Social Media as the new marketing and advertising

On Monday I attended Joseph Thornley’s Ottawa Third Tuesday Social Media Meet-up. As usual it did not disappoint.

Richard Binhammer, Dell’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs took us through the process that took Dell from ‘Dell Hell’ to ’Dell Swell’ and everything in between.. Along the way he provided remarkable insight into the way that social media could change corporate America.

First the background way back in July of 2005 Jeff Jarvis took Dell to task for its customer service – and most importantly not paying attention to what their customers were saying (on blogs)  about their products. 

Now as I’ve commented elsewhere Jeff’s comment was a perfect storm for Dell. An influential and highly media savvy blogger takes the company to task, taps into an underlying sentiment that is accentuated by Google’s page rank algorithm at the time (which favoured blogs) and press coverage of the emerging blog medium which connected with the broader public.  It was impossible to miss – and damaging to Dell.

Fast forward to Mr. Binhammer’s presentation and you’d be forgiven for thinking the pendulum had swung the other way.

Dell now scans blogs for any mention of Dell and swoops in with support if the customer is dissatisfied. It’s got a team of top tier customer support and technical specialists to deal with nothing but blogger complaints. In a sense it’s a re-architected customer support strategy that recognizes the importance of influence on the buying habits of others.

What was most interesting to me is where Dell is taking this. Mr. Binhammer outlined an experimental concierge program to take customer service to a whole new level (for some customers) helping them expand their use of the product and answering all manner of questions related to use (how to up load pictures, choosing photo manipulation software etc). He also talked about Idea Storm – Dells Digg like service to uncover product desires and rank and validate them. He also hinted at custom applications they are developing to better understand how these direct media influence each other and overall buying patterns.

In the end one couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that while Dell misses the importance of social media initially they are at their heart innovators and that these initial forays are part of a larger process that will see a re-alignment of advertising, customer support and market research budgets – with a large proportion shifted to social media interaction and relationship building with thought leaders in targeted segments. 

Possibly this was Jeff’s intention all along – because if anyone was going to lead corporate America into social media it would be Dell.

It would be ok to leave the story there – but it would be wrong because you’re all thinking – well Dell can do it but my company never could because we don’t have those resources’.  Look no further than Alec Saunders excellent post on how he, and his small company, track and influence the issues in their world.

 It’s an inspiration – and an argument to look at how you allocate those budgets.

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(Web) Video killed the TV Star

With apologies to Buggles – whose 1979 hit remembers the golden era of radio while celebrating the unrelenting force of technology to re-shape media.

It’s TV’s turn now.  Web & Social video are set to reshape both media. 

Locally stealth start-ups Overlay.tv and FaveQuest are playing in this area, as are local content producers like RaceDV. What’s happening locally is echoed elsewhere with video producers and aggregators/sharing sites opening daily it seems.  Each of them focused at different areas of the video sharing stack.

Video Application Stack

As everyone who’s looked at this area knows, viewer ship is exploding and with it ad revenue, and influnce.

Ad Revenue

In fact some commentators believe that the web will overtake TV as the major source of ad spend. For that to happen the web has to attract brand and product positioning advertising – not just transactional advertising.

Video presents some particular problems though – even for transactional ads. For ads to be effective they need to be embedded with the video – not on the same page as it. That’s why Viddler’s ad tagging technology is so promising – it puts the ads right in the video stream. Its potential impact on TV is nicely reviewed on Philadelphian Mel Taylor’s site (Philadelphia is home to Viddler and a city that is turning it’s self into an interactive media hub)

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Viddler’s original  technology – in video commenting is incredibly powerful because it allows community to develop even as the video spreads from site to site through viral embedding. The ad technology is a logical extension of that.

What also isn’t clear to me is the business model – because I believe they are focusing at the wrong point in the stack. As I see it they believe these features will drive people to their site both to publish and consume video. I’m not so sure. I believe that web video will, like blogging before it, will move from individual user generated content to pro-am and organizations dominating niches.

These sites will be in direct competition for advertisers and viewers – not just with other web based services but with TV as well.

As Viddler demonstrates for ad delivery, and RaceDV does for niche user generated content, the advantage the web services have is that they innovate on numerous levels that TV doesn’t stand chance – because, as the Buggle’s sang “we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far”.

Ch-Ch-Changes

Susan Mernit has an interesting post on the changes in the blogoshere over the past two years. What she notes is:

– the rise of the multi-writer commercial blog,
– and a shift to breaking news instead of commentary and observation
– the declining status and links to single (previously influential) bloggers

In one sense it is part of a trend that saw new media entities arise out of vacuum created by traditional media’s failure to grasp the opportunity of blogging – but at another it signals a shift back to a few outlets of authority driving more of the discussion. It also suggests that fewer people are exposed to the depth and diversity of analysis that was so prominent two years ago.

Of course there are a lot of (good) voices out there but as the number of blogs rises, as happened tremendously in the past two years, and media style blogs dominate the top searches it becomes harder to insightful voices or posts to attract and grow the audience they deserve.

This is a pity – because the democratization of analytical discussion broadened peoples thinking and contributed to the belief that a unique web culture was emerging – that was international in scope, intellectual in orientation and ideologically libertarian in persuasion. Opportunity was everywhere. 

The other trend that she hints at is the rise of advertising as fuel for the explosion of commercial blogs and as decoration, and a modicum of income, on many more. This transition, along with observations on ones changing rank, is teaching us all the tools and vocabulary of media – and in so doing is redefining our relationship with what we increasingly think of as our audience.

What is striking is that beneath the surface the changes in blogging over the past two years have taught us that we are our own media – and that will have profound effects for not just for those that actively blog – but for media and society.

Social Media Press Releases

Maggie Fox asks whether a site for social media sharing makes a good press release (here). The idea is that making images and video available for sharing enables traditional press and well as bloggers to spread the news – and that is after all the purpose of a press release.

Conceptually it’s a great idea.

What’s needed to make it successful is content that evokes sharing. While it’s possible that that includes traditional marketing materials – too often those tell us the product attributes but don’t engage an emotional reaction.

In the Focus’s case if the one of the attributes is the (optional I’m sure) voice recognition – shoot a custom video that highlights the feature in a way that’s funny or tragic but that tells a story that engages ones emotion – while highlighting the product.  That’s more likely to be shared than an instructional video on the features use.

By way of example my friends at RaceDV have just done a series of in car videos for the North American launch of a performance car. The video speaks directly to the value proposition of the vehicle – performance – and more importantly puts the viewer in the driver’s seat.  After watching the video I expect prospective buyers will be in a quandry – do they take the time to share the video – or just find a dealer.

Same goes for photos. It’s certainly less expensive to re-use the photos shot for the brochure on the web – but one of the things about images is that they tell stories. By the time that someone arrives at a dealership they shouldn’t be bored with the images– but see a fresh story about Fords respect for the car the dealer and the buyer. 

Social media press releases have a much more diverse audience than traditional releases – and the motives for using the material are more diverse. Traditional press, and tier one auto bloggers are at some level interested in advertising – so discontinuities in visual style may not be wanted. The same cannot be said for the blog community below them which may be offering traditional reviews – but more likely is telling a story as they discuss the product.

The idea of making material available for sharing is a good one. Placing it in a site where one can track use and referrers is also good (that’s what Dove did with its Onslaught campaign).

In the end though sharing depends on the story that one can build around the content.

VC Bloggers – insights and connections

Vodpod videos no longer available.

An interesting video and article about the VC blogs.

For entrepreneurs it’s a a great way to understand the issues (from management to product positioning) that interests the blogger.

For the VC it’s a great way to identify and discuss trends and occasionally find new companies.

If you’re interested in social media there are a number of VC who blog – and tracking what they write about is useful – whether you’re in traditional media or a new entrant seeking your first round of funding.

Rights & Privacy on Social Networks

Thanks to Maggie Fox for pointing to John McCrea’s (of Plaxo) Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web

“Ownership of their own personal information, including:

– their own profile data
– the list of people they are connected to
– the activity stream of content they create;
– whether and how such  information is shared with others
– freedom to grant persistent access to trusted external sites.

It’s a good start – especially after receiving invitation spam to join Quechup (not linked to)– a social networking site that apparently doesn’t think users have rights. Shortly after receiving their invite – I received a very apologetic email for the friend who had “invited” me. He  hadn’t knowingly approved the mass invite and was aghast that his reputation was being used to promote a site that spammed his friends. But for his fast response I too might be in the same boat.

Ross Mayfield has an interesting post on Social Networking and Privacy that explores this issue. He notes that given enough members companies like Quechup end up being able to characterize your relationships even if you never join – because they can map you through people who know you.

Of course this is more insidious than FaceBook’s opening your profile to search engines. They’d likely argue that you can opt out of having your profile exposed – but if privacy and your rights were what mattered shouldn’t you have to opt in to exposure?

All this gets back to Maggie’s post on Shiv Singh research on Social Networks.  Once networks reach 5M members their growth rapidly accelerates – which provides all manner of incentive to grow quickly. Of course it likely applies only when the growth to 5M occurs from providing recurring value to users – and respecting their rights.

Much of these problems would disappear if social applications were separated from the social graph they need to run. Users them could choose among providers – who presumably would compete on a range of functionality – including how they protected your privacy.

70 Million = 15.5 Million

Heather Green of Business Week did some digging on the number of active blogs.

Seems that if you only count the ones that have posted in the last 90 days, the 70 million number quoted so often as the size of the blogosphere drops to 15.5 Million ‘active’ blogs.

Personally I think 90 days is a bit long between posts to consider a blog active – but the point is pretty clear – even with a generous definition of active the blogosphere is no-where near as big as 70 Million.

The other thing Heather reports on is the rate of growth is slowing – possibly for two reasons:

– as those interest in blogging have already taken the plunge
– other social media are competing for attention and time

Either could be true. And 15.5M voices may not be 70M but it still is profoundly more than were engaged in public discussion even 10 years ago.

And that’s a good thing.