Archive for “August, 2010”

Foursquare: Shiny Object or Mainstream?

Over the weekend, Foursquare scored a major coup via a new partnership with American Eagle: they got their name and logo plastered all over Times Square. The first story I saw on the subject was on Mashable, where blogger Samuel Axon noted,

“It seems like just a short time ago that these location services were only used by a few hardcore web tech geeks. Now they’re so mainstream that they’re taking up a chunk of the New York skyline.”

Um. No.

Foursquare has just over three million users and you need a smartphone to use it. It is far, far from “mainstream”. And the article in Mashable feels like something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately – mistaking a brand using a niche and emerging web service (the “shiny object” in the title of this post) as a way of positioning themselves as cool and hep, for some sort of validation of something as “mainstream”.

From where I sit, Foursquare and other location-based applications will be mainstream when they have 500 million users globally. Even Twitter, with 87% of American consumers aware of it but only 7% using it, is not mainstream (see: Facebook, Google).

Leona Hobbs receives TIAW World of Difference 100 Award

We’re incredibly honoured to announce that our very own Leona Hobbs, Vice President of Social Media Group, has been named a recipient of The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) World of Difference 100 award.

TIAW, an international umbrella organization of women’s networks representing more than 50,000 women worldwide, created the very special World of Difference 100 Award to honor up to 100 women from around the world who have contributed to the economic empowerment of women.

We’re incredibly proud of Leona for this wonderful accomplishment and wish her many, many congrats!

Facebook: All Your Eyeballs Are Belong To Us!

Remember how we told you it was time to stop building microsites, think like a broadcaster and build channel? Well, big brands have been doing that very successfully. In fact, according to this article in AdAge, in many cases branded sites are being completely eclipsed by “owned” social media:

“Coca-Cola, with its 10.7 million Facebook fans, has three to four times… [the number of] Foursquare registered users. (There are at least 11 brands whose Facebook fan pages have quietly grown bigger than the biggest geo-location providers.) That certainly trumps U.S. unique visitors to Coke’s brand website, which fell by more than 40% to 242,000 in July compared to a year ago, per Compete.”

Of course the only problem is those eyeballs are not portable. They effectively belong to Facebook, no matter that Coke and others have spent millions in media dollars on the platform to drive membership (as they do to drive traffic to their branded sites) and the fact that those people have opted into membership on their brand page.

This of course leads to a very interesting concentration both in terms of audience (Facebook owns it) and media dollars (Facebook gets an increasing share since they deliver it to the right people – and measure the results). Pretty much a win-win for Facebook… but something that brands, accustomed to simply signing cheques, rather than helping shape the advertising platforms they’re using, need to start thinking about very seriously.

The article goes on to point out that Facebook is essentially morphing into a CRM solution – a “big list broker like Experian” – except that they are free. Of course the irony is that brands are subsidizing this new facet of the site, and if Facebook decides to change their revenue model, they could also end up paying for what they helped build.

Vote Canadian: panels at SxSW 2011

I know it’s months away, but the buzz for SXSW 2011 has already begun! As SMG is proud to be Canadian, we thought it would be nice to show some ‘Canada love’ and post (and strongly encourage voting for!) Canadian panels that were proposed for next year. The team here worked hard to find as many Canucks as we could, so if we’re missing anyone, please let us know in the comments and we’ll add ’em. Let the voting (and don’t forget commenting – that counts, too) begin!

Kevin Richard also has a great post on the same topic here. Voting closes on August 27th. Vote well and vote often – we’ll see you in Austin in March!

Marketing… with user manuals?


We’ve been talking about how effective marketing is increasingly shifting from “interrupt and repeat” to a value exchange, i.e. the marketer gives you something you want in return for your attention. It’s a fairly simple (though still somewhat revolutionary) concept, and we have seen some incredible results using this approach in our emerging area of expertise, scaling social media.

This week I came across this article, written by friend and colleague Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of Mindtouch (one of the leading open source collaborative platforms), and published on In it, Aaron talks about how Mindtouch and their customers are using MT technology to expose their documentation on the web, and how this, in turn, is driving sales,

“Documentation, once siloed in the realm of how-to guides, is actually feeding top-of-the-funnel activity. In fact, some companies… are reporting that their documentation is bringing in over 50% of their qualified leads. I can report that [Mindtouch] receives 70% plus of our site traffic from organic sources, and our documentation generates more than half of our overall site traffic. Furthermore, over half of our lead generation is driven by our documentation.”

This is essentially marketing with user manuals, which sounds absurd. Except that the audience in this case wants it, and it is helping to generate sales. So the questions I leave you with are: since you are now a publisher, what other materials might you have inside your org that online audiences are eager to consume? How can you work to expose and make them sharable on the social web in order to impact your bottom line?

[Photo courtesy of Peter Merholz]

Trying to fit Foursquare into a round hole

photo courtesy of

Catching up on some reading this weekend, I consumed this article from AdWeek with interest. It was essentially a litany of agency bitching that location-based service Foursquare didn’t have the tools, manpower or know-how to cater to their needs.

“They’re not responsive and extremely hard to work with,” said a digital agency exec who asked not to be named. “It’s hard to bring campaigns to life. Nobody knows how to create a badge or ask [Foursquare how] to enable behavior. It’s black magic.” In general, he said, “it’s pretty much unworkable.”

Guess what, folks? Foursquare is a startup, not CNN, and they are figuring out their ad model in this emerging space in realtime. That’s called “innovation”, and in a nutshell? It’s not them – it’s YOU.

Agencies are accustomed to working a certain way (especially when it comes to media buying), and when you deviate from that, it does not compute. Emerging platforms like Twitter and Foursquare are opening their doors to advertisers, but one of the biggest issues is that many client agencies simply are not flexible enough nor do they have the expertise to do it right. They revert to their comfort zone, which results in below-average performance and all kinds of friction around actually getting the work underway. Just ask Digg and Twitter; we’ve seen it there firsthand.

So what’s the answer? It’s all in the right approach and attitude. Imagine this – as a participant in closed betas and other first-of-their-kind opportunities in the paid social space, advertisers often have the chance to co-create by providing meaningful feedback. The rewards of participating well can be significant (we’ve seen results of between ten and 40x that of “traditional” display advertising with our clients, never mind the value of the business intelligence gathered). In other words, you don’t just write cheques, you get to help influence direction in order to generate maximum value. I’m not sure where else an advertiser would have the chance to partner, learn and get a significant competitive advantage in quite the same way.

However, the catch is that if your agency isn’t adaptable or able to help you keep pace with innovation (and likes to prove it by bitching in print) you might have a problem.

[photo courtesy of Kathleen Leavitt]

Social Media Roundup for August 6, 2010

New Twitter algorithm tells you who to follow

Find your friends and colleagues_1281125063953

Following in the footsteps of Facebook, last week Twitter launched a new suggestion feature that helps users find new people to follow. The tool looks at who you follow, and who the people you follow follow, and then suggests new people for you to follow. This new feature is gradually being rolled out to users and probably explains the huge influx of random follower requests I’ve been receiving all week.

This new feature in combination with Twitter’s enhanced name search results should be the start of expanding Twitter’s social graph.

Google’s back at it

Google‘s been hard at work the past few months making all kinds of improvements to Gmail. Continuing on their drag and drop feature streak, this week Google added the ability to drag and drop attachments to your desktop. This small improvement should yield lots of happy users for those who receive multiple attachments.

Blackberry Torch to compete with the iPhone


This week, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) announced the upcoming release of the BlackBerry Torch (also known as the BlackBerry 9800 slider). Lots of people are excited about the new device, comparing it’s functionality to the iPhone 4.

BlackBerry fans in some parts of the world may have to stick with the iPhone though, as countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have started to shut down BlackBerry messaging services due to security concerns and RIM’s failure to meet regulatory requirements.

A testament to the power of social media

Yesterday 10-year Tanner Bawn was en route to New York on an Air Canada flight to witness a charity run called “Tutus for Tanner,” a muscular dystrophy fund raising event organized by Tanner’s blogger aunt, Catherine Connors. Although Tanner arrived in New York a-OK, his wheel chair was damaged on the journey.

Tanner’s aunt and a network of bloggers and Twitter users, who for the past week had been helping to raise money for Tanner’s family to renovate their home, instantly starting tweeting about the issue. Air Canada, although slow to respond at first, quickly jumped on the issue as it exploded online and repaired Tanner’s wheelchair and offered him and his cousins a free trip to Disney World – one of Tanner’s last wishes.

According to Tanner’s aunt, ““If I hadn’t been with Chrissie (Bawn, Tanner’s mother) and Tanner, if it were any other kid without a vast social media network behind them, it wouldn’t have turned out this way.”

Gotta love social media. Happy weekend, everyone!

The equation for innovation – execution is key

“Innovation is Not Creativity” declared Vijay Govindarajan in a post at Harvard Business Review earlier this week highlighting his research into innovation. As part of this research he and colleague Chris Timble polled hundreds of managers about innovation:

Usually, managers equate innovation with creativity. But innovation is not creativity. Creativity is about coming up with the big idea. Innovation is about executing the idea — converting the idea into a successful business.

Govindarajan and Timble focused their research on execution and offered an elegant equation to help illustrate the importance of execution.

Here’s why we worked on execution, as opposed to creativity: We surveyed thousands of executives in Fortune 500 companies to rate their companies’ innovation skills on a scale of one to 10, one being poor and 10 world class. Survey participants overwhelmingly believe that their companies are better at generating ideas (average score of six) than they are at commercializing them (average score of one).

So which is more effective — moving your (already good) creativity score from six to eight or lifting your (very poor) execution score from one to three? Here’s the math using our shorthand, creativity times execution:

Capacity to innovate = 6 x 1 = 6

Capacity to innovate, increasing creativity score = 8 x 1 = 8

Capacity to innovate, increasing execution score = 6 x 3 = 18

It’s no contest. Companies tend to focus far more attention on improving the front end of the innovation process, the creativity. But the real leverage is in the back end.

I really enjoy being on the back end of innovation. We’ve all got lots of big shiny ideas and creative world-changing solutions that never make it past the white board. Real innovation comes when leaders give their people the mandate and the space to execute and deliver. Steve Jobs, who has quite the track-record on innovation, famously said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Are you leading or following?