Facebook

Word of Mouth Still Trumps Ad Value in Social Media

The Facebook data just keeps pouring in. While a lot of investors probably wished they had more data on the shortcomings of Facebook’s business model before the IPO, sometimes a few people have to be sacrificed before a greater lesson is learned.

The latest data from comScore spends less time worrying about how Facebook makes money and more time on how brands are making money on Facebook. In the rush to figure out how good of an ad product Facebook has, word-of-mouth, which has traditionally been seen as the real value of social media marketing for brands, has been brushed under the rug.  Today data finally emerged on how earned media stacked up against the latest onslaught of ad products on the world’s most popular social network.

So how well does real earned media do in the days of Sponsored Stories and Promoted Posts?

It turns out that earned media, despite being harder and possibly less sexy from a technology/data perspective, continues to have a much greater impact on tangible consumer behavior than it’s newer hyper-targeted siblings.  While the analysis is a little muddled due to comScore’s reluctance to undermine clients (or one of their biggest clients, Facebook) that invest heavily in paid media, the data clearly shows that online word-of-mouth has not only a stronger immediate impact but also increasing efficacy over time.

This probably isn’t news to you if you work in the automotive or consumer electronics field, where word-of-mouth continually ranks above all paid media in factors that influence purchasing decisions.  comScore couches some of their findings by also claiming a lift for consumers exposed to paid advertising on Facebook but, given the historical data beyond Facebook, this makes a strong case for greater resource allocation into content and other shareable assets and possibly even a GM-like re-examination of ROI in relation to Facebook’s advertising.

The analysis of the data points out how most brands jump from fan collection to success measurement but points out the importance of “intermediary steps,” like fan reach, engagement and amplification. I’d go so far as to say that those steps are less intermediary and should be the primary focal starting point to any social media program.  While getting into all the reasons why fan collection, or network building, isn’t success in and of itself might be another post entirely, it is important to note that, since only about 1-2% of most Facebook fans engage in any way, the “collecting” isn’t as important as giving them something of value that can be shared.  1,000 people “Liking” your post about looking forward to the weekend doesn’t further any kind of a real brand conversation.

Unfortunately, most newer social media marketers measure success by Facebook’s media kit metrics, which will never speak directly to the benefits of organic word-of-mouth even if it is the #1 trackable activity linked to sales and deeper brand connections.  The kind of real word-of-mouth that drives these high impact brand connections is messier to measure but it can be done and should be the larger focus of any social media marketing program.  Hopefully it won’t take the rug being pulled out from under this industry for it to understand how to measure real value.

I’m going to post a follow-up to this next week that takes a closer look at the shortcomings of the People Talking About This metric since it’s closely related.

Can Stalking Save Facebook?

I’ve been using Google+ for a couple weeks now and there’s really nothing anyone can do to convince me that it isn’t a superior product to Facebook as a social technology.  Here’s is just a partial list of where I think Google+ has improved on the social networking experience:

  1. There are no Friends, Likes or other misleading nomenclature that tries to draw awkward analogies to real life.  The exception to this is Hangouts but I give it a pass since it’s actually a very good description of what the feature offers.
  2. Privacy is so intuitive that you don’t even realize that you’re adjusting privacy settings.  It requires almost no explanation and is always at the core of whatever you’re doing.
  3. Photo sharing, which for some reason is treated with separate sharing controls in Facebook, is handled the same way as all other content and improves upon the newer Facebook photo presentation.
  4. While Google is very upfront about taking your content and using it to serve you more relevant ads, the Google+ platform isn’t an ad platform.  Everywhere else may be pretty soon but they at least let the utility be a utility.
  5. It’s integrated with some of the best tools on the Web.  You don’t have to go to Google+, it comes with you every time you use search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader or any of their other great products.
  6. It simplifies the purpose of almost all social technology: sharing.  This should make a lot of competing technologies very scared.

Unless you’re on Facebook to support your Farmville habit, you can probably recognize most of the superiority of Google+ at the core functionality level.  Maybe you have misgivings about Google as a company or you really connect with the rise of Facebook into the dominant media platform that it is today…that’s fine.  I still don’t buy any argument that Facebook, which has been around since 2004, has perfected the technology behind personal sharing (though I will give them points for scaling).  For now I won’t even get into the implications of brand presence, which is another area where I believe Google+ is positioned to succeed.

So why won’t Facebook just shut down tomorrow?

It’s obviously their volume of active users, which is still about twice what MySpace had at it’s peak.  So if Facebook came around and answered all the usability and scaling problems that plagued MySpace and MySpace still managed to be viable for another five years since they began their decline, what does that mean for Facebook in the worst case scenario?  If this marks the beginning of the decline of Facebook, will it take ten years for them to begin to really fade into obscurity?

It won’t be 10 years.  Facebook changed the fundamental reason people use a social networking site like theirs.  By pushing people to build deeper and deeper profiles and making privacy secondary, Facebook made stalking fun for even the non-tech savvy.  Compared to MySpace’s fairly simple profiles, you can learn things about people who aren’t even active users that goes far beyond any of the information that previous services asked you for.  For some reason people always cling to the idea of someone finding an embarrassing photograph but I was using a service (Turntable.fm, which is great) where someone was trolling and trying to get under the skin of one of the mods of the channel and decided to tap into their Facebook profiles for amo.  Since you need a Facebook profile to join Turntable.fm, that person gots plenty of info from the mod’s profile and began insulting his education and threatening to call his employer.  As it turns out, the mod worked in PR and probably should’ve known better than to make that info public but should he really have to know how to adjust his privacy settings to prevent malicious stalking?

My theory is that privacy and, more specifically, online stalking becoming even more sophisticated and commonplace will be both the key to Facebook’s longevity and the reason for it’s demise.  Google+ has answered this by making privacy a part of the content sharing process.  Being concerned about your online privacy is generally theoretical until someone gives you a reason to be genuinely concerned and I think those moments are coming for a large part of Facebook’s user base.

Facebook Death Pool

What’s more fun than speculating about the demise of major media properties?  Ok, maybe a lot of things are but that not going to derail me when I got the blog bug and several tabs worth of data blinking at me.

This may not be brag worthy but, as is evidenced by a post-it note on the corkboard of an old employers wall, I was able to predict the decline of MySpace within three months.  I still generally lose in Vegas and am always surprised when that Tahoe suddenly pulls into my lane but, as far as social media properties go, I have a pretty good record.

So how do you define an actual decline?  For me, it’s when there are more month-to-month decreases in unique visitors than there are increases over a 12-month span.  Since there are a lot of things that can artificially boost traffic, like a major ad campaign or some sort of PR event, I like to focus on trending data over a longer period of time to judge performance.  Sure, there are some sites that have bounced back from 12-month trending declines but not in the social space (please correct me here if I’m wrong).

Looking at Facebook over the past 12 months, I think you could say, as Gartner would put it, that they are at the “peak of inflated expectations,” which is the last stage before the “trough of disillusionment” in the Hype Cycle.  With the Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” seeing great success and scores of brands shoveling resources at the platform, awareness is through the roof.  If you’re not on Facebook, you’re certainly aware of it.

While awareness and mainstream sentiment around the brand are somewhat intangibles, traffic and usage statistics are not.  If you look at the Compete data on Facebook over the past 12 months, you see an increase in unique visitors of only about 13%.  While in numbers that equates to more than 15 million, it’s not the “hockey stick” growth that Facebook has experienced in previous years, like in 2009 when they claimed their user base climbed 145%.

While the year-over-year traffic is interesting, I’m more concerned with month-to-month data.  Even as overall traffic was inching upwards, there were four months in the last year that Facebook actually saw declines.  The actual drop in the declining month were never severe and the following month of each period of decline was always met with an increase over the month preceding, which means that overall growth was never eroded.

However, if you look at the bounce-back months, the margins were growing more and more narrow.  In December’s Compete data, after a decline in November, the traffic bounced back to only a third of one percent increase over October’s total unique traffic, which can only been seen as flat growth.  Don’t trust Compete?  Multiple sources reported the same.

Traditionally the fall has always been the highest growth period for Facebook, presumably because students are coming back and making new friends (although growth in the 18-24 year-old demo is currently the weakest and getting weaker), so flat growth over the holidays alone isn’t a clear signal that Facebook is in decline.  However, it does suggest some legitimate growing pains.

Ok, prediction time.

I expect that Facebook will see some more growth over the first half of 2011, although the months in decline will be more significant with slightly less pronounced bounce-backs.  The third quarter, where Facebook traditionally sees their best growth, will, in my opinion, begin to flatten for the first time in the company’s history.  Then in the fourth quarter of 2011, we will see our first signs of legitimate decline in the platform.

So, mark your calendars, I’m calling for the decline of Facebook to begin in Q4 2011.  There’s my stake in the ground.

Does that mean that Facebook is over?  Aw, hell no.

If you look at the decline of major social networks, there’s no reason to think that Facebook will disappear.  Friendster may have fallen fairly quickly, due primarily to massive performance problems and the existence of a viable competitor (MySpace), but that cycle hasn’t necessarily repeated itself.  The decline of MySpace has taken much longer and the platform still remains relevant.  While in danger of slipping further, MySpace is currently a top 20 online media property in the US and enjoys roughly twice the traffic of sites like CNN.com.  They can’t sustain 40% annual drops in traffic for much longer but they’re probably not falling off the face of the earth anytime soon.

Comparatively, Facebook has almost twice as many monthly unique visitors as MySpace did at it’s peak and the usage statistics, while not 100% reliable, also seem to be much higher.  Also, by opening their platform through Open Graph/Facebook Connect, they have made moves to stave off some of the motivating factors that could prompt their primary stakeholders to jump ship.  Even if they decline in Q4, as I predict, they should remain the dominant social network for at least a few years, depending on the emergence of a viable competitor (or network of competitors).

That’s my take.  Put it in your status update and poke it.

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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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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Marketing to the Sleeping

monsterbed350Sleeping.  The average person does it an average of 7.5 hours a day.  It skews evenly across all demographics, including affluents, mothers, hispanics, the c-suite, iPhone users and residents of the greater Miami metropolitan area.  You hear people talking about it everywhere.  Then why is it so hard to market to people through this universal channel?

Does this sound familiar?

The average US Internet user spends about 6% of their total time online on Facebook.  Over 90 million people a month are using the site.  You hear people talking about it everywhere.  Then why is it so hard to market to people through this (somewhat) universal channel?

The reason is related to how you’re reading the marketing data and some larger issues related to receptivity.

Baby boomers, for example, are one of the groups that are flocking to Facebook.  The problem is that they’re not coming back.  Sure, you could look at the data and see that in February and March there was an increase of more than 1,500,000 new users over the age of 55+ to site.  Get out the checkbook!  Call the PR firm!  We’re going to market our Matlock DVDs on Facebook!!  Unfortunately, you’d be sad to find out that the number of active users actually decreased April and May (by about 650,000, no less).  What went wrong?

There were many reasons that baby boomers visited Facebook in February and March but apparently most of them were not there to make a commitment to social networking.  The numbers were there but the audience wasn’t receptive to the media, which led to them not being receptive to your marketing.

Receptivity to marketing can come down to a science, like choosing the right color, or a degree of common sense.  Interactive media, as the name suggests, offers a wider range of interaction than any form of media to date.  Most people simply read their newspapers but on an interactive media property you might be playing a game, creating something, organizing photos or any range of activities that all greatly affect your receptivity to marketing.

People using social media, in my opinion, have a low to average receptivity to marketing due to the reality of what people do on social networks.  While someone just killing time on a social network might be receptive to interacting with your brand on a meaningful level, those that use it as a social utility (a segment that generally has the most valuable networks of “friends”) aren’t going to pay attention to your display ads or promote your social applications unless they’re extremely compelling or add to the utility of the site.  Can you improve upon the experience of the site or are you merely looking to co-op SOV?

It’s sounds like one of those typical “make better ads” rants but it’s not.  There are opportunities for every brand to sponsor emerging technologies that are adding to the value of social interactions.  Want to get involved with Twitter?  12seconds.tv has a unique way to add video to the microblogging experience.  Looking for an in on Facebook?  Why not build something that improves upon the terrible photo gallery features offered on the site.  There’s plenty of low hanging fruit, you just have to wake up and pick it.

Bud Light: The Difference is Friendability

facebook-bud-lightBrands have struggled with how to integrate with emerging media channels for a long long time now.  Social networks are no longer “new” to most people under 40-years-old.  Brands have been creating MySpace pages and online communities for almost a decade.  Unfortunately for many companies, not all brands are the kinds of brands that people want to interact with on those platforms.

Some brands, like perhaps an online shoe store, fall into this category.  Do I really want to be “friends” with the company that ships me shoes?  This is the challenge that Zappos must’ve felt.  However, Zappos is a company that has a pretty clear idea of who their customers are and how they might want to interact with their brand.  If you look at how they use a channel like Twitter, you can see a somewhat organic conversation taking place between Zappos employees (including the CEO) and a select group of stakeholders.  If you’re really interested in how the company operates, they even offer a variety of behind-the-scenes content on their Facebook page.  It’s not for everyone but it’s a way to build a deeper connection with a select group of stakeholders who have a pretty high probability of becoming advocates for your brand.

That’s fine for a company that ships shoes but what if you’re a beer brand?  Your brand is synonymous with fun and socializing.  There are few brands that would seem so uniquely suited for seamless social media integration than an alcohol brand that is so closely associated with the very behavior that these platforms are trying to extend.

Then why do brands like Bud Light fail so clumsily in this regard?

As I was traveling and concerned that my favorite hockey team might be falling out of playoff contention, I checked ESPN, only to find a prominent and expensive banner ad from Bud Light asking me to become their friend on Facebook.  Being somewhat nuetral to Bud Light as a brand but fascinated by what a company that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising would do with a platform like Facebook, I clicked through and prepared to become a “fan” of the brand.

Unfortunately, once you click through, you’re greeted with BL Central.  At BL Central you either send a beer (or a basketball[?]) to a friend, which is quite possibly one of the most innane and low level social interactions enabled by Facebook, or you can watch a series of commercials, which you may have already seen a few dozen times depending on whether or not you own a TV.  What else does one of the largest media buyers in American advertising invest in?  How about some desktop backgrounds and a PDF of the March Madness basketball tournament that hasn’t been updated since the tournament started?

So why does Budweiser have such weak profile of their customers compared to a company like Zappos, who has a much smaller and difficult customer base to reach?  Why can’t a relatively bottomless media budget and the help of some of the most skilled agencies in the country do anything to convert someone like myself into a brand advocate?

The difference is the brand culture.  Bud has bought their way into our culture through paid media in an era when brands had limited options to reach consumers in a meangingful way.  Yes, “friending” Bub Light will result in a certain amount of advocacy when your social network sees your association with the brand but it’s unlikely anyone will see your desktop background and, if they do, the reflection isn’t wholly positive on the brand.

It’s worth noting that this hasn’t hurt Bud Light.  The company sells a lot of beer and shows no signs of fading.  Similarly, their activity in social media is hardly a huge part of their marketing expenditures.

The failure is in the missed opportunity.  How could Bud Light fund a social utility that would promote their brand image for the same amount they spend on disposable media?  How could Bud Light’s numerous sponsorships – real brand experiences for many people – leverage social media to enhance the events and places that now only act as logo holders for the brand?  How could Bud Light come to life online like it does in a bar or any of the settings it exists organically?  If Zappos can invite you to their water cooler what’s stopping Bud Light from clinking glasses with you?

The answer is that they can and probably will but, for now, companies that were born into this environment will excell at building their brands in this tiny corner of the media universe while the brands that are positioned to benefit the most will continue to stumble around looking for ways to replicate the simplicity of how they originally carved out their niche in our culture.

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SXSW: Facebook Connect + iPhone = Love

sxsw-2009 Just saw what might turn out to be the biggest announcement of SXSW. Facebook just announced the latest development in their Facebook Connect platform, which enables iPhone applications to be social. Put simply, you can now play games like iBowl against friends based on who is online (in realtime!). You can also use it with applications like Urban Spoon to see what restaurants your friends are reviewing and whatnot. The possibilities are essentially endless.

Of course, this all begs the question “what is Facebook gaining from being a portable social network profile company?” Sure, in the short term, it may drive more traffic to their site but what happens when people only log into Facebook to change their profiles because they get all the social utility they need from the micro networked FB Connect sites?

Still, very interesting announcement. It definitely gets you thinking about the possibilities.

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