Wednesday, December 31

Caveat Social Emptor

With the new year upon us, it is time once again for the 2009 Internet Predictions game.

Before releasing my own personal wisdom, let's review the current environment. Specifically social media, since that has been the #1 Internet Hype of 2008.

In the last month:

eMarketer reveals that Social Networkers Aren’t There for Ads. But MediaPost claims Social Media Wins In Marketers' '09 Plans. Forrester warns that Consumers Don't Trust Corporate Blogs. But Buzzlogic claims that consumers trust ads on blogs more than social network sites.

Doesn't help that eMarketer adjusted their 2008 forecasts for MySpace/Facebook revenue. Which makes it seem like the sites are tanking, even though it really just shows that eMarketer's predictions in May were completely wrong.

Depending on who you trust, widgets are either vastly underutilized by marketers (AdAge = Bob Garfield Examines a Tool That Is Cheap, Easy and a Great Expression of the Post-Advertising Age) or a complete bust (AdWeek = Apps: The Newest Brand Graveyard).

And even before the economy crashed, the days of unlimited VC funding for widget startups was declared expired. Start-ups tried the old game of using different words to describe themselves and avoid the taint (social entertainment applications?) Yet they continued to receive more cash.

Meanwhile social networks -- sensing the impending backlash -- try convincing marketers to support the consumer-generated bootleg brand pages already on their sites (MySpace Exec: Marketers Should Embrace Fan Sites). Which is like hitting the hyperspace button in desperation -- hoping you don't end up in the path of an oncoming asteroid -- since they don't make any revenue off these pages.

How do you explain such ying yang reports? Is it really that confusing to determine the state of social marketing?

Desperate times call for desperate analysis. Desperate analysis of an emerging medium provides too much leeway for personal opinion and uneducated guesses. Even for the professionals. Caveat social emptor.

Monday, December 29

Honey, Did You Tivo the Sunday Best Buy Ads?

Convergence isn't always about solving the Next Big Problem by combining two distinct technologies. Sometimes it just takes a low cost of entry and a large industry struggling to survive.

Newspaper FSIs have a long successful history as a marketing sales tool. All major retailers invest substantial amounts of their advertising budget to reach consumers at the Sunday morning breakfast table. But the declining health of the newspaper industry threatens to decimate this once-dominant medium.

FSIs migrated from print to website a few years ago, and now most retailers offer a localized version of their newspaper ads for online viewing.

But now this advertising workhorse has made an even bigger leap into the future. This marketing channel is actually turning into a TV channel. Comcast recently launched Video On Demand Circulars for their cable subscribers. It's almost too bizarre to describe, so I will let them do it:
Video Circulars On Demand is able to take a retailer’s current pre-print advertising materials, convert them into video using our “OnDemand Publishing Platform” and make them available to consumers on their TV Screens. On Demand Publishing is an advertising tool that lets advertisers convert static ads into a slideshow-style video, which is then placed On Demand — allowing consumers to learn about products at their leisure. It’s like moving all of the content from your display ads, free standing inserts, catalogs, and direct mail campaigns to one place-on TV. The same way that you would order a pay per movie, our subscribers will be able to watch a free video about your store’s promotions.

So let's assume that consumers really want to watch FSI slideshows. And that they are willing to search them out "on demand," bypassing other VOD entertainment content in the process. Currently this walled garden doesn't even have a gate that allows you to purchase directly from your TV. The videos can be customized to provide local store info (Great Indoors example). Other retailers opt for a 1-800 phone number or custom URL.

Perhaps this will succeed as television sets become more interactive, allowing consumers one-click purchase directly from the videos. The convergence of video FSIs with IPTV would allow Comcast to customize the ads personally for each household. And perhaps, someday, our grandkids will laugh and shake their heads as we describe how store promotions used to to be printed and dropped on our doorstep every Sunday.

Wednesday, December 24

Stephen Joined the Group "Dads Supporting Moms Hating Facebook"

Considering all the moms I know who recently joined Facebook, their vocal support of their friends (as demonstrated via an endless stream of good for you! and I know how you feel! and I wish mine were still sleeping! status comments), and their tendency to get slightly militant over issues like this; there could be a good old-fashioned flame war heating up:
Lactivists wage breastfeeding war on Facebook
There are plans for a virtual nurse-in from Facebook members upset with the popular social networking site for deleting pictures of women breastfeeding. That prompted a petition called "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene." As word grew on the Web, the number of people signing up had tripled in one week to more than 61,000.

The online event is scheduled for December 27:

In protest to the discriminatory and unjust policy of Facebook administration classifying breastfeeding images as obscene content, on December 27th, 2008 M.I.L.C. is asking all of you to change your profile picture for one day, to one which includes an image of a nursing mom. This could be a picture of you or someone you know nursing a child, it could be a painting or image of a sculpture of a breastfeeding woman, it could also be a photo or image of any nursing mammal....We ask that you include the status line of "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!"

What happens to a social network when your members hate you? Back in the day, they just left for another site. Now days, they use your site even more to express their distaste.

There are over 500 groups on Facebook dedicated to breastfeeding. Who would have expected this 3 years ago, when the site was only college students who [insert joke about breasts and fraternities here] instead?

Hell hath no wrath like a pissed off mom surfing the web at night after two glasses of wine. Trust me.

The Long Tail of Current Events

Americans are always looking for a good topic to rally around online.

Take the Iraqi Shoe Thrower. A current event snippet, which 5 years ago would have quickly died down into a historical footnote and recurring punchline on Jay Leno reruns.

But these days it spawns a widening spectrum of social media and viral content. There are Facebook's Fans of Guy Who Threw His Shoes at Bush (111,000 fans and growing) and Lisa threw a shoe at you, throw one back! tag games. Parody videos on YouTube (1, 2, 3, 4). Online games where the objective is to... well... you know (1, 2, 3).

Eventually these will burn out and we'll move on to something new. However, as with most things on the internet, they will never go away. The smoldering embers of this Iraqi's 5 minutes of fame live on. Just a few search results away from an additional slap at Bush's legacy.

CUGMOG, Coming in 2010

Casual gaming continues to grow and receive positive press, per this recent Economist article. The consumer trend for online content is anything short, disposable, free, and entertaining = viral videos, Twitter status posts, Elf Yourself emails, Funny or Die bite-size humor.

Add collaborative to these social media times and you have the recent casual game trend of social gaming (i.e. Facebook's Scrabulous, Texas Hold 'em, zombie bites, snowball fights, and too many more to list).

Add user generated to social casual gaming and you may have the Trend of 2009 in the making. The major video game platforms announced months ago that they were opening their systems to amateur developers. Since then, Microsoft launched XNA Studios, an online community for Xbox independent developers. Nintendo launched their WiiWare site for downloading independent games directly to your console.

While this may provide low-cost alternatives for the hardcore gamer, casual user-generated online gaming is keeping pace. The Wall Street Journal has a good overview. Two sites of note are Kongregate and Playyoo. The latter of which pushes the envelope by adding "mobile" to the string of adjectives, thus positioning itself as the Trend of 2010.

Seems Kind of Web 1.75

End of year rush to get as many buzzwords into one paragraph as possible:
Email Marketing Goes Social
Now you can create email marketing messages that subscribers can easily share to social networks. Silverpop's new white paper shows you how to create powerful email campaigns that can go socially viral. Download your copy from Silverpop today!
Remember back in the good old days when the "Forward" button was a viral enabler?

The Only Consumers Coming to Your Site are the Ones You Can't Market to

Newest report from eMarketer:
More than four out of 10 children ages 6 to 11 have visited a Website they saw or heard about in a commercial or advertisement, according to a 2008 MRI survey. MRI said almost 10.7 million young consumers visited company sites after viewing ads. More than one-quarter of them were 6 to 7 years old, one-third were age 8 or 9 and 40.2% were 10 or 11 years old.

“MRI data clearly indicate that the younger set is pretty responsive to a ‘please visit our Web site’ suggestion,” said Anne Marie Kelly, senior vice president at MRI, in a statement.

Thursday, December 11

Good News for All Senate Appropriations Committee Junkies

So here is a novel idea -- can the the government supplement our billion dollar bailout with Google AdSense profit sharing? The Washington Post ran an article about Google publicly encouraging the government to make their sites more searchable:
A person using one of the search engines, for example, can't find Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions against a given company, can't discover the picture of a specific ancient Egyptian artifact at the Smithsonian, and can't search by name for the details of a Vietnam War casualty.

Which, if you have ever tried to find information via a government website, isn't a shocker. They tend to be bloated, poorly designed, and difficult to navigate. Like most of the Internet. Only difference is that most of the Internet is indexable by search engines, so we aren't often exposed to their mess. We just Google a topic instead and head directly to the content.

Think about all the paid search links that Google can attach to these results. I expect government-related keywords would fetch a nice bid price. Especially the more niche topics. If the government were smart (stress on were), then they would negotiate a revenue share model.

Then my Google Paranoia sets in. They want to be the leader in finding all information. What happens when they are better at finding government data than our own government? How codependent will the government become on them? Are we one step closer to a "private Google" commissioned to keep track of confidential information behind the government firewall.

On its own this isn't a scary thing. But start cross-indexing their knowledge of government data with Google's other information repositories such as Google Earth/Streetview, Picasa face photo recognition, tracking individual web users via its ad networks, mobile GPS enabled Maps, OpenID...

Then again, maybe this is just crazy talk.