Monthly Archives: August 2009

Suicide Girls shows how online communities can monetize by thinking small

If you don’t know George Parker, you should.  Creative consultant, 30-year advertising industry veteran — he’s known for his no-holds-barred opinions and perspectives.  He writes a blog — Adscam/The Horror — and is a popular guest on various marketing podcasts thanks to his bitting, comic commentary.  He’s a bit too hard-edged for my taste and his humor often depends on the below-the-belt put-down — like the jokes of Don Rickles, a comedian I never could stand.  But beneath all the rancor, George is a pretty smart guy, has seen it all, and is worth listening to.

On a recent episode of the BeanCast, which has become one of my favorite podcasts on marketing and communications, George enjoyed a healthy rant about Facebook and Twitter and the fact that despite their popularity and growth, they don’t have a viable business model.  According to George, they never will.  The problem is that they’re too general.  They’re trying to be all things to all people.  So they can’t create a unique, distinctive online social experience that people will pay for.  In George’s opinion — and he may be right — the future belongs to small, niche online communities that offer a unique package of services, content and ways to connect that are highly desirable for that specific community.  One that he calls out is Suicide Girls.

Picture 2

Suicide Girls is a web site tailored to the lifestyle and fashion aesthetic of young women (and men) who are into piercing, tattoos and living life well beyond the borders of  what most of us would consider mainstream.  You’ve got to pay $4.00 a month to join.  But that’s only the beginning.  Building on the common interests and attitudes of the community, Suicide Girls has grown into an “alternative” lifestyle brand that now includes books, DVDs, a magazine (how “old media”!), a burlesque tour and a fashion and accessories line.  Here are just some of the items you can order on the site:

The Suicide Girls Beauty Redefined Book ($40)

Women’s Huddie ($100)

Suicide Girls Graffiti Panties ($12 — that seems like a bargain!)

Suicide Girls Buttons (pack of 10 for $7)

According to Crunchbase, Suicide Girls has 5 million unique visitors a month.  So you can also imagine that the banner ad for the London Tattoo Convention in the photo of the SG home page above will garner a hell of a lot more clicks there than it would as link on Facebook or Twitter.  For the right advertiser, niche communities mean a much a higher ROI, boosting  the viability of advertising as an online revenue source for these narrowly targeted sites.  It’s not the quantity, but the quality of reach.

You can learn more about how Suicide Girls has successfully monetized its online community in this interview with its founder, Missy Suicide.  Her real name, of course.

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Get Satisfaction’s Company-Customer Pact augurs a new age in customer relations

Get Satisfaction is an online community that provides a place for consumers to come together and share information, tips and advice about companies, products and services.  They can comment, rant, rave, ask and answer questions, suggest ideas and even have conversations with employees of companies that are sufficiently web 2.0-savvy to recognize the benefits of this new way of interacting with the people who, ultimately, pay their salaries.  So this isn’t only a consumer community.  Companies, too, are encouraged to join the conversations.

Here is just a sample of questions and comments you might find on Get Satisfaction:

What happened to my chai tea latte’s flavor? (Starbucks.  Note the use of the personal possessive pronoun “my”!)

Why are you treating loyal Platinum members like dirt? (i.e. Me) (American Express)

Where do all the unsold cakes go? (Whole Foods Market)

Your strawberry, banana orange juice is orgasmic. It is the best orange juice I have ever tasted. Why is it so hard to find? (Tropicana)

It would be great if Amazon could make an iPhone app that would let you buy music from the Amazon MP3 Store.

Get Satisfaction Coment

You begin your journey on Get Satisfaction by entering the product or company name into a search box.  That search takes you to the applicable Get Satisfaction “community” where you can immediately see if company employees are participating.  For me, that alone earns a tremendous amount of good will.  (And makes the companies that don’t get involved look pretty lame.)

But I find one of the most inspiring things on Get Satisfaction is their Company-Customer Pact.  Fundamentally, it’s a set of guidelines for how companies and customers can best engage with each other for the mutual benefit of both. It reflects the new realities of a web 2.0-interconnected world that rewards transparency and the guts to really listen and respond to customers online, in a dialogue that is visible to all.  What’s also pretty cool is that the pact doesn’t place the whole burden of the relationship exclusively on the shoulders of the marketer.  Consumers also need to listen and be open to the point-of-view of the company.

It’s an excellent code of behavior for what I have called the concept of brands not marketing to, but marketing with, their consumers in a refreshingly human, open and social web 2.0 world.

Get Satisfaction ccpact

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Dell Outlet sales through Twitter are a bigger deal than I thought

Dell Outlet Home Page

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post questioning the significance of $3 million in Dell Outlet sales attributed to Twitter (Twitter has made money for Dell Outlet — is it just a big yawn?).  After all, $3 million is just a drop in the bucket of Dell’s total turnover.

On a recent episode of the podcast For Immediate Release, Neville Hobson interviewed Richard Binhammer, who manages Dell’s social media efforts.  Richard mentioned two things that place Dell Outlet’s use of Twitter in context and strengthen the case for Twitter as a marketing tool in this specific instance.

First, Dell Outlet is a small division and doesn’t have much of a marketing budget.  The cost of marketing via Twitter costs virtually nothing.  (Pun intended!)

Second, Dell Outlet has a business model that makes Twitter the perfect communications tool.  It sells discounted computer products and systems that have been used and refurbished, or were left over from canceled orders, or are the equivalents of “seconds,” that is, hardware that has some kind of cosmetic fault that doesn’t affect its performance.

Apparently the business model doesn’t allow for holding on to inventory.  When stuff  gets returned, even if it’s as few as 5 laptops, Dell Outlet has to move product fast.  They can’t afford to have excess inventory clogging up the system.  “I can’t think of any other venue in which we can do that,” Richard says.  Even relatively short newspaper lead times take too much time.  (Oh yes, and newspaper advertising costs money.)

This case raises an important point.  Everyone keeps asking the question, can Twitter and other social media communities be used effectively for business.  The answer is, “It depends.”  It depends on the business model.  It depends on the product.  It depends on the community, why that community has come together, what each individual hopes to get from being there.

Dell Outlet on Twitter is just one of many ways Dell uses, and continues to pioneer, social media for business.  For other Dell activities on Twitter and links to other Dell social media endeavors, go to this page.

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Twitter feels more and more like just another media channel

There’s a lot of online buzz lately about teens not using Twitter.  And there’s quantitative data to back it up.  In a recent report, Nielsen provides data showing that 25-54 year old’s represent the biggest age segment of Twitter users. What’s more, it’s this segment that has fueled Twitter’s astronomical growth in recent months.  In contrast, the 2-24 age group accounts for only 16% of Twitter users.  (I don’t know any two-year old’s on Twitter, come to think of it.)

Twitter by Age Group

This isn’t surprising when I think about my own experience on Twitter lately.  It seems like an ever increasing number of new follows come from people trying to sell me something, many of them hawking the latest “get rich quick” scheme.  I can’t recall any of them being from the under-25-year-old set or late Gen Xer’s.  I suspect the huckster segment correlates pretty closely with that smack-dab-in-the-middle age group.

One hypothesis for the dearth of young Twitter users is that Twitter is a social network for meeting new people, and this isn’t what teens use the social web for.  They join communities that help them keep up with friends they’ve already made “in the real world,” which is why they are well represented on Facebook, whose functionality is more suited to that.

But I suspect it has just as much to do with the fact that Twitter feels more and more like just another media channel for selling stuff.  And because it costs nothing, even the crummiest of wares get sold there.  You don’t have to be under 25 to feel like that’s not a place you want to be.  Of course it’s easy enough to filter the garbage out of your Twitter feed.  But still, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be more agreeable, and useful, for there to be two Twitters — one social, one commercial.   When I’m using Twitter to make social connections I would log into former.  And when I’m in business mode, I’d log into the Twitter that feeds me commercial tweets, which I am happy to receive when I’ve got my business, or customer, hat on.

That might not only get more teens interested in Twitter,  it might make it a better experience for everyone.

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