Paid Media… Meet Social Media: The New Twitter Model

For three years, many of us skeptics have wondered aloud about the viability of Twitter. Will they sell sponsorships? Can they corporate tools help merit their billion dollar plus valuation? Would power users be wiling to pay for their services? Apparently, the answer is no (or at least not at the core). Instead, Twitter is taking a page out of the paid media book of tricks — but with a social twist.

Witness, the promoted trend. Some of you who still make your way over to Twitter.com may have noticed that at the top of the trending topics list, their is now a little yellow “promoted” box. According to a trusted source, this slot is purchased for 24 hours and as of right now, is selling for somewhere in the $100,000/slot range. While little data has emerged about the success of these promoted trends (or the accompanying promoted tweets), up to 80% of the advertisers who have tested promoted trends and tweets are repeat buyers.

Twitter also has a third product called recommended accounts which they plan to dial up over the coming months (beta tests with select brands ran in September). These accounts can include people, companies and services. What I like about this last model is that it fulfills on the promise of marrying social media (an annuity) with paid media (ongoing costs). It will also put pressure on companies to get strategic about their bio, picture and quality of their tweet streams.

Coming Soon

While I’m still not 100% sold on the value of the sponsored tweet (apparently they are sold on a cost-per-click basis), I do like the idea of the trends and follower recommendations, especially as things like geo, demographic and day-part targeting come into effect (I’m assuming that Twitter has plans for those in the works). All of a sudden, brands will have an opportunity an amazing opportunity to present relevant content via links based on location, profile, current trends and past behavior. And most important of all, this gets done in a place that’s become a regular hang out spot for millions of regulars.

Where things could get really interesting is when tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are fitted for these same types of paid media opportunities. I’m just guessing here but I have a hunch that Tweetdeck’s launch of their latest version that includes real time updates is signaling a tighter integration between Tweetdeck and Twitter (otherwise, I can’t imagine that Twitter would allow Tweetdeck full access to its API). It’s this kind of integration that will prevent Twitter from being disintermediated from itself by the ecosystem of tools and clients that have cropped up over the last three years.

Which brands will be most successful using Twitter’s new paid offerings? I guarantee that any kind of travel and entertainment business will benefit from this. Retailers — particularly around the holidays — should also benefit from the opportunity. B2B will definitely have a tougher time cracking this nut but then again, many B2B companies are more niche advertisers anyway.

What do you think? Will Twitter truly realize it’s billion dollar plus potential this way? I have a feeling that they may just be onto something.

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Quick-n-dirty Podcast Recap 33: Reunited Edition!

About nine months ago, I started a weekly podcast called the Quick-n-Dirty show with my friend and co-host, Jennifer Leggio (Jennifer is a blogger for ZDNet). Jennifer and I take turns recapping the shows on my personal blog and Jennifer’s ZDNet blog but my colleague, Beth Lopez, recently convinced me that I should be cross-posting my re-caps here. If you’d like to see more recaps, you can go here.

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It’s been a few weeks since my podcast partner in crime, Jennifer Leggio, and I have been able to do a Quick-n-Dirty podcast together. For two weeks in a row, travel prevented me from joining her on our weekly show. Fortunately, we had a couple of more than capable substitutes in Brian Solis (author and principal of FutureWorks) and Greg Matthews, director of innovation at Humana. Write ups from the shows with Brian and Greg can be found here and here on Jennifer’s ZDNet blog.

 

This week, Jennifer and I were back in the saddle again with me broadcasting live from Jackson Hole, WY (yes, I took one for the team). We had an action packed show starting with our featured social network of the week, Hollrr. Neither Jennifer or I had had much of chance to play with Hollrr but saw some decent potential in this site that Mashable likens to "Foursquare for product discovery" (full review here). Both Jennifer and I appreciated Hollrr’s off-the-shelf integration with other social networks like Twitter and Facebook and I personally look forward to getting product recommendations from friends and connections. Oh yeah, they have a pretty cool logo too.

Next up was our featured guest (and former "Twitterer of the week,") Simon Mainwaring. If you don’t know Simon, you should. Officially, he is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, author and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries. During this week’s show, Simon shared some fascinating updates from a recent trip he took to the Middle East as a guest of the Brookings Institute. The focus was on social media and foreign policy, two disciplines that traditionally don’t share the same space. I won’t pretend to do Simon’s interview justice so just this one time, I’m MANDATING that you listen to at least Simon’s portion of the show (starts about 7 mins in and runs for aproximately 25 minutes).

Speaking of "Twitterers of the week," this week’s choice was principal of The Community Roundtable (and close friend), Jim Storer. As I mentioned during the show, nobody has done a better job at taking community management skills to Twitter than Jim. Regularly mixing helpful tips, humor, love of bacon and Red Sox commentary into his stream, Jim is a "must add" to anyone’s Twitter follow list irrespective of what industry they are in.

Last but not least, our point/counterpoint focused on one of Jennifer’s recent blog posts, Twitter: Becoming Nothing Special. Jennifer’s post theorizes that the recent announcement of Yahoo’s partnership with Twitter pushes them from "new shiny object" into the merely "ordinary" category. While Jennifer didn’t see this as all bad, she wondered aloud if this might hurt Twitter’s future potential. Taking the opposing side of this issue, I argued that this is exactly what Twitter (and social media) need. Making Twitter and other social networks like "electricity" — something we don’t ever even think about in spite of the critical role it plays in our daily lives — is a good thing. To me, this means that it’s so ingrained in our daily lives, personal and professional, that we can’t live without it.

Looking forward to next week’s show, Jennifer and I will switch places and I will be working with friend and founder of Oneforty, Laura Fitton, as my guest host. Jennifer will be attending the RSA Conference and thus will be out of pocket for this week’s Quick-n-Dirty. I’m sure she’ll want to listen to the show (as will you). Fortunately for her, our shows are archived here and on iTunes (search on "quickndirty").

From Media Pro to Hydroelectric Engineer

DamLast week I wrote a blog post about "Earned Media and Siren Song of Mentions," where I outlined the problem that digital media professionals face when it comes to a world increasingly dominated by social media.

I promised to follow up this week with some ideas for a solution, since where I left off it was looking pretty grim. Have we lost complete control over message, time, and place? What can a media professional actually do in a new world slowly being taken over by the Conversation Stream?

I think the answer has something to do with hydroelectricity.

Hydroelectricity, according to Wikipedia, is “the production of power through use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water.” The hydroelectric engineer doesn’t try to fight gravity, he or she just tries to divert falling water in a natural way so that it flows through turbines and creates energy.

For media professionals, the Conversation Stream is that falling water. The infrastructure you build to divert it, and the way you test and optimize that system over time, is the new structure for engineering brand success.

The Non-Sequitur

Stream - Low RelevancyThe first step to channeling Conversation to drive marketing, of course, is to understand how the Conversation Stream flows. The answer is actually pretty simple – it flows like any other conversation does. The enemy of any hydroelectric engineer is turbulence, and similarly the enemy of a social media pro is social awkwardness. There are lots of ways to be socially awkward, and sadly most of us have probably experienced them at one time or another in our personal lives. You can talk too much and not listen enough. You can be loud, interruptive, talking over others. You can be too quiet and not contribute anything. You can be distasteful or insensitive to others’ situations.

But the most common socially awkward action in social media today is the non-sequitur. It’s the marketer who, in the middle of the Conversation, changes the subject to something obviously self-serving or irrelevant. It happens in the ads along the side of the Stream, and it happens within the Stream itself when marketers tweet or publish a Facebook message that is promotional or faceless.

The commonly referenced solution for low relevancy is segmentation and targeting, but the problem here is less about who sees your ad and more about how they are using sites like Facebook. People watching the Conversation Stream are networking with friends and colleagues, and typically tune out ads. Not only do ads miss frequently on relevance, but the means of delivery isn’t relevant, either. This is why ads on Facebook have historically performed very poorly, even relative to ads bought elsewhere online.

Building Channels for the Stream

Stream - High RelevancyHave you ever observed anyone who is a really good conversationalist? One of highest order skills a conversationalist can have is the ability to elegantly “change the subject.” As a marketing conversationalist who has an end in mind, you need to ignore conversations where they are mentioning your brand (again, earned media is the end, not the means) and seek to join or start conversations about things that might be relevant – but one or two steps away from your brand. This is partly an exercise in smart hunting, but it’s also a numbers game. Only 20% of the Stream is about brands themselves, and a very small fraction of that will be about your brand, according to a recent study by Penn State.

If you are an automaker, go talk about travel. If you sell insurance, you probably know a lot about safety. Selling any type of food item? Tweet about nutrition. As a marketer, it might feel unnatural to focus on messaging that doesn’t push product, but remember that we are joining a Conversation already in progress. People will know you are from a brand (you should always tell them), but if you choose topics of conversation that have some relevancy to your brand it won’t seem weird that you are talking about it.

Once you’ve learned how to have these topical conversations and identified the ones where you can or should play a part, you can take advantage of your ability to facilitate these conversations structurally. By this I mean that instead of just striking up these conversations where they exist on third party networks, you can build digital properties that allow richer or deeper exploration of these relevant topics, and channel the Conversation Stream into them. You are now a hydroelectric engineer not seeking to interrupt or fight the flow, but redirecting it to your purposes.

Why not take this further by facilitating conversations about the category where your products or services exists? Another level of flow that moves the conversation even closer to your brand, but you still aren’t talking directly about yourself. It’s polite.

If Someone’s Interested, They’ll Ask

When someone has moved from a conversation about travel on Facebook to a conversation within your online community devoted to road trips to a conversation about the best cars for road trips, it’s time to give them the opportunity to ask you about one of the cars you make. By simply serving a highly relevant ad at this point, you give them the opportunity to click, and by clicking they are asking you about yourself.

These last-step ads are the turbines in your hydroelectric powerplant, the place where the Stream gets converted into the bottom line results that justify the investment. At every step of the way you haven’t tried to force the conversation, you’ve just helped it along, let it flow, and now a highly self-selected audience is rolling right past ads that are on your own site.

And as the Stream rolls through, it takes nuggets of your brand back with it into the main Conversation. If you are keeping it interesting and serving  visitors, they will recommend your content and conversations, through technologies like Facebook Connect and various social networking APIs (Twitter’s being most notable).

Build vs. Buy

So in the end you are still placing ads. The difference is that the focus has shifted away from the place where people finally encounter the ads (and how you allocated money to buy those placements) to the pathway that they took to get there. By the time they see a product placement, it will seem like the natural next step, not an interruption, and as a media pro you will need to expand your skills to deliver that experience.

Does this mean you’ll have to start thinking like an online publisher? Yes. Does it mean that you’ll have to expand your skills to include digital development? Yes.Being a steward of a conversational brand means you will have to build the content and code that creates a pathway that is uniquely relevant and appropriate to you.

But take heart, media (be in paid or earned) is still about reaching out and forming new connections with your audience, and you’ve been doing that for
years. The difference is that now that connection begins much farther away, upstream.

Earned Media and the Siren Song of Mentions

Almost anyone who knows anything about interfacing with customers or prospective customers through the Networks (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) will tell you that you should start by listening.

So most marketers’ first step is to set up a monitoring tool (maybe expensive, maybe as simple as a free keyword search on Twitter). Then, the first experience that almost every media marketer (or marketer, period) has after listening to the Networks for a bit is that the brand, product, or company they are representing will be mentioned. When this happens (“just bought a Honda at Carmax, great experience!”), it will make a positive and socially important impression on everyone who views it. This is exciting because it is essentially a free media placement, a nugget of gold dropped into people’s news or Twitter feeds that didn’t cost you anything! This type of mention is often called “earned media,” earned because your company created a great customer experience that made someone tell their friends.

The excited marketer who has just read a positive mention will often jump right to, “How do I make more of that happen?,” or “How can I make that person talk more about it, more often?” The sad reality is, you can’t, or you shouldn’t try. The critical thing about the Conversation Stream from a media pro’s perspective is that while you can participate if you want, there is no media plan for earned media.

Featuring earned media in your traditional media is a good idea, but it’s still you talking at the base of it, not your customers. And spending money to get people to blog or mention you (i.e. free food for becoming a fan on Facebook) rings hollow in the social space. You have to disclose your investment (not doing so is a surefire way to Social and now, Legal Doom). The minute you do that, people tune out in a very subtle but profound way.

The only truism related to earned media is that you should create a great experience for your customers that they will want to talk about, and then hope that they do (I call this the Zappos Way). This is all fine and good, but the customer experience is the department of product managers, interaction designers, and customer service personnel. These folks have very real tactical reasons to react to mentions.

However, the job of the media professional is to be proactive, to be the engineers of brand success by connecting marketplace to product or brand experience in a powerful way, grabbing attention and creating engagement out of nothing. Measuring earned media is a great way to see how you’re doing (you should listen for that purpose), but sitting back and hoping to earn earned media isn’t a marketing strategy.

So what’s a media marketer to do? What’s your perspective? I’d love to hear in the comments. I’ll lend mine in my next post, "Becoming a Hydroelectric Engineer," due later this week.

Engagement vs. Serendipity

Cross-posted from http://blog.stroutmeister.com

Earlier this morning, my Twitter friend, Michael Calienes who is also the co-founder of The Conversation Factory, tweeted out a clip he did on video social network, 12 Seconds. You can watch for yourself but for those of you that prefer the written word, Michael’s question was “What if over the next couple of weeks you un-followed everyone who’s never engaged with you on Twitter?”

What I liked about Michael’s question was that it wasn’t an “eff you” kind of statement but rather a thoughtful one. His follow up question was, “Do you think it would improve the relationships you have with the people who do engage with you?”

12sec

What I liked most about this quick video was that it got me thinking about engagement vs. serendipity, two things that are possible more now than ever via social media. The first concept, engagement, is obviously something that is high on any marketer’s priority list. The second, serendipity, is something that we love when it comes our way but rarely do we feel like we have much control over the phenomenon. To me, that is really the beauty of Twitter because it allows both to happen simultaneously.

But that’s not what Michael asked in his clip this morning. He wanted to know would paring down on followers that are essentially “dead weight” allow us to spend more time with the people that matter. In essence, this is something that I think we all grapple with in life in general.          

So here’s my answer… as tempted as I am to pare down my 8,000+ followers, I never will. You know why? Because every day someone new who was in the list of “haven’t previously engaged with” crops up and adds value to my life. There are a few personal examples of how this has helped here and here It’s also been invaluable in my professional life helping me helping me drive leads, create partnerships, find podcast/blog interviewees, or even land speaking engagements.

What do you think? If you had your druthers, would you slim down the number of people you engaged with based on reciprocity? Or are you like me — willing to roll the dice based on the possibility of what might be?