Social Media Reality Check

I’ve become more and more enamored with the concept of “social” media and the natural extension of it…social marketing. As I speak to groups, approach the subject with potential clients, or discuss it with colleagues in the social media world, I have to keep reminding myself to be aware of who actually uses this relatively new medium. Please note that the “media” of social media is the new part. The “social” has been around a whole lot longer!

To give myself a social media reality check, and to give me some fuel for a presentation and discussion at a recent UnSummit, I decided to ask my community about their use, or even awareness of social media. In this case, “my community” is made up of the people in my neighborhood, my social circles, and those I see regularly through my kid’s activities; the soccer and baseball parents I see…often.

Being the research geek that I can be at times I decided to put together an online survey of 10 questions, which I then sent out to about 50 people. I received some 30 odd responses to serve as the basis for my reality check. Okay, this is far from scientific. It’s a brief overview with very little screening involved. Anybody who got the e-mail could respond regardless of age, social standing, or tech savvy. You can download a one sheet of the results here if you’d like but remember, these tables are a basis for discussion. Let’s take a look…

First and foremost, the group is predominantly 35 years old and over…ahhh, my peeps, but also a good representation of your average Joe Six-pack.

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Ahead in the Cloud

Whenever I find myself getting caught up in the verbiage of an industry, I feel compelled to look at it from the “average Joe” point of view. Simply put, “Cool word, what does it mean to me?”

Much has been made about “Cloud” computing recently. The term refers to computing done via the internet. Think using software or a service that doesn’t reside on your computer. (Perhaps you use Google Docs) But is this buzzword really the same s#@t in a different shovel?

This little bit of video featuring Frank Gillett from Forrester Research addresses it well.


I readily admit that I still get a bit of the heebie-jeebies whenever I
think about creating a document, modifying an image, or even backing up
my data on a platform that isn’t sitting right next to me in a fan
cooled box. But most of that is based purely on security and
privacy issues. Afterall, it’s not really a cloud, ya know. It’s sitting on a server somewhere…yeah, I’m a bit paranoid.

But the fact is, “cloud” computing
has been around for years and, because we Americans love to be mobile (now think cell phones, laptops, even portable radios and cars) it only
stands to reason there is more interest in the “cloud”. We also need to
chalk it up to marketing. Cloud Computing…I feel hipper just saying

So, all of us will be spending more time working and playing in the “cloud”. If you aren’t, many of those younger than you are. So keep thinking beyond your desktop…at maybe get a faster internet connection.

Let the Games Begin…Please.


Serious(?) journalism comes to the Twin Cities!
(Billboard inbound from the MSP airport courtesy of Greg Swan)

As Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I live, gets set for the pending Republican National Convention it will be fun to see how “the media” will make it’s presence felt.

As expected, all of our “traditional” news outlets (TV, newspaper, and radio) are posturing themselves as the place for the most complete coverage…as they should. The “new” media outlets (Citizen journalists, blogs, etc.) are also gearing up to make an impact.

So far though, there is very little tie-in to the “big event” beyond the news outlets. Okay, the “Minnesota get-together” or State Fair as it is better known, is a big deal each year. So that’s where everybody is spending their time.  However if you want to get noticed on the world stage, this might be the year to downplay the corndogs and bacon on a stick and literally hop on the political bandwagon. Kudos to Comedy Central!

Viral Video Where You’re the Star

I came across this the other day and thought it was one of the better viral videos I’ve seen. It’s timely, it allows you to become part of the video and it’s fun. It also allows it’s originator, Paltalk, to accopmplish many goals.

Not only does it brand PalTalk throughout the piece, it also enables users to forward it to a friend or many friends, embed it in a blog or website further spreading the name. Most importantly it harvests a multitude of names and e-mail addresses and offers users to opt in for info about Paltalk.

It’s good to see a company adopting a relatively new marketing tactic and remembering it’s about the user!

Now, if I can just find a way to be in a commercial with Britney and Paris…

Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 3-Sweet Success

I want to wrap up this series of posts on social media with a word about successes found in the social media space…and there are many. It’s important to note that though success might imply completion, in social media there is no completion. Like any relationship, this process is ongoing and while it may have struck a chord with part of the intended audience, there is plenty of audience still getting settled in…still waiting to let these marketers into their confidence. I guess it would be better to say I want to highlight some that are successfully on their way.

I made mention of Zappos and what they are doing with Twitter in my first post. There has been much written about the success they are having with social media. I’m guessing if you were to ask CEO Tony Hsieh if he felt that he was happy with the progress, especially internally with his employees, he’d give you a resounding yes! He is successfully mobilizing his employees as Zappos own army of fans and probably gleaning plenty of ideas and insight that will help him grow his company in the future.

I’d also like to point to Threadless. Highlighted in Inc magazine, this company was doing social before anybody really knew what it was. In short, artists and designers become members of the Threadless network and submit designs to be voted on by fellow members. The winners receive a cash award, now around $2500 plus reprint fees, and the top picks are printed on a limited number of t-shirts and then sold, usually selling out rather quickly.

Launched in 2000, t-shirt sales surpassed $100,000 by 2002. The user base has grown from around 70,000 in 2004 to well over 700,000 today. In 2006 sales clocked in at $18 million with profits of $6 million. 2007 show growth of 200 percent with similar margins. Only one word describes that kind of success, niiiiiiiice!

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Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 2-Running(?) With the Big Dogs

Here it is…the second post on the topic of Social Media and where it fits with what you are doing.  As I mentioned in my previous post a busy week of Social Media centered gatherings really highlighted the level of understanding and involvement by individuals and companies in using it for a marketing tool.

A panel discussion facilitated by the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association and moderated by Gage Marke
brought together representatives from General Mills, Target, Fingerhut, and Best Buy to talk about what their companies are doing in Social Media. The short answer? Not much. Beyond providing a system for “Ratings and Reviews” most were taking a fairly wait and see approach.

That’s not to say that these guys aren’t incredibly knowledgeable, they are. They are in that frustrating positon of trying to turn the battleship that is a big company to be able to react to a rapidly developing conduit to their customers.

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Social Media: Get it or Don’t Get In
Part 1-Twitter

Yep, there is a real need for traditional media and marketers to understand what social media is really all about. The point was proven to me on multiple occasions last week. As I work with and listen to companies that have done the same thing the same way for so many years, many of them touting themselves as forward thinking or even cutting edge, I am amazed at those that just don’t get it!

The “it” is how you build a relationship with people and then turn them into customers. It is not how you can bombard them with messages that they have no desire to take in. It is moving beyond sheer volume of audience to quality of audience. Nope, measuring it is not given to you in a box with a bow as it is with the incredibly imperfect system from Arbitron or Nielsen. It’s measured by success. Did you draw the people, make the sale, and start a relationship that lasts beyond both?

Over the past week I had multiple opportunities to see where the art of marketing via social media is falling down as well as where it is reaching new heights. There is quite a bit of info so, hating long posts, I’ll address this in the next few days…making it  all a bit more digestible.

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You Speak. Who Hears? Who Listens?

As I spend more and more time peeling back the layers of communicating in the new millennium I’m always impressed at the amount of tools available to send a message or start a conversation. With so many gadgets and applications pouring out of the cloud it’s clear you need to investigate using some of them to reach your audience. Whoever that audience is, customers, friends, relatives, even pets can be reached in so many ways.

But, as exciting as it is to see all of these innovations develop, if you want to be truly effective in your communication, you can’t get swept up in the buzz of it all. Remember…remain calm.

The fact is that you need to have a clear understanding of who your audience is and what tools they use. If you try and reach them through a medium they don’t use…well…the point would be?

For example, my wife and I are spending more and more time texting each other throughout the day. It’s a great way for us to juggle the ever changing plans between our work, kids, and friends. It’s quick and unobtrusive. In fact, it has saved my butt more than a few times. See, I tend to space off phone messages and it’s easy for me to just text my bride as soon as I hang up the phone. The point is that we are starting to text so much I’ve thought about using Twitter or AIM or some other service. Then I realize my wife has no desire to use any of the tools. Because a) she doesn’t sit at a computer all day and b) her cell phone doesn’t have a data option. Yeah, I know all these services have a SMS option but the fact is…why bother if SMS works just fine?

And that’s the point; your audience has the same attitude. Unless it will profoundly improve their lives they’re just fine with where they are right now. Unless what you are trying to communicate is really revolutionary, you must reach them through the channels that exist and the ones they use. Don’t start the process of building a relationship with someone by introducing a new technology or changing their habits. They will better listen to your message in the environment they are comfortable in.

Your path of least resistance is to find out what they use. Who are you trying to reach? How old are they? How interested in your message and how do they hear about it? Believe it or not, adoption of new things is a relatively slow process. In most cases slow enough to date your message if you try using the “next big thing”.

That means…research…at what ever level you can. It’s better to spend the money and the time to get to look at the habits of your audience than spend the time and money whizzing in the wind.  Over the next weeks, as I continue to try and keep up, I’ll start tearing into many of these tools and we can find out some of the best and worst ways to reach your audience. Do remember, what may be ineffective today may be the “text messaging” for next week. Our goal is to use the right ones at the right time…now.

Converting to a new “Metrics” System

If you’re over the age of 45 you are probably thinking about
the movement to convert the U.S. to the metric system. Remember, we were going to measure stuff just like the
rest of the world? (Try as we might, us wacky Americans just couldn’t seem to
get the hang of the whole x10 deal.)

What I’m referring to is the new media and online business “metrics”
system. The metrics we use to measure the success of online advertising. As I’ve
addressed many times in this blog, new media needs to offer proof of its
success in generating traffic for advertisers. I have always maintained that we
are enjoying a buzz factor resulting in substantial amounts of money pouring
into online advertising. It’s vital to get a better handle on how we measure
the results because it’s only a matter of time before those advertisers want
proof that their investment works. Who knew that time would be…gulp…quite so

In an October 22nd New York Times article titled,
“How Many Site Hits? Depends Who’s Counting.” author Louise Story points out
the disparity in the site visit and page view numbers provided by the different
companies supplying metrics (Nielsen, ComScore, etc.). Say hello to the first
drop of what could result in a flood of media buyers pointing out “reasons we
shouldn’t spend so much on web advertising.”

The numbers in question continue to be based on the way we
measure TV, Radio and Newspaper. “How many see it? How many hear it? How many
read it?” I would submit that we need to focus on “Who uses it?” New media
advertising offers something to the consumer that no other media does…instant
interaction. Clicking on a banner, downloading a video or podcast, that’s
something you can measure. In fact, I think that if a new media ad inspires someone
to take immediate action its worth more
than a TV, Radio, or Newspaper ad.

But, this goes beyond even “clicks”. Let’s invest the money
and go a step further. Do the research and go beyond quantity. Take the
opportunity that a new advertising medium is laying out to us. Provide
information on the quality of the users and the experience they have. Start
training media buyers now on how new media consumers take advantage of the
advertising they interact with. Mass media is OK but, commitment and loyalty
(brought about by the user experience) is so much better. We need to start
working now on establishing a new style of metrics (just as organizations like
the ADM is earnestly working to do).

New media offers us a chance to advertise and market in a
whole new way. Let’s stop trying to measure it in a whole old way.

ADM-About Da Money

I had the pleasure of sitting in on the first ever conference call of the membership of the newly created Association of Downloadable Media (ADM). I’m happy to say it’s well on it’s way to being the organization it should be, one that focuses on the monetization of podcasting and other downloadable media.

I also plan to participate in the beginnings of another organization, the Association of Podcasters & Online Media Producers (A working title) should that happen because of differences of opinion with the ADM. They have completed a survey which clearly indicates a need and desire for such an organization but, as of yet, have not posted any follow-up steps on their website. Though I am sure that will be forthcoming.

On the ADM call I was happy to hear absolutely no discussion of standardizing podcasts only the standardizing and measurement of the ways in which they generate revenue…if that is the goal of the podcast.

You’ve seen me talk about the need to measure the reach and effectiveness of new media here before. There will come a time we’ll need to show the return on investment to buyers of the medium.  You also know that as a long-time radio guy I am keenly aware of the danger of homogenizing the content and execution of new media. ADM seeks to address those issues in all the right ways.

If you’re a podcaster and want to make money doing it, ADM is well on the way to being the organization for you. Of course,
it’s brand new and there will be some growing and learning to do. But
if the call is any indication there is a great future for new media

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Timing + Technology + Marketing = Milestones

I think we’d all agree the YouTube/CNN debate was a milestone.
While having little impact on the answers the candidates gave, the introduction
of video questions via YouTube brought a much more personal and emotional
intensity to the process, more so even than the “town hall” versions. It also
showed us “real” Americans…warts and all in the privacy and security of their
own homes. I think there were even more milestones.

Of course we could have done it years ago. Heck, Bob Saget
made a great career out of showing us personal video…warts (not to mention
skating parrots) and all. We could record video on our VHS cameras and send it
in a box to a TV show. Why didn’t this happen until now? It’s simple…timing,
technology and, frankly, marketing.

Back in the tape days, video was all about special events
and entertainment. The only time we busted out the camera was to save that
wedding, that first bike ride, or that shot of Grandma taking a header into her
birthday cake. Now, video is with us everywhere. Take a look at your cell phone.
Years ago, the technical pieces weren’t in place. (A concept not wasted on the
founders of YouTube themselves.) Now anyone can capture a moment and, through
the magic of inexpensive or free video editing software, can inject all the
emotion and artistry they care to. Then just upload it on the computer for the
entire world to see. It just doesn’t take much of our time to be part of the
video universe.

Also, through outlets like CNN, that new technology is all
the buzz. Video is not just about entertaining ourselves anymore. It’s about communicating.
Hey, this is serious stuff. (Sorry Bob.) That’s the marketing piece.

Look, not everyone is producing videos. Just note the fact
that there were only 1500-3000 videos submitted (depending on the source you
use), kind of a small number in the great scheme of the World Wide Web, let
alone YouTube. These forays into the Web world won’t change the way we elect
our public officials, at least not yet. But if the marketing of video debates,
all the talk and all the hype will get more people to participate in the process
that’s truly a milestone to be grateful for.

HD Radio…Yeah, but what do I get?

In the past year you’ve probably heard talk of HD Radio on one of your favorite radio stations. But, then again, judging by the amount of HD Radio receivers that have been sold…maybe not. More likely, you’ve heard about it and…well, it means nothing to you. Locally, I hear allot about HD on many of the Clear Channel radio stations. The commercials are very creative and I believe are very successful in conveying the message that HD stations exist, as they say, “between the stations” you are already use to. Originally, these commercials didn’t do a great job of explaining that, though your favorite station may broadcast in HD, you can’t hear HD without a special receiver. As of late, HD Radio has done a better job of addressing this.

The issue now, and I believe the reason HD Radio sales still haven’t taken off, is that none of these commercials, or the stations that carry them, have told you what the heck is on those “stations between the stations”. Imagine promoting the Harry Potter book with a campaign of “now with pages between the pages.” I’m not interested in a blank page…I’m interested in what’s on the page (Does Harry die? Does Hermione marry Ron? Does Voldemort?) just as most are interested in what’s on the HD station. It’s time to step up and talk content.

Hey radio, first, be sure to put something great on these stations. When I say “something great” I don’t mean the same stuff I can get on the current FM band. Making HD great is not taking the same library or two and putting the songs in a different order.

Second, and more importantly, and this is where radio continues to miss the mark, tell me what the h  heck it is. Tell me about the all jazz, the all blues, the all comedy, the all punk polks power ballad stations I can get. In fact, play a bit of it for me on your current station (OK, maybe no the punk polka.) Better yet, showcase it on your website. One of my favorite marketing axioms has always been, you can throw the best party known to the human race but if you don’t send out invitations…no one will come.

Look, I’m not a big HD fan. I still question the need to create an entire new delivery platform requiring the average listener to spend 150 bucks when the content is available elsewhere…for free (Web). I also still question the commitment to actually market HD by an industry that, for the most part, has abandoned marketing it’s own core product. But, if we all had a clearer understanding of what we’ll get for our investment in HD, there is a much better chance of success….don’t ya think?