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June 2009

Social? Think BIGGER

Ready Set Go Hot Air Balloons Lots of people talk about the future of Social, a lot.  Probably too much, myself included.  But this post isn't about Social, media, or the platforms where we talk (this isn't a post about Twitter).

I want to talk about transition.  Transition from a traditional model with deep proven channels at risk, to a new and as-yet undefined model.  Revenue will change.  Your value will change.  Your infrastructure will change.  Your business will change.

This isn't about PR or the Agency, this is about business.  This is about how you make money today, tomorrow and the day after.  This is about how you make forward looking investments in a tough economy, investments that will pay off even after the masses have adopted a new platform or mode of interactivity.

Sure, the trends we are seeing in Social will continue to play out, but Social is not the beginning or the end.  It's part of a much larger story.  Social interactivity, the new connected movements online, are not the future, they are just one piece of it.  Pervasive connectivity will shift the way we socialize and interact with content.  Smart solutions will optimize the way we discover, view, interact with and stay connected with both brands and content. 

Societal trends like the boom of major population centers  will fuel shifts in distribution models.  Product value propositions will change.  Packaging will change (iTunes anyone?).  Price points will change, and attention and trust may well become integral pieces of non-dollar based equity trading.   And of course Promotions will change.  The four Ps are shifting.  By focusing on the pervalent industry buzz (Social), we're missing the bigger picture.  The way that business create equity and profits is changing.

We can talk all we want about the short term implications on Twitter and Facebook, but we're only going to be successful when this insight is layered against real business objectives and goals, when businesses are structured to generate revenue in this shifting world and when real bottom line friendly operations infrastructures exist. 

Industry is shifting.

Step out of the bubble and think about business, not brands.  Think about what makes business tick.  This isn't about brands, it isn't about change for the sake of change and it isn't about Social. It's about marketable value.  Find yours, sell for today, build for tomorrow and keep you head above the clouds.  Social isn't going away, and it's true value hasn't yet been tapped, but this is only the beginning.

So I ask you, what transitions do you fear?  What gets you jazzed and excited?  Where is change happening in your industry?  What steps have you seen smart marketers take to shift their infrastructure, their value in an increasingly connected and grounded world?

college vs kindergarten

Inspired by Auren Hoffman's post here.

In college we learned to think critically.
In kindergarten we learned to play with others.

In college we learned to write properly.
In kindergarten we learned to communicate efficiently and make friends.

In college we learned to write a proper 20 page paper.
In kindergarten we learned to communicate our vision with simple finger paint.

In college we learned to research.
In kindergarten we learned to experience.

In college we studied the philosophy of management.
In kindergarten we learned the value of teamwork.

In college we learned the value of professionalism.
In kindergarten we learned the value of relationships.

80% of what fuels your life was learned in kindergarten.
20% of what makes you a professional capable of leading a team, managing others and speaking with executives, you learned in college.

Don't discount the value of college.  But never forget kindergarten.

And never, never, never discount value of real life perspective.

Is SocialSpark Spam?

405235803_4dd55840d7_o Let's take a step back.  In theory, all advertising and marketing communications that don't belong in their placements are ineffective.  Good messaging organically fits the dynamic in which it is delivered.

The ethicacy (and possible legality) of sponsored posts that fit is a matter of great debate.

But the value of sponsored posts that have do not fit is a joke.  These posts will not perform for the marketer and will diminish the value of the blog and the blogger to their audience.

With that in mind, where does SocialSpark fit?  Firstly, SocialSpark vets their bloggers and has set some guidelines for participation.  Some of their publically available criteria are listed below:

  • Blogs submitted to the marketplace may not include or support: excessive profanity, violence, or racial intolerance, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia, pornography, adult or mature content, or any other content that promotes intolerance, illegal activity, or infringes on the legal rights of others.
  • Minimum Blog Age. Blogs must be live for a minimum of ninety (90) days, counted from the date of the blog's first post, with at least twenty (20) pre-existing posts written in the 90 days prior to registration with the SocialSpark Marketplace.
  • You may post a maximum of three (3) SocialSpark Marketplace Opportunity-related posts per blog in any given day. SocialSpark posts may not appear consecutively on your blog. Each SocialSpark post must be immediately preceded and immediately followed by at least one non-sponsored, original content post. The prohibition on consecutive 'sponsored' posts apply to both SocialSpark Direct and Marketplace Opportunities, as well as other sponsored posts from competitive services.
  • Interim Posts. Your last non Opportunity-related post must have been within the seven (7) days immediately preceding your Opportunity-related post. After any break in blog activity of seven plus (7+) days, interim posts, that is, posts between Opportunity-related posts, submitted on the same day as your paid Opportunity-related posts will not count towards this requirement.
  • Private Posts. Interim posts must not be labeled "Private" or locked out. Interim posts must also be of a reasonable length, at least one (1) paragraph, three (3) to five (5) sentences. If your blog's interim posts lack quality SocialSpark may terminate your account.

So SocialSpark has some quality control.  But does quality control deliver "fits like a glove" integration?

Are SocialSpark's guidelines enough to ensure a good quality fit?  That's for you as a marketer to decide.  But remember, sponsored posts that do not fit do not deliver.

My litmus test: ask yourself, will this generate any value for anyone in the long term?  If the answer is no, it's spam.  If the answer is Yes, but it's evil, then you're probably too focused on buying your success versus building it appropriately.  Stop chasing shortcuts and start earning your place in the conversation.

Recommended Reads
Blog Council on Disclosure
WOMMA on Ethics
Izea's proposed Universal Disclosure manifesto
Andy Sernovitz's Comments and Disclosure Policy (oldie but a favorite)
Lively debate in the comments on TechCrunch - I really hope that whatever agency or communications lead partnered with Commission Junction on these efforts did their homework before writing that PO. I'd hate to be on the other end of that call tomorrow.

journalism hasn't changed

1904818797_3e013c69d4_b Journalism hasn't changed.  Journalists with integrity, strong communications skills and compelling perspectives will be successful, no matter the platform.

The platform has changed.  The styles have changed.  The formats have changed.

But just because you can tweet and blog doesn't make you a journalist.  It makes you someone who can enter information into a form or box.

Tweeting, blogging, Facebook, Ustream, iReport... these are tools and platforms for communications.  Journalism isn't a tool, it's a skill.  And that's all I have to say about that.

twitter : why you shouldn't care about the numbers

Twitter growth sustainable  
Twitter is a tool and it is a community, and yes, it is a fad.

Twitter's traffic will ebb and flow.  But as with all social engagements, metrics don't tell the story that matters.  Success for a platform will won't be in short term spikes, but in cultivating sustainable relationships on the platform, a steady place in the user lifestream.

I don't know that Twitter will be where we socialize in 2020.  But I do know that this user behavior is not going away.  Ignore the buzz.  Do what you need to do, do what you should be doing and lead your own path.

sponsored social promotions: industry next steps

Disclosure: the views expressed in this post and on this blog in no way reflect my employer or my clients.  They are personal observations, and I welcome your feedback in the comments below.

2222265578_0b9f0e0044_b I am speaking as a marketer and as a member of the social audience.

Sponsored promotions and integrations that fit, work.  Period.

Sponsored promotions or integrations that are forced, that do not belong, that are inauthentic and insincere, don't work.

Every inauthentic sponsored promotion or integration a social marketer, a television personality or a blogger engages with lessens the credibility of the personality and the brand in question.

Influencers have earned their influence by building trust and expectations with their audience.  This communications channel, when leveraged appropriately, can be an ethical marketing communications vehicle.  Violating this trust or these expectations will lessen this trust.  Violating this pact repeatedly or an extreme manner will destroy the influencer's influence.

Smart marketers and smart influencers will build solutions that are ethical and sensible for the target audience.  They will have clear and simple statements of disclosure before or in the primary body of their work.

Now, should WOMMA, the IBNMA or the FTC be moderating this discussion?  Are they needed?  Is the Universal Disclosure Registry a real solution?

WOMMA is a wonderful organization, and I aspire to one day to be in a financial situation where I can join.  They have brought scale, best practices, shared learning, education and standards to this business we call social marketing.  Andy Sernovits is a brilliant visionary and I do not know where this industry would be without his founding vision.  That being said, and with all due respect, innovation challenges the status quo.  The market is asking if it's ok for influencers to influence together with a brand partner, and it looks like this may indeed be socially acceptable in the emerging societal standards we call ethical social marketing.  They do it on TV.  They do it at trade shows.  And in the digital social world, they will do it online.  Conversational purity is a utopia, but not one we will find online in the future.  If people are engaging, marketers will market. The conversational dynamic is too powerful a marketing vehicle to be left screaming in silence.

The IBNMA is a wonderful organization, and I look forward to continued dialogue around these issues with the wonderful people at both the IBNMA and WOMMA.  This debate is a lively, informative, inspirational and may help shape the future of this industry.  There are no certainties, so let's keep the discussion going.  I'm all for Paul Chaney's suggestion that we convene at a summit and hash out a central standard.

The FTC belongs in the conversation, but only as a strictly legal governing body.  Big investors should not be influencing the conversation online, much as they cannot commit this fraud offline.  However, if a mommy blogger chooses to write glowing reviews about Disney World after they caught her tweeting about her trip and sent her a free hotel upgrade (fictional example), she has every right to share without inserting full legal disclaimer.

Is the Universal Disclosure Registry the solution?  I'm not sold.  I beta tested a Sony Ericson phone with TMobile, so would it be unethical for me to write about their devices without disclosing that they once sent me a unit for 30 days 6 months ago?  Will agencies sign into a controversial solution when many of their clients are either WOMMA members or are still in the education and ramp up phases in social?  Unlikely.  Will many bloggers sign this pact at the risk of alienation?  Possibly?  Will the Universal Disclosure Registry be THE future of social disclosure?  Not in its present state.

I understand that there need to be ethical standards, but I think the community is already developing them.  When readers were upset at Chris Brogan for participating in a social promotion on his personal blog, they voiced their opinion and he responded in a sensible, rational dialogue.  I trust Chris and will continue to read and recommend his content.  His engagement with his audience is still strong.  He was and continues to be open and honest.  Can we call no harm, no foul?

Marketers will enter the conversation.  Like a good neighbor new to the block, they may even throw a barbeque.  There's nothing wrong with this.  There's a lot wrong with interrupting and misrepresenting.  But not every marketer sponsored message is a disruption!

PayPerPost is not synonymous with sponsored conversation, it's but one example of it.  Smart marketers are doing sponsored blogging extremely well, and the community loves it.  However, we do need a central set of guidelines and instructions for how to execute these efforts ethically (such as altering search syntax on sponsored posts).

There's nothing wrong with some honest, open and respectful conversation.  I look forward to continued discussion in the days ahead.  I may be wrong, I may be crazy.  Feel free to comment below, let's keep the dialogue going.

buying the hype

The upfront model will not die tomorrow.  The media world will not change overnight, nor will it die.  But change has arrived.

The video below may be funny, it may be scary, it all depends on your perspective.  Here's to hoping we can have a laugh, and then get back to doing something about it.

The Mad Ave Blues (video below)

Kudos to my good friend a VC visionary Ahuvah Berger, for sharing.

why the future won't scale

I'm going to say something that will challenge many of you: the future of social monetization will not scale.  And subsequently, the future of advertising, and possibly marketing overall, will not be about traditional models of scale.  Today's models of buy and drive, rinse and repeat are gone.

  1. Advertising?  Find a solution that works, do it regularly, and people will tune it out.
  2. Sponsored posts?  Do it too often, and people will tune you out. 
  3. Promotions?  Sure, they're fun, but how many times will people retweet a message to win a flip camera?
  4. Viral videos?  9 out of 10 fail to garner significant attention.
  5. Special advertiser supported areas in networks?  Good luck not interrupting/annoying as every brand and their sister jump in with the same concept.

So what are brands to do?  Get creative.  Mix, match and integrate.  Rethink your value prop.  Look at the user experience and market to it.  Don't focus on the spots and dots, focus on the value.  Don't just push people to interact, inspire people to talk, to actively engage.  Don't talk about the long tail, create business models that embrace the flexibility of the long tail.  Don't just look at what worked last year, or what your competition is doing, because it's already been done.  The users may have already moved on and lightning doesn't strike twice.

Most importantly, do not measure your digital success by the immediate scale, but by the projected value of each relationship.  You are not the advertising business, the pr business or the corporate communications business.  You are in the people business.  Your responsibility is to drive value to the brand by communicating and engaging with people, in a manner that drives value to the brand.  Real measurable value.

Value is not about scale.  Remarkable purple cows do not remain unique at scale.  Success is not about scale.  Success is in ROI.  Prove your value.  Prove that you belong at the table. 

  • If you are a traditional marketer, demonstrate the value of your 30 second spot by proving that scaled rich broadcasting can inspire sustainable value. Make your dollars go further.
  • If you are in the sopts and dots online business, prove your value in demonstrating and reinforcing a brand message with a meaningful action.  Prove that your diminishing click through rates deserve their allocated budgets.
  • If you work in "social", you're job isn't any easier. Don't just measure impressions, views or activities.  Prove your value. 
  • If you are in PR, don't just measure share of voice.  Demonstrate meaningful relationships, measurable success, impact on the bottom line.
  • If you are a client lead, don't just lean on your agencies.  Push them to integrate.  Reward catalysts for sensible integration and sustainable innovation.  They are in the business of making themselves look good in your eyes.  You are in the lead to drive your brand success.

Tomorrow's market will not look like today's.  The future of marketing success will not be found using a buy, drive, rinse and repeat.  We need to be thinking in terms of listen and strategize, test and buy/communicate, cultivate, measure and learn models.  Scaled solutions will not equal success.  Value will.