Monthly Archives: January 2012

Facebook Is Rearranging the Bar in the Move to Timeline

Can you imagine if your favorite local store, restaurant or bar were to go through an overhaul each year?  They might have the same items, but decide to change the entire layout of the place. Or, they maintain the design and change from a breakfast-all-day place to sandwiches only.  Perhaps they decide that they will make people enter from a different location each time. Better yet, when you step up to the bar, you have to do a different set of hand gestures each time before ordering your second drink. Now, compound that with the idea that as each change comes, you become treated less as a regular and start to question whether you should go there in the first place.  If such changes would surely hurt businesses in the real world, why are they becoming such a big part of our digital world? The largest example of the phenomenon is  in Facebook effectively changing the seating arrangement, the menu and the ordering procedure through the coming weeks with their Timeline product.

Facebook’s shift to Timeline is a major one that will be mandatory.  We’ve been waiting for it since the F8 conference a few months ago and now its hitting accounts.  Some people have it and like it, while others have no sign of it in their account.  Even the way they are rolling it out is different that their practices in the past as they usually just seemingly “press a button” every few weeks to push site changes live immediately.  One has to imagine that they are doing a progressive rollout for a reason – could it be to help people prepare?

At this point, it is almost becoming more daunting to users the longer it takes to hit accounts.  There’s huge issues raised about privacy and how the timeline features could affect users in both personal and professional matters. Having not received the update, I can’t even follow these directions for changing the Privacy Settings yet.

Even with the ability to change settings, there is a lot of concern voiced by users. The security firm Sophos polled over 4000 users to get their thoughts and the response is overwhelmingly cautious with 51% saying they are worried about Timeline, 32% even questioning why they are still on Facebook and less than 8% stating they like it. 

The concerns run the gamut from worries about identity thieves more easily finding information to the fact that even we don’t remember everything we’ve put on Facebook.  I know that I have been concerned about privacy since the get-go, but I am equally sure that I am likely to see some things I probably would not like to have had up there.  Imagine what users who posted regularly as college students and now find themselves all grown up will see.

Add to this, the fact that users will have only seven days to change all of their settings once their sites are switched over – whenever that may be – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of customer loss.  If I’m no longer a regular visitor to my Facebook page recently, you better believe that I’m checking it out every day now to see if the switch has been flipped.  Hell, it might actually up their user activity numbers in the coming weeks – which would look nice for their mythically pending IPO.

This is not to say that change should not occur, but consistency is key.  With the advances in technology, the ability to constantly upgrade and change is exciting and enticing, but is it always best? We’ve found in traditional businesses, change takes a lot of preparation.  More digital companies need to take that to heart.

One instance of a brick and mortar changing in a way that is similar to Facebook is hopefully not a sign of what’s to come for Facebook… A local family restaurant, Nichols, has been in Marina Del Rey, CA for decades.  The menu contained everything you could want from a glorified greasy spoon diner and they were always filled. Last Spring, they closed for a couple of months to get a facelift – which made sense as the fittings were dated. There was a lot of excitement about the re-opening.  As far as the customers knew, the only thing changing was the decor and the addition of “J.” before Nichols.  When the place finally re-opened in December, the menu had completely changed, shortened and none of the old staff were there. Sadly, there is never a line to get in and you drive by to see the place empty.  My only hope is that they figure things out and maybe add back a lot of the family friendly food that was on the old menu.

It’s not a bad thing to change, but it has to be done smartly.  It is one thing to change a store or a restaurant that might have a total of 10,000 customers, but to change the confines of a community of over 800MM is another deal entirely.  Even if the site or app reaches a much smaller community, the UI is not something that can be tweaked easily and often – regardless of the company’s technical prowess.

I don’t believe that Facebook is doing anything wrong by making this drastic change, per-se.  It’s just that the online equivalent of one of our favorite high-street shops is changing itself considerably when there was already a questioning client base.  It may end up being a source of lessons for other companies both traditional and digital when they look to make a whole change just because they can.

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Missing the Mark on Smart and Free Marketing by Live Event Producers

This past weekend, I went to Cirque du Soleil’s travelling arena show, The Michael Jackson Immortal Tour, and was disappointed by what I found.  This is by no means a review on the actual show – which I thought was not as good as their LOVE show, but better than their ELVIS show as compared to their other artist-based shows – rather it was about the environment surrounding the show. While waiting for the show to start, I had taken a picture (above) and sent it as an MMS to my brother with the message that it’s the closest I’m going to get to seeing a Michael Jackson concert again.  I sent it to my brother because we grew up being fans of the entertainer and no matter what weirdness became of him before his untimely death, he was still the consummate performer.  My brother’s immediate response was that he wanted to see it when the tour hit Miami.  My nephew became a fan and my brother is contemplating taking him, but is concerned about the cost – so he wanted to find out what I thought.  Before I could finish my response to him, an usher told me to put my mobile phone away or they would kick me out of the arena.  I was surprised and dismayed on so many levels – oddly, the biggest of which had to do with the opportunities the producers of this and many other touring shows are losing in generating more excitement and revenue.

When I asked a more senior person on the floor of the Staples Center if what I was told is true, he informed me that the usher was misguided and that the ban is just on photos during the show – not use of mobile devices while inside the venue.  I felt better about that, but I think there are still some issues:

– I understand that they don’t want flashes going off during theatrical performances or extremely technical routines as they are distracting for the performers and others.  But I would look at it on a case-by-case basis and, in the case of the IMMORTAL tour, I do not know that it would have as much of an effect on the performers due to the size of the venues. But, allowing people to take photos and share them – either in real-time or later – could have a huge effect on the ability to generate buzz about the show.  The only reason they would show it is because they were excited. That excitement could lead to buying tickets for shows when they hit their town – or in the case of Los Angeles and the announcement of more shows in August going on sale today – when it returns or when another show from the producer returns.

– If you’re not going to allow photos to be taken from cameras or mobile devices during the show, at least provide opportunities for fans to take advantage of photo ops.  When entering the Staples Center, there were people actually taking pictures beside the show’s poster in the hallway.  Imagine if there were standees or even people in costume providing real opportunities to get fun shots and then share those with their friends.  Beyond the spreading of the excitement, it just builds upon the experience.

To me, the lost opportunity was striking because it is unlike Cirque to not extend the atmosphere beyond the stage – even in their touring tent shows.  There are ample opportunities for people to take pictures in the environment surrounding the actual performance in their other shows – and there is much more of a concern about flashes in those more intimate settings. With technological and executional advances, there is no excuse to miss the mark on a show like this.  It doesn’t matter that there are images of sports figures all over the arena’s hallways.  There are real and economical ways to enable the audience to become more integrated into the show and the benefits of such an environment go far beyond marketing.

If they want to control the environment and sharing at photo locations, they could bring in photo kiosks like the ones Keshot provides – where users can have pictures taken and immediately send watermarked and branded images to friends via email.  Having seen how people gravitate to presentations as simple as large, flat vinyl pieces with images on them as a background for their photos, setting up photo opportunities would not be any harder than the masking that is already required in arenas.

Regardless, people don’t need any more technology than they already carry with them to share experiences.  Obviously, there is a concern about attendees taking much more than static photos with video cameras on smartphones that can now produce HD quality.  Video is an understood issue when it comes to piracy and competition for fully packaged video products and the fact that you don’t want to give content away for free. But, it can also be argued that if fans just had concert videos, they wouldn’t shell out the ever-rising costs of live events.  With the over-produced live shows that have become more of the norm – where nary a note strays from the original recording – you could say that just putting your headphones on in a darkened room while singing at the top of your lungs is a cheaper alternative to going to shows.  But we’ve seen that the higher obstacle to attendance is the cost and scarcity of tickets than the belief that the example above comes anywhere close to attending live events.

Might a solution for the video concern be technology? The development of a radio frequency at events that would not be audible to the naked ear, but could distort the audio recording enough to make it unpleasant would be phenomenal.  Not only would it help at live events, but at movie theatres with the much larger concerns about video piracy.  There has already been a murmur about venues installing infrared devices that can communicate with mobile phone cameras to have them stop taking photos.  But, I really believe that would be counter-productive and even damaging to the fans’ relationship with the artists.  Maybe it can be a timed situation where the artist determines a length of time at the beginning of the show that people can record the concert (like they do for photographers in the pit at concerts) so that there is a modicum of control.

Either way you slice it, a solution needs to be found to enable fans to have a longer tail of connection with the shows they attend.  The proof about how much social sharing has helped acts succeed since mobile devices have been able to record images and video. Producers, managers and promoters are effectively letting a huge opportunity fall on the floor if they don’t find a way to harness and optimize fans inate need to share experiences.  The cumulative benefits of fully allowing social sharing extend far beyond the specific show or artist – especially if you’ve got as many products as Cirque du Soleil has.

The Immortal Tour show seemed to pin itself on the spirit of Michael Jackson in provoking audiences to wonder.  I was just left wondering how they missed such a golden marketing opportunity.

The Challenge Of Engaging The Digital Wow Factor

I’ve been guilty of it, too.  Especially in entertainment. There is such a hope to  emulate through online creative what happens in the move you are promoting. No matter how much I want that robotic thingy to destroy the publisher’s page or that character to fly from the leaderboard unit to the MPU, it’s just not that simple. The work done for the movies is infinitely more intense than what the marketing time or budgets will allow. We are so used to seeing amazing effects that even the casual viewer takes for granted what goes into the building of the polished product. Too often, I have had a vendor create something phenomenal – where they seemed to have pulled much more than a rabbit out of their hat – and either senior management, clients or awards judges see something done so flawlessly that they don’t appreciate what actually went into it.  Sadly, the lack of appreciation for these things cause budgets to be cut and the amount of kick-ass executions are minimized.

There’s more than budgets in play here. There’s the limited time or access to assets that cause marketers to shoot for the easiest solution.  In the case of entertainment, I feel that the goal should be to envelop the audience/user in the narrative so that they are emotionally engaged.  With the opportunity to do something special – like I was able to do with PREDATORS and AVATAR, you’re able to effectively jump off the screen.  Lately, its become much more about showing video only – and even more limiting, it is often just a matter of placing TV spots online. There’s such a greater opportunity to engage users differently online that re-purposing television or even theatrical spots does not always make the most sense.

As video ads are huge and only getting larger – with Forrester predicting that video ad spends will nearly triple (from 2B in 2011 to 5.4B in 2016) – perhaps this is the time to develop shortcuts or platforms further to enable cost-effective interactive advertising executions.  I’m not talking about supplanting video, but augmenting it.

If you take a look at this video from ILM about the making of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, you can get a great sense of what goes into the making of even short segments of effects.  Over the years, it has gotten easier to make things look real and it has become more expected by the audience.

Over time, the development of applications to simulate what goes on in movies will be easier.  While the barrier to production assets will probably still be a pain – due to political reasons – t he time required to execute will shorten and we’ll be able to fit more into computers, mobile devices and TVs to really enable marketers to reach out and grab the audience. That is, as long as we don’t give up on those types of executions while we lean on video ad serving to carry the load.

It used to be that we had to limit our banner sizes to about 12KB and now publishers allow much more than that.  The ways in which online ads load are more optimized and will continue to be so. I can only dream that all nations will have the bandwidth that Korea has (many of their publishers allow for initial load of 400KB or higher for a banner) but we should still be developing towards that and finding the cost and time cutting solutions that can take advantage of that.

We certainly don’t see as many major takeovers for entertainment as we might have 12-18 months ago – they are more often page overlays with a video window. But, as we move further away from driving traffic to anchor sites and deeper into reaching fragmented viewership by bringing the message fully to them, there will need to be a resurgence in those kick-ass, grab you by the collar executions. 

With further development, fully interactive and engaging media will become more of the norm and people will end up understand less about how much really goes into the magic of pulling a rabbit out of the hat. All in, we’ll have to re-establish what makes a campaign because its not just about video, but engagement.

Much Ado About #McDStories – Nothing But A Cautionary Tale

There is no doubt that social media is a key component for brand messaging and the non-moderated two-way communication it brings leads to larger messaging complexities. As we’ve seen time and again, the programs with the best intentions can go awry.  The latest is one by McDonald’s and even though the #McDStories component was a relatively small blip, it provides a cautionary tale for those companies who feel they can dive into the social media landscape without the proper staffing or strategy.  

McDonald’s launched a campaign last week touting the freshest ingredients through the sponsoring of the trends #MeetTheFarmers and #McDStories.  It seems that everything was going fine on Thursday with #MeetTheFarmers until they moved to the vague hashtag – #McDStories.  It seems that they were trying to frame it as an opportunity for suppliers to share their stories about working with McDonald’s (never mind questioning whether suppliers are actively tweeting while working with produce) with a sample Tweet of: 

“When u make something w/ pride, people can taste it,” McD potato supplier #McDstories

Unfortunately for them, users twisted the meaning as a call to bash the company. Some strong examples were captured by  The Daily Mail:

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This reiterates the fact that companies cannot be assured that users will respond to social campaigns in the way you would like them to.  Another lesson is that you’ve got to act quickly with campaigns that don’t work and even with ones that do. And, ultimately, hopefully it illustrates how you may not be able to get by with one person doing all of your social.  It definitely depends on the size of your company, but also the strategy of your marketing.  Companies cannot get away with saying that social is key to their marketing and not support the actual execution – that’s good for neither the company or the staff charged with running social.

In the case of McDonald’s, they are a huge company that is constantly being barraged by fans and detractors in this environment.  As such, the company has a seemingly aggressive social media staff that is able to monitor communications and make changes quickly.  It seems that within hours, they moved away from the campaign. But even with a large team, they are not able to control the life of the hashtag.

In addition to the quick campaign change, McDonald’s Social Media Director, Rick Wion, went into high-gear to try to manage things.  There’s a few different nuanced responses he made based on the different outlets. The first one is more explanatory of what happened and the second one comes off as a little defensive:

Last Thursday, we planned to use two different hashtags during a promoted trend – #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.

While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.

Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.

With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.

Here’s the one with a little more of a defensive tone:

The #McDStories tactics was part of a larger campaign to share our stories about the farmers who grow McDonald’s food. As soon as we saw that #McDStories was not going as planned, we made the decision to pull the hashtag and replace it with the more positive and successful #MeettheFarmers. Within that two hour window from launch to pull down of #McDStories, the number of tweets about it jumped to a peak of about 1600 but then fell off to only a few dozen.

It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day and #McDStories was a tiny percentage of that–roughly 2%. The tweets that were used for the video an article are very negative, but given that McDonald’s is mentioned on Twitter more than 250,000 times each week, it is very easy to cherry pick negative (or positive) tweets that are not representative of the overall picture.

Bottom line–the negative chatter wasn’t as much as today’s headlines have lead people to believe. This happened almost a week ago and the hashtag is only living on because many media outlets are using the chance to push a provocative and tweetable headline.

Part of being in social media is knowing that you can’t control the message 100 percent of the time.

As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.

The keys here were that McDonald’s is taking chances and has prepared themselves to quickly respond.  Some would question whether the tone of the second response is needed, but we can all understand what a frustrating position Wion was in. Again, it has to do with a larger social strategy – if their goal is to respond to every concern, then they’ve got to be consistent with that.  It seems their strategy is to be active along many fronts with the promotion of many trends (#flavorbattle, #LittleThings and #ChickenMcBites) so the offending trends could easily be mitigated and forgotten.

So, what is the cautionary tale other than users will take advantage of social media the way they see fit? Maybe a little bit… But the larger lesson is that companies are wasting money if they don’t have a clear social strategy and the staffing to support it. Social is not a box to be checked on a marketing plan or an execution that can always be managed by one person with a Social Media Dashboard (i.e. HootSuite, Seesmic, Radian6 and many more).  Things happen too quickly and there’s hardly ever enough time to act upon user sentiment in effective ways without the resources to do so. 

As an aside (or an example), there is a company who completely missed the opportunity to leverage the #meetthefarmers buzz – Caretrace owns @meetthefarmers and they made absolutely no moves to drive traffic to their own site.

No matter how big or small you are, a real social strategy needs to be put in place and that strategy needs to weigh staffing issues to be able to deal with the realities of the social media environment.  On the surface, it may seem like you can get away with as little support as possible. Even if you don’t have the target on your back that McDonald’s has, the relevant level of support needs to be there to not only engage socially, but to optimize opportunities to drive more business for the company.

All this does not preclude you from having the issues that McDonald’s had, but this event highlights the ways in which the perception of a big error can be weathered or mitigated by a proper strategy. In the end, it probably is much ado about nothing and we will passingly refer to it in a matter of days and forget about it in weeks.  But the underlying learnings are certainly not a cautionary tale to be ignored…

Hulu and Partners Score with AdZone

As we’ve seen in this year’s exciting NFL postseason, its extremely challenging to get to the big game – the Super Bowl. It could be as simple as a young player filling in for the injured regular and turning the ball over or a seasoned veteran just flat-out missing a chip-shot field goal that keeps the team out of the championship. Those who have made it are in elite air and the same could be said about the commercials.  There’s only a limited number of slots (thankfully) and the price gets steeper and steeper each year. Hulu’s AdZone returns again this year to showcase how strategic programming can celebrate those who have been there and enable brands to get extremely close at a fraction of the cost.

Hulu just launched Hulu AdZone 2012 as a platform to provide access to over 250 Super Bowl ads from years past and even preview some ads that will run in this year’s Bowl on the 5th of February.  On the night of the game, fans will be able to view ads in an embeddable widget, rate them and share them across all social media channels – with a live leaderboard tracking results in real-time.

Volkswagen's Dark Side spot (Dogs Barking to Vader's Theme)

But here’s where things get interesting… Through sponsorships and partnerships, Hulu is able to generate even more cachet – and money – where they might not have been able to without a program built for this event.  They also provide opportunities for a brand to effectively be a part of all of the Super Bowl spots.

You can see in the image above how Toyota secured persistent branding across the experience through their “Brought to you by” placement.  So, even though they won’t hit the number of viewers the telecast will have, they will be there for everything from the old Apple “1984” spot through the Volkswagen  Star Wars spots – and all other spots running during this year’s game. There is always a plan by the publishers to latch on to key cultural and sporting events to monetize them and Hulu built a strong product to do just that in an elegant way.

Helping Hulu to up the ante is in partnering with Advertising Age to editorialize groupings of “best ofs” over the years.  Through this partnership, Hulu is able to bring their game to a higher level as a news – or at least curatorial – offering. AdAge also gains a platform to reach entertainment consumers who may not otherwise care about a trade publication – further spreading their brand recognition.

All in, this platform and others – like what YouTube and USA Today offers – provide defacto built-in long-tail benefits of placing ads in the Super Bowl.  Unless, of course, the ad sucks. Those usually only live on for a few days, mired in a heap of negativity.

It is hard to get into the game as a player, advertiser or even a fan.  Many try to get there or be associated in one form or another.  Hulu seems to have found a great solution to check off and score on all of the above.

The Silly App Constraints of Streaming Premium Content

Time Warner Cable announced at the end of last week that they are now providing their users with the opportunity to stream live television on their mobile phones and tablets.  Exciting, yes? Well, not too exciting.  You see, it only works when you are within the confines of your home wi-fi network. Doing a quick search online, there was a report from Nielsen last January stating that the average TVs per U.S. household numbered 2.5 with 31% of households having more than four TVs.  With those numbers, will people be able to find a place to watch TV on their personal devices outside the range of one of their televisions?  At first glance, the announcement of such a seemingly inane addition of yet another screen in the house is silly.  But when you look into it deeper, the issues are more complicated and perplexing.

The silliness stems from the fact that you can’t just stream content to your device anywhere.  The perplexing part relates to the further fragmentation (and possibly confusion) of content delivery.

Time Warner Cable had launched an app last year that would allow its subscribers to view content anywhere.  Due to court challenges and general push-back from providers, TWC dialed it back and removed the feature. This announcement for the iPhone and iPad allows users to watch some shows live in addition to the ability to manage your DVR, search for shows and some other things. Yet, you still have to view shows on apps from HBO, ABC and others.  And, TWC even has a totally separate App just to manage the account – much like HBO offers a completely separate App to enable social interaction with their shows. Which leads to the perplexing part…

One of the beauties about television is that you know where to find everything on one box.  You can search through the guides in umpteen different ways and find what interests you.  As discussed in this blog last week, the challenge in finding everything online is quite challenging.  It shouldn’t be so for the content we want to find on our cable or satellite systems. Even if we can’t get everything through one happy shiny app, we shouldn’t have to download multiple brand apps just to be able to fully consume and interact with that brand. The confusion this brings only leads to a further barrier to adoption.

There are huge economics at play in terms of who owns what with streaming, but most people don’t want to have to bounce between a handful of apps to watch their shows.  I would rather have one App to do it, and if Time Warner, DirecTV, or Verizon is my provider in the house, I would much rather access through one app.  Even with the NFL Sunday Ticket mobile app that I have through DirecTV, I have to open up another app just to view that content.  Is it horrible to have to do this?  No.  But I won’t do it with multiple apps for all the different cable networks I subscribe to – it’s just to unwieldy.

Further to the economics, I pay extra for the Live NFL content on my mobile because I knew that was an add-on premium.  If I had to pay more for the mobile version of other premium offerings, I think I would balk.  That is a nice thing about the HBO Go product and others like it – it comes free with my subscription – but there’s too many apps to download when it could be just one. As more and more people become open to viewing video on mobile platforms, the kinks need to be worked out and access fragmentation is one of those biggest kinks.

As a society, we have sadly become more cynical. So, it might hurt the situation more than help it by coming out with a release that causes people to question whether the products are even worth it.  Perhaps companies can learn a lesson from Apple and only put out press releases when there is really something solid to cheer about.  In the case of the TWC release about Live streaming, it’s a total tease because you’ve got to read the fine print that you can only view the content where your access already exists.  Even though people have supposedly been waiting for live streaming to come, this could be considered a waste of excitement and we’re better off waiting for a live ANYWHERE  product that could be streamed through wi-fi or our data plans. As those data plans start bringing in more money, that may be where the companies will have something to cheer about – especially the ones who have bundled the mobile with cable/satellite.

So, thank you for the offering of live streaming in the house. I’m just not buying it – even if it is free.