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Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

July 14 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Rant + Social Media // 2 Comments

Paid Tweets

One of the great things about our new information culture is how disparate sources coalesce into something meaningful. Last week I read a Fortune magazine article on Marc Andreessen, news about IZEA's Sponsored Tweets and research on the impact social media has on brands and eCommerce. When I put these pieces together the picture is of a powerful locomotive hurtling toward a creaky bridge.

Social Media and the Telephone

The telephone is a social platform. You call family and friends to talk about things from the trivial to the serious. If you know a person's phone number you can call them. At some point, marketers figured out that they too could call you, so long as they had your phone number. Phone numbers weren't hard to find.

This didn't sit too well with most people. They didn't want some stranger calling right at dinner trying to sell them something. The thing was, enough people actually did respond to these calls and telemarketing flourished. It was a lot more effective than direct mail.

Over time, more and more people became irate. Laws were passed so that you could opt-out of these unwanted calls. But there were loopholes. Giant gaping loopholes. Any company you had a 'prior relationship' with could still call you unless explicitly told otherwise.

You might have bought from them before, maybe even kept an eye out for coupons, but you didn't want them to ring you up whenever they pleased.

Now replace phone number with user name. This story has already been written.

Sponsored Tweets and Telemarketing

Sponsored Tweets will not work like telemarketing. The reason why telemarketing works is because you can engage in a dialog. A good telemarketer changes their approach based on the subtle feedback they're getting from the prospect. And they'll certainly use every objection as an opportunity. I know a bit about this since I ran telemarketing programs for nearly five years.

The problem with Sponsored Tweets is that the lack of dialog. One way communication isn't nearly as effective. It's the reason why telemarketing beats direct mail. No, Sponsored Tweets are not like telemarketing.

Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

Paid Tweets

You've probably received a robocall.

Robocall is American pejorative jargon for an automated telemarketing phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered recorded message.

I'm guessing you've gotten one during the election season or, most recently, from some company trying to sell you an auto warranty extension. You don't like them.

Getting a robocall from Martin Sheen is the same as getting a Sponsored Tweet from a celebrity.

Context Shifting and Social Marketing

Marc Andreessen believes that advertising can be an effective part of social interactions.

He tells me Facebook "will be bigger than Apple" and declares that the social-networking company will become the mass-market window to the web, much as Google has been for the past six or seven years. Twitter, so far criticized for having no way to make real money, will get advertisers to pay to reach people as they are sending messages about the sponsor's products.

The real issue here is context switching, a term my Caring.com engineers introduced to me. The general idea is that if you're thinking in one way (about one thing) it takes some time and effort to stop and think about something else. The context of your attention has changed.

This is why I believe social marketers need to build an ice cream truck. They need to deliver something that forces people to shift their context.

The example of Google actually supports the idea of context switching. Eyetracking studies have shown substantial differences in how people scan results for transaction based queries (left) versus information based queries (right).
Google Query Types

All searches are not created equal. The intent of that query, of that action, defines the context.

Social Marketing's Creaky Bridge

Others, like Andreessen, seem to believe that context is homogeneous and can be blended. That social messages and product based messages can live side by side. That as you're telling someone about the cool new things your iPhone does that you'll enjoy a message from Palm trying to persuade you that the Pre is the way to go.

... an overwhelming 96% of employed consumers say their opinion of a product brand does not change if that brand has no presence on a social networking site ... In fact, just 12% of respondents say their opinion of a brand actually changes if that brand maintains a significant social networking presence and only 11% of social networkers report following any major brand through a social networking site.

This is but one of numerous datapoints that illustrates that creaky bridge I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The locomotive of social marketing continues to thunder down the tracks, ignoring the flashing yellow signals at their own peril.

Sponsored Microsites is the Twitter Revenue Model

April 03 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Social Media // Comment

Last week Twitter began to display ads for March Tweetness and ExecTweets.

Twitter Microsite Ads

When this unit showed up under the follower statistics about a month ago it was a clear prelude to a true advertising unit.

I was expecting a more straightforward advertising pitch, something along the lines of contextually relevant ads based on an analysis of your tweet stream. Instead, the ads above point to sponsored microsites leveraging specific Tweet streams.

I've been hard on Twitter before, but in this instance I'm impressed.

Sponsored Microsites is the Twitter Revenue Model

Clicking on these ads bring you to sites that are powered by Twitter and Federated Media and sponsored by Fortune 50 companies - Microsoft and AT&T.

Exectweets

TitleTweets

Twitter provides the tweet stream and eyeballs, Federated Media builds the site and lands the sponsors. Twitter and Federated split the advertising revenue.

Scalable and Self-Reinforcing Business Model

Microsites are scalable and the participation on these sites is self-reinforcing for both the microsite and for Twitter as a whole. So, not only can Twitter and Federated Media use these microsites to drive revenue, they also help to create higher engagement that make future microsites viable.

Sidestepping the CTR Debate

The sponsors Federated Media are bringing to the microsites are big. They're interested in reach and branding not the CTR and ROI on the specific campaign. Twitter and Federated would be wise to do a brand lift study on these microsites to prove their worth from a brand equity perspective.

Privacy and User Issues

While Twitter is public, this is a whole new level of distribution. Could it generate more caution regarding tweets? Will some feel like Twitter is 'using' them to make money?

Twitter and Federated Media have already addressed this in some ways by letting people opt-out of ExecTweets. I wonder though, if that's a slippery slope. Will we all wake up one day and have to check a box to agree to have our tweets used on 'third party' sites?

Or maybe that's the plan.

Syndication or Subscription

If the microsite business model works, perhaps the future is a choice between having your tweet stream syndicated to microsites or subscribing on a monthly basis.

Whatever the future holds I'll eat some crow and give credit to Twitter for finding a creative way to monetize their product. (Mind you I still think FriendFeed blows Twitter away.)

Are sponsored microsites enough to be a sustainable business model? I don't know. But I'm more confident that Twitter will figure it out based on this implementation.

Social Marketers Need to Build an Ice Cream Truck

March 25 2009 // Advertising + Social Media // 1 Comment

Build an Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck

That's my advice to social marketers. Confused? Well, first let me describe my view of social media.

Social media and conversations are not a natural place to advertise. When I'm sitting down with a few friends for a beer and some idle banter I'm not looking for someone to come up and sell me on something. In fact, it's one of the quickest ways I can think of to irritate the hell out of me.

But that's just what many seem to think is appropriate for the online version of that same conversation.

Even if I'm talking about a product or service, say we're debating cell phone carriers and lamenting our most recent phone bills. That is not the time to pull a chair up at my table and ask "Did you know, AT&T has more bars in more places!?"

If you begin to think of social media as the front stoop or the local corner where people hang out and shoot the breeze you can understand the difficulty of effectively reaching and interacting with them. The context of their conversation is miles away from a purchase decision.

Ice Cream Man LOLCat

Instead, think about things that can motivate people to break from that context. Something that will cause them to stop their conversations and instead motivate them to take action.

Build an Ice Cream Truck.

The Ice Cream Truck has a product and they have a delivery mechanism that stops conversations and inspires purchase. You hear that distinctive song warbling down the block and you're taking orders from family members and making sure you've got your wallet!

Here's what people don't want. They don't want inventory updates from the Ice Cream Truck. They don't particularly care that the Ice Cream Truck got a brand new paint job. They don't need to understand Ice Cream Truck mechanics and supply chain management strategy.

They don't want to have a conversation with the Ice Cream Truck.

They want their Choco Taco!

Don't get me wrong, brands and products should still have a voice in social media and that voice should be "open, natural and uncontrived." Hopefully this leads to positive word-of-mouth, a viral transmission of product attributes and creates brand evangelists.

Conversations with products and brands are not social conversations.

The context of a social conversation and a brand conversation are completely different. And trying to mix the two together is a good way to torpedo your social marketing efforts. Brands really don't want you to be their friend, they want you to buy their product! Deep down I suspect most people understand this motivation.

Conversations have their place but developing the Ice Cream Truck - whatever that might be - is where marketers should be investing more of their time.

Could Inconsistent Design Save Social Advertising?

March 23 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Social Media // Comment

Social media sites like Digg, MySpace, Facebook and others are finding it difficult (to say the least) to get by using an advertising based revenue model. A drum beat of research shows that users don't like the ads on these venues or simply don't see them. The poor performance of these social ads translates into dreary CPM ad rates.

Social Advertising

The Q4 2008 Pubmatic AdPrice Index (pdf) puts Social Networking sites at the bottom of all other verticals and the trend for Social Networking sites continues to slide.

social networking CPM q4 pubmatic adprice index

Many of these social sites have incredible engagement metrics. Users are there every day, multiple times a day and stay there for - sometimes - hours on end. You might think this would be a huge boon for potential advertisers. Yet, the exact opposite seems to be the case.

The Participatory Marketing Network (PMN) conducted a Generation Y study that detailed why "advertising remains a tough sell in these environments."

84 percent noticed ads on social networks, 74 percent say they click infrequently/never (36 percent saying they don’t click on ads at all).

Then there's a recent Nielsen study (pdf) of social networking users which showed that 'false' was the term most closely associated with 'advertising'. Yeah ... that's not a good sign.

The high engagement on these sites means users become intimately aware of the structure of the site. They understand exactly where to look, how to navigate and what links to click.

The impetus for their visit compounds the problem. It is usually, and not surprisingly, social. Firing back responses to comments on your high school yearbook photo just isn't the best advertising opportunity.

So while users may 'notice' ads I'm not sure they're really 'seeing' them. They know where they are but they're avoiding the advertising and they're getting better and better at doing it.

Rearrange The Furniture

rearrange social media furniture

What if you made the navigation or design different. Not a major redesign but an ongoing number of smaller, incremental changes that break a user's rote click pattern. Keep them on their toes!

Think of it as rearranging the furniture in a room. You'd still be able to find the couch, the coffee table, the chair and the TV, but it would all be just a little different. They're in slightly different places or they've been reupholstered.

Wouldn't that make you take stock of the entire room again? To get your bearings you'd see things you might have missed before. That picture on the wall that you hadn't really looked at in ages?

Inconsistent Design

I'm not recommending something like this for just any site, but it makes sense for social sites where users become habituated to the design through repeated use. In these instances rearranging the furniture every month might help them see the paintings (aka banners) on the wall.

Is Facebook is seeing an increase in CTR since their much maligned redesign? Sure, 94% of users might be giving it a thumbs down but they're looking at it with 'new' eyes. (Contact me if you had a campaign running during the redesign.)

A substantial redesign, nevermind the ruckus, wouldn't scale well. Instead I'm thinking of smaller changes. It could be as big as moving columns or the order of top navigation or as small as a color change or resizing the logo.

The idea sounds radical even as I suggest it, but traditional techniques are not working. We take regular navigation off of lead generation and cart pages. Sure, that has more to do with keeping the user focused on a task, but it's still a break in the natural design of the site.

Advertisers, by in large, still don't understand how to market on social sites. I'm not sure any of us really know what's going to work or not. So why not test inconsistent design, even if it's a transitional measure?

Product (Re)Placement

February 05 2009 // Advertising + Technology // Comment

The other night I fell asleep watching Blade Runner.

Before nodding off I got to see a young Edward James Olmos (a nice juxtaposition to seeing him in Battlestar Galactica) and the amazing logo laden neon skylines that serve as the back drop to the epic Philip K. Dick story.

Blade Runner Coca-Cola Logo

A lot has been made of the product placement used in Blade Runner. Not because it was the first to use it, or that it was so prominent (which it was) but because many of the advertisers fell on hard times.

Among the folklore that has grown up around the film over the years has been the belief that the film was a curse to the companies whose logos were displayed prominently as product placements in some scenes. While they were market leaders at the time, many of them experienced disastrous setbacks over the next decade and hardly exist today. [Wikipedia]

The blatant product placement, track record of the advertisers and new technology got me thinking. What happens when an advertiser or brand ceases to exist? Right now that brand will live forever on film, locked on celluloid for eternity. But does it have to be that way?

Could product replacement be a new advertising venue?

In the digital age the logo of Coca-Cola can be swapped with that of Pepsi. Atari could be replaced by Wii. A dead brand can be replaced by the new thriving brand. Science Fiction has the greatest ability to make these changes because there are no inherent problems with anachronisms.

Period pieces would probably be off-limits (e.g. - Sense and Sensibility) and modern movies would pose potential, but not unsolvable, problems. For instance, the Mellow Yellow car featured in Days of Thunder couldn't be digitally altered to promote ROCKST★R but could to promote Mountain Dew.

It's an intriguing idea, though I'm sure some movie purists would howl at the moon if product replacement came to fruition. Yet, the new formats in which we're consuming media make this type of substitution seem possible.

Product placement localization seems likely too. Imagine a character drinking from a branded bottle of beer. Couldn't that brand be altered based on localization? Bud Light in the United States, Labatt Blue in Canada, Skol in Brazil and Krombacher in Germany.

Clearly this wouldn't always make sense and could disrupt the suspension of disbelief necessary for many films. Make no mistake, product replacement is a Pandora's box. But imagine the additional revenue potential of selling 'dead brand' space in movies.

Would you be disturbed by product replacement?

Yahoo Adds Ads To Alerts

December 26 2008 // Advertising + SEM // Comment

Yahoo is serving ads at the top of email alerts.
Yahoo Ads In News Alerts

Most of my alerts are with Google, but a few of my legacy alerts still reside at Yahoo. So I'm not sure exactly when this began but it seems like it started as of December 1st.

Both search giants are looking for ways to sustain growth in a maturing market. Sponsored search and network search just aren't going to move the needle in eyebrow arching ways anymore - particularly in a weak economic environment.

This is an interesting move by Yahoo in light of Google's advertising extensions via Feedburner (FeedSense) and Google Friend Connect (FriendSense).

Remember, Yahoo still dominates news by a nearly 3 to 1 ratio. It's nothing to sneeze at.

Yahoo News Versus Google News

If we use traffic as a proxy for number of alerts it's easy to see how Yahoo could quickly increase its reach. Effectiveness, well that's another issue.

But with this move by Yahoo, can AlertSense be far behind?

2009 Internet and Technology Predictions

December 23 2008 // Advertising + Marketing + SEM + SEO + Social Media + Technology // 9 Comments

Now is the time when bloggers go on the record with their thoughts for the year ahead. Place your bets! Stake your claim! Here's mine.

Crystal Ball 2009 Predictions for Internet and Technology

Facebook Becomes A Portal

Realizing that social media and advertising is like oil and water, Facebook repositions itself as a portal leveraging Microsoft's Live Search as the revenue model. This also might result in the potential acquisition of Netvibes to provide a more robust offering to compete with Yahoo!

Identity Systems Fail

Confused about the difference between OpenID, Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, users throw up their hands and decide not to use any of the above.

Video Advertising Succeeds

The adoption of video is surging faster than many expected. Longer formats and better quality will bring even more eyeballs who will grudgingly accept advertising.

Microformats Go Mainstream

Why they aren't already is shocking. Nevertheless, in 2009 we'll see microformats become a standard and search results will become far more robust as a result.

Banner CTR Becomes Obsolete

Brands will finally realize that measuring success by click through rate (CTR) isn't working. Measurement 'beyond clicks' will be the new yardstick, whether that's through new brand advertising measurement services like Vizu or through monitoring services like Brandwatch and Trackur among a gaggle of others.

RSS Adoption Spikes

Someone will (finally) figure out how to market RSS to 'the masses' who will grasp the sublime benefits of having content come to you instead of the other way around.

Kindle 2.0 Flops

Amid a weak economy Amazon releases the newest version of Kindle. Other readers have gained ground where Kindle has not and at the core Kindle is a solution without a problem.

Google Search Share Stalls

The move by Facebook (see above) causes a radical change in the search landscape. Microsoft passes Yahoo! for second place and talks about a Microsoft Yahoo merger are (unbearably) reignited.

FriendFeed Surpasses Twitter

FriendFeed adoption increases at an accelerated pace due to quick innovation, uncluttered design and an interface that lends itself to communication.

Someone 'Dies'

Users reach social media overload and VCs get even more nervous about revenue creating social media shrinkage. In this instance 'Dying' means a company goes under or is purchased for a song. My short list includes Plurk, Twitter, Digg and Seesmic. This isn't a reflection of the people or product but the inability to truly reach the mainstream with a service that has a profit model.

There are plenty of other things that I believe will happen in 2009, but they seem more obvious or an extension of current trends. Instead I tried to be a bit more bold, at least on a few of my predictions.

We'll check in this time next year to see how I fared. In the meantime, feel free to comment and provide your feedback and reaction to my predictions.

3 Column Blogs Are Killing CPM Rates

December 16 2008 // Advertising // Comment

Okay, not all 3 column blogs are killing CPM rates but the design contributes to the problem by making it easy for bloggers to produce ad clutter.

Ad clutter is a big problem

A recent BurstMedia survey revealed that 75% of users pay less attention to ads on cluttered sites.

Additionally, although respondents accept that advertising will appear on a web page, for a majority (52.6%), there is low tolerance for more than two advertising units per web page. More than one-quarter (29.9%) of survey respondents immediately leave a site if they perceive it to be cluttered.

So, it's clear that CTR on these ads will go down as will user engagement on cluttered sites. But why not go for the trifecta! Ad clutter also tarnishes an advertiser's brand equity.

Nielsen has also researched ad clutter and even introduced an ad clutter metric to assist media buyers. MarketingVOX reported the following finding from the Nielsen report.

The study also found that, from a content perspective, more niche websites - which attract smaller audiences - tend to have higher clutter.

Niche websites. Hummm. That seems like a nice way to point the finger at blogs without outright saying it.

Advertising CPM rates are dropping

CPM rates have been falling. The Rubicon Project reported an 11% decline in CPM rates in Q3 2008. Federated Media slashed rates on some of their hottest properties. These aren't your run of the mill blogs but sites like TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider.

I believe ad clutter is a factor in this decline since it leads to banner blindness, which likely carries over, to some degree, from cluttered sites to those less cluttered. If you think of the Internet as a vast interdependent ecosystem it makes sense that the effects from one part of the ecosystem spill over to all.

The movie Jaws certainly spawned a fear of water beyond just that of the fictional Amity or the New England coast.

Are 3 column blogs really to blame?

Yes! Sure they're not the only reason, but they are enablers to ad clutter. The two sidebar columns are ready made for advertising not to mention inline units in the main content column. A "more is better" philosophy for advertising exists among many bloggers. And on the face, more opportunities to click often do lead to more clicks. But there is a point of diminishing return which then results in lower CPM rates.

Unfortunately this might create a sort of death spiral. As the effectiveness of these ads go down, the CPM rates go down, which encourages bloggers to place additional advertising units on their sites to help maintain their revenue stream. That, of course, pushes CPM rates down even further.

You can be the proverbial shark or the police chief. Bruce or Brody. So pick your blog template wisely.

TweetSense

December 09 2008 // Advertising + Social Media // Comment

Does TweetSense make sense? And more importantly would it make cents?

Twits have been up in arms with the introduction of Twitter based ad networks like twitAD and Magpie. Magpie in particular drew a lot of coverage with notables like Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins at Mashable and Michael Arrington at TechCrunch weighing in on the topic. Many claimed that it was outright spam that had no place on Twitter. Lots of huffing and stamping of feet. They'd unfollow anyone they saw using such a service!

I'm not opposed to this type of monetization if it's implemented well.

The fact is, are you really going to notice? If you're that attached to Twitter you probably use the service quite a bit. You follow a lot of people. Many are very active. The odds that you're going to see an advertising tweet are quite low and if you did it would be gone from your existence in a matter of minutes.

Advertising tweets would be very ephemeral.

So, that begs the question: will these Twitter based ad networks be effective? Will people click on them enough to make it a viable advertising platform? They will if it's done right.

Spare me the 'nobody clicks on those things' type of indignation. There's this company called Google. They have these products called AdWords and AdSense. Both seem to be doing just fine even though many say they've never clicked on either type of ad unit.

The implementation will be paramount. They'll fail if the ads become too frequent, overwhelming tweet streams for users. Essentially, if the noise drowns out the signal, it will fail. They'll also fail if the ad content isn't relevant. Viagra ad tweets mixed in with a discussion about Motrin Moms isn't going fly.

The frequency and context of advertising tweets are critical to the success of this type of ad network. So, who is in the best position to pull this off?

Twitter!

Twitter knows your tweet velocity. Twitter has the ability to create dynamic tags for users based on keyword frequency analysis. As such, it is best placed to deliver timely and relevant tweets to their users. By doing so it would also remove the potential abuse of the service by those seeking personal, monetary gain.

Block the third party ad networks! With Twitter at the controls, the odds of success (for both users, advertisers and Twitter) go up, way up.

Twitter does need a revenue model. So why not TweetSense?

Forgive Me StumbleUpon For I Have Sinned

December 04 2008 // Advertising + Humor + Marketing + Technology // 1 Comment

StumbleUpon No EntryThe other day I updated my StumbleUpon toolbar (well, I was essentially forced to) and immediately couldn't Stumble posts from this blog or my Used Books Blog. Each time I tried my Stumble just would not go through, stalling at a blank white box where the review and tagging takes place. I tried numerous times on a couple different browsers. Nothing worked.

I assumed that something had gone awry with the new toolbar. I even posted a message on FriendFeed calling eBay lame. But you know the old saying about assuming, right?

I sent feedback to StumbleUpon about my problem and got a prompt reply as follows.

Hello,

Thanks for writing in.

After reviewing your account history, it appears
that you've repeatedly submitted content from one
or more sites in particular.

Our site software detects behavior like this to
prevent the unauthorized use of StumbleUpon to
promote a specific Web site, product or service.

This limit will likely remain in place until you
use the StumbleUpon Toolbar more frequently to
rate, review and discover Web sites that can
shared with other members.

If you're interested in using StumbleUpon to
advertise a Web site, please look into our
Advertising program:
http://www.stumbleupon.com/ads

If you have any other questions, please review our
Terms of Service and Community Rules:

http://www.stumbleupon.com/terms/
http://www.stumbleupon.com/rules.html

Thanks for your feedback,

Oops. I admit, I've only been Stumbling my own sites lately. However, I think they're pretty good so I don't see anything too wrong with that. Also, I'm pretty transparent. I don't have a Stumble army nor do I have multiple profiles so I can distribute my Stumbles across accounts and dodge the software.

But I get it and I'm not really complaining. It's not what StumbleUpon is really supposed to be about. And I respect them for protecting the product and StumbleUpon business model. It also got me to Stumble again and I discovered some interesting sites and images. So ... thanks for that.

My one nit would be that I had to contact support to get this information. Instead of presenting the white box of frustration I suggest that StumbleUpon simply insert the text I received into that area. Not only would I have immediately understood what was going on and not throw invective into the htmlosphere but StumbleUpon would have saved a bit of money on customer support.

Forgive me StumbleUpon for I have sinned. My penance? Stumble.