Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Speaking of Viral, er, Word of Mouth

We are working on some Word of Mouth Campaign ideas for a client (a more viable approach for their objectives than traditional marketing). One thing that always seems obvious as we discuss strategies for seeding community conversations: employee ambassadors.

Of course, employees are ambassadors in their communities (both the online and offline incarnations)--whether their organization wants them to be or not. How can the community conversations that employees have about thier company and it's industry align with the organization...and vice versa?

Pursuing congruence between employee and organization in word of mouth campaigns certainly depends on:

1. Employee culture (are they empowered and engaged? are they team oriented? are they articulate and informed?)

2. Organizational context (is it a confrontational and competitive landscape; a highly collaborative, partnering situation; or a combination, frenemies-like territory?)

Assuming that the culture and context support the very idea of a word of mouth campaign, we beleive that there are a few guiding principles that can be used to evaluate employee-enabled tactics that might be employed in a word of mouth campaign:

Employee's should be supported in conversations that are:

1. Based on the facts (objectively and as they are known)

2. Connected at the grass roots (i.e., relying on peer-to-peer rather than status-driven information flows)

3. Community-centric (conversations should be focussed on the relevance of the conversation to the community, not the organization)

4. Take the High road (promoting positive, uplifting themes rather than negative attacks)

These may not be the principles best employed for grassroots political campaigns, but we beleive they make employee-engaged word of mouth work for everyone engaged in the dialogue.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Are you the web type?

We've recently presented some online concepts to clients based on branding work that was previously executed in print. The challenge with this sequence of design is often that the print form factor becomes the place from which the online design is concepted and evaluated...especially when it comes to the use of type.

Our discussion, centered as it was on the original print, reminded me that sometimes even 'professionals' get distracted from adhering to online principles for using type. We might (horrors!) even place type in ways that we know to be perfectly inappropriate online: think navigation-labels- reversed-out-over-photo-imagery kind of inappropriateness. Well, we're imperfect creatures at best. But, we can continually strive for perfection. And, just when we need it, here comes a smashing bit of type tipping from Smashing Magazine.

As a summarized list:

1. Approach type decisions systematically (type serves many roles online, including search)

2 + 3. Use information hierarchy and design for flow (remembering that heirarchy includes what is important from a navigational view)

4. Maintain legibility (my favorite...does effective branding favor illegibility?)

5. Treat text as a user interface (unformatted text gives you little sense of interaction options)

Here's a favorite example of Type Gone Wild:

An agency site. How surprising is that?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mentos. The fresh maker.

Building on a well known video that made its way around the web, comes another installment in:

The Mentos-Diet Coke connection! A new world record!

About 1500 students donned blue ponchos to participate in setting a new world record for simultaneous Mentos-Diet Coke explosions. Translating from the Dutch in the subsequent student interviews, it went something like: "It was this or going to classes...the choice was a no-brainer."

A quick search on YouTube shows about 20 user-posted videos of yesterday's event with a combined viewing number of almost 400,000 views. Word of mouse indeed.

See for yourself:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Viral marketing for the uninfected

As much as I decry use of the wholly unhygienic term 'viral' to describe marketing--especially online--Facebook recently released it's 'Insider's Guide to Viral Marketing'. Go ahead, take one down, pass it around...99 (billion) copies of the guide on the wall.

Specifically the guide describes how to use Facebook Pages (as distinct from your Facebook profile) for marketing your business. Nothing earth shattering. Could have been just as easily titled "Facebook Pages for n00bs" but that might get them pwnd for being 1337 ists.

On the other hand, it's a nice, concise guide for initiating a dialogue with the uninitiated, especially in client organizations where the Facebook platform may be viewed as something that 'the kids do'.

As Facebook the company evolves, they are clearly building a platform (i.e., a network) for enabling the social connections that make all of us--of any age--human. Marketing is just one more application running on the social network.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ID10T error?

From the "no duh" files comes this gem: Men are not idiots. Some are, some of the time, of course. Then again, everyone is at one time or another. So why is there so much advertising that plays men as the fool? Advertising Age firmly grasps the obvious here

Priceless quote:

"The evidence is clear: "Man as idiot" isn't going over very well these days. "

Did it ever? Or was that only before there was evidence? Hasn't it always been unfashionable to stereotype--or to insult--your potential customers? Maybe it should be.

Technology-centric, name calling, headline reference here

Let's get physical

Back in the day--as those of us who remember hair bands from the 80's like to say--I remember reading about Information Theory as outlined by Claude Shannon. One point that stuck out at the time was the 'Inverse Square' law. Basically this law says that a signal's intensity decreases in proportion to the square of the distance from its source. Extracting the math from this statement one might say, the farther away you are from the sender, the weaker the signal you receive. Ok, that appears to be consistent with the obvious, so what?

It seems that this mathematically provable physical law might also serve as an approximate description of the intensity of a marketing message's impact as it relates to a receiver's distance from the sending source. Come again?

For any message to rise above the background noise that surrounds each of us it needs to have a strength greater than the background noise...and there is a lot of noise in the marketing universe. How can we increase the intensity? We can certainly invest more energy against the broadcast frequency...and reach...of the message in traditional vehicles. Some people even continue turning up the volume on their messages in an effort to rise above the noise.

But perhaps we're looking through the wrong end of the telescope (to mix a metaphor). Maybe we can reduce the distance that a signal has to travel so that its strength isn't depleted by the journey. Mind you, I'm not talking about the physical distance, but the closeness of the relationship between the marketer--the sender--and the receiver. How do you reduce the distance? Here's three simplistic guiding statements:

1. Make the message human...noone has a close relationship with a corporation
2. Make the message local...people will think globally, but they most often act locally
3. Make the message personal...ask, listen, and respond...our differences are where we are most empassioned.

Or we can just try shouting louder.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Show me don't tell me

Nothing is quite so fun as the web design debates that begin with "If I was coming to this site..." Of course, this is generally an inefficient way to actually get a usable web design.

As humans, we naturally start from an inwardly directed sensibility of how to frame and solve a design problem. But for usable website design, we need not rely on major assumptions built on inwardly derived beleifs. And while 'there's never enough time to do it right, but always enough to do it over" may be a common experience, it is useful to think about ways of incorporating a learn-as-you-go expectation into the design process. Afterall, online a good design is a design that works.

Jakob Neilson has a set of principles that make sense in "Bridging the designer-user gap".

But the Six Revisions site lists Seven Useful Tools for evaluating web designs.

Interestingly in the Six Revisions list is that these tools (which are mostly open-source or free) provide realtime data around what users actually do on your site...where their mouse hovers, what they click on, how long the pointer hovers as examples. For the record, we've been using the free Google tools that are part of the analytics package.

One implication of these tools is that it takes the notion of usability testing...learning what works...and puts it into the production phase...learning as you go.

So what?

Usability testing has often been relegated to the pre-productioon phase. There, it is oftentimes deferred due to rushed production schedules or the perception of limited budgets. And then the opinionated debates about design fill the vacuum created. These tools, though, enable something akin to the multivariate testing that has allowed ads, direct mail and search engine marketing to be tested and refined. The online world is ever changing. Our design decisions should reflect the real experiences and needs of real users. Empirically driven tools can help show us the way.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Masters of their domains?

For many people the difference between dotCOM dotNET and dotORG domain name extensions have long faded into meaninglessness (is that even a word?). But the domains dotGOV and dotEDU still generally represent the type of institutions expected to inhabit them.

Now comes word that a company called LinkAdage and an organization called the Pickering Institue offering commercial blog domains using the EDU extension.

"LinkAdage is now offering the web's first open to the public EDU blog community. This is a very unique opportunity for Webmasters and SEOs not affiliated with a university to control a personal EDU blog.

The opportunity that running one of these blogs presents is tremendous. Your blog will be a legitimate EDU blog that you can use to promote your business and increase revenues."

So is this effective marketing, leveraging a distinction for legitimate purpose? Or is this something else? Here's a view I endorse . It does beg the question, where is the line between 'marketing' and 'deception'?

Better yet, in the transparent, always-on and interconnected social web, where will brand stewards find the line between marketing, deception and the perception of deception? No worries, it's only Trust that hangs in the balance.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Searching for meaning

comScore has posted search engine market share data for the five major engines.

Google leads with 59%+ of all searches. Importantly, too, is that the total volume of searches continues to increase. So, even though % of searches shows MS and Yahoo declining, their total searches remain flat to slightly up overall (in the last 12 months).

Nifty trend chart:

Interestingly, looking at several sites that we provide analytics reporting on shows a somewhat more nuanced (i.e., relevant) set of results:

1. Search represents slightly less than 50% of traffic sourcing

2. Google represents about 40% of all traffic with Yahoo and MSN at 5% and 1% respectively.

3. Direct traffic represents ~35% of traffic and referrals from other sites ~20%

Depending on your site's objectives, search may be the first stage in engaging your audience, but referrals (from other sites) may represent an important source of relevant traffic. Bottom line, online the data enables us to know where the audience comes from, what they do and how to build on success.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Citizen Journalists and attack of the blogs

Over at the Blog Herald, there is a post on using some of old media's best practices to sustain new media's impact (old media, new media...meh).

The catalyst of the post was a report, posted online at a respected technology blog (TechCrunch) claiming that Twitter (see prior post) was testing ads. They weren't. But before it could be retracted, it got lots of attention (among those who hang on every word about twitter and tech anyway).

The blog herald explains how breaking "...a news story first means lots of traffic." (Just as it does to 'old' media). And then it does a decent job of explaining how citizen journalists (i.e., bloggers) might do well to implement best practices...things like research, verifying sources, followups and fact checking...and asking questions. Things that, in theory, journalists in old media do.

All characteristics that, in practice, are recommended for any professional who wishes to be taken seriously.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hulu Dancing

The hulu site recently launched. Hooray for hulu! What's a hulu?

In addition to being a gourd of some sort, it's also the recent foray of several TV networks into the online version of themselves. represents a partnership between NBC and News Corp. It contains more than 400 programs from NBC, Fox and several other 'channels'. Similar in some ways to the Joost network that Fox was involved with previously. And though some of NBC's content is on, Hulu offers more full length (and even some HD) programming.

I checked out the 5 episodes of The Office I have missed this no need to TiVo. I did have to sit through 4 or 5 thirty second 'ads' by the sponsor of each episode, but I figure I netted out ahead of where I'd be if I had watched the episodes as regularly scheduled programming.

It's a nice step forward for the networks involved:

1. Viewers can watch when they want...and pause or rewind programming (but no forwarding past the ads)
2. Quality is good (widescreen, excellent compression relative to YouTube)
3. Wide selection of programming in HD format
4. The ability to share videos on user sites (though no user uploading)
5. All the popular content from the participating networks is available.

But I don't think it is the end of the stepping.

When content is free, it needs to be free. When content has value, people want it to be available. Think of it this way...if you have valuable content, you want it on as many distribution networks as possible (to fulfill the demand for the content). If you have a network, you want all the valuable content (to generate demand for the network) on your network.

But that's not the model the networks have figured out yet...that they either need to be a distribution network or a content producer. They are still trying to have it both ways and the value of their content is being commoditized in the interim as it competes with user-generated content and the networks that distribute it.

Dumb networks beat smart ones.

Metcalfe's law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n²). And as the power of the devices connected to the periphery increase, so does the power of the network. That's why increasingly connected consumer content tools like video camera's, mobile devices and computers connected to a network like YouTube are so powerful.

When competing with consumers for their own attention, networks may have to choose whether they want to be there intensely for short bursts (with content) or at all times in the background (like telecommunications networks).

The Office takes on the timely topics of local market advertising

We are smarter than the smartest among us

Collective wisdom, crowdsourcing, and a host of other terms are used to describe the notion of tackling complex problems using teamwork. Online tools enable large numbers of individuals to work on a common problem in an organized fashion. Wikipedia is certainly an example focused on creating a near-realtime encyclopedia. The OpenSource software movement is another good example.

My son and I participated in a project called GalaxyZoo, which helped professional astronomers do real science 'in record time' by engaging the passion of interested amateurs to catalog more than 1 million images of galaxies collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope.

Businesses are making effective use of their customers and stakeholder's interest in designing better mousetraps. Dell Computer's Ideastorm, and Nokia's Beta Labs are two examples. These companies are sharing ideas and getting feedback from customers using 'rating tools' or by sharing technology--some of it developed by the participants themselves--in soft launch mode tied to a continuous feedback loop.

And then there is Google. Google announced and is revealing its plans for Android, an open source mobile computing platform. Unlike Apple's iPhone, the Android platform will enable users to make, deploy and run applications on Android-compatible permission required from carriers or Google. Taking the idea of the anytime, anywhere network and placing it's power in the hands of the crowd.

For a quick rundown and a revealing chart on the Google-enabled mobile platform future, see Ars Technica article.

For a Homer Simpson perspective on what happens when average customers become product designers, see here

Monday, April 14, 2008

Play ball!

As the baseball season kicks into gear, Seth Godin has a post about a post at squidoo that breaks online interactions into two groups: catchers and throwers (well, ok, I would have called it pitchers and catchers).

Seth's premise is that the end result of spam on your brand--where spam is anything that is impersonal and that hasn't earned the recipient's time--is corrosive. He relates an example that many business to business professionals have surely encountered: Faux personal messages asking for your time and engagement in an exclusive opportunity...often from very reputable and well known brands...only to reveal that they are neither personal, exclusive, or interested in your needs. A whole host of company newsletters are just one category.

So what?

In any meaningful relationship (inside or outside of commerce), the dialogue has to be personal and respectful if either party is to earn the right to make a request. For marketers, the right to make a request of prospects is even more one-sided in favor of the prospect. It would seem that our effforts require that the form of the dialogue follow the function to which the prospect would apply it...and that marketers would do well to get the quality of the conversation right before we worry over the quantity.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Somebody's watching me...

...and you...and apparently it makes us uncomfortable. Or at least some of us.

Harris Interactive released a poll concerning US internet users concern with websites that customize content based on user profiles, including the use of behavior-based advertising.

Principle researcher Dr. ALan Westing of Columbia University observed:

"Websites pursuing customized or behavioral marketing maintain that the benefits to online users that advertising revenues make possible – such as free emails or free searches and potential lessening of irrelevant ads – should persuade most online users that this is a good tradeoff. Though our question flagged this position, 59 percent of current online users clearly do not accept it."

And although the oldest users seemed least comfortable with content targetting, younger age groups were markedly more comfortable when the privacy and security policies were visible and explicit.

So what?

Consumers have shown their willingness to provide personal information for loyalty programs, rebates and the like in exchange for a clearly articulated return of value (e.g., discounts, coupons, preference satisfaction). Online advertisers (and the online properties that rely on them) attempting to engage users via content and behavior targetting would seem to be best served by the common courtesies of transparency and permission.

Gratuitous headline musical reference

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Google Analytics: Benchmarking beta

Benchmarking a business' performance is a time-tested approach for understanding where one's business stands in relation to peers, partners and clients.

Google launched a set of benchmarking tools (free and in perpetual beta, of course!) for its web analytics offering in Mid March. By agreeing to share your site data (anonymously), you can compare your website performance against the industry category of your choice.

Here's a screen shot from our site for one month:

We've been testing out the becnhmarking feature on the R+K site for a couple of weeks and the results look very promising. We're able to compare our site metrics in several commonly used analytics areas including:

1. Visits
2. Pageviews
3. TIme on site
4. Pages per visit
5. New visits
6. Bounce rate

Users can drill down in each of these areas for more detail including conversion rates, traffic sources and visitor loyalty. We can see how our site stacks up against PR, Marketing and even client industry vertical category sites.

All of the usual Google Analytics dashboard features (such as easy to read graphs, flexible report configuration and point and click interaction) are available in the benchmarking toolset.

One downside appears to be in the way that Google categorizes peer sites in each does so by site size, using the uber-technical categories of small, medium and large. Unfortunately, you cannot benchmark your site against industry vertical sites that are smaller or larger than yours. I understand the value of the categorization by size, but I don;t understand the restrictions on viewing your site data against sites from different size categories.

So if you aspire to create small, efficient sites, you may find that your peers who have bloated inefficient (but large) sites are not part of the benchmark group to which you belong.

For the complete FAQs on Google Benchmarking, see this

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Code for...Nerd

Not a big tatoo fan, but here's one that certainly makes a statement.

I've seen an explosion of tshirts and other clothing celebrating net-worthy self expression...say it loud, I'm nerd and I'm this case, even for budding gen millens:

Cafe Press item

Moving Pictures (on Flickr)

The photo sharing site Flickr (owned by Yahoo) now allows it's Pro users to add video next to their photos (which poses the problem of how to henceforth describe what Flickr is!). See here for how Flickr describes the whole thing.

But wait, doesn't YouTube have the lock on video sharing? Well, yes. Flickr does not appear to be competing with YouTube for the following reasons:

1. Only paying 'Pro' members have access to upload video (everyone can see them)
2. Videos are limited in length to 90 seconds and 150MB

So what's the dealio then?

Mostly, I it's the idea that 'slice of life' video as often taken from a camera phone or cheap camcorder is now indistinguishable from the 'slice of life' photos that Flickr has always enabled.
In other words, it's simply taking the core function of the site (photo sharing) and expanding it to include short segments of moving photos.

Maybe your slice of life is event photos and videos? Maybe you are a sales rep diagnosing a problem on location with a brief video of the issue. You upload it, and someone in support has diagnostic context? Flickr users will determine how it serves their needs best.

Here's one example: A narcoleptic cat

All the usual features of Flickr are applied to video, including tagging, thumbnails, creative commons licensing and uploads directly from camera phones. In addition, the videos are able to be embedded elsewhere on the 'net using a player provided by Flickr (though as a free user I am unable to make it work easily).

Gratuitous headline musical reference

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Do you twitter?

TOTH to Faisal who forwards a nice YouTube link explaining Twitter. Think microblogging...from your mobile phone or web those who choose to follow you (and vice-versa) on a mobile phone or a webpage.

No universal purpose is served other than to answer the question 'What are you doing?' (Personally, I mostly use it to send myself and a few others notes on what I am thinking or doing for later action).

What it is, is another example of a social networking tool supporting anytime, anywhere, anyone communication. What it also is, is an example of a tool (like many products) that requires only that its users define how it best serves their needs.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Schadenfreuden: Blogging kills

NYTimes Sunday edition has an article entitled "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop".

Like so many stories on afflictions of the Always-on, All ways connected world, the NYT article leads with death to introduce the downsides of hard work in the information age. IN this case, the hard work of a few who choose blogging as their obsession.

It strikes me that online tools--just like hammers, shovels or any industrial age tool--are not moral actors. But that doesn;t sell newspapers online or off.

One blogger, Marc Andreesen (Creator of the first web browser, Mosaic), has a funny take on the NYTimes approach to these type of stories with just the right amount of humor.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bite the big apple

Apple Computer has been known to protect its trademark this case, they are going after the City of New York (sometimes known as 'The Big Apple') over a trademark application by the City's GreeNYC campaign...

From the article:

"The Cupertino, California, company calls for the trademark to be denied, claiming the city's logo will confuse people and "seriously injure the reputation which [Apple] has established for its goods and services."

"Trademark protection extends to sight, sound and meaning, Goldman says, and if a company can prove there's confusion over such matters, it may very well have a case. "

"The ultimate arbiter is the consumer," Goldman says."

Can one envision a day where perception is polled by the courts--a' la Collective Wisdom--to determine the relatvie merits of a trademark suit over 'confusion' or 'meaning'? The tools are available online.

In the meantime, we'll have to rely on a handful of lawyers and judges to make the decision for each of us...or maybe the lawyers at Apple will assess the perception of their actions from blogs, portals and other online feedback loops. Is suing taxpayers a wise strategy for protecting a brand? Is Apple's reputation as a friend of the earth? Or is Apple something not-so-different after all?

You be the judge of the 'trademark infringement' in this case: Yes? No? Maybe?

Headline explained here if you really need it

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Shine on you crazy yahoos

Tip o' the hat to Diane who forwards a story on Yahoo's latest effort that "..targets women between ages 25 and 54."

From the CNN article
( )

"With Shine, Yahoo plans to expand its offerings in parenting, sex and love, healthy living, food, career and money, entertainment, fashion, beauty, home life, and astrology. Shine likely will replace the existing Food site over time, although Yahoo plans to keep its Health site operating to serve men and women of other age groups.

"It is Yahoo's first site aimed at a single demographic, although other Yahoo sites like Finance and Sports already draw specific audiences."

Good luck and everything, I really like many of Yahoo's tools...but there is something wrong here. In nearly every other area of commerce and public life, collectivist notions of gender, age and race are outdated means of describing individuals. And while the mass media has always been somewhat limited in its ability to individualize it offerings, this is online. Online we're supposed to know better. And we expect to be treated as individuals.

Then again, in the world of MeCommerce, one might excuse even Yahoo for suffering confirmation bias in it's research agenda:

"Amy Iorio, vice president for Yahoo Lifestyles, said internal research also shows women are looking for a site to combine various content and communications tools.

"These women were sort of caretakers for everybody in their lives," she said. "They didn't feel like there was a place that was looking at the whole them -- as a parent, as a spouse, as a daughter. They were looking for one place that gave them everything."

One thing is for sure...there will be real data to show whether this insight is, in fact, insightful.