPop suggests that you can use such tracking to spot and target influencers, saying that “Such sought-after influencers are easily identified and targeted. Lists of social influencers can be created in Silverpop’s solution with one click by simply viewing the “recipients who forwarded” list.”

Again, under ordinary circumstances you can’t track what’s happening to messages on social networking sites. Once they move from your own page, where you get limited stats, you don’t know what’s happening to them.

Here’s more on how it works for from Internet Retailer:

The widget, plugged into e-mails, allows to embed in the e-mail a set of links that allow recipients of the e-mail to easily share content of that e-mail on their Facebook or MySpace page, by automatically creating a thumbnail image and a blurb of the featured item the e-mail recipient wants to share. The e-mail recipient can then add this summarized content to her own social network site page, e-mail list or blog for distribution—and that content includes links that allow viewers to see the full, original e-mail which contains links back to to view and buy the product.

Silverpop says that in order to make this work the marketer must identify the “hot buttons” to which her audience responds and align messages closely to recipient interests. This capture from the white paper (page 3) is probably the best example of how the service works short of getting an email from a user. They also point out that once the content is posted on the social network page it’s under the control of the user, no longer the marketer.

It’s interesting to consider the two sites that are in the news as having successfully used this service. serves a target market—young mothers—that is notoriously communicative. Consider GodTube’s own stats on its audience. For different reasons both these target audience are responsive to particular messages and are eager to share with other people like themselves, including through their social networks.

If you have a good product—one that people will like to talk about and to share with their friends and families—then this type of email sharing is going to be of interest. For the right targets it's a great way to get your customers to share your messages with their own contacts--improving not only their reach, but also their credibility!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Dawning Mobile Age

It’s not news that Americans are increasing their use of mobile technologies. That’s after years of being behind the mobile curve when compared to Japan and Western Europe. There are two recent studies that shed a lot of light on what US mobile users and are doing and how marketers might react.

Today’s eMarketer newsletter (October 21, 2008) references a recently released report on household mobile use from the Pew Foundation. (Download the household report from this page; there is also a September report on mobile use by workers that might interest you.)

We should have already killed the early Internet myth that the computer was going to make users into social isolates. The Pew report not only shows that people say that the Internet and cell phone have increased closeness with family and friends (pages 25 – 27) but that there is no observable difference in real-world socialization between heavy and light internet users (pages 18, 19). The chart from eMarketer highlights the importance of the Internet and mobile phones to families with children. These families are heavy owners of all the technologies covered in the study. The study doesn’t ask about motives, although staying in touch with friends and family is obviously important to the study respondents. What I read into other answers is the desire to support the educational activities of their children. They say they use the Internet and cell phones at work as well as at home. The earlier report points out that this is a two-edged sword; more connectivity and more productivity but also more work time and stress. Not much surprising there!

Another recent study, this one by mobile services supplier Azuki, sheds more light on what mobile users do. The chart gives overall time use. There are differences by age group:

• Voice services. The youngest survey respondents talked the most (another big surprise!).
Text messaging. Again, the youngest users text most.
• Email. Here age plays differently; users 35-44 email from their mobile phones most.
• The Internet. Here again, the 34-44s are the heaviest users.
• Rich media. 25% of the respondents access rich media, but no age group spends a great deal of time doing so. It’s still too hard to do.

Given the amount of mobile usage, it’s not surprising that many have or plan to have a smart phone. The move toward smart phones is largest among users in the 45 to 60 age groups. There is also smart phone interest in younger groups; the report expects many 20 and 30-somethings to trade in their iPhone for a smart phone when they enter the corporate world. Planned smart phone adoption is definitely not linear by age group.

Do you see the influences of use for work purposes vs. use for entertainment and communications here? I think the differences are evident in the variations in amount and type of use by age. Food for marketer thought!

There are three recent white papers from Azuki. The market study points out that rich media is still difficult to find, takes too long to download or simply isn’t available on the phones of many users. Their technology, which they describe as a “media mashup” presents a solution, basically a common platform for distribution of various kinds of mobile media. Two white papers give more detail (download all three reports from this page).

After a lot of fits and starts, the age of mobile is coming to the US. It presents one more challenge to the marketer trying to reach people wherever they are, whatever they are doing. These data, taken together, suggest that this is one place where demographics do make a difference—in this case specifically age and household composition. Underlying the demographics is the importance of understanding why/for what purposes various audiences are using mobile technologies.

These resources give some starting points for thinking about and researching your own actual or potential mobile audience!

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Should Marketers Be Measuring?

Last week I missed a webinar conducted for Awareness Networks by Jerimiah Owyang of Forrester. He’s one of the most thoughtful observers of the social media scene, so I took some time over the weekend to catch up. (You can download both the webinar and slides from this page.) That also reminded me of a white paper from Coremetrics on measuring social media (download "Winning in a Web 2.0 World" from this page; they have a webinar by that title coming up soon) that’s been languishing in my files for too long. I thought I’d try to pull together some metrics issues from the two. They take quite different approaches.

Coremetrics focuses on Web 2.0 technologies, roughly divided into User-Generated Content and Rich Media. I’ve selected a few Coremetrics that are most relevant to the content of this blog. You can see the full list on pages 11 and 12 of their report.
Blogs are now considered “mainstream.” How do we know whether they are contributing to our program? First, traditional traffic measures, which are easy to obtain from the blog platforms or metrics programs. Who is adding content could help identify influentials. Since Coremetrics offers an integrated measurement platform, the paper discusses in some detail the issues of following visitors through multiple sessions in multiple media to achieve a conversion. That’s important, but more difficult than simple traffic measures. User reviews need similar measures of traffic and conversion paths. If you look carefully at the Social Networks entry, there are two issues here. One is traffic generated by social network sites/brand-related activity. That’s an entry metric that needs to be carefully filtered to understand traffic sources. The other is results of ads on social network sites which are generally best monitored by ad-specific landing pages.

This is helpful, but how does the marketer know where to start, which of the many techniques and channels to choose? Jerimiah Owyang gives a strategic overview.

His strategic objectives, which are pretty much in order based on a marketer learning curve are:
Listening comes first. Spend some time hanging out where your customers hang and listen to what’s going on. Techniques of reputation management provide a formal programmatic approach. Tools include Google Alerts, blogs, discussion boards, Twitter and FriendFeed.
Speaking comes next. We marketers are good at that. Just be sure you’re using traffic, audience and content measurement techniques to know what’s working.
Energizing may be essentially the same as engaging your audience. Get them to use apps that deliver content and attract them to your site. Try spinning the wheel on Axiom’s PersoniX program site to see a B2B marketer engage potential customers. The easiest metrics are participation/interaction/click-through measures. Following what they do after the initial interaction is the subject of the Coremetrics whitepaper.
• Once you identify the activities your audience is interested in (not necessarily the same as the ones the marketer thinks they should be interested in), Support them. The recent post on the new Harley-Davidson social networking pages is a good example of support. Support also lends itself to traffic measures. Following those through to conversion requires more complex metrics.
• Then encourage them to contribute content, ideas, suggestions. Owyang calls this Embracing—draw your users into the community fold. Make them a part of the community. Give them a feeling of ownership by making them active participants. Traffic/participation measures are important here. Can you follow ideas/suggestions through to successful activities or products and measure the ROI from the activities or products?

On the surface these two approaches to metrics—technologies vs. objectives—look rather different. When you scratch below that surface, you see the same basic sets of metrics, which are essentially based on the techniques you use to achieve the objectives.

The take-away for marketers is not to be swayed by the siren song of technology. Good objectives always come first. Then choose technologies that:
1. Design marketing programs, using appropriate technologies, to achieve the chosen objectives
2. Provide measures of the degree to which objectives are being achieved.

Interesting that good marketing is the same, whichever channels are being used. Without good objectives, nothing else matters much.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Better than Viral?

A few days ago an article in iMediaConnection entitled “Tips for Media Seeding” caught my attention. It questioned our ability to make most marketing campaigns viral—not news to many of us. Yes, there are some exceptions; Burger King’s subservient chicken has been around since 2004 and you can still interact with it. It’s important to note that this is entertainment, with minimal promotion for Burger King.

This quote from the article captures the essence of the “big seed” approach:

"As an alternative to traditional viral marketing, agencies can employ a big-seed distribution strategy. In doing so, a planner assumes a low pass-along rate for any piece of content. To counteract the effects of the low pass-along rate, the planner makes efforts through paid placements, syndication or sponsorships to grow the number of initial seed users exposed to the piece of content. Thus, instead of relying on a small number of seed users, the planner relies on a large number of guaranteed exposures."influencers, s

To prove their point the authors give a case history in which Sega of America produced 4 videos. The first one was “seeded;” read that paid advertising and sponsorships were used to promote the video. The other three had no promotion. The first was viewed 797,000 times, more views than the other three combined.

That means the advertising reached “influentials” who passed it on, right? I started looking, and the consensus seems to be that it’s not that easy on the Internet. Consider the statement in a recent post that everyone can be an influential at the appropriate time. There’s a lot of research going on; much of it coming out of the Collective Dynamics Group at Columbia University. Their working paper version of the HBR article referred to in iMediaConnection makes an important statement:

“based on our results we would go as far as to suggest that in focusing on the properties of a few “special” individuals, the influentials hypothesis is in some important respects a misleading model for social change. Under most conditions, we would argue, cascades do not succeed because of a few highly influential individuals influencing everyone else, but rather on account of a critical mass of easily influenced individuals influencing other easy-to-influence people” ( p. 34)

In other words, the old opinion leadership/influencials model that we all learned in either a sociology or marketing course is questionable in the content ecosystem of the web. Cascasdes (of information) can start in many places.

Here’s another lengthy, statistical treatment from the same researchers. There’s a lot of discussion of these ideas in the blogosphere also, some referenced below. I’ll plan to do another post soon and talk about metrics, because the measurement issues are key.

An Edelman white paper gives some of the easiest-to-digest information. This is the model they propose; it covers both influencers and the influenced. It doesn’t give approaches to identifying either, but it does work on the hypothesis that people use information to make sense of and maintain control over their worlds. That’s all of us, and the Internet has given us a bigger scope for our information search. They also seem to accept the view that context is critical. In this view influencers attract attention, engage others, and influence them to take action. That’s what we all want influencers to do for us. The influenced identify interest in a subject, fulfill their need for information, review that information, and then take action. Both make sense, especially if you accept the argument that it’s not a small group of so-called influentials, but crowds of people who like to influence and be influenced, depending on the context/situation.

That’s interesting, but it doesn’t leave us with any directions for marketing action. Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Agent blog had a lengthy post with many links early this year. Her conclusions come from reviewing several sources and make sense to me. She recommends:

1. Focus less on who people influence and more on how people are influenced.
2. Think more about networks, and network structure, rather than treating everyone as behaving independently (group dynamics).
3. Move away from the idea that buzz can be engineered to achieve some pre-established outcome, and get better at measuring and reacting to buzz that arises naturally (observation from context).

There’s also an interesting, if a bit disjoined, live-blogging post from a September conference on the Mashraqi blog. He has some good recommendations also.

I keep coming back to the idea that this is a dialog going on in social networks or communities (are those the same thing? I think so). As marketers, we can’t just single out a few opinion leaders and expect them to do the job for us. The new Crest Weekly Whitening Paste seems to have taken that approach. I keep watching to see when it comes out of its “quiet phase” and begins to engage in active promotion. The only recent action in the blogosphere I can find via a Technorati search (lots of noise in those searches) is coupons for the other Crest Whitening products. Stay tuned.

It looks to me as if making a campaign viral, even assuming good content, is going to require several planned steps. Does that make sense?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm an Avatar: Can I Help You?

Yes, perhaps they can. Since the early days of the Internet artificial intelligence experts have been touting the potential of “virtual people” to provide customer information, service and support. I’ve been writing about them for most of that time and run into the same problem each time; the firms whose products I used as examples before are no longer around. This has been a really difficult market in which to get sufficient traction to survive.

That’s why a post on Dave Jackson’s Weekly Web Tools blog a couple of weeks ago caught my eye. He focuses on small businesses and really cares about customer service, so his evaluation of some of the current services was thought-provoking.

SitePal essentially allows you to create “talking FAQs” using their avatars or customer avatars from a photo you supply. All their services are based on a one-time fee. They have 3 service packages ranging in price from $9.95 to $39.95 per month based on usage and number of avatars. Check it out for yourself, but turn the volume down; all their pages open with an audio message—that’s what they do, after all.

Live Face on Web (also opens with audio) produces those little people who walk onto your screen and start talking to you. These are essentially videos, so they have a different business model—a one-time fee for production. Prices range from $259.95 for a 15-second/50 word video to $3,281.95 for a 300 second/1,000 word video.

The difference between these live avatars (is that an oxymoron? I don’t know!) and the earlier chatterbots is that these deliver audio, either automatically or on request by the visitor. Earlier versions were chat or SMS-based. They are the “chat with a live agent” functions that you see on many ecommerce sites, just using the bot to put a face on the chat. The Marketing & Innovation Blog reviewed several of these back in March. The VirtuOz site, for example, offers several agents, each to perform a specific task, from customer service to lead generation and conversion, on your site.

MicroSoft Live Agent also offers chat-based agents. You can take them for a trial run on their site and they have a good gallery. They offer APIs so developers can customize applications for their own sites.

There are lots of solutions out there. Hopefully some of these will survive, because the possibilities of improving customer service and support in a cost-effective way are real. The early developers loved to say that these agents don’t take coffee breaks or vacations. True, and the opportunity for consistent service 365/24/7 is important. Marketers have to remember, though, that good customer service requires access to a human agent if the automated services don’t satisfy the need. The trick is getting people to use the automated services before they pick up the phone or fire up their email program.

These autoplay video avatars are intrusive and annoying to some of us (not to mention the person in the next cubicle!). However, they may be what’s needed to say, “Use the cost-effective automated support service first.” How you say “then you can access life help if you need to” without encouraging people to go directly there is a problem. I’d suggest that you probably don’t make the offer until the automated service is finished. What’s for sure is that a good plan for customer service escalation is required to keep customers happy and costs low!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best Practices for Community Building

I got another email from T. Boone Pickens on Saturday:

We did it!! Over 1 million members in the New Energy Army!

Not surprising. I featured the Pickens Plan efforts to build a community around alternative energy issues on Friday. It’s been an aggressive and successful program. It provides a good opportunity to follow up by talking about best practices. I’ve received two reports recently that are helpful in that regard. Both deal with internal-facing communities as well as external-facing communities. I’m going to concentrate on the external customer communities.

The report from Mzinga, a provider of social media and enterprise learning, points out--as I so often have—that the world is changing and that marketers have to get with the program. (“Introduction to Online Communities,” download the slideshow or view the archived webscast on this page.) We all know, however, that’s easier said than done. That’s the “challenges” box.

The report from Awareness Networks, a provider of enterprise software for building both internal- and external-facing communities, points out that businesses are using communities to build their brands, communicate with customers, and increase engagement. Communication was first in 2007 with brand building second—interesting. That says we are using communities more directly to meet marketing objectives. What specific techniques are we using? The top 4—video, social networking, blogs, and communities—could all be subsumed under community-building/engagement techniques. Does that mean that a lot of the Web 2.0 activities are beginning to coalesce around building community? I think so.

Mzinga gives recommendations for successfully building community:

Get leadership buy-in. Web 2.0 activities represent transformational changes in the way marketers deal with customers (and with their own employees, remember). Transformational change has to be managed and it has to have the active support of top management.
Think big, but start small. Listening is the best way to start. Then gradually move into communicating in relatively “safe” ways. Blogs are, indeed, a good way to start.
Build a well-defined pilot. This is no time to be saying that “we need a community because everybody else has one.” The first step is good marketing/business objectives. Then use Web 2.0 tools to achieve those objectives—over the intermediate to long term. There’s no quick fix here.
Building community is not an exercise in technology. We all need technology to play in the Web 2.0 world. But technology is not the issue. What our target audiences want and need—and how they are willing to participate—is key.
Invite a few, then grow. Unless you’re willing to match Boone Picken’s $58 million expenditure, be willing to let this evolve. It’s not only cheaper; it’s safer. You’ll learn along the way.
Keep it fresh and relevant. Marketer-supplied content may form the initial basis for the Web 2.0 activities. But they’re not going to be successful unless you engage your audience and get them to participate and contribute. You need user-generated content to do this.
Be prepared to share control. See the previous point. You cannot at the same time solicit user content and be in complete control of the conversation. Be prepared to take a few hits. Even more important, if the criticisms are warranted, deal with them—immediately and honestly.

No one says this is easy. But it is a new world—a new marketer playing field—are you prepared to play?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Fastest-Growing Community?

T. Boone Pickens announced his energy plan and social networking site in early July. According to Ad Age (July 21) he planned to spend $58 on advertising and PR for the initiative. That’s not chump change, but it’s also not huge by corporate budget standards. He’s been all over TV since then, but it’s the building of his “ New Energy Army,” a community to support his plan, that is fascinating. I joined in September and put the badge over on the sidebar.

I got two or three emails from him last week urging me to attend an e-rally after Tuesday’s presidential debate. I signed up for it, but wasn’t interested in firing up my computer at that time of night. But I was really curious, so I watched the 43-minute video today. If you don’t want to take the time, I’ll give you a few high points.

It was a discussion between Pickens and Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. That’s might be viewed as strange political bedfellows, but in the realm of alternative energy it’s not. They talked about issues related to alternative energy production and transmission but mostly they talked about having the political will to solve the US dependence on foreign oil. The way they position it is interesting—creating clean alternative energy sources will create enough US jobs to get the economy moving again. That’s a pithy summary, but it captures the essence of their common perspective. They took a few viewer questions, but Pickens reminded people several times to send in their comments; all would be in the hands of the candidates “within 48 hours.” He also asked them to call their friends and ask them to join the army.

What reminded me to watch the post-debate video was an email I received yesterday:


We're really close. Let's get to 1,000,000 today. Sign up just one more person at


Yes, he has an HTML weekly newsletter, but this was a simple, direct, text appeal. Interesting. It seems to be typical. Yes, he’s recruiting directly through his TV ads and other media appearances. A lot of the “Army” recruitment is being done through his site, which has all the new media bells and whistles. Today’s home page has a brief post-debate video and the continuing appeal to reach 1 million strong today. The tell-a-friend appeal in conveyed in many ways.

In my opinion, one doesn’t have to agree with every element of the plan to know that something needs to be done. If as a citizen you are moved to do so, join. If as a marketer you are moved to examine the site for the various community-building and communications devices they are using, you can only be impressed. Pickens is focused, direct, and as far as I can tell, transparent about what he’s doing (except for who’s his agency; I still can’t find out; that keeps the focus on the content where he wants it, I think).

Whatever your perspective, this initiative is worth watching for superb use of social networking tools.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Who Do Marketers Trust?

In September Universal McCann released a new study of social media. This one is called “When did we start trusting strangers?”

It’s full of interesting data, including their listing of social media channels—wow, that’s a long list! (The full report is available here; there's also a presentation with additional data). Let me hit a few of the high spots for you.

A basic theme is the fact that we are all both influenced by and influencers in this new media world. I’ve written before about the importance of consumer ratings and other sources of individual, as opposed to marketer-initiated, information. The report asked what opinion sources people used (the question didn’t appear to include paying more attention to ads). Search and email from friends win hands down. Next on the list is visiting the brand’s website, which makes sense. That’s tied with IMing with a friend, though!

To me, the most provocative piece of data is “who do you trust?” It’s a long list. The report points out that the 4 top-rated sources are personal and 2 are online. WOM as the most credible source of information is not a new phenomenon—it’s always been the most trusted. What this says is that there are so many more ways for WOM to circulate now. That adds to its power to influence. On the marketer-initiated side you have to go considerably more than half way down the chart to find an occurrence. When you do, TV ads are the first, followed by magazine, newspaper, PPC and radio. The key issue is that these marketer-initiated communications are only rated as being about half as trustworthy as the personal sources that were highest rated. Marketers take note!

The next set of trusted sources start with consumer reviews in various channels, includes articles by known bloggers, as well as magazine and newspaper articles. That’s where the “strangers” come in. According to Universal McCann:

• We now trust a strangers recommendation as much as our closest friends

• We trust recommendations in social media channels more than paid-for communications

Big wow!

From the earliest studies of social communication we’ve known that many people were opinion leaders in contexts in which they had special interest and expertise. That’s still true according to these data. People both seek opinion and give opinion, and how many seek vs. give differs by product category. I’d also make a bet that the actual people who seek vs. give differ from one product category to another. I’d seek the opinion of one of my tech-savy friends before buying a computer, and I’d be happy to give him my best fashion advice for his big date. We have different areas of expertise.

What does the report recommend? It says marketers should:

• Be open, honest and transparent. If they’re not, they’ll get caught. Ask the politicians.
• Be part of the conversation. They actually advise marketers to advertise on the social media; it’s advertising that supports these free influence channels. Interesting point!
• Encourage everyone to contribute experiences and opinions.
• Reach out to what they describe as the super influencers, the new creators who blog, podcast, create videos and upload their photos. They should be considered “some of the most powerful voices in the future.”

It’s pretty clear who the public trusts—the best description is probably “people like me.” I started by asking who marketers trust. Do they trust their customers to engage with them in a reasonable and responsible way? Data to the contrary, I suggest that many marketers still do not trust their customers enough to engage in direct conversation with them!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Succeeding in the Blogosphere

There are a number of recent reports that shed light on what’s going on in the blogosphere and how to succeed there, especially for business bloggers. Time to take a look and try to bring some of them together.

Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2008 surveyed bloggers themselves as well as analyzing its own stats. The stats on the number of blogs make it clear that the blogosphere is huge and active. A lot of blogging is personal, but business blogs are quickly assuming a prominent role in the communications strategies of companies large and small. This chart shows some of the downsides for the business blogger, but the outcomes are generally positive and include industry and enterprise visibility. That should encourage employees to blog.

The report also makes it clear that products and brands are important subjects of posts for both personal and business bloggers. The degree to which bloggers consider blogs an important and valid source of information is striking. Ok, they are biased, and you do have to consider the source of your information before deciding to trust it. People are, for better or for worse, placing considerable trust in the information they acquire. More about that tomorrow. The report has a lot of information; it’s worth a read.

How do businesses make the blogosphere work for them?
Two recent studies from Compendium Blogware provide strong recommendations.

The first is a whitepaper about blogging for search. The rules for making your blog posts visible in search results (organic results are the most effective, good news for those who can’t afford a lot of PPC) are the same as they are for web sites. You just have more control over how you do it on a blog. The basic rules are to use keywords in post titles and content. Links can be helpful. Keeping content current, while not eliminating the old, is an advantage of blogs over websites. Blogs need to be active and they need clear focus. I’d add that tagging can be very useful in bringing in traffic through search.

Why is that traffic so important? It’s the best acquisition method, bar none. It brings unique new visitors to the blog and site. The other whitepaper uses Marketing Sherpa data to look at the critical relationship between blogging—to acquire new potential customer contacts—and email for ROI—read that conversion. That relationship alone is enough to encourage corporate blogs, although it’s important to note that acquisition of potential customer contact information doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be carefully designed into the overall communications program. The report points out that there’s also a benefit in terms of content. The business has to produce a lot of content for its blog. Using content wisely between blogs, email, and dynamic site content can leverage the value of that content.

The value and credibility of traditional advertising approaches seems to be on an irreversible downward slide. The value, credibility and consumption of user or employer-generated content are all on the rise. What marketer doesn’t want to take advantage of a more cost-effective channel of communications that has greater credibility with the target audience? That’s the value of business blogging in a nutshell.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The BrightTALK™Social Media Summit

As I indicated on Friday, the Social Media Summit is scheduled for Tuesday. The program was still evolving as late as this weekend. There are many interesting speakers and topics. Hope you'll be able to take advantage of some of them!

Here is the link to my webcast. Others can be found on the BrightTALK pages.
Get the PPT presentation here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The H.O.G.®s Roar Onto Facebook

. . .and MySpace and YouTube. A few days ago I got an email from Overdrive Interactive CEO Harry Gold. He invited me to check out the new social media channels Overdrive developed for Harley-Davidson.

The H.O.G.® (Harley Owners Group) is a classic customer community, long predating the Internet. HD says it was established in 1983. Long before that Harley owners were getting together to take rides that ranged from a few hours on a weekend to cross-country treks. Harley owners are passionate about their cycles and actively participate in activities. HD has been smart enough to nurture these activities and to insist that their employees participate. How better to learn what their customers are saying?

H.O.G.® chapters are sponsored by dealers. I couldn’t find out exactly how many, but I used the dealer locator. I found 6 dealerships in Massachusetts. Each one of them sponsors a H.O.G.® chapter. Some even have their own websites. There are also specialty chapters like the Chrome Divas who ride to support causes like a cure for breast cancer. Overall, they are clearly a force, with over a million members according to the Owners website. When you look at that site, it’s clearly an HD site although its set up to serve the H.O.G.® membership. It’s not very interactive. It publicizes member events and activities but I can’t see that it gives members much opportunity to participate and contribute content.

So social networking pages make sense. The YouTube Channel is pretty typical and a lot of the content has been provided by HD. There are 36 videos promoted on the page, all of which are from HD. When you access those, there are plenty of user-submitted videos you can access. There is also a series of Rider Stories, all of which seem to be HD-submitted material.

The comparison between the Facebook and MySpace pages is really interesting. Visually the contrast is striking. Some of the differences are probably dictated by the requirements of the two sites. You’ll have to visit the Facebook page yourself to see it all. What I found interesting is that there’s a clear distinction, both in the photos and the videos, between Harley-Davidson material and fan-submitted material. Other marketers might bear that in mind. The MySpace page is more edgy,but it’s also clearly structured between corporate and fan content. Again, there’s more than I can show in a static screen capture. When you take their invitation to “Tell Us Why You Ride a Harley” you find yourself back on the HD site, on a page called “Lets Ride,” which solicits owner experiences.

All this is really interesting and food for thought for the marketer. No marketer wants his or her brand to be entirely at the mercy of what the public says, even if it’s an audience that is overwhelmingly favorable to the brand. It’s rather clean and neat; not the free-for-all of personal pages on Facebook and MySpace or of the YouTube site (that’s why they have channels!). That makes sense. This is, after all, branded content and I’m sure it will be monitored for acceptability.

Harry says they’ve signed up over 60,000 friends and fans in the first few weeks. He’d be welcome to keep us updated on how they do/what they learn from this social marketing program!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mark Your Calendars for the Social Media Summit!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about webcasting firm BrightTalk and their new, free webcasting service. They got in touch with me and asked if I'd participate in their Social Media Summit next week. Obviously it's a subject near and dear to my heart, and it's an interesting exercise in use of the technology also.

The summit is a series of live webcasts. Here's the program as it stands at the moment. I'll embed the player as Tuesday's post and hope you'll drop in for some of the sessions. The topics all sound interesting.

Hope you'll be able to join us--both for the content and the technology!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Role of Content in Customer Experience

Occasionally an idea or piece of data comes along that says, “Wow, you need to change the way you think about that!” That happened to me a couple of days ago when I read the CMO Council’s new report “Customer Affinity from Optimized Content Delivery.” I like the concept of variation in customer experience a lot more!

Customer experience is an important concept. Trying to provide exceptional customer experience requires integrated marketing program development and consistently superb execution. Customer experience in the retail environment has received considerable, well-deserved attention. Customer experience on the Internet has focused on customer experience on the website; if that goes awry, nothing else matters much.

Forrester has a good framework for evaluating the success of customer experience on a website that they were kind enough to let me use in the website chapter of my Internet marketing text. The complete assessment tool has 25 items. They factor into 4 categories:
• Value
• Navigation
• Presentation
• Trust
The navigation factor deals with elements of site navigation design while presentation focuses on the way content is presented on the site. The trust factor has to do with efficient performance of the site and protection of customer data. The value element is the only one that specifically mentions content with one item, “Is essential content available?” They seem to suggest that it’s not the amount of content, it’s content that meets the visitor’s needs; that makes sense.

It occurs to me that Forrester developed this framework in a Web 1.0 world. The CMO study (download from this page) focuses more on channels and integrating experience across all channels (see graphic). Each category has multiple items. They found Home Depot scoring highest across all categories. The report presents all the assessment items. You could use it to benchmark your own activities against a leader.

What the report makes clear is that the world of Web 2.0 has blown the content issue wide open. It’s not just user-generated content. It’s the expectation that the visitor will find all the content she needs—including customer ratings--to make a decision when she visits a site. It’s the expectation that the visitor will find content to engage and entertain—including videos and games--when he visits a site. Content is more than simple product information; engagement, maybe even entertainment is important.

The CMO study has several key findings. I’m going to excerpt the two that speak most clearly to content and comment on two others.

Finding #3 Immediate Experience with Content Trumps Brand History
The study points out that recent experience—good or bad—tended to overwhelm previous experience with the brand. Take-away: One bad experience can undo all your good work with a customer, either consumer or B2B customer.

Finding #6 In Times of Flux, Content Consistency Cannot Go Untended
Companies that undergo mergers or acquisitions or that rebrand have to pay special attention to the consistency of their messaging in all channels. Take away, in their words: Marketers must implement tools, solutions and stop-gap measures that address content accessibility, consistency and accuracy.” (page 10)

In fact that’s their first finding--something that I hope we all keep in mind on a daily basis--the importance of consistency in our brand promise and messaging, whatever the current situation.

The finding that perplexed me was that corporate events needed to be more than corporate logo holders. I’ll let them try to explain that one in their own words:

"when it comes to corporate events, trade shows or even sports sponsorships, live events become little more than expensive logo placements. The integration of the brand promise and the event is often second to the public stature and visibility of the event."

Ok, the event needs to be something that meshes with our brand promise, not just a Super-Bowl-type visibility exercise. The report points to Red Bull and their Flutag game as an example of supporting the brand promise, the energy drink that “gives you wings.” Both the website and the game site are worth checking out—if you have people nearby, just be sure you have the volume turned down!

We all know that Web2.0 activities have an insatiable demand for content, the good news being that customers can create a lot of it for us. The idea that content is an integral part of excellent Internet customer experience is a little more challenging. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Building Trust in the Social Space

The multiple ways people connect on the social web never fails to fascinate me. More important, it keeps adding to my store of knowledge about developments in the social space. A recent post on community was picked up in Social Computing Magazine, and in response I got an email from Alex Todd, CEO of Trust Enablement about their product. Trust is incredibly important in brand development—second only to a good product, it seems to me. So I researched his company with interest.

The firm offers a managerial framework for building trust with key stakeholders. The stakeholder group I’m most interested in is customers, so I followed that thread. They have just conducted a survey with 366 responses that deals with what managers need to do to create trust in online social networks, broadly defined. Here’s some of the data I find most compelling. Basically it says that management needs to learn more about how to develop conditions that promote trust. Firms also need to lighten up on controlling practices that suggest lack of trust in your brand and your products (interpretation mine; obviously I feel strongly about issues of letting your customers have their say).Ok, so you agree with me! How do they do it? These images are from a presentation made to MBA students at McMaster University. They have identified six factors that contribute to the development of trust. Each factor has particular impact at a given stage in the brand development process. It’s reminiscent of the old hierarchy of advertising effects and similar in tone to the new media model I set out last year. To build a trusted brand the marketer needs to move people through a process beginning with, in their words, “Discovery” and culminating in “Advocacy.” Right on.

How should marketers go about doing this? The resources needed for trust development are:
• Experiential sources
• Interpretive sources
• Empowerment (to make the choice)
The practices that protect trust in a brand are:
• Motives
• Proficiencies/expertise
• Risk transference.
At each stage/for each element there are specific marketing activities that can be undertaken.

There’s lots of food for thought here and more in the sources I’ve used here and many others on the Trust Enablement site. Two things seem especially useful to me. First, there is a set of stages in trust development that parallels the stages of brand development. Second, there are specific marketing activities that need to be employed in each stage to build trust.

There’s also the more general message. Enterprises/managers don’t know all they need to know, they often don’t have the appropriate attitude set, to go about building trust. They often seem to be trying to protect themselves from their customers instead. Does information and openness lead to trust? I think so!