Friday, October 31, 2008

Re-Thinking the Ban on Social Networking at Work...

About a year ago I blogged about the rising ban of social networking within the workforce. In April a PM Online report showed that two-thirds of people in the UK believe social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace should be banned in the workplace and varying estimates of actual work place bans range anywhere between 70-80% today.
So naturally I was interested in an article from Techworld this morning in which Tom Jowitt writes about a new research study that strongly suggests that companies re-consider the ban on social networking in the workplace.

According to the new report by UK think tank Demos, which was commissioned by the mobile operator Orange, websites such as Facebook, MySpace and even Skype within the enterprise may have benefits that outweigh the security risks and time consumption that have been feared.

The study found that collaborative tools have become essential in the workplace as they allow employees to stay in touch and in some cases in developing working relationships.

"People find these technologies useful to stay in touch," said Bradwell. "The lines between social and working relationships are blurring, and so the companies that are banning them, are missing a trick. Trying to ban these tools is like trying to ban gossip."

The author of the study, Peter Bradwell makes a great point about how social networks are an extremely valuable tool to stay in touch with past workers and alumni, relationships that are often undermined as these people "don't disappear" and can often be "tapped for organizational perspective and knowledge".

The report cites that around 65% of UK households had access to the internet in 2008, an increase of 1.2 million households (8 per cent) since 2007. Digital inclusion strategies have become focused more broadly on how technology can help tackle complex social problems, rather than simply on spreading access to the internet.

The report delves deeply into the value of relationships that can be developed through these tools and gives compelling support that shows how the time spent "socializing" may be well worth the connections and intellectual property gained.

Here is a great summary by Jowitt on the
recommendations that Bradwell makes to integrate social networking within enterprise and reap its advantages:
  1. Do not separate 'social' networking from 'professional' networking. Attempts to control employees' use of social networking software in the office may end up damaging the organisation in the long run by depleting its 'network capital'.
  2. There should be value placed on networks with people outside the firm. Too often, it is only senior staff who are encouraged to build relationships with people outside the organisation. The power of horizontal networks across organisational boundaries is clear, and growing.
  3. Keep in touch with employees that have left the organisation. The temptation during a difficult economic climate is to hunker down; but this risks cutting off flows of network capital. Companies should consider how to keep former employees in the network.
  4. Do not police networks but consider how they operate and what could be improved. This should be a first step towards collective conversations about the 'rules of the game' when it comes to operating within networks.
Just as the advertising side of social networking is stunted by companies' fear of "letting go", it may take a while for organizations to open their minds to employees networking in all directions. Struggling for control in an open source world is becoming somewhat of a freakish denial of progression.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Phone that Owns the Media...Blyk

Today at the Canadian Marketing Association’s Digital Conference, there was quite a bit of buzz around the emerging Finnish mobile phone/media hybrid company called Blyk.

Two presentations touched on some interesting case studies from the company. Stacey Grant-Thompson, Vice-President, Strategic Projects, Rogers Wireless and Janet Kestin, Co-Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy and Mather gave marketers some compelling reasons to look twice at this emerging mobile platform.

What is it?

It’s a free mobile operator for young people, funded by advertising.

Brands pay Blyk to help them reach their fans while its members get interesting messages, cool stuff, free texts and voice minutes. Blyk users can top up their accounts once the free usage runs out with top up fees.

Users receive 6 sms/mms per day in exchange for 217 txts and 43 minutes of voice calls each month.


The company was founded in 2006 by former president of Nokia phones Pekka Ala-Pietilä and award winning film producer Antti Öhrling. Blyk entered the UK in mid-2007 and by April 2008 had already reached over 100,000 members. The company plans to go pan-European in 2009 potentially reaching 40 million young consumers.

Advertising Effectiveness

From a targeting standpoint, the model is fantastic. New members go through quite a lengthy registration process that includes a detailed questionnaire. The objective is to create highly relevant matches with potential advertisers. The transparency of the interaction is what drives the users to share a lot of personal data that even social networks are starting to lose grip on.

Stacey’s presentation showed some interesting McKinsey research that indicated a 26% lift in mobile advertising acceptance among consumers if there was a reward attached to it. For cash-strapped 16-24 year olds, it’s known that a phone registers highly in the reward category.

Big national brands like Boots, Penguin Publishing and L’Oreal that have experimented with the platform have seen tremendous results with average click through rates of 29% (ranges between 12 and 43%). Not bad, since the mobile advertising average CTR hovers around 3-6%.

Redefining Mobile Marketing

Janet from Ogilvy and Mather talked about a case study that involved a community of kids that were seriously under-performing in high school. The under-achievers were given free Blyk phones to motivate academic achievement.

1 million students received phones and were given points for attendance, grade improvements and homework. The school saw marked improvement and this pilot project is now being expanded to other communities in similar situations.

When the participating students were asked if the media proposition was a fair exchange, 71% said they were “cool” with it as long as it was relevant to their lives.

Blyk is a great example of a phone company that is thinking like a media company. Check this link to some great campaigns that have already been executed on the platform. Some of them clearly demonstrate how this new platform could turn mobile marketing on its head.

Add coupons and GPS triangulation and a whole new local media channel targeting 16-24 emerges...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ratings & Reviews in Practice...From a B2B Perspective

During the Ratings & Reviews session at Warrillow earlier this week, there was an insightful presentation given to show how relevant reviews have become to reaching the SMB market. There were also a few best practices shared on harnessing this growing communications channel that is clearly playing a major role in the purchase decision making process.

Contrary to the common belief that reviews are neatly stored in a few places, it was clear that the distribution of ratings and reviews was scattered throughout the web. Adding to the difficulty in pinpointing review sources, is the high percentage of ratings and reviews embedded within blogs and discussion boards.
Following were some best practices shared at the session:
  • Enable ratings on your corporate website
  • Have reviewers identify themselves - establish trust and resonance with the readers
  • Allow business owners to share their reviews - email, post, bookmark tools etc.
  • Monitor your ratings & reviews and use the feedback - great for innovation and customer service improvements
  • Send Press kits to 3rd party sites to spur ratings - solicit reviews
  • Sponsor links or banner ads on rating websites and blogs
All of these points were well supported. My two favourites were the "identity" factor and the promotional strategies behind reviews.

The idea of letting reviewers identify themselves was a hot topic. Small business owners feel more comfortable about reviews when they see the source. The combination of identifying the author and establishing instant commonality with the person reading the review can be quite powerful.

Some sites have gone to great lengths creating networks of reviewers. I wonder if all this is necessary to gain the same effect as just allowing people to quickly state their industry or other contextual point that would connect with other readers. Here's a TurboTax review as an example of the simplified approach:

From a promotional stand point, it makes a lot of sense to highlight positive reviews and drive audiences to them. There was an interesting case study shared from Office Depot. Since implementing a strategy around driving SEM campaigns to individual review pages, they’ve seen results:

  • Clickthrough rates increased by 78.5%
  • Conversion rates increased by 23.8%
  • Revenue up by 198%
  • New Buyers up 183%
The topic of reviews has been alive for a few years but the true adoption and advancement of its influence over buying decisions is still in its infancy. Warrillow pegged its monetary life stage below. Infancy indeed, we're talking sleep deprivation young here...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Marketing to SMBs - An Integrated Media Case Study from UPS

UPS was highlighted at the Warrillow Summit this week in Toronto as having developed and executed a highly effective integrated media campaign that targets small business owners.

One of the key learnings this week was that advertisers looking to reach the SMB market need to speak the same language as the small business owners and clearly demonstrate how they provide a valid business solution.

Jeff Berry, Vice President of Membership at Warrillow explained that taking the not-so-sexy shipping category and explaining why company x’s complex infrastructure gets the job done better than its competition is not an easy task (even if its truly a differentiation). So, in 2007 UPS created a simplistic campaign using a couple of markers and a whiteboard to deliver their message.

The "Whiteboard campaign" consisted of 30-second TV spots, print media and an online campaign driving traffic to a highly interactive site that allowed audiences to explore UPS solutions offerings specifically geared to small businesses.

The 30-second spots were leveraged online through YouTube providing tremendous boost to the campaigns’ reach through both the original whiteboard ad and the viral effect from UGC spin offs like “Sex Money” and “Getting Rid of the Body”.

Following were the results from the integrated media campaign:
  • 1.3 million visits to
  • 4,100 open account page visits
  • 26 million online ad interactions
  • International Shipping Revenue increase of 10.3%
  • Leader in unaided ad awareness at the end of Q2007
    - UPS 63%, FedEx 43.9%, DHL 13.6%, USPS 7.6%
Key Lessons Learned:
  • Communicate complex product offerings with simplicity
  • Interactions must be engaging, educational, inspirational and entertaining
  • Track post-click effectiveness to deliver better results

I think the consistency of the message was one of the ingredients to the success of the campaign. UPS took a strategy and maintained the tone throughout the entire campaign. From the concept of a white board to the animated look and feel of the site, the message was consistent and provided continuity. Continuity builds trust as customers feel that they know what to expect if they continue with the interaction.

The YouTube spoof factor worked in the favor of the company as most of the parodies continued to talk positively about UPS as a company (albeit through awkward case studies). This was a great example of "letting go" and allowing consumers to run with a core message. In my brief scan of the site, I counted roughly 30 versions/spin offs of the original ad - not bad for a re-purposed 30-second spot!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Targeting the SMBs...Warrillow Summit Toronto

Warrillow kicked off its two-day Summit in Toronto this morning. This year’s event was focused specifically on the online channel and attracted over 140 marketers that target the small business sector. The Warrillow conference is unique as it truly gets into the SMB trenches. There were at least 20 SMB speakers at the show and each one participated enthusiastically by sharing candid perspectives to a crowd of advertisers that were eager to listen.

Troy Dye’s opening presentation gave some valuable insight into the online behavior of the SMBs in Canada.

Some highlights from the presentation included the following sound bites:
  • 52% of Canadian SMBs belong to Social Networks (although most of them do not use them for business)
  • SMBs voiced a 20% increase in trust for Web 2.0 utilities including discussion forums, blogs, social networks and reviews & ratings.
  • 66% spend more than 1 hour online per day
  • At the core, the SMBs bring their offline behaviors to the online channel in that they remain:
  1. Extremely time sensitive
  2. Respond to recognition
  3. Identify with their industry
  4. Tend to be Jack of all trades
Dye explained that through applying a point system matrix, SMBs could be segmented into these three distinct online behavioral categories:

Early Adopters –Internet is seen as core to their business model (15%)
Fast Followers – Internet is seen as a business tool (63%)
Offline Owners – Internet is seen as Ancillary (22%)

The details behind the presentation touched on the consumption of Web 2.0 media across the segments and delved deeply into the demographics of the business owners.

There were three break-out panels following the research presentation that covered the online habits of Generation Y, Generation X and Seniorpreneur business owners. I managed to sneak into all three and got some interesting perspectives from each group. I’ll cover the highlights over the next few days as there was really quite a bit of detail discussed.

The afternoon sessions covered emerging trends in social networking, reviews and ratings as well as traditional media. I thought the traditional media presentation was particularly interesting as it discussed the reality of today’s SMB media consumption and the importance of creating integrated media programs to reach them.

Here are three great take away points:
  • 77% of SMBs are online less than 1-3hrs per day
  • 66% of SMBs read their city’s newspaper
  • 76% listen to the radio on a regular basis
Rick Spence, SMB columnist for the Financial Post shared some interesting details on behavioral traits of the SMBs and how to best communicate with them. Spence showed some alarming examples of media campaigns that were completely off target in their language, layout and general tone.

The ratings and reviews discussion talked to the various methodologies that currently exist for qualifying reviewers and rewarding them for their contribution. The discussion centered largely on trust and the need for users to be able to identify with the reviews. There were some interesting points made on how to leverage positive reviews through marketing efforts. This session had a lot of details and I’ll share these over the next few days.

The sessions ended with a market leader panel. Pamela Bailey, Senior Interaction Designer at Intuit and Peter Watabane, Director, Marketing at Staples Canada shared some thoughts on how their respective companies were managing the changing demands of the SMB sector and how they were adapting their online presence accordingly.

Watanabe shared some great insight from a survey that was done through Staples. SMBs were asked to describe what they wanted Staples to be to them. They responded:
"Be a trusted advisor but not a partner. Be friendly but don’t be a friend."
Bailey talked to the time crunched nature of the audience and noted that each page needs to have a goal and a purpose assigned. She noted that page level metrics are getting more sophisticated and are starting to help determine which areas are working and which ones are not.

It was an insightful day. More tomorrow…

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MyAds on MySpace...In Review

I’ve just had a chance to review the recently launched beta version of the MyAds product on MySpace. While the tool is designed to appeal to the MySpace membership so that they can "promote their bands or art", I believe that the level of sophistication MySpace has built into the system will soon attract larger advertisers.

Following are some screen shots and comments on the ad building process:

My first thought was that the platform in no uncertain terms, speaks effectively with its audience. The interface is not cluttered with industry jargon and the steps are made quite clear.

Unlike other self-procured platforms, MySpace's works only with display ads. MyAds allows users to upload their own ads or pick from a library of templates. Although the art work feels a bit like clip art, the offering is a good start for consumers starting with nothing.

Advertisers can choose between 728x90 banners or 300x250 boxes. Customization of the templates feels a lot like working with Power Point. A toolbar provides basic formatting options. The font selection is quite slim. There are some file size restrictions making image uploads a bit of a challenge.

The minimum budget is set at $25.00 and the minimum bid rate is $0.25 per click. Because the product is fresh off the shelf, it does not provide any information on the current market prices. I’m assuming that this will be integrated at some point. For now, building a campaign and sending it into the MySpace network is a bit of a crap shoot in terms of how far a budget will stretch.

One of the most interesting features of the product is the targeting tool. There's a tremendous amount of valuable data that is disclosed through the ad building platform. As you drill down to the targeting segments, MyAds offers audience numbers at very specific levels. In the screen shot below, I drilled down to target users between 35-65 that play video games and I could drill further to reach specific video game platforms like Nintendo or Playstation. This type of profile targeting provides national advertisers with a unique approach to reaching their audiences and I'm sure the click rates will reflect this once it's out of beta.

Before launching the campaign, the advertisers can review their ad and the campaign details. Once all is confirmed, the user enters credit card information and the campaign goes live.

I'll be looking into the reporting features so stay tuned...

To illustrate the type of data available, here are some audience numbers on the MySpace network that I jotted down during the exercise:
  • 83,895,693 US Profiles
  • 37,653,707 male
  • 46,241,145 female
  • 8,375,619 are 35+
  • 16,170,294 are 14-18
  • 152,145 US Profiles list Yoga as an interest
It's important to note that these numbers are based on profiles and not on the active user base. It's also important to note that the duplication is also not accounted for in these numbers (one user with multiple identities).

Overall, I think the platform is extremely well executed. I think that it will offer the MySpace membership some oportunities to promote their bands but that the big picture is really targeted towards larger advertisers that will most likely sweep in and eat the inventory for lunch. It will be interesting to see the evolution of advertising and advertisers as the platform goes to full launch.

I'm curious to see how the users will react to larger brands replacing the more grassroots ones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cost per Engagement...

It appears the hottest new online media buzz term is “Cost Per Engagement”. Rich media network, VideoEgg has offered this up to the industry as a new pricing structure that is based not on impressions or click thrus but rather on the various types of interaction that can be achieved through rich ad units.

I LOVE the ad they used to launch it…

Today’s rich ad units include roll-overs, polls, games, video and flash demos. Each one of these points of interaction can be valuated and priced accordingly.

I’ll have to think long and hard about how this pricing differs from the more traditional models we’ve seen. At the end of the day it feels a bit like we’re collapsing the click and going straight to the advertiser’s content. After years of grumbling about poor ad executions being responsible for poor site performance, this may be a great way for publishers to place the onus of the ad’s success back on the advertiser side.

The advertisers will have to work out the varying levels of value attached to their levels of interactivity and as a result, we may see an increase of multi-layered rich media units offering a number of engagement opportunities.

I suspect that advertising agencies will have a lot of fun developing these strategies and advertisers will get a much deeper understanding of what kind of engagements lead to quicker acquisitions as they home in on metrics that cater more specifically to this model.

There's a great white paper on their site that digs deeply into the subject.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Managing a Fragmented Identity...ReputationDefender

Delving back into the vault of blogs past, I decided to get the latest on reputation management and see whether the demand for it has hit a plateau or grown since I last covered it in January.

I caught up with Paul Pennelli yesterday. Paul is the Senior Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Menlo, CA based Reputation Defender. The company launched in 2006 as a service targeted to individual consumers. The products allow consumers to first scour the net and then manage reputations according to what is found.

I asked Paul if there had been a shift in customer since launch and interestingly there had been. Paul explained that when the service originally launched, the majority of the customers (almost 80%) came to ReputationDefender with reputation problems. The customer base consisted of users from all walks of life needing to delete unwanted pictures and content to get a clean record online.

Today, the customer base has developed into a growing segment of adults 35+ that are looking to proactively manage their online reputations.

Not far off from the comment on my last post about SEO optimized resumes being the next step, it seems that generating and marketing this type of content is becoming a trend. Paul described one of the largest customer groups as “job seekers”. Whether just out of college or in between jobs, consumers are becoming much more aware of their digital footprint and are acting accordingly by spending a lot of time on their user profiles and making sure they are highly visible in the right networks.

Making things even more interesting (from the small business media perspective) is the emergence of individuals whose private lives are very closely linked to their professional careers. Paul cited lawyers and doctors as a fast growing customer group as they have a vested interest in proactively managing their reputations online.

With sophisticated vertical directories and professional community sites popping up catering specifically to these professionals, there’s no doubt that they will want to actively manage their presence.

I asked Paul about why there was a need to go deeper than a Google when managing reputations. After all, "Googling" is really what most people are worried about so why not just do a Google SEO clean up and be done with it? This led to an interesting discussion about the "Invisible Web". Paul explained that Google only scratches the surface of personal content that hovers around on the net. Social networks and other password protected communities are not crawled by Google and these are areas that ReputationDefender has been focusing on to provide customized services.

Consumers don't have to be part of a community to be "tagged" within a community:

ReputationDefender offers four core products:

MyChild – This service works to manage your teenager’s online reputation and privacy.

MyReputation – Monitor and manage your online reputation.

MyPrivacy - Removes your personal information quickly and easily from the largest people search databases on the Internet.

MyEdge – packages range from a basic starter with first steps to taking control of your online reputation to the most advanced package, that gives you detailed personal attention and complete spectrum of reputation design and promotion strategies.

After Paul described the MyEdge product as a personal PR manager, it wasn’t hard to understand why their business has been experiencing steady growth month over month (specially in the "job seeker" category.

Here are some additional data points that are most likely contributing to the growth of ReputationDefender:
  • 53% of American adults use search engines to find information about each other (Pew Internet & American Life)
  • 77% of executive recruiters use search engines to research applicants (CareerBuilder)
  • 43% of recruiters have eliminated candidates due to negative content found online (CareerBuilder)
  • 26% of college admissions officers use search engines to research candidates (University of Massachusetts Center for Market Research)
  • 26% of college admissions officers use search engines to research candidates (University of Massachusetts Center for Market Research)
  • 64% of teens say that most teens do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about. (
With strong growth in vertical directories and communities and the continued fragmentation of identities online, the demand for ReputationDefender types services could continue to climb.

The company has a lazer focused eye on their target and its growing needs, are engaged in highly targeted media campaigns and they appear to be ensconced in a nice (growing) niche.

In our next discussion I'm hoping to dive deeper into semantic search and the subjectivity of reputations. How does one report definitively on someones reputation? What kind of scoring is involved and how are the sources ranked to provide a realistic assessment on the quality of an individual's footprint? & The Local Watering Holes

One of the popular early Facebook mini applications is BoozeMail. The application allows users to send friends virtual drinks (or even a round of drinks) on Facebook. Currently the application has 213,215 monthly active users sending each other mojitos, sangrias or any other drink from the menu. If only they were real...

The idea of sending people drinks online is one that has been fantasized about since the early days of online media. While we were busy toting around closed circuit Palm Pilots, we often daydreamed about the doors wireless mobility would unlock for PDAs “If only there was a way to send people stuff (like drinks) while they were on the go”... Sigh

One dream scenario was to be able to send a friend a drink at a location they are either at or close to. Through GPS technology, the dream has become more realistic than ever. The only missing link is the network of bars that would participate in delivering on the goods. Today, I thought it would be fun to dig a bit into what has been done in this area.

I talked to Barbara Liss, the VP of Marketing for The company launched out of New Jersey and Texas but has virtual offices in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. BuyYourFriendaDrink lets consumers send drinks to each other online and is starting to pull together a decent sized network of bars that can fulfill sent drinks from across the country.

The company has a couple of business models. Among them are:

Consumer to Consumer – Literally, buy your friend a drink online, they redeem the drink at a participating bar. The site also lets you send rounds of drinks to friends that are at events you are unable to attend (provided of course that the bar is part of the network)

Beer, Wine and Spirit Companies – Branded drink cards are integrated with most bar & restaurant POS systems for fulfillment. The cards act as real accounts and can be used as loyalty programs (bonus birthday drink etc.). The cards also provides the beer, wine or spirit brand with interesting data about the user (location, frequency, tab sizes etc.).

Below is an example of Hornitos' Buy Your Amigo an Hornitos initiative using the BuyYorFriendaDrink backbone:

When I asked Barbara about the barriers to getting the network to where they want it to be, she explained that the barriers are really more about having the resources to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of establishments that could participate nationally (feet on the street - sound familiar?).

Once the bar owners are contacted, the sale is quite easy. The benefits to participation are quite simple:
  • Drive customers to the establishment through sent drinks as well as local promotional events during off hours (wine or drink tasting events)
  • Increase average tab sizes – (where there is a drink, there may also be food)
BuyYourFriendaDrink will be launching its own Facebook application within the next few weeks. The application will be similar to BoozeMail only now there will be actual drinks involved. I wonder if an acquisition was ever on the table here. I have to believe that an application with 213,215 active monthly users has some value when you're working this hard to cover the country.

I think that the company is doing some interesting work in the local landscape. Rallying hundreds of bar owners is not an easy task. It’s also a critical ingredient to the success of this or any other local promotional-type network.

We’re so close to the GPS enabled send a drink dream. Taking a good look at all the effort that goes into building national networks involving local businesses provides a sobering view of how long big concepts take to penetrate the local market.

The service is only available in the US but Liss is clearly interested in entering the Canadian market once the US network is nailed down. Until then, us Canadians will have to keep it real and actually go out for drinks…

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Le Blog Effect...Michelle Blanc at MIXX Montreal

Among the notable presentations this week was the one delivered on Monday by Michelle Blanc at IAB MIXX Montreal.

Michelle is the founder and President of Analyweb, a consultancy specializing in e-business management and marketing. According to, her blog at, is one of the most influential French techno blogs in the world.

Michelle’s presentation showed how companies can build their businesses through blogging and demonstrated the impact blogging has made globally on the way businesses plan and manage their reputations online.

Here are some of the notes I translated from her French presentation:

Contexts in which corporations use blogs internally
  • Knowledge Sharing (63%)
  • Internal Communications (44%)
  • Project Management (30%)
  • Employee contact management (23%)
  • News on Events (23%)
  • Team Management (20%)
Benefits of an internally focused corporate blog
  • Improved Communications (77%)
  • Can replace existing administrative processes (41%)
  • Replaces Email (39%)
Contexts in which corporations use blogs externally
  • Blogs are used principally for PR and Marketing (61%)
  • For Communicating Mission Statements and Management Visions (61%)
  • More than 40% report having a CEO blog
  • 35% use blogs for regular communication with clients and business partners
  • The eMarketing chart below indicates that blogs are increasing in importance for consumers as they look for customer care information online

Benefits of an externally focused corporate blog
  • Improved brand awareness (78%)
  • External Communications (78%)
  • A vehicle to collect client feedback (66%)
  • Revenue Generation (20%)
  • Improved product or service visibility (58%)
A Pew Internet Study revealed that 16% of US adults (32 million) read blogs regularly. Making blogs even more influential, is the fact that journalists at highly profiled publications use blogs to gain valuable insight as well as « the scoop » from a broad perspective. According to research from Euro RSCG Magnet and Columbia University, half of American journalists read blogs on a regular basis and 26% of those read them daily.

Michelle presented an interesting slide from that showed the Head of the Tail of Francophone media consumption. The point Michelle was making was that four blogs appear in the head. This appearance indicates the penetration blogs have made into everyday media consumption.

How to Build a Successful Blog
  • Be transparent
  • Maintain an appropriate and consistent tone whether it is informal or formal etc.
  • My favourite point was that good blogs show passion and readers sense passion because it's impossible to fake it
Tracking & Monitoring
  • The brand(s)
  • The company
  • Company Management
  • Future Employees
There was some fantastic data shared on how to measure ROI for the implementation and management of a blog. The formulas were based on number of unique viewers vs. dollars spent to advertise in a channel to attract those same viewers, investments in SEM/SEO, PR, focus groups etc. It really addressed some of the barriers to blog adoption that I've heard in the past.

Finally, Michelle mentioned the power of blogging as a tool for reviews and reporting poor customer service. Savvy bloggers with content rich articles and dense keyword usage can create unfavourable exposure to corporations within the search engines. Here’s a daunting article on the subject. I loved the shot she used for this...

The content of her presentation matched the sentiments of some of the largest brand marketers in North America. I’ve heard many speeches about how these brands have quickly learned to embrace bloggers as a powerful social media channel. I’ve also heard many examples of backlashes for underestimating their influence.

The presentation was very rich in content and I had an opportunity to speak with Michelle after she spoke. I'll share some of the content of that discussion on future posts.

How a Corporate Community Platform Can Omnify Your Intranet

Dovetailing nicely with this week’s presentation on Enterprise 2.0 by Niall Cook, is a discussion I had with Majid Abai. Majid is the CEO of Pringo, a Los Angeles based community platform solution. I thought it would be interesting to get an update on the company since I last reviewed it in January.

Majid explained that the company has gone through some interesting transitions in its focus. In its early days, Pringo was positioned as a social networking solution that was directed primarily towards the C2C sector. Today, the system is being implemented for B2B and B2C and internal corporate purposes. Majid believes that one of the biggest areas of opportunity lies in the corporate adoption as an enhancement to existing intranets.

“Intranets tend to be mono-directional…”, explained Majid, “HR departments communicate benefits or policies, but solutions such as Pringo’s allows businesses to conduct omni-directional discussions”. These omni-directional discussions generate real feedback, engagement and collaboration. Referring back to Niall’s discussion on Tuesday, CEOs are interested in real feedback and managers are in need of real collaboration. Pringo is clearly right in the sweet spot of the Enterprise 2.0 trend.

Providing a community platform to create an official communications channel that is flexible and that incorporates all the bells and whistles employees know exist today, is definitely coming into vogue. Employers are starting to warm up to the idea of opening the channels of communication and providing a platform to be heard. There was an example cited on Tuesday from a large financial institution that made the decision to move to internal platforms after management realized that insider rage was leaking onto the From a security standpoint, I’d say that it was a smart move.

Pringo’s solution provides all the goodies discussed at the Enterprise 2.0 meeting including video sharing, call to podcast and other basic tools corporations would want for a rich community platform.

Abai feels that Pringo is slightly ahead of the curve. Considering most of the tools have only been available for the past 2 years, it's encouraging to see that companies appear to be catching on to to Enterprise 2.0 solutions at all. Pringo appears to be poised well for the timing as it has established a number of valuable partnerships and offers clients over 400 features to enhance their communities.

Another area of growth for the company over the past year has been its transition to consultative services. Customizing systems, training and providing roll-out/adoption strategies have become a major area of focus for the company. With some critical mass under the belt, they’ve started to get a deeper understanding of what is working and what is not.

When I asked what was stopping companies from implementing the platforms, Abai listed the following barriers to adoption:
  • Economy – Budgetary constraints
  • Organizational Maturity – Ability for companies to “let go” and “listen”
  • Plan to Roll Out & Perceived Complexity of Systems – The resources that are required to implement the systems and get them adopted.
With all the internal talk, I still find the application for external communications and media an enormous opportunity for large multi-divisional media companies like newspaper publishers, cable and radio stations. Referring back to the radio example, Abai explained that companies like CBS, can (and have) adopted the strategy to create multiple platforms that are streamlined and controlled centrally but have content controlled at a local level.

I asked Majid about the tracking features on the platforms and, as his background is in analytics and data base management, he was quite enthusiastic about the level of sophistication that was going to be made available to clients with the next version. All user activity is currently tracked and reported on but Pringo will soon be offering dynamic reporting as well as analytical reporting with the next version. This means that centralized clients will be able to get roll up reports on the localized platforms and be able to drill down to very specific details.

I thought I’d ask about the way to establish an ROI equation for the implementation of the system, which led to an interesting discussion about objectives and the clients' ability to focus on areas that require solutions. Once the problems or opportunities are identified in their business cases, the value can be measured more readily. Abia said that if the company’s objectives were to turn the intranet up a notch, it would obviously be difficult to get an accurate measure of a return on investment.

In a time when employees are thirsting for the tools that are available online everywhere, it makes a lot of sense for companies to incorporate those tools into their daily business. I think Majid is right about the opportunity that lies in corporate communications. I also think that this reflects greatly on the impact social networking has made on a global level. When I reflect on how long it took companies to adopt email, the internet, devices like blackberrys – the list goes on… In comparison, Social Networking seems to be moving at lightning speed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Internal Hobnobbing...Enterprise 2.0 Style

Last night at Third Tuesday, Niall Cook, Worldwide Director of Marketing Technology at Hill & Knowlton Inc. and author of the recently released Enterprise 2.0, shared his thoughts on social software and how companies are adopting it around the globe.

The discussion started with an interesting exploration of the “why now” factor for conducting this type of research and the obvious demand for it worldwide. He gave some theoretical background about how technologies required appropriate business climates in order to become fully adopted.

Alluding to the Gartner Hype Cycle that describes the time it takes for technologies to be integrated and adopted, Niall talked about the tools that have been available for some time and the global business environment that has only recently become an ideal climate for convergence and adoption.


Today's most successful companies have been developed as pure platforms completely content-free for others to fill. Some obvious examples include eBay, Google and Amazon. All of these companies have based their success on providing channels for others to communicate, share, sell or review content.

Business Environment

There has been a fundamental shift in power from:
  • Producers of goods to the consumers
  • West to East
  • Employer to Employee
Niall made a specific point about the employer-employee shift in power that I think resonated with the audience. He said that where it used to be that CEOs could refer to teams as “my people”, today employees have full control over their “ownership” and feel that they are renting out their skills (on their terms) to the employers for a time that they feel is appropriate. In this shift, the CEO becomes a Chief Engagement Officer whose responsibilities are more focused on relationships and collaboration vs. hands-off leadership and control.

Here are some other interesting points discussed at the presentation:

The four main uses for social software within organizations are:
  • Communication – encouragement of communication between employees
  • Cooperation – informal cooperation with no specific tasks or mandates
  • Formal Collaboration – teams, committees and groups with specific tasks
  • Connectivity – forming a deepened bond between employees and creating an environment to heighten retention and peer guidance
Some Examples of Social Software:
  • Discussion forums
  • Video platforms allowing employee uploads
  • Phone to Podcast lines for mobile employee uploads
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Innovation Forums
  • Proprietary bookmarking tools like
Barriers to Adoption
  • Internal IT departments will start to experience diminished power as they become shadowed through outsourcing. When employees request solutions, rather than contend with the classic lines like “yeah, in 8 months” or other push back, they will look to outsource their requirements. This might turn their role into more of a consultative one.
  • People organize themselves around clients, groups and then the company. It is challenging for corporations to pull employees out of these silos to generate real conversation and internal networking.
A New Breed of Expectations
  • 2009 marks the first year of graduates that will have had no experiences without the Internet. It will be interesting to see how this demographic will change the business landscape by cutting through bureaucracy associated with traditional IT push back. This generation will not be interested in policies, as it will always gravitate towards lanes of least resistance and heightened productivity.
Organizational Tips
  • In order to get social software adoption, it’s important to have senior management champion the cause alongside the grassroots employee level.
  • Social software should not replace existing intranets. Organizations need to deploy tools that manage specific tasks. Social software does not replace the administration of health benefits or submission of vacation time (although we chuckled at the thought of open voting for whether employees deserved to take holidays).
  • Implement RSS feeds to help organize the flow of information
While Niall shared some top line cases studies from companies like BBC and Oracle, there were many at the gathering that offered up case studies of their own. Representatives from RBC , McKinsey, Apple and Google shared some valuable insight into what types of tools are being integrated at their companies and the positive effect they have had on growth and collaboration.

Finally, Sean Moffitt from Agent Wildfire brought up an interesting point about the measurement of success within organizations. He mentioned that one of his clients had implemented a social software program and after a set period of time, they decided the program had failed. He went on to explain that roughly 20% of the organization had adopted the system and those employees (roughly 3,000) loved the software. But management focused on the 80% that had not adopted it and deemed the program as a failure.

At some point there will need to be a layer of measurement that tracks the heightened levels of networking, productivity and innovation regardless of the number of users.

Each of the above areas could become stand-alone subjects. As companies build their social strategies, we'll see more case studies and best practices surfacing. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Immersive Marketing... Alternative Realities or Plain Old Delusions?

I was in Montreal yesterday watching the presentations at the IAB MIXX Conference. There were some interesting speakers and I had an opportunity to catch up with some of them at the show.

One of the presentations peaking my interest today was the one delivered by Pierre Côté of GRAMSCLO. GRAMSCLO is an agency that produces alternative reality content that can be branded and executed across multiple platforms. Most of the audience would agree that the presentation was somewhat confusing as Pierre attempted to convey the value of the concept it got buried somewhat in translation. So, I caught up with him afterward to talk about alternative reality games and why they are starting to make some noise.

Remember the Blair Witch Project? You might recall the media hype surrounding the film before it launched, while it was playing and shortly after. The movie was positioned as a true story but soon after audiences streamed into theatres it was revealed (in rumors at first) that the film had been a hoax developed by a clever New York based team that went on to form the marketing company called Campfire.

Pierre shared a Campfire case study in his talk for Audi A3. A news story appeared last year complete with footage from the surveillance cameras, of a car robbery at a dealership. The piece included the actual robbery, the police arrival, the wanted ads and the whole shebang that took place after the alleged heist. Consumers ever fascinated by who dunnits and criminal acts, spent a lot of time internationally viewing and sharing the news footage and the articles that had been generated as a result of the headlines. There were even banners created and served across the web urging people to report any facts about the missing car. When the auto show came to town later that year, Audi had cordoned off an entire area on the show floor to feature a placard with a picture of the stolen vehicle showcasing what would have been there had the robbers not taken the car.


In the first 3 months of the campaign:
  • 45 million PR impressions
  • 2 million visitors
  • 500,000 story participants
  • 10,000 dealer leads
  • 4,000 test drives
  • 1,025 cars sold
Ok, I get the attraction here. I get the viral effect, the newsworthiness and even the entertainment factor. The results almost seal the deal but with consumers becoming savvier to this type of “creative PR” activity, I can’t help but feel a bit skeptical about the future of these tactics.

Here’s what I like about the use of ARGs in media:

The level of engagement is quite deep.
  • For consumers that take the bait and fall into the game, the quality of time spent is magnificent compared to more traditional ads.
Shareable Content in hot.
  • With multiple media touch points the alternative reality could potentially hit a runners high and become a coveted piece of urban legend.
  • Video production averages $1,000/min and media buys across major networks with a large emphasis on ROS mixed with highly targeted channels create a reasonable blended CPM. Social networking is where it really takes off.
  • A fairly high end program running for just over 40 days could be executed between $75k-$100K
Promotion of creativity.
  • This strategy provides a great channel for producers across all disciplines to push the boundaries and have some fun. I’ve seen murder news stories, stolen items, spooky sightings, fake hostile take-overs and I’m sure I’ll see more.

Here are my initial concerns:

Fundamentally, consumers don’t like being duped.
  • At its core, the tactic can be viewed as deceptive. Over the past year we’ve been focusing on transparency as a key ingredient to building strong communities and brand identity. The idea of a company creating bogus press releases, video and media units could backfire.
  • Consumers are used to separating advertising from reality. The ARG model as described in the Audi case study doesn’t allow the consumer to make the mental decision to evaluate the value proposition. Instead, it catapults the user into believing something that is not true and that’s playing with fire. Consumers are time-crunched and impressions are expensive. The value derived from these diversions must make up for the distraction.
  • It’s taken over ten years to develop the online channel as a respected source of news and information. The idea of corporations exploiting the space to get some attention seems backwards. When everyday is April Fool’s day, it stops being funny and becomes somehow delusional.
All that said, I believe that Pierre is pioneering a cutting edge space with few players in the game. I also think that Campfire is an agency to be watched as they are doing some really creative work. They just picked up 3 MIXX awards for their Verizon MyHome 2.0 campaign. I have to admit in all my skepticism, that the thinking at least on that campaign, is as fresh as it gets. If more campaigns arise that provide true value to the end consumer, I'll become a serious fan of the tactic.

I’m curious to see how the content will keep fresh enough to dupe the public again and again. It’s an interesting study in psychology.

Maybe we like falling for alternative realities from time to time? Regardless, Pierre Côté, Campfire and I'm sure many others will be at the ready to capitalize on our naivety.

Harnessing User Generated Content...In Review

This month’s Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Scott Cook, the Cofounder and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Intuit, about how businesses have been and should be leveraging user-generated content.

Cook cited a number of examples where user contribution has literally created businesses like Amazon (user reviews and recommendations), eBay (user generated marketplace) and in some cases outperformed old established players like encyclopedia Britannica (Wikipedia).

Cook has had some experience with implementing user generated platforms. The article references a start up Intuit was playing with in 2005 called Zipingo.

Zipingo was an online local directory product that was easily accessed through Quicken. Users could add local businesses and recommendations.

The site was shut down in 2007 when Intuit realized that the site had been given the wrong kind of attention.

Scott explains the demise of Zipingo:

“We made the mistakes that stemmed from the difference between traditional products and contribution systems. User contribution is first of all about the users and their content. We failed to nurture and encourage early contributors and we got distracted creating our own content – ancillary information like business addresses for the listings”
I think a lot of businesses are making the same mistakes today. Trusting a community of users to generate useful content is difficult. Traditionally, success has come from controlled process driven environments. After all doesn’t control drive quality? Doesn’t the brand rely heavily on the company’s ability to control quality and all the media messages that are associated with that quality?

From a marketing stand point, the user generated content (UGC) phenomenon has challenged many world-class masterminds of branding. Asking these masters to relinquish their brand stewarding responsibilities and allow what was once a heavily PR ready environment to grow cultures of uncontrolled feedback and unpredictable (possibly slanderous) content is in a way, like asking them to give up their jobs.

Over the past year, I’ve had a number of conversations with marketers about the journey from the initial terror of unknown feedback to acceptance of the 2.0 world and finally to a user generating frenzy. Perhaps the most difficult part of the journey is the first step – “letting go”.

Looking back, in the mid 90’s it became popular for brands to ask consumers to “Speak to” them. Then the brands struggled to organize feedback, respond to the feedback and route the feedback to appropriate contacts within the organization. By 2000, the information became organized, routed and responded to but a few years ago brands began to realize the potential value of the aggregated data and as a result, started to focus on harnessing the data that was being collected.

Today social networking has created a macro version of the same cycle. The UGC is scattered across the web and brands are trying to re-organize the information. Software exists to scour the web for references and services will go as far as to delete unpleasant content. The latest twist however, has been in the “listening” department. Somewhere the light bulb went on and businesses started to make the connection between consumer opinion, innovation and increased revenue. This is the first step to “letting go”.

The winning strategies to date have come from companies that have basically said to their consumers “please talk amongst yourselves”.

Enabling consumers to talk about your brand and then entering the conversation appropriately (this area is still in dire need of improvement), is clearly the way to navigate this space. That's why we're seeing the explosion of micro-communities that are discreetly sponsored by Global 5000 brands.

Here’s an example of a brand that is still asking its consumers to "speak to" it:

Here's a shot of a brand encouraging interaction and contribution:

Marketing has always been about halo effects, word of mouth and viral communication. Why not capitalize on users' innate desire to share their information, status (ad nauseam) and opinions?

It'll be interesting to see the next stage develop. Brands will need to reward the content and this will lead to a nice cerebral challenge in valuating media. I can only imagine the semantics of a cost per contribution model.

I'm sure even Ms. Palin would agree to my closing statement (with a big wink) ... "Any media is good media so just let go...".

Friday, October 3, 2008

Integrated Marketing Metrics...The Kneebone Reaction

As a final installment on the discussions this week at MIXX, I’d like to focus a bit on a new software application that was presented on the Canadian upstarts panel.

Wendy Robertson, Co-founder and CEO at Kneebone gave a sobering presentation about the lack of clarity within organizations on budgeting for marketing initiatives. Currently, CEOs and CFOs are faced with an annual process where department heads present their respective business cases to get funding. it's the lack of consistency and the fragmented snap shots that lead CMOs to more of a sales pitch approach to getting budgets.

Kneebone was designed to streamline the internal reporting process so that one clear picture of what works and what doesn't is laid out to CFOs and CEOs. Kneebone is designed to take input from all areas of the business (sales & marketing) to give management the means to assess from a mathematical perspective, where to invest and where to pull back.

The product provides granular daily reporting that can then be rolled into any fiscal term. Now marketers can see trending over years on marketing initiatives and drill down to the media site performance level, creative ad unit level or even deeper depending on how the data is structured.

Another interesting part of the Kneebone solution is the ability to get integrated marketing performance reports. Easy to read visuals capture data throughout any given time period and clearly illustrate high impact media combinations.

What I like about this from a media planning perspective is that it throws the old reach frequency models on their heads. The ability to view real results within an organization cuts through the ambiguity of “industry averages” or decisions based purely on competitive activity.

While the tool is clearly targeted to CFOs and CEOs, I saw great application for the tool in an agency environment.

I thought David Friedman’s presentation on true integrated agencies dove tailed nicely with this new offering as he urged the industry to get out of it’s silo approach to marketing and truly embrace combined efforts. Kneebone would serve as a great planning tool for this newly integrated approach.

I can see how this would threaten the marketing discipline heads. For innovations within specific “silos” it’s going to become a lot harder for testing when the CFOs are fed an IV of past performance without an overlay on offerings that may come to market once the budgets have been set. In severe situations, this would leave little room for flexibility and creative planning.

It certainly adds a layer of pressure on CMOs as their every decision can be called out and analyzed. With CMOs' average tenure already at an alarmingly low 18 months, the new accountability tool could backfire in the area of recuritment and retention. Then again, it could also lead to a higher breed of marketer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Putting Money in the Meter…Microsoft CashBack

I’ve had a chance to think a little bit about the discussions this week on the “Future of Search” panel and truthfully, I’m a bit confused.

I’ve decided to reflect on Microsoft's presentation because I have been patiently waiting for internal feedback on the consumer search incentive program they launched this spring. Martin Stoddart, Senior Product Manager of Microsoft Live Search gave quite an optimistic view on Microsoft’s future in the search game earlier this week at IAB MIXX and I’d like to share some of his thoughts on how Microsoft plans to slay the dragon (disguised in librarian clothing).

Stoddart’s view is that disruptive forces are at work pushing the search product to a new level (phase 3) that is geared towards the more experienced search consumer demands for enhanced results (rich semantics for example), paid engagement & rewards.

Honing in on the disruption, Stoddart described Microsoft’s consumer reward system as a much more attractive and advanced business model than the “aging” cost per click method. In May 2008, there was a big roll out of the CashBack program and Stoddart highlighted the model as a success. Although he didn’t share numbers on the program which is currently only available in the US, he sounded pretty convinced about the direction things were going.

Here’s where (my) confusion sets in…

Essentially, Microsoft has created an enormous consumer affiliate program to encourage searches on its platform and in doing so, has created somewhat of a closed market environment where users will get cash back or discounts on purchases made from Microsoft merchants.

So I’ve stumbled hard on the oxymoron of “enhanced results, rich semantic search etc.” and the proposed closed search (commercial) environment. How can your search be rich and closed at the same time? It feels a bit like AOL circa 1995 no?

In theory, affiliate programs can be successful at capturing market share but with the growing trend of consumers demanding transparency, mobility and freedom to select from infinite online options, the thought of receiving rewards for a finite list of merchants seems archaic and somehow (for lack of a better term) uncool.

Martin went on to describe some of the features that were in development at Microsoft. All of them made a lot of sense and it’s true that Microsoft has all the assets to string together the laundry list of enhancements required to compete over the next few years.

I guess my question is whether paying consumers to come to a relatively closed environment will hold down the fort while Microsoft works on developing the items that are required to deliver rich results to the users of the future. By holding down the fort I mean: drive loyalty, maintain its already battered market share or optimistically, steal from the dragon’s lair. In a way it feels like the company is putting money in the meter while it dashes around internally to come up with the phase 3 experience.

I'll dig around the media buying side over the next few weeks to see where the media budget votes are on this one.

Items on the development list included:

  • Best of search and browse
  • Intent-based refinements
  • 1 click simplicity
  • Immersive verticals
  • Opinion Index to expose the wisdom of the crowds
  • Predictive Pricing
  • Query Suggestions
  • Comparison tools
  • Traffic aware routing
Multi-Device Access
  • Mobile Product Search
  • Turn-by-turn Directions
  • Gas Prices
  • Movies
It's a tall order for anyone.