Archive for “January, 2009”

Of Knives and Trends…

A few days back, Jamie took a slice out of his left pinkie. Obviously, Qs, As and Zs will be problematic for a while, but otherwise he’s okay.

Now, being the one working most of the metrics here, I took it upon myself to graph this limb lossage on the whiteboard. In all of 2008 we had zero loss of limbs. But we’re barely in the third week of 2009 and our loss of limbs has climbed to 1%. If this rate of limb lossage continues, we might expect 26% by year’s end. By the close of 2010 we can fully expect the only thing left of the staff to be the tip of Jamie’s other pinkie. Possibly a knuckle. A disturbing trend, indeed.

Of course, the argument is fallacious.
One slip of the kitchen knife does not a trend make.

While monitoring social media for a brand, you need to recognize the difference between an anomaly and a trend.

While a company ought to be listening to the din of the crowd for mention of their name, they ought not act on every critique, condemnation or suggestion. It’s just not possible. Ask five bloggers for an opinion and you’re likely to get six replies, and guaranteed at least two or more of those opinions will be in direct conflict with one another. When the #motrinmom posts flared on twitter, was it the beginning of a trend that would eventually lead to lower sales, or just a very visible anomaly ? At what point did a lone blog post regarding a billboard ad snowball into national coverage of a company’s unwillingness to communicate?

Most anomalies are outlier positions and easy to identify as such. The one person who wants a puce colored jacket or that thinks mustard would be an exceptional flavor for a soda. They form a long tail that will always wonder why THEIR idea is never acted upon but will still begrudgingly wear the brown jacket and drink cola. Where social media muddies the waters is that parts of the tail are able to find one another and connect, giving the illusion of a burgeoning trend. When a facebook group emerges for folks wanting mustard flavored soda, and that group attracts a hundred members overnight, it can certainly give the appearance of a trend in the making.

Time is the ultimate judge of what is a blip and what is the norm. The speed of social media doesn’t allow too much time to let an event play through to the end. You can’t afford to sit back and see what’s next. So look to what’s happening now. Who is voicing this opinion and what’s the velocity of its spread? When an idea turns up twice in the morning, ten times last hour and two dozen times in the last five minutes, you know that something is underway. And should a top fashion blogger pick up on the puce color jacket notion, they may sway all the other outliers who’ve settled on brown to set their sites on puce.

You may not have the option to wait something through, but you can always look backwards. What’s come before? Are there the same hundred people always calling out for mustard flavored soda, or are there thousands and these are the hundred who are voicing their opinion today. When you average out the blips for mustard against peanut butter, gravy or any other crazy suggestion that’s come in for soda flavors, do the mustard posts stand above the average? Are they growing?

Make sure you are reading the intentions correctly. When you google ‘I want mustard soda’ and get a ba-jillion results returned, is this what people actually are asking for or was ‘mustard soda’ the name of a popular character in some Swedish comic book that’s been turned into a hit Japanese animation? Are people joining a facebook group calling for mustard flavor soda because they’d love to drink it or are they joining for the laughs they get when friends react to the odd group they joined?

And finally, always consider that the anomaly may be a trend … just not the trend you expected. There may never be enough voices calling for a mustard flavor drink or puce colored jacket to make a viable business opportunity, but they may be an indicator that people are trending away from a status quo and will leave en mass once the first viable alternative arrives.

The Web 2.0 Testimonial

Just as 81% of online consumers do online research before making a purchase, organizations looking for partners should do the same (I know that we do – and we also Google all prospective employees, and here’s a tip: if we can’t find a trace of you with Google, we’re not going to hire you).

In the past, firms would have solicited and printed testimonial letters from their customers in order to prove their abilities and worthiness to prospective clients. But writing testimonials takes time, and while we’ve gathered a number of them, I always feel bad about bugging my busy clients to take time out of their day to write something pithy so we can get more clients. There’s also always the spectre of the client asking you to write the testimonial letter yourself, which I have always found awkward (it’s also very unsatisfying).

Instead, what I’d rather see is the spontaneous expression of happiness with our work from a trusted partner.

This tweet was from Scott Monty, Ford’s head of Social Media, and he sent it while we were on a conference call yesterday morning, delivering some very interesting insights to him and the Ford Digital Marketing team.

Thanks, Scott – it’s the testimonial 2.0 – and Google likes it, too!

The Publishing Revolution Part II – UA flight 1549

Last week I wrote about watching the publishing revolution in action at The North American International Auto Show. Just a few short days later, we saw another, more distributed example of this total and utter shift with the crash of United Airlines US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River. The image below was taken and published within minutes of the accident, and was responsible for bringing down Twitpic, the site that it was uploaded to by Twitter user Janis Krums.

If you have any doubt as to how fast things are changing for mainstream media outlets, do a search on Flickr for images tagged “flight 1549” and “flight1549“. You’ll get over 2000 results for an event that took place just a few days ago. Most of the early images were taken by people who were involved in the crash or the rescue efforts.

For mainstream media (having worked as a TV news writer and producer, I know this all too well) the “scoop” is everything – sometimes (I’m ashamed to admit) “get it first” can even trump “get it right”. My question is, what’s the model when you’re guaranteed to be scooped, most often by the newsmakers themselves, since almost everyone has a photo/video enabled mobile device and so many of us have access to publishing platforms? Apparently it’s interview the guy who scooped you.

(PS: as an all-too frequent traveller, I would like to request UA flight 1549 Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger be my pilot on all future flights. Thanks.)

Watching the publishing revolution at NAIAS

For the early part of this week, I’m at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit accompanying a group of bloggers we’ve invited to attend as guests of one of our clients, Ford.

We did the same last year, but this time around we had more time to plan and a better sense of the opportunities available. We also had a bigger budget to invite more online content producers – most of whom have been spending their days at demos, walking the show floor and posting content in the special blogger lounge Ford had set up (free wifi!). Their nights have been largely spent sitting at dinner tables with access to very high-ranking executives (Bill Ford Jr., Mark Fields, Jim Farley, etc.) alongside traditional media. It’s a great program, and it clearly demonstrates the Ford commitment to evolving their communications model to align with the new reality of distributed influence.

(I’d also like to brag about another innovation we brought to the table this year. At NAIAS in 2008 we launched SMPRs across a wide range of product lines. This year we upped the ante with what we’re calling the “Dynamic Press Kit” – an application loaded onto a USB key that requires only an Internet connection to bring the latest Ford news right to your desktop, along with image and video assets that are licensed under Creative Commons. Die, press kit, die!)

But I digress. The point I’m trying to get around to making is that I have found it fascinating to have a front-row seat to the future of digital publishing for most mainstream outlets. The place they need to get to if they’re going to be able to continue to compete. It looks like this:

1. Tape/shoot pictures at live event
2. Connect to Internet
3. Upload files
4. Write brief explanation/edit content as required
5. Repeat

All of the above often taking place within five minutes, and rather than one big story, in many cases it’s multiple installments. One of our bloggers recounted a brief exchange with a reporter from a well-known mainstream media website. The reporter watched her tape a brief segment on a flipcamera, load it onto her laptop, edit it and upload it to YouTube. Elapsed time: about four minutes. Slack-jawed, the reporter, fully kitted out with all kinds of digital gear, expressed amazement at the speed of it all.

Welcome to the new world order, friends. Publish first or perish. The opportunity for organizations is to make it as easy as possible to publish the right content and the right information (something your influencers will take you up on if you do your homework and get to know them, what they need and how they need it). Content is not a product to be hoarded; you will do well to set it as free as possible in order to keep up with the new pace of publication (Ford’s head of social media, Scott Monty and I will speak about this paradigm shift at length in our session at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this spring).

I’ll leave you with one final example: our friends at Jalopnik uploaded this story about Ford’s electrification efforts (complete with correct, detailed graphics) within minutes of the announcement being made, thanks in no small part to the digital assets made freely available on the Ford SMPRs and the new Dynamic Press Kit. Would you rather they had to scramble for their own assets, or do you think the better business model is to provide everything anyone would need digitally, without restrictions so they can tell the richest, best-informed story possible?

Netbooks: mobile social computing laptop killers

It’s January 10th and high time I made some prognostications about some of the things to come in 2009. I’m going to sum up something that has been on my mind this week in one sentence that has very broad implications: netbooks are going to destroy the traditional laptop market.

For those of you unfamiliar with netbooks, they are:

Light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient, highly portable laptops that achieve these parameters by offering fewer features, less processing power and reduced ability to run resource-intensive operating systems (e.g., Windows Vista).

Typically retailing for between $300 and $700 (about the cost of a decent mobile or smart phone), they are cheap, they are portable and with an estimated $10.5 billion dollar in surplus inventory within the semi-conductor market (the companies that make the chips that make them go) caused by declining computer sales as global customers hunker down and save their pennies/put off upgrades, market conditions will likely make them cheaper still.

Not convinced? How about introducing telcos to the mix? Most netbooks come equipped with wifi and/or EVDO cards. Given the price point on the hardware, it is conceivable that consumers could eventually be offered a free netbook in exchange for signing up for a multi-year mobile broadband plan (at the moment AT&T is offering a $99 Acer in exchange for signing up, but just wait until there’s some competition). The similarity to cellphones and cellphone marketing strategy is quite striking.

Sales numbers bear out the potential for a dramatic upward trajectory in netbook penetration. In 2007, about 182,000 netbooks were sold. 2008 sales were estimated to hit 11 million units. Companies like Asus and Acer estimate that about 10% cannibalized the traditional laptop market. That, of course was before the perfect storm of a brutal economy, decreasing costs and telcos jumping on the bandwagon.

Why am I blogging about computer technology and market conditions? Because cheap, broadly distributed, Internet-enabled netbooks will profoundly change mobile/social computing. When almost anyone, anywhere can pull a fully enabled (but just a little bit smaller) portable computer out of their bag or purse and connect with friends, family and content on the Internet, anywhere and anytime via the magic of mobile broadband, the tools that enable that sociability (collectively known as “social media”) will change dramatically in both use and importance (I’m not even going to get into the potential impact for cloud computing).

The big question is, are you ready?

Polkaroo, Public Brodcasting and SMG

Doug meets Polkaroo

Back in November I had the pleasure of attending the opening of TVO‘s (some may know it by its old name of TV Ontario) new state-of-the-art digital production facility. Honoured at the party was TVO’s founder, the Honourable William G. Davis. In fact the overhauled studio was named after him.

It was a great party and I got the full tour of their new capabilities. While it was definitely fun watching The Honourable Dalton McGuinty (Premier of Ontario) get grilled virtually by 10 year-old kids on on his environmental record, the highlight for me was definitely meeting an old childhood friend Polkaroo (pictured above).

The part that really interested me is how much the folks at TVO are embracing social media. Not only have they enlisted us at SMG to develop their social media strategy and we are already beginning to implement some projects, but the technology of the new studio itself speaks of their commitment. TVO is already doing some great work in integrated web and TV distribution, real-time interactivity with the audience and pushing the boundaries of the TV medium to be more accountable and inclusive with the audience.

I must admit the bulk of my experience with watching TVO was about 30 years ago watching episodes of Jeremy the Bear, Fables of the Green Forest and their killer Doctor Who marathons (and yes, I did donate). However, TVO has changed a lot over the years and has some really excellent kids content now that I am a parent and thought-provoking content relevant to me now. Thankfully I can still catch most of it online, since I now live in Alberta and don’t get the TVO broadcast signal.

TVO is in an excellent position to take advantage of future social media opportunities and we at SMG are proud to be working with them.