March 2008 Archives

Social Influence Marketing: Is it different to WOM and Social Shopping?

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social_shopping.jpgSince my SXSW presentation where I introduced Social Influence Marketing (SIM) more broadly, I've fielded lots thought provoking questions and comments. Most interesting have been the questions about the relationship between SIM, Social Shopping and Word of Mouth Marketing. Here are a few clarifying thoughts.

Firstly, social influence marketing includes social shopping but extends beyond it. Social Shopping is primarily concerned with group purchasing behavior at the point of purchase. It is tied more into sales leveraging the wisdom of the crowds to affect purchasing. And it focuses directly on driving consumers to a purchase as quickly as possible.

Social Influence Marketing is about  social shopping but not just that. At its heart, it is about recognizing the importance of influence - influence at every point point in the marketing funnel. And SIM is concerned with the brand as much as it is with the sales. We know that a person's perception of a given brand is heavily influenced by his or her peer group - the known peer group and the anonymous one too. SIM deals with furthering a brand's image in the online domain by taking advantage of social influence. This may not drive directly towards sales.

The other question that comes up is whether social influence marketing is just another form of word of mouth.  And if it is word of mouth, then what's so special and different about it. For this one must first understand that  word of mouth is primarily about consumers giving information to other consumers. It is about spreading a message not necessarily allowing for the natural influencing of a decision making process. In fact, Word of mouth marketing is defined as giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.

SIM certainly does borrow from those concepts but it uses social media in all its forms to influence. Unlike word of mouth marketing, it is centered in social media and social relationships within the digital domain. SIM also targets anonymous interactions in a non campaign sense. But most importantly, social influence is about recognizing that any purchasing decision (or brand opinion) is made with various social influences playing a significant role. SIM is about deploying strategies and accompanying tactics to take advantage of those social influences - to account for them in the customer life cycle and design and integrate experiences that map to how they affect consumer behavior.

At the end of the day, SIM is about recognizing that no opinion formed is completely devoid of external influence and therefore any online experience must accommodate and support the social nature of decision making. It'll make for happier and more loyal customers. For more on social influence marketing, read the reports published by Avenue A | Razorfish.

Pictured above is an image taken from Secret Prices. It shows how social influence on a network can play a significant role in purchasing decisions.

Is the web an advertising medium? Some people wonder

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hp_viral_video_campaigna.jpgAnd this time it includes reporters from Advertising Age which I'm reading with increasing frequency. Matthew Creamer discusses the question in a thought provoking article titled, "Think Different: Maybe the Web's Not a Place to Stick Your Ads". He questions some of the fundamental premises that drive the display ad business - do we really care to click on those advertisements and is that they best way for a brand to reach its prospective customers? Using Apple with its small online advertising budget as an example, he emphasizes that there are lots of other ways to market online too.(To the right is HP's viral marketing campaign from 2006 - a great example of non linear marketing.)

Talking of which, Creamer also discusses some social influence marketing themes. He argues that in the not to distant future consumers won't be "treated as subjects to be brainwashed with endless repetitions of whatever messaging some focus group liked". He believes that the world isn't about hidden persuasion but transparency and dialogue at its center allowing people to influence each other's decision making. I couldn't agree more with him but I believe we're in that not to distant future already.

The most successful brands are the ones that have been engaging with their audiences in more direct, meaningful and personal ways. Display advertising still matters but its just one component of the marketing mix. The audiences aren't passive and they're absorbing, critiquing and sharing their perspectives on the major brands more quickly and with more people than ever before. Figuring out how to take advantage of that is a challenge but that's at the heart of all of this. It's not something new either, its been happening since the dawn of the Internet and its rooted in our innate desires to share and communicate with one another.

And while providing "utility" maybe new to the advertising industry, its old hat for those of us who grew up in the web design business. You have to provide something useful if you want to attract, convert and retain customers via the web. You've gotten more choices in terms of where you provide that usefulness (it just doesn't have to be on your own website), and you can use it to influence purchasing decisions but providing it shouldn't be treated as something new. Just go ask your web product teams about usefulness.

In a sense, its not that utility is entering the marketing domain but rather marketing is getting broader.

Flights of Fancy? Adweek article

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clock1.jpg Brian Morrissey discusses how social media is extending the life of ad campaigns in an Adweek article published today. As usual he's spot on and quotes me discussing what it means.

"The traditional campaign model doesn't work anymore," said Shiv Singh, director of strategic initiatives at Avenue A/Razorfish, owned by Microsoft. "If you have a social-media driven campaign, you can't stop it necessarily when you want to stop it. It's akin to having a dinner party and suddenly turning the lights off."

What are the implications of this? Its harder to budget for a social media driven ad campaign. While you can always turn the media spend off when you want to, you can't necessarily turn off the campaign. If a conversation has started and people are participating, linking and talking about your campaign you have to let that carry on. Problems may arise when the message gets tired or when the conversation degenerates into something you don't want but that can't be helped too.

That's why when you think about the social media in the context of a campaign, think carefully. The returns maybe awesome but the risks can be huge too.

Discussing the Semantic Web

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Sw-horz-w3c.pngThe web of the future will allow any person, object, or piece of information to be intelligently linked to one another says Tim Berners Lee in the Times of London where he talks up the semantic web. For those of who aren't familiar with the semantic web, its the term used to describe how any piece of data and not just a web page will be structured so that it can communicate with other information by built in semantic relationships in the information itself.

Now we've all know about the semantic web for a while. And before web 2.0 we thought the semantic web would be the next big thing. Now we believe it will be the next thing after web 2.0. Is it really just round the corner? The problem with the whole semantic web story is easy to understand - somebody or something needs to create all those relationships between the various data elements that we interact with everyday through the Internet. To date, there hasn't been the right tools around to create those relationships.

Well now with the whole social networking phenomena we're connecting to data elements ourselves using the social networks and each other as starting points. Sure, the semantic web and applications like Twine will take this a lot further but I have to wonder how much they will be adopted. Do we need those relationships created automatically for us? Will we use them? We're depending upon each other to create those relationships and so far that's worked fine. I suppose only time will tell but in the meantime, the search engines are preparing for the future.

Here's a link to the Scientific American article where the Semantic Web was first discussed.

Are Agencies Walking the Talk?

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17424.jpgAdweek had a thoughtful article on word of mouth marketing last month that I bookmarked and re-read this weekend. Notable were the comments by Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen BuzzMetrics who said, "Most brands do a pathetic job listening to consumers vis-a-vis existing tools, whether it's through 800 numbers, call centers, 'contact us' feedback forms." He then added "The reason I say 'pathetic' is those listening tools aren't terribly assimilated into the new Web 2.0 culture, where people talk with audios, photos, videos. Most companies assume consumers speak in one language and that language is text, when consumers actually speak in a much more robust language."

Blackshaw is spot on with those comments. Too many companies think of web based interactions as text driven sales or customer service channels. But customers want to engage with the the brands on a more personal level earlier in the marketing funnel before they are ready to make purchases. They want to draw the brand into their own conversations and decision making processes. They want the companies to participate on their terms. The current tools simply don't allow for that. Few websites are defined to put the conversations at the epicenter. Most focus on the product. That worked for a long time but not anymore.

Blackshaw also said, "there is such a viral effect being created by what brands do -- whether it's through products that work, customer service, the way employees behave -- that we also need to listen to understand the cause and effect between brand experience and consumer conversation." That's really the million dollar question. We're all trying to understand the relationship. Making it harder is the fact that the brand determines the type of conversation too.

I know I'll be spending a lot of time thinking about the relationship between brand experience and consumer conversation in the next few months.

Sheraton NCAA Wave. It's Arrived

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Raise your hands if you want tickets. At my SXSW presentation, I mentioned three words at the end and encouraged you to Google them later this week. Here's why. We've helped Sheraton launch Join the Sheraton NCAA Wave. Support your team by adding your own wave video clips to join the wave too. By participating in this fun, social media campaign, a visitor can enter to win a free trip to the 2009 Final Four.

SXSW Sketches of Going Social Now

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Honoria Starbuck attended my Going Social Now SXSW session on Monday. She has a doctorate in interdisciplinary communications and education. And needless to say, Honoria produces wonderful watercolors. Above are two of them visualizing some of the major themes of my talk. Thank you.You'll find the enlarged versions on her website.

SXSW - Going Social Now Presentation

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SXSW. A sketch worth a thousand words

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These were on the wall of the ballroom where the Zuckerberg keynote was going on. Somehow they seemed far more interesting than the actual keynote. Find more on that at I can't read the url for the second poster. If you know the author please let me know. I'll update the post to include the link. Eyescience is behind the first one.


Alltop. Is it on top of everything?

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250px-Guy_Kawasaki,_2006.jpgSometimes I prefer to wait before blogging about a news item. I learn by reading everyone else's comments and I get to observe how the the news maker responds to the initial wave of feedback from the blogosphere. That's what I'm doing with Guy Kawasaki's Alltop. It launched early in February and is evolving based on initial feedback. I sent Guy my thoughts too and he responded via email. Guy's responses are in italics.

What is Alltop?
Alltop aggregates RSS feeds from key blogs around the web. It categorizes them by topic and each topic gets its own page. There are around 30 topics varying from Design to Celebrities and Gaming to Mac. The most controversial topic is Egos which includes blogs from those that Guy considers to be the egos of the web. Guy Kawasaki chooses which blogs to publish as well as the ordering of the blogs. There's basically no user input involved in the hierarchy and choices of the blogs. No personalization at all.

What do I like about it?

1. It points me to some useful blogs.  While I know which are the important blogs in my primary areas of interest like Social Media, Design, Mac, Politics and Food, I don't know which blogs to scan in other areas. In that sense, Alltop serves as a starting point especially if I am doing some research.

2. It's clean, uncluttered and kind on the eyes. Each topic has 50-100 RSS feeds. They have a lot of information. But somehow the pages don't seem cluttered and dense. In fact, Alltop seems lighter than my iGoogle pages which have roughly the same number of RSS feeds.

3. Less is more for Alltop. I know exactly what to expect from Alltop and every page meets those expectations. There aren't any surprises and nor do I need to watch a flash tutorial to understand what's going on. There isn't anything complex about this.

4. Applying progressive disclosure. I really like how mousing over a headline gives me more information. We've all seen this elsewhere on the web, it is a useful, time saving feature. I don't like how Google forces me to click a plus sign to get that information.

alltop.jpgWhat's not working?

1. No conversation opportunities. I'm surprised few other bloggers picked up on this. I find it really disappointing that there's no way for me to comment on Alltop itself. Or to see the number of comments associated with an RSS feed. Now I know this would be harder to do technologically but its worth putting effort into this. Maybe for Version 2.0? What about a way to rate the blogs themselves or to suggest new blogs. Don't miss the conversation opportunities. Please don't miss the conversation opportunities.

Guy's feedback - This is sort of off-vision for us. Not everything has to be a social networking/conversation site. We want to be “digital magazine rack” not a pickup bar.

So we don’t want the site cluttered by comments, lame or smart. We want people to come to their topics, scan, read some stories in depth, and be done with it. If they want friends, they can go to Facebook.

2. Blog hierarchy doesn't make sense on topic pages. I don't understand Guy's ordering of the blogs in each topic. Is it by his preference, technorati rankings, when they were added, evolving popularity.... I have no idea. If you're not letting me set my own order at least tell me how you've set it yourself.

 The rationale is very complex, actually. And it’s mostly in my brain. :-) The first 15 feeds or so are either very popular ones to give people a comfortable feeling, very good (good does not always equal popular), strategic (ie, good for positioning Alltop as useful), or my buddies/people who have helped me or the site. How do I explain this? We’re not some division of CNN or Yahoo!. We are quirky, opinionated, etc. little startup than can do whatever it wants without a consulting study from Forrester or McKknsey.

One exception is which is purely alphabetical since it’s too hard to judge “quality” for this topic.

I also am not a big believer in the wisdom of the crowds, so it’s not going to be just some gameable system of ranking. Plus, the ranking and positions cannot be dynamic. People want to know, more or less, when they come back that the feeds are roughly in the same place all the time.

We may open up for a poll to solicit feedback, but that’s just do discover gems that we don’t know about, not to make it a user-generated order. At the most, we’re considering drag and drop reordering of feeds.

3. You need to scroll to find topics on the front page. Descriptions certainly help readers understand a topic but if that forces topics below the fold, you've got a problem. I would remove the descriptions (or maybe have them appear on mouse over) so that all the topics fit above the fold on a 1024*768 screen.

At some point soon, we’re going to have to redesign our home page. We were only going to to celebrity gossip and just kept on going. I doubt we can get away with no description. Also, I believe is something is compelling enough, having a few folds won’t kill you:

4. Can't browse and switch between topics. It appears that Alltop is designed for the surgical user in mind. The person who knows his favorite topics and likes to only visit them everyday. The person who probably bookmarks the topic page directly. But what about the user who likes to browse between topics? Once I'm on a topic page I have to click the annoying Alltop band to go back to the home page to choose another topic. Let me jump across topics directly.

I don’t know about surgical, but but we don’t think people will linger at the home page. How do you jump across topics in Google Reader? If you don’t have folders, your feeds are all intermingled. If you have folders, you have to navigate through folders. How do you browse in Google Reader or any other customized reader?

We think people will bookmark their favorite topics. They might come to the home page once and never again.

Here’s the $64,000 question. Not knowing your family at all, suppose your mother, father, spouse, or kid one day asked, “I love XX, can you show me where I can get the best news about it?” Where XX = fashion, gadgets, sports, religion, green, humor, cute, design, celerities, etc.

What are you going to say? Get Google reader/NetNewsWire/Pageflakes/Netvibes/iGoogle/MyYahoo, then find some good sites, then import their feeds, then organize your reader, then check updates? Wow, you must love your relatives more than I do. :-) And most likely they will say, “Huh? Where do I get that?” After they get it, “Where do I find the feed?” After that “How I do Import? What’s XML? What’s RSS 2.0?” 

How long did it take you go get Google Reader to the state you  have it in today? Our page for any topic renders in 5 seconds. :-) Assuming we have topic you want. For you, the marginal value of spending hours over the course of time to customize Google Reader is worth it.  We’re looking to serve the 99.9% of the world who will not use RSS feeds the way you, I, and Dave Winer do. If it means that the .1% won’t use Alltop, that’s the risk we have to take.

Alltop in of itself isn't something revolutionary. Some would argue that it isn't even a digital product in its own right (aggregating blogs is not revolutionary). But it does serve a basic need - helping us figure out what to read. But in this day and age that may not be enough. I wonder what the final version will be like.

FT charges $3,350 for social network

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ft.jpgSocial Networks and free don't necessarily go together always. The Financial Times is planning to launch a premium social network for executives according to Annual membership will be $3,350 and it will allow  members to “maintain contact with peers and luminaries ...  and to stay in touch with the key issues facing fellow members.” For $3,350 members get free subscriptions to, admission to any of the FT conferences, 20 percent of further tickets, face-to-face members' events and a 12 month subscription. The forums will also take advertising.

While this may seem astronomically expensive on the surface, it may not be. Conferences alone can cost the same amount and readers will probably be excited about the exclusivity. I believe social networks that cater to niche audiences and have points of passage (meaning not anyone can simply join them) will get stronger in 2008. We're not interested in joining more and more networks anymore. Quality matters more than quantity. It seems like the Financial Times may understand this. Lets see how successful it really is though.

A Sampling from Graphing Social Patterns

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25953285fv9.gif If you missed the Graphing Social Patterns Conference here are some links that you'll find interesting reading.

ReadWriteWeb - They give a good overview of what happened each day and discuss some of the major product announcements too. Amit Kapur of MySpace admitted that social networks are hard to monetize.

Dan Farber at - He discusses Charlene Li's keynote speech. She said that by 2013 social networks will become open and ubiquitous. Ironically, at the DMA Leader's Forum I said that would happen by 2010. I suppose I'm more of an optimist.

Jeremiah at Web Strategy - He covered some of the sessions in quite a bit of detail. Especially interesting was his coverage of the MySpace developer platform presentation.

MyBloglog Folks - They attended and talked about their new APIs at the conference. The MyBloglog blog includes video clips of their announcements. Fun to listen and feel for their world.

Andrew Chen  - He has an interesting overview of the conference and specifically of the Facebook viral marketing panel that he sat on with Dave McLure and Justin Smith. Don't miss his Facebook viral marketing post too.

SXSW Interactive. Speaking on Monday

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sxsw.jpgI'll be speaking at South by Southwest on Monday in Austin. My talk starts at 10:00am in room 5. I hope you can join. Here's the official description.

If you think social media is all about clever corporate marketing on Facebook or quirky videos on YouTube, you're missing an opportunity to change your company's entire culture and operations. In fact, social media can affect how companies innovate, test ideas, recruit talent, measure performance, and interact with all their stakeholders. In his discussion "Going Social Now," Shiv Singh, head of the Avenue A | Razorfish social media practice, will show you how the enterprise can use social media to improve your business practices.

As part of his discussion, Shiv will discuss how the rise of social media has created a new form of marketing altogether, social influence marketing. Social influence marketing is about employing social media as part of the entire lifecycle of a marketing campaign, even beyond a campaign. You will walk away from this engaging discussion with ideas you can take back to the workplace based on real-world research and case studies.

uPumpItUp launches with Mandy Moore

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Our Chicago office designed and built the recently launched uPumpItUp Community for the Crystal Light brand of Kraft foods. The site which is hosted by Mandy Moore encourages women to have conversations with like minded individuals in more personal, human and engaging ways. Women can meet up with friends, inspire each other and share good feelings by participating in positive challenges. 


Are you ready to connect, express, inspire and explore? Take a look at the challenges, see how they work with the milestones and community progress bars and participate. Have no fear you won't be poked!

Social Media for Business, the Clay Shirky perspective

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hceUScover.jpgSometimes, its best to leave the words to someone else to express. Clay Shirky talks about how social media is changing business and discusses some social influence marketing concepts too. Also, don't miss his new book - Here Comes Everybody.

What do businesses need to know: Businesses need to know that the old simplicities of dealing with their customers are disappearing, because customers are now able to coordinate their actions in groups. The old model of engaging with your customers involved two modes -- en masse and personal. Messages were sent out over mass media, in hopes of affecting the behavior of individuals.

Now, thanks to social media, customers are part of active groups, groups that form and dissolve quickly in response to people's interests or needs -- most messages in this media flow within social groups, rather than from businesses to individuals.

Sometimes these groups are creative, as with the group that has created Wikipedia almost literally out of thin air. Sometimes these groups are oppositional, as with the amateur group that has brought the airline industry to heel with new laws regulating their treatment of passengers.

The airlines spent millions trying to prevent that from happening, and they failed, beaten down in less than a year, by a bunch of loosely coordinated amateurs with no budget to speak of. What the amateurs had going for them was that they now have media like weblogs and mobile phones that let them join together and take action quickly and effectively.

There is both opportunity and threat in this environment. The opportunity is getting these groups to amplify your message or help improve your product. The threat is that the group can upend your strategy, or even abandon your offering in favor of self-created material. (It's a bad time to sell encyclopedias.)

What do you think? Is coordinating actions in groups at the heart of the issue for businesses as they think about social media affecting their businesses. Can these groups amplify or improve your product significantly? I believe they can and have talked about it quite a bit (see previous post). But maybe there's more to this than just that. Only time will tell.

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