Tag Archives: web 2.0

Foursquare and Gowalla enable true “when and where they are receptive” messaging

Foursquare and Gowalla are the most well-known location based social networks.  They’ve been around for some time, but like Twitter before them, have now reached a Tipping Point of online social media conversation and debate.  Both were much discussed at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, as were location based services in general.

Are you signed up yet? To find out more about them, check out Crunchbase.  In a nutshell, both services use geo-location technology to pinpoint where you are.  When you log on via your mobile device, a window shows stores, restaurants, museums, cafes, etc. in your immediate area, and when you check in to one of these locations, you can automatically let friends and followers know, write a message or leave a comment, tip or rating.  You can also read other users’ comments about the location.

Foursquare also incorporates gaming elements through a system of badges that you earn when you become, for example, the most frequent visitor to a place, or have visited a certain number of new places.  As odd as it sounds, people really get into this and it obviously provides promotion and merchandising opportunities for businesses and retailers. Foursquare works with businesses to provide stats based on audience check-ins, so a local restaurant might offer a special deal to its “mayor” (the badge awarded to the most frequent visitor) and his followers to drive loyalty, increase frequency of visits, or motivate lapsed visitors to come back.  Businesses can also set up loyalty programs for customers to earn points every time they check in, redeemable against future purchases.  Those are just a couple of examples of how local businesses are using Foursquare to boost traffic and sales.  You can find more information on Foursquare’s information page for businesses.

Indeed, much of the discussion of around location-based services has been about their marketing value to small, local businesses.  But as these services develop and add on new features, they will become just as valuable for major brands and businesses as well.

An age-old tenet of traditional media planning is to reach consumers when and where they will be receptive to the message.  Indeed, one could argue that a major issue with the traditional one-way, one-to-many communications model of the last 150 years — aside from the fact that so much advertising was, and still is, tedious and boring — is that too many messages reached the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.   Location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla can change all that.  What’s especially exciting is that these services can deliver those messages precisely at the moment when buying decisions can most likely be influenced and acted upon, at the point of sale.

Imagine you’re a mom, it’s Saturday morning and you’ve checked in at your local Tesco or Safeway using Foursquare.  Among your Foursquare friends and followers are other moms like you.  Let’s pretend Foursquare has an interface that allows you to list the categories and brands from whom you’re happy to receive information, as well as an opt-in function that lets you choose when you receive that information and when you don’t.  (It will happen soon enough!)  You opt in because this is precisely when and where you are receptive to hearing about the latest deal on diapers, the newest flavor variety of your favorite salad dressing brand, or a new recipe suggestion for preparing a quick dinner for your family that evening.

Some other ways Foursquare might help you out:

You point your iPhone at a new item you’re considering, and Foursquare immediately shows you comments and reviews from your friends or the broader Foursquare community.

You check in to Foursquare and you receive a personalized thank you message from Tropicana Orange Juice for buying Tropicana each of the last three times you went shopping at this location,  with a 50% off coupon for your next purchase.

Gerber Baby Food lets you know that 10 moms in your Foursquare network also buy baby food and if you all buy $5,00 or more of Gerber this week, you’ll all receive a buy 1 get 1 free offer the next time you visit the store.  You message your friends to let them know.

None of these functions are available yet, but it’s only a matter of time until these or others like them are.

Social media purists may find the notion of using Foursquare and Gowalla as a channel for marketing messages anathema.  Many would say that it’s fine for brands to participate in social media, but if they do, it needs to be in a genuine way, with a human voice, through personalized one-on-one conversations.  I agree that the possibility of the social web to enable more human, collaborative exchanges between people and the companies they buy from is one of the most exciting aspects of the new, post-broadcast age.  But it’s not the only way of doing things.  If a social media service empowers consumers to receive promotional messages from companies and brands that are of interest to them, where and when they want to receive those messages, and on top overlays that information with additional opinions and commentary from their peers, I don’t have a problem with that.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the main reasons that people become fans of branded Facebook pages is that they want to learn about special offers, free samples and promotions.  So apparently consumers don’t have a problem with it either.

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“Search and save” on Facebook, Twitter?

In episode 533 of the For Immediate Release podcast, Shel Holtz provides a remarkably lucid and convincing defense of companies and organizations creating Facebook fan pages.  This was in response to comments from members of the FIR Friendfeed room predicting the end of commercial fan pages on Facebook.

Shel points out that many fan pages are indeed ineffective, because the creators have clearly not put much thought into why people might want to come visit the page.  One of the main reasons customers give for visiting a fan page is to find out about special deals and offers.  Like this one from Starbucks, which was in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.

Of course, there are other reasons people interested in an organization or brand might become a fan and be motivated to return to the page regularly.  As Shel points out, patients with chronic illnesses might become a fan of their local hospital to learn about seminars that help them to manage their condition.  It’s not hard to imagine other reasons as well.  A local retailer could keep its customers up to date on sales or the arrival of a hot new product.  Museums could announce new exhibits, or alert people to slow days when popular exhibits might be less crowded.  Presuming not everyone buys their books on Amazon, a local book seller could let literary types know when a new novel was in stock or its author would be appearing for a reading and book signing.

The point of course is that a successful fan page starts with the consumer.  What do they need, what might be of value to them, how could a Facebook fan page help?

Another aspect is particularly important. Companies and organizations can of course feed this information to people elsewhere on line, through their own web sites or email, for example  But that demands more effort and time than most people have today.  It has to occur to them to go to the web site, they need to take the time to remember your URL or find it in their “favorites” list, or consciously decide to click on your email vs. all the others that are cluttering their mailbox.  For more and more people, Facebook is where they are anyway.  And when they’ve opted in to your fan page, you are there with them, because everything you announce shows up in their news feed.  They don’t have to go to your information, your information goes to them — automatically.

Which brings me to the last point.  Most of us don’t have our eyes constantly glued to our Facebook news feed.  The same goes for Twitter.  Facebook should create a “search and save” tool, like an RSS feeder, but for Facebook posts.  It would have a function that allows you to enter the names of the fan pages from whom you would like to receive posts, and then automatically collects those posts for you to review at a time that’s convenient, with the reassurance that you didn’t miss the latest big deal or event.  I’m not aware of a tool like this, either on Facebook or Twitter, where it would also make sense.  Do you know of one?

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Pioneer Woman — how marrying a cowboy can turn you into an emerging web 2.0 superstar

The Pioneer Woman is Ree Drummond, a former city girl who met a cowboy, married him and ended up “in the middle of nowhere” with four kids on a cattle ranch.  Her original blog, which she started writing in 2006, has grown into a significant online media property.

As beautiful and polished as it looks — the photography and overall layout of the site are fantastic — and that fact that Ree clearly has a good instinct when it comes to creating a personal brand and public identity, she still manages to maintain her honest, down-home, “I’m just a wife and mother out in the boonies like you” soul.  Perhaps this, as well as her many recipes presented with easy-to-follow photos, is what keeps her estimated 2 million monthly readers (according to the LA Times) coming back to the site.  The photo archives of Charlie, the basset hound who thinks he’s a cattle dog, is just my favorite among many examples of the content on Pioneer Woman that keep it intimate and personal, indeed sometimes just down right corny.  (You can’t say that about Martha Stewart!)  It also helps that Ree has a style and a way with words that I suspect connects perfectly with her audience — like the way she refers to her husband only as Marlboro Man.

Pioneer Woman shows how web 2.0 enables us all to share our personal passions, lifestyle, thoughts and ideas with anyone, anywhere, and that even a mother-of-four, thousands of miles away from a media metropolis, can transform those passions into a commercial media property, while staying true to herself at the same time.

Still, it can’t be easy.  Wife, mother, household, 2000 head of cattle.  How does she do it?  It’s a challenge for me to write this blog at least once a week.  And the only animal (or child) around here is a parrot.  (Uh oh.  I hear him in the bathroom throwing the shower stopper around.  That means he wants to take a bath.  Gotta go!)

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A fun activity for Christmas if you’ve failed to board the social media train so far — enroll in SMUG

Two-thousand-and-nine will go down as the year when social media and marketing finally moved beyond the fishbowl of early adopters and entered the marketing mainstream.

I first started getting involved with social media in lurker mode — that is, subscribing to blogs, listening to podcasts, digesting the emerging literature on the topic, but not personally writing or commenting — toward the end of 2006.  As my interest and knowledge grew and I began to breach the topic with colleagues and clients, no one knew what the heck I was talking about.  Even at the beginning of 2008, when I began this blog, there still wasn’t a whole lot of attention being paid to social media by mainstream marketers or the press.

In the meantime, every other article in Advertising Age touches on some dimension of social media, CNN and other traditional media outlets invite you to follow them on Twitter, my clients are experimenting and creating social media staff positions, Ford’s Scott Monty, who was virtually unknown outside the social media fishbowl three years ago, is a marketing superstar, and even my 86 year old mom is on Facebook.  If there’s anyone left in the marketing community who hasn’t at least thought there is something definitely HAPPENING out there, he or she must be living under that proverbial rock.

Okay — but what if you’ve come late to the train?  You’ve recognized something is going on, but for whatever reason — you’ve been buried under the weight of your anachronistic to-do list, your boss has his head in the sand (or worse places) when it comes to social, or 2009 was the year you finally got to the final round of American Idol — you just haven’t had the time to look into it.

Here’s what you do.  Go to SMUG — Social Media University Global.  SMUG — an unfortunate acronym, as there is nothing smug about it — was created by Lee Aese.  Lee is the manager for Syndications and Social Media for the Mayo Clinic and has been a pioneering innovator in the application of social media strategies in health care.  (I have written previously about the Mayo Clinic’s social media efforts here.)

Enroll in the SMUG curriculum.  That sounds kind of old fashioned and boring, but it’s anything but.  The SMUG curriculum consists of Lee’s own clear and concise explanations of social media strategies and tools, as well as links to articles, blog posts, etc. relevant to the topic at hand, authored by others active in the space.  Add to that a good dose of charm and humor that Lee brings to the party and you’ll find that getting up to speed on the new world of social media and marketing can be an awful lot of fun.  Best of all, it’s free.

So in between the figgy pudding, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and your annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, why not log in to SMUG this holiday season and give yourself a gift that will truly last the whole year long and beyond.

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Social media may be creating a generation of dummies

I blog, therefore I am?

Steve Rubel is SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, and a social media and marketing thought leader.  I respect him tremendously.  But when interviewed recently by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson on their podcast For Immediate Release, he said something that disturbed me profoundly.  He mentioned that he had given up his standard blog and was now only micro-blogging.  The reason, he said, was that people no longer have the time to read.

He’s wrong.  It’s not that people no longer have the time to read.  It’s that they no longer have the desire to read.  Because they don’t think it’s important.  That’s disturbing.

But what’s even more disturbing is the apparent readiness of thought leaders in social media to accept this fact and by words and deeds to further encourage it.  When instead they should be leading the discussion that this is something we should perhaps be concerned about.

Why be concerned?

Because ideas, analysis and opinion usually require more than 140 characters.  Because a successful society needs a citizenry that can think, and evaluate the validity of an argument.  I’m not saying that every member of the population needs to make The Journal of Foreign Affairs his or her favorite Sunday afternoon reading.  But I do think the greater the number of people who are at least capable of reading an article in The New York Times from start to finish, without becoming confused or disinterested, the better it will be for our country and the world in general.

Democratization of the creation and distribution of information is great, but what good is it if we’re creating a generation of information consumers that is intellectually incapable of separating the informational wheat from the chaff?

Unfortunately, by word and deed, there’s much that goes on in the web 2.0 world that I’m concerned may be breeding a generation of dummies.

Words and deeds that bother me

Our infatuation with all things visual vs. written word

Don’t get me wrong.  I love YouTube as much as the next man. But although pictures may speak louder than words, they don’t necessarily speak more intelligently.  My concern has less to do with video itself – after all, there is fantastic video content on TED Talks – but that so much video favors the superficial, the snackable. With people becoming seduced by the endless amount superficial, snackable video out there, they are developing an appetite for content, and only for content, that is the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy.  And soon their systems won’t be capable of digesting anything else.  The philosopher said Cogito ergo sumI think, therefore I am,  not I snack, therefore I am.

I also believe, though I have no scientific evidence to prove it, that there is a greater depth of involvement with information when we take the time and apply the concentration required to read something.  We also may stop, and ponder a paragraph, before reading further, which we’re less likely to do when watching video.

Our obsession with churning out content – twitter posts, blog posts, comments – for the sake of our Google juice

Does anyone talk about quality vs. quantity anymore?  We’re all suffering from information overload.  But the sad thing is that a good deal of the overload is sifting the garbage from the stuff worth engaging with.  How about posting a little less, and thinking a little more?

Giving in to the lowest common denominator

This is what Steve Rubel has done.  And when a thought leader like Steve does it, it’s doubly concerning.  It’s what the TV network news stations did two decades ago, turning organizations that had formerly helped to inform and intellectually empower a nation into a mirror in which the nation’s most unflattering features were merely reflected.

The dismissal of learning for learning’s sake

Lately I’ve heard buzz among social media “thought leaders” about the worthlessness of a college education.  “Nothing that I learned in college prepared me for what I do to day.”  The first thing I would say to that is, if most of what you’re doing today are the kinds of things I’ve written about above, then that reflects more poorly on you than your college education.

I would agree that there is much I learned in college that is no longer relevant to what I do today.  But the most important things I learned are more relevant than ever.  I learned how to think, I learned the importance of investigating opposing points of view, I learned critical analysis, and I learned to value intellectual integrity.

And as far as the “no longer relevant” things are concerned, that’s beside the point.  College was a time of exploration and discovery, of things I might learn and become, and  things I wouldn’t.  I am thankful that I had that opportunity, an opportunity many never have the privilege to enjoy.

What we can do?

Well for one, we can start talking, as I am in this post.  And encourage further conversation.  The more we talk and discuss, the more this discussion will spread.  And if it even gets one person to start thinking about the importance of getting a complete picture on an issue, reading different points of view about it, or in general just taking the time to read and be exposed to different ideas and perspectives, and thinking critically and thoroughly about stuff – well that’s a good thing.

I wish more of us would resist the temptation to post, post, post – flooding the blogosphere, Twittersphere etc. with endless streams of information, half of it bogus, self-promoting, superficial or simply spam.  Post when you have something useful to say, or found something that you have taken the the time to read and come to a conclusion as to whether it’s really worth spreading or not.  If not, use that time posting for something more worthwhile — like reading.

Break free from you own compulsion to read and follow everything and everyone.  My God, how can you possibly follow more than a few hundred people on Twitter and not feel overwhelmed.  Be selective, be critical, take the time to really read what people are sharing with you and make decisions about which of those people are really worth hearing from.

Keep blogging, and podcasting, not just micro-blogging.  Big ideas, themes and points of view require more than 140 characters.  If all we feed our audiences is the equivalent of intellectual cotton candy, then we are accessories to the crime of turning their minds into mush.

Finally, talk about this.  Share your thoughts with others.  The more people talk about this, the more we can help to create a web 2.0 culture that still values quality of thought and writing, intellectual discipline and integrity, and validation of sources, facts and information.  And to cultivate a web 2.0  community that doesn’t simply surf,  snack and spread, but thinks, analyzes and informs.

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Said the advertising to the academic, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

I’m a little late to this one but I’d like to share some thoughts all the same.

Last March, Eric Clemons, who is a professor at the Wharton School, one of America’s top business schools, wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.” It caused quite a stir.  Professor Clemons’s key thesis is that online advertising will ultimately fail.  There will be less of it in future because in today’s interconnected world, people don’t want, need or trust ads.

While the piece’s title refers to online advertising, Professor Clemons goes further:

“… simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail.  It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information.  We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising.  We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.”

Earlier in the post he asserts that “the ultimate failure of broadcast media advertising is likewise becoming clear.”  So he is not talking about the eventual demise of online advertising only, but of advertising in general.

There is much in Professor Clemons’s post with which I agree, as well as some excellent perspectives that really got me to stretch my mind.   Especially thought provoking is his description of paid search as “misdirection,” because it sends consumers to pages that are not necessarily the most valuable to them, but rather to the sites of companies that cough up the most money.  (For this reason he believes Google’s business model is probably unsustainable.) Anyone who knows this blog also knows that I not only recognize, but am inspired by the changes web 2.0 and social media are bringing to fundamentals of marketing, communications and brand-consumer relationships.

Still, I am not convinced by the good professor’s thesis that advertising’s role in the marketing mix — online or otherwise — is necessarily doomed to oblivion.  The reason is that Mr. Clemons has a very info-centric view of advertising, as you can see by the previous quote and in the definition of advertising below that he offers in his post (passages in bold are mine):

“Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.”

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

If you believe that the only role of advertising is to provide information about a product or brand, or for that matter, that a person’s rational evaluation of a particular brand’s attributes and benefits is the only basis for the choice of that brand over another,  than his thesis makes perfect sense.  But of course we all know that human beings are not especially rationale creatures, especially in their brand choices, and that advertising in many categories plays a role beyond simply conveying product benefits.  It may be out of style to say it, but the truth is that even in an online world where we have easy access to all sorts of information about brands, people are still influenced by other factors in their brand choices than a simple assessment of the benefits received relative to the price paid.

We all know that brands have dimensions beyond the attributes and benefits they offer.  Brands can represent an idea, connect us with a feeling, signify a particular attitude toward life, or express a value with which we personally identify.  Advertising plays a role in shaping those dimensions in our minds, and when the product attributes and quality of two brands are more or less equal, it can be primarily those emotional qualities that determine whether someone chooses one brand over another.

I doubt this will ever change.  It’s in the nature of who we are as human beings.  I remember reading somewhere that it is in our psyche to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects.  That’s what’s at the heart of our propensity to ascribe emotional and image dimensions to brands.  It’s through those associations that brands are one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.  And that’ something else I see no sign of changing.

This doesn’t deny that a brand’s image today is driven much more  than in the past by the thoughts, opinions and impressions that people can now share with thousands of others on line.  But even though online conversations play a bigger role than ever in shaping the collective perception of rational and emotional brand dimensions, this doesn’t mean that brand communications, created by marketers, no longer have any influence at all.  Brand perception is shaped by a myriad of sources — online conversations, ratings and reviews, personal experience, comments from others when we use the brand, our perception of others who use it, and — yes — brand communications.  Just because that last factor plays a smaller role than it did when we lived in a marketing world dominated by one-way messaging from marketer to consumer, it doesn’t mean it plays no role at all today or will play no role in future.

But even if you come from the information angle, I think there is still a role for advertising.  Just because I’m not actively looking for information about a particular product or category, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want information to find its way to me.  I’m a Mac fan.  I’m happy to get “uninvited” messages about a new Mac product or an upgrade to my current one.  Or even to hear about a new flavor of my favorite tooth paste brand.  (I’m a flavored tooth paste junkie.)

One of Mr. Clemons’s arguments is that advertising will fail because people don’t feel it is a trustworthy source of information.  But in future, it’s quite possible that advertising will gain in credibility because marketers will be forced to provide a higher level of truthfulness and integrity in their messages and claims, precisely because in a web 2.o world, any inaccuracies or attempts at deception will be quickly exposed and shared mercilessly.

There seem to be a whole bunch of people making extremely black-and-white statements about the future of marketing and communications these days, about whether advertising as we know it (or knew it) will fail or succeed, evolve or be doomed to oblivion.  No one really  knows, but certainly a lot of people seem to act like they do.  Rather than channeling all this energy into debate on these questions, which is a bit of a tempest in teapot, we should focus more on exploring and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, and how old and new media potentially work together.  And then see what happens.

Does that mean that this is the last time I’ll ever raise my voice in the debate?

Probably not.

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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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