Posts by: Peter Imbres

Ousting Robert Scoble and the Death of the Twitterati

It’s been a tough few hours for Robert Scoble, the internet’s preeminent friend collector.

Not only have his answers on the emerging Q&A site, Quora, been voted down religiously, but the stars of the tech echochamber are now ganging up on him and labeling him the poster child for everything that is wrong with social Web services.

Before getting too deep into it, it’s important to understand why people hate Robert Scoble.  The answer may be simple jealousy.

Scoble has a tendency to jump on social services early and try to collect as many friends, followers or contacts that he possibly can, often rendering the core social functionality of those services useless and turning them into a broadcasting platform for himself.  On Twitter, his initial policy of auto-following anyone who would follow him resulted in a follower count in excess of 160,000 users (since actually listening to this many people is impossible, he’s since scaled back who he follows to a mere 30,000).

This pisses off a lot of people but the people that are the most pissed off are the ones that are doing the exact same thing.  The attention starved.  The people that worry more about their personal brand than the brand they work for or their clients. Essentially, the Twitterati.

Friend counts and other false metrics are largely responsible for the rise of the Twitterati.  In the early days of blogging, just getting comments was a badge of honor but that quickly gave way to Technorati rankings, the Power 150 and making your Twitter and Facebook follower counts as high as humanly possible.  Suddenly people who were basically unemployable could tout a false status metric, which would soon give birth to the “social media expert/ninja/guru” phenomenon.  Of course, this so-called status can now be bought on eLance by outsourcing a couple hundred dollars of work to someone in Mumbai who can build those numbers for you in a matter of weeks, regardless of whether or not you contribute anything.

Enter Quora.

Quora is often touted as a better version of Wikipedia since the user base is made up of accountable “experts.”  Unlike Wikipedia, which buries the editors a layer deep and requires a bit of actual expertise to find out what editors actually have status in the community, Quora is built on the same vanity that fuels the Twitterati to participate in other services.  You have a follower count, like Twitter, and your answers can be voted up and down, which is a great motivation to leverage your other social channels for increased status.  Eventually, Quora should build it’s search ranking and create high ranking search entries for the people that provide the best answers.

As Scoble willingly admitted and half-heartedly apologized for, he was guilty of bad judgement on Quora.  He flooded the service with answers, was guilty of over-the-top self-promotion to get votes and even was using photos and videos to get his answers greater visibility, taking an almost SEO-like approach to optimizing Quora content.  He even said that he mistakenly saw it a blogging platform as much as Q&A service.  First a Quora blog stated that the platform isn’t his “playground” and then Michael Arrington tried to refute the vanity incentive a little in his criticism of Scoble.  This is largely what is leading people to go to Scoble’s answers page and vote down each one of his contributions.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

If you are able to eliminate the Twitterati element from emerging social channels you can eliminate a lot of the noise as well and provide an overall better user experience.  Just think how much superfluous content is created for reasons of vanity or increasing false status metric.  If you look at social services that don’t reward that sort of behavior, like Aardvark and Path, you find that removing the vanity incentive results in a much leaner service.  And if you think this kind of incentive is crucial to the long term sustainability of a social service, look no further than Wikipedia to be proven wrong.

Most social platforms are so new that the ethics of how to use them are still being sorted out.  Even if the heaviest users are the biggest offenders, their behavior is reinforced by the legions that are using the services in the exact same way.  Quora is a great example of a service that is leveraging vanity to launch quickly and, looking at the early adopters, it’s working very well.  Whether or not the shortcomings that have led to the Scoble backlash will lead to an increase in more intimate social services remains to be seen.

It will most likely take a lot more time but, for those people that are annoyed by friend requests from strangers with 50,000 followers or what their social feeds clean of Foursquare location updates, the end may be coming sooner than you think.  The trick to killing the Twitterati beast is cutting off it’s head.

Quora vs Aardvark: Social Search Death Match

In the not so illustrious history of this blog, for reasons I can’t explain, posts on social search have always been the most popular.  I’ve contended for a long time that I think increasingly sophisticated SEO technology could prove to be the downfall of Google.  When brands with deep pockets effectively control organic search, I think most of the utility of Google will become quickly eroded.

For this reason, I’ve always been optimistic about social search engines like Mahalo.  Wikipedia has proven that a large highly-engaged user base can efficiently curate an unfathomable amount of content, possibly just as much as a legion of spiders powered by a siberian server farm.

I was even more optimistic when I began playing with Aardvark last year.  It had a great user base where I was living at the time (Portland, OR) and it worked equally well through IM, it’s iPhone app and the Web.  I was continually blown away by the quality of answers and recommendations I received and often tried to stump the system.  In many cases, getting user generated answers to questions was faster than sifting through Google, Wikipedia and the IMDB, especially from the mobile app.

For the past couple months I’ve been playing with another social search service called Quora.  While Aardvark is somewhat anonymous and streamlined, Quora is big on reputation and its content structure is more of a repository than an on-demand social tool.

I consider both these technologies to be social search engines, even though they’re positioned more as Q&A services.  They’re both different in many ways yet I consider them to direct competitors since the core functionality and brand promise is the same.  So which answers your questions better?

As an experiment to find out, I posed the following question to both services: “Which service is better at delivering quality timely answers to the widest range of your questions, Quora or Aardvark?”  On Aardvark, I posted it through the Web and allowed it to be auto-tagged as “aardvark” and on Quora I posted it through the Web and manually tagged it “aardvark,” “social search” and “quora.”  I also tweeted the question on Quora since the feature is so simple and easy to use.  I’m going to give both services three hours to answer.

Before we get to the results, let’s profile the pros and cons of both services.

Aardvark Pros

  • Aardvark’s greatest strength is in it’s simplicity.  To use the service all you need to do it create an account and enter a question in any format
  • Helping your questions find answers is easy through automated tagging based on a word scan
  • There are multiple platforms to choose from that mimic the simplicity of the service
  • Depending on your preferences, Aardvark will send you questions that are related to areas you’re interested in with a fair amount of success
  • The user base is fairly broad in terms of interests

Aardvark Cons

  • This may be just my experience over the past year but the user base seems to be less active than it was a few months ago
  • You can’t really tell if the people answering your questions are qualified
  • The platform isn’t designed to allow you build relationships with people that provide the best answers

Quora Pros

  • Incredibly active tech-savvy user base
  • Questions/answers are cataloged so you can find many answers without having to query your network
  • People answering questions can often be confidently identified as experts
  • You can follow topics that are of particular interest to you
  • Quora answers will probably gain search relevance and be indexable on Google (eventually)
  • Users can organize redundant questions to streamline the content (see my results below)

Quora Cons

  • It generally take longer to get an answer
  • There is a legitimate learning curve to the interface and architecture that could keep many non-techie but otherwise knowledgeable people away
  • Many users leverage the platform for self-promotion and “friend collecting”
  • The overall user experience is considerably colder and less welcoming than Aardvark

Conclusion

While both services are extremely compelling applications of user generated content, I find Aardvark, in it’s current form, to be a more promising technology.  If we’re really moving toward a “semantic Web” then I don’t think a social search service should rely so heavily on users to tag and organize their own content.  While building a large database of answers is a noble task, the end user benefits much more from on-demand answers.  Aardvark is also moving towards becoming a platform that is accessible anywhere and requires no real Internet or boolean skills to master.

Of course, the community will ultimately decide the winner.  In many ways, Quora is a feature-rich version of Yahoo Answers that provides more vanity tools for its users.  While it may not be directly incentivizing participation, allowing users to build status, authority and – the single worst metric of influence – their friend count will push many aspiring social media mavens to pour hours into the service where their contributions to Aardvark would go largely unnoticed.

…and the results of my experiment

Now that three hours have passed since asking both platforms “Which service is better at delivering quality timely answers to the widest range of your questions, Quora or Aardvark?” I have to say that the results were a little disappointing.

On Aardvark, the best answer I got was “Quora has answers for broad topics and Aardvark has answers to specific questions,” from a man in Bangladesh.  Other answers were along the lines of “it depends on the topic but I prefer Aardvark,” which is to be expected when you ask the question on Aardvark.  The result can be summed up as a series of quick opinions generally favoring Aardvark but it should be noted that I got my best answer within an hour.

The experience with Quora was quite different.  When I posed the question, it gave me a list of questions to see if the question was redundant but nothing on the list matched my question.  A couple hours later, before getting any helpful answers, a user scolded me for asking a redundant question and redirected my question to a simpler phrased version.  The number one answer within that stream actually praised the Quora UI and included “feedback loop around vanity” as a benefit of the platform.  The best answer, in my opinion, stated that Aardvark is “aiming to be a more real time service by focusing on algorithms to keep a rapid chain of possible sources for answers in place” while Quora ensures quality by offering “reputation rewards.”

Perhaps the biggest question here is whether or not people need to be incentivized to share knowledge freely online.  As a closer look at the Twitterati or any friend collector on any social network will show, “reputation rewards” are often an empty promise.  While Robert Scoble may have achieved some notoriety for his high friend counts on every social service he participates on, most real industry leaders exist completely outside this bubble.

If this kind of rewards system is necessary to ensure the success of the platform, Aardvark will have a tough time surviving.  However, if usability and overall user experience is really the mark of a successful technology then Quora probably has a little work to do before it becomes a clearly dominant platform.

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Why Facebook is Making Marketers Stupid

I should probably preface this post by saying that I’ve never been impressed with Facebook as a technology or a form of media.  When you deconstruct Facebook, there are very few Facebook features that aren’t executed better somewhere else.  Photo sharing is weak at best compared to Flickr and others.  The new location-based services are a shadow of Gowalla and Foursquare.  Even status updates as a microblogging platform are lagging behind Friendfeed, a company Facebook acquired a long time ago.  In fact, aside from the default news feed algorithm, I can’t point to one thing that Facebook does better than anyone else.  Yet nothing really compares to it’s user base and a social network is ultimately defined by its user base so Facebook wins.  For now.

However, as a marketing platform, no one can convince me that Facebook is anything but a watered down form of CRM.  There were three stories that I came across this week that really irked me and, judging by the fact that I came across them through trusted sources, have convinced me that Facebook is actually making marketers stupid.

Case #1: Hitwise, a company full of great tech and smart people, reported that Facebook had passed Google as the most visited Web site of 2010 (8.93% of all US visits vs Google’s 7.19%).  It seems a little fishy but I don’t completely doubt it.  What bothers me was the reaction to this news by many respected marketers.  While I have no interest in calling anyone out, a quick stroll through the marketing blog echochamber (i.e. the AdAge Power 150) will show you that many used this stat to add more credibility to their often bloated Facebook marketing programs.  More visitors, more eyeballs…the age old recipe for online advertising success.  What’s not to understand?

My problem is that it ignores behavior.  Someone on Google is looking, literally searching, for something and when you’re marketing to them there based on keywords you’re reaching someone who is extremely receptive to your message if it matches their criteria.  It’s someone with a question that is looking for an answer.

In the case of Facebook, users are, for the most part, just killing time.  They’re browsing photos or reading status updates or occasionally playing a game.  They’re not shopping, looking for specific information, researching something or doing anything else that makes them particularly receptive to advertiser messaging.  Sure, they may click a Like button here and there but the general behavior doesn’t match someone who is receptive to changing their car insurance or shifting their sentiment about an airline.  In the grand scheme of online media, a Facebook user is as close to couch potato as you can get without actually turning on your TV and putting your feet up.

Passing Google in total visitors in the US does not make Facebook a better marketing platform than the most trusted search engine in the world.

Case #2: The story that Pampers sold out of 1,000 discounted diapers in one hour through an e-commerce gateway on Facebook.  There was a lot of foaming at the mouth on this one and, since it’s a P&G, there’s no doubt that every consumer packaged goods brand took notice and used it to get the wheels in motion to sell “directly” through Facebook.

While it’s generally hard to argue with sales, I think you can make a pretty good argument against the user flow on Pamper’s little e-commerce engine on Facebook.  You first make your way to the FBML “Shop Now” tab on the Pampers page, which is essentially a splash page (a roadblock on an e-commerce site?).  Clicking the “Shop Now” button on that page (I have to do this twice?) actually opens a new window for a Pamper’s branded Amazon Web store app.  As you move through the sales cycle, you actually get thrown back out into Amazon.com to finish the transaction.

So what was the purpose of being in the Facebook environment in the first place, other than to compromise the user experience and limit my shopping options (vs Amazon.com)?  If Pampers can sell 1,000 diapers in an hour through a crippled e-commerce platform, imagine how fast they could sell through a streamlined experience that actually showcased their product in the best possible light without having to compete with Facebook’s nav?

Case #3:  Maybe I’m a little sensitive to metrics and terminology but the story that really got me this past week was a Mashable post touting the importance of Likes for brands.  The POV used a video from Kraft Foods/Oreo taken from a GasPedal event that was maddeningly titled “How Oreo Learned to Fish Where the Fish Are.”  Oreo is a brand that has a lot of genuine affinity among consumers so I won’t argue that Facebook is a worthless platform for them but I will argue against a point that’s made at about 1:40 into the video as the set up for their whole program.

The statement was “Facebook has really become the de facto brand destination,” which was followed by an example regarding Starbucks.  You see, Starbucks, as per this claim, has about 995 thousand monthly visitors to Starbucks.com and roughly 12 million Facebook fans.  According to the most recent data I can find, about 20% of Facebook users are active on the monthly basis, which is pretty high compared to other community sites.  So, over the course of the month, about 2.4 million “fans” might engage with Oreo on Facebook.  If the average Facebook user has about 130 friends and the average user who friends brands has around 200 friends, then what are the chances that any Starbucks content appears in your default feed?  Let’s be generous and say that the News Feed algorithm filters content from all but 30% of your friends and Likes, even though probably even less make it through for an account with 200+ friends.  That now brings the number of people that are exposed to your messaging to around 700,000.  So my question is that would you rather have 700,000 people possibly exposed to your message in their News Feed on a third party site or would you rather have 995,000 come to your Web site where you can collect information, sell product and have almost no restrictions on engagement?

I don’t mean to suggest that all Facebook marketing is worthless.  In fact, I think it’s a great communications tool for a lot of brands, even with the obvious scaling problems.  My problem is with strategy that is fueled by bad measurement and a misunderstanding of established user experience standards.  While Facebook and social media marketing may be comparatively young, that’s not an excuse to throw out everything online marketers have learned over the past 15 years.

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Why Boutiques are Kicking Your Ass

Kicking the ass of traditional agenciesJeremiah Owyang today made a lot of boutique social media agencies very happy with his new report showing how smaller specialty agencies are wiping the floors with larger agencies in average yearly social media budgets.  Since Owyang often gets applause when he advises brands not to hire “gurus and ninjas” to run social media, has he been proven wrong by his own report or is there something else going on here?

The Altimeter report concludes that smaller agencies aren’t winning because they’re “ninjas” but perhaps a few other reasons, such as:

  • Smaller agencies have a “specialized skillset” that larger agencies haven’t focused on
  • Traditional agencies are too “campaign focused,” which has proven not to be effective
  • Not being rooted in outdated measurement, smaller agencies are better at measuring engagement
  • Larger agencies won’t “get their hands dirty” and get directly involved in the stakeholder engagement that is driving a lot of the larger budgets

While a few of these may be true, there is a larger issue at play as well.  The average annual spend difference for “mature” brands is only a matter of around $150k/year between the traditional agencies and the boutiques that are kicking their ass.  A $200k contract from someone like P&G may be a big deal to a small agency with 8 employees but JWT isn’t going to even get on the call for that much money.  We’re still talking about table scraps here in relation the larger chunks of budget being applied to advertising and other channels.

The good news for the larger agencies is that the work still stinks and has very little business impact.  If you look at even the comparably small resource allocations that the top ten Facebook pages are requiring to keep their “Like” numbers high, it would be hard to make a good business case for brands like Red Bull and Coca-Cola to repeat that again next year.  The reality is that brands are budgeting for social media just enough to keep them from looking stupid for not spending on social media.

Brands continue to dabble in ways that appear to be much bigger than they really are.  The new Ford Explorer got launched within Facebook to a flurry of applause from the social media echochamber but the launch still paled in comparison to even the smallest television campaign.

The real test of who is winning this battle for social media mindshare will be when the agencies are the ones who are mature and start pitching and winning pieces of business that rival the marketing outlays in other channels.  When brands start ponying up for the bigger ideas and the average size of these contracts begin to gain a digit or two, then we will finally see who is trusted with the beloved social media.  Until then, I’d be hesitant to count out the big agencies until you start to dangle a larger carrot for them to chase.

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UX Strategy from a Restaurateur

Union Square CafeThis Sunday I found myself watching the Wall Street Journal Report (after a thrilling Jets victory over the Denver Broncos) and was interested to see an interview with Danny Meyer, a restaurateur that I had always admired when I lived in New York.  Having lost a little money on a restaurant venture, I’m not terribly keen to get into that business again.  However, I always find it interesting to hear from people who have succeeded and there aren’t very many that have been more successful than Meyer.  While he’s primarily known for his high-end establishments, like the Union Square Cafe, he also owns more casual spots, like the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke (all of which I’ve eaten at and have enjoyed).  Surprisingly, Meyer said that the more casual spots, like Shake Shack, have done better than the more high-end restaurants during the economic downturn of the past years.  While this had a lot to do with price, it wasn’t the only factor in the success of the more economical restaurants.

Meyer has a new book out called “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” which looks at hospitality less as a business and more of a way of doing business.  You see, Meyer attributes the success of the more casual restaurants to not only being competitively priced but also the way that they treat their patrons compared to others in their category.  He believes so strongly in this that he has created a new consultancy that aims to help companies that are the best at what they do put more of a focus on hospitality with their customers.

Ok, but what does this have to do with online marketing and the Web?

UX often gets labeled as a technical discipline.  Most UX focuses on how a technology or device is perceived, learned or used and is measured by successful conversions or some sort of shift in sentiment following the interaction.  On a retail site, this is usually determined by how easy it is for someone to buy something and how secure they felt during the process.

What Danny Meyer seems to be suggesting is that we need to raise the bar.  When someone first comes to your site, do they feel welcomed or are they immediately thrust into the sales cycle?  I think you’re seeing a little more of this gaining steam on blogs and affiliate sites when you see the referring link detectors welcome you from wherever you came from and offer you something that can serve as a good introduction to their content (“I see this is your first visit from Google…”).  Some sites, like Angie’s List, have this built into their CRM and will ping you if you haven’t logged into your account in a long time to see if something is wrong.  Others offer content/interface customization for registered users to help streamline the experience for them.  Most of these tactics are focused on improving user experience but it’s hard to classify most of them as genuinely hospitable.

One example of a brand that delivers on this idea is American Express.  While most credit cards are modeled after financial services companies, American Express very clearly positions itself as a hospitality company that offers a credit service.  Being an Amex cardholder is more about getting access to special deals, concierge services and free gifts than it is about comparing your interest rate, which is an area where the company isn’t particularly competitive.  The result is a fairly distinguished brand in a crowded space that enjoys rather high sentiment scores from its most valuable stakeholders.

I’d like to see more Web brands act like American Express and Danny Meyer’s restaurants.  How valuable is a registered user to your business?  Is there an opportunity to immediately give them something of value that shows nothing except your appreciation of their visit?  I think as brands begin to offer more personalized experiences you will see more hospitable behavior not too far behind.  Whether this is a function of CRM or UX is up for debate but I think it is an important element that is missing from most Web services, which sounds like an opportunity to me.

Five Easy Ways to Fail at Social Media

ways to fail at social mediaSince Mashable and a host of other search optimized blogs are always writing list posts to help brands use social media more effectively, I figured I might help by offering some innovative new ways to fail.  Sure, failing isn’t the goal of most brands when they branch off into a new channel but often knowing what leads to failure is a better path than accumulating a bunch generic advice or “rules.”  How many brands have really mastered social media simply by “listening first” and being “transparent”?  It’s a lot more complicated than that and I hope this can help your brand avoid a pitfall or two.

Without any further ado, here are my five easy ways to fail at social media:

  1. Invest all your time and resources into Facebook – Sure, Facebook is the dominant social network right now and its reach is immense but a quick look back at the history of social media platforms should tell you all you need to know about how secure SOV is on the Internet.  As big as Facebook is, AOL was even bigger back when the Web was a very raw place and they gave it a nice interface and enabled people to connect with each other without having to know code and command prompts.  In the early 1990′s, if you were on the Internet you were on AOL, Prodigy or Compuserve.  To say that those companies fell from their market position is an understatement.  Likewise, there was a time when Friendster was the only viable profile-driven social network out there and the bell curve of social media has seen MySpace and Facebook follow much the same path.  Yes, be active on Facebook and know how to use it but also know that it’s not a permanent destination for your stakeholders to engage with your brand.
  2. Hire an intern to manage your social media profiles – If you search for social media jobs of Craig’s List, you will probably see most of them offered as entry level or below positions.  The rationale here is that younger people know social media better than older people and luckily younger people are cheaper to hire so it’s a win-win, right?  Very few of these same companies would let an intern anywhere near a press release, the copy of a print ad or one of their call centers even though much of the content they disseminate through social media channels will be around much longer and is much more likely to be damaging at some point in the future.  Conversely, someone who claims to have been an expert in social media for 15 years is also a little suspect since it pretty much didn’t exist 15 years ago.
  3. Be completely in the dark on search optimization – More people will discover and be influenced in relation to your brand in search than any other media channel.  I’ve never seen any data that can refute this claim.  Social platforms like blogs and open third party services like Twitter are some of the best search optimization tools available to you and if they’re used as a low level customer service platform then you’re missing a huge opportunity.  I’m not saying that SEO should drive all your social media content but understanding SEO when you’re linking, writing copy and titling content is one of the most important skills you can bring to your social media program.
  4. Put too much of an emphasis on visualization of social data – I’ve heard more than one creative director with a storied ad history say that social media is ugly.  This mindset is the basis for many ad agencies approaching social media with the goal of cleaning it up for public consumption.  While there are some examples of this done well, like Nike’s NBA playoffs Twitter visualization, generally this creates a disposable piece of content that eliminates all dialogue between the brand and it’s stakeholders and has no UX or SEO value to the brand itself.
  5. Be a robot - People like to talk to other people, not a giant voice behind a curtain.  There is a lot of technology that can help you parse a ton of social media data to give the feeling like you can be everywhere at once but, if you have limited resources, you’re probably better off starting small and tackling social in manageable pieces.  This is easier for smaller brands so make sure you’re able to manage expectations of your stakeholders when you’re ready to open the flood gates.  If your interactions are limited to the things you post on your Facebook wall then you’re not offering anything much different from direct mail.

Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Opportunities to fail at social media are everywhere so it’s really more of a question of deciding how you want to fail.  With practice and patience, I’m confident that everyone can fail at social media.

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The Global Super Bowl

FIFA_World_Cup_trophyWhile I may like baseball (or hockey, basketball, tennis, football and most winter olympic games) better than soccer, I can never help but get dragged into the excitement around the World Cup.  It may have been a little easier when I lived in New York where it was easier to see a Brazilian match in a bar full of Brazilians but, even though my World Cup viewing parties now consist of only a few friends in my basement with bagels and mimosas, I still find myself again drawn to the game.  Maybe it’s the global hype or the melding of politics and sport, I’m not sure.  What I do know is that I will be spending countless hours consuming all things World Cup in the next few weeks and have my share of afternoon hangovers to prove it.

Outside of the game itself, the World Cup is also the largest sports marketing of any year, dwarfing even the Olympics.  How big is the World Cup?  The World Cup finals averages over 700 million viewers compared to just over 100 million for the Super Bowl.  In fact, you could combine the viewing audiences of the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals and you’d still come out with a smaller audience than the World Cup.

So if the World Cup is so big then where is the competition for funniest World Cup commercial or consumer generated campaign to create the ultimate World Cup Doritos spot?  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

For starters, there’s no centralized way to reach people.  There are dozens of sites that cover the tournament, with Fifa.com garnering only a fraction of the traffic ESPN.com gets in an average month.  Similarly, broadcast and print sources are all over the map.  S

o how do you become THE brand of the World Cup?

One trick is to pick channels that reach global audiences with a message that is universal enough to appeal to anyone who is interested in the event.  Global localization is generally one of the easiest ways to throw your money away.  I can’t even tell you how many clients I’ve seen blow through huge budgets on multi-language localization only to see traffic to secondary market sites dwindle away to next to nothing.

So who can actually pull this off?  Let’s look at two competitors: Nike and adidas.

The Nike Write the Future spot (developed by Weiden + Kennedy) might be one of my favorite marketing videos of all time.  Not only is it a masterpiece of video editing and creativity using Nike’s top athletes (including some non-soccer players) but it also does everything that most other World Cup marketers have failed to do.  First and foremost, it’s about the sport so language is almost irrelevant in it’s success.  Secondly, it’s globally referential without alienating any region.  It’s also been distributed on multiple global video sites, garnering more than 15 million views on YouTube alone so it eliminates the barrier of most World Cup media.  The video captures the essence of the World Cup better than FIFA can in it’s own marketing materials and thereby weaves the Nike brand right into the event in a way that makes it seem completely organic (even though Nike is comparatively new to the game).

Adidas, who has been involved with soccer for significantly longer than Nike, attempted a similar effort with their Cantina 2010 spot.  Launching a short while after the record setting Nike spot, adidas had a lot of catching up to do to gain SOV.  Unlike Nike, who is singularly focused on athletes, adidas is more comfortable being a hybrid sports/fashion brand and they choose their talent accordingly.  While the spot did feature soccer stars like David Beckham, it also featured artists and pop culture figures like Snoop Dog and French house music band Daft Punk.  Most importantly, the spot was set in a scene from Stars Wars.  Put all together and it’s a pretty entertaining clip but the connection to the World Cup is weak.  Additionally, the range of talent almost works against the initiative, leaving a degree of uncertainty as to what the main point of the video is.  It comes off as one of those ideas where “going viral” was the strategy and the creative concept.

Looking at a different industry with a less direct connection to the game, Budweiser also got into the mix with their Bud United campaign.  The campaign is a Real World style reality show served on YouTube that takes 30 fans from different countries and puts them in a house in South Africa together.  There are a lot of ingredients to success at play here.  By featuring fans from different countries, Bud widens the appeal beyond the United States and the connection to the World Cup is obvious and strong.  Using YouTube as the platform and destination has it’s strengths and weaknesses since the platform is technically global but it’s an external engagement for Bud, which prevents prospective consumers from exploring the brand on a deeper level.  All the footage is also in English, which gives the creative a somewhat less genuine effect, although sub-titles would be a tough sell with Bud’s primary consumer.

What each of these campaigns demonstrates is how much of a challenge global event marketing can be online.  While it’s easy to say that Nike is coming out ahead, they also have the fewest challenges in this kind of environment due to the positioning of their brand.  Measuring true success for campaigns like these has to be limited to region-by-region as the objectives vary so widely from market to market.  Can the same creative market your brand to emerging markets with limited brand recognition and your primary markets where you are a household name?  If you’re only targeting your primary market in the US, is it smart to dedicate so many resources to a sport that still has only a relatively fringe fan base domestically?

And you thought beating Brazil was the toughest challenge of the World Cup?

Why the Twitterati Hate Google in Their Social Media

6a00d8341c145e53ef0112790a542928a4-800wiThere is a clear disdain for Google’s tiptoeing around social media from some of the the sector’s most voracious consumers.  First it was Google’s acquisition of Blogger, which had already fallen out of favor with pro bloggers due it’s limited feature set and widespread use for link farms.  Then it was Google’s Open Social, which was criticized for being poorly launched (despite the fact that it may have paved the way for Facebook Connect and future manifestations of the push towards true data portability).  But now Google has moved onto sacred earth with a new technology that dings Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook, even though it branches off a platform that few associate with social media.

Earlier this month, Google trickled out Google Buzz, a simple but powerful microblogging tool, to their 50+ million Gmail users.  While the echochamber first lit up with excitement over a new way to broadcast your spontaneous musings and quips, the Monday morning venture capitalists all chimed in the following day with their various criticisms.  UI bugs, privacy concerns and social redundancy…oh my!

Of all the criticisms leveraged, I think the most telling was the one from noted Twitterati and “friend” collector, Robert Scoble, who said:

They are infatuated with real time flow (items flow down my screen) but unlike FriendFeed they didn’t give you an option to turn that off. For users who are following a lot of people, like me, that makes Google Buzz unusable.

Scoble is one of a group of social media users whose influence is gauged by the amount of friends or followers he collects.  As of writing this post, Scoble has 115,555 followers on Twitter, where he follows 17,815.  If it sounds unmanageable, you’re right.  If 17,815 people tweeted only once a week, you’re looking at roughly 9,976,400 characters of content a month that you need to keep track of.  That’s the equivalent of reading War and Peace four times a month.  That doesn’t even take into account the high percentage of those Tweets that are links to more wordy conversational references.  Certainly it isn’t hard to imagine that Scoble would have trouble keeping up with this volume of content without fairly advanced filters in place, which are not part of the Buzz feature set at launch.  Even if you assume that Scoble has more friends than the average person, which has been roughly estimated to be around 150, it’s pretty clear that these number represent something that has very little to do with friends or colleagues.

The Twitterati use social media less as a social tool than a personal branding tool.  They operate under the simple principle that a wider net catches more fish.

Google Buzz wasn’t created for the Twitterati.  In fact, it almost goes out of it’s way to marginalize them.

Buzz is a tool built for genuine networks of friends and colleagues.  In order for someone to be in your email network on Gmail, you would’ve had to exchanged emails with that contact, which is significantly more intimate than adding someone as a friend on a social network where limited personal information is being disclosed.  People guard their personal emails as closely as their phone numbers in many cases and if every social network exposed your personal email by default you would probably see a significant drop off in the use of some of these social utilities.

The result is a refreshingly organic social utility that provides a new level of conversation with a group of people you might actually know and care about.  I’ve made a point not to directly seek out any friends aside from what Google suggests to me or people I know that have been flagged as following me.  The result is a low to moderate amount of unobtrusive content from people who I’ve invited to my home, had beers with or told jokes to.  You know, friends.  Not someone from second grade who I never haven’t tried to talk to for 30 years or someone who wants to get a job at company I worked for, just people I know and like.  I also get to manage this content in a place I already go to find out what is going on in my friend’s lives on an intimate non-public platform.

That said, there is still room for improvement.  Some friends who hate social media but still use email have tried Buzz and quickly been turned off by the new layer to the platform they already liked.  While this is hardly a statistically relevant sample size, I do get the sense that there are more barriers that need to come down to bring the utility of microblogging to people that may have reluctantly graduated from postal mail to email.  Social networking has built a healthy stigma among the sketpical, and for good reason.  Your friends aren’t always your friends and your followers don’t always follow you.  Google may be revolutionary in creating one of the first social utilities that is really designed for your friends.

That may take some time though.  Gmail isn’t currently the most used email platform but it’s gaining on the competition.  In order to dictate the rules of social networking to make it more intimate, Google will need to make their platform the standard for one-to-one communication.  They don’t have that kind of power today but they’ll be closer tomorrow.

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5 Reasons Why List Posts are Link-Baiting Crap

Sesame-Street-123-Count-With-MeIn the spirit of the link-baiting tactic that has started to eat away at the content of some of my favorite blogs (I’m looking at you Mashable and Silicon Alley Insider) as they try to suck every last unique visitor out of Google, I present to you my “5 Reasons Why List Posts are Link-Baiting Crap”:

  1. The world already has a place that oversimplifies every concept and boils down every issue into a couple abbreviated sentences.  It’s called Twitter.  Your blog is an opportunity to explore concepts in greater depth and incite conversation that isn’t limited my by a character count.
  2. Unless you’re one of the top 100 blogs, you probably don’t make a living off your traffic anyway so why compromise your content?  Yes, I know the whole lecture about personal branding but true thought leaders aren’t built by posts titled “10 Things All Small Businesses Need to Know about Twitter” or “Seven Steps To Get Fans for Your Facebook Page” [ed. note: I'm sparing the links to protect the guilty].  Good content makes you look good and maybe even get you a job here and there, not invisible visitor numbers.
  3. It’s lazy.  People like bullet points because it saves them from linking sentences.  Similarly, all lists save you from is transitional sentences between paragraphs.  If this is daunting to you, please do us all a favor and step away from the keyboard.
  4. You’re just creating noise.  Sometimes I actually do want to search for a list of the 100 best WordPress themes of 2009 and the presence of dozens of link-baiting list posts on related topics are making search less effective.  The SEO industry is doing a fine job of destroying organic search without you so please don’t make things any worse.  How will those poor Google employees afford their massages after you ruin their main source of income?
  5. With the explosion of Twitter and Facebook statuses, fewer people are creating good blog content so take advantage of this trend instead of squandering it in the echochamber.  While the amount of content in social media is expanding exponentially, the amount of good content is actually on the decline.  Most of the best bloggers from two years ago have transitioned to microblogging or lifecasting or just trying to collect as many friends/followers as possible without producing anything valuable.  Now is a great opportunity to replace them with new thinkers and great writers.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place for lists in Web content.  Year-end lists are a great example of how lists can be a effective way to filter information or even editorialize a position on a voluminous amount of content.  I certainly spend plenty of time picking through “best of 2009″ album lists to find music that I may have missed over the course of the year.  However, if I really am a small business that is baffled by Twitter, your five steps aren’t nearly as important as a thoughtful explanation of the platform that I can get from Wikipedia or a rich content blog like Ars Technica.

At a time of the year when lists are everywhere from Santa’s inbox to your RSS reader, consider just making your point instead of making another list.

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#pepsifail/#pepsiwin

Pepsi costumesThere is no shortage of ways to offend people.  If I switch the font on this blog to a serif font tomorrow, I will get a couple emails from people who are offended (or at least disappointed).  To go through your entire existence without offending someone is probably impossible and would almost certainly lead to a forgettable existence.

Naturally, there are degrees to offensive behavior and expectations on certain entities for what is acceptable from them.  I can get away with saying a lot of things that someone like President Obama would be criticized for.  Generally speaking, stereotyping large segments of the population is offensive to many but it comes down to context.

The #pepsifail phenomenon is an interesting case study in how brands can walk this fine line.  Pepsi released an iPhone app, “AMP UP Before You Score,” targeting prospective AMP energy drink consumers by stereotyping women in a humorous way, presumably to build a preference for their brand.  When all was said and done, it probably ended up being more popular in social media circles than the target market due to the technology involved (iPhone) and the fodder it provided the blogging/microblogging echochamber.

But was it offensive?  That’s a two-part question.

Culturally speaking, I don’t believe it was offensive.  Profiling women as “Cougars” or “athletes” is not culturally edgy.  It is a staple of prime time television humor and a convention used by advertisers regularly.  It certainly doesn’t offend the target demographic, who will probably either think it’s funny or dismiss it altogether.  Whether or not it works as a word-of-mouth device is questionable.  Could you see a group of guys at a bar standing around an iPhone trying to decide if a girl at the other end of the room was “Married” or “Out of Your League”?  Maybe, but I hardly consider this to be a burgeoning cultural phenomenon that will have any effect on the way men interact with women.  It’s possible that this could be more offensive if it was more mainstream, as opposed to just being targeted at college aged men.

The larger question here is whether or not it’s appropriate for Pepsi to act this way.  Almost immediately in this debate, the conversation moved away from the AMP brand to the Pepsi brand.  While this probably isn’t fair since they both have very different markets and messaging, a brand has to react to the response from the marketplace.  The response suggests that consumers do not expect Pepsi to be involved in stereotyping women in this manner.  A beer company or an energy drink (or even a hosting company) might be able to get away with it but a large portion of Pepsi’s core consumers would be turned off by this and, whether it was fair or not, it has been tracked back to the master brand.

So while I do believe it was a mistake for AMP to assume that this couldn’t be tracked back to Pepsi, I don’t think this was an unforgivable offense.  In fact, it’s one of the more clever attempts to engage with this kind of audience in a way that has the potential to gain WOM traction.  Regardless, a response was warrented.

Pepsi’s response came through Twitter as follows:

“Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail”

I think the response is perfect for many reasons.

  1. The backlash came through social media, not mainstream media, so it makes sense to respond within the channel of origination.
  2. The response clearly and concisely (thanks to the character limit) explains what the purpose of the initiative was, which most would agree is not offensive.
  3. There is a clear apology to the segment of their stakeholder that were offended.  This is important because it shows that they can defend their decision without alienating the opposition.
  4. It show that they’re listening and willing to engage whether or not it is on their terms, which humanizes the brand.

Overall, I deem this a #pepsiwin.  It shows that the brand wants to innovate but it’s not it’s not going to ignore the way the market reacts.  Most importantly, it proves that, if this were to happen again to a different degree, their response will be measured and the company won’t ignore their target to put out a fire.

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