Fame, Interactive Ads and Online Reputation

23 12 2008

As previously seen at Biznology:

As marketers try to find ways to join the conversation enabled by social media, they face the challenge of scale. The virtual third space is becoming increasingly fragmented, to the point that engaging into every single thread of discussion pertinent to your business is no longer practical. In that scenario, can you meet the expectations of a target audience increasingly craving for individual attention? Can you effectively manage your online reputation?

Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas summarized the extent of the online conversations in the social web nicely in their conversation prism graphic:

The Conversation Prism, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0

Going through the petals of the chart above, it’s evident that the online chatter is much bigger than just Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. And it’s not getting any smaller.

In his best-seller book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky pointed out that the web did not completely flatten publishing and broadcasting, as fame gets in the way of the elusive many-to-many communication nirvana:

“The Web makes interactivity technologically possible, but what technology giveth, social factors taketh away. In the case of the famous, any potential interactivity is squashed, because fame isn’t an attitude, and it isn’t technological artifact. Fame is simply an imbalance between inboud and outbound attention, more arrows pointing in than out.”

That imbalance can lead to unmet expectations on both sides: companies being frustrated by trying to join an ever growing number of online social spaces and customers demanding individual attention they can’t possibly get.

To mitigate this issue, some organizations have been relying on interactive or personalized online video ads that provide a middle ground between the one-size-fits-all model of traditional media and the many-sizes-fit-many model described by Chris Anderson in his book “The Long Tail”. Here are four examples:

1. Burger King and the Subservient Chicken

Launched back in 2004, this widely popular website (20 million hits within a week of launching, 14 million unique visitors in the first year) is still online after all these years. Its simplicity was captivating: a man in a chicken costume would perform actions based on what users asked him to do. It was based on pre-recorded footage, and more than three hundred commands were available. Sadly, it no longer reacts when you tell him to get a Big Mac.

2. Ms Dewey

This website was launched two years ago as an experimental interface for Microsoft’s Live Search. If you search for “Tiger Woods”, Ms. Dewey may surprise you by making a comment about professional athletes before showing the results. Behind the scenes, the apparent interactivity is achieved via an algorithm choosing one of 600 video clips that may fit the keywords you entered.

3. Antarctica Beer and the Tatoo Ad

As a friendly warning, know that this ad may be a bit too racy for some audiences. I like it for both the humour and the perfect execution. In the future, expect to see even more sophisticated techniques, mixing custom audio or even images with pre-defined content. You can find a rough translation from Brazilian Portuguese to English for the full video here.

4. MoveOn.org viral video

This blog post was actually drafted before the US elections, but I preferred to not publish it back then, as the intent was to discuss interactive ads, not to favour one candidate or the other. MoveOn.org effectively used this personalized video showing the November 4th election being decided by a single voter, whose name is digitally inserted in newspapers titles and video captions.

Interactive videos of course can only go so far. As the amount of user-generated content skyrockets, better tools will become available to marketers for following conversations, detecting trends and managing your company’s reputation. Two months ago, while in Singapore, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation about COBRA (Corporate Brand and Reputation Analysis), an initiative by IBM Research and IBM Global Business Services, that may be a sign of things to come. If you are interested in knowing more about it, visit this page (in the interest of full disclosure, note that IBM is my employer).

Living in exponential times entails developing exponential listening and conversational abilities, for both companies and individuals alike. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but you certainly can enjoy all the fun along the way.





Flashback: Hawaii Superferry questionnaire

15 12 2008

Back in September, I went to Hawaii for a week with my family, and we decided to go from Honolulu to Maui by ferry. It’s a slow trip compared to taking a flight, but worthwhile especially if you are traveling with kids.

Hawaii Superferry

As you approach the boarding lanes, a Hawaii Superferry employee goes through the standard procedure of checking your vehicle and asking you questions about what you are taking with you. Even though you are hopping from island to island in the same state, the procedure resembles crossing the border with a neighbouring country or boarding an international flight, which makes sense in today’s world, and also for environmental reasons. So both sides engaged in this somewhat flat but polite conversation that goes like this:

“Are you carrying any firearms or ammunition?”
“No.”

“Are you taking any domestic animals with you? Any livestock?”
“No on both accounts.”

“Do you have any flammable materials in your baggage?”
“No.”

“Any plants, seeds or soil?”
“Nope.”

“What about human bones?”
“No. Wait. What???”

I know that there must be a reason for the question, some historical precedent or technical legality justifying it. But I can’t help but wonder if anyone was ever caught in the process. “Human bones? Hummm, let me see. Hey sweetheart, are those bones in your bag human?”





ROI 2.0, Part 2: Storytelling and Business Cases

15 12 2008

Storytelling, in the various realms of life, is a powerful tool in spreading the word, creating rapport and inspiring others. It’s not uncommon to hear advocates of social media tell nice stories
about how they blogged or twittered about something and because of
that, somebody else was able to solve a problem that otherwise would
take much longer to address. I use it all the time, and enjoy when others do the same.

However, storytelling is not a substitute for a solid business case. While story telling is a legitimate way to communicate, anecdotal evidence showing a feel-good story on the power of social computing does not constitute proof that net returns are being achieved. Of course, that cuts both ways: the fact that a given person or team never got anything out of blogging or using a wiki cannot be used as a conclusive argument against it either.

The tale that goes untold is: how many of the blog posts, tweets or wiki articles went unnoticed, and how much time was spent covering numerous subjects that did not help the resolution of any problem?

User-generated content (UGC), be it in the form of blog posts, tweets, contributions to a wiki, photos posted to Flickr or Facebook, Amazon book reviews, TripAdvisor feedback or comments to newspaper articles, tend to follow a power law distribution, where usefulness or relevance tend to concentrate on a very small fraction of the whole. That pattern is expected, and it can be even considered an intrinsic part of the overall value embedded in UGC. The gems made possible by UGC exist in part because so much content of various degrees of quality was created, not despite of that.

The point that sometimes is missed in the ROI discussion is that one cannot ignore the total cost and investment to generate those gems when assessing the business value of enabling users to create content. There’s no doubt that the enterprise adoption of social media generates value, as can be attested by the multiple stories collected by Web 2.0 advocates in the last few years. But once discounted the costs, does it generate net business value? Any ROI analysis needs to take into consideration the returns, the investment and the time horizon. Therefore, the questions that need to be answered are: how much, how often (or how soon) and at what cost. Add storytelling to that, and you may have a winner in your hands.

Click here for Part 1 of this ROI 2.0 Series: Bean Counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas





2.0 Tales: A not so flat world

11 12 2008

This is an old story, but since I never blogged about it, I thought it would be worthwhile to share

In the summer of 2007, I was visiting the IBM’s Banking Industry Solution Centre (BISC) in Barcelona, and was asked to run a session on Web 2.0 and Social Computing to the local team of young developers. At some point, I was mentioning how the world was not actually flat, and how different countries tend to choose distinct online social networks. I then asked: “Facebook is popular in Canada and in the US, Bebo in UK, Orkut in India and Brazil. Which Social Network is popular here in Spain?”. All those young faces were staring at me as if I were the biggest loser on Earth. Then, somebody took the courage and said: “Err. None. Here in Spain, we just go to bars and talk to each other”.

Confirming that assessment, I found later that the Forrester’s European Technographics Benchmark Survey for Q2 2007 revealed that both Spain and France had the lowest number of joiners (those who participate on social networking sites like MySpace) among the European countries included in the research, at 5 and 4% respectively.

The lesson learned was that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to the enterprise adoption of social software. It’s important to understand how different age groups, cultures and personalities react to social computing initiatives and tailor your strategy accordingly.





ROI 2.0, Part 1: Bean counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas

11 12 2008

This year I’ve been talking to a very large number of clients around the globe and across multiple industries about the business value of Web 2.0 and Social Computing, and inevitably the topic of ROI surfaces. It seems to be more the subject of a book than a blog post due to its complexity and scope, and it’s also a dry subject, not as flashy as talking about Twitter or cool beer ads. Nonetheless, blogging is my way of thinking out loud, so I’ll give it a try here, but breaking it down into manageable chunks.

Discussions on the ROI for Web 2.0 and Social Computing tend to be very polarized. Many early adopters, enterprise 2.0 thinkers and so-called evangelists tend to dismiss the need to articulate ROI for innovation, with arguments ranging from quick – and shallow – “nobody asks for the ROI of email or phones” to some elaborated points of view. Andrew McAfee, Associate Professor with the Harvard Business School and a recognized thought leader in Enterprise 2.0 wrote a blog post back in 2006 about the challenges of building business cases to justify IT investments using ROI or NPV figures. He quotes the book Strategy Maps, by Bob Kaplan and David Norton, who say:

“None of these intangible assets has value that can be measured separately or independently. The value of these intangible assets derives from their ability to help the organization implement its strategy… Intangible assets such as knowledge and technology seldom have a direct impact on financial outcomes such as increased revenues, lowered costs, and higher profits.  Improvements in intangible assets affect financial outcomes through chains of cause-and-effect relationships.”

On the other side, there seems to be a strong demand by the ones holding the money – often the decision makers – to better articulate the financial returns on social computing initiatives. Pat LaPointe, from MarketingNPV, stated in a blog post he wrote in September 2008:

“(…) we marketers don’t do ourselves any favors by trying to disconnect [Social Media] from financial value just because it’s hard to make the links. Maybe we should take a page from how our companies decide to invest in R&D – with clarity of purpose, explicit assumptions, and rigorous experimentation in escalating risk scenarios. In the end, that will accelerate corporate adoption of social media much faster. So rather than trying to spin the tangential metrics, help those grounded in the P&L to “get it”. Remember, if they don’t “get it”, neither will you. Budget that is.”

John T. Gourville, associate professor at Harvard Business School, writing about the psychology of new-product adoption for the Harvard Business Review (Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers), described a similar conflict between product developers and consumers. The former, like innovators, are likely to see a need for their product and see them as essential, while the latter are reluctant to part with the incumbent product, and are unable to see the need for a change.

As in any polarized discussion, the arguments quickly escalate to become very dogmatic, and no real dialogue takes place. Which side is right, the innovators or the bean counters? Both, to some extent, as it’s often the case. ROI models are far from perfect and benefits derived from social computing are hard to measure. But in a corporate world of limited resources and high scrutiny, investments on Web 2.0 compete with more ordinary needs such as employee compensation and basic infrastructure improvements, so if you don’t have a business case, chances are that you won’t get much funding either. Hype will only take you so far. Past the smoke and mirrors, if there is real net value in Enterprise 2.0, it must be clearly articulated.

To get this conversation started, both sides need to focus on their common objectives: a solution that will benefit both the individuals and the companies they work for. That’s why, at this point of the Social Media evolution, we need more bridges than evangelists.





Podcasts: What’s in your list?

9 12 2008

I’m completely addicted to podcasts. Being able to board a packed subway and still get your daily fix of news or entertainment relief makes the 40-minute commute back and forth feel like a walk in the park. iPods and other MP3 players are so pervasive now, and most of us have no time to watch TV or listen to radio.

My podcast listening pattern mimics my old radio listening habits: I created a playlist with everything that’s recent and let it play continuously. This leads me to keep having senile moments when I can’t for the life of me remember what the source was for my references. I also wanted to tell Andy and the Michaels that I’m now subscribing to Dogear Nation, but my recollection of the shows is all mixed up with Buzz Out Loud and net@nite, so I’d better stay quiet 😛 .

An annoying side effect of having the so-called wisdom of crowds surfacing what’s worth talking about is that most of the tech podcasting tend to cover exactly the same things. They all seem to go to Digg, Reddit and Engadget as their main inspiration for news, so I’m getting increasingly more fond of listening to non-news radio shows from BBC,  CBC and NPR. The TED Talks are also top in my list, but I can only consume videos when I manage to get a seat, so there’s a lot to catch up on the video podcast front. Yesterday I listened to Ken Robinson talking about education and creativity. Fantastic talk, if you ask me.

I keep changing my subscriptions, but this is my full current list. Looking at it now, it seems obvious that I need to shrink the techie talks and get more of other stuff urgently there.

  • Best Ads on TV
  • Best of Today
  • Best of YouTube (Ipod video)
  • Boing Boing TV
  • Book Review
  • BusinessWeek — Technology & You
  • Buzz Out Loud
  • CBC Radio:  Ontario This Week
  • CBC Radio: C’est la vie: Word of the Week
  • CBC Radio: Dispatches
  • CBC Radio: Editor’s Choice
  • CBC Radio: Quirks & Quarks Complete Show
  • CBC Radio: Search Engine
  • CBC Radio: Spark
  • CBC Radio: The Best of As It Happens
  • CBC Radio: The Best of Ideas
  • CBC Radio: The Best of Sounds Like Canada
  • CBC Radio: The Best of The Current
  • CBC Radio: Toronto This Week
  • CBC Radio: Words at Large
  • CNET News Daily Podcast
  • CanadExport podcast
  • Cranky Geeks for the iPod Video
  • Digital Planet
  • Dilbert Animated Cartoons
  • Documentaries
  • Dogear Nation Podcast
  • Engadget
  • ExtremeTech.com
  • From Our Own Correspondent
  • Front Page
  • GeekBrief.TV | Video Podcast (iPod)
  • Global News
  • Harlequin Author Spotlight
  • Harvard Business IdeaCast
  • IBM – Powered by PodTech.net
  • IBM DEMOzone:en Accelerating Web 2.0 for Government
  • IBM Innovations Podcasts
  • IBM Institute for Business Value: Insights and Perspectives Podcast
  • IBM News Center – Audio Podcasts – United States
  • IBM Small Business Podcast
  • IBM WebSphere Technical Podcast series on SOA
  • IBM and the Future of. . .
  • IBM developerWorks – Powered by PodTech.net
  • IBM developerWorks podcasts
  • In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
  • Inside Mac Radio
  • Java News Podcast
  • Learn French by Podcast
  • Learn Spanish with Coffee Break Spanish
  • Mac Tips Daily!
  • MacBreak (iPod video)
  • NPR: 7AM ET News Summary Podcast
  • NPR: 7PM ET News Summary Podcast
  • NPR: Books Podcast
  • NPR: Business Story of the Day Podcast
  • NPR: Environment Podcast
  • NPR: Foreign Dispatch Podcast
  • NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
  • NPR: Health & Science Podcast
  • NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
  • NPR: Koppel on the News Podcast
  • NPR: Movies Podcast
  • NPR: Pop Culture Podcast
  • NPR: Shuffle Podcast
  • NPR: Story of the Day Podcast
  • NPR: Technology Podcast
  • NPR: Tell Me More Podcast
  • NPR: World Story of the Day Podcast
  • NYT Op-Ed Podcast
  • NYT Tech Talk
  • Nature Podcast
  • New Yorker: Fiction
  • New Yorker: Out Loud
  • NewsPod
  • Nickjr: Diego (VIDEO)
  • Odeo
  • Onion News Network (Video)
  • PCMag Radio
  • PRI’s The World: Technology Podcast from BBC/PRI/WGBH
  • Productivity @ IBM
  • Rough Guides iToors
  • Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
  • Science Times
  • Sesame Street Podcast
  • Slashdot Review – SDR News
  • Spanish Podcasts for Beginners
  • Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at D5 Conference
  • Storynory – Stories For Kids
  • Stuff You Should Know
  • TEDTalks (video)
  • The Economist
  • The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos Video Podcast
  • The Java Posse
  • The Sarah Silverman Program (Video)
  • The Web 2.0 Show
  • The latest news from IBM in the US
  • TimesTalks
  • Tourcaster
  • Travel with Rick Steves
  • Wake Up To Money
  • Walks of a Lifetime
  • Weekend Business
  • Weekend Explorer
  • Wired Science Video Podcast
  • World View
  • net@night
  • this WEEK in TECH – AAC Edition
  • todmaffin.com

If you managed to get to this line of this long post, you may be wondering why the heck I carry Harlequin Author Spotlight, Diego and Sesame Street in my iPhone. I attended Jenny Bullough’s talk at the Canadian Institute Social Media event last week and was curious to see how them are using podcasts to drive revenues. As for Diego and SS, those are life savers when your 2-year old is having a tantrum in a crowded restaurant.

I would love to hear recommendations for good podcasts, as I keep tweaking this list, so please let me know what you’ve been listening lately.





Blog or Twitter?

8 12 2008

I haven’t blogged for quite some time now, and even my feed reader is covered by virtual cobwebs these days. Being busy is the first excuse that comes to mind – and I’ve been insanely busy in the last few weeks – but of course you always find time to do what you love. And I do love writing and reading blog posts and comments. On the other side, I’ve been twittering quite a bit lately, resembling the character in this gaping void cartoon that Andy Piper mentioned in a recent Web 2.0 presentation of his:


by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid

I was actually late to the Twitter party. My first tweet was dated April 16th, 2007 but I only started using it often a few months ago.

Switching completely from blogs to Twitter is very tempting. You may struggle to write a blog post from time to time, but you always have an answer to the question “What are you doing right now?”. That may result in tweets that go from mundane (“back to my dorm”), to cryptic (“VARIA: Files Antwerpen”), to bizarre (abracadabra and decaf???) to history-in-the-making, like in the Mumbai attacks. The atomic nature of Twitter holds an enormous potential that’s not fully realized yet. But does that mean that blogs are really dying?

Paul Boutin, from Valleywag, created some buzz when he wrote in the November issue of the WIRED magazine:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug. (…) The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

The trend towards minimalism in communications was nicely covered by Jeremy Kaplan (Time magazine) in his befitting short article Haiku Nation. If you find 140 characters too limiting, visit smithmag’s Six-Word Memoirs and you may find that the 1120-bit ceiling for SMS is plenty. Supporting his micro-writing argument, Jeremy lists the NaNoWriMo 12-word novel challenge, the 5-word reviews blog for London musicals and plays, and the always popular 4-word film review site (the reviews on Titanic are just hilarious).

And, of course, there’s a whole series you can find in YouTube shrinking popular movies to their bare essence, such as “Rocky in 5 Seconds”:

Nobody knows for sure if blogs will follow the way of the dodo and GeoCities, or if we are just witnessing the ultra fragmentation of media channels. I expect blogs to be around for a long time, evolving with the other social media, as opposed to being replaced by them. Blogging is still my preferred way of communicating as it allows one to more effectively construct an argument and have meaningful conversations. And of course, you can tell by the length of this post that being succinct has never been my forté 😉