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Viral Media and the Bored at Work Network

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Here's Jonah's recent presentation on viral media. Definitely worth a scan. He's the founder of Buzzfeed and is someone who shares my "impression plus" philosophy. More on that in this Adweek story, "The Science of Sharing" which quotes me explaining that the future of display advertising has to do with publishers that provide not just the best ROI on impressions but the most shares too.

Jonah's concept is simple - people are bored at work and they're the ones who share. You've got to create content for them.

Choosing a Listening Vendor. Critical Factors

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crowdsandpeople_listening.jpgOver the last few years, I've had the opportunity to learn about many of the major social media listening platform companies. In fact, we use so many of them that I've also had an opportunity to  hear their pitches, examine their dashboards, critique their deliverables and see exactly how listening data can help large brands. With that, here are some of the more unusual factors that I consider when choosing or recommending a listening platform.

1. Data, Data & Data. Know how they're getting it
No surprise here, it is all about the data. You need to understand the data sources of the listening platform provider. This is extremely important. Many of the listening providers use the same data sources which include third party aggregators like Boardreader and Spinner.  Know their data sources. 

But a few providers aggregate the data directly from the social media platforms and do their own crawling too. That gives them much more flexibility to conduct deeper analysis, charge less for their product and give you more historical data. They can run more queries against the data, run them more quickly and drill into the data better too. It is always good to know whether your provider is getting the data from the source directly. I'd argue that if the partner is sourcing the vendor directly from the social media advantage, that's better.

2. API Services. Make sure that's an option
More and more of the companies I work with want to integrate social media data into their own marketing and business dashboards. In some cases, we do that for them and provide a holistic dashboard with all their marketing and media metrics. While you may not want to go the dashboard route today, there's a strong likelihood you will in the future. Ask the vendors whether they provide an API data feed so that you can conduct your own analysis on the data, present it with other business metrics and watch it in real time. 

Definitely ask the cost of doing this too. There's no use in them providing an API feed if it is extremely expensive or if they force you to use their dashboard for any meaningful drill downs. If you want to be safe about it, ask to see a few samples of these dashboards or at the very least ask them for the opportunity to speak to a client or two that's integrated their data.

3. Multiple Accounts & Workflow. Look for it
If you're working in a large organization, you know you won't be looking at the data alone. And when it comes to response, no one person is responsible alone for that either. As a result, allowing for multiple accounts and allowing for an internal workflow is becoming increasingly important. Look for that among the listening vendors, you'll appreciate having that in your system. It also creates an electronic paper trail which can be helpful for your legal department further down the road. 

Every vendor allows for multiple accounts now but some still require you to do workflow outside of the tool itself. While that's possible, it is definitely more laborious though it does allow you to manage internal communication in an existing corporate system. Even if you don't need the workflow elements today, you probably will in the near future. Your legal department will probably come knocking on your door asking about it.

4. Listening Vendor Ambitions. Align with them
Some listening vendors want to stay listening vendors for the rest of their lives. Others see themselves as evolved social media agencies or Social CRM ones offering both a product and a service. A few see themselves as holistic research companies and one or two argue that they're fundamentally technology providers. Nielsen Buzz Metrics just formed a joint venture with McKinsey showing that they're entering the business consulting space. Each listening vendor has its own path to success each with strengths and weaknesses. 

Key is to keep in mind is that your expectations and aspirations align with theirs. Otherwise, you probably won't get the kind of attention you want and won't be considered as strategic a client as you'd like to be thought of. This is also importnat to know as you have the listening vendor partner with your digital marketing agencies. You want to make sure they all play well together.

5. Dependable Sentiment Analysis. Get a grip on it
Probably the most controversial subject in the social media listening space is sentiment analysis. Some experts believe that automated sentiment analysis is a farce saying that it is hard to get more than 50% accuracy which means that a lot of manual analysis is required. Others believe that automated sentiment analysis can get 80% of the way there after which manual sampling and the optimization of the rules is needed to fill the gap. 

It is important to understand how good the different players are at sentiment analysis and make plans to complement the automated efforts. The manual overlay can either be done by you directly or through the vendor itself. When choosing a listening vendor, I've actually recommended that clients consider doing "bake-offs" between the leading listening vendors. It'll give you a feel for who is better for your industry, your brand and the consumers you're trying to listen in on. Some listening vendors do sentiment analysis better for some industries than others.

6. Deep Analytical Capabilities. Be aware of what you're getting
The social media listening monitoring space is also fracturing based on how textual analysis is done. The ones that do lighter monitoring use keyword analysis primarily to identify words associated with a brand. They use those inferences to draw deeper insights. Others go deeper with linguistic, algorithmic and mathematical analysis along with semantic clustering to determine meaning and opinion too. 

It is worth pointing out that the ones that go deeper than monitoring are also generally more expensive. Most of their buyers are account planners and market research departments versus PR and creative teams focused on campaigns. Sometimes it is hard to rationalize the two types of analytical capabilities and their costs. There is nothing wrong in having two listening platform vendors in your organization serving different needs as you limit the overlap between them and integrate the learnings together. That can be the best solution even though it maybe the most expensive. 

7. Keep in mind alternative uses for monitoring. Don't be too linear
The way most listening vendors are brought into an organization is through one department or one agency that has a very specific mandate. That's all well and good but it sometimes leads to a narrower focus for social media listening than it deserves.

For examples, if you're a large brand you should be doing social listening for these basic needs at the very least. Tracking brand mentions in social media, identifying and nurturing the long tail of influencers in your category, consumer research to drive marketing efforts, search optimization, research for opinions on competitors and new products, optimization of creative assets, customer service, organizational effectiveness, perspectives on product development and something very close to my heart as a measure of overall brand health and as a predictor of sales.

8. Geo-location, Segmentation & Language. Get ready to be disappointed
Probably the area (even more so than sentiment analysis) that needs greater improvement in the listening vendor space is geo-location capabilities. This is of no fault to the listening vendors. It is just incredibly hard to identify the location of a specific user in social media. Knowing where that person posted the comment from is not easy. Some platforms are making it easier (for example when I tell Twitter my location) but most don't or certainly don't share it with the listening vendors. In a similar fashion, language capabilities outside of English aren't always the best.

This matters a lot. It is no use knowing how your brand is being perceived if a lot of that perception represents people in locations and of demographics that are not related to where you sell your product or to whom you sell it too. If you're a mass market FMCG with a product that's sold across the country, this is less of an issue. But if you're only selling on the coasts or are only targeting older Moms, this could be an issue. So when you look at vendors keep this in mind and give preference to those vendors that are furthest along in figuring this out.

Some of the vendors that I've worked with or spoken to include Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Visible Technologies, Cymfony, Radian6, Collective Intellect, Scoutlabs, Converseon, Viral Heat, JD Power Umbria and BuzzLogic

Nimble, Razorfish Report launches. Content should be free.

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nimble1a.jpgToday Nimble a Razorfish Report on publishing in the digital age launches. Based on interviews with content producers from The New York Times, the BBC and the Wall Street Journal, it offers advice on how publishers can make the move to the digital economy. Here are some of the takeaways:

  • All content must be free. This doesn't mean that publishers must give the content away for free. Rather it means that it needs to be free to be accessed wherever and whenever consumers want to access it. Along those lines, the more containers you put around the content (in terms of metatags that express the meaning and function of the content) the more free it will get. It is also worth  mentioning that container limitations (think in terms of tv segment length or column inches) do not exist for digital media.

  • Editors will become curators for managing digital content. And not just their own content but also that of their readers. This includes user comments, partner content and automatically generated content. I'd argue that editors should already be filling this role and if they aren't then something is missing. And not just that, they need to be curators wherever content around their brand is published. This includes the social platforms.

  • Publishers will need to explore new revenue models. It is a no brainer that this is required. We live in an age where content is everything but scarce and therefore it is not an easily monetizable asset. As a result, publishers must deliver additional services that align with the brand's value proposition while providing unique, meaningful value to users. For example, free content can be used as a way to drive sales of paid products and services.

  • New advertising and other partnership opportunities will arise. Audiences are more receptive to highly relevant services and advertising that augment the content experience. We're already starting to see this and more will be visible in the coming months. For example, leveraging publisher data in unique ways can lead to more targeted advertising. 
Read the whole report for all the wonderful insights. The report is authored by a friend and a content strategist extraordinaire - Rachel Lovinger!

Research on 41.7 million Twitter profiles explains everything

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retweetgraph.gifI stumbled across some interesting Twitter research by a few academics at the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology via MIT's Technology Review. They analyzed 41.7 million user profiles, 1.47 billion social relations, 4,262 trending topics, and 106 million tweets. Here are the highlights of their findings and my commentary:

1. The average path length between two people on Twitter is 4.12. Given Stanley Milgram's original experiment uncovering the "six degrees of separation" phenomena, being four degrees apart from each other on Twitter just shows how powerful a medium it is. Also, Twitters users who have reciprocal relations of fewer than 2,000 are likely to be geographically close and exhibit some levels of homophily. For reference, on the MSN network with 180 million users the average path length is also 6. So yes, Twitter can be an effective communication medium for your brand if you have something valuable to share. 

2. The ability to re-tweet gives people immense power. You actually don't need to have thousands and thousands of followers to be influential. Even with a relatively small number of followers, you ability to re-tweet (and be re-tweeted) gives you far greater reach than you'd normally assume. For example, a hundred people with a hundred followers each, re-tweeting have the ability to spread information very broadly too. This appears to complement Duncan Watt's hypothesis about social influencers playing an extremely large role in disseminating information.

3. There is something special about the time of day that a tweet is published. It is not that tweets happen to spread more quickly at certain hours but rather that 75% of all re-tweets happen within in the hour of the tweet. This means that you need to be cognizant of when your followers are online and viewing their own twitter accounts the most. Do you know when your followers are online the most? You can tell by examining their post frequencies.

4. The researchers also analyzed the influence of Twitter users and found that there's a discrepancy in the relationship between the number of followers and the popularity of someone's tweets. This basically means that the number of followers is not the only measure of someone's value. In of itself, this isn't surprising but it does validate the point that you shouldn't get too caught up in the number of followers you have on your brand account.

5. In examining the top trending topics, the research discovered that 85% of those topics are headline news or persistent news in nature. This shows that twitter serves effectively as a news source and that's probably one of its most popular uses. This is a very different conversation dynamic than what one sees on Facebook or elsewhere. This has implications for what brands should tweet and how they should use the platform versus FB.

6. On Twitter only 22.1% of the users have reciprocal relationships. This means they follow each other. 77.9% of the relationships are one way where someone is followed but doesn't necessarily follow the person back. And 67.6% of users on Twitter are not followed by any of their followings. For them Twitter is primarily a source of information than a social networking or information dissemination platform. This shows there's a lot more of spectator activity on Twitter than we realize.

7. As the graph above shows, the time between tweeting and re-tweeting is typically very short. While it may take approximately an hour for a tweet to be re-tweeted, once that happens it spreads through the network far more quickly especially as it gets re-tweeted again and again. What this means is that when you tweet something you should expect some re-tweeting to begin within an hour (as long as the content is of value) after which it'll move more quickly. These numbers are useful to keep in mind as you try to gauge the effectiveness and potential reach of a tweet. 

Twitter is still a relatively young social platform. What is obvious though is that it behaves very differently to a social network and  therefore those comparisons aren't useful. Also, it also requires unique strategies if a brand is to leverage it effectively as a social medium to engage social influencers. Knowing the medium well and how tweets spread is critical for to be successful on Twitter.

Interactive Advertising Revenue climb. What does it mean?

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The IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) today released the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report for the full year 2009. Not surprisingly, there was a dip in advertising spending online but not by a significant percentage. Spending dropped 3.8% which given the explosive growth rates of the last few years is probably more significant than the number implies. But the more interesting statistic was that fourth quarter advertising spending was up 2.6% from the previous year and 14% from the previous quarter.

Search revenue was $10.7 billion or 47% of the total spending (it keeps inching up every year) followed by display advertising at $8.0 billion up 4% from 2008. Digital video within the display advertising category saw a growth rate of 39% - the most explosive growth of all advertising types. Banner ads and rich media advertising stayed roughly the same.

What does this all tell us? Firstly, it reminds me of the famous Mark Twain quote, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" in this case the reference being to display advertising. Some people believe that display advertising is on the decline largely because consumers are interacting with each other across the social web. Yes, that's increasingly significantly and I believe social influence marketing is having a transformative impact on marketing but it isn't coming at a cost to display advertising. Display advertising is growing!

Secondly, it tells us that digital video is exploding and we're going to see new ad formats, more video watching and more video all over the Internet. I like to believe that content follows the dollars as much as the dollars follow the content and that's what we're going to see here. The question is whether it is exploding enough to compensate for all the talent and production costs that it require. I don't think it does today.

Thirdly, it tells me that the industry needs a better mechanism of assessing the influence of social media and social influence marketing on the advertising business. A segment of it is paid media and that piece is largely clubbed within the display advertising category so it is hard to see its true impact. The investments in earned media (in terms of employees, outreach efforts etc.) are largely ignored. What's the best way for the interactive advertising bureau to capture that? It doesn't fit in the traditional confines of advertising but is most certainly a form of marketing and dollars are being driven towards it.

Lastly, these numbers really highlight the shift happening from traditional advertising to digital. More advertising dollars are flowing to digital. A trend that we've been seeing in the last few years. I think we'll continue to see this but the pace will vary from industry to industry. It is also worth emphasizing that digital still doesn't have the scale and impact for awareness building that traditional has but it may some day. 

These are indeed interesting times as the advertising world continues to evolve. More details on the research are available on the IAB website.

Could the Toyota Recall Crisis Help the Brand?

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There's no question that Toyota is in deep trouble with its current recall crisis. But could these issues actually be helping its brand? Shockingly, an analysis of Toyota shows that its Social Influence Marketing (SIM) Score shows this. Who'd have thought that a crisis of such significant magnitude could actually help a brand's perception? This seems to be true, at least in the short term, even though sales may be dropping. Let me explain how.

simscore_chart.jpgThe SIM Score incorporates reach and like-ability using conversation data sourced from the major conversation monitoring vendors (in this case Radian6). In the month of January, Toyota saw an uptick in its SIM Score relative to its direct competitors. Counter intuitive? Yes, most certainly. And there are two explanations for this. Read my Mashable guest post that explains the SIM Score formula and why the graph looks the way it does.

OnMedia 2010: Adopting Innovation Ad Tech

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Two weeks ago I was on a panel at Tony Perkin's AlwaysOn OnMedia 2010 summit held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in NYC. Below is the clip. I was invited to sit on my panel given my focus on social media and broad digital strategy.

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