Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It's All About Marketing.....and Measurement

The Social Media Council held its inaugural steering meeting on Wed. March 18.

Initially, this group was formed by members of the iBreakfast to give some form and understanding to explosive growth of Social Media. What had only recently seemed like one more online time-sucker has suddenly become perceived as a salvation of sorts for marketers, job seekers and consultants.

The most compelling interest of this group was in its marketing value – particularly from the perspective of what works and then, how to measure it. Everyone loves the idea of “viral” – getting your message out for free. But how do you measure it is effectiveness and how do explain its ultimate value – as well as some of its possible drawbacks to a client.

At that same time, we are all users of Social Media and we are concerned with issues of best practices as well as a kind of users Social Contract – what is the best way to interact with uses and what are the right ways to reward or monetize the users’ efforts. Finally, there is a concern – if somewhat less compelling among our tech-savvy members – about strategies and tactics and which social media are best used and how.

The biggest concern at this meeting was measurement and expectations: what exactly is a Social Media campaign, how do you measure it and how do you explain to clients and colleagues – in the face of hype, misuse and uncertainty – just what outcomes they can reasonably expect?
The extent of this question quickly came to life in the words of one member who noted that clients just say: “Make us viral!” While that may sound simplistic, Social Media is all about spreading the word.

The next issue becomes a matter of expectations – can clients realistically expect to be the next Obama Girl? Would they really like to be in the middle of the “How to Smoke Smarties” controversy where preteens simulated smoking with a secondary brand of candy. Most of all, what is the real chance of becoming a viral hit vs. what is a more likely to outcome?

(In many cases what looks like a viral hit, was really an orchestrated effort in some hidden, but substantial way. )

Assuming this is how most clients view Social Media then we can start with this basic working definition:

Social Media is about getting the public to promote you, essentially for free, or at least, of their own volition.

(This definition works for individuals and professionals too, assuming they are trying to promote their public exposure).

In terms of marketing, this puts Social Media in a unique category somewhere between PR and paid ads. It is all human-driven content as opposed to the “create once” mentality of conventional ad placement, yet unlike PR there, are a numerous acceptable as well as arguably more controversial ways to drive exposure.

In many ways, Social Marketing is like Permission Marketing in that you can only proceed with the permission of the users, their rules and etiquette. Blackballing and retaliations are possible – but so is growth. The main difference, however, is that prospects are leery about signing on to opt-in lists is hard because it is assumed to be mostly about marketing and clogging their emails. With Social Media you are trading information, not necesarrily marketing and may do so without clogging their email.

At its bottom, Social Media is an easier way to get permissions. Moreover, it evades Permission Marketing’s Catch-22 rule: it is NOT unethical to ask strangers for permission, again, because is understood not to be purely about marketing but about many kinds of networking that may lead up to some kind of marketing usually in the form of exposure or attention-seeking. However, this is a kind of unstated user-marketer covenant which means that overly aggressive clients need to understand this before proceeding - or they will do so at their peril!

Most clients view either blogs or viral videos as the key to getting their message across. In many case adding a widget it’s a plus. Games are a great viral ploy. Twitter is now an integral though not fully understood part. Wikis play a role but are generally absent from the marketing conversation.
Most individuals and professional users view blogs and Facebook page plus a business networking tool like LinkedIn or Plaxo as the basic tools for the trade.

(Attendees noted there too many offers from too many platforms for their efforts which opens up a numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to consolidate or at least harmonize platforms. Filtering is another growing user issue.)


The next question is how do you measure results? There are many ways: sign-ups, pass-forwards, Facebook fans, followers, chatter in the form of blog-postings, story leads and ultimately some type of sales.

There are numerous commercial services to help do this. Buzzmetrics offers trending reports that show how a brand is being perceived. Social Media sites like Facebook and council attendee Ripple6 provide comprehensive stats from their platform usages.

As the principals of Pandemic Labs pointed out, the industry would be greatly aided by agreed-upon metrics somehow impression-based (like a social media CPM) as well as something engagement-based that traditional marketers could understand. The holy grail would be sentiment-based digital footprint metrics.

Another suggestion from JB Barlow of LifeWorkAlliance.com is a Digg-like model that uses social media to rate social media.

However – Social Media CPMs are different from traditional advertising because they carry blowback risks. So even if measurement is somehow unitized it still has to be seen in the context of an overall campaign strategy.

What all of these approaches miss is the big picture – what did Social Media, and Social Media only - do for my brands, service, product, career etc? While no media ever can do all that, most media, particularly digital, offer increasing levels of measurement. Social Media however, complicates much of this because monetization at every level is elusive and even among obvious viral successes there have been difficulties in achieving monetization.

Exposure: Giving Up Control & Blowback
The biggest problem for traditional marketers may be that unlike old Media, here the public can talk back. Inappropriate campaigns can get you into trouble. Unlike the old adage of no such thing as bad publicity, here it can be really bad. Often, the negatives can stay around search engines forever. So campaigns carry liability as well as opportunity. Again, as consultants, technologists and campaign providers we need this phenomenon to be an understood issue

Since it is possible to measure various elements in Social Media, the key then is how we define success. In addition, we need to balance it against the risks – how much does the pursuit of success expose the enterprise. Or another way of asking, how much brand control do you need to give up in order to get the public the freedom to viralize you.

Since creating virality is the holy grail of Social Media we should begin by defining a kind of Viral Value chain.

Viral Hierarchy - from Most Viral to Least Viral
1. Platform: Pass along – users commend – attach themselves
2. Widget
3. Conversational
4. Pass-along
5. Link
6. Mention
7. Banner
8. Adword

Just as a Financial Analyst would show a client a portfolio profile based on risk vs. reward Social Media advisors should have a “model portfolio” approach.

High Growth vs. High Risk
Maximum Virality – Wow! or controversial campaign vs. risk of online retribution. Favors breakthrough ideas, outrageous videos etc.

Medium Virality – medium chance of blowback. Favors games, contests, cute ideas or useful tactics like widgets and cool or useful videos.

Low Virality - little chance of blowback. Pass-along with little or no interactivity, commentary etc. Favors videos, pictures, jokes , interesting videos etc.

Since many attendees of the Council Meeting are in a position to sell campaigns, they asked for standards or baseline measures. Just as the Interactive Advertising Bureau spent its early years developing standards for banners – this group saw a need for Marketing Units or standards as well as away to describe the work effort required.

Social Media Marketing is inherently more complicated. Nevertheless, there is a way to provide standard guidelines both in terms of basic integrated campaigns, their likely outcomes and the level of labor and effort required to establish and support these campaigns. Another measure is the issue of strategic needs: are these branding efforts, product sales, customer retention, reputation management etc.

Some Guidelines are:
Basic Campaign: Integrating Social Network Page (e.g. Facebook) with weekly updated blog and Twitter account.
Estimated development time 20 hours. Estimated maintenance 10 hours per week.
Likely outcomes: customer outreach, modest growth for small enterprises. Modest effort level.
Basic Campaign enhancements – Business Network outreach (e.g. LinkedIn, Plaxo) seeking clients and hires by seeking for past contacts etc. Simple videos, homemade or semi-professional.
Email campaign to old and new clients.

Medium Campaign: Retention/Loyalty Campaign
Integrating Social Network Page (e.g. Facebook) with weekly updated blog and Twitter account. Outreach to existing clients. Raise and improve profile. Premium offers/Loyalty programs.
Estimated development time 50 hours. Estimated maintenance 20-40 hours per week. May require team or dedicated staffer.
Likely outcomes: customer outreach, customer feedback, and double-digit growth for small to medium enterprises. Team-effort level. May require third party providers of games, loyalty programs and content
Medium Campaign enhancements – Business Network outreach (e.g. LinkedIn, Plaxo). Professional videos. Good content and editing.
Email campaign to old and new clients. Partnering, linksharing, affinity groups and affiliate marketing.

Advanced Campaign: High Growth
Requires a Big Idea – an exciting new product, outrageous video, a major celebrity, nation TV campaign etc.
Integrating Social Network Page (e.g. Facebook) with a Website with “Big Viewer Driver” from TV or “talked about content.” Gets attention online and on other media (Press, TV etc). High risk of controversy.
Estimated development time 100-400 hours. Estimated maintenance 100+ hours per week. Will require team or dedicated staffers. Generally requires agency or outside partners.
Likely outcomes: dramatic media and customer growth, high traffic, geometric growth for medium to large enterprises. Quantum leap for small sites. Team-effort level. Generally requires third party providers of games, content, ideas, tech support.
Campaign enhancements – General and specialized digital PR, Business Network outreach (e.g. LinkedIn, Plaxo). Professional videos. Good content and editing.
Email campaign to old and new clients. Partnering, linksharing, affinity groups and affiliate marketing.

Traditional organizations generally require some change of thinking in order to enter the world of Social Media because they must allow some level of “brand release.” If they place too much control over the conversation they will be shunned or worse. On the other hand, they may have trouble handling the controversy. Enterprises with already bad public relations may have difficulty just entering the field. Worse, search engines have a way of keeping bad news in the public eye long after they have been dispelled.

The industry should therefore pose guidelines as to the following (outside of legal remedies such as libel):
Fair comment vs. unfair comment
Fair response
Fair deletion of comment
Fair counter PR such as in responding to URLs that inherently attack certain enterprises.

In general Bloggers and other providers of User Generated Content are expected to work gratis. The only universally accepted exception is the placement of AdSense ads. Clearly, the real issue is that UGM is attractive precisely because it is supposed to be the honest voices of the netizens and uninfluenced by outside forces – he blogosphere as a kind of online folk medium a vox populi. The reality is that onliners are always pushing something – their business, their views, their reputation or just their own excuse to grab your attention. Even the placement of AdSense has influence over the way some bloggers address issues known to attract the highest click rates.
Aside from the “moral” issues raised by tech purists – there are two issues:
1. Transparency – if bloggers etc. declare their sponsors or biases, is that OK?
2. What is fair – ads, sponsors or direct influence in the content itself?

Since AdSense is rarely lucrative for the long tail of content providers it is quite likely that more and more bloggers, vbloggers etc. with sizable followings will increasingly seek out more lucrative revenue sources – most of which will somehow influence their work.

As long as transparency is the acceptable standard, then are basic levels of transparency –
1. Full Transparency: Declared sponsors with no edit control from sponsors. Free to be critical.
2. Partial Transparency: Sponsors declared with final edit control from sponsors.
3. Minimal Transparency: Sponsors Named. Content may be developed by sponsor.

Attendees noted other areas of concern that required a list of guidelines and best practices.
Privacy ID
Protection of Copyrights and other Intellectual Property Rights
User Generated Media (See Transparency levels)
Ads and Sponsorship
Ownership of Contact and other Social Media Platform data.
Wiki Ethics

The Council could establish public meetings in multiple cities.
It could also establish conferences and professional/best practice training programs for individuals as well enterprises.

As the group grows, based on the recommendations of the committee members we should consider its charter as a membership group, with paid dues, a mission to represent the interests of the industry.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Newspapers Die - Our April iBreakfast: Google's Solution

OK here's a Big Timely One. Why are newspapers dying - and is there a way out?

Google thinks so and they are launching a new initiative to respond to this. Newspapers - stay tuned: we will be examining this in great detail at our April iBreakfast.

But in many ways the conversation is still about reconfiguring what's already out there - digital text with a few visual enhancements.


For those who know, I have been exploring the world of Graphic Novels (OK, Comics for Smartypants). There is a method to this madness......

Everyone knows that ComicCon is takng over the world.....or so it seems. Comics are the basis of most of Hollywood's blockbusters. Graphic Novels are the only growth area in publishing and they are all the rage in education (we even started a conference called Graphica in Education).

Why is this and what does it mean for Newspapers?
The short answer is that people - especially young people - are attuned to reading with both sides of the brain. Text favors only one side of the brain. Bringing pictures to the story acitvates the other. Adding deep archetypes (the comic superheroes) substantially enhances interest in the storylines. One reason why celbrity gossip with pics sells so well (substitue Madoff for Madonna and you bump up readership in the Wall Street Journal just as much).

What this means for Newpapers is that when you go digital you can't just do newspapers online and add a few pictures. People want to experience the news with more of "dual brained" balance. Stories have symbolic value and they have to be told via the language of symbols - or else your just beating a dying horse. What the net encourages is short, sweet, high impact and easy drill-down.

When movies began, they often filmed plays. Motion pictures oringinally showed skits and visual effects. When the narrative of drama was combined with filmed action we had a substantially new medium.

So that's why we started ViziPress, teamed up with sites like Empressr and a series of projects that will illustrate new ways to make digital media more readable.

In the meantime, stay tuned for our April iBreakfast and you will hear about the current issues and peek into the big ideas going forward..

Social Media Council Meeting

The Social Media Council met for the first time on Wed. in NY.

The report will be out shortly. Tell me if you want an early glimpse......

The bottom line is - it's all about marketing, measuring and managing expectations.

Then comes professional and personal usage - strategies and best practices.

This report will outline some really compelling ways that we, as a community can substantially affect the developments of all of the above.

Stay tuned.....!

Don't forget the next iBreakfast on Wed. March 25th is about the dramatic combination of Search and Social Media.