Sunday, 19 December 2010

Want to Know Where Facebook is Going in the UK? Look at AOL in the US 1990's...

Before you read the title of this and make any early decisions, realize that the similarities between Facebook, now, and AOL, in the 90's, aren't necessarily bad. Given Facebook's current prominence, with 550 million+ users and a penchant for rolling out new product offerings rather regularly, similarities exist between both user bases relative to competitors and rate of development. While AOL's time may have come and gone as the central portal for the internet, the move from then to the internet we know today, may indicate where Facebook is aiming to take us.

If you didn't get one of these in the 1990's, you weren't checking the mail enough....

A comparison involving AOL in its hey day may conjure up certain memories (ever-present cd mailers, paying to play such cutting edge games as SNIPER), but its worth going back and highlighting exactly how prominent the ISP/portal was in the market. AOL's role wasn't just as a site or a network, but, given the lack of any real broadband until the late 90's, also as the actual connection to the internet.

Once connected, AOL offered a consolidated internet experience, providing user communication (chat, IM, email), media sharing/identities (message boards, photos, profiles) & entertainment (shopping & games). AOL's walled garden was the primary destination for users to do everything they needed, with the rest of the internet being offered primarily through the AOL branded web browser. The network structure allowed the brand to be in control of almost all of the user experience, sitting as a layer between the user and the rest of the internet, though it also required that a large amount of development be done in house.

Source: Pew Research Center
 As broadband increases, dial up internet peaks in 2001, before declining to negligible numbers today.

AOL's heavy development requirements became increasingly important as external internet access/broadband penetration increased competition from other options. AOL's connectivity offering granted the network a position as a user's first destination within the internet. However, as dial up penetration began to decline and broadband share moved to replace it, AOL found itself reinventing as a content portal instead of just an ISP, throwing down any part of the 'walled garden' it once used. Once competition raged, the variety of growing internet content left AOL knocked well below its original prominence and users going to multiple sites based on their content needs.

I realize this chart is a rather general estimation of 5-8 years of very complex internet development, but running out of logo space is running out of logo space.

The internet post central ISPs such as AOL is the fragmented, but robust offering of recent memory (or possibly still currently). As generalist sites/portals such as AOL were beat by specialist offerings (why not go game at a site like Yahoo! games or Newgrounds), the primary location of internet users became a sequence of daily destinations. This ordering of daily sites led to micro-struggles for prominence within categories, instead of a macro-competition. While before, the competition was AOL vs. competitors or AOL vs. the disparate internet, struggles now existed between singular sites and networks. For example, within Microblogging, sites such as Pownce gave way to Twitter and Tumblr, with each competing to be the user's main destination within the sector, not overall.

Throughout this phase of development, social networking displayed some of the most fierce competition, both within the sector and with their media sharing/microblogging/etc. neighbors. The competition between Myspace and Facebook occurred simultaneously with a battle between social networks and media hosting sites, as both aimed to be the user's destination to share media. As the dust settles, we find ourselves in the current network ecosystem. Facebook has emerged as the mass market social network de jour, with 550+ million users, while networks such as Linkedin and Myspace (which recently added Facebook connect) focus on building interest networks and widening the overall ecosystem. The struggle between neighboring sectors and social media has been abated by integration, allowing for an overall media sharing network which allows content to move between each, aiding media sites in traffic and Facebook et. al. in capacity.

It is this overall ecosystem that has positioned Facebook in a similar space as our starting point with AOL. The network has grown to feature a robust internal and external network of content, strengthening its position as not only the most prominent site in a user's daily online destinations, but aiming to move into a different category, a layer slightly above the internet. Looking at current features on Facebook, it seems to increasingly mirror that of the ISP AOL, as it internally offers:

-Communications (groups, IM, status updates, notes & most recently Facebook Message Center)
-Shopping/Marketing (Marketplace, Pages)
-Entertainment (Apps, Games) 
-Content Sharing (Photos, Video, Profiles)
In this sense, Facebook has aimed to consolidate utility for the visitor, keeping a product offering more diverse and useful than most competitors can provide.

Unlike AOL , no purely walled garden exists for Facebook as any shortcomings are strengthened through integration (i.e. Shopping on or brand websites using features  such as Facebook Connect, Blogs or Microblogs can be syndicated easily to pages or the news feed), extending the reach of the network without costly development. Facebook's application development structure and API have also brought a network of developers in to enrich internal content. Gaming companies, lured by the possible player base size, have created successes such as Farmville, drawing upwards of 10 million daily users to the network to play, all the while stemming off possible external competition.

Facebook's external integration brings website content into the site rather seamlessly. This content aggregation is increasingly helped by leveraging Facebook user accounts as a tool to access data on other websites, through which Facebook aims to make the web more socially integrated. Facebook's content ethos has been the antithesis of what occurred with AOL, as the more content that can be easily shared through the network (from general sites, other social networks and competitors), the greater the value of the overall experience. In this way, Facebook avoids 'micro-competition' by being an audience multiplier, not a competitor to media platforms, websites & social networks.

The difference between AOL & Facebook's integration strategies means the way forward is different for the internet's most prominent social network. However, just as AOL faced its largest challenge in broadband and the wider internet, Facebook must reconcile its position relative to upcoming trends in search. Technological shifts in the market towards more efficient search threaten to be the largest challenge to Facebook's 'integrated garden' strategy. The company must move forward to meet both market trends and competitors such as Google, in serving up information based on the organization's strengths. The patent of social graph search Facebook obtained earlier this year is a start, but users expect a functionality in line with the network's current position on the internet. Just as AOL failed to adapt widely and quickly enough to emerging changes, Facebook must keep up the pace of innovation or risk being knocked from ubiquity in the same manner.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Can Social Media Drive Positive Behaviour Change?

Social media marketing commonly uses the medium to leverage the power of our friend networks to drive purchase, get users to engage with a brand/campaign or spread recommendations. While examples of the power to drive behaviour through community engagement are readily available for brands, NGOs, political parties & charities, does the power of social media extend to positive health behaviour for users?

Our decisions about behaviour don't just come from internal factors, but are shaped by a variety of external sources, such as peer reference groups, family and the local community/culture.

In real life networks, the choice to exercise more, give up smoking, eat healthier or save more money can be influenced by those around us. The readiness to share these personal positive initiatives may be tempered by the closeness of the relationships we have with others, but generally, these can be shared experiences across our family, friend, professional or acquaintance networks. Given that the power of social networking is moving these relationships online, regardless of geographic barriers, shouldn't our positive decisions become even more incentivized?

The amount of information online supporting positive behavioural efforts is vast, with sites such as Webmd, blogs on nutrition, Facebook pages for NGOs such as the American Lung association and twitter pages for those ready to provide fitness advice. Going beyond just providing information, and reinforcing activity, seems to limit the amount of sources slightly.

 Foursquare's Healthy Eating Badge encourages healthy dining options...

Location based social networks (LBSN) such as Foursquare provide good examples in the form of their current campaigns with Runkeeper (providing badges to those who run certain amounts) and CNN on healthy eating (providing badges to those who check in at various Farmer's Markets & other locations). Promotions such as these take the search for information and incentivize activity, but what about aiding decisions and committing to them?

This rather quick analysis of phrases on twitter, shows how quickly 750 messages with these certain positive phrases are generated. Confounding tweets selling products aside, we see that most positive phrases are present in various amounts on Twitter.

The way a user shares such decisions, be it to start running or give up smoking, may vary across networks , though organic conversation seems to be the most basic vehicle for such an announcement. Just as telling fiends in person about our decisions is a tacit license to provide encouragement and engage in our efforts, doing so online, hopes to encourage those within our social group. The reach and timeliness of communication through social media is useful, but do users leverage the lasting power of relationships to enhance their health decisions?

Looking at Facebook Applications for positive health choices (Fitness (both eating & running), Smoking, Finances & Sobriety), I found 44 examples of non-quiz based applications for sharing and committing to a positive behaviour

Facebook applications are a strong candidate for sharing and committing to a positive health change, as they automate sharing progress, track data well and hold the capacity to engage friends. Looking at 4 major categories (becoming fit, saving money, quitting smoking and sobriety/substance related issues), there seems to be an indication that many different applications have built small user bases on Facebook.

Overall, the most popular applications found were Cardiotrainer (78,623) & Nike+ Run Tracker (29,786) -- (full list below). Beyond the top few applications though, a heavily fragmented sample exists. On average, each application has 3,685 MAU, but 420 with top 5 applications ignored. Usage of applications seems to mirror the expected social readiness to reveal such a decision to your friends (in both real life and online), with diet & fitness issues trumping the more serious money & substance abuse issues.

Looking at the anecdotal data from both Facebook & Twitter, it seems that both online and offline channels are regulated by similar social norms when it comes to behavioural choices. This isn't too surprising, as the way which we consider online network behaviour has moved closer to the real world in recent years. While social networking may increase the reach of our friend networks, the implications for behavioural choices and announcements frequently reverberate into the real world, meaning that influence on our choices involves both.

Does this mean that social networks don't have a greater capacity to drive positive health choices? Probably not. The issue seems to involve bringing users outside of a current network in around the choice, less than using existing friends to reinforce it. Communities of runners (either in forums, on apps, or just conversing) reinforce running behaviour, more so than non-running friends probably would. The same could possibly be said for dieters or those quitting smoking online, the shared experience between individuals in those sub groups may grant a greater authority on that specific topic.

WeQuit's Facebook app may have motivated some users during its launch on 'No Smoking Day', but its current user base (98 MAU) shows the challenge in using network involvement to drive lasting interaction around positive behaviour in social media.

So what does this mean for companies or app developers hoping to build a community to drive positive behaviour? It points to developing strengths from networking users around a shared interest, using search, collaboration and matchmaking features over the ability to post to existing networks. The power of the news feed or wall post to drive users in may work for social gaming, but it doesn't seem to be there yet in social positive health.


Full list of Positive Health FB applications analyzed:

Application Name MAU Category
Cardiotrainer 78,623 Fitness
Nike+ Running Monitor 29,786 Fitness
Map My Run 21,756 Fitness
My Diet 11,636 Fitness
Quit-o-meteR 3967 Smoking
Fit-ify! 3,297 Fitness Fitness Log 3,034 Fitness
CalorieStory Food Diary 2,286 Fitness
Healthseeker 1,468 Fitness Daily Dares 1,011 Fitness
Change Reaction 785 Fitness
No Smoking! 672 Smoking
Weight Watchers Tracker 470 Fitness
Weight Challenge 465 Fitness
MyMoney 383 Finances
Healthy Lungs 361 Smoking
Calorie Counter 269 Fitness
NHS Healthy Living 239 Fitness
How much money did I save since I've quit smoking? 162 Smoking
Quit Smoking Counter 158 Smoking
Stop Smoking 148 Smoking
Quitclock 144 Smoking
Quit'n'Tell 128 Smoking
QuitTracker 128 Smoking
WeQuit 98 Smoking
Feed the 81 Finances
Spark Your Life Activity Tracker 69 Fitness
Quit Smoking 69 Smoking
iChallenge Fitness 60 Fitness
Nutrition Data 59 Fitness
Virtual Smoker 58 Smoking
Sobriety Chips! 46 Sobriety 41 Finances
With a little help from my friends 30 Smoking
Split Bills 24 Finances
Healthy Steps 21 Fitness
Blast n Quit 18 Smoking
Sober Gifts 18 Sobriety
How addicted are you to cigarettes 17 Smoking
Cybercise 15 Fitness
Quitters 15 Smoking
Gimmepleez 11 Finances
Smart Saver 10 Finances
Yousustain 10 Finances

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Top London Ad Agencies by Foursquare Check-in (21.10.2010) [Infographic]

London Foursquare Ad Agency Rankings (21.10.2010)

Well the only thing scarier than the psudo Halloween motif we've gone with for the pre-Halloween version of the infographic might be the clustering in the bottom left of the graph. This might be forgiven though, as McCann's immense check-in growth is a problem to scale no matter how you cut it. It really seems to illustrate the power of consolidating locations and driving activity, to the level of doubling check-ins since the last time I tried a Foursquare ad infographic. 

Also interesting is the staying power of Foursquare Activity relative to the launch of Facebook Places. It seems that agencies are slower to adopt Facebook's location platform than pre-launch hype might have suggested. At the least, it seems that users who picked up Foursquare have carried on, regardless of other options.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How Consistency gives Insight into Efficient Use of Facebook's 'Like'?

Facebook's 'like' feature has already become a ubiquitous part of almost any social network user's consciousness. The button, which replaced 'become a fan' functionality on Facebook pages and extends externally to websites outside of Facebook, has become one of the de facto ways to express approval for content, as well as sharing it with friends. As the prominence of the 'like' feature extends further into the internet, as seen this week with Mountain Dew's new display advertising, its power as a signaling and sharing function will only continue to grow.

External embeds of the 'like' button have allowed content which exists outside of Facebook to be easily integrated into the network, driving external content into user streams and friends within a user's network outside from Facebook. Facebook has shown that users 'liking' articles are 5.3x more likely to visit URLs in Facebook than average and have 310 friends (2.4x more friends than the normal user). Given the social, highly engaged user that Facebook illustrates liking content, it's interesting to consider how far this affinity extends. Does the 'liking' a brand or page extend past the single action into advocacy or purchase, or does this represent merely a highly streamlined sharing feature?

Does consistency grant our license to engage?

Given a lack of broad reaching hard data, a theoretical answer may come from how powerfully 'cognitive consistency' interacts with the 'liking' experience. Simply put, 'cognitive consistency' describes the harmony between what we think and what we do, the drive for which can affect our behaviour.The drive itself hopes to avoid 'cognitive dissonance' or the imbalance between our beliefs about ourselves and attitudes and our actions. An experiment by Freedman & Fraser (1960) efficiently illustrates the power of the concept:
"A researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, had gone door to door in a residential California neighborhood making a preposterous request of homeowners. The homeowners were asked to allow a public-service billboard to be installed on their front lawns. To get an idea of how the sign would look, they were shown a photograph depicting an attractive house, the view of which was almost completely obscured by a very large, poorly lettered sign reading DRIVE CAREFULLY. Although the request was normally and understandably refused by the great majority (83 percent) of the other residents in the area, this particular group of people reacted quite favorably. A full 76 percent of them offered the use of their front yards.

The prime reason for their startling compliance has to do with something that had happened to them about two weeks earlier: They had made a small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer worker had come to their doors and asked them to accept and display a little three-inch-square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It was such a trifling request that nearly all of them had agreed to it. But the effects of that request were enormous. Because they had innocently complied with a trivial safe-driving request a couple of weeks before, these homeowners became remarkably willing to comply with another request that was massive in size."
(Quote from R. Cialdini's 'Influence the Power of Persuation')
 As shown in Freedman & Fraser's experiment, as well as Cialdini's summary, the power of a small thing, the initial request, allowed license for an acceptance of a larger request. The respondents had already agreed to one offer and therefore were motivated to stay consistent through another. Freedman & Fraser also found that the two offers didn't have to be highly related or from the same person to be effective, leading to the conclusion that the action of agreeing may fundamentally change an individual's attitude.

Relating this back to the Facebook 'like' button, we can see where assumptions can be made. Just as a small sign led to acceptance of a larger request, can 'liking' (the smaller action) lead to a larger action (such as engagement, consideration or even purchase)? The study seems to possibly indicate so, but limitations are present. The power of the 'like' button to fundamentally change attitudes hinges on the prominence of the action. The amount of prominence an individual gives the action of 'liking' may impact how effective it was to change an attitude.

The attention paid to a 'like' button varies based on how the it is presented (i.e. externally vs. on a FB page, clearly vs. obscured, supported by media vs. alone). Facebook's data shows that optimizing the position of the like button on a media owner's site increased CTR by 3.5x. Interestingly, data also showed that enabling the like button to display faces of friends who have also liked the content increased CTR by 2-3x over buttons without.

The impact of our friends...

Heider's Balance Theory Model
The impact of visible friends to motivate 'likes' relates back to another interesting theory within 'cognitive consistency', Heider's 'balance theory' (summarized well in this paper by Awa & Nwuche, 2010). Simply put, Heider created a model involving a focal point (the individual - 'P'), another individual or issue ('O') and a final individual, object or issue ('X'). As shown above, relative to the two other points, the focal point may change his views about one object ('X'), based on his view of the other object ('O') and the relationship between the two ('O-X'). By doing so, he achieves a balance in his beliefs (i.e. 'P' feels positively about 'O' and since 'O' likes 'X', 'P' may be influenced to as well).

Modifying this model to external content with a 'like button', we can see how the website ('X'), the user ('P') and the user's collective network ('O') may influence behaviour.While Heider's model is limited to three individual points, if we consider the mass of your Facebook network to be a homogenous individual (which, with apologies to Heider isn't normally the case), then we can see how the social influence of our collective Facebook friends (which we at least casually associate with and therefore probably like on average) helps to encourage an increased motivation towards an attitude shift and therefore a 'like' of content.


So, given this mass of theory and data, how can the power of consistency be leveraged to increase both 'likes' and possible after like behaviour?

Primarily, we should consider the journey of a 'liking' user very closely in planning content. By making the action of 'liking' as obvious as possible, either through supporting advertising, pre & post 'like' content or even integrating the 'like' into other advertising, we can hopefully increase the prominence in the user's mind that he/she has liked branded content.

 A prominent like should hopefully modify a bit of the user's attitude towards the brand, meaning that further communications and a clear pathway to end objectives could increase brand engagement. For example, 'liking' content on a brand's website should transition the user into a situation where, later on, they can like other external content, branded FB content or a branded FB presence. Leveraging these increased interactions, greater requests for engagement or action can be introduced.

The power of consistency seems to work best against those already warm to the content, but by utilizing the power of friends, as shown in the slightly damaged Heider model, we can utilize the need for consumer's to balance their friend network's affinity towards branded content with their own.

Given these considerations, its worth noting that none of this is a substitute for good messaging, engaging content and a clear communications strategy. But by leveraging consumer consistency, we may be able to enhance the effectiveness of a clearly planned strategy and gain further effectiveness from a ubiquitous Facebook feature.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Scarcity and Online Buying: Digital Behavioural Economics

The current advertising & media industry push towards a greater understanding of Behavioural Economics isn't a new thing. From Walter Dill Scott's succinctly named "The Psychology of Advertising: A Simple Exposition on the Principles of Psychology In Their Relation to Successful Advertising" in 1908 and John Watson's transition from academic to VP of JWT in the 1920's through to the en vogue works of Gladwell, Thaler & Miller today, psychology has been applied in a myriad of formats and combinations (who stole my neuromarketing & replaced it with behavioural economics!?)

That being said, looking within marketing and advertising, we can find manifestations of psychological principles in intentional and unintentional situations. While case studies are present in both online and offline mediums, examples within the digital space lend themselves to special analysis, due to the unique nature of consumer interaction online. Throughout this series of posts, I plan on taking a principle and highlighting a clear example of how a marketer has made it work well.

Scarcity and Online Buying

The power of scarcity (and/or perceived scarcity) has been heavily written about in various academic and non-academic circles through the marketing and economics fields. Given that the more academic implications of scarcity have been covered thoroughly, I'm going to focus more on the way it applies to online e-commerce.

So what is scarcity? Economics defines it loosely as "The condition in which our wants are greater than the resources available to satisfy those wants" (Arthur, 2008). However, given that arguably every purchasable good available is in someway scarce, the power of scarcity has a greater psychological power than the economic definition gives it. One psychological implication of scarcity is that it "binds rationality" (Altman, 2006), meaning that it takes an otherwise rational decision and effects the decision or purchase process. To understand the full implications of this, we need to understand how it fits into the purchase model.

The Consumer Purchase Process provides a good model to think about where different concepts effect the consumer and how we go about buying

As with many applied concepts, scarcity speaks directly to the base instincts of the consumer. The act of purchase at its most basic involves the minimization of risk and the amplification of perceived value. Everyone wants to feel like they made the best decision to get the best deal. As value is a rather unclear concept to individuals, we draw upon previous experiences (formed during previous post purchase experiences) as well as our current evaluation of alternatives presented to us. Scarcity speaks more to the way we evaluate alternatives, as it imparts a greater perceived value to alternatives deemed scarce. As the consumer search for information doesn't always produce a 'perfect' level of information about alternatives available (due to limitations or marketing communications), scarcity can be real (as in there are actually very few goods available) or perceived (as in the market is being manipulated and/or a sense of urgency is given through messaging).

Scarcity Working Well Online - Woot!

 Woot's main page features a clear message about the product on offer for the day and provides a clear path to purchase

Classic examples of creating scarcity exist in concepts such as the '1 week'/'Limited Time' sale, but also in the relatively new trend of 'Deal a Day' sites. Sites such as Woot! or larger retailers such as and offer a product a day, ceasing sale of the product 24 hours after launch or when stock has sold out. By offering a desired product at a lower price, the draw to the site is already an established value. Given the threat of a sell-out, perceived scarcity becomes a heavy motivator in a quick purchase.Woot's selection of products already being considered by their target market (i.e. MP3 players, computers, etc.) means that scarcity can help along a purchase already being mulled over by the consumer.

As seen with, scarcity as a motivator works best when a clear message exists about the urgency surrounding the product and the path to purchase is clear. With Woot! a few clicks and a login allow you to quickly and easily purchase the daily product on offer. Woot also leverages the interest created by its scarcity model into user involvement, with users supplying comments and support for the product.

Importantly, Woot! also provides metrics about how sales are going, allowing users to feel as if they have a handle on understanding how scarce the product is. In reality, the information provides no real indicator on how long supplies will last, but easy to understand metrics help to fulfill the consumer's 'search for information'.

 Woot's flashing lights on site (shown here as a real product) indicate low stock or a special event called a 'Woot Off'.

After building up a constant daily level of scarcity around its products, Woot! sporadically increases urgency through a series of cues and events. Flashing lights feature around the product as its stock is low, driving home scarcity and increasing urgency to purchase further. The Woot! flashing lights also feature on their random 'Woot Off' events, in which previously unsold stock is resold consecutively, with multiple items being featured, one after another until all are sold. Such events don't effect the scarcity of the item's original day on the site, as a sell out would prevent it from being featured in the next 'Woot-off.'

By combining a desired item, with an interested target market & a sense of urgency, Woot! creates an opportunity for purchase that might not have occurred. Looking back on the consumer purchase process, the website stimulates 'problem recognition', helps in the 'information search', negates an 'evaluation of alternatives' through perceived scarcity and drives a clear path to purchase.

Scarcity Backfires & the iPad

While Woot! manages to leverage scarcity in a way that provides a relationship with the consumer, other sites illustrate what can occur when the power of the concept is utilized incorrectly.'s iPad promotion, illustrates what can occur when scarcity isn't handled in a clear way for the consumer. 

Secretsales, a members only sales site, created a wave of interest on Twitter and Facebook by offering a 3 day sale of iPads at 50% their normal price. By spreading the sale's stock over three days, Secretsales hoped to graft an increased perception of scarcity on top of an already rare offering, a cheaper iPad. In doing so, they encountered site crashes on the run up to the sale, leaving many unable to even attempt to buy. Those that could get through quickly exhausted the relatively small stock, leaving a stock out message for consumers who later connected. Due to an outpouring of network abuse, Secretsales then decided to release all remaining stock, quickly clearing out and ending the promotion early. What followed was continued online abuse, with many claiming the entire sale was a scam. 

While scarcity quickly drove sales in the Secretsales promotion, the campaign itself could be considered a failure. If they planned on utilizing scarcity to drive sales this would be considered a success, but given the already rare nature of the product, such a promotion left many consumers wary of the brand and reticent to engage with them again. While Woot! and others utilize metrics and visual cues to empower consumers to understand and act on a perceived scarcity, the unclear situation put forth by Secretsales left them powerless and angry. Given the sites' objectives, raising awareness, driving registrations and encouraging repeat visits, a different promotional mechanism would have proven more effective.

Scarcity is a powerful concept to drive sales within online shopping, but it needs to be inline with marketing objectives. Post purchase behaviour can shape future interactions with online shopping portals, so scarcity must be tempered with providing an empowered experience for the consumer. By providing a clear path for purchase, informing the consumer about both the product and the buying situation and considering consumer perception once 'rationality' returns, scarcity can be applied efficiently, but not at the cost of the consumer relationship.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Recommendation in the age of collaboration...

Recommendation has and always will be one of the most powerful drivers for product purchase. The power of friends & family singing your brand's praises will always resonate more than a basic advertiser's message. In the age of social media however, the way we communicate has fundamentally grown, and subsequently, so has the way we recommend products to others. The consumer of today has communication options that have expanded not only his social circle past geographic and cultural limitations, but allowed brands to create a conversation with the consumer that previously didn't exist. With all of this communication expansion, what has digital & social networking really meant for recommendation?

With so many social media choices, what does it mean for how people recommend?

The requirements for an effective recommendation are relatively basic. It requires an informative statement about something, given credence by the trust level of the reviewer and the perceived relevance of the information. As trust grows, so does the power of the recommendation. Alternatively, the more relevant the recommendation seems, either through timeliness or quality, the more powerful it becomes. So as consumers communicate over greater distances, faster speeds and with a higher number of casual acquaintances, what happens to the power of recommendation?

Facebook Like

Product recommendations from our friends and family automatically gain power from existing trust and Facebook, as the social network du jour, is well positioned to exploit that. Through the 'like' feature we can easily share what products and brands we care for, slowly building a recommendation network amongst our contacts. The simultaneous distribution of friends' recommendations through news feeds, means that opinions about brands and products can be shared quickly and clearly, from both internal and external Facebook sources (thanks to open graph & FBML) and leading to content inside & outside of the network. However, though Facebook is well positioned to communicate peer recommendations, a high level of trust still relies on a close knit network. Recommendations from general acquaintances or those unknown outside of the network still lack the power given to closer 'friends'.

Aardvark's Social Search in Action...

Outside of traditional social networking, recommendation needs to rely on other sources to build trust. While Facebook uses existing ties, social search engines & sites, such as Aardvark or Yahoo Answers, rely on the wisdom of crowds and perceived authority as trust arbiters. Aardvark , acquired by Google earlier this year, seeks to answer questions based on a hybrid model, pairing user answers through existing social networks and based on topics that an individual has claimed expertise. Sites such as Yahoo Answers or review sites such as Qype, utilize a voting or user hierarchy model to attempt to signal which individuals are the most trustworthy. By considering a user's grade and his recommendation relative to others, individuals can begin to judge the quality of information, without the trust found in traditional relationships.

Badges & check-ins help to identify expertise

Alternatively, incentive based networks such as Foursquare or Get Glue use a mix of existing ties and accomplishment markers to signal trustworthiness. Through gaining badges based on accomplishments, users are able to signal that actions or qualifications have been completed, meaning they may be more trustworthy sources of related information. Requiring action may be a more effective way than asking an individual to show expertise, but it also involves a clear signaling system and direct links between signals and knowledge. Conversely, recommendations through action (such as Foursquare check-ins or tips at a specific venue) also have the capacity to prove more trustworthy than other sources, given the increased effort required.

Get Glue
So what do these differing online recommendation networks mean for advertisers and brands?

Regardless of network type, brands must make themselves available to users. Building trust through interaction and making content easily available to experience, recommend and widely share, can help brands to create and facilitate user to user communications. Be it creating a heavily produced piece of digital content for a large brand or simply curating the venue page or website for a small establishment, the ease of use with which a consumer can find, interact with or share content can aid with gaining effective recommendation.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Top London Ad Agencies by Foursquare Check-in (06.08.2010)

I decided to do something a bit different than the normal top 30 infographic with the Foursquare check-in data. While the infographic may still come out at some point, I thought it might be easier and more useful to try out Tableau public and visualize the data as a dashboard. First attempt is below, though I may modify it for more functionality as time goes on.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Outdoor Advertising Takes Us One Step Further to Living in a Sci-fi Movie...

Movies always seem to utilize outdoor advertising in some bombastic ways whenever they need a 'dystopian' future-scape. From 'Blade Runner', 'Idiocracy' & 'Robocop' to 'AI', 'Back to the Future', 'Minority Report' & 'They Live', outdoor advertising plays a role in conveying an emphasis on the conspicuous consumption & promotional opportunities of the future. However, this week, 2 stories in the mainstream press seem to have emphasized how close we are to having at least the capability, if not the consumer comfort with, some of sci-fi's outdoor advertising channels.

Something tells me these might be kinda noticeable....(via source)
First, the city of Miami has fast tracked approval for two 'skyscraper' sized digital LED screens within the city. The digital ad platforms would come in at a total height of 50 stories, with the first 100 feet being supplied by a parking deck. While event type installations are nothing new within outdoor advertising, this seems, given the mock-up, to take attention grabbing dynamic content to a new level. While sights such as Picadilly Circus neon signs barely go above 5 stories, the 22 story advertising installations would bring us a step further to the ever present advertising in films like Blade Runner (now if we only had a zepplin...). So, film associations aside, will something this big work? The panels come in a line of large, historic outdoor installations, so they may follow other examples and become part of the skyline. However, they must strike a pretty hard balance between being bombastic & noticeable without being a horrible eyesore.Either way, the creative opportunities for advertisers seem pretty varied (someone planning a monster movie campaign is salivating already).

Secondly, in smaller scale, but customizable advertising, the Telegraph (and my Daily Links section) featured a story about the advancement of consumer customized, digital advertising panels (ala Minority Report, as shown above). Technology such as this has been in development for some time, with previous installations tracking approximations of age and gender from a web cam monitoring consumers. Currently however, IBM has spoken of taking the tech a step further, utilizing RF-ID to obtain user information for a more granular customization.

 Whether consumers accept something like this or see it as an invasion of privacy depends on the implementation of the technology over the next few years. Consumer attitudes are a long way from accepting a very tangible and public representation of what advertisers know about them and the technology to do more than approximate characteristics is far off from being widely accepted. If advertisers, technology providers and media owners can slowly progress the general consumer attitude to a more accepting view of data customization through RF-ID or another wireless solution, then something like this may have a chance of occurring. Alternatively, high costs, privacy concerns and lack of a standardized information system may limit this technology to webcam based approximation.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Daily Links for 02.08.2010

Facebook and Amazon Team Up to Make Gift Shopping Easier | Fast Company
I may be in the minority for alot of the privacy vs. marketing issues given my inherent bias, but I quite like the idea of collaborative shopping and auto suggestions. Now, that being said, I like the ability to share product interests and items across the network more than suggestions (which entail the possibilities of a retailer having a mass of data on me), but I realize the two are somewhat linked.

The Facebook/Amazon feature should really have some traction on birthday and anniversary suggestions, though I imagine it will probably have to overcome quite a few hurdles on the privacy front first.

I think reach vs. 'depth of engagement' is a rather hot topic when it comes to usefulness of metrics for measuring digital marketing effectiveness. The basic instinct is to fall on the side of reach, but as creative examples within marketing communications have shown, with content and a target market that match the chosen channels, reach can be bounced as the defacto metric for all marketing choices. This isn't to say that reaching an effective amount of users isn't important, but as shown in the article, knowing the demographics of a user base can go a long way towards selling emerging networks/channels for marketing communications.
Tailored advertising content is already a given in digital channels, but somehow, it becomes a little creepier when it manifests in outdoor advertising. Given that there exists tangible evidence of what marketers know about you, right in front of you while on the go, it seems like any customization mechanisms need to be as subtle as possible. That's why when you look at the two methods used to tailor ads (facial recognition vs. a RFID carrying data), it seems like the less detail & extra parts involved, the better (at least for now). I'd assume in the near future, tailoring an outdoor digital ad to approximate age and sex of passers by may be more palatable than having individual level messaging.
A brilliant & snarky guide from Gawker on 'old media' discovering 'new media' darling Tumblr. I quite like Tumblr, even though my actual Tumblr has been consistenly neglected for the last 2 years. While I tend to prefer a full hosted blog set-up, I can definitely see the attractiveness of Tumblr given its ease of use and cool functionality.

That aside, the principles that come from all forms of mar comms online still hold true on services such as Tumblr. Consistent and interesting content and activity has to give users a reason to visit. Given the state of some of the pages (such as Rolling Stone's), it looks like some media outlets are getting this a little more than others.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Geo-location and Privacy: A Subtle Balance

This post is also featured on the recently launched "Typing On The Wall" Blog.....

Location Based Social Networking (LBSN) is prominent within the media zeitgeist at the moment, driven by the increasing growth of the category's current darling, Foursquare. As Foursquare recently added its 2,000,000th user and its 100,000,000th check-in, some can argue that the increasing growth rate (having added its 1,000,000th user only 3 months ago) and press coverage of the network are currently the most prominent stories.

Foursquare CNN World Cup Badge

CNN partnered with Foursquare during the World Cup to direct users to check-in at certain locations worldwide, unlocking badges and interacting with content

Given the company's growth rate and the utilization of the network by advertisers such as Domino's, the Huffington Post and CNN, this may be set to change. For media however, questions about Foursquare and other LBSNs go past the common questions of user growth and campaign concepts into "What insights can the network's data generate?"

Campaign metrics are key to creating attractiveness for advertisers, as greater data availability allows marketers to justify activity and modify comms efforts. Standing conversely against data availability however is user privacy.

User privacy concerns are inherent in social networking, but even more so when dealing with a user's location history. Sites such as popped up early on in the emergence of the current geo-location trend, highlighting a feed of users exposing their locations through auto posts onto Twitter. Concerns about user privacy have also been illustrated in recent studies, with a recent US/UK survey showing 55% of respondents worry about privacy relating to geo-location (Webroot).

Balancing privacy, key to growing the base of active users, and providing useful data & insights, key to growing advertiser investment, means that LBSNs must strike a careful balance as both network operators and data providers. Foursquare's solution to this issue has been two fold, providing basic data about venues & friends through the API (Application Programming Interface), while also providing business level analytics to venues claimed by the owners.

Given the open nature of the API, anyone can obtain a key and begin obtaining data and building applications, data is limited to what is available on the website. User specific data is limited to friends, while venues can provide the current amount of check-ins, who the mayor is and venue information. Data from the API is useful to monitor popular venues for a certain area or to create visualizations such as these, but it doesn't provide the specific level of data required to manage a large amount of CRM or loyalty plans.

Foursquare Analytics

Alternatively, the Foursquare analytics dashboard for a venue currently displays check-in data over time, different time periods and whether users clicked through to provided Facebook & Twitter links. In addition, it provides a stream of recent check-ins & top users, creating the ability to target individual users based on their behaviour for promotions. User check-ins not relevant to the specific venue are still protected.

Foursquare's approach to data visibility balances user privacy with metric creation in a way that provides venues an opportunity to customize promotions, while not risking user outrage by making data completely public to marketers. This strategy seems to be the way forward for LBSNs, as it encourages growth by unlocking the value of the network's data, without leveraging the privacy of the user base.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Daily Links for 27.07.2010

Sports & Money: Texas lands athletics sponsorship with "green" energy firm (via @Sociablesport)
The Uni. of Texas is going to offer branded green energy provision through their Texas Longhorns Energy program. While branded products for alumni are no big deal, leveraging the alumni network, passion for the university, sponsorship and environmentalism creates a novel approach to moving the UT brand and taking a step forward to a greener Texas. While its partly surprising that this idea emerged from the heart of oil country, I wouldn't be surprised if this didn't signal a novel move in collegiate sport sponsorship.
It seems Twitter has finally gone the way of Brizzly and is looking at embedding content within the tweet-stream. Such a move may seem to be an easy win for improving the user experience of Twitter, but depending on how this is implemented, it may fundamentally change the way user's approach the network. For one, this adds a value to using that 3rd party clients will have to scramble to compensate for (something that seems to be quite a trend lately). Secondly, this changes the way the user experience exists, as a clean, text based content stream becomes heavily loaded with thumbnails and preview widgets. Will it work in the long run? Probably. But I wouldn't be surprised to see a little unexpected handwringing in the near future.
I like the Diesel 'Be Stupid' Campaign, but this really takes the idea and drives with it. Facepark took a park in Berlin and encouraged people to 'Be Stupid' by creating an analog version of Facebook to rival the 'smart' digital version. What results is some really good viral content, an interesting website and a hope they might do this again in London one day.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Daily Links For 26.07.2010

Data security and opt in user consent are some of the looming issues in geo-location and social networking. The data freely available through APIs such as Foursquare's is rather useful for monitoring relative popularity and activity over time, but granular level user data is where businesses are really going to harness the usefulness of the network. This data is going to require user consent (either tacitly or implied) and this is where the conversation about geolocation & privacy truly begins.
For all the noise about regulating airbrushing in advertising, I think it is a really noble idea. That aside, aspirations are always going to be unreasonable and limiting marketing that utilizes these unreasonable (yet societally reinforced) goals addresses a manifestation of the problem, not the problem itself. Does advertising go to far in pushing an ideal, sometimes yes. However, the extreme cases of airbrushing etc. are regulated by societal outrage and the rest just represent what we have brought on ourselves for ideals. The answer to this problem isn't modifying advertising, but turning the mirror on individuals to empower themselves and create/push for healthy ideals.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Daily Links for 21.07.2010 - International Marketing, Outrage & Pepsi Nostalgia

Pepsi Remakes 'Diner' Spot
I love the original Pepsi/Coke diner spot from years ago. It's easily worked its way into the nostalgic lexicon of treasured childhood advertising. This is why I didn't think I'd like the update that much, as I expected it to be rather derivative.

That being said, I love the new twist on the old setup. Without spoiling it, it seems to fit the brand well. One could claim that the brand values of Pepsi Max (an incremental improvement over traditional Pepsi for those that want to avoid calories), deserves an incremental update over traditional existing ad content.
Following along the lines of the global marketing trend in several of my recent links, I love the story of how a brand like Pabst Blue Ribbon transforms itself across cultures. Going to uni & growing up in the US, I knew the Pabst brand already meant different things to blue collar workers, college students & hipsters, but within the US, only the image changed. As shown in the NY article, price point seems to rapidly change as well once enough space has elapsed to prevent information asymmetry.

I love the fact that seemingly downmarket beer made since 1844 in Milwaukee, saved from possible termination by a hipster renaissance of ironic consumption, can run as a premium product in different markets. Now if I can just get my hands on one of the upmarket versions.
I know this has been out for a few days now, but the story touches on an interesting issue about cultural relativism in global marketing. Just as with the KFC Australia ad earlier this year (Google 'KFC Racist Ad' and you should find the story relatively easily), when localized marketing and values are placed on a global stage, we find that misunderstandings can occur. Skin color is always a touchy issue, but vanity products do exist in every culture, representing social norms & values. The challenge, both for society and marketers is how to dance the fine line between localized relevance and (if relevant) global scale.

I know my links may be a little Geo-location heavy lately, but I thought this was an interesting entry detailing almost all of the conceivable badges you can earn on Foursquare. Badges as virtual incentives are an interesting concept, so seeing the breadth of how they have been applied so far is rather interesting.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Top 30 London Ad Agenices on Foursquare (for 16.07.2010)

Thanks to everyone who suggested new venues on Twitter, by email or in the comments last time. I've added quite a few new listings to the overall list. I'm hoping to upload the full list and simplified data in a few days, once I can plug it into some quick data visualization software for a post.

Also, I've fixed a bug in the aggregator that combined data from Proximity London & SapientNitro, so you should see these as distinct entries now.

As always, if you think that I've missed an agency or location to add to the search list, just email/DM or comment.

.jpg Version below (click to enlarge)

Friday, 16 July 2010

What can the Means-End Chain teach us about digital content?

      So, its no big secret that two of my largest geek obsessions: psychology & digital marketing, come together rather often on the blog. However, where as I normally start with a digital marketing concept/story and throw in some consumer psychology, I thought it might be entertaining to do the opposite.

Aside from being as far from the actual World Cup as possible, what makes Nike's ad easy to share while others aren't?

      With this in mind, I was recently considering what tools might be useful to differentiate the mass of digital content posted by brands. With the World Cup coming to a close and people marveling over the number of views advertisements like the Nike 'Write Your Future' video garnered, its interesting to consider what separates this from other similar, less viewed World Cup content. Along these lines, I thought I would take a relatively basic consumer psychology concept, the means-end chain, and apply it rather liberally to the world of online viral marketing, to view content in new ways.

What is the Means-End Chain?

       The means-end chain is, at its most basic, a way to describe how a product interacts with the consumer. Whereas more complex explanations can be found elsewhere, for our purposes, I'll go with a basic definition I've used since school At its heart, a product on the means-end chain breaks down in three different areas:
Not every product touches the consumer in each of these areas (some basic products may only deliver a basic benefit and possess simple attributes), but by analyzing a product along these lines, we begin to take apart its essence. Within each of the three groupings, two subgroups exist, which begin to paint a progression for product analysis (shown below).
 These six sections allow marketers to analyze not only how a product interacts with the consumer, but where advantages may exist in relation to similar products. For example, on the surface, few differences exist between Coke & Diet Coke. If we put Coca-Cola Classic on the means-end chain, we see that it hits the boxes expected from a soft drink:
Purchasing, possessing & consuming a Coca-cola isn't a life changing decision, no matter how many people you buy a Coke for or teach to sing. Even its psycho-social benefits (those conferred from others) are tenuously weak, with a fleeting acceptance coming from only the most needy of consumer. However, when we compare it to Diet Coke, we can see that in some interpretations, a soft drink can become more than just a beverage.
By dipping into enabling values the consumer may have about fitness or getting into shape, Diet Coke has the ability to interact on a level traditional Coca-Cola cannot. While it may be tenuous to say that one Diet Coke could enable a consumer to achieve a step towards a long term goal, it does point out how we project possibilities onto products in noticeable ways.

What does this have to do with viral content?

Moving away from the straight forward example of two related products, its clear to see that the basic concept of the chain is useful to think of products in a different way. However, relating this product analysis to online content however, may be more difficult.

When someone mentions viral marketing & the internet, a variety of things can come up. From tweets to pictures, video & websites, users & brands both enjoy the benefits of the way content travels online. The reach generated by a user generated movement can multiply the effectiveness of a brand's campaign exponentially, but predicting what content will resonate with the online audience is difficult. Much like predicting product/consumer interaction, the way users consume online content is unpredictable, leading to uncertainty about communication performance.

A focus group discussing re-tweeting last year attempted to sum up how content is passed on to me as 'attributional cool'. This meaning that users only pass on what they deem cool & interesting, hoping to impart a bit of that feeling to themselves as they share with their friends. Predicting what achieves the level of 'attributionally cool' is a nearly impossible task involving analysis of social norms, reference groups & a host of other complex factors. However, the relationship between the user, content & viral transmission begins in the same way as with the user & product.

Instead of a purchase & consumption, online content hopes to motivate the user into interaction & distribution. Therefore, it may be possible to compare two similar pieces of content, in the same way Coke & Diet Coke were compared, and see if some level of interaction dictated greater depth of engagement. While the very nature of viral content & 'attributional cool' lives in the Psychosocial area of the means-end chain, I believe the other areas can still help to unlock basic insights about content.

Applying the Means-End Chain to Digital Content....

Applying the chain to viral content, it seems that the attributes and benefits may possess a more obvious presence than values, as the relationship between content and the user is rather shallow. That aside, each area seems to take on new characteristics when thought of in the digital space.

Ok Go's 'Here It Goes Again' Video helps to illustrate how concrete attributes, such as embedding functions for content, can heavily shape pass-on performance

     Attributes, as we think of them in traditional product analysis, entails the actual dimensions & capacities of the product. With our Coke & Diet Coke example, the concrete attributes described unchanging things about the packaging and the liquid itself, while functional attributes described interpretive aspects such as taste. In applying the means end chain to digital content, concrete attributes can become the aspects of the product that control viewing such as resolution (HD or non-HD), encoding, video delivery platform (i.e. flash based or HTML 5), sound or no sound, embeddable or non-embeddable, etc. Functional attributes becomes analysis about the content itself, (i.e. does it feature recognizable characters, what is it's tone, etc.). While functional attributes may seem to play a larger role in viral pass-on than concrete attributes of a product, remember the performance of OK Go's viral music videos. After their treadmill based 'Here it goes again' went viral, their follow-up 'This too shall pass' featured disabled youtube video embedding at the behest of their record company. While this was eventually overturned, views of the video were significantly lower than the embeddable original, due to a change in the concrete attributes of the digital content.

Content such as the Toyota Sienna viral 'Swagger Wagon' illustrate the challenges in balancing depth of benefits with a target group to widespread appeal.

      Benefits, in traditional product analysis, are the deliverables that the product can bring (i.e. Coke quenches thirst (functional benefit) and it may signal something to others about your choices (psychosocial benefit)). Alternatively, when analyzing digital content sharing, the perceived psychosocial benefits play a large role in deciding if content will be passed on. The functional benefits of digital content speak to the enjoyment the viewer gets from consuming the content, while the psychosocial benefits speak more to the possible 'attributional cool' that the user feels he may get from sharing such content. While the psychosocial benefits may seemingly outweigh the importance of the functional benefits in assessing if content will be shared, we shouldn't discount the importance of the intial viewer experience in assesing content. How the initial viewer enjoys the content is very important on how he/she feels others will react to it. The reference groups of an individual also heavily shape expectations of what would be considered 'attributionally cool'. For example, a 15 year old might not progress down the means-end chain to the same level as a 35 year old family man when presented with content such as the 'Swagger Wagon' music video, though both may find humor in it. Therefore, the means-end chain helps to illustrate the challenge content faces when it hopes for a large pass on rate, delivering both functional and perceived psychosocial benefits to the largest audience possible.

Possibly one of the most well known pieces of digital content in the last few years, 'Yes We Can' illustrates how the rare phenomenon of tapping into the values part of the means-end chain can benefit a piece of content's consumption & pass-on

        As mentioned before, Values are the hardest level for both products and digital content to interact with the consumer. While few products can reach the consumer in a way that leads to delivering instrumental or terminal value, even fewer pieces of digital content can, due to fleeting engagement. However, given the scarcity and power of value based digital content, those that can latch onto some larger life goal gain a powerful chance to encourage pass-on. Content linked to political campaigns, such as the 'Yes We Can' video for Barack Obama's campaign illustrates how content may tap into larger goals due to its affiliations. While many politically related videos may touch on a similar topic in both attributes and benefits, the ability of the video to deliver the perception of instrumental value delivery gave it an appeal over others.


        So after attempting to apply the means-end chain to digital content, what have we learned? I think breaking down each section has shown that the 'content as a product' model works for analyzing how content is consumed. I think limitations exist in the power of the model based on the impact of reference groups and social norms, but that two similar pieces of content, with similar target groups and interests, can feasibly be compared for differences along the means-end chain. Overall, this entire exercise shows the value in applying new points of view to existing ideas, mining insight from the synthesis of different, but related, fields in marketing.