Advertising – Social media business strategies blog Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:53:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Advertising – 32 32 The inevitable rise of native advertising Mon, 23 Jun 2014 12:01:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
The Native Matrix Who is it written by?
Editorial staff Sales staff/
ad agency
Brand execs
Who is it published by? Publisher Public relations Sponsored content/
Native advertising*
Brand journalism/
Thought leadership
Brand Content marketing Marketing Blogging
*Sponsored content is designed to be read; native advertising is designed to be shared.

Done right, it can complement your content marketing strategy

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, businesses, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

Chris AbrahamNearly everywhere you look these days, native advertising is booming. If you’re not familiar with the concept, native advertising is similar to “advertorials,” designed to be entertaining enough in its own right to compel visitors to consume, be influenced by, and even share the content, be it videos, images, articles, or music, based only on the targeted and contextual appeal that holds on its own.

The content often tends to be camouflaged in native garb, looking and feeling like the surrounding editorial content in both tone and voice, whether it’s an article on the Atlantic, a Vlog on YouTube, a snappy on Instagram, or a pithy 140 characters dose on Twitter.

While most of the popular articles I have seen on native advertising have been negative blowback gotcha exposés targeted against mainstream media sites like The Atlantic that have been serving up editorial content that looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, native advertising is more often like a shell game of links, recommendations, suggestions, images, tweets, videos, infographics, referrals, and click throughs — not just copywritten puff pieces and McArticles.

mousetrap2In many ways, native ads put a media blindfold on its visitors, turn them around until they get dizzy, and then set them off to paid for and sponsored content. And, since the typical visitor is undiscerning as to whether content is an ad or editorial (people generally don’t discern between organic results and ad results on Google search, believe it or not), it’s not hard to bait the typical user into paid content — even to the point of earning shares to social media. That said, the onus is on the native advertiser: you’re only as good as your lure, only ad good as your headline, on as good ad your content.

The ultimate goal is virality

According to Reuters’ Felix Salmon, “native content tends to aspire more to going viral” more than sponsored content or display advertising. In other words, native advertising wants to compel your superconsciousness to share, tweet, retween, like, and +1 rather than just infect your subconsciousness thereby branding you — or even the holy grail of converting you to a sale.

According to Salmon, at least, native advertising is more interested in creating carriers — brand Typhoid Marys — who will spread the advertisement rather than just convert on the ad. I guess we can call it buzz advertising, if you will.  At top is Felix Salmon’s attempt at putting together a matrix to explain what the difference is between PR, native advertising, and brand journalism; content marketing, marketing, and blogging.

fly-fishing-lure-295x195  Until a few years ago, the top videos on YouTube had authentically gone viral based on their own appeal and stickiness — they were generally amateurs engaging the world artlessly and their “going viral” was mostly organic.

In the past few years, however, the majority of these apparently consumer generated content are agency-produced and agency-promoted. Agencies really are better at this then we are.

Even when it comes to producing content, entertainment, video, infographics, and compelling video or writing hilarious copy, a team of trained professionals will generally get it right more often than a dude in a room with a cam. We can make fun of agencies, but funny is funny, well-produced is pretty compelling, and having a promotional machine — and budget — behind your video, image, article, and music couldn’t hurt.

Native advertising as contextual content marketing 

Since I’m an SEO and SEM guy, I would say that native advertising is merely an extension of contextual advertising, the sort of content- and context-aware search advertising you see when you do a search on Google; or, more recently, the content-targeted banner and video ads you’ll see that attempt to cater to both your own individual interests — based on what the advertising network already knows about you — and the topic or theme of the page.

Let’s call it contextual content marketing.

The goal, of course, could be to keep you on the site (if you like this article, you should check out this one), lure you away from the site to an advertiser (other content you might be interested in), or encourage you to share, even if you don’t actually click through or even read the target native advertising content.  According to Wikipedia:

Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. The advertiser’s intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and thus increase the likelihood users will click on it.”

The back story

fish_taking_lure_Wallpaper__yvt2Back in 1980, CNN changed the news cycle to 24/7. In 1993, HTML and the web browser razed the barrier between professional and amateur news makers. In the last 20-years, as media outlets proliferated, the hegemony main stream media possessed over news, entertainment, and content weakened and media outlets failed, downsized, and were gobbled up by much larger fish in order to survive.

As fewer journalists juggled more stories for less money and security, reporters relied more and more on wire services and press releases for their story ideas; then, over time, those releases, provided by PR agencies and brand communication, became bonafide news sources. As the mainstream media struggled, agencies, lobbyists, and organizations provided releases with produced video, graphics, and data as well in order to take some of the weight off of the news providers in order to facilitate inclusion in the news cycle. And, as the news load has increased, the staff has become too lean, and the weight of the news organization can no longer be supported by subscribers and traditional advertising alone, the impermeable blood-brain barrier between editorial and advertising is becoming more and more permeable.

Many believe that native advertising is the harbinger of doom. Others believe that native advertising may well be the sort of income stream that mainstream media needs to move into the future — at least fiscally.

What this all means

With regards to native advertising, the horse has left the barn — in full camouflage, shell game, blindfolded, spinning, dizzy mode. Long the shenanigans of sites like BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and Gawker Media, more austere and serious news sites like The Washington Post and the New York Times are joining The Guardian and the Atlantic.

And, it will be the wild West for the foreseeable future — or at least until the Federal Trade Commission weighs in on disclosure standards and what defines a chargeable offense — and what that means. In the article Native advertising has a long history and it didn’t begin with BuzzFeed, Adrienne LaFrance is quoted about the long continuum of native advertising in the context of the new world where old media no longer possesses control of the printing presses:

“The difference today is not the introduction of native ads—which happened long ago—but the reality that publishing is no longer only in the hands of the influential few who control printing presses,” writes Adrienne LaFrance. “News organizations that want to survive are going to be open to all kinds of funding ideas, including old-school strategies like native advertising. It’s not the internet’s fault that native advertising exists. Journalism needs diversified funding streams.”

We’ll see where all this takes us. Any ideas?

Social media may not be 100% free for much longer Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:01:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Instead of paying for content distribution, look at forming meaningful relationships with your customers for free word-of-mouth advertising.

Rely on supporters’ genuine enthusiasm rather than on paid distribution

Target audience: Marketing professionals, PR pros, brand managers, businesses, nonprofits, social media managers, Web publishers.

Post by Brian Flax

BrianFlaxFacebook and Twitter are well-known social networking sites that businesses can easily use for their social media marketing campaigns. Although services like Facebook Advertising do come at a cost, most features on Facebook are provided free of charge – at least for now. It seems like every other week, we’re seeing a new IPO for a social networking site, meaning companies now have to appease investors and turn a profit, ultimately at the cost of users of the service.

In this article, we’ll take a look at social marketing sites that are moving away from offering free services and passing the cost on to business users.

Gathering Facebook Likes

Like most social media marketing experts, I use Facebook to market to my clients and create an online community for them. Although I’ve used Facebook Advertising as a way to create targeted pay-per-click ads for my clients, gathering “likes” has been a task that could be completed free of charge, at least for the most part.

Facebook is constantly looking for ways to generate additional revenue, so why not charge for “likes”? For most of 2013, Facebook had been moving away from offering businesses free newsfeed distribution to consumers who “like” the business’s page. Although the change hasn’t happened all at once, it seems like moving to a paid model for newsfeed distribution will soon become a reality.

Think about it. As a consumer on Facebook, how many advertisements or posts have we seen on our newsfeed from brands we’ve “liked”? The number has most likely declined. Instead, we’re seeing advertisements from companies that have paid to have their message distributed to our newsfeeds as a sponsored or suggested post.

What I used to be able to provide for my clients free of charge will now have to be passed on as a cost of using the service. It affects my bottom line as a social media manager and raises the cost of the products and services I can offer to businesses. In others words: Good for Facebook investors, bad for social media marketers.

Facebook offers numerous ways for business to advertise as it moves away from free content distribution.

The cost of Twitter

Just like Facebook can place relevant advertisements in consumers’ newsfeeds, Twitter acts in much the same way. As a tool for social marketing, I can pay Twitter to promote my client’s accounts as a way to attract more followers. I can choose to advertise the account in a specific geographic area, gender, or by targeting users who share an interest that’s relevant to the business I’m promoting.

Although promoted accounts can be a valuable tool for social marketing, they come at a cost. When promoting an account on Twitter, businesses are charged whenever the account gains a new follower by clicking on the promoted ad.

Twitter also allows businesses to promote individual tweets to a targeted user base. Promoted tweets can be targeted toward specific geographical areas, interests, gender, and even the type of the device the consumer uses. Both promoted accounts and tweets are valuable social marketing tools, but they come at a cost and are not included in Twitter’s free business features.

The future of content distribution

In an article published on ZDNet, writer Tom Foremski adds that even search engines are catching on to the paid distribution model, replacing organic SEO-optimized search engine results with content that has been paid for. This can easily be seen in the most recent Gmail update with the introduction of the “Social” and “Promotions” tabs, which automatically filter out emails and newsletters sent by companies and social media services.

It won’t be long before other services start charging for content distribution, as well. Other prominent social marketing sites such as LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and Tumblr can also benefit from paid distribution, increasing company revenue and regulating the type of content each company distributes to its user base.

Now is the time that businesses should start focusing on creating meaningful relationships with their customers, rather than pushing content to “share” and “like.” When consumers are passionate about a company or brand, it’s much easier to have a message spread organically by word of mouth, rather than pay a social network for targeted distribution. I’ll be focusing my efforts in 2014 by creating meaningful relationships on social media, focusing on my audience, and looking for ways to spread content organically rather than paying for it at a premium. How about you?

Brian Flax is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. He has worked with numerous clients, including FindTheBest, Demand Media and Timothy Broas. Connect with Brian on Twitter.
How social media has changed TV advertising Thu, 10 Oct 2013 12:01:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> camel
Image by Geico Insurance

Ad campaigns now often feature ‘second screen’ integration

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, social media managers, businesses, brands, Facebook administrators.

Guest post by Joseph Stark

joseph-starkSocial media didn’t just explode onto the scene over the past six years or so. In fact, it has been steadily gaining steam and heating up for the past two decades. Social networking options like and AOL Instant Messenger have been around since personal Internet access became a widespread concept in the early to mid-1990s. It’s a new development, however, that marketing campaigns are focusing their efforts on social media and capitalizing on it in a big way.

Watching television isn’t simply a matter of watching television anymore, and advertisers are taking note. People used to interact with TV through water cooler conversations about football games and plot twists, but the market has become increasingly segmented, and advertisers are now aiming to engage consumers through their viewing patterns — and social media habits.

By producing a commercial that gets people talking and simply adding a hashtag, advertisers open up a new realm of communication

The “second screen” opportunity offers deeper and broader engagement by viewers, resulting in a more fulfilling experience for everyone involved. And they’re doing it in ways that seamlessly blend into the way users already use the Web. By producing a commercial that gets people talking and simply adding a hashtag, advertisers open up a whole new realm of communication that’s extremely quantifiable.

By adding a hashtag — which originated on Twitter but now extends to Facebook and Instagram — or a “like us on Facebook” message to their ads, advertisers are bringing the conversation to a second screen, stretching their investment in ad campaigns.

Take the Twitter Ad Scrimmage program, for example. According to Twitter, it “extends the life of a Super Bowl commercial by amplifying and moving Monday water cooler discussions to immediately after the game when momentum for conversations around those commercials is at its highest.”

Basically, it encouraged viewers to tweet about their favorite commercials and fueled the conversation immediately.

Technology companies now promote file sharing features


Tech companies like Canon and Nikon, among others, have developed products equipped with wi-fi-enabled file sharing. Some of these gadgets actually have a “social” setting on them and upload to authorized social network sites automatically.

We can now snap a photo with a digital camera, tablet, or smartphone and upload it directly to social networking sites or email it to friends, family, or co-workers with minimal effort. It has become commonplace for these companies to highlight these features in their TV advertising campaigns as a way to show how cutting-edge they are.

Viral commercial production is on the rise

Geico’s hump day camel, the antics of Allstate’s mayhem man, and the quirks of Progressive’s “Flo” are all prime examples of the way companies are producing commercials destined to go viral online. These ads get people talking, which keeps the companies that produce them top of mind for consumers.

People everywhere quote these quirky ads. They’ve become a part of mainstream popular culture. That’s exactly what advertisers are going for. Ads are designed to place companies at the top of consumer consciousness. Social media offers the perfect setting to launch that initiative.

TV now fuels online campaigns, too

Let’s take a look at Kia’s TV ads this year: hip-hop, space babies and dancing hamsters. No wonder this stuff has spread across the Internet like wildfire — it’s hilarious. Business Insider investigated the success behind these campaigns and it found that Kia experienced a 300 percent increase in traffic to its YouTube channel after its Super Bowl ad campaign debuted. Traffic to Kia’s website also increased as a result of the campaign.

Kia’s Social and Digital Media Manager, George Haynes, articulated to Business Insider exactly how the company used this approach to further their campaign, saying, “Television is like rain, and we catch the rain in buckets and redeploy it to the social channels to make our sales opportunity and brand grow. We add momentum and velocity to the TV spot (the rain), capture it and circulate it back into the online process, thereby advancing the brand and buying cycle.”

Not only do these practices increase the effectiveness of ad campaigns, but they can stretch dollars and even cut costs. Social media has influenced TV around the world, bringing consumers and marketers together in ways that were never possible before.

Joseph Stark Jr. is a freelance writer and blogger by day, focusing on technology and business. By night he is a tech junkie, gym member and avid writer. He currently resides in Santiago, Chile, where he continues to write and contribute to a number of high-profile blogs.
How I shamelessly abuse social media to my advantage Mon, 12 Aug 2013 12:02:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> facebook-press

How spending a few dollars on Facebook can turn you into an influencer

Guest post by Dennis Yu
CEO, BlitzMetrics

dennis-yuIam a member of the public, and thus a member of the press. So when I get terrible service, should I complain? The levers of power have been tipping toward the public, thanks to social media:

• A hotel treats me wrong (it’s happened to you, too), so I write about it.

• My best friend had a problem with his Toyota, blogged about it, and ran a Facebook ad for $20, targeting executives of Toyota in Japan.

• A cruise line screws up its Fourth of July cruise, so this author writes an exposé on Business Insider.

• An airline accidentally kills a woman’s golden retriever, so she uses her blog and Facebook account to warn others about neglect.

We resort to this only when we’ve exhausted our regular channels. Complaining on social media should be a last resort, since it’s basically jumping the line. When you’re a journalist, blogger, or an influential person in other ways, you wield a megaphone. Even if you’re not one of those, running Facebook ads gives you that same power for a few dollars.

Rent the megaphone

Megaphone-300x235A lot of people will file a complaint or go to the Better Business Bureau when this happens. Try that and let me know how it works a few weeks later, counting up how much time and money you spent chasing wild geese. Then run Facebook ads with workplace targeting (targeting folks who work at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or wherever folks need to see your message). Target executives at the offending company by following these easy steps.

Because you’re targeting just a few dozen or a few hundred people, it can be done for a few dollars and in a few minutes. The next day, the general manager of the dealer calls to profusely apologize. Folks in Japan at Toyota HQ have seen the ad and are asking what happened.

Of course, as members of media, you and I have to be careful not to abuse our status. Yet with Facebook ads targeted by workplace, any consumer now has this lethal weapon.

We’re all the press now

Sure, you can get a message into Mark Zuckerberg’s mailbox for $100. But why not target employees at Facebook for far less and reach a couple of thousand people, too?

  • We attended a mobile hackathon, wrote a post about it, and targeted Facebook mobile engineers. Matt Kelly and James Pearce noticed it and liked it.
  • An intern decided to “play a trick on his boss” and ran ads targeting me. See what happened.
  • B2B firms target the press to get more coverage and show up in the Facebook newsfeed.

An army of advocates

Jim Williams of Influitive shared this with us: “Xactly‘s advocate marketing program generated hundreds of recommendations, follows and shares on LinkedIn, and a single advocate challenge resulted in nearly a hundred new Facebook fans and Twitter followers.”

Customers are already talking about the companies that they love or hate online, but advocate marketing programs allow marketers to better organize those customers, tying their activity to sales and marketing initiatives and results.

Have a grudge or complaint? Would you spend $5 to scratch this itch?

Dennis Yu is CEO and founder of BlitzMetrics. He is an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Fox News and CBS Evening News. He has held leadership positions at Yahoo! and American Airlines. Besides being a Facebook data and ad geek, you can find him eating chicken wings or playing Ultimate Frisbee in a city near you. Reach him by email or visit him on Facebook, Twitter or his blog.

How to run an effective Facebook campaign for $5 (

• The danger of buying Facebook fans (

‘Brand Advocates’: How to enlist armies of loyalists (

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When does ad retargeting make sense for your business? Thu, 28 Mar 2013 10:11:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> porter-top-banner

Ad retargeting is used to follow users as they move from site to site.

Here’s how targeting advertising works – but use it sparingly & strategically or it could turn off users

Target audience: Businesses, brands, digital marketers, advertising agencies, SEO specialists, entrepreneurs, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaLet me confess up front: I’ve long been attracted to the idea of useful advertising — the promise that interruption marketing will fade into its well-deserved irrelevance and that marketers will be able to serve us ads and offers based on products and services we actually want or need.

Trouble is, the practice rarely lives up to the ideal, chiefly because retargeting, as it’s called, is hard to do well.

You know what I’m referring to, right? In your forays around the Web, you’ve no doubt noticed that you’re being served up advertising based on the pages you were visiting earlier. Take The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, who discovered that 105 advertising-related companies tracked his online behavior over a 36-hour period. Lots of people are squeamish about the very idea of targeted ads, and for these folks, filling out this opt-out form should put the kabosh on most of these ads.

I fall into the second camp: I think retargeting has its place, especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs trying to break through the clutter of 2,000 marketing messages that bombard us every day. If you run a small business or startup and have a new product, service, book or online class that readers or followers might find valuable, retargeting has its place in your marketing arsenal, as long as it’s done with discretion and is accompanied by other tactics in getting the word out.

Below I’ll offer tips and best practices for your business if you’re considering targeted advertising.

How ad retargeting works — is it right for you?


Here’s a look at how retargeting works and how it could be useful for your small business.

At its simplest, retargeting allows businesses to target ads to people who visited their site but didn’t purchase anything. Because the targeting is meant to be precise and the ad message can be customized, advertisers frequently see significant higher click-through-rates and purchases from retargeted ads.

Your business could:

  • Bring people back who abandoned the shopping cart process
  • Deliver a discount coupon or inform previous visitors of a sale
  • Simply remind viewers of your product at a later date when they might be ready to purchase

A number of vendors provide retargeting products: Google, AdRoll, Retargeter, Fetchback, Clicksor and Rocketfuel, to name just a few. Some have slightly different offerings, but they all basically work the same way.

“Targeted ads have driven about 15 percent of our enrollments with a lower CPA than other channels”

Retargeting starts with a bit of tracking code that your vendor provides and that you install on pages of your site. This tracking code drops a cookie into a visitor’s web browser and that cookie tracks what pages are viewed on your site. (If this sounds old school, it is: Browser cookies have been around for 19 years.)

Once your visitors travel to other sites on the Web, they’ll almost certainly encounter advertising slots on some of these pages. This is where you can retarget an ad to them and try to bring them back to your site. Those ad slots will do a quick check to see if there is a retargeting cookie present in the browser, and if there is, it will trigger a split-second real-time auction to determine what ad is served.

You’ll want to establish a budget at the outset and set a limit for your campaign. Generally these campaigns start at a few hundred dollars for a small business and can scale up from there. If your bid is the highest, you win the auction and your ad is served. The targeting companies keep track of ad inventory so you don’t have to figure out where your ad will appear. You generally pay on a cost-per-click basis, the same as you would for Google AdWords ads.

How one small business uses targeting to increase enrollments

Porter Gale, a friend who’s the author of the upcoming book Your Network Is Your Net Worth and the former vice president of marketing for Virgin America, wanted to get the word out about her new three-day online class Building Your Brand (day two is today).

So she agreed to a modest retargeting campaign steered by Rick Silvestrini, general manager of creativeLIVE, which hosts live online workshops, including Porter’s. Silvestrini runs targeted advertising campaigns to drive sign-ups for several of his instructors’ classes. “Targeted ads have driven about 15 percent of our enrollments from paid with a lower CPA (cost per acquisition) than other channels,” he said.

As with Google AdWords ads, the cost per click can vary greatly depending on your bid parameters — after all, it’s auction pricing. With Google, there’s no minimum spend, and you can wind up spending little or a lot depending on how the ad performs. “Our clicks cost anywhere from 32 cents to $ 1.50 per click, depending on how well the creative performs,” Silvestrini said. “I’ll spend $300 to $2,000 per week on retargeting alone. That comes out to $50 to $800 per week per course.” The higher the spend, the more people who sign up for the courses.


A targeted ad that appears as an overlay on a YouTube video.

Facebook wading into relevant advertising in a big way

What about Facebook? With a billion users and about a quarter of the all display ads on the Internet, Facebook offers businesses a huge opportunity for retargeting, and the mechanics are basically the same. However, the advertising units inside Facebook are different sizes (those little text & picture ads on the right of your news feed) and there are not as many vendors to choose from; Perfect Audience and AdRoll seem to be the biggest.

Facebook also has another twist on retargeting called Custom Audiences, where you upload your email list and Facebook targets ads to Facebook members who are on your list.

Other social networks, like LinkedIn and Twitter, have their own techniques for ad targeting.

Tips for small businesses that want to try out targeted ads

Can small businesses do this on their own? That depends on how technically savvy you are and how much time you want to devote to mastering retargeting. The easiest retargeting to do on your own is Facebook Custom Audiences targeted to your email list. (I might have recommended Twitter for its ease of use, but the conversion rate was very low for a campaign I recently did for one of my sites.) For the rest, you’ll at least need to know how to install a bit of tracking code into your pages.

Regardless of who’ll be executing your targeted ad campaign, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Have a planned-out strategy, don’t just send out a targeted ad blast. Who are you targeting precisely and what do you want them to do?
  • Don’t do a mass carpet bombing. Start out with a short campaign and grow it from there.
  • Make sure the service you use has an ad report tool. Try several variations of your ad and optimize your campaign to use the version that received the biggest response.
  • Make sure your product or service offers value and is something that people will want.
  • Make it personal and relevant — not like a late-night infomercial.
  • Where possible, target friends of connections, which you can do in Facebook.
  • Make sure your ad contains a clear call to action.

If this still sounds bit daunting, please reach out to us and we’ll help get you on your way.

Ad targeting, while years old, still has a long way to go. Clearly, some of these companies go too far in collecting users’ personal data without their consent (but that’s a column for another day). For another, there was no option to turn off the ads even though I registered for Porter’s workshop. I’m with The Register writer who bemoaned, “Come on, people: if you’re going to track my online behavior, at least use it to get me to buy something I want!”

What do you think of retargeting? Have you used it? Do you think it has its place?

Related articles

How to run an effective Facebook campaign for $5 (

How To Use The 15 Facebook Ad Targeting Options (Socialfresh)

Online advertising isn’t creepy enough: Go ahead and terrify me… with a properly targeted ad (The Register)

How To Block Targeted Ads From Following You Around (Business Insider)

Doc Searls’ book The Intention Economy (Amazon)

The Uncanny Valley of Internet Advertising (Slate)

How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Creepy New Targeted Ads (Gizmodo)

Targeted Ads: Finding a Balance Between Cool and Creepy (IT Business Edge)

Online Display Advertising: Targeting and Obtrusiveness (Marketing Science, PDF)

Facebook will remain king, but social pure plays will fade Wed, 13 Jun 2012 13:01:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Facebook collage by Jennifer Daniel

Look for the rise of sites with deep social features

This is second of a three-part series on Facebook as an investment. Also see:
Facebook’s biggest barrier to enormous wealth? Trust
Brands: How to cut your exposure to Facebook business risk

Christopher RollysonFacebook will remain the dominant popular social network in many markets for many years, and it won’t have to worry about being “displaced” by another social network the way that it displaced MySpace. In the near term, this lack of competition will give the company some breathing room, but a more daunting threat awaits: the waning of social network pure plays’ influence by 2017. Nonetheless, the fate of pure plays should be top of mind for serious Facebook investors: to produce the fabulous returns that current investors expect, Facebook will have to move far beyond adverts.

In part one of this series, I argued that Facebook had a significant trust gap with users that would inhibit its ability to monetize its most unique and valuable assets, and that the trust gap was recently compounded by its “IPO irregularities.” Below I’ll take a different tack and analyze the investment prospects of Facebook the platform.

Social networks’ disappointing investment results

Pure play social networks (Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn) have not lived up to investors’ ROI aspirations, despite the fact that people (‘users”) have loved the networks and lavished mind-boggling amounts of time on them. The Web 1.0 logic behind investor expectations held that the more time people spent on the sites, the more ads they would see and the more they would click. #fail

In retrospect, it is understandable that pure plays’ management and investors didn’t appreciate social networks’ social context. It turns out that very few people understand the intricacies of “sociality,” much less how to wire it into a value proposition or a business ROI. I’ve advised and mentored hundreds of firms and executives on using social networks for defined outcomes, and most people are completely clueless. Businesspeople are a big part of the problem: Like economists, they want to believe that people make decisions “rationally” and “responsibly.” People do, but not in ways that we think (often according to social logic, which few people understand). My studies of evolutionary psychology have been illuminating, and I encourage you to look into Human OS as well. Social networks, since they capture an increasing portion of the human spectrum, expose us to who we really are. One thing that Facebook got right: “it’s complicated.” No wonder that pure plays have a hard time making money.

“Wait,” you say, “Facebook has billions in revenue!” That’s true, but it’s far below what management and most investors believe it should have, based on the number of users Facebook has and the time they spend on the site. It is also a sliver of Google’s revenue. LinkedIn has been profitable for a relatively long time, but thus far at a fraction of Facebook’s current revenue. The problem is, the concept of “monetizing eyeballs” has never worked terribly well online.

The future of social networks

Most technology disruptions are heralded by the arrival of “pure plays,” which focus the best minds on uncovering all aspects of how the disruption functions — with passing focus on monetizing it at first. Social networks will exit this era in the next 2-5 years. Friendster, MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn have educated all kinds of people about social features, connecting, sharing, “friends/connections,” etc. Now users merely expect these “social features” to be everywhere, and websites’ and enterprise software’s bolt-ons are accommodating them. Interoperability is slowly increasing (Facebook Connect, Google+, Twitter). So pure play social networks will soon be appropriate for digital museums, social features that were prototypes on social networks will be everywhere, and pure plays will be superfluous.

The big data opportunity

However, “social networking” firms have the opportunity to monetize through data. I saw LinkedIn pull a classic Valley startup jujitsu move in 2009-11. When I met several of its executives in 2008, LinkedIn’s business strategy was to become an executive collaboration platform. Although I have no inside information/confirmation for this, I believe they discovered that it’s extremely difficult to get conservative businesspeople to collaborate online. They realized that it wasn’t going to happen often enough, soon enough, to build the critical mass needed to realize that business model. So they did a 180. When I covered Reid Hoffman’s 2011 SxSW keynote, LinkedIn had become a “big data” company.

“Social networks” can gather extensive real-time information about our social actions, and this data is extremely valuable because it can help predict how people will act in certain situations.

The LinkedIn example

Look at LinkedIn’s new features during the last two years from this perspective. Take Skills and Expertise. Here, LinkedIn encourages members to self-identify according to super-hot keywords, which LinkedIn uses to help people and companies understand what skills rank high in certain firms or fields. This data is very valuable to enterprises and recruiters.

The key is, LinkedIn lets members and enterprises benefit from the data LinkedIn is collecting, and Facebook needs to learn this lesson: They have to give users specific benefits before users will let Facebook monetize that same data in different ways.

It doesn’t matter whether most LinkedIn members follow through and use the data (most don’t); it’s important that they could if they wanted to. And LinkedIn talks about this online, so the people who care (like yours truly) can learn about it, use it and talk about it.

The point is, people are creeped out by companies “spying on” them and using the information they gather in “nefarious” ways. So transparency, trust and letting users benefit directly are the keys to earning the right to use the data.

Insights from Google

Google is a data company that is attempting to attract users to build social data around their online actions through Google+. Google realized belatedly how important “social” data was, and they’ve been playing catch up for several years. However, they have succeeded in monetizing data better than anyone else thus far. However, they have also felt the sting of user backlash when people felt they crossed the line.

Google+ is a useful early example of post-pure play social sites. I don’t claim to know whether Google will “succeed” with it, but as I’ve written here and here, I think they have a better chance than any ot the pure plays to monetize significantly because they are building social intelligence to inform their other products. This is the right impulse. I have given some use cases for Google products here (slides 10-13).

But Google is very different in a way that pure plays should contemplate long and hard: A large portion of its users have defined workstreams; they are trying to get something done, something defined in a search. They aren’t “socializing,” to which most people assign low value.

Next-gen social networks

‘Social’ is too core to human interactivity to be valued by itself, but it can increase human productivity incredibly. We’ll pay to do things it can help us accomplish.

Although people continue to spend increasing amounts of time on “social” platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, few people realize a “return” on their time investment. But users have arbitrarily organized their lives around the trilogy (“LinkedIn for work, Facebook for personal, Twitter for whatever”). People have extensive mental resistance to moving beyond three due to lack of ROI and perceived lack of time. They lack the experience to compare platforms according to their specific use cases and to select the best ones. This leads me to predict that no platform will “replace” any of the “big three.”

Instead, social network pure plays will fade in importance and be gradually displaced by sites with deep social features, but their main characteristics will be deep domain knowledge and business process support, which will draw members with highly defined backgrounds. I do not mean this in a Web 1.0 sense in which sites were siloed and “B2B communities/marketplaces” failed. Web 3.0 interoperates, and data flows around. People will pay to accomplish meaningful things more quickly than they can otherwise. And their data can be reused and resold, as long as they agree and can see the benefits.

“Social” is too core to human interactivity to be valued by itself, but it can increase human productivity incredibly; it’s our OS, so we won’t pay for it by itself. We will pay to do things it can help us accomplish.

Where does this leave Facebook?

In this context, Facebook management shows itself to be sophomoric by claiming Facebook will monetize on mobile. Yes, more people have 3/4G etc. but screens are still small and ads intrusive. Mobile adverts will not be Facebook’s, or anyone’s, panacea. The problem is, the mobile “experience” is highly personal, and people are by definition interacting with their environment, which injects all kinds of exceptions into the system. From a user perspective, it’s an order of magnitude more dynamic than the desktop. People are dealing with rude cashiers, trying to avoid getting flattened by buses, trying to flirt with someone in line… ads’ algos just aren’t smart enough to add value in the mobile environment, and that won’t change in time for Facebook.

When I covered dozens of telecoms and mobile executives at Digital Hollywood 2007, advertising was the unhappy fallback for business models, but no one liked it because people (customers) hated invasive ads on their small-screened (and slow) mobiles. Facebook management looks ignorant or disingenuous by claiming to monetize on mobile. The same way Eurozone leaders grasp at straws and claim that “growth is the answer.” As if no one had thought about and tried that before.

That said, I have long admired Facebook’s innovation with feedback on ads, but it’s not enough to carry the lion’s share of the business model. Encouraging members/users to use ads is also an interesting direction, but it will prove contributory at best. One of the most intriguing ideas on Facebook’s revenue plate is Facebook Payments, but for now it has low billing compared to “mobile” and adverts.

Opportunities and imperatives for Facebook the platform

  • If Facebook doesn’t move to monetize the data on its users’ social actions/graphs, it will never deliver on its potential. As explained in more detail in part one, Facebook doesn’t yet have users’ permission (even though it has the legal right).
  • Facebook management needs to recognize that it’s a community—and owned by its members, whom Facebook serves (even though it’s a for-profit firm that legally owns the software, data and rights). Such is the nature of communities. This has to happen at the core; it can’t be lip service.
  • Facebook needs to start releasing useful “services” that let users benefit from the data Facebook is collecting from them. Let people start to see it and benefit from it. Develop defined use cases to mitigate risks.
  • Management needs to start talking about the social data; it can’t be a secret, they need to increase transparency; that’s the nature of spying, surveillance in secret. People uniformly hate it. Transparency is the medicine here.
  • The Industrial Economy era of “mass merchandising” is rapidly drawing to a close, and it will be displaced by mass customization. Facebook’s social data can be extremely valuable in helping companies develop specialized offers for defined niches.
  • Get over display advertising; use it to generate revenue short-term, but it has never been terribly effective, especially on mobile, and that won’t change.

What do you think about Facebook’s destiny? Will it succeed, and how?

The importance of mobile optimized landing pages Tue, 17 Apr 2012 13:01:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Deltina HayYou finally have your mobile ad ready in the new Google AdWords for Mobile and have high hopes for reaching the unsaturated mobile audience. But have you thought your campaign all the way through? Once you reach this mobile demographic, where will you send them? Hopefully, you plan to send them to a page that is optimized for the mobile Web.

You already know the best practices of successful landing pages (if not, here is a link to landing page resources that can help).

  • Landing pages should be relevant to to the ad that sent the user there.
  • Landing pages should get to the point quickly.
  • Landing pages should make the call to action very clear and accessible.
  • Landing pages should be short and avoid scrolling where possible.
  • Landing pages should require very little from the user.

In addition to the elements that make a good landing page in general, there are other considerations that should be taken into account when creating a mobile-optimized landing page:

  • Mobile landing pages should be compliant and mobile ready.
  • Mobile landing pages should never force the user to scroll horizontally or vertically – you have even less time for conversion.
  • Every page in the conversion process should be mobile ready – make certain any call-to-action links also lead to mobile-optimized pages.

At top is a video that goes into more detail on what makes a good mobile-optimized landing page, as well as a demonstration of how to create one using the free service Google Sites.

This article is based on an excerpt from The Bootstrapper’s Guide to the Mobile Web by Deltina Hay.

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Why I hate the term ‘content marketing’ Thu, 23 Feb 2012 13:15:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Empty stage at Content Marketing World 2011

It used to be called custom publishing, but now it’s just annoying

David SparkIt’s aggravating to knowingly use a term to describe your business, even though it poorly defines what you and the industry does. That’s how I feel about the term “content marketing.” It’s the industry’s current buzz term used to describe the need to create content over advertising in order to engage with customers in social spaces.

Content marketing is nothing new. Prior to the explosion of social media, it was and still is called custom publishing. Most of us experienced it for years every time we picked up a Triptik, map, or tour book from AAA. Or maybe your brokerage firm sent you a magazine offering up advice on how to invest your 401K.

Another new term used to describe custom publishing is brand journalism, and it’s the way I like to describe what my firm, Spark Media Solutions, does. Simply put, companies hire us to be journalists for them. The way we create media is no different than when we’re producing media for traditional media outlets.

We are custom publishers and brand journalists.

What’s wrong with the term ‘content marketing’

I hate the term content marketing for the following reasons:

  • It’s insidious. The relationship says, “Here’s some content for you that you’ll find valuable. But when you’re not looking, we’re going to sell you something.”
  • There is no “marketing.” When you create content to inform and educate, you’re providing answers that may fulfill a step in the sales process, and you may be strengthening trust of your brand, but that’s true of all content. You read a book by a certain author and if you like it you’ll be compelled to purchase and read their next book. Each article in a newspaper must be of a certain quality. If it’s not, you will stop reading and purchasing the newspaper.
  • The name “content marketing” assumes a sales pitch within the content. If there was a sales pitch in the content it would be called “advertising.”

Even though I dislike the term “content marketing,” I begrudgingly use it on my business site and blog. I have no choice. If I want people to understand what it is we do, and to be visible in searches on the topic, I have to use the term everyone else uses to understand our industry.

Am I being too sensitive? Do you agree or disagree with me that “content marketing” poorly describes the industry of businesses becoming their own media networks?

Creative Commons photo credit to ShashiBellamkonda.

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How one author won over the gun buff message boards Wed, 22 Feb 2012 13:00:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun by Paul M. BarrettChris AbrahamIn order to mine social media marketing gold, you really need to roll up your sleeves, put on a pair of sturdy work boots, get into that little elevator, and descend that deep shaft into the gold mine yourself, pick in hand, and get to work.

Message boards and forums are full of marketing gold, but if gold were that simple to collect, everyone would be loaded.

Instead of walking you through the boring pedantics required to be an effective message board marketer, I will instead share with you an exemplar using the author and journalist Paul M. Barrett, author of the new New York Times best-selling book about the cult and culture of the Glock handgun, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.

Long story short, I received a direct message via Twitter last November from @GlockTheBook asking me if I might be interested in receiving a copy of a forthcoming book about Glock, the gun. Out of nowhere. Obviously someone had done their homework, and I was identified as a gun owner and sports shooter. I jumped at the opportunity to receive an early copy of the book. The folks at Crown hooked me up with a copy for my Kindle, and I read it through and was wowed. I wrote an earned media review and quickly became part of the author’s street team.

Paul had an ambitious plan: divide and conquer the entire online Glockosphere. His marketing strategy was unique and bold, at least in comparison to other high-caste and high-pedigree writers I have met and consulted for. His marketing plan included not only the influential grass-tops but went for a deep-dive into the passionate world of the firearms, pistols, Glocks, and the Second Amendment grassroots – into the deepest reaches of the gold mine and into the lowly and often-ignored message boards and forums.

As it turned out, his lovely wife Julie Cohen was the reason why Paul reached out to me and to dozens of other gun  buffs and communities all over the Internet throughout the course of his book promotion campaign. In fact, I recently discovered that it was Julie who discovered that I was a brand new gun owner who loved taking my Glocks to the range to make holes in paper and sent me the DM asking if I wanted to received an advance copy to review.

Whether Julie is Paul’s puppetmaster, guiding him into the nooks and crannies of Glock-related conversation online no matter where they happen, it was Paul who was willing to get in there, all fisticuffs, and open himself up to trolls and haters in the rarefied air of anonymous communities with the ultimate goal of making friends and selling books. And yet I hope Paul Barrett’s experience marketing online by virtually shaking hands and kissing babies was well worth his valuable time. Actually I know it was.  A few weeks ago I got to meet Paul and Julie for coffee in person before he did a reading at Politics & Prose.

Message boards allow others to join the conversation — whenever

I will paraphrase Julie here when I say that no matter how prestigious a live book tour is and how personally fulfilling doing readings in bookstores always is for a writer, tours are insanely expensive, time-intensive, exhausting, and all too often completely ephemeral.

However, when you’re willing to add to this real-world dog and pony show the same kind and quality of community engagement online that you do during the book tour (all from the comfort of your home), then spending the time meeting people online, where they congregate anyway, is worthwhile.

Some of the benefits are simple: Message boards are a permanent record, so all the sharing that Paul did, all the questions he answered, and all the good will he fostered is there for the life of the board. Not only that, but because of the asynchronous nature of message boards, Paul needs to linger around each board for weeks to make sure he’s a responsive participant. It’s not as quick as just popping into a bookstore, spending a few hours reading and chatting, and then leaving.

Message boards aren’t real time. They required Paul to monitor responses and come back over the course of couple of days or a week. This allows more people to engage over time, allowing Paul the ability to really consider his responses or draft and revise his response before committing. It also allows members and participants to get over being star struck and get real.

It also needs to be said that, for every message board member who actively asks questions, makes accusations, or debates an issue, there are at least a hundred, maybe a thousand, non-participants who are every bit as committed to their message board community.

These “lurkers” were completely engaged when they saw Paul and “NYC Shoots” go at it in a heated debate on The High Road forum. By showing commitment to the community and a bit of bravery when challenged, Paul earned respect in the community, earning new fans and protectors as well as showing what he was made of in front of potentially 143,051 High Road registered members.

If bravery, boldness, and heroism under duress and challenge can’t sell books, I don’t know what can.  If Paul M. Barrett, an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America, still thinks it is essential to engage the lowly, antiquated message board and forum as part of his book publicity tour, what’s your excuse?

Via Biznology

Can PR leave behind magical thinking for science? Wed, 01 Feb 2012 13:00:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Don’t let your social media hypothesis dictate your conclusion

Chris AbrahamWhile neither marketing nor social media are sciences, one needs to use scientific principles to be most effective when it comes to both branding and prospecting online. It doesn’t take an Einstein to succeed in social media marketing, but to does take a scientist. Are you rigorously collecting metrics and data  to see if what you’re doing is resulting in sales conversions or extending your brand or are you relying on things you’ve learned from The Secret? Is your social media marketing campaign relying too much on magical realism, the power of positive thinking, and general superstition?

Or, are you so confident in your social media marketing plan that you really don’t care what your experiment says? That no matter how little pick-up you get in the media or no matter how few followers you garner or how little engagement, it isn’t your fault but must be because the market’s not ready for you or because you knew that social media marketing wasn’t effective anyway.

Well, that’s just bad science.

If you want to be an effective scientist, it is essential that you allow the results of your experiments — your observations — to speak for themselves.  While having a hypothesis going into the lab is always part one, allowing the empirical data to realign or even contradict your initial predictions is essential. That said, it’s hard on the ego to see something fail. It’s even harder to take the data as it comes and turn it into something useful in the end. This is how innovation happens, of course; and this is how scientific breakthroughs happen, too: not incrementally but in finding order in the chaos of unpredicted results.

There is a lot of bad science in social media marketing. Even a long decade after the Cluetrain Manifesto brought us the 95 theses that taught us that markets are conversations and that brands don’t own their brands anymore — a hypothesis that has proven itself prophetic — there are still many brands that have adopted blogs and social networks simply as new broadcast channels and have simply used social media as a handy way of listening in on the rude thing that people are saying about them.

Science is about testing and retesting and being willing to cut loose any and all processes that prove ineffective and moving those resources elsewhere

Science is about testing. Testing and retesting and being willing and able to cut loose any and all processes that prove ineffective and moving those resources into things that either work outright or show general promise. It is about not being attached to outcome. Finally, it is also about sticking to your guns and powering through on your commitment to seeing your experiments and your tests through. There are too many ghost towns littering social media that are the direct result of abandoned experiments, abandoned dreams — actually, more often, they succumbed to a crisis of faith.

The advertising industry has already adopted science and testing, but not because they wanted to. These were not men who had faith in science — they thought that advertising was an art. While early online marketing started to make advertising nervous, it wasn’t until Google launched AdWords that advertising began to evolve from art to science. The same thing is happening to direct marketing. From A/B testing to sophisticated engagement metrics, the science of advertising and marketing is becoming more de facto than fringe.

PR as the last bastion of magical thinking

PR is the last bastion of The Secret, the last bastion of superstition and magical thinking. The last business communication vocation that struggles against the harsh accountability of hard science, the cruel nakedness of quantitative metrics over the soft fuzzies of qualitative metrics.

Just because you’ve adopted social media doesn’t mean you’re modern. It is strangely possible to map your 19th century PR strategies onto a 21st century media platform without missing a beat. Take responsibility for your campaigns and do not let your hunches and experience dictate your successes and failures — let the data inform you and when it informs you that you’re just spinning your wheels, it is essential to do whatever it takes to adjust your campaign to maximize performance, amplify influence, and optimize for conversions.

Everything else is just doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, a sure sign of insanity — or so said none other than Albert Einstein.

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