Category Archives: Long Tail

Today Google does a cannonball into the social networking pool

Three weeks ago, on a lark, I registered the domain name But until just now, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with it.

Then, just moments ago, I learned that Google has entered the social network arena in a way that only a market behemoth can. Friend Connect will allow any site to have social network functionality. This tells me two things:

  1. Google sees an opportunity in social media marketing (SMM)
  2. It’s time for me to invite my friends and relatives to submit their favorite rum drinks

Of course, only point #1 is of real relevance to my fellow marketing technologists. There has been plenty of talk lately about how social networks are still groping for a viable revenue model. I suspect Google will lead the way to the banquet.

An example

The only question will then be: Must other social networks resign themselves to the crumbs that Google leaves behind?

StumbleUpon gets to the crux of my problem

Sometimes I regret finding so many things interesting.

You see, I grew up in a part of the country that was extremely remote and sparsely populated, with little cultural diversity, in an era before cable, VCRs, and of course the internet. The majority of my teachers, bless them, were clearly there for the hunting and the summers off. In other words, intellectual stimulation was not a feature of my childhood.

Home Sweet Home

Years later, after some lucky breaks and the support and guidance of some extraordinary people, I find myself doing work that is rewarding and stimulating. Especially stimulating. The internet has given me the freedom to explore everything that intrigues me.

All of this became apparent as I updated my StumbleUpon profile.

It’s as though a genie had poofed out of a lamp and given me the ability to visit the best web sites available on any subject. And unlike the genie from One Thousand and One Nights, I’m given not three wishes but 127.

There is the rub!

And this is just the start

I started with major interests, and realized that I’d checked more categories than I’d left blank. As I dug deeper into each, I was stopped at 127 interests, with the depths of many categories left unplumbed. The word cloud above shows the major selections only.

My first bosses were a pair of brilliant advertising entrepreneurs. One had a degree in history, the other, journalism. Together they showed me the power a person grounded in the Humanities could have in the business world.

They too were cultural omnivores.

I thought of them this evening as I ticked off the many areas of study I wished I had an entire lifetime to explore.

Tonight I might skip sleep. Again. I may just stay up and drink deeply from the well of StumbleUpon, a magical servant who feeds that little boy whose thirst for knowledge insists on being quenched.

Of social media, exploding churches and imploding airlines

In Hawaii, Aloha can mean both hello and good bye, but for Aloha Airlines recently, it meant only bankruptcy. Likewise for ATA, Skybus, Skyway, and most recently Frontier. For those holding useless tickets, the news spelled delays, hassles and lost money. Naturally, the public outcry was covered by television news and various bloggers. But for my news, I didn’t have to go farther than Twitter. Using keyword search, I could tune into the griping and gnashing of teeth in real time. Twitter gave me “News I can use,” and I didn’t even have to look at a newscaster haircut.

Twitter also reported something that local news simply cannot: Are any of my friends directly affected? The answer was No, to the airline implosions, but two Twittering friends were delayed by the American Airlines wiring harness problems.

Map showing church

Another colleague inadvertently acted as Breaking News reporter, when he reassured his Twitter audience that his office is a safe distance from the “exploded church.” Here is what raster reported on the day that a hundred-year-old church in his city blew up due to a leaking gas line:

don’t worry about us, we are not that close to the church that exploded: map

As you can see from the map he supplied, raster did a great job of showing why he was unharmed, but also, what had just happened. That night, when I watched the local news, I was already well aware of what happened.

What Twitter will evolve into is anyone’s guess. But where it is right now is a place I could never have imagined: Squarely between me and local journalism.

B-to-B Viral Marketing Case: Powerboat sales as a window to our current economic squall

Let’s say you’re a company that mines data in a quiet niche — one not known for analytic vigor. You’ve been doing it for years and do it wonderfully. For clients who appreciate your chops, you’re a godsend. But these clients are exceptional in the traditional retail business sector you serve.

How, how do you spread the word about your super-segmented lists and dead-on business intelligence services? Intuition says you find something to “go viral” around. But that requires some degree of topical relevance, if not outright sensationalism. How do you enliven something as dry as, say, boat purchase behavior (pun intended), to give it the life necessary to grab headlines?

The answer is what Info-Link does. They periodically publish one of the more pedestrian metrics they track: Quarterly sales in bellwether states. Below is their latest Bellwether Report, available on their site and distributed via a simple but effective opt-in email:

Info-Link Bellwether Report

You can explore various sales statistics by quarter (use the pull-down). Yes, the news is depressing. But it’s undeniably informative. And share-able. What information can your business repackage in such a way that people will want to share it?

Today record labels may find digital rights management less easy to defend

The adage I heard as a kid was, “Why would anyone buy the cow if they can get the milk for free?” True, these sages of my youth weren’t referring to music downloads and DRM (digital rights management). But record labels with much to lose financially have used this argument to defend their aggressive protection of their artists’ intellectual property. They have to be troubled this week by news of Radiohead’s In Rainbows topping album sales charts — in spite of the band’s offering this CD months ago for download, unprotected and at whatever price a listener would like to pay (including nothing at all).

Radiohead wasn’t the first to act on the urge to give fans a voice in setting the monetary worth of their music. One of the first artists was Issa, formerly known as Jane Siberry. As I’ve written before, this is an online business model not unlike street corner busking — in a way returning artists to their performing roots. Radiohead is, however, the most prominent group of recording artists to try this model.

Now, according to a New York Times account released late Wednesday, the band — and their recording label — are reaping an unexpected windfall from this experiment in open source music. Here is an excerpt:

In a twist for the music industry’s digital revolution, “In Rainbows,” the new Radiohead album that attracted wide attention when it was made available three months ago as a digital download for whatever price fans chose to pay, ranked as the top-selling album in the country this week after the CD version hit record shops and other retailers.

The album, the first in four years from the closely watched British rock act, sold 122,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Part of the reason I find this fascinating is, frankly, personal guilt. This news helps assuage any feelings I might have about copyright violation. Like millions of others, I too occasionally trade digital copies of CDs I like with a friend or two. I tell myself this is ethically acceptable, because it promotes music that my friends might not hear otherwise. In my defense, these friends are hardly a mainstream bunch.

They listen to long tail music.

That means chances are slim they would otherwise sample a given artist’s music. What’s more, these folks are the sort to glom onto an artist they like. They may wind up buying all of that artist’s work (yes, I’m thinking of you, Michael!).

As a business model, I wonder if all long tail artists and labels might benefit from “legal” DRM-free distribution. Perhaps DRM should be removed from any downloadable CD that doesn’t meet a certain sales level. And perhaps the stigma should be removed from ripping and sharing (one-on-one only, not using peer-to-peer online pirating platforms).

Call it a crazy libertarian streak, but I’m the type to wonder about decriminalizing other activities whose overall harm is in serious dispute. This latest news raises the “dispute level” for me of this common little “crime.” It makes me wonder even more about the real financial harm done when a CD by a relatively obscure artist is shared at no charge.

What do you think?

ProjectStars CEO describes how this new site blends job board with social networking

I’m returning from a holiday hiatus with recharged batteries and major content changes to Digital Solid. Come back often or subscribe to find exclusive interviews with online news-makers, plus more news and tips you’ve told me you appreciate as marketers in an increasingly technological world.

Michael Beddows - CEO - ProjectStarsTo kick things off in 2008, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Michael Beddows, CEO of the new projectstars b-to-b online social network. This site is part project board, part social network and part blogging cooperative. It’s a novel mix that has already attracted an impressive critical mass of participants.

Q: projectstars has been around for almost four months. Has the growth you’ve seen in that time surprised you, or was it about what you were expecting?

MB: Considering that our marketing over the past few months has consisted entirely of word-of-mouth, we’re very pleased with both the quantity and quality of our membership growth. This organic growth has also provided us with some great feedback on how we can refine our equity blogging approach.

Q: In a blog entry you mention that there are generally three types of online communities, and they mirror the Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point connector types. Of the three, projectstars is a “Maven” network, where you’ve written, “Content is king … For those who are knowledgeable, these [Maven] sites are a great place to showcase expertise and get discovered.” Can you name other communities that follow this “maven model,” where members are encouraged to promote themselves and their expertise?

MB: LinkedIn has an Answers section where members can vie to be nominated as the “Top Expert.” The difference with projectstars is that our members are not restricted to a Q&A format and can participate in more engaging conversations. projectstars is also more amenable to search engine optimization, which means that our member contributions are more discoverable in search engines. It’s one thing to be seen as an expert within the confines of LinkedIn, quite another to be seen as an expert on the Internet at large.

Q: Your site says that you’re “blurring the line” between job sites and business/social communities. This is extraordinary enough, in that I’ve never seen another site that is certifiably both, as yours is. But what has struck me as more novel is that your business model sounds a lot like a cooperative. A week ago you conducted your first share giveaway, where 100 members with the most earned points receive their shares in the business. This sounds unique for a social network site. Is there any other community that you’ve modeled this against?

MB: We believe we are the first social network to offer members shares. We think this is the way any online community should operate as it’s the members who make the community. It’s quite possible that someday, many social networks and blog communities will become equity blogs, where members band together to form a cooperative.

Q: Speaking of blurred lines, I like the Facebook login feature, which allows anyone who is already part of Facebook to register with projectstars from a page within Facebook. I was curious how the tie-in would benefit me, and saw that friends in Facebook who are also on projectstars are immediately identified and added as a projectstars buddy. What a cool way to tie the two communities together. Has this Facebook connection helped spread the word about projectstars?

MB: With so many sites out there, anything which makes registration easier is good in our books, so the Facebook login helps in that respect. We are also developing a Facebook application so that your projectstars blogs will show up on your profile and others can vote on them – once this is completed we do expect that will help spread the word.

Q: Are you optimistic about future tie-ins with other social networks through OpenSocial? How is this work progressing?

MB: We are members of the OpenSocial development lists and are tracking progress closely, however OpenSocial specifications are still in development so we expect it will be later in Q1 2008 before we see anything from projectstars on this front. We are also investigating the possibility of projectstars itself being an OpenSocial container. projectstars members can already set up their own personalized page of projectstars content, RSS feeds, and widgets at so this would be an ideal place to host OpenSocial apps.

Q: Blogging is a great way for domain experts to show off their knowledge. On the other hand, many of these same people already have one or more blogs. Are you looking at ways to port “outside” blog content into your site, or do you simply want to encourage bloggers to move their tent within the walls of projectstars?

MB: We did investigate linking members blogs to the system, however there were two problems with this. First, the projectstars community structure means that automating where posts appear is not easily possible, and second we realize that although people do have their own blogs, they don’t always blog about one subject, and sometimes blog about personal/life issues. As we want to keep projectstars content focused on the topics provided by the 300 communities, we decided to enable blogging within the system.

Continue reading

Research confirms it: Folks are less likely to consider a brand they don’t find in search results pages

The revelation that you risk losing business if prospects don’t find you in search results is just one of the conclusions from a newly-released research study from Enquiro (registration required). This report is packed with valuable insights. Here’s another: When a major brand (Honda) appeared as one of the top paid listings, as well as the top organic search engine result, the lift in brand recall was huge — 220%. As the graphic shows, this was compared to no organic result and a less prominent side ad. In addition, the lift in recall of this dual placement, when compared to a top organic listing alone, was still impressive — roughly 70%.

When brand is in the top ad AND the top organic listing, the lift more than doubles

Clearly, if you can sponsor a pricier ad that runs across the top of the search engine results page, go for it. This ad unit is far more effective than a side unit. Its brand recognition power in this study was equal to the top organic listing alone. That’s huge.

Brand recall is important, but what about intent to consider a purchase?

An ad / organic combination can also boost intent. For the Honda brand, when a non-branded phrase (“fuel efficient cars”) was searched upon, and the pairing of top ad and top organic results was encountered, an average 8% lift in intent was observed. Specifically, what was measured was an intention to include the brand in this person’s consideration set. This is no idle assurance, because all 2,744 participants in the study said they were considering buying a new car within the year.

A corresponding eye tracking study showed that this increased intent was mirrored by a significant bump in the time spent looking at both the sponsored and organic links for the brand.

Advertise On Brand Keywords — Even When You Show Up Organically

Now consider the graphic below. Even those who did a branded search (i.e., included a brand in their search query) were 7% more likely to consider purchasing that brand when an ad for it appeared above the brand’s top organic listing. At least, that’s the case when the brand in question is Honda.

Validation that you should advertise on your brand’s keywords

This is valuable validation. Other research, most notably from Nielsen Reelresearch, has shown a similar improvement in actually clicks to a site when an organic result and an ad are paired. But it’s hard to spend money on clicks from a paid ad when you have the top organic result for that keyword phrase.

Say What Counts In Your Text Ad’s Headline and Web Address

The eye generally overlooks the body copy, focusing on the text ad’s headline and web addressA final noteworthy finding is based on eye tracking “heat maps” of how consumers read these paid search ads. As the graphic to the right shows, the descriptive copy that follows the headline and precedes the URL barely gets a glance — at least for the typical results page viewer. (Click on the graphic for a zoomed-in view of the heat map.)

Further research would be helpful. For instance, how do heat maps differ for those who have clicked on the ad versus those who merely looked it over?

Nonetheless, this research is terrific evidence of the power of paid search, and how best to harness it.

Add the latest JCMC to your towering reading pile

We’ve all got far more to read than time to read it, right? So you’re going to hate me for telling you this, but if you care about communication and technology, you should be tracking the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Especially this latest issue, whose “special theme” is social network sites.

Of particular relevance to marketing technologists are these articles:

  • Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
    danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison
    This introduction describes features of social network sites (SNSs), proposes a comprehensive definition, presents a history of their development, reviews existing SNS scholarship, and introduces the articles in this special theme section.
  • Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances
    Hugo Liu
    A social network profile’s lists of interests can function as an expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach, different types of taste statements are identified and further investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles collected from MySpace.
  • Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites
    Eszter Hargittai
    Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away? Based on data from a survey administered to young adults, this article identifies demographic predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster.
  • Mobile Social Networks and Social Practice: A Case Study of Dodgeball
    Lee Humphreys
    Dodgeball is a mobile social network system that seeks to facilitate social coordination among friends in urban public spaces. This study reports on the norms of Dodgeball use, proposing that exchanging messages through Dodgeball can lead to social molecularization, whereby active members experience and move through the city in a collective manner.
  • Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube
    Patricia Lange
    Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by manipulating physical and interpretive access to videos. The analysis identifies varying degrees of “publicness” in video sharing, depending on the nature of the video content and how much personal information is revealed.

Juicy stuff. Enjoy!

Social networks for business verticals are less-known benefactors of OpenSocial

The OpenSocial alliance among a variety of consumer social network sites (SNSs) — most notably MySpace — is designed to allow marketers to leverage as never before the word-of-mouth strength of a social graph. This story about the less-known business vertical SNSs (such as those catering to physicians and telecom professionals), reminds me of this exciting reality:

Any b-to-b site with an active community and the flexibility of adopting OpenSocial can reap the same benefits.

Below is Google’s somewhat dorky video explaining the OpenSocial API.

[youtube 9KOEbAZJTTk]

Also, here’s a terrific explanation of what a social graph is, why marketers should care, and what they should do with the sites they manage in light of this information.

With Bizographics, ZoomInfo unveils a novel step toward more targeted b-to-b marketing

It’s a silly name but a sound concept: Segment the registered users of your site by industry, company, title, education, seniority and role within the company. For good measure, throw in some traditional demographic items like location and gender. ZoomInfo calls this bizographics, or business demographics. The new ad offering was just announced to the press, and at the ad:tech New York internet marketing conference.

In his most recent blog entry, senior ZoomInfo VP Russell Glass gives the following example of how bizographics can precisely focus an online ad’s viewers: “[a company offering an elite credit card] would have the ability to place advertising in front of users that fall within the “senior executive” bizographic, and focus messages based on this targeting — i.e, ‘CEOs now hear this.'”

Frankly, I don’t see that as being the best example of the power of this new ad platform, because the same ad buy could be made on sites specifically visited by senior executives. But I certainly see the potential. For much of my career I’ve yearned for a way to reach, say, “service industry executives with HR responsibilities.” If ZoomInfo’s system can allow for that type of pinpoint marketing, I see bizographics succeeding in spite of its unfortunate name.

Update 11/06/07: ad:tech is the stage for another, and similar, announcement. Facebook certainly has its share of user information to mine for ad value. Today one of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s big announcements was the launch of an ad platform called Social Ads. This targets ads based on member profile data and “spreads” these ad virally. It appears to be a B-to-C version of Bizographics. One that naturally has far greater reach. Scratch both of those statements. A clarifying article on 11/07/07 talked about what makes Facebook’s offering unique from other ad platforms. It doesn’t necessarily make for far-reaching ads. But their impact could be much greater, due to a word-of-mouth effect.

Radiohead and Fake Science meet differing fates in the DRM-free tar pit

This week two emails hit my Inbox within hours of each other. The first was from the site selling Radiohead’s latest CD via download. It was confirming my order, with a specific price tag that was more of a surprise to them than me, since it was I who chose it a few minutes earlier, during the ordering process.

News on the street, and from Radiohead management, is that tens of thousands of others played the same “Name your price for this CD” game, at a level equating to a little more than $8 US. (11/9/07 Update: The real figure appears to be only half of that $8 estimate.) Not too shabby — especially since there was no DRM (anti-pirating protection) on the downloads, and the band was basically doing the digital equivalent of busking: Opening their guitar cases to collect whatever money listeners want to throw their way. (They also sell a fixed-price, $80 “Disk Box” for Radiohead completists.)

The second email was from a small, audacious music store site that announced it was closing shop. is a source I’ve enjoyed for fun, mostly ambient electronica.

At $5 an album, their DJ artists — with names like Dr Toast — provide perfect musical soundtracks to knowledge working and long drives. Here is what the email from the gang at Fake Science had to say:

It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you that on November 1st, 2007 we will be closing the Fake Science Music Store. Fake Science was originally started as a labor of love by four friends who had an idea to help share music with people like you and has since grown into the online music resource it is today. However, we evaluated the amount of investment that it would take to keep the store running, as well as making necessary upgrades to keep the Fake Science standards high. We came to the realization that none of us could realistically keep the commitment due to the weight other important things in our lives, such as families, day jobs, and even other side projects.

This sounds like the explanation I’ve heard many times from musician friends, when they announce that their garage band is breaking up after graduation. The explanation is always sincere — and quite valid, considering the economics of music.

But doesn’t the long tail mean that everyone with talent has a shot at recording stardom, or at least economic viability?

Aside from “families, day jobs,” etc., what caused Fake Science to sink into the DRM-free equivalent of the prehistoric tar pits, while Radiohead’s experiment has — by all accounts and speculation — flourished? I believe economist and author Tyler Cowen nails it. He provides five reasons in his Marginal Revolution post:

  1. Radiohead is an indie cult band with extreme loyalties from its partisans and the possibility of attracting more such partisans by seeming “cool.”
  2. Radiohead peaks high on the charts (#3 for their last release, if I recall…) but I believe they sell the product pretty quickly and don’t have a long run at the top. Again, they’d like to widen their fan base.
  3. Radiohead’s gambit has reaped enormous publicity, but this won’t be the case next time.
  4. Many donors will give to a highly visible “cause of the month” (remember the outpouring of support for the tsunami victims?) but they won’t necessarily give on a regular basis.
  5. Radiohead probably has an especially high ratio of touring to CD and iTunes income; see #1. This scheme is a natural for them but not for Kelly Clarkson.

Do read the comments of this blog entry for some interesting clarifications and opposing views. Nonetheless, I think Cowen’s points are all valid.

What’s more, I’d like to add a #6 to the list. Another reason why struggling artists won’t be reaping the benefits of this Radiohead “donor” experiment is what I’ll call The Prius Factor. A recent New York Times article points out that part of the tremendous success of the Toyota Prius hybrid is that it was built to be nothing but a hybid. This is in stark contrast to the major hybrid offerings by Ford, Honda and GM’s Saturn, where they started as traditional internal combustion vehicles. You have to look for a small badge on the trunk or side panel to know that any of these other cars is an environmentally friendly gas/electric hybrid.

That suggests, according to the article, that the Prius has become an “issue bracelet.” It’s a theory supported by research reported in the same Times piece:

… More than half of the Prius buyers surveyed this spring by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., said the main reason they purchased their car was that “it makes a statement about me.”

In the weeks to come, people will be hearing songs from Radiohead’s (quite good) In Rainbows. Those who are fans will undoubtedly be asking the person playing this CD: “So what did you pay?” Like the overtly hybrid Prius, it’s an easy conversation-starter. Surely, Radiohead’s CD will be the catalyst for many a new friendship or hook-up.

This is bad news for the relatively unknown Dr Toast, and other Fake Science musicians. But there is hope that this business model could quickly morph to benefit all artists, given the accelerated Darwinian ecosystem of the internet. (And according to a fun NOFX song, dinosaurs will die).

Oh, and there is one final thing Tyler Cowen nails in his assessment: Kid A truly is Radiohead’s best album so far. Which just goes to show that even respected economists can’t resist sounding cool with a little musical name-dropping.