Category Archives: Social Networks

Three sobering facts about today’s use of social networks and mobile media

It’s easy to get excited about the potential of social networks and mobile devices. We’re forever reminded that from a marketing perspective, there’s gold in them thar hills. Yesterday I was able to glean more of the unvarnished truth about both. I attended a couple of excellent panel discussions organized as part of the annual conference of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Although the emphasis of these discussions was on mediated publics (e.g., MySpace, Facebook. etc.), I made a point to ask a few questions about how cell phones come into the picture as a way to keep the network dialogs humming when the computer is back at home. Here are three eye-opening realities of these new media, according to the panel:

  1. People beyond college age are mostly using social networks for the following reasons:
    • Dating
    • Networking for business
    • Keeping an eye on their children (the evocative term that panelist danah boyd used was helicopter parenting)
  2. Ms. boyd was leery about how long the “over-35 crowd” will be on Facebook. She theorizes it will be two years tops before they realize there’s little of value for them on that network.
  3. Mobile marketing in the U.S. is hog-tied compared to the rest of the world, due to the incompatibility between carriers (what danah called the “carrier barriers”). I knew this going in, but it’s worse than I thought. Here are two constraints I hadn’t really considered against adoption within a key market segment:
    • Most high schoolers, and younger college students, are getting their parents’ antiquated hand-me-down phones. They are also often bound within their parents’ cell phone plans.
    • These plans rarely have unlimited texting, so every text is potentially another dime or more on the monthly bill. This can raise parental eyebrows — or worse, tempers. Bummer for us marketers, and for them.

All of this was a valuable splash of cold water about these emerging media. They will continue to “emerge,” but don’t expect mass adoption any time soon.

Unilever discovers, then embraces, the power of online social media

As a marketer I read too many cases about companies who do one of the following:

  1. Ignore the power of online social media, in spite of their brand being ideal for its careful use
  2. Run headlong at this Web 2.0 phenomenon, throwing caution to the wind, only to do more harm than good to their brand

danah boyd [sic], the well-known anthropologist and “youth and technology” expert, gives a very personal account of the spread of Unilever’s Dove Evolution campaign. It’s a case study for how an exceptional marketing idea can gain legs through sites such as YouTube.

In the post she recounts how she was acting out of what she perceived as the public good, and not as some shill for the brand. Truly inadvertently, she says that she became “a marketer’s dream.”

I agree. But what still amazes me is that similar efforts for less savvy brands would be viewed by their stewards as unacceptable — nothing more than the unauthorized spread of their content.

These folks would look at the Danah Boyds of the world as more of a nightmare than a dream. Go figure.

When an online social media effort goes terribly wrong

Marketers love the idea of using online social media. Why shouldn’t they? Promotion on online communities provides something no advertisement could ever deliver: Authenticity. After all, another term for online social media is electronic word of mouth. So what happens when a marketer is behind the community postings on a subject, and gets savagely “outed” by a prominent member?

Here’s a compelling and instructive story of online “gotcha” at its worst. Read this story by online marketing expert Jennifer Laycock and heed its warnings. Three of her tips are the following:

  1. Never respond immediately when things get sour
  2. No matter how valid it may be, don’t attack your attacker
  3. If there’s anything you are guilty of, admit it immediately

Sadly, at least one of these was learned the hard way.

Enjoy the story, and let me know of any other social marketing tipsheets that you think are based on hard-won knowledge instead of the standard best practices.

Is Second Life real estate another bubble ready to burst?

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, recently posted his reservations about the commercial potential of Linden Lab’s metaverse, Second Life. (Check out the many comments, by the way. I praise him for his willingness to stir a hornet’s nest.) The main reason for Anderson’s pessimism: Lack of traffic to the virtual storefronts and office spaces. Chris Anderson’s Avatar on Second LifeDoes this mean we should all forget the Second Life “land rush” ever happened? I don’t think so.

Yesterday I heard Steve Ennen, VP, Digital Business Strategies at American Business Media, speak at an online marketing summit. He pointed out that we should look at the potential for marketers in a “Third Life, Fourth Life or even Fifth Life.” I would agree. Especially if the next platform can be one that doesn’t require special plug-ins or players. Online, experiential marketing is here to stay. And a whole generation is growing up having spent a significant portion of their young lives on gaming platforms very similar to Second Life.

In the future, favorite online communities may well become these consumers’ first lives.

You’ll find more information on Second Life in this and associated entries.

Explosion causes a potty-mouthed Twitter skeptic to see the light

I had vowed to readers I would never again write about Twitter. It is, after all, a frivolous little diversion. True, in the same breath, I had also acknowledged (in one of my last posts on the topic) that this trivial toy has the potential to save lives. It can spread news when all other sources are slow to arrive or completely cut off. In a time of rising terrorist threat levels around the world, that makes Twitter sound far less trivial.

Proof of my theory arrived today. Here’s the story that has brought me out of my Twitter silence. Warning: The blog entry I cite, on the other side of this link, includes a profanity in one of the images.

A friend had been trying to coax Howard Lindzon into the Twitter habit. He refused, and finally conceded only on this condition: His “Tweets” would only come from him via his cell phone, and only when he was — ahem — using the facilities. Since he considered Twitter a waste, he was only going to Twitter about waste. But that all changed when there was a terrifying steam pipe explosion. Caught with no other way to get or receive news about it, you can guess where he turned:

Lindzon uses the one tool he bashes and pokes fun at to inform and hopefully inform himself of a crisis situation. Instantly! Wirelessly! … My buddy Loic Le Meur’s twitts a few days ago about how he catches up with news on Twitter more that by reading his RSS.

Now excentric [sic] Lindzon accepts my invitation to join and unwilingly [sic] offers this awesome example of the right person at the right time in the right place using the right service and instantly informing his peers he networked with registering to Twitter. Is this the real web 2.0? Ought to be, as Lindzon did not blog or email about the blast. He freakin twittered it!

When the telephone was invented, it wasn’t thought of as a tool for doing business. It was imagined by most as a way, before consumer radio appliances entered the picture, of carrying music and news across great distances. That all changed of course. Relatively speaking, it didn’t take long for this “toy” to earn its keep in society (just a few decades).

Could Twitter, the first truly widespread mobile time-waster, be on its way to its own social legitimacy?

Dracula vs. Frankenstein: The latest in the battle between Facebook and MySpace

The Frankenstein’s monster of the Universal Studios film was hideous. A product of an unholy experiment, it was gruesomely assembled, yet through a miracle of science walked the earth, wrecking havoc. Count Dracula, from the same studio at about the same time, was mysterious and elegant. This monster’s seductive powers were finely focused. Dracula came from a remote, distant land. And, like the heretofore Mary Shelley invention, wrecked his own considerable share of havoc. Guess which is MySpace and which is Facebook?

Dracula vs. Frankenstein: According to IMDB, a really bad movieAnd if you’re wondering who is winning the battle of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, well, it’s too early to tell. They are definitely using their differing powers differently, and with equal aplomb.

It was exactly a month ago when Facebook announced it would open its platform to outside developers. This online social network certainly regards no site more of a competitor than MySpace. The move to a great extent was to blunt the loss of users over to that site.

It’s an important strategy. Facebook has only a quarter of the members as MySpace (28 million versus MySpace’s 108 million). How do you argue with that that kind of success? Or compete against these kind of numbers? If you’re Facebook, the answer is you reverse course.

In their game-changing move, Facebook chose to swing open the doors to their platform to all manner of third-party widgets and software. This Slate article explains how these applications individually amount to little, but cumulatively they can spell a huge advantage (thanks, Bryn, for the link):

None of the nearly 900 (and counting) programs released so far are particularly life-changing—among the most popular add-ons are a “Graffiti” program (downloaded by more than 3.3 million people as of this writing) that lets you doodle other people’s profiles and an “Honesty Box” that lets your friends say, anonymously, what they really think of you. Collectively, though, these programs are hugely significant. If the site figures out a smart way to deploy these mini applications, it will be more than just a social network. Facebook will turn into a do-everything site with the potential to devour the whole Internet.

Good move, Facebook. That had to smart. What would you do in response if you’re MySpace — a site that has been, after all, the anti-Facebook? MySpace has always been open to all comers, fertile soil for application developers — including YouTube videos, which are embedded in MySpace profiles by the millions.

So what do you do? You selectively compete against the very products you’ve allowed to thrive in your garden. Starting with YouTube, itself a threat. This week we learn that MySpace has improved their own embedded video product: MySpace TV.

The clearest damage that could come of this is to YouTube. And it’s a good thing, because YouTube is developing its own social network chops. But the move also shows a different approach to getting and keeping users: Don’t rely on others to produce your most popular applications. Instead, provide them yourself, so you can get traffic to both your own social media site and the site that feeds it.

Mind you, MySpace TV is no copy-cat of YouTube. Instead of trying to engage YouTube at its sweet spot — user-generated videos — MySpace TV focuses on professionally produced videos. Very smart.

It’s a characteristic move from a company that has so far behaved surprisingly shrewdly. Even a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster can display uncanny survival instincts.

To see an excellent face-off between Facebook and Myspace features, check out this recent evaluation of the two by our friends at Mashable.

StumbleUpon buy begs this question: What’s he building in there?

As you are almost certainly aware, the large media and internet firms have lately been on a buying spree. This week news came of one more acquisition: StumbleUpon, to be purchased by eBay. Tom Waits recorded a spooky little ditty (made even more creepy by the video), called What’s He Building? In this spoken word song, the narrator wonders aloud what his loner neighbor is building in his basement. Well, I’m feeling a lot like that guy, scratching my head and wondering what strategic purpose eBay would have with this social bookmarking site.

With 2.5 million registered users, StumbleUpon behaves somewhat like a search engine. It recommends various categories of sites based on the votes of its members. In this way it uses the collective intelligence of a network of backlinks, in the same way that Google made famous. Instead of clicking on a link that states “I’m feeling lucky,” you press a Stumble! button on your specialized browser toolbar, and a new, fun site is served up for a category you enjoy.

The odds that you’ll like the recommended site are quite high, since your peers have already given it hundreds of “thumb’s ups.” You can add your own Thumb’s Up/Thumb’s Down to refine future recommendations, ala Pandora.com (a song recommendation site which, coincidentally, is a perennial favorite that StumbleUpon recommends to anyone saying they like “Music”).

Wait a minute. What did I just say? Toolbar. Google. Just yesterday a friend was wondering if Google would find its share of users eroding because it introduced Personalized Search. That’s a way that Google uses information gleaned from its toolbar and other sources to customize search results. My friend suggested that Personalized Search’s results will often miss the context of a person’s search. After all, when we go home at night we search on very different things, and for very different reasons — than during our workday. So will there be an opportunity for other search innovation to capture some of Google’s share?

True, three years ago eBay launched A9, a search engine in the stricter sense of the word than StumbleUpon ever will be. But maybe eBay is hoping to bolster A9 with a more social mechanism, to make it some sort of social bookmarking mega-search. Or perhaps they’ll try to combine StumbleUpon with another acquisition: CraigsList.org.

I’m baffled. Maybe you can help. “What’s he building in there?”

What I learned from my Twitter experiment

Two weeks ago, at the end of my latest post exclusively about Twitter, I announced that I would let you know the outcome of a little two-week test. In it, I temporarily opened my “Tweets” to the world, so to speak. My posts became part of the Public Timeline of Twitter posts. In that time I’ve continued to enjoy what I like about Twitter: Being able to keep in touch with friends who are on it. But I have to say the foray into the public conversation didn’t amount to much more than that.

I didn’t know what to expect, but here were a couple things that I considered possibilities:

  1. Some people might pick up on references to my more provocative blog entries (such as this one, about mobile communication and the Virginia Tech shootings) and respond directly through Twitter
  2. Others would actually click through to those entries, using URLs that I inserted in the Tweets, and possibly even comment on the blog entry

Someday this might happen for someone. Neither did for me. I suspect that my Tweets were too diffused among the millions of others. Without a way for users to filter by preferences or topics, my Twitter posts became a few needles in an ever-growing haystack. Without context, these “microblog posts” zoomed past and faded without incident.

Well, almost. The day after I began the experience, I received the following:

  • My one and only visit to this blog that I can directly trace as a click-through from the Twitter public timeline (sheesh!)
  • A single message from an “admirer” of my golden (albeit truncated) prose: A spammer trying to get me to visit his site where he was selling something (Does my prose look like I need Viagra?)

It’s not that I was expecting the sort of bank run that Digg.com got when its users started posting an illegal DVD unlock code. But I was hoping for something of interest.

Especially, I was wondering if I could expand my online social network, as I have recently with activities in LinkedIn. I’ll be writing more about LinkedIn in a future post. As for Twitter, starting today I’ll be henceforth mum on the topic.

If you want to reach out to me in a public network, you’ll just have to join my growing — and quite interesting — LinkedIn connections list. Here is my Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jefflarche

Postscript: I just went on the Public Timeline and was astonished to see a friend’s Tweet: Way to go, Jazyfko! I hope your cold is getting better.


Update on May 26, 2007: One of the more promising applications of Twitter so far is the recently launched Truemors, the latest start-up by Guy Kowasaki.

 

Twitter sends flotsam and jetsam our way. Marketers: Take notice!

It’s been called a micro-blogging platform, an electronic water cooler and a wonderful way to keep tabs on friends and family. It’s Twitter, and all I wanted to know is: Is this something marketers should be tracking? Here’s my answer.

Yes.

You should track Twitter. But do it on your own terms. Or simply keep tabs on someone who is on the Twitter network. This concept will definitely morph, but it is not going away.

As promised in the footnote to my dismissive blog entry about this technology, I will recount my 14 days in Twitterland. For those who need a grounding in what Twitter is, I suggest you click on the link above. It loads in a new browser window, so you won’t lose your place. Are you back? Okay, let’s do this thing.

The first thing I discovered was that the people who would never, ever get a blog, or comment on other people’s blogs, have willingly signed up for Twitter. They have eagerly posted their 140 characters of news, weather and sports. I joke, but these posts do often resemble what contemporary television news has devolved into: The most superficial look at important headlines, plus trivia and human interest. And in saying that, I do not mean to disparage, because, like local news, this is very addictive.

Especially when you’re a friend or relative of the fellow “newscasters.”

When you’re part of this micro-blogosphere, all other activity you’re engaged in at that moment comes to a brief halt while you check your computer screen, IM window, or cell phone text messages to learn such tidbits as: “Man, that soup was hot. It scalded my mouth!” I’m making this one up, but it’s the type of flotsam and jetsam that comes drifting your way when you dip your oar in the vast Twitter Ocean.

Below is a sample I grabbed just now from the Twitter Public Timeline, a real-time stock ticker of global “Tweets” from those willing to share their tidbits with the world.

A sample from the Twitter public timeline

Again, I must assure you that I am not dismissing this type of information exchange. Just as the real definition of flotsam and jetsam is “potentially valuable goods jettisoned from a ship,” there are many gems that are shared with the friends, family and co-workers that one lets into one’s network. These gems slide into view suddenly and quietly, along with the detritus. It’s all disposable, but at the same time riveting.

In my 14 days on a small Twitter network (less than 10 participants), I’ve learned things. Oh, yes. I’ve learned quite a bit.

I’ve been sent links to interesting sites and videos. I’ve gotten to know more about distant friends’ lives. I’ve even discovered that I’ve missed an important appointment. And none of this was in my email box, which is crammed enough as it is. This is good on a micro level. And this is potentially important on a macro level.

I suspect that when the next Twin Towers catastrophe occurs, those on a Twitter network will get important and potentially life-saving alerts (“A plane just hit the second tower!”). Remember: On 9/11/01, when the voice lines of cell phones were jammed and inaccessible, and the electricity was off, the last goodbyes were sent to loved ones via cell phone SMS text messages. Grimly, this form of communication was still available, for brief, real-time expressions of fear, resignation and undying love.

If my suggestion of Twitter having that kind of utility shocks you, I must say it shocked me too. But it is also something that follows a clear path. Anthropologist Danah Boyd stated recently that initial web sites — we’ll call them Web 1.0 — were about ideas. With web sites and simple emails, people who didn’t know each other before became acquainted around shared interests and passions. Web 2.0 is all about people. Since the web has become ubiquitous (at least with the majority of the young, and 100% of the world’s information workers), you could keep connected with nearly everyone you know, and even have them broker introductions to those you don’t know (the magic of MySpace and Facebook “friends” and LinkedIn “connections”).

So what is the coming Web 3.0 about? Place.

Or, more importantly, place and time. Who is where I am right now? Other systems like Dodgeball hinted at this promise of a real-world / virtual network. Twitter expands on that promise. It is about place in a big way.

If you want to spend some mindless computer time, check out this Google mash-up of the Twitter public timeline. That will remind you of how quickly this world is shrinking … and help to demonstrate the global, and univeral, appeal of Twitter.

Finally, I offer this challenge. I want to see if Twitter can help me get acquainted with some interesting, like-minded marketing types. So I’m going to do a little experiment: I’m posting my Twitter posts to the world for the next week, and see who might want to add me to their Twitter Friends list. Specifically, I want to know how many people I could get to know. Can I connect with individuals whose flotsam and jetsam would make for an interesting and instructive complement to the Tweets I’m receiving now? And can some real business conversations come of it?

I’ll let you know.

Twitter’s sudden celebrity will soon become a fight for relevance

Twitter is a way to broadcast via your cell phone or computer. What do you broadcast? Whatever is immediate and local. You disclose your thoughts, observations and whereabouts — and anything else you can fit within a 140-character limit text message. Here’s an unofficial Twitter wiki. Its Press and Media section has links to some of the latest buzz on this social media app.

Twitter appeared quickly and will, in my opinion, flame out just as fast. Once it has died back down to a glowing ember, I suspect it will reside where it seems most suited: with younger students and others with plenty of time, a big friends list, and a high opinion of their own text-messaged voices.

Because your cell phone can get deluged with “Tweets” (one attendee of the SXSW conference in Austin reported receiving 3,000 of them during her time there), it appears that most people finally turn the mobile feature off. Who of us, after all, has an unlimited text message plan and a high tolerance for deleting messages as fast as they arrive?

But turning off the ability to receive these messages on my cell phone takes away one of Twitter’s major appeals: The ability to “microblog” from anywhere, and read other people’s insights dashed off from whatever house party or night club you weren’t able to get to.

I’m always looking at these phenomena for how they might bubble up into the generations of working stiffs who are hoping technology can aid their productivity — or ease their workday the way a smoke break used to when more people smoked.

This technology has me curious, but unless there is some improved way to filter the spamming effect I don’t see Twitter as surviving the battle for mainstream relevance.


April 17, 2007 — An update:This weekend I succumbed. I needed to experience Twitter for myself, especially since I was reading intriguing comments on other people’s blogs, including this one. Keeping the mobile component turned off, I created this account: http://twitter.com/TheLarch (yes, I dropped my name’s trailing “e” — it’s a silly Monty Python joke).

 

I’ll do a new entry soon with my thoughts.

You’re it: Tagging, social bookmarking and marketing

If the internet is getting smarter, it is only because we are being carefully watched. The video Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us brilliantly demonstrates what I mean. It shows an internet that has become more valuable by connecting us through observed preferences.

A link to the Web 2.0 videoThose preferences are observed through our past behavior — always the best predictor of future action. The video explains: “100 billion times per day, humans are clicking on a web page … teaching the Machine what we think is important.”

I recommend you follow this video, by Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, through to its completion. The payoff is fascinating and sobering.

Some of this behavior is passive.

Merely clicking on a web page, for example, is something that even my mother does. She needs no special training or instruction. Yet systems such as the recently unveiled Google Personalized Search are improving her browsing experience by customizing content based on her past searches — and even her web browsing history.

Don’t think this has gone unnoticed by those in the search engine optimization business. Google Personalized Search is a major shift in the optimization game, a phenomenon that’s sending us all back to our playbooks.

Other behavior is more active.

Specifically I’m talking about the type of tagging that takes place in online social networks. According to a recent Pew research study, “28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts.” On any given day, this report says that 7% of internet users have tagged or categorized online content. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times the number of people who on that day have listened to a podcast.

So who is doing all of this tagging? Not surprisingly, they’re more likely to be under 40, with higher than average incomes and education levels.

Pew has no way to report on whether this tagging behavior is growing in popularity. This was the organization’s first ever research on tagging. But Hitwise reports that sites that enable tagging, such as Del.icio.us and Flickr, are gaining in popularity.

In just three months, according to Hitwise, Flickr grew in popularity by 140%. By that I mean that visits to this photo sharing site accounted for .029% of visits a week in January, up from less than .012% three months earlier.

In the same time span, Del.ic.ious traffic grew by over 600%. Visits to that online recommendation site increased to .0036%, up from .0005% in October, 2006. (Thanks for your help on these stats, Wendy Davis of MediaPost.)

Here’s a Wired rundown of some of the best tagging and social bookmarking sites. Tag, you’re it!