Facebook will win in mobile when…

There has been a lot of press about facebook in the last few days. Especially with their recent earnings announcement pointing to their growing “problem” with mobile. Problem? What problem you say? Sure, my facebook app moves a little slowly on my iphone, but seems not to be a problem, right?

facebook marketing fail

Why am I getting diaper ads on facebook mobile?

The problem is monetization. How to get more revenue from the fact that more than a third of facebook’s traffic comes from mobile devices. For me, it all comes down to one thing. Better segmentation must be made available to advertisers, drawn from the vast data available to facebook on their user’s behavior and their explicitly stated data.

Case in point: Alice.com, a well regarded up and comer in the ecommerce space, sells grocery items. They want to build loyal followers and customers, and they are using social media to advance their agenda. Good for them. Do you imagine then that they’d mean to pay to have their offers misdirected if they could avoid it? Basic direct marketing 101 suggests that smart segmentation of your offers makes for better marketing performance. Then, why, on my mobile device, am I receiving offers for diapers? Shouldn’t Alice.com be given better insights into my potential buying behavior by the facebook marketing team? Wouldn’t they like to know that Bill Hewson isn’t their best segment for diaper purchases? Wouldn’t they rather pitch me on dog food or shampoo, or anything else they I would be likely to buy base on data that facebook already has on me? Of course they would.

As soon as facebook can offer smarter segmentation for their advertisers, facebook won’t have a mobile “problem” anymore.

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Multimedia Chat Points to Future Online Behavior

Update: Now that Mark Zuckerberg’s sister inadvertently has sent out a pic of her and her fam using facebook’s new temporary photo sharing app, I thought it appropriate to update this post and resend it given new context. I hope you find it’s pov meaningful to you!

My kids (12 and 1415) are perceptive when it comes to my interests in all things digital, so recently, when they told me about a new service called “SnapChat“, an iphone app that let’s you send a photo and message to your friends “privately”, I paid attention. How is it private? With two key new features: 1) the picture is only viewable for a fixed number of seconds (that you, the sender, chooses), AND, the app won’t allow you to take screen grabs.

In related news, the founders of Napster, and heavy hitting Silicon Valley movers and shakers (Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in “the Social Network”) and Sean Fanning) have introduced a new video chatting service called “Airtime” that connects people based on their Facebook profiles. What is it? How does it work? Essentially, it will allow 2 types of video chat. First is a very simple UI to give you video connections with your existing Facebook friends. This isn’t really interesting though as Facebook already has video chatting built in through their partnership with Skype.

What interesting is that the service will randomly match you with others who share your existing Facebook interests. So if you like wine, walks on the beach, the Cincinnati Reds, the movies “Stripes” and “Dog Day Afternoon”, the service touts it’s ability to find you matches who you can  chat with, live, who share your interests.

Both of these new services relate to two subjects I’ve blogged about previously. The war for “messaging” platform leadership between Google and Facebook and the ongoing battle between the conflicting human needs for connection and privacy. These two new services make those subjects ripe for further exploration.

First, SnapChat. I believe this speaks to the digital native’s desire, or dare i say requirement, for privacy within their digital communications. All of us, and hopefully our kids, have heard the news that “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet.” This is certainly true, and certainly a barrier to folks who want to have the same rights to privacy that they hold in their non-digital lives. SnapChat, and other “private” messaging services have been created solely to fulfill this need.

Next, Airtime. Anyone remember ChatRoulette? It debuted as an anonymous random peer-to-peer video chat application. You never knew who you would be paired with, and those with whom you were paired remained entirely anonymous. Given that there were zero community controls or repercussions, ChatRoulette quickly became a place for nudity spammers and others who were not behaving. A mere curiosity. But one that gained immediate exposure in digital circles as something to be aware of, even if only as a model. It opens up endless communications possibilities in theory.

Airtime aims to fix all the negatives about ChatRoulette. Because you sign in with your Facebook account, you are immediately accountable for your behavior. To protect users further, the service monitors activity looking for signals of misbehavior (nudity, etc) and removes transgressors immediately. You are allowed to keep your privacy as long as you wish when chatting with strangers, or reveal your identity as you wish. Who will use this service? Initially, I believe it will be the curious, the lonely, and the social scientists among us who plumb the depths of human behavior. Eventually, I can see a service like this becoming mainstream as the barriers of video chat interest continue to come down and video chatting experiences like Google Hangouts continue to mature and gain acceptance.

Will these new services have impact on your online behavior? Maybe not with SnapChat, but imagine that twitter, or even Facebook decided to allow a “private” messaging capability that erased your content after a short viewing window for your specifically intended audience? Wouldn’t you consider using that feature on occasion if not regularly? If it takes off as a behavior, what will that mean to marketers who are beginning to depend on the data available from sources like the Twitter “firehose”? Could it kill the nascent “Sentiment Analysis” craze that companies like Radian6 are leveraging?

Maybe not with Airtime, but eventually, businesses are going to be looking to engage with their customers via video chat. If both parties can identify positive opportunities for connecting, might it not lead to new ways to gather information, learn new stuff, be entertained, accomplish account service tasks, even buy stuff?

I can’t wait to find out. What do you think of these new communications opportunities? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Basic human needs: meaningful connection vs. privacy

According to the pundits, the hottest technology to emerge in 2012 will be location-aware personal discovery applications. What does this mean? It means that there is technology being launched whose sole purpose is to put you together, in both the digital realm, and more importantly, the real physical world, with others who share your interests.

Apps in this vein, which are already in the app stores and markets, and which are getting great positive reviews by tech thought leaders, include such apps as highlight, Glancee, Sonar and Banjo.Highlight & Glancee

So what does this technology do? How does it work? Once you’ve downloaded the app, it typically asks you to login via facebook. Why you ask? So that the app can scan your friends lists and your interests and then make telling connections between your friend/interests, and others and let you know whose close by using location-aware services on your phone. Basically, it will tell you when people are physically near you who share your interests. In some cases, this is pulled from your list of pre-existing facebook friends. In other cases, you’re being introduced to people who you do not yet know, but the software figures you might want to.

If you’re going to a conference like SXSW, or have just moved to a new city and want to meet new folks, it sounds great right? But wait, what about the fact that your socially-enthusiastic teenager has access to this very same person-to-person recommendation engine? Do you want her reaching out to everyone who shares her taste in Eminem? Or even M&Ms? Or even more unnerving to her parents, having her being approached by strangers who happen to be introduced to her via one of these emerging services? Only time will tell if this type of technology has broader application among later adopters of technology

If services like this are to gain traction, privacy concerns will ultimately have to be addressed. Where do you net out? Is privacy worth reducing if it means more meaningful human connections?

Photography Evolution

When I was kid, I’d stare at the back page of the Sunday NY Times Arts & Leisure section, because there would be a full page ad for a camera retailer and it would display all the amazing equipment one could buy to pursue their hobby or profession. Lenses. Camera bodies. Light meters. Flash Equipment. Eventually, it even included video cameras! For some reason, although I’d never owned more than an instamatic, I was enthralled with this wonderland of choices. Of course, you needed to spend thousands of dollars, money i certainly didn’t have.

Now, all I have to do is go to the app store of my smart phone and I can get an amazing array of photographic software applications that will let me mimic many of the photo-journalistic fantasies I had when I was a boy. Many are free. And while I own several actual cameras, including a Canon Digital SLR with several lenses, i find myself taking 90% of the pictures I take with my trusty iPhone. So, what apps have I been using, and what do I think is pretty cool?

The application I use the most is Instagram. It is s simple little program that lets you take photos, add filters to them to make them look a certain way (aged, tilt shifted, b/w, colorized, etc), and then send them to your social networks if you want, and to the instagram social feed. Like Facebook and Twitter, people can follow your particular stream, comment on and like your photos, and share your pics with other if they want to. One of the pics I’ve taken with this tool are seen here.

So what other tools do I have and use?

There is ColorSpash that lets you manipulate your photo so that certain parts are in color and the rest is in b/w. Very cool.

There is Microsoft’s PhotoSynth that lets you take and stitch together multiple photos into a 3D environment.

There is Hipstamatic, like Instagram in that it let’s you take pictures with different effects, but in a much more sophisicated environment, where you can pay to get certain specialty “lens” effects.

There is QuickPix which lets you shoot pictures much more quickly than the iphone native camera app will allow.

There is Everyday which has you take a picture of yourself once a day and then stitches them together into a movie that shows your face, hair and mood evolve over time (only for the very vain!).

The list goes on, I’m sure that there are at least a dozen or more different apps for the iPhone alone that deserve my time and attention. And this doesn’t even begin to tap into the apps available in the android market that I haven’t yet explored.

Bottom line, if you like taking pictures, explore your smartphone’s app store and take your pictures to a whole new level.

Advertising as a Service

When I started my digital marketing career in 1996, I was lucky enough to work for a company who was run by visionaries. The company was Modem Media, and one of the founders was a guy named GM O’Connell (well, he’s still named that!). One of the many things I learned from him was the idea that digital made possible the idea of “advertising as a service” and it seems that many brands are finally starting to figure out what that means now here in 2011, 15 years later.

How did Modem Media define “Advertising as a Service”? It’s advertising so useful that you are compelled to engage with it and in so doing, achieve the brands marketing objectives, whether brand awareness or lead generation, or real time customer service leading to loyalty. That said, GM’s take today is that AaaS has become all the more important and available to brands as Web Services and APIs continue to proliferate. Google Maps’ API being leveraged in a brand’s “store locator” is great advertising for Google as a whole, and all because they created a service and had it distributed to where it was most useful. Same as when you can track your package on a retailer’s website: great advertising for FedEx or UPS.

To quote GM O’Connell: “The idea of advertising as a service cam out of the fact that people back then (and probably still) don’t read or watch the web as much as they use it, and if you don’t create “useful” advertising, then it will tend to be out of place and ignored.  the problem is that useful advertising (or advertising so good people will embrace it as a service) can’t really ask for an immediate sale.  It has to serve the customer, create good will, help the customer figure something out or otherwise create this new notion of engagement through (most likely but not always) utility”

Bob Allen, past president of Modem says “AaaS can also be thought of as branded planning tools–living, breathing ads that allow people to interact with the brand, solve problems, etc” He suggests that the proliferation of apps today represents some of the best of Advertising as a Service, and for brands like Best Buy, this is certainly true. Unfortunately, many branded apps are lost in the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Lots of brands of course figured it out years ago, but the idea that advertising could provide more than just message delivery is something that you still don’t see enough of. Instead what you see are more online interpretations of “above-the-line”, traditional advertising brought to life in online venues. What this results in are click through rates well below 1% and engagement rates with even rich media advertising that is only slightly higher.

So what does “advertising as a service” look like? The earliest memory of it that I have was work done by Modem Media in 1997 when it launched the first rich media banners for John Hancock insurance. It used HTML pull down menus to allow users to choose their income level and retirement year and the take them to a landing page which provided personalized recommendations and next steps. It was genius and got a 24% click through rate, unheard of today.

Ford does AaaSThe John Hancock example was right for 1997, as everyone who was online was looking for cool things to do online, and is an example of tactics common place today and no longer as engaging as it was then. However, when looking for examples of “Advertising as a Service” today, you typically have to look well beyond the banner to find it. For instance, I ran across this page on Mashable, pictured here, that they’ve created in partnership with Ford. It’s a predefined search index that helps build the idea of the Ford Explorer as a brand that can help you get places. The bet part is is that the banners that surround it are really service oriented, allowing you to ask questions and view videos of the product. The Mashable “explore” feature itself  is pure service, and the two together make a nice package of worthwhile engagement for the user.

Ford isn’t the only example, other brand who are excelling at this approach include technology companies, banks, car manufacturers, airlines, and even a few CPG companies who have put ecoupons right in their advertising banners. And beyond the banner, the best branded apps take Advertising as a Service to a whole new level. You just don’t see it as much as you should.

The question to ask is; why aren’t more brands putting forth “Advertising as a Service”? Do they not have anything interesting to engage users with? you’d think with Behavioral Targeting available today that you’d see nothing but advertising that speaks to the users needs directly.

Feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Shaker Furniture as a Guidepost for Web Design

I was recently lucky enough to take a 3 day intensive learning seminar from an org called “Hyper Island” that bills itself as the first institution of higher learning dedicated solely to learning about digital marketing, creative development and production. It was a three day immersion in all things digital, and the speakers, mostly big ad agency creatives, espoused the role of digital in the creative process and shared many great case studies.

One of the analogies shared was that of Shaker furniture design. Wikipedia defines the shaker design philosophy this way: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, do not hesitate to make it beautiful.”

I happen to think this is a perfect description of the method by which great digital marketing creative is built. Necessary means it has a purpose in the lives of users, and fills a gap not already met. Useful speaks to the need to be only as complex as is ultimately usable by those same users and then, only then, made beautiful.

Too many agencies focus on one or the other of these, but rarely all three at once. What comes to mind are brands who have developed fabulous platforms like Nike. Fulfilling a need in the marketplace in a simply useful and usable manner, made beautiful to appeal to both our emotional as well as our rational senses, and built upon regularly to keep  even a shaker inspired approach contemporary. Not enough brands are taking this approach to heart, and are either focused purely on the aesthetic without fulfilling on the need to be useful, or they overindex on usability and forget that pleasing design helps to engage the user emotionally.

Necessary and useful first, only then made beautiful. Such a smart approach.

Google Versus Facebook: Messaging Battle in the Cloud

No one will be surprised to hear that Google and Facebook are in a war for our messaging attention. Of couse, it’s not about power, it’s about money, and the more eyeballs they attract and get typing and clicking, the more revenue they pull in. There are a few other players in this drama, such as Apple, but really, it feels as if the future of our digital lives is going to be most affected by the seemingly unstoppable behemoths that are Google and Facebook. And right now, Facebook seems to be winning from a hearts and minds perspective because it’s such a personalized tool for us, and the advancements they are making to their UX are so profound that many of us don’t even realize they are happening.

Both Google and Facebook realize, as few others do, that our future is indeed, as Microsoft so lamely puts it in their advertising “to the cloud!” Unfortunately for Microsoft, most of my friends who don’t work in the digital realm ask me frequently “what is this cloud I keep hearing about?” Let me give you some examples of why Microsoft has already lost this war in the clouds when it comes to one of the mot ubiquitous practices online: messaging.

Facebook’s latest rollout of it’s message feature is remarkable. It’s remarkable in that it allows all 500MM+ of it’s users to actively communicate through like 5 different written channels (Facebook chat, Facebook messages, Facebook email address, your other associated email address and text messaging to boot) all assembled on the fly. And, they’ve given you your own facebook email address that is feeding into the same centralized thread, all stored in your inbox at Facebook in perpetuity. And they are storing all your messaging, in perpetuity as well, all up in their large portion of the cloud.

Did you already know all that? Probably if you’ve been on Faceook in the last few weeks. What you may not have recognized though, is just what a remarkable feat of engineering they’ve pulled off to get us all eventually funneled into a deeper relationship with that site platform. more eyeballs going to FB to read their mail = more eyeballs to sell to advertisers. Something David Armano over at Edelman has likened to boiling a frog.

And it isn’t just that they’ve done it, but that they are the first to do it, at this scale, and without needing plugins, new software downloaded, and sort of registration or alternate forms of T&Cs. and no cost to the user. And they’ve kind of rolled in out quietly.

Then there’s Google. While they’re busy collecting all the world’s information, the amount of data about me they store in “the cloud” is immense. It gets scary to think that they might use that data for ill will someday, and i am sure no one in the US government is qualified to watch over that juggernaut. But what Google hasn’t yet cracked, is communications. They have Gmail, and they have the Blogger platform, and of course they own YouTube….wait a minute! They damn well have cracked communications, just not lately. Remember Google Wave? I think that got Google an article in Time magazine, but now it’s been killed due to a terrible greeting in the marketplace. Remember Google Buzz? Goggle Talk? etc, etc coming out of Google Labs. What has succeeded for Google seems very distant, primarily due to the lack of social and human connections between their communications hubs.

What Google hasn’t built yet is Facebook’s interwoven messaging platform, and so as of today,  Facebook seems to be driving closer to what Google wanted in the first place, which is total world domination of the internet (for now) personal communications environment. And make no mistake, Voice communications domination will follow. No wonder those conspiracy nuts are so scared of both these companies.

What will the future bring? Will it be one where all our messaging is channeled via Facebook? consider this: you never get spam on Facebook, you never get calls from timeshare operators on Facebook, and you usually get a good response from a close friend on Facebook. Google can’t match that yet, and until they catch up, the world will continue to let  Facebook capture their time and attention, and ultimately, their precious eyeballs.

Do you have a different opinion? Let me know with a comment!