the grass is greener on the internet

2 bits of genius in Google+
July 14, 2011, 10:21 am
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Okay, so Google’s strategy is that customer value comes first and monetisation will follow. So here’s my take on how the customer value of Circles in Google+ translates to 2 pieces of genius from a marketer’s perspective.

In case you’re not familiar with Google+ and the concept of Circles: Google+ is the latest social networking site (started by Google, in case you weren’t sure) to hit the scene. Unofficial figures say that it’s reached 20 million users in less than a month, which makes it one to watch. Though it’s touted by many commentators as a ‘Facebook-killer’ the functionality is more of a Facebook/Twitter cross.

One of the key differences to both of the aforementioned is ‘Circles’, where your contacts can be put into separate groups as opposed to just being your ‘Friend’ or ‘Follower’. This means that content can be shared with a limited group defined by the user – on the one platform you can discuss work with your colleagues or share last night’s party photos with your party people, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

On to those two bits of genius…

I’ve been speaking to a lot of people who are trying to figure out what value their business can derive from social networks. A lot of people like to focus on the ‘glamourous’ side – giveaways, viral videos, gaining followers etc. Well, they’re important, but I really believe there’s more value in being able to target the right people at the right time and find out what they’re really thinking. So here’s what I’m hoping to get from Google+…

1. More sharing

Privacy is an interesting thing. It used to be that you could very easily keep separate parts of your life, well, separate. It was purely 1 to 1; f you wanted to write illicit love letters to 5 different people, they would only find out if they compared notes.

Then came technology, with email, blogging, social networking, microblogging, and more. We had 4 ways to share; 1 to 1, 1 to friends, 1 to every1, or ‘dammit I’m not telling anyone’. Most of us learnt this the hard way on Facebook. We wanted to share content with a limited group of friends, but suddenly all of our ‘friends’ or even the whole world could see. As a consequence, there were some types of information that we just stopped sharing altogether.

Here’s an example:

As you can see, you might want to share at several different degrees, but you often end up sharing with more or less people that you would like to.

Circles, as I’ve explained, allows you to share in degrees the way we want to. It means that you have more privacy – if you added up all of the bars above, you’d find that you are sharing to a lesser degree as a whole. However, you’re actually putting MORE information out there because you can limit the degree it’s shared.

More data being shared is marketer’s gold. Share more information and I can get a bigger picture of who you are, how you live, what you like and what you dislike. It tells me what I should share with you and when I should do it.

If Google can tap into more data, they have a very powerful tool for their ad network.

2. Ads in a social context

The jump to social media came from one premise; I am more interested in people I know than people I don’t. I care about what my friends are doing but I don’t really care what a stranger had for breakfast. I know that my friends have good taste in music and I’ll trust that more than a record company telling me their latest artist is fantastic.

As a marketer, I’m interested in two things from this; insight and influence.

Circles allows us to map social structure like never before.

Since each circle created represents a specific social group or interest, we know that if A, B, C and D are listed as being in the same circle by many people, chances are that if A, B and C all click on ads related to cars then D may be more likely to also click on a car ad. This ‘social logic’ allows us to imply insights from people that share their data to people that share less.

Since adding someone to a circle is a one-sided act, it is easier for us to see who influences who. If A is following B but B is not following A, B is the more influential. I can get more value out of targeted advertising to B as an influencer than A as the follower. (This one-sided mechanism is why Twitter is used as a better quick yardstick of influence than Facebook, except that Twitter does not have the mechanisms in place to take advantage of this.)

So what does this mean?

I’m not here to make predictions about whether Google+ will take over from Facebook or completely change the social networking game. However, I will say that if they manage to make the network a success, Google will have no problems in monetising it and getting businesses on board.

The two factors I’ve discussed may be subtle…but they’re also genius.


Tinyurl and Twitter take down Technorati
June 23, 2009, 3:32 pm
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Technorati used to rule the blogging world. And you’ve probably already heard the claims that since they started allowing commercial sites  – such as the Huffington Post – to register there’s been a stalemate for the top rankings. Whatever.

No, the worst problem for Technorati is that its Blog Authority figures just don’t measure what counts anymore.

It’s nice in theory. Just like academics get to compare who gets cited the most in which journal and by who, the Blog Authority figure counts how many other blogs have linked to a blog in the last 180 days. Multiple links from the same source don’t count.

Let’s leave aside the peer review debate of whether popularity equals authority (or controversiality – I had a lecturer who is the second most cited person in Australia because he wrote a paper saying corruption could be good). And let’s acknowledge off the bat that no measurement is ever going to be perfect.

But with the rise of Twitter, and link-shortening services like Tinyurl, a lot of link-sharing and referencing is going un-counted.

Retweet counters have emerged in the way that only open source can provide: haphazardly, with several services vying for attention and none yet to become the leader. However, Technorati (and Google PageRank, I suspect) are yet to take Tweets into account. It’s also harder to track Tinyurl links – is the only major URL shortener that shows up on my WordPress referral links.

The argument for the academically minded is that Twitter links don’t count for the same reason links from your networking profiles don’t count – you could put as many links as you like up. But this is also a forum where a lot of link sharing is going on. There HAS to be a way to catch those links.

And as I realised last week, Facebook is by far the best place for promoting blog posts, and more ‘referencing’ is occurring on there which is not being caught on Technorati or Google either [nicely summed up by Copyblogger]. Could Facebook aggregate the most-linked sites without compromising privacy?

Although, FINALLY… Google can index Flash content. Great news for brands with flashy websites.

The point is, rankings based on on blog-to-blog links are going to slip in relevancy as microblogging increases in popularity. It’s like judging an academic by how many citations they have in journals and ignoring their conference papers.

Are you being hunted down and targeted?

Why yes, you might be.

Just watched AdAge’s video segment on Emily Riley from Forrester Research’s recent speech addressing Gen Y and behavioural targeting.

They propose:

  • forming an op-out database for those who do not want to be behaviourally targeted – ie. they want their healthcare data to be ignored but are okay with their retail data being studied
  • creating a website where ‘Gen Y’ can post their wants (ie. a car) and receive advertising for those wants based on their information (ie. they’re a fan of BMW on Facebook)

I have number of objections:

  1. STOP taking ‘Gen Y’ as a singular marketing demographic. Generally young people are more switched-on technologically, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the same preferences about how they interact with that technology – that’s like saying all adults buy the same food because they’re more kitchen-savvy.
    (I will admit I have a bias against the term but ‘Gen Y’ is used FAR too much these days.)
  2. When it comes to consumers being able to ‘opt-out’ of having their info in a database, it’s a bit like communism: it might work in someone’s head as an idea, but it will never work in practice.
    People are less likely to bother to opt-out, or may not even know how – it’s a phenomenon they propose to exploit.
    I suspect the FTC will object to it because of this.
    Previously, people ‘opting out’ of telemarketing databases – ‘no telemarketing’ or ‘do not call’ lists – have found themselves part of a new database for all those organisations not bound by the ‘do not call’ list. Someone will try to find a way to get hold of their information, because technically a whole behavioural segment would be excluded if you didn’t have it.
    Of course, the speech brushes over this to talk about behavioural targeting.
  3. …and behavioural targeting will be controversial. But let’s look purely at effectiveness.
    It actually limits the consumer to their previous choices.
    You’re trying to predict the next point on the graph by extrapolating the previous ones.
    Well, if you want to talk about Gen Y traits…youth throughout the ages have demonstrated higher risk-taking traits. They want something new, something off the radar – not something served up to them.
    To implement this assumes that all brands would be able to advertise.
    To have a limited choice would be too generic and take away the joy of search – half the fun is the feeling that you’ve discovered something before everyone else has. (That’s contributed to the success of a little company you might know called Google.)
    Sure, they can still search on their own, but the more they find something they prefer by looking outside of your behaviourally-targeted advertising the less they’ll see value in using the service in the future.

Trading on information is probably Facebook’s best chance at actually making money since the realisation that the most successful advertising involving Facebook has been through apps, which are free to create.

But most people will feel a slight discomfort about having someone else own their information. It’s one thing to post it to share with your friends and another thing to have it being sold to corporations.

Take a leaf from Google’s philosophy… Don’t be evil.

Is a lack of features necessarily bad?
January 16, 2009, 10:20 pm
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There’s been a few complaints about the lack of Twitter’s features.

After all, it’s kinda simple. What are you doing? Say it in 140 characters or less.

Reply with an @. Direct message with a d.

Keep your links short and tweet.

That’s it.

And yet the usage of Twitter has grown rapidly, even warranting an alltop page. The number of unofficial applications has exploded. They do everything from monitor your stats to organising your feeds into channels. Not to mention the humble RT and the hashtag, which have both been used to spread news about causes simply but effectively.

So to the critics of Twitter’s simplicity, I pose this scenario…

Think back to when you first joined Twitter. It was a completely different concept, right? What can you say in 140 characters?

Imagine that they had thrown all of these features at you – hashtags, retweets, pictures, channels, auto-follows… It’s almost enough to put you off the whole idea. And would you still have wanted to create other features or would you just take it like it is?

Like Flickr, the beauty of Twitter is its simplicity.

And it’s perhaps this simplicity which has let other developers think outside its functions, to develop ways to deliver the services they wanted.

Think about it.

Business by Internet Democracy

The beauty of the internet is that it gives the potential for everyone around the world to connect with a speed and low cost we never would have dreamed possible.

Increasingly, it seems like companies are using the internet as a polling place to test out their new ideas and even to make their business decisions for them.

This is creating, if you will, business by ‘internet democracy’, sketched out by Andrew Keen in ‘Cult of the Amateur’. (Ironically, Wikipedia’s definition is brief and suggests more the use of the internet for political process.)

Let’s look at how ‘internet democracy’ is being used in business…

First, Google’s ’10 to the 100′ project::

You’ll find all the details at the 10 to the 100 website, but essentially for its tenth birthday the search engine giant has asked for proposals for social projects and committed $10 million to funding the projects that will help the most people.

From there, a shortlist of 100 ideas will be left to the public to narrow down to a 20-idea list, from which Google will pick 5 or less projects.

Crowdsourcing and then deciding by internet democracy probably makes it one of most minimal-effort advertising methods since everyone caught the viral bug.

Another case of business by ‘internet democracy’ is Democreated, a participatory design project by Spanish agency La Doma:

Yes, just take a short questionnaire on what you want to see in a brand, and you will get a share in the resulting crowdsourced business. (Just don’t forget to learn Spanish so you can read the terms and conditions.)

The philosophy goes that the characteristics that receive the highest votes are incorporated into a consumer brand, the resulting brand will be the most popular too.

So what? This has been done offline before!

Sure, we’ve had the Idol phenomenon, and plenty of phone polls, but this is different.

These projects are open to anyone across the world with an email address and an internet connection. It remains one vote per email address, which is a better way of ensuring one-person one-vote than phones. And better, it’s free for voters. No ridiculously escalated call rate, no dealing with grumpy administrators like in actual democracy – this is quick, easy and cheap.

So the internet democracy is being used for good and for profit, but what are the potential issues?

  1. Is what everyone wants, compiled, going to be of guaranteed mass appeal? For example, if I took the beat of a Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’, the piano of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the guitar of Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit’ and the lyrics of James Blunt’s ‘You’re beautiful’, all of which have been hit songs in their time, would I still get a number 1 song?
  2. Even though the internet is now widely available in most developed countries, are all voters of interest in a position to participate? (It seems logical that a project that receives the most votes will affect/is liked by the most people, but only if internet users represent the entire market…)
  3. How much does your average web surfer know about business?
    Google has maintained some control but La Doma has left themselves entirely at the mercy of the public…
  4. What’s the incentive for the public to participate in the way you want them to?

Despite these, at the moment the concept retains enough novelty for it to grab attention for the product and the firm. Smart move – I will be very interested to see how it works out.