Monday, March 30, 2009

Will This Summer Promo Go Viral?

Here’s one with a new wrinkle (pun intended!)!

7-11’s Slurpee frozen drinks are a staple of summer. It also appears that 7-11 has a long history of seasonal promos for the product. That puts them in a strong position to develop an engaging promo for the summer that’s coming—someday soon I hope, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it in New England!

This is another one you need to experience for yourself. It won’t take long but you may want to consider their urging to have your volume up high, especially if others nearby are easily annoyed. What you need to do is to go to the Brain Freeze Laboratory and let the intro play. The final screen invites you to Try It!

When you do, you get the Brain Freeze screen. I chose Blue Raspberry as my flavor (first image) and used their avatar—no way I was going to upload my own pic for this!! You get a cutsey little message after each “experiment,” I didn’t manage to capture that. It’s quite interactive, although it doesn’t go anywhere. 7-11 hopes, of course, that you’ll have so much fun you’ll send it on to a friend. The campaign is too new to know whether it will become seriously viral, but it’s the kind of promo that has potential, which is more than you say for a lot of them!

When I think about the great summer season promotions, I often to back to Snapple. They had a more urban, more upscale market, and they could reach a fair number by pulling a Snapple truck up to the Boston Common and giving away free product. That’s compelling, but it 's low reach.

Slurpee machines are in all 7-11 outlets (at least all the ones I’ve ever seen), so this is a much broader, somewhat more downscale market. Is it also younger? Maybe. And for the last few years they have had a Free Slurpee Day, so that’s a possible tie-in for this year also. They’ve put the Brain Freeze Laboratory up in plenty of time to build up to a major event as part of the program.

If you’ll look at the home page of the microsite, you’ll see that they have other things going on. They have a Facebook page (of course!), a MySpace page (which may say something about their target audience), a game, a Slurpee Shoppee (how precious!) in 7-11s.

It’s a well-integrated promotion that looks like it has plenty of legs to carry it through the summer season. If they are lucky (and I still think luck and timing pay a huge part), it will go viral.

They’ve got the necessary tools in place for a successful, maybe viral campaign. Why don’t you give it a try and see what you think—or what you can learn!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Business Models for Local News

Many New Englanders were distressed to see the Boston Globe on the list of most endangered newspapers a couple of weeks ago. It’s a proud local institution, although it hasn’t been locally owned for a number of years. Other major urban areas share the angst of Bostonians, as their newspapers fail or are on the verge of failure. In an excellent article yesterday discussing issues across media types, Bob Garfield revised his “Chaos Scenario” description of the situation of mass media to “Apocalypse Now.” The mass media downturn of the past several years has been accelerated by the recession and has spurred the search for other models. Newspapers, in spite of their successful online operations, are especially threatened.

I wrote about one interesting experiment about a year and a half ago. BostonNow offered a hybrid print and online model that seemed to have promise. Unfortunately, its venture funding came from Iceland and it was one of the first casualties of the looming recession. Earlier this month Michael Learmonth described a number of local news experiments. All of those have one journalist assigned to the project but draw much of their news from local bloggers and journalism students. According to Learmonth’s article in Ad Age (subscription required) the New York Times has this type of local blog in suburbs including Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, New Jersey. Patch is a startup that has a series of local news blogs, also in New Jersey.

I've been watching the growth of online local news on Cape Cod. The traditional newspaper that covers the Cape is suffering along with its larger brethren. Gatehouse Media owns many of the local newspapers across Massachusetts. Their Wicked Local websites report on local news and have a heavy component of blogger content. Wicked Local Cape Cod Twitters each of its news items. I get the one from the Provincetown Banner on my Tweet Stream.

There’s another model here, one that is independent of print media. eCape is a series of online properties , with Cape Cod Today its local news site. CCT actively encourages people to create their own blogs on the site. I counted about thirty blogs on the active list (have posted in the last 7 days) and there are probably a hundred more that haven’t posted so recently. The editors do their Op-Ed columns on their own blog. Additional news items are submitted by local agencies and organizations.

My experience has been that it’s easy to start a blog on these sites. It’s less easy to integrate an existing blog into this type of site. BostonNow was trying to write a feed that would automate posting from outside blogs to their site, but to the best of my knowledge that never happened. Cape Cod Today makes it more straightforward, and maybe a little more controllable. If your blog lives on another platform, you have to repost to CCT.

Our wildlife center blog is celebrating its second-week anniversary on CCT today and we’re delighted with the visibility. They seem to like our content because we’re regularly making the home page, which is an editorial call, and being on the home page certainly affects visibility. (We're Wellfleet Audubon, down near the bottom. Posts move down and eventually drop the home page off as other posts are made. Each has it's own page where all its posts are displayed.) Our blog is a little over a year old and the content comes from naturalists, both staff and volunteer. Its primary aim is to keep in touch with our members. It has an average of just over 22 visitors per day although we can have spikes to 150+ when it is mentioned in our other publications or those of related organizations. On CCT our posts are generally getting 2-300 views, a total of 1.140 over the two weeks. For us, that’s a huge increase in visibility.

We also get comments on the CCT posts at a rate astronomically higher than we get on our own blog, so it’s an engaged audience. It’s local news, after all. These are things that affect us on a daily basis—we should be engaged! From the standpoint of the wildlife sanctuary it clearly says that we are reaching a new audience.

Does this represent the direction of local news? It seems to me that it is. Does that mean that the quality of local news is going to decline? Not necessarily. I see teachers, musicians, even a journalism professor in Boston writing blogs on CCT. Some people write about their area of professional expertise, some about their personal passions. Many of them write with skill and insight. And they are certainly close to their subject matter!

“Citizen journalism” has already changed the news forever; if you don’t believe me, watch a couple of hours of CNN or spend some time on their site. I hope that doesn’t mean that the profession of journalism will go into decline. We need the professionals. One future opportunity for them may be leading the march of the citizen journalists.

New business models like that of eCape are going to point the way!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Still Thinking About Social Media Metrics

This spring I’m having the fascinating experience of watching a classroom full of young marketers try to wrap their arms around the world of social media. Some work with mass media, some also work with Internet advertising and promotion. A very few are involved in social media programs in their firm. For all of them, narrowing their focus to a single social media program, especially to how to measure it, has been a challenge.

If you start from the perspective that social media is going to be part of an integrated marketing communications mix (can it work otherwise???), the need to focus one program at a time becomes clear. By that, I don’t mean that only one social media program is being executed at once. There could be a program aimed at acquisition and another aimed at retention being executed simultaneously, for example. My point is that you have to plan and evaluate those programs separately. It also helps to focus attention when you point out that it’s necessary to have measures of success for your boss!

I recognize the value of social media in creating brand awareness. However, I argue against awareness as a measure of success for any single program in any medium. We learned the reasons why in Advertising 101; there’s a lot going on, and it’s hard to isolate the effects of a single program on a broad attitudinal measure. It can be done, but it takes marketing research and that takes time and costs money. Consequently, I argue for specific social media behaviors as objectives for and measures of the effectiveness of social media programs.

Up to this point, I think I got it right. I laid out the argument in a two part post on Identifying and Measuring Social Media Behaviors (Part 1, Part 2). Soon after, I read an article by Shane Atchison in ClickZ that made me realize that I didn’t go far enough. Shane is trying to get marketers to dig deeper to really understand how they are (or are not) creating value for users. He says:

value happens not when people buy your product but when they use it and love it. Not when they upload a video, but when someone else watches it. . . don't stop at measuring your marketing efforts' success, or even the sentiment expressed in the broader online conversation about your brand. It's great to monitor online activity, better to develop reporting around online activity, and better yet to engage customers in their native online habitats.

Different behaviors do have different value as far as marketers are concerned, and we should concentrate on encourage the behaviors that are more valuable. “Friending” is more valuable than simply viewing, for example. With that in mind, I revised my list from the original post. I put “attention” and “engagement” in quotes because I’m still not sure they are the right terms. However, they are clearly not the same, so it’s a start.

Behaviors in the Social Ecosphere

“Attention” Metrics
Number of visits, impressions (eyeball measures)
Pages: how much time spent, “heat maps” for content, etc.
Video: watched, partly/completely
Number of incoming links
"Engagement" Metrics
Friends, fans, favs (followers of all kinds)
Install apps (widgets, etc.) offered
Share content
Promote content (Digg, Reddit, etc.)
Ultimate Social Media Metric
Click through to website

Behaviors on the Website

Traffic Metric
Number of referrals from social media sites
“Engagement” Metrics
Register for site services
Download—white papers, videos, podcasts, etc.
Rate products
Other content cocreation (photos, videos, written content, etc.)
Ultimate Website Metric
Transaction (sale, download, join, etc.)

Notice that we now have a funnel that resembles the traditional conversion funnel. In effect, it gives us a hierarchy of objectives/ metrics from which we can choose in moving toward our “ultimate” objective.

I feel a graphic coming on! Anyone want to make additions, clarifications, changes before I do it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Create a Twitter Archive

I’ve been trying to figure out how to create a lasting trail for a particular Tweetstream. In my case, what I want to do is to live-Tweet an event and have a record for posting to a site.

Thanks to Tom Martin for the Tweet that directed me to this post by Jason Baer. He live-Tweeted one of the panels at the South by Southwest Conference, then created an archive of it. Thanks, guys; this is great stuff and it absolutely resolves my issue!

What Jason did was:
• He live-Tweeted a panel at SXSW, giving it a unique hash tag, in his case #dellpanel

• When he saw a Tweet from someone else that he wanted to include, he retweeted it so it would be part of his Tweetstream.

• Then he went to Twitter Search and searched the combination of his hash tag and Twitter username #dellpanel from:jaybaer.

• That produced a complete log of his Twitter posts for the panel!

His original post is charming. People who don’t like something (like work!) often come up with clever ways to avoid it; in Jason’s case it’s having his hands full of stuff!

Whatever his motivation, he came up with a creative, productive use of Twitter. We’ll find more good uses for social media tools as time goes on.

In fact, you can’t look around for information without finding good, new applications. Now I’m off to read an article I found along the way about organizing a successful Tweetup event and start working on my own!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Which Communications Channel is Most Popular?

You may have noticed the headline on Marketing Charts about a week ago, “Social Nets and Blogs More Popular than Email.” As often happens, the headline oversimplifies a complex reality that deserves a closer look. According to Marketing Charts:

Social Networking has been the global consumer phenomenon of 2008. Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population(1) visit a social network or blogging site and the sector now accounts for almost 10% of all internettime. ‘Member Communities’(2) has overtaken personal Email to become the world’s fourth most popular online sector after search, portals and PC software applications.

Their metric is “global active reach” and communities did, in fact, slightly outdistance email in 2008. The chart clearly shows communities to be the fastest-growing sector, which is consistent with other data. The report shows differences in use and growth rate from one country to another. If you're a global marketer, it's must reading.

To put another piece in the puzzle I looked at the OPA’s Internet Activity chart for January 2009. It’s also Nielsen data, and I’ve always believed it to be US only, but I can’t find that specific statement. What it definitely is, though, is a “time spent on the Internet” metric. It shows Internet users spending almost half their time on content, about a fourth on communications and roughly 10% on community activities. Using this metric, community is also the fastest growing—no ambiguity there!

That encourages me to return to the Razorfish Digital Outlook report I discussed last week. The chapter on “Social Influence Marketing” (their concept; pp. 27-33) predicts that the impact of social media marketing and the importance of the influentials in that context will continue to grow. They also see the interconnectedness of the various social media platforms, and therefore of personal networks, growing. That could lead to greater importance of mere acquaintances as opposed to your closest friends, as they introduce new members and new ideas into personal networks.

While Razorfish is clearly promoting their own proprietary concept, it is also obvious that marketers can’t just dive into the social media pond and expect things to happen. Whether you are reaching out to bloggers or attracting fans to your Facebook page or encouraging followers on Twitter, there are people who are more connected, more vocal, more influential.

If you can engage them in your activities, they will attract others. If they do choose to become engaged, does that mean they like you? My answer is “probably.” Otherwise, why would they engage?

Think about it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Social Object Theory for Social Network Design

Razorfish publishes incredibly long and incredibly useful reports. Their Digital Outlook report (download here; be patient) came out last week. I want to get back to some other issues in a future post, but the chapter that really caught my attention—because it’s new to me, although not new—is the idea of social objects. This quote from the report is a good introduction for people like me:

Engeström described social object theory as the belief that all successful social media interactions and ventures center on an object — “the reason people connect with each particular other and not something else.” Another way to describe a social object is as the centerpiece in a dialogue between two or morepeople. People don’t just talk — they tend to talk “around” objects. For example, if I’m speaking to my mother about the flowers I sent her, the flowers are the social object. (p. 59)

There’s a lot of buzz in the blogosphere at the moment about designing social networking sites around social objects. According to Razorfish social objects can take many forms (hence the cutsey clip art) and they aren’t necessarily viral. My corollary is that a good marketing approach makes them viral. Your network can be built around a single object (iPhone, for example) or multiple objects. For example, Flickr is composed of objects that have been made social by making them searchable and sharable.

The advice to marketers includes an early decision on your social object—in advertising terms, it could be your big idea. Figure out what makes the object social or how you can make it social by tagging for search and tracking for measurement. The objects have to be authentic and relevant to your audience. Some social objects retain their sociability for a long time (think Burger King’s subservient chicken) and some go away very quickly (think the same company’s short-lived Whopper Sacrifice program, which drew fire from Facebook).

There’s more; I encourage you to read at least the chapter (pp.58–63) if not the entire report.

One of the most articulate proponents of social object theory is Jyri Engeström, the founder of Jaiku. I encourage you to page through his presentation for an understanding of the theory and its marketing applications.

Then I’d encourage you to think about something else. If we build satisfying experience around the objects (I’m thinking about an incredible whale watch I experienced last spring; you could think about a motorcycle ride or a great glass of wine if you'd rather), that will add to their value and hence their sociability.

The take-away is that people don’t just talk—they talk about something. They don’t just share—they share something they perceive to be of value with others they believe will also value it.

How are you going to identify your key object(s) and ensure they have value for your target audience?

Friday, March 6, 2009

What About the Changes on Facebook?

If you’ve missed it elsewhere, Facebook made changes on Wednesday that affect brand pages. When C. C. Chapman visited my class that evening we looked at the changes and wondered if the inability to moderate wall comments would scare away some brands. Caroline McCarthy had a good post on CNET yesterday that explains some of the issues.

You should check out some of the brand pages that you’re interested in. Target is one that gets Facebook and does interesting things. Check out their page and notice all the comments on the wall and look at their reviews page. All of us should "fan" (note that that's a behavior) a few good brand pages and watch what they do.

I noticed on my page that C.C. has updated the page for his agency, The Advance Group. The portfolio page represents the work of the agency and their boxes page shows the other ways you can follow this group of social media marketers.

No one is talking much about the effects on non-profits. In fact, I thought that non-profit pages were to remain under the Groups rubric. I checked out one of my favorites, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and it clearly has been converted. MSCPA is an organization with many passionate supporters, as you can see if you look at one of their pages. This is the wall page from their Angell Memorial Hospital. They will have people bring up issues from time to time, as people are currently discussing the closure of animal shelters as a result of the recession. These people are posting with sadness and understanding, but others could post in a more critical way.

It’s nice to look at this as a great way for consumers to contribute. Businesses and non-profits also have to look at the monitoring and response function. If you have your own page, you have to keep an eye on it. But you also need to be watching what people say about you on other pages.

It sounds to me like a serious set of feeds and filters for any business or non-profit that’s serious about its online reputation. When Facebook talks about filters, they are talking about personal Facebook pages and the way individuals can control their feeds, which is fine, but I doubt that it’s sufficient for businesses. There are some third-party Facebook tools out there, but a quick search didn’t reveal the kind of tool I have in mind.

I’ll keep looking. In the meantime, if you know of any monitoring tools specifically for Facebook, let me know!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

User Satisfaction With Your Social Media Site

In last week's post about objectives for social media marketing programs I argued strongly for program-specific behavioral objectives over marketing/branding objectives. I’ve seen no reason to back off that position; the program-specific metrics provide a direct assessment of customer activity, if not the achievement of overall marketing goals, which are affected by many channels and many programs.

In the discussion, however, one of my students argued for a customer satisfaction measure. I’m accustomed to thinking about customer satisfaction in terms of the more global measures of the ACSI or the annual Accenture survey that recently became available for 2008. It took me awhile to wrap my head around site satisfaction as an important objective, but the more I thought about it the better idea I thought it was—thanks, Ted!

The tip he gave me was to Avinash Kaushik’s free tool. Yes, it’s a pop-up and those are annoying. But it’s free, easy and allows the user to do a reasonable amount of editing within the basic 4-question template. So I set up an account and took the tool for a test drive.

It’s easy to revise the basic 4-question survey template, but you can’t add additional questions DIY. They do offer custom surveys if you need more. The “reasons why I came to the site” question didn’t offer exactly the reason I would have preferred “free content,” but “research” and some of the other options were close. When I was satisfied with it, I submitted it and waited for the code to show up on my results page.

My only real annoyance with the system was that I got a marketing email from 4Q before the survey was even processed and available. They have a clever approach, though. If you’ve had a bad experience with the site, send them the URL and they’ll try to get the site to install the satisfaction tool. Good thinking!

I installed it on my website so you could try it yourself if you’re interested. The installation was easy. Having set the frequency on 100% it should show up whenever you go there. The survey seems to work on both IE and Firefox but to be very sensitive to pop-up blockers, which is good. It also may set a session cookie so it doesn’t show up if you go back to the site. If I’m right about that, that’s good for the visitor, although I found it annoying when I was trying to get this screen capture!

In the process I found an interesting article. Dan Greenfield is arguing for a ranking system that would allow benchmarking of social media efforts. As he notes, we’re pretty far from that sort of a standard for social media metrics, but it’s an interesting concept to watch.

In the meantime, serious thinking about how to measure the success of your social media efforts is in order!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Would You Turn Your Home Page Over to Customers?

Mars’ Skittles brand yesterday began what is indeed a social media experiment. Prior to Sunday they had a wonderfully interactive, but still a traditional, brand page. This one is from February 14, 2008. You can see more on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which is a fascinating place to study the evolution of websites.

Yesterday it took that site down and replaced it with a site that directs visitors to the chatter around the web about Skittles. The only marketer-controlled content is the small box which rotates themes; Interweb the Rainbow is the other theme. The page is composed solely of Tweets that contain the brand name. I found over 30 pages of Tweets already archived; at that point my finger was tired of clicking and I quit. The point is that there’s lots of chatter about Skittles. Some of it is funny, most (to me at least) rather silly, and some obscene. That could prove a problem with their core teenage audience (if their parents are paying attention, at least).

Clearly they worked to stimulate the volume on Twitter. My guess is that the number of blog mentions is no accident either. This video is one of the interesting results—or are this video and perhaps some blog posts, the result of reaching out to bloggers? This kind of a spike in activity doesn’t happen by accident.

What can the rest of us learn? Few marketers are likely to be willing to go to this extreme in embracing social media. Will some be willing to bring microblogging content onto their sites? Probably not without monitoring. Can sites afford monitoring of a robust Twitter stream over an extended period of time? Will this experiment soon lose momentum? Or will it crash and burn as a result of malice or the sheer grossness of some of the content? Will something else happen that none of us has yet forseen—good or bad?

And where does Facebook fit into all of this?

What’s going on here really interesting, and I’m sure the business writers and the blogosphere will be following it with interest.