Friday, December 31, 2010

What does Twitter and a Charles Dickens novel have in common?

Answer: Both have 140 characters.

2010 may well be the year remembered for marking the watershed between old and new media. After all, this is the year in which the odds-on favorite movie to win the Best Picture Oscar is about a a bunch of geeks writing social media software. It's also the year were the WSJ among others foresaw a social media bubble emerging. But whether Twitter, Facebook and the rest are really worth their extravagant evaluations is almost beside the point; it is unlikely that by the end of the next decade we will have any US daily newspapers, and the conventional information economy will have been reinvented.

But that isn't why I'm writing on New Year's Eve. This fall my eldest daughter was in the school play Oliver!, and this encouraged me to reread the book. It is a dark tale world's away from the jaunty musical, though many of the significant characters like Bumble, The Artful Dodger and Fagin are similar and true. It's a great, long novel (originally serialized in monthly installments) full of the usual Dickensian cacophony of character and plot. Over the holidays I also started Paul Murray's new and excellent Skippy Dies; at over 600 pages, it too is packed with character and plot, humor and tragedy. So my question is this: Is the sea-change in the media world ensuring the end of this kind of rich, detailed and thoughtful discourse? Nick Carr thinks so, and he's not alone; his eloquence had me convinced. And truthfully, what passes today for "news" in the new media world fills me with dread.

But I'm no longer to pessimistic. My eldest daughter is also an addicted reader, and The Hunger Games series got to her. It's on my list to read too,  but I'll be doing this on our ipod. There is a real social media bubble, and it will burst. But new media has already destroyed the conventional economic model for how mass media works, and how we get information, art, entertainment, even friends... But there is plenty of room for 140 characters, be they Bumbles and Fagins or A and Bs. Information of value, stories that sell... the content itself will likely not change much at all. McLuhan's prophecy is at best only partly true; the medium is rarely the message.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

FTC's “Do Not Track” Proposal is a Victory for Online Privacy and a wake-up call for Marketing and PR

Earlier this month the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a landmark report proposing new guidelines for guarding online privacy. Among a wide range of suggested options the most concrete and far reaching is a recommendation to develop and mandate a “do not track” system. This system would allow users to prevent websites from collecting any information about their identity or their online behavior without first getting consent.

This is great news for advocates of online privacy and a blunt wake-up call to marketing and PR professionals.

Increasingly we all live online lives – we shop, socialize, entertain ourselves and conduct our business via the Web. And increasingly, our every move online is being tracked and recorded, building up a rich composite picture of who we are, what we do, and how we act. At worst, this results in gross invasions of privacy or the loss of personal information; at best, it allows website owners to customize experiences to our liking and even anticipate and predict what we're searching for or what might interest us.

For marketing pros, the news is mixed. We've all become accustomed to being able to gather – usually anonymously, usually without consent – a lot of information about how customers and prospects act online. This helps tell us which campaigns and offers work, how people navigate around our site, and even when someone returns to us and starts to show behaviors that would indicate they're moving down a sales process. These data make it possible for marketing to create an almost closed-loop measurement of a prospect lifecycle, and have created a whole new industry for tools that help aggregate and process this data.

If the FTC has its way, much of this could go away.

This is not a new problem. Back in the day, when direct mail was the cutting edge of response marketing, the Direct Marketing Association waged a bitter fight to ensure any “prior consent” legislation never made it through the US Congress. Similar fights have waged around “do not call” lists and telemarketing.

But with the Internet, the stakes are higher. There are too many unresolved security issues and too much latitude in what information is being taken from us. The FTC proposal is the right idea and should be supported.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feeling Listless

December looms, the Month of Lists and prognostications. For example:

Five essential tips for traveling with your dog

Five vital components to succeed in business

Five things to consider when choosing an eating disorder cure

Conspiracy Theories: Top Five List

And there's a whole sub-genre just for social media:

Five ways social media will change journalism

5 Tips to Bring Out Your Inner Social Media “Kung Fu”

Five ways social media can save you money

5 Ways Social Media Marketing Can Help Your Business

5 stages of a blogger's life

5 Ways to become a Better Blogger

Keep in mind, this is just a recent sampling of the “Fives” -- Ten seems to be the preferred list length, Letterman-style. But whatever the length, the List Blog Post is getting very tired. In fact, if I were to list my Top 5 Things I Dislike about Social Media, Lists would be on the list. And solely in the interests of completeness, here's the other four items:

  1. Authenticity
    There's a lot of unnecessary punditry claiming a greater authenticity in social media; A belief that somehow bloggers, Twitterers and the rest are encouraged by the form to exercise greater veracity and to hove closer to the facts of thing. Apparently, it just doesn't do to overtly sell, blatantly misinform or pretend to be other than who you are. Why social media should change a long media tradition of peddling falsehoods eludes me. Not that I'm advocating this, mark you, just that I have a more realistic expectation of what people do. And indeed, are doing. Social media is no more authentic than any other medium – in fact, the form invites some invention and evasion. While it might be theoretically best to be authentic and open, the evidence suggests social media hasn't changed basic human nature much at all.

  2. unNews
    More is often less. There are 20 zillion bloggers and countless online news organizations, but there really isn't any more news in the world. Almost everything we read online is regurgitation, the retreading of actual news from other places. What social media has done is given everyone the right to express an opinion; A noble thing, but often confusing and sometimes an obfuscation to the facts of the news.

  3. Paradigm Shiftiness
    I'm tired of reading how social media is changing the known universe, reinventing marketing and altogether turning our world upside down. The shifty characters peddling paradigm shifts have some well-argued points to make, and there's no question that the media landscape has forever changed. It's also true that many of these experts stand to make money if we all buy into their paradigminess.

  4. Polarizing Bears
    When Sarah Palin talks about her Momma Grizzly Bears, she could more accurately be referring to Polarizing Bears. Especially in political circles, social media has become hostage to extremes. Instead of encouraging dialogue it encourages division. It has become the home of the zealot and the fringe.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Barcelona Declaration

Copyright: Diesel
When you're in the business of buzz it's very easy to get an enlarged sense of self. Marketing and PR types are professionally prone to ego-inflation; it just comes with the territory.

This came to mind when I heard about the recent Barcelona Declaration, an initiative from the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) and others that attempts to provide standards for public relations measurement. What initially stuck me wasn't the ideas presented but the name chosen, with its evocation of a great place and a hardly accidental allusion to other great places and monumental ideas: Yalta, Camp David, Reykjavik. It sniffed of self importance and grandiosity. It made me think of Churchill chomping cigars and dividing up nation-states, not dudes in suits thinking of clever ways to find the value in a press release.

Well, its clear from the IPR's introduction to the Declaration principles that I have this wrong. If anything, these guys are underselling. See if this doesn't quash your expectations:

The [Declaration] language may not yet be perfect - and on the surface, some of the principles may seem obvious - but this is a credible attempt by some 200 people from more than a dozen countries to address the need for clear standards and common approaches to measuring and evaluating public relations results.

Let me first agree that most of the principles are indeed obvious, but this doesn't mean that they're not valuable. We might all agree that goal setting and measurement are important, or that measuring both quantity and quality is critical to good measurement. Hardly the partitioning of Berlin, but it needs to be said.

Later principles talk about outcomes-over-activity and the need to link PR (and marketing) to business outcomes. This is where the Declaration gets serious and meaningful.

My question is, why now? The answer, I suspect, is because now we can. The advent of online technologies, social media and advanced CRM systems make finding the complex equations that link activities to business success (sales, in my world) possible. Traditionally, a lot of marketing value was linked to ideas of awareness and familiarity, but rarely beyond that. Today, we can see how marketing campaigns play a role audience actions. And this means measurement becomes critical.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is it really time to bury the marketing funnel?

Last week, Forrester's Steve Noble wrote an excellent blog who's title pretty much says it all: It's time to bury the marketing funnel. In marketing circles this is the rough equivalent of John Boehner telling Congress that, come to think about it, tax hikes just make a whole lot of sense. The Funnel is a matter of marketing doctrine and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.

Lest we've forgotten, The Funnel is the way marketing tracks raw awareness and the subsequent conversion to consideration and eventual sale. Critically, The Funnel serves as a way of tracking leads and provides a handover to sales. It is also the usual way for marketing to justify value to the business: Various metrics around opportunity value are common and give a gage of the net return campaigns generate. Sales management tools all use some variant on The Funnel as a way to instill discipline and process around marketing and sales. The Funnel has been around for eons almost unchanged. It works well, by and large.

So why change things? Why muck around with success?

Noble has some good arguments: Customers exist in a lifecycle; marketing isn't a conveyor belt process; the model ignores complexity; it's really geared toward a volume sales model. All true. And Noble proposes a new model that is indeed a lifecyle. I like his proposal but I'm still reluctant to leave The Funnel behind... Here's why.

First, I think there was always an acknowledgment that the classic Funnel was a simplification. Real life is convoluted and nonlinear and irrational. Customers don't behave is a fixed pattern. We all tend to behave differently in high and low involvement purchasing situations, we're fickle and have changing attitudes and desires. We suffer from buyer remorse. But these complexities have been known for a long time and arguably one of the benefits of The Funnel is it irons all this complexity out, and provides a neatened way to track meaningful outcomes.

Second, things definitely have changed in marketing - customer behavior may have changed. For sure, that behavior is more transparent and measurable in our always-online world, which also draws attention to certain attributes of prospects and customers that may have been hidden in the past. I definitely agree that this new insight should be used to inform marketing better, but does this mean we flush The Funnel?

All this said, Noble's right to focus on the marketing model. Marketing is undergoing a noisy revolution, provoked by technology, changing consumer behavior, and a renewed interest in refining processes to more accurate reflect our complex world. Getting the model right will inform everything else: process, programs and metrics.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Secrets and Lies

It's no secret that there's no secrets anymore. We all live untidy online lives and leave behind a trail – little pieces of information, small actions, and fragmented facts – that others can too easily follow to reconstruct a whole picture of Who, What and Where.

Secrets come in many flavors. Google's Eric Schmidt boasts about his company's ability to identify our predilections, better to serve content and advertising. An amazing 5% of the US population was a victim of identity theft in 2009, accounting for $54 billion in fraud. Popular computer repair outfit The Geek Squad have become the new best friend of the Feds, discovering and reporting illicit content on computer hard-drives.

The newest fertile ground for uncovering our secret selves is social media. Technorati calls social media a “playground” for ID thieves. A friend who advises High School kids on how to stay out of trouble has one big admonishment: if you think it's risky, don't photograph it, don't post it, don't IM it. Everything is evidence. Loose lips used to sink ships; now they sink careers, reputations, and lives.

Social media have long been active in this newly capitalized muckracking. Twitter, Facebook and the rest need to make money, and this means that they need to infiltrate our online identities, and use or sell the information they gather. This can be as innocent as matching anonymous demographic information to placed advertising, or as nefarious as data mining exquisite details about our finances and friends.

And now, social media metrics tools are being put to the same end, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reports that Nielsen and its social media business BuzzMetrics opened an account at PatientsLikeMe, then began to siphon off information about participants on discussion groups. So, even if social media sites themselves provide safeguards or permission barriers around your personal information, monitoring and measurement tools can still scrape data about you.

It may be too easy to find our secrets, but it is often impossible to isolate the truth of things. In this month's Atlantic magazine, Michael Hirschorn reports on how online discourse allows all sides to invent their own set of facts, and that this has pernicious consequences. Twelve percent of Americans believe their president is a Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center. An amazing 41 percent of Republicans believe Obama was foreign-born, which if true would make him ineligible to be president. Opinion has always blurred facts, but increasingly it's impossible to take anything on face value – even so-called news.

In an old post I'd borrowed the old joke, “on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog” to illustrate how easy it is to mask reality online, and how vital it is to establish authenticity and source credibility. This is true, but things are also more complicated: It's hard to reconcile that our personal identities – the facts of who we are- are being strip mined, yet at another level it's all too easy to propagate patent lies.

There is so much information today, and who controls it matters.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Questions to ask your prospective social media listening, monitoring and measurement vendor

Last I checked, there are an astonishing 88 products that claim they can support social media measurement. When shopping for a solution, this overabundance renders most marketing types catatonic. We're confused by this surplus. The vendors themselves don't help us; desperate to differentiate themselves, they claim increasingly improbable capabilities and use clever obfuscation to suggest they are somehow unique and better than anyone else.

All this came to mind this week when I attended the Monitoring Social Media event in Boston. Various vendors and consultants – and sadly, not enough end-users – presented their views on how best to listen, measure and respond to social media activity. Whether you decide to use free tools or invest in a commercial solution, here's my takeaway on the key questions to ask vendors about their products:

The output of any social media tool is only as good as the inputs. Verify exactly what primary social media properties the tool monitors, and the depth that it can reach on each. Find out how blogs are monitored, and how you can add sources and if that's easy.
Also ask how much history the tool supports – how long is content archived? Finally, ask about foreign language capabilities, and to what extent the tool supports non-English content.

To make a tool useful you need to tell it what interests you, so it can retrieve and sort content. Usually, this is done using familiar Boolean logic, not unlike with a Google search. Check how sophisticated and granular the search and monitoring capabilities are. Ask about other ways to search, train or query the system – some support so-called natural language searches, for example.

My colleague Tangyslice has endured agonies with a commercial social media tool that failed dismally to effectively filter-out spam and duplicate information. A manual attempt to do this couldn't keep pace with the innovation of spammers, who seem to mutate and multiply constantly. Check that a tool can filter effectively.

This is where most people initially focus. Find out what the system can count. Can the system find relationships between data? How does it determine the salience of a source or other data? Can it detect sentiment, and for what? What about the valence of information or sources (in other words, how 'importance' or significance)?

Reporting & Alerting:
How are you going to present the data? What actions do you need to take with the information? How can you automate reporting, or send alerts to the right people in your organization? Its easy (at least for me) to get seduced by snazzy reporting engines that generate gorgeous graphs and charts, but often simple alerts and custom dashboards are a better approach. Think this through.

Do you need to connect the system to others tools – say, a CRM solution, or another data mining product? Does the system easily support this?

Some systems are designed as self-service solutions that require the customers to drive and tweak. Others require a layer of professional services to make the tool work and to customize it. Think about what fits your needs.

There's a lot of free stuff out there, and its possible to cobble-together a pretty good reporting system using Google, Tweetdeck and a few other tools. Beyond that, there's a layer of product in the $50-$100 a-month range that many tell me aren't very useful. Beyond that, expect to pay $400+ a month for a sophisticated product that covers a wide range of sources, can be customized, and will cover most company's needs (prices are for a single initial user).

Good luck! Let me know what I missed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's not social media, it's social me.

Some days, my Twitter feed seems like nothing more than narcissism. And Facebook, MySpace, YouTube – even the names seem designed to inflate egos. As for blogs, the typical post can be conveniently summarized thus:

Me me me me. Me me me me. Me me, me me me me me me me me. Me me me – me me me me me. Me me me me. Me me me me. Me.

For all the talk, all the conversations, all the to and fro, is anyone really listening?

This all came to mind one night, working late. I happened to look at the Twitter feed of a self-professed Famous Social Media Guru, a man who actually claims “inventions” in the field and runs a successful business telling people that unless they engage with social media right this second their brand, their careers, and possibly the world will all come to a sticky end. His Twitter feed is a relentless stream of self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and unalloyed self-congratulation. He claims to follow over 2,500 people on Twitter, an impossible task and a transparent technique to amass as many of his own followers as possible. His heavily trafficked blog is an unaccompanied Variation On A Theme Of Me, with occasional intermissions in which he pays tribute to other Gurus in a virtuous cycle of ebullient backslapping. He's not alone; there's a whole boatload of these characters. It makes me grind my teeth and want to go to a distant Trappist Monastery with a vow of silence and not even a dial-up connection to the Internet.

And it isn't just egos that are getting over-inflated. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that investors are bidding up Internet and social media startups to levels reminiscent of the last Dot-Com boom. As straight-up, lets-make-money businesses, you have to wonder about the prospects of these social media outfits. We are, to paraphrase Gartner Research and Charles Dickens, at the peak of inflated, bubble-bursting, Great Expectations.

But wait. Might we be throwing out the proverbial baby here?

Can social media make business sense? For sure. In my day job, we use it very effectively to communicate with key stakeholders, and we've made major public announcement over our blog, with great success. It gives us transparent access to our customers, partners and fellow workers, and we get direct, fast, and unvarnished feedback in a way that was impossible with other media.

Can we link social media to real business outcomes that matter – say increased profits, happier customers, or lower overhead? Anecdotally yes, but we've still a long way to go. And lets face it, anecdotes don't count. This is why I remain convinced that measurement is the problem to crack. Measure the right things, and the right result will follow. In the meantime, see you at the monastery.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Update: A Definitive List of Social Media Measurement & Metrics Tools

Back in April this year I created a list of currently available tools that support social media measurement and metrics. I found 82 products on the market but confessed that I was pretty sure I'd missed things. I was right, and I got a flurry of comments and emails with corrections and additions.

The list has grown to 88 product. I've added MBlast, MediaHound, Meltwater News, PRMetrics, Sysomos, Crimson Hexagon (taking the heavily contested award for the Most Esoteric Name), and UberVU. Sorry I missed you all, my oversight. I've also removed a couple of entries and made a bunch of other corrections.

You can find the complete and updated list here.

Sorry it's taken me this long to update the list. As always, keep your updates and corrections coming.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Naked Enterprise

This morning, I listened to an excellent panel discussion chaired by Harvard Business Review's Eric Hellweg, with Novell CMO John Dragoon, Forrester's Andre Pino, HP Hood's Lynne Bohan, and Evan Falchuk from Best Doctors. The topic was The Impact of Social Media.

What became immediately obvious was how social media is laying organizations bare. Nothing is hidden. As barriers to communication have fallen, so has the ability to obfuscate, to hide, or to forestall. It also means that everyone in an organization has a megaphone, so everyone is involved in the message. This is a good thing.

PR has become a team sport. Increasingly, PR teams need to subsidize news creation and increasingly own content and news output. To do this they'll need expertise. And to be effective in today's media environment they will need a chorus of voices all on key, all singing from the same tune. This requires the active support of much of the organization – marketing, sales, HR, product development, support, and executive leadership – all on the front lines, all participating and engaged with the myriad conversations taking place.

This will involve PR relinquishing some of the control we're used to – we need to give a wide network of people in our organization the skills, confidence and ability to work directly with media and with key audiences. We need to harmonize this process. As a result, PR will take a more strategic role in the marketing organization.

These changes will also involve us cultivating talent inside our organization so they can participate. For me, this is one of the hardest steps in creating a successful PR program that adds real value to the organization. Getting engaged with new and social media can often appear to be “free”, but actually soaks up considerable time, and hence resources. Persuading often overworked colleagues to engage with social media can often be difficult.

This is just one reason that building-out “observing” capabilities is such a crucial first step. By listening, monitoring, measuring and reporting on the conversations taking place about your organization, brand or product, you can start to understand relationships, influence, and salience, and focus on where and how to get involved for maximum impact. You can also monitor how effective your activities are in driving involvement and participation from audiences – and all this will help justify the resources needed to sustain a long-running social PR program.

Starting with “observing” is also the first step towards engaging with the larger marketing organization in a meaningful, data-driven way. The strategic value of PR can be measured and articulated, and we can show this value at every stage of the sales process – from driving awareness to helping close a deal, and on to cultivating ongoing loyalty to a brand.

This is the level at which we need to think in PR – of course we need to understand the technologies that are enabling new media, or the techniques to attract the right audience to your corporate blog. And of course we still need to do what we have been doing well – crafting a tight message, sending our the release. But too often the level of conversation is about whether to use a conventional press release or a so-called social media release. This is a tactical discussion that has merit, but PR has the potential to engage in a strategic discussion about how effective communication, as a critical component of marketing, can drive meaningful business outcomes – sales, better customer satisfaction, greater profitability.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Reflex Dilemma

I've just finished listening to an excellent series of presentations on social media hosted by Vocus, and among the speakers was the justly famous (at least in marketing circles) David Meerman Scott.

In suitably rapid-fire fashion David talked about, to quote from his book blurb for Real-Time Marketing & PR, the “opportunities (and threats) inherent in today's always-on, 24x7, instant business environment” His latest opus is all about speed, being first, tempus fugit, etc, etc. Watching him rush about the stage as he presented, you can't help but admire his embodiment of the message he's delivering.

No question, speed is of the essence in marketing and PR: News cycles, product development cycles, sales cycles... they're all shrinking. To illustrate his argument for PR pros, David talked about United Airlines and their infamous PR fiasco over Dave Carroll's broken guitar, as well as Amazon's Big Brother antics pulling Orwell's 1984 off Kindles. He argued – correctly no doubt – that both companies took a geologic era to respond to events that unfolded in hours, and that their reputations were thus badly and unnecessarily damaged.

Lets look at a couple of other, recent anecdotes. Shirley Sherrod, anyone? No question, the White House, the NAACP, Fox News and pretty much every media outlet in the country acted damn fast on this one. And you'd think that many of these politicos would have learned their lessons from the BeerGate nonsense from last year. In both cases, everyone rushed to judgment, desperate to get into the news cycle and desperate to appear to be responsive. Both times, reputations were badly and unnecessarily damaged.

Speed has a price. Reflex PR is a high risk game.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is social media good business?

Lets compare a couple of stats --

A few months back, audited circulation data showed that subscriptions to the New York Times had fallen below one million for the first time in living memory, and declined a whopping nine percent year-over-year. Around the same time Mashable reported that Twitter traffic was growing at a hyperbolic 1300 percent year-over-year, with over 1.2 billion tweets a month.

Numbers like these are thrown about all the time to illustrate an undeniable shift in the way we consume information, news and a whole load of gossip. The economic consequences for the Dead Tree News Business is dire and well-documented, but what about the business prospects for the social media upstarts that seem to be precipitating all this change? Are they making boatloads of cash?

There's no doubt that the main revenue stream that drives the information economy – advertising – is seeing a shift towards online spending:

Forrester Research data for online advertising revenues.

Looking at the Forrester Research numbers, overall online advertising in the U.S. is expected to have a CAGR of about 17 percent over the next few years, which aint too shabby. Within that, social media advertising will be a rocket ship, with 34 percent CAGR, reaching an impressive $3.4 billion in 2014.

All very nice, but does this all add up to big profits? According Reuters, Facebook made a whopping $800M last year, or about two bucks for every user (let me repeat that – over a full year, Facebook made all of $2 for every active account). Small potatoes you may say, yet this was enough for the company to eek out a $10M profit, at least on paper. Facebook's revenue growth has come as the number of users on its website has exploded: the company started 2009 with the January announcement that it had reached 150 million users and by December that number had swelled to 350 million.

What about Twitter? Bloomberg reported that even on a sliver of revenue from Google and Microsoft, a mere $25M, Twitter is also profitable. They have about 58 million users, so they're getting about 40 cents a user. Poor MySpace, owned by News Corp., has something like 111 million users and made about $360M last year (down from $460M the year before), or about $3.50 per user.

None of this could be described as printing money, in my opinion, and there's a very healthy debate about the long-term viability of social platforms as self-sufficient, profitable businesses. Here's Charles Hugh Smith writing on the investor site Benzinga:

Facebook will never be very profitable, for it is a utility which will never be able to charge its users. Its free functions are more valuable to marketers than its advertising, hence it will never generate big ad revenues.

Bo Peabody in the Washington Post thinks social media outfits will always be “crappy businesses”, while Henry Blodget at BusinessInsider thinks Facebook et. al. are the next Google. They can't both be right, but they could both be wrong.

Most likely, some social media properties will figure out a way to make advertising and other revenue streams pay their way. Some will have frothy IPOs. Most will die slow deaths. What I'm sure about is that none of these companies will duplicate what the New York Times does, nor should they. Whichever way you cut it, the vital statistics for the news business remain terrible.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What is Buzz?

iPhones do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it...

Buzz, that is. But in the iPhone sense – the cool-hype sense - what is Buzz? How do you measure it, and when do you know you've got it? 

In marketing terms, we know that “Buzz” is composed of awareness, preference and – with due apologies to Cole Porter – even desire and love. People crave their iPhone, they are quite literally passionate about them – the brand-as-device has become a part of their identity and is valued beyond its intrinsic usefulness. This is a hallmark of Buzz: in some sense it goes beyond logic and reason – it is emotional – and this is why Buzz is so hard to define and to measure.

Most people agree that Buzz originated as a word-of-mouth phenomenon, a kind of groundswell, but beyond that definitions get fuzzy. In her much-cited 2000 HBR article The Buzz on Buzz, Renée Dye calls it “explosive self-generating demand” which doesn't strike me as particularly useful or specific (another takeaway from her article is how faddish Buzz is – her examples of buzziness include the long forgotten Pokemon, Beanie Babies and the movie The Blair Witch Hunt).

Not that others have got more specific since then. In her book Buzz, Mariam Salzman gives us this: marketing; it is centered on conversational value; it is peer driven; it is strategic; and it spreads outward from trendsetter to trend spreaders to the mainstream.

Mark Hughes riffs in a similar vein:

Buzz marketing captures the attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand or company becomes entertaining, fascinating or newsworthy.

Both these books have a lot of good things to say, but like many other social media tomes they don't really give us a crisp definition of the fundamental commodity at hand. In social science speak, they certainly don't get us to a point where we can operationalize “Buzz” and thus measure it effectively.

This is a failure. How on earth can we have a conversation about Buzz, and all that it entails, if we can't agree on what it is? In many respects, this has echoes of past marketing conversations around another slippery concept, The Brand.

So, Buzz is elusive in nature and elusive to define. This hasn't stopped a boatload of companies claiming it and even naming products after it – Google Buzz, BuzzMetrics, ThoughtBuzz, BuzzTrace, BuzzGain, BuzzFeed and even BuzzLife. Buzz is Buzzy, I guess.

Let me know your ideas on what exactly buzz is...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jim Sterne's Social Media Metrics

I've just finished reading Jim Sterne's new (ish) book, Social Media Metrics, How to Measure and Optimize your Marketing Investment, published by Wiley. I recommend it. “We are what we measure” may be a tired cliché, but Sterne nevertheless brings a fresh perspective to the subject and drives home why measurement may be the foundation for building a successful social media program.

The book does a great job of linking social media metrics to things that matter in business, what Sterne describes as The Big Three Goals of increasing revenue, lowering cost, or improving customer satisfaction. These goals may sound lofty or even unattainable to some, but Sterne is, well, stern in his views: If social media can't make a meaningful impact on the business, why bother at all? This tone distinguishes the book from the many volumes of fluffy nonsense written about social media.

From here, Sterne constructs the book around the logical steps necessary to attaining meaningful business results. At each step the book suggests ways to measure activity and drive toward a desired outcome. I was glad Sterne wasn't afraid to address the real costs associated with a rigorous social media program, and take this on as a metric (borrowed from Avinash Kaushik).

The book has its faults. It could have done with an edit, and I wish Sterne had talked more about the practicality of measuring things, and the tools that can support ongoing measurement. I also found issue with some of the discussion around “identifying influence”, but these are small gripes. If you've ever pondered how to measure the meaningful impact of social media on your business, this is a good book to buy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Google and the news

This week, The Atlantic Magazine's James Fallows wrote a cover story titled How to Save the News, about Google. He might more accurately have titled it How Google is the News.

Google has been an unavoidable focus of news for most of the last decade, but things have really heated up over the last year or so. Google has enjoyed cover stories in pretty much every news magazine in the US, and lead stories in the business and financial pages of the dailies on a regular basis. Type “Google” into Google, and the news hits are 28,000 for the past month alone. By comparison, “Obama” gets 44,000.

Frankly, I'm all Googled out – we went well beyond saturation coverage a long time ago.

Of course, Google is the news is another sense: they have become the way that most people find stories, or aggregate the information they consume. In the process, they've also become the totem for all the online ills that plague the old-school news media. The thrust of Fallow's story is that Google recognizes the value of a healthy Fourth Estate, etc. etc., and that the company has plans to make good on keeping journalism healthy and vibrant. Right. Forgive my skepticism.

The US media's love affair with Google is perverse, or ironic or maybe just weird. Fallow's has fallen victim to it. Google is adored not so much because they're fighting for information freedom in China, or because they build very cool and totally free stuff we can all use, or because their search engine is a simple work of genius: The US media loves Google because it is a phenomenal financial success. This trumps everything, and makes them infallible in the way Microsoft was in decades past. Google prints money. They may be a one-trick pony, but the trick is very lucrative.

A year ago, The Atlantic ran another cover story on Google, although much less flattering. Is Google Making us Stupid? was written by Nick Carr, and the title pretty much says it all. I think Carr has a very level-headed view of the social issues with new media and online economics, but you could argue that he too has fallen prey to the Google hype. We should remind ourselves that this is a company that makes bundles of money selling advertising atop a search engine; everything else is window-dressing. They aren't going to democratize China, make us stupid, or save the media biz. They're just going to continue to make a lot of cash.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A definitive list of social media measurement & metrics tools?

(Updated December 2, 2011)

Last week Jeremiah Owyang at the Altimeter Group, along with his colleague John Lovett, published a nice report on social media analytics. It's a very useful framework for thinking through how to measure the rights things, which in turn will focus attention on the right kinds of activities.

But how to measure? Way back in 2006, Owyang took a snapshot of the companies that offer tools for social media metrics, and came up with a list of forty-two firms. In the last week I've trawled the web to update his list (and thanks to Ken Burbary for a nice wiki list of different tools), and come up with an astonishing 82 firms that offer some kind of social media measurement solution. And I'm pretty sure I've missed a bunch.

Help me update and correct the list. Please send me your additions, along with any other comments on these tools, and I'll post an update. If there's enough interest, I'll also try and categorize these solutions better -- there's certainly a lot of diversity in this list.


Updated: February 11 2011

Company Comments
Alterian SMM
Appinions SMM
Andiamo Systems SMM
Attensity SMM
Attentio Multilingual
Beyond Analysis Gone
Beevolve SMM
Biz360 Acquired by Attensity.
BrandIntel Gone
Brandwatch Brand monitoring
BurrellesLuce SMM
Buzzcapture SMM
BuzzGain Meltwater Group Product
BuzzLogic Now TwelveFold Media
BuzzNumbers SMM
CIC Business Consulting BI tool Chinese market
Cision SMM + other tools
Collective Intellect SMM
ComMetric Mapping to financial data and stock tickers
Converseon Agency with some tools
Cover-All Technologies No longer supporting SMM
Crimson Hexagon SMM
CustomScoop SMM
CyberAlert SMM
Cyveillance Brand monitoring, QinetiQ company
Cymfony SMM + other tools
Dow Jones & Company Insight SMM + other tools
EchoMetrix Gone
eCairn SaaS metrics solution
EmPower Research Custom technology solutions
Evolve24 SMM
Jive FilterBox product.
HowSociable Free gadget
Imooty SMM
Infegy Brand monitoring
Integrasco SMM
Intelligence Technologies Gone out of business
JamIQ Asian languages
J.D. Power and Associates acquired Umbria
Jodange See Appinions
No longer supporting SMM
Kaava Corporation Marketing services, some SMM
KDPaine and Partners No tools but strong analysis
ListenLogic social CRM?
Lexalytics Sentiment detection
Linkfluence French language
Lithium Social CRM
Market Sentinel Brand monitoring
mBlast SMM
MediaBadger Consulting firm with tools
MediaHound SMM competitive intelligence
MediaMiser Media monitoring
Meltwater News Media monitoring
MetaTale Gone.
Metrica Multilingual, part of Gorkana Group
Millward Brown Precis
Moreover technologies SMM
Netemic SMM
NetEquity Gone.
New Media Strategies
No longer supporting SMM
Nielsen Online NetRatings
Onalytica SMM
PRMetrics Free customizable social media portal
Radian6 SMM, acquired by
Relevant Noise See Zeta Interactive
Report International Brand monitoring
RepuMetrix Brand monitoring
ReputationHQ Gone
SAS Business intelligence tool with SM
SamePoint Gone
Scanblog Gone.
ScoutLabs See Lithium
Sentiment Metrics Not just sentiment
Socialarc SMM
SocialMention Social search engine
Statsit No longer Relevant
Synthesio Multilingual
Sysomos Business intelligence tool
Tealium No longer relevant
ThoughtBuzz SMM
TraceBuzz SMM
Trackur SMM
Thomson Reuters BuzzAnalytics and OpinionAnalystics
UberVU Now Crimson Hexagon
ViralHeat SMM, Free API
Visible Technologies SMM
VMS Gone
Vocus SMM
WaveMetrix SMM
Zeta Interactive Relevant Noise product for SMM

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

If you've read a magazine or newspaper over the last few weeks its been hard to avoid the iPad advertising. My favorite appeared on the back cover of The New Yorker:

Wait a second.... Here you have a print advertisement for the iPad, inexplicably promoting the New York Times, a newspaper which has yet to figure out a way of making any money from distribution via said iPad.

Clearly, the Apple gang have no sense of irony.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Optimistic Economist

When an internationally known economist bets his career on social media, you pay attention.

I first heard the Michael Mandel speak in February 2009 when, as he put it, “the economy was stone dead.” At the time he was chief economist for BusinessWeek and had authored more than 50 of the magazine's cover stories. What I liked about him then – and what I enjoyed again last week when I heard him speak for a second time – was his rational, resilient optimism.

Back in 2009, Mandel showed reams of data giving a historical perspective on how bad the current recession was (answer: very bad), how we got here (answer: greed and deregulation), and how we can recover (answer: innovation). Mandel is a big fan of innovation as the engine that drives the US economy. He's consistently argued that the only way to dig-out from the current recession is to find ways to generate growth through innovation. As he put it, saving your way out of a recession “takes forever”. Over the past decade, he contends, too much innovation has failed to mature and become commercially disruptive.

Last week, Mandel pointed out that the current recession is so deep any recovery will likely be slow. However, describing his job as “divining the shape of economic booms from weak signals”, he sees early optimistic signs in a few market sectors, chief among them being media and communications. He's especially bullish about the online sector and its disruptive effect on everything from journalism to advertising, although he sees massive changes ahead for the entertainment industry, too. He pointed out that in 2010, about $62 billion will be spent in online advertising (about 15% of overall advertising spend), and this will climb to $146 billion by 2020.

None of these insights are especially original but Mandel has, as he put it, bet on his own predictions: Last year he left BusinessWeek and founded his own online venture, Visible Economy. He's pretty blunt in his opinion of old media – while many argue that the business model for journalism is in question, he contends the problem is more fundamental. For Mandel, conventional journalism is broken, and no longer delivers what people want, when and how they want it.

He could be right.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Yet another redundant and ill-informed opinion on Apple's iPad

It seems like everybody has something to say about Apple's iPad, so in the interests of complete redundancy I thought I'd chime in.

I should say up-front that I've never seen a real, live iPad, have only a vague idea of what it can do, and have no intentions of buying one. In other words, I'm much like all the other ill-informed pundits out there.

So let me begin with a confession: I love books of the dead tree variety. I actually collect books (I've just finished reading a first edition of Steinbeck's The Moon is Down), and I'm currently wading through all of Dickens' novels after buying a used set from the 1900s. So the iPad phenom got me thinking: what if things got reversed, and in a parallel universe the iPad came before the invention of books?

I get that the iPad can stream video, host a bewildering range of applications, and can make pretty good buttered toast. It's a multi-functional device, but its primary use-case is to provide a new platform for books and book-like content. The ability to meld multimedia content is pretty cool, as is the ability to bring the conventions of Web content to the format of the book. But as a portable tool for conveying a linear narrative, it has a bunch of issues. There's the bed-and-beach problem (you want to read a skinny computer in either location?). There's the drop-and-dry problem (I might handle my Steinbeck carefully, but a paperback is pretty indestructible). There's the share-and-sell problem (I'm not enthralled by some of the lock-in issues around the content I might buy). And have I mentioned battery life? In my parallel universe, if you had an iPad and no books, I think some latter-day Gutenberg might invent them anyway.

I know I'm a Luddite on this. My guess is, the current iPad will be a complete flop but some later incarnation will be a wild success. And books will become history. I have no idea how this will change what we read - would Steinbeck and Dickens exist in an iPad age?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Say Nothing

The mathematical definition of zero is X + 0 = X. The marketing definition of zero is “no comment.”

For the last few weeks I've had the great pleasure of delivering “no comment” to a great many people. Its been tough going. Marketing types like me hate to say nothing. We're genetically unequipped to keep quiet. We love the sound of our own voice. We like to expound, we revel in expressing a view. If Marketing were a author, we'd be more Henry James than Ernest Hemingway. If we were a band, we'd be Yes rather than The Ramones.

When the goal is not to score, playing the game can seem plain wrong. Over the last weeks I've learned a lot about the fine art of keeping schtum, and while I wouldn't say I'm expert I do have a few pieces of advice:
  • When you're saying nothing, less really is more
    It's very tempting to elaborate, be erudite and try and be clever. When The Famous Reporter comes calling (the same guy who usually never returns your calls), we shouldn't disappoint him, right? Wrong. Better to to be straightforward.
  • Saying nothing can take a long time
    Doing a regular interview with the press can sometimes take a very few minutes. Perversely, when the aim is to say nothing of import, the delivery time can be very long. The same question which you can't possibly answer is often asked in many different variants. Or the unanswerable question is secreted in a long, rambling monologue in the hopes that it won't be recognized. Saying nothing requires patience.
  • Nothing can sometimes mean something
    There really is no substitute for “no comment.” Anything else – even “I can't answer that question” - can be examined in minute detail and found to hint at something.
  • When you're saying nothing, be nice
    Always remember – the journalists are just doing their jobs. They have to ask. Be courteous.

It's also worth remembering that while saying nothing is generally a novel experience for most in marketing, asking clever questions to us dopes is what journalists do every day. They're really, really good at it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who's using social media most?

There are now more Facebook profiles than the entire population of the United States, Canada and the UK combined: it seems like pretty much everyone is busy blogging, tirelessly tweeting, or fiercely friending.

But who is most active with social media? Forrester Research has done a nice job of explaining the demographics of online participation, based on a taxonomy they created for the popular book Groundswell. Using their handy online tool you can see how online partication differs between men, women, age groups and geographies. What Forrester doesn't do is explain the types of people that get involved – their mental, emotional and social characteristics, as well as their motivations. What compels people to blather online? What traits do they have in common? Are the most active participants – what Forrester refers to as “Creators” - different from the lazy bums who do nothing with social media (what Forrester acidly calls the “Inactives”)? More to the point, what assumptions can marketing and communications professionals make about the people that actively engage with them through social media?

There are many competing and largely incompatible theories on this question, but lets look at two of the front runners:
  1. The Wisdom Of The Crowd thesis

    Advocates believe that the great mass of people that haunt social media and the Web are wise, well-intentioned, motivated and overall a pretty good facsimile of the population at large. They give us unfiltered access and insight into our customers, employees, voters, or other publics. True acolytes of this theory believe in an almost mystical ability of crowds to accurately guide opinion and decision making, an argument borrowed from the work of James Surowiecki who wrote the popular Crowdsourcing book back in 2004. Ask a crowd of kids to guess the number of jelly beans in a large jar, and the while individual answers will vary wildly, the average of all answers will be extremely close to the true number (I know, I tried this at a school fair).

  2. The Madness Of The Masses thesis

    There's a whole stack of theories penned by lofty thinkers like Freud, Tarde and Bernays that see crowds as irrational herds, spawning Orwellian DoubleThink or manipulated GroupThink or all sorts of other Thinks. But you don't need to wade through all these turgid academics tomes, just read the comments on an average blog. A great deal of the blogoshere and social media seems to attract rabid extremists and flat-out nutters. It just sounds mad.
Both theories can't be right. The Wisdom thesis seems to argue that the most active social media participants are reasoned and can fairly represent underlying populations, which is why crowdsourcing advocates argue they can be co-opted by marketing types to help develop and test products, ideas, messaging and so on. On the other hand, the Madness thesis argues that social media activists are just that – at best unrepresentative, at worst a herd led by extremists, zealots, and the marginal. If the Madness thesis is right, marketing types would interact with the social media Creators in a very different way. So, which thesis is correct?

Lets start by explaining crowdsourcing, which will require we look at some statistics and probability theory. Imagine you are faced with a question for which there are only two possible answers – say, who will win in an election, Democrats or Republicans. There are numerous factors that might determine the result, and any given individual will only have a partial understanding of those factors. Lets suppose that given all the factors people comprehend, that each individual has a 51% chance of being right in selecting the election winner. On this basis, if you were to ask one person for their pick, there's an about even chance they'd get it right – you might just as well flip a coin. However, ask 10,000 people for the answer, and the majority selection will be extremely accurate. The same statistical logic applies when you have complex problems with many possible answers, like the jelly beans in a jar problem, and you apply it to a group of smart 5th graders who can make a well-reasoned guess. Ask enough 5th graders, and the average answer you get will be weirdly close to the real jelly bean count. This is called the Condorcet Theorem, but here's the rub: if the individual group members are less than 50% likely to be correct in their selection, then as you increase the group size the probability that the answer will be correct starts to approach zero.

Condorcet has important implications for crowdsourcing. First, it explains the otherwise mystical ability of some crowds to make very good average guesses. Second, it suggests that we should never rely on the wisdom of a crowd if we know or suspect they are poorly informed or biased. In fact, these people will lead us away from the correct answer. At the very beginning of his book, Surowiecki gives a classic example of a crowd that is well informed and unbiased – attendees of a county fair guessing the weight of a cow. Can we say the same about Forrester's social media Creators?

I think there is some evidence to suggest that social media Creators are likely a self-selecting group of activists, passionate evangelists or committed detractors. The comments I get on my corporate blog or in response to an informal online survey are not going to be representative of the underlying population of all customers. Borrowing from Condorcet (and breaking with strict statistical logic), the opinions I see online are not going to approach some kind of truth – they are just as likely to head in the opposite direction. And the more people I interact with through social media, the more they may lead me astray.

Or at least that's the risk. Truth is, we don't know enough about social media mavens and we could do with some good research as a complement Forrester's Technographics.

We in marketing should be careful to understand who is active in social media – what is driving them, what motivates them, and to what extent they are outliers and unrepresentative of our target audiences.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brand Identity

There's a long history of corporate brands being strongly associated with people. Indeed, many corporation brands are eponyms: Ford, JP Morgan, Bloomberg, Kellogg, Johnson & Johnson. And many brands that don't bare the founder's name have nevertheless become very tightly aligned with a founder or with subsequent leadership: Oracle and Larry; Apple and Steve; even Ben and Jerry. Getting a brand wrapped up in the identity of a founder or CEO can have problems, as we've seen with the ailing Steve Jobs and with Microsoft post-Bill. When brand equity accrues to a human it needs to be carefully managed.

In the new world of social media, the tension between the corporate identity and individual identity is getting stronger. We're seeing it most in knowledge-based markets, where IP is often intrinsic to individuals. This has always been a dynamic in publishing and entertainment: several decades ago we saw this dramatically in the movie industry with the fall of the studio system and the rise of the cult of celebrity star or director. It's happening again in the news business with the rise of celebrity news anchors and the co-opting of personalities like Sarah Palin (I give her six months at Fox, but that's another story).

Social media has removed a significant communications barrier to creating the eponymous brand. Suddenly, anyone with half an idea can become well-known and command attention. This gets knowledge-based companies very jittery. Take Forrester Research, who recently got into trouble when it leaked that they'd put heavy restrictions on allowing their analysts to have personal blogs. They're not alone – most analyst firms have imposed some kind of restriction on blogging. From the company perspective, this is simply protecting their intellectual property; from the individual analyst's perspective, this is a muzzle on their rights to express themselves.
What's clear is that the constitution of corporate brands is changing. Increasingly, corporate brands will be made up from the brand identities of employees and management. This is a huge opportunity. Companies that can find a balance between promoting their leaders and innovators under a corporate banner have an opportunity to create a true 'company brand' that will have strength and definition as a collective. I hate sports analogies, but an obvious one exists here in the way sports teams define themselves.

Smart companies will start to foster individuals that can command a presence in the social media world. Done right, this will only help define the corporate brand. And increasingly, effective public relations will be about managing these individual brands as a whole. And smart agencies will see an opening here – how to craft a branded online profile for company executives.