Shiv Singh: March 2009 Archives

Alltop fights technological determinism. The experts are wrong


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Less than a week ago Alltop launched its Personalized Feed Reader. Alltop is an online magazine rack that aggregates RSS feeds of every major topic from wine to personal finance and everything in between. It saves a reader from having to identify and add RSS feeds to a personalized Google page. All the best feeds on a given topic are easily scannable and can now be added to a customized page with a single click. Alltop is a simple, useful service for those who don't care to spend time creating RSS feeds and customizing them.

But Alltop has been bashed in the technology community. And in my opinion this bashing represents the worst of the technology community. This can be summed up in one phrase - technological determinism. I feel that many of the digerati and even folks in the social media space suffer from a technological determinism bias ( I do too at times). Technological determinism's doctrine is based on the premise that a society's technology determines its cultural values, social structure or history. It is the belief that technology is good for humanity and that it shapes humanity for the better. Got a problem - solve it with better technology. Technology is defined as the central causal element that promotes social change.

scatter/gather something not to be missed


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scatter_gather.jpgA new Razorfish group blog has just launched. Scatter/Gather is another absolutely must read group blog covering the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. I know many of the contributors personally having worked with them over the years. They're brilliant and it shows in their contributions. Some of the more recent contributions include a summary of SXSW 2009 by Kyle Outlaw, Consorting with Content by Rachel Lovinger  and To Fabricate or Not to Fabricate by Rob Stribely. It is worth mentioning that Rob was an award winner at a very special competition held in our offices today.

Back in 2005 when I first launched The Workplace Blog we had no blogs at Razorfish. It is amazing how far we've come in a short period of time. We've got several company blogs now(check out the Digital Design Blog, Superhypeblog, Headlight and the Amnesia blog for a few examples) and dozens of individual ones and hundreds of employees on Twitter. Our internal social media list is probably the largest (and provocative) mailing list in the company and a day doesn't go by without a provocative conversation on it. We are embracing social in all its forms!

Your iPhone can now have friends but Urbanspoon can do so much more


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fbconnecturbanspoon1.jpgLast December we published a presentation in which we showcased the real potential of Facebook Connect. One of the scenarios that we sketched out was of Facebook Connect coming to an iPhone application. We saw it as having the potential to revolutionize games and other applications on the iPhone by making them all instantaneously social. 

Well this week at South by Southwest Interactive, Facebook announced just that - how they were bringing Facebook Connect to the iPhone. This is exciting and I've just started testing some of the applications like Urbanspoon and Flixster to see how they're harnessing the social influence with Facebook Connect. Here are a few early thoughts on the Urbanspoon implementation.

In the case of Urbanspoon, its success is dependent upon how many of your friends use the application too. It isn't enough for Urbanspoon to enable you to login with your FB credentials and see whether any of your friends have reviewed a restaurant. Urbanspoon must allow you to send your reviews to your Facebook profile and encourage others to comment on your reviews too. In other words, I believe the integration will be a success if it not only connects you with reviews written by friends on Urbanspoon but also connects you with activity within Facebook and people's opinions there. I don't think it does that as yet.

But that's not all, I would like Urbanspoon to provide me with personalized recommendations based on my Facebook profile. Why shouldn't it? It has access to that data after all. I'd also like Urbanspoon to recommend restaurants for me to visit with my wife by comparing my Facebook profile and rating patterns to hers. It can't do all of this today but that's the potential with the Facebook social graph integration now. 

I would also like events on Facebook to be linked to reviews in Urbanspoon. For example, if I'm invited to an event at a specific restaurant, I'd like to see within Facebook the Urbanspoon reviews for it and whether any of them are written by friends. (I recognize this thought is a lot more than a simple FB Connect implementation but that's the user experience they should be striving for).

And lastly, I'd like a live streaming option telling me of all the recent restaurant reviews by friends in the city. What they've reviewed, when they've reviewed and where those restaurants are located. Sort of like a twitter feed of friend reviews. This will influence where I go to eat next in a natural socially influenced manner. Needless to say, a future business model for Urbanspoon could be inserting the occasional advertisement into this stream.

Allowing me to see the reviews of my friends is a big step forward but it alone is not enough to truly harness the social influence. Urbanspoon needs to be integrated into the social fabric of my life on Facebook harnessing the profile data, creating streams and integrating with events too.

Wondering what authenticity means? Try this


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authenticity.jpgUndoubtedly, authenticity has become a much overused, over exposed word in marketing. We're all talking about authenticity too much. Is your company authentic? Do you have an authentic brand? Is the conversation that you're having with your customers authentic? Are you being authentic in how you approach social media? The list goes on. Its exhausting.


At the risk of getting more philosophical on the subject of authenticity, I thought I'd share the two images shown above. The left is an advertisement of a Wendy's Chicken Club while on the right is an actual one photographed right after it was bought. Now tell me is the advertising authentic? More examples can be found at Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality and special thanks to Andy Pimentel for pointing me towards this.

Reinventing Management in the 21st Century


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Last year a group of renowned scholars and business leaders got together to discuss the future of management. Organized by Gary Hamel of the Harvard Business School, the two day event was designed to think about the fundamental principles, processes and practices of management that will drive success in the future. The group identified shared beliefs and after much contentious deliberation also "moonshots of management."

The shared beliefs included the notion that management is one of humankind's most important social technologies, a recognition that current management models are seriously out of date and third that management must be reorganized to become more adaptable, innovative and inspiring places to work. Of the 25 moonshots of management, a few stood out for me which I'm discussing here because they jive with social influence and the role it plays inside and outside of organizations. 

Trends in Social Influence Marketing


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A year ago, here at Razorfish, we developed a hypothesis that the way people were influencing each other -- online, in small groups, through peer pressure, reciprocity or flattery -- was giving rise to a whole new form of marketing that we called Social Influence Marketing™  (SIM). This post also appears as an article in the Razorfish Digital Outlook Report and was quoted by Guy Kawasaki at Open Forum.

We defined it as marketing to the network of peers that surround and influence the customer across social platforms and on brand Web sites. The rise of SIM reflected the emerging thinking in our agency that the social Web and the mainstream Web were converging and that digital marketers needed to deliver better value exchanges to consumers and allow for influence more directly. 

Today SIM is not just a hypothesis. It is a driving force that affects everything we do as an agency, and, as we're impressing upon our clients, it matters more than ever in this economic downturn as consumers across the country are losing faith in large institutions and experts and instead are turning to each other for advice. In fact, we believe it is as important a marketing dimension as the traditional pillars of brand marketing and direct response. It is even bigger than we thought it was.

Now, as SIM becomes more mature, 2009 will be the year in which differentiating between good and bad SIM will get easy -- a year in which every campaign, every marketing effort and even every digital business transformation activity (where digital is used to transform core business processes) will need a social influence component. It will be a year in which companies realize that social influence must be harnessed strategically if they want to transform their brands, their relationships with their customers -- and their businesses too. It will also be a year in which marketers discover which agencies truly grasp SIM and which ones have only a tenuous hold on it. 

With those broad themes as a guide, what exactly can you expect in 2009? Here are ten specific trends to look for. Tell me whether you agree with them at the end of the post.

1. Social media usage will result in more influence. As social media adoption climbs exponentially, so too will the influence conversations in a social context will have on brand affinity and purchasing decisions. Participating in a conversation online, sharing an opinion and influencing a purchasing decision explicitly or implicitly are becoming second nature for more and more  consumers. The only thing that will prevent these messages from spreading is that a lot of this influence happens in small groups within the walled gardens of the social networks and therefore goes unnoticed. That will change in 2009 as social network analysis vendors help us peek into the walled gardens and as a result marketers will pay more attention. An event like the Motrin episode, in which a group of social media-fluent mothers managed to force Motrin to pull down an online video they found offensive, will not happen quite as this year because marketers will focus on SIM more.

2. The focus will shift to influencers. Who are these people that influence your customers and how does their influence actually work? This will come into sharper focus, as reaching the influencers gets easier via the social graph and the plethora of technology vendors that make targeting easier. Different influencers will matter at different stages of the marketing funnel, too. For example, at the point-of-purchase, friends and family may matter the most in determining what a consumer buys, while at the awareness stage, key influencers, like the bloggers at Edmunds.com ,carry more weight. We'll also find a way to put a valuation on each consumer's potential influence for specific product categories. Google and a few others are already taking a crack at defining your influence rank.

3. Top-down branding will experience growing impotence. Most brand managers are used to defining their brands in relative isolation of the marketplace -- or they do extensive customer research and see it as their jobs alone to define the brand or the manifestation of the brand in different forms. That's going to change as consumers define the brands by the sheer volume of their opinions. They'll be shaping the brands more than the brands will be shaping them. As a result, in order for them to be remembered, brands will be forced to deliver much stronger value propositions to their customers Cute advertising won't be enough as the focus shifts to value exchanges. If you're a brand manager, you can either fight this or treat it as an opportunity to take your career in a different direction.

Razorfish finds TV goes Digital & Social Mainstream


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dorreport1.jpgWe just published our 2009 Digital Outlook Report this morning. This is the fifth year that we're publishing the report and the findings are culled together by aggregating our media spending patterns across advertisers around the country. The report also includes insightful, thought provoking articles on the future of digital. Here are some highlights:

We are in the second year of a major shift away from portals toward niche targeting over a wide array of media choices. This fragmentation reflects a trend in consumers' media consumption behavior toward "snacking" on a wide array of digital content. Although scale is still important, the media choices available that deliver breath and depth outside the portals continue to rise. 

Advertisers continue to support search because it delivers a stronger ROI than many other tactics, especially in an economic downturn. We don't think search is recession-proof though, and do expect some budget tightening in 2009. 

There was significant increase in paid search this past year; it grew from 31% of total ad spending in 2007 to 36% in 2008.

Television is undergoing a fundamental shift - it is going digital in all aspects and is becoming more niche in terms of both audiences and programming. 

A long tail of television is emerging as audiences are increasingly dividing their time between computer screens, TV sets, mobile devices, gaming systems and set-top boxes. This will cause both content providers and marketers to reinvent the way they present content and experiences.

Social media and Social Influence Marketing™ exploded this year partly due to the economic downturn. Consumers began losing faith in large institutions and experts and turned to each other for advice. Marketers embraced SIM this year too because it's a very cost-effective means of reaching their customers. 

We predict "your CEO will join Facebook" this year. The traditional C-Suite is finally responding to the pressure that social influencers have on their brands, and they're getting onboard.  The ability to measure the value of social influencers is also expanding with the introduction of technology like our proprietary Generational Action Tags. 
 
Social media advertising will finally hit its stride in 2009 as advertisers figure out better ways to embed social media into ad units. Display advertising on the web will begin to regularly incorporate widgets and user-generated content.

Retailers need to create a shopping experience in their brick-and-mortar stores that delivers the same level of personalization and service that customers receive online by deploying modern tools such as digital in-store signage, coupons delivered via mobile devices and interactive store floor plans and merchandise directories. 

What do you think of these trends? Do they resonate with you and your business? You can download a PDF of the report and view the graphics on Flickr.


Did Skittles scuttle its brand? Time will tell


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skittles2.jpgSo I like Skittles and I think they have some cool advertising. I also applaud their efforts to enter the social media space and I'm philosophically aligned with them (anyone who reads this blog would know that). But I'm not a big fan of what they've done with their website today. If you visit their website, you'll notice that its become widget overlaying their presence on several social platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. Here's why I'm not that impressed.

  1. Users don't expect a Facebook fan page when they visit Skittles.com. It is disorienting. Nor do they expect to be redirected to a twitter search results page or a Wikipedia page.  
  2. Pointing to an unfiltered search results of a twitter keyword is dangerous and if you scan the page you'll see what I mean. Some of the things being said are ugly and alienating. I've had to blur out some of the tweets in my screenshot of the page because they're that bad.
  3. The Twitter audience is not their customer. Focusing on Twitter can be a distraction. This may not apply to the other social platforms but then they should focus on those more directly and leverage them in a way that's in sync with their ethos. Are their customers' influencers on Twitter? I'm not even sure about that.
  4. I want to feel enticed when I visit the Skittles. Seeing a Wikipedia page does not create a craving for me. And I can't imagine it does much for the teens who are Skittle's core customers. 
  5. By pointing to a search results stream, Skittles is not encouraging a conversation. Rather they're just telling us that random people mention Skittle in twitter conversations. Twitter's format doesn't allow you to follow an existing conversation easily making the stream appear gimmicky.
  6. Skittles is fueling voyeurism versus participation. It is a cop out to point me to the conversations. I'd rather the brand and its representatives engage with me and my friends directly maybe through a promotion or something.
  7. All buzz is not good buzz even for a brand like Skittles. Sure, this is creating a lot of buzz but some of it is negative and with the profanity the brand is being damaged too. Skittles needs to be careful.
I'm glad brands are thinking more seriously about the social web and where their customers are having conversations and discussing them. And it is also important that they're blurring the lines between their own website and the social web. That's something I've been harping on for a while now. However, it is important for the brands to play in a way that is natural to those social platforms. Simply pointing me to places across the social web is not enough. As someone tweeted me on the subject, I wish they had taken advantage of all the social platform APIs to do something special.

Skittles - here's my challenge to you. Engage with my friends and me on my terms and on my social platforms more directly. Don't just point me to other people's conversations. You're just going to get cheap buzz for a short while this way. I want more from Skittles!

Read Emily Steele's "Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media" article in the Wall Street Journal for more on the subject. I'm quoted in it saying that a lot of false conversations are taking place about Skittles on Twitter.

Social Media Experts Dead? Social blossoms


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I must admit I'm a little exhausted by all the talk of social media gurus. One day they're heroes another they're the scum of the earth. They're either going to save your brand from eternal irrelevance or they're Twitter freaks in search of attention.  Both characterizations are wrong.


I've always felt that social media is a monumental consumer phenomena (after all guess where the talk about social media gurus is happening - on the social media sites!) but its impact on organizations is still being understood. I've come to believe that social media is even more important to companies than I earlier thought. But hiring a social media guru is not always the answer.


Enter Social Influence Marketing. At Razorfish, we define social influence marketing as employing social media and social influencers to achieve the marketing and business objectives of an organization. The definition is important because it places equal emphasis on the social influencers as it does on social media itself. It is fundamentally about recognizing that peers are influencing one another about brands and products more than any traditional form of marketing. Why does this matter? Because to harness social influence marketing you don't necessarily need social media gurus, you need to embrace the philosophies of social influence marketing throughout your company. You need to think about how you're marketing to your customer's social influencers as well.


Social Influence Marketing works when all your digital touch points are studied through the lens of social influence. Whether its your e-commerce website, your customer support efforts, your media buying, the public relations components, product innovation, the partner extranets - all of it must be looked at through the lens of social influence. The social media gurus that don't do this are the ones that probably provide less value. A holistic digital perspective accounting for how social influence works in the context of a business and an industry is what matters.


I don't think the backlash against the social media gurus is a bad thing. It'll force higher standards and will result in the more strategic thinkers getting the attention that they deserve. However, I believe in the long run social influence marketing is what matters much more than social media gurus per se. Whether a company hires gurus or chooses to push all its employees into the realm of social influence marketing (just as was done with digital a decade earlier), will probably determine how much it will gain from this consumer phenomena. 


Here at Razorfish, our goal is to make it a part of every employee's job and those philosophies come to bear when we talk to clients. Social cannot be pigeonholed just as you cannot pigeon hole digital anymore. As you mull over this, take a look at Phil Johnson's "Will Twitter disrupt or enhance your business" piece in Ad Age. It touches upon some similar themes.