Social Technology from the Mean Streets

bench-pressThe web, from a technical perspective, is orders of magnitude more complex than it used to be. What used to amount to the creation and layout of graphic files and text on a page has blossomed into a network of websites that look more like applications than publications.

Most of this complexity is due to the fact that interactive has gotten more, well, interactive – with users putting as much content into websites as they are getting out. (this is of course referred to in many circles as “Web 2.0”  <shudder>)

In the area of marketing this has introduced the need for technology investment. When the interactive agency of the Year 2000 built a website, they essentially started from the ground up or with a very basic content management system every time.

In short order, website marketing evolved into CRM and loyalty/relationship marketing – where users were registering, taking polls/surveys, receiving automated emails, and being served custom content based on their preferences. It was at this stage that it became more efficient to reuse technology, as many relationship marketing programs had these common elements that supported interaction between the user and the brand.

As a result, many agencies created platforms, some investing so much in their platforms that they found they could specialize in executing loyalty/relationship marketing strategies specifically – companies like Brierley and LoyaltyLab.

Social technology continues this evolution in the same direction, from content management to relationship management to now, social management. Not only are even deeper user-to-brand interactions supported, but user-to-user interactions as well. And the technology is more complex than ever.

In fact, the benefits of platform development have escalated to the point where now the platforms are businesses in and of themselves, no longer requiring an agency shell to remain viable. Companies like Jive, Mzinga, Lithium, and many, many others dot the interactive landscape.

The issue is that not all community technologies followed the marketing evolutionary path – many didn’t cut their teeth on the Mean Streets of Web 1.0. In this case, when technology comes from the “Social Suburbs,” it often lacks many web marketing fundamentals – things like content management, email campaign management, robust analytics, a contextual product/call-to-action catalog and ad placement engine, and contextual site search.

Don’t get me wrong, marketing is certainly not the only goal for building an online community. With objectives that are more networking-oriented, the technology doesn’t need to be a hardened marketing platform. Social point solutions and standalone social tools (many of them free) work well to build community for non-marketing purposes – intranets, niche enthusiast groups, etc.  This is why Ning, the ad-supported  social networking platform, is popular and works from a business perspective. It didn’t require the investment that a marketing platform would require.

It also contributes to the reason why companies that separate the platform business from an agency shell are profitable endeavors – they can sell to the non-marketing side of their propective customers.

But in order to build community for the purpose of marketing, the new-school social widgets must be integrated and layered over an old-school enterprise-class content and relationship management foundation. It must add new types of interactions on to the legacy built by earlier versions of interactive marketing, and the platform must still be  tightly integrated with the functions of an agency (strategy/creative/measurement), either through a partnership or one-stop shop approach.

The key, as with any technological decision, is simply to pick the right tool for the job, not to buy a hammer and treat every community like a nail. And from a corporate perspective, it’s not to overspend for networking or underspend for marketing.

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MorphMonkey: Social gets viral on Facebook

MorphMonkey
My reaction to the new MorphMonkey marketing campaign on Facebook is… well awkward. It just makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Yet that’s the point.

A press release from the American Social Health Association explains the campaign:

“In an unusual creative move, a team at Duval Guillaume (DG) has agreed to spread an infectious disease by working with the American Social Health Association (ASHA). The aim is to… highlight the dangers of Chlamydia to young people during April, which is STD Awareness Month. …(The team) devised a Facebook application called MorphMonkey in which users are invited to “make a love child” by morphing pictures of their own faces with that of their friends.

The humor then takes a different turn. The infected user is notified that they have caught the infection from their friend and is prompted to discover more on the ASHA website: www.ashastd.org. The message is “Spread it here so we can beat it here”, according to all involved with the program.”

I learned about this new application from a post on TechCrunch. I find the comments below the post interesting to get the social buzz. The campaign is quite edgy in that the MorphMonkey application page on Facebook makes no mention of Chlamydia. Essentially participants… dare I say it… get caught with their pants down.

Here’s the MorphMonkey application page on Facebook.

Marketing 2015: Where everybody knows your name

Whether it’s Google’s fault or not, the web is getting smarter. The technology itself is moving toward a place where it understands more about who you are as a user, and what it’s showing you inside of your browser. Years from now these developments will have a profound effect on web experience for users, and it will have a profound effect on the economics of online influence for marketers. What will it all look like?

Search becomes Artificial Intelligence. Right now, search engines merely seek to show you something relevant to the keywords you typed in based on much-guarded, mysterious, and ever-changing algorithms. But these algorithms are limited because they are based on keywords, and as even Shakespeare lamented, words have their limitations. As the semantic web becomes a reality, search engine technology will break free of words and actually gain an essential understanding of what web pages ARE – beyond the words on them. This will make search engines more like a search “brain”, which will be able to synthesize the web to meet your needs – once it understands what those needs are.

Your identity unlocks your web. But even if next-generation search engines understand the web better than ever before, the understanding of what you need is still limited to the keywords you input, right? Well, there are big changes there as well. OpenID is the movement to unlock your identity from the websites where it is most established (think LinkedIn, Facebook, or MySpace profiles) and make it portable, such that when you arrive at a new website it will be able to know who you are. This goes beyond solving the inconvenience of managing a multitude of login profiles – it means that websites could understand your interests, your web usage, your shopping habits (provided you let them). The implications are sweeping. The web can then unfold itself to you in a way that it doesn’t for anyone else, and the gatekeepers for making that happen will be the next-generation search engine. Google and others will eventually know you, and know the web, such that it might at times seem as if it is reading your mind.

The web as one big social network. If you unlock your identity from any specific website, it follows that you will also be able to unlock your social connections in the same way. An unlocked set of connections that you have to other people is often referred to as your “social graph.” You may be thinking how nice it will be that you won’t have to put all that work in to “friend” people as much, you’ll only have to do it once and then you can take it with you. Actually, the way that is done will change too. Friending will cease to be the main means of establishing your social graph. You see, the communication technology you are using (for older folks it is email, for younger folks it is IM and texting) is listening. It’s learning who you communicate with and how often, and about the length and nature of that communication. It knows more about your true social graph than you probably do, and in the future it will be able to make that graph portable and attach it to your now-portable identity. Signs of this happening are already evident. Google’s OpenSocial platform and Social Graph API are great indicators.

The web experience in 2015 will be one where you take your identity and your network with you, and semantic search engines and websites will respond (if you let them) by showing you where your friends are and what content most meets your needs.

How does this affect online influence and marketing? Some of that is already being explored by the folks who are dealing with marketing in the insulated social networking environments that exist today. The successes and failures there are being well documented and adding to professional understanding of best and worst practices, so I won’t try to cover that ground here.

The key thing to understand about this 2015 vision is that in the future social networks won’t be a side attraction to the main flow of information on the Internet – they will be the Internet. Those who explore and begin to understand the dynamics of that new environment by playing in it today will be well-positioned to lead, while others may be left behind.

25 Online Whacks to Boost Your Creativity

Roger von Oech’s classic “A Whack on the Side of the Head” just turned 25.Roger von Oech’s classic “A Whack on the Side of the Head” just turned 25. I used this book a lot in college and at my first agency job. We’d do a few of the exercise to kick start our creative sessions. This led to numerous fresh ideas.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of this creative classic has just been released. It is updated and features many new exercises, puzzles and more. There’s a good interview with von Oech at Guy Kawasaki’s blog on Sun’s SMB site.

Check out Roger von Oech’s Creative Think blog. My favorite part is his online creative whack. Just click on Roger’s photo at the top of the page and a new creative exercise comes up. A few of my favorites include Avoid Arrogance, Imagine You’re the Idea and Slay a Dragon.

Whether you’re working on an online community, creating original content or writing for a blog – these brain teasers will help you stay on your creative toes.

ANA 2008 Brand Innovation Conference in NYC

“Brand Building 2.0” is the manner marketers use to effectively reach and relate to their audience in today’s world. This method employs more than just digital media, such as the Internet and mobile devices. It requires consumer empowerment. This was the topic at last week’s ANA Conference at the Hard Rock Café Times Square in New York.

Presentations were made by such respected brands as American Express, P&G and Ford. Of these, Claire Bennett’s discussion on “How new media has enhanced the American Express brand” was the most compelling. “It takes risk” was her summation about creating online marketing programs. Courage was the word she pin-pointed as the important take away.

American Express Members Know web site

It also takes time, explained Bennett. Her experience has shown that program ROI can not be realistically expected in the first year. A web site needs an opportunity to build momentum through trial and error, refinement, cross media promotion and WOMM. American Express strives to create marketing programs that “surprise and delight.” AMEX had only two such web sites in 2004, but now has eight successful ones, including MembersKnow and OpenForum.

Zappos 2007 Culture Book

The most interesting presentation at the conference was made by Tony Hsieh. He is the CEO of Zappos “a service company that happens to sell shoes.” The business is steadfastly focused on culture and service. The vast majority of their marketing budget goes into improving the customer experience. This includes stocking millions of shoes in their warehouse, providing exceptional and untimed call center support and surprise overnight shipping upgrades. Items not normally found in a marketing mix.

The goal is to create as many “wow moments” as possible. This creates loyalty and referral business. The approach is working. Zappos was started in 1999 and is expected to achieve over a billion in sales this year.

The Zappos culture is shaped by passion, fun, values and humility. Their core values are published on their web site. And a Zappos Culture Book is published each year featuring entries by all employees of the company – even negative comments. This radical transparency and humility seems present throughout Zappos.

I find the Zappos brand refreshing and empowering – so much so that I placed an order at Zappos this morning. In addition to the cool Paul Frank monkey shirt I bought for my son, I ordered the Zappos 2007 Culture Book. I paid $15 for it despite the fact that Tony Hsieh said he would send me one free if I emailed him. I just felt compelled to support the Zappos brand, culture and employees. Now that’s brand innovation.

How Blogs & Social Media Are Changing Crisis Communications

Flight cancellations from American Airlines created a lot of news coverage and consumer angst this week. The result of wiring problems on MD-80 airplanes, this situation got me thinking about how the involved communications teams are responding.
Are they holding cards close to the vest or communicating openly?
Are they leveraging the Internet and social media?
An American Airlines MD-80 during take off.
How are consumers reacting online?
 
American Airlines’ customers have been highly inconvenienced, with over 2500 flights cancelled. Their home page had a single line: “ADVISORY: AIRCRAFT INSPECTIONS AFFECT SOME AA TRAVEL.” This linked to a simple page of text summarizing the situation. It was not all that helpful.
 
American Airlines’ chairman Gerard Arpey’s press conference today is already up on YouTube (uploaded by a consumer, not American Airlines). In the video, he personally accepts responsibility and apologizes for the problems. Other videos tagged with “American Airlines” posted on YouTube.com this week have been viewed over 20,000 times.

In the blogosphere, Greta van Susteren’s post on the subject has created a good amount of consumer conversation with nearly 50 responses since 11am this morning.

These events show how consumer conversations take place in real time online. Communication professionals need to account for this in crisis communications plans. We need to monitor, analyze and interact with the blogosphere and UGC communities before, during and after such events.
 
As advisors in social media, we have a responsibility to encourage and facilitate a more open conversation in the market. This is even more important in difficult times.

The Gratitude Effect: Building Consumer Loyalty

Powered recently updated our web site. This update includes a series of videos detailing things such as social commerce, consumer engagement and the gratitude effect. These videos can be viewed on the Powered web site or at the Powered page on YouTube.

Here’s a sample video about the Gratitude Effect.
Learn what the gratitude effect is, where it originated, and how Powered has implemented it into its social commerce programs.