Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Co-op Advertising – The Local SEO Link

I’ve been spending some time on the local search side of things over the past few weeks. There have been some interesting discussions about the use of Co-op advertising or, as some would suggest, the under utilization of it.

Co-op Advertising also known as Co-op ads or Cooperative programs is defined as ad costs divided between two or more companies. Generally, the programs are born out of incentives offered by manufacturers to distributors or retailers in order to encourage promotion and advertising of particular products.

In discussions with local business owners, their awareness of programs is minimal. While they understand the general concept, they are generally not well informed about the opportunities presented by their suppliers and are therefore, missing out on hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of advertising. In some cases, the manufacturers have not taken advantage of their channels to build their brands online.

Brand advertising at the local level is still in its infancy but the potential is enormous. Currently the largest movement is coming from retail based search engines like Krillion but Local Search sites like YellowPages.ca have understood the value of brand association at the local level for some time and have built their systems accordingly.

Taking advantage of Co-op programs could help to drive SEO programs for local businesses as they broaden their searchable content through the products they may carry.

The win-win of these types of programs is clear. The manufacturers drill down to the local level while the small businesses broaden their search results for minimal cost.

The challenge to date has been the communication barriers to the local businesses as well as the amount of time required to study the programs, follow the guidelines and seek out the proper channels.

In this day and age, it would be prudent to mobilize the local troops to boost brand presence across the local media landscape. There are so many opportunities for publishers as well as small businesses in this space. I’ll be researching this much closer over the next little while. Drop me a line if you have input or are interested in the output…

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Facebook Study Group Administrator - Expelled for Studying?

There was a controversial article on the CBC today about Chris Avenir, an 18 year old computer engineering student at Ryerson. Last fall, Chris became the administrator of a Facebook study group entitled Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry solutions. The group of 146 students was built as a study network where peers could ask one another about homework assignments.

Chris’s professor discovered the group, changed his B to an F and recommended that he be expelled from the university.

Here’s a quote from the article:

"It is not fair to students to perpetuate the myth — and it is a myth — that they can do what they like online and that they're protected because that's only a forum for young people where they can do what they want to do, and that's really not accurate," he said.

"It is our job to protect academic integrity from any threat. And if that threat comes from new online tools, we have a responsibility as academics to understand the risks, to assess those risks and threats, and to educate people about how to avoid misconduct."

Norrie said the university understands the nature of Facebook and its groups.

"This is not a bunch of old academics sitting around a table saying, 'Oh, this scares us.' That's not what's happening," he said.

Norrie said the university wants to make it clear that its academic code of conduct applies to online behaviour of students.

This is a shocking turn of events for Facebook who’s entire success was predicated on the collaboration of students through the social networking platform it provided.

Many students are absolutely appalled by the allegations against Chris.

Here are some random thoughts I have on this issue:
  • Study groups have always existed, the size of the groups and the contents of their discussions may not have been as accessible to academic authorities but they have always existed.
  • This expulsion would set a precedent that would be damaging not only to Facebook but to the millions of students that have actively set out to network amongst their peers.
  • Academic institutions that view Facebook as a tool of misconduct might as well move to ban email, instant messaging, blogging and the use of search engines because these tools have all been used for years by students as valuable study tools.
It baffles me to see students punished when they obviously have such passion for the subjects they are studying. While many students post pictures of beer nights and pot mornings, one would think that a student who is so visibly advocating the course and its content would be commended rather than expelled. This as an influencer of academia that is being singled out and punished.

I'll follow up on the appeal...

Their Stage...AOL Partners with OurStage for Content

Boston, MA based OurStage announced a partnership with AOL Music yesterday. The deal will create a rich source of independent content for AOL while extending OurStage reach across North America.

According to ComScore, AOL Music is the highest ranked music site on the web in both total page views and unique visitors. With over 20 million unique visitors per month, AOL provides music fans with access to artist videos, songs, photos, news and lyrics. AOL Music’s network of sites includes Spinner.com, PopEater.com, and theboombox.com.

A while back I posted about OurStage’s cool democratic voting model that allows music fans to discover and spotlight independent music. The company will undoubtedly be a tremendous value to AOL in that it will provide content, including new music by top-ranked artists, interviews, streaming audio, and videos for distribution on AOL Music. OurStage streams new music online to over a million fans in 140 countries around the world each month.

As OurStage continues to develop monetization plans, this deal also includes the use of AOL's Platform A, which will become the exclusive ad-serving network for OurStage.com. The platform will help with ad creation and placement.

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

"As music fans rely more heavily on the web to discover new artists, we strive to provide innovative ways to enhance this exploration," says AOL Music Editor in Chief/Vice President Bill Crandall. "By partnering with sites like OurStage, which allows fans to be an integral part of the artist-development process, we’re delivering on our promise to deliver the best music programming on the Web.”

"OurStage has become an important tool for artists seeking to develop the kind of grass-roots fanbase that can really launch their careers," said Ben Campbell, CEO of OurStage. "AOL's position as the number one web destination for music fans with over 20 million people using the site offers OurStage artists unbelievably valuable exposure. It also offers a much broader audience of fans the opportunity to discover and enjoy the very best music by emerging artists. We are pleased to have such a powerful partner that is as committed as we are to building a vibrant new arena for independent music to flourish."

Still keeping an eye on OurStage, I’m sure there will be more…

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

SpotRunner Acquires Weblistic and gets a Sales & Planning Pipe

Los Angeles based Spot Runner, an innovative ad agency that is focused on making it easy and affordable for local businesses to advertise on TV announced its acquisition of the rapidly expanding local media agency, Weblistic today.

Freemont, CA based Weblistic has been around since the late 90’s when they developed the original technology behind YellowPages.com. Weblistic was formed as an agency to deliver cost-effective leads to local businesses. Services include SEM, SEO, distribution & online directory management and now quite clearly, online video production. The company has offices in Freemont, San Diego, New York and Vancouver.

SpotRunner was originally funded by Battery Ventures and Index Ventures but these two companies are joined by two of the world's largest advertising and marketing services companies, WPP and Interpublic Group, along with one the country's largest mass media companies, CBS Corporation. Together, these powerhouse names are backing Spot Runner's mission and vision as a company.

In January, the company shored up its national talent pool when it bought up GlobeShooter, a network of over 1,200 independent filmmakers, professional videographers, photographers, producers and production companies around the US.

On the media planning and client relations side, the acquisition of Weblistic will give SpotRunner an effective sales and strategy channel to leverage. Weblistic gets a broader client base out of the deal as SpotRunner has a large network spanning North America.

Simplifying the purchase of localized television was a tremendous step forward in the world of local media. The missing link was the ability to bundle it effectively into a comprehensive service offering. Weblistic brings the one-stop shop approach to the local business owner.

The move by SpotRunner was in my view simply smart.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Holding on to the Handheld Graph...Mobile Social Networking

Thanks to those that emailed. Peeking through the clouds... (it's hard to stay away from writing)

I’ve been reading a lot of releases about the mobile phase of social networking. Pyramid Research just recently released a study indicating that by 2012, there will be 950 million users accessing social networking sites via their mobile devices.

This data suggests that the mobile operators should prepare for increasing data usage. While I believe that the ability to access social networking sites will undoubtedly create a push in traffic, I’m not sure I see its long-term appeal.

From a Canadian standpoint where data usage is hugely expensive, it occurs to me that the handheld is in itself, a standalone social networking platform. It contains the applications chosen by the user, an intimate address book with contacts that may or may not be suitable to publicize and all the bells and whistles offered up by the social networks today including the ability to send photos, videos, blog posts (most blog platforms allow mobile blogging which is then automatically distributed through RSS and some social networking sites as an option) and instant messaging. Do users need the extra layer of a formalized social network on top of their devices?

At a time when we are seeing users dialing back on their overall usage of the social networks (at least the early adopters are), it’s hard to visualize those adopters downloading the platforms on to their sacred handhelds only to create an always-on switch to their apparent networking fatigue.

The next act of this play will inevitably lead to ad-supported content, which will drive the same wedge between the users and the social networks only on a different platform.

I believe there’s place for social networking on the go. Networks like Twitter and Utterz seem to have addressed the need for users to publicize their thoughts and actions as they happen. But the beauty of these platforms is in their simplicity. As these simple platforms plug into existing social graphs, I wonder if the duplicity will catch up and thwart the need to have several platforms accessed from the devices.

As handhelds become more accommodating to richer applications, it seems that users will be “accessing” everything from them (not just social networks). The question is whether the value proposition will be attractive enough to engage meaningful, daily interactions. Will the interactions be worth the ads that will follow?

It could be that SNS sites have determined that to stay alive, they need to be mobile but this does not guarantee increased usage and it certainly does not equal new acquisitions. Asking new users to dump their web based email accounts into a social graph to connect with others is one thing, but asking them to dump their handheld contacts into the social abyss may "pushing it". Time will tell…