social computing

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Yesterday I wrote about the role and importance of mining proof as it relates to creating a brand strategy.  But what does one do if working for a start-up – a company with no past? A company with no product?  Certainly that makes things tougher.

I’ve been-there-done-that and there always is a past. There is always some kernel of a product or service. In previous posts it’s been mentioned to “follow the patent.” In most start-ups there is a patent or a patent filing paperwork. There must be proof in there. Normal brand planning discovery looks at two things: customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. So for a start-ups, you’ll find it easier to rely on care-abouts. Always a good place to start.

While the director of marketing at Zude, a start-up in the social computing space, knowing what customers cared about helped form the brand idea which, then, informed product development (noun and verb). The Zude brand strategy claim was “the fastest easiest way to build a web page.” The idea came from the brilliant underlying drag and drop technology. With that as the North Star, everything moving forward became easier. For everyone – even the lawyers.

Start-ups think of brand but not brand strategy. Pity.




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paste brush

On the Web everybody has the opportunity to be a spokesperson.  It’s how you use this fact that determines a marketing program’s efficacy. 

What’s the Idea? readers know that unlike Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, who in their excellent book Groundswell suggest 6 different social computing profiles (creators, critics, collectors, etc.), I focus on only two: Posters and Pasters.  Posters are spokespeople.  Pasters amplify them.  Posters write about products, services and trends. Pasters share those links.  Posters have followings, influencing people they don’t know. Pasters have link buddies, most of whom they do know.   

Taking advice from someone you know or with credentials you trust is and has long been the key to successful commerce. If that advise is well-crafted and convincing, so much the better. That is why targeting Posters with your social media effort is a business-winning strategy.

Social Media Briefs

Good social media programs target Posters, but are considerate of Pasters. Writing a brief for a social program, my targeting takes account of both. For the Poster the idea has to be salient selling. For the Paster it just has to make them a trusted, fun and/or thoughtful poker (to steal a word from Facebook.)  If the brief can not accomplish both, then don’t force the Paster side of the equation, let it be.

On TV, you can pick your spokespeople. On the web you can’t.  Simplify your brand claim, make the proof points powerful and memorable, and manage it. Don’t poop out an off-strategy message in the hope that consumers will turn into creative directors. Peace!

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News flash! The click-through rate on banner ads is shrinking. Hee hee. Even clicks on large size ads like the leaderboard will continue to wane. The creative is getting better, as is the targeting, but let’s face it, the units are not very compelling.
The best creative talent in the selling business is not at online ad shops. The best storytellers, most “abruptive” thinkers, funniest writers and best artists, are not graduating college saying “I want to work at Organic.”
Ad agencies ceded the online business to the digital shops and are about to take it back. Digital shops grew not because they knew how to do banners, but because they could develop landing pages, ad server strategies, tracking metrics and optimization plans while the rest of us said “Say what?”
As social computing continues to take the lead in online traffic growth and banners become last year’s model, I look to the boutiques, then big agencies to take back creative storytelling and selling on the Web. Tom Carroll, are you listening?

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Kids and adults (I leave anyone out?) adorn themselves with brands that show who they are and what they like. Some adorn themselves with anti-brands, e.g., nondescript trucker hats (sorry truckers) to show who they are. But one thing they rarely do is sell ads on themselves. That’s the line Facebook seems to have crossing yesterday.  Mark Zuckerberg (age deleted for the first time,) Facebook’s CEO has listened to the “man” and swallowed the commerce pill that will begin to bring him down.
Mr Zuckerburg thinks that because some of the ad messages will appear to be referrals from friends, they will be more welcome. (Ever see a friend come down the street with an order form and a box of oranges?)
Until today, Facebook’s reason for being has been its users. As users now allow Coke, Sprite and Bertolli Spaghetti Sauce to muck up the experience, Facebook’s coolness will begin to wane. It will bell curve up for a while, since the social ad thing is new, but start to slow down as users decides to regain control. And to those people in search of more control I say “Feel Free.”
Social Computing, not social networking or social media is the next thing.   Key word “social.” For MySpace and Facebook the keyword is “Networking” and that’s a word that draws advertisers from miles away.

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Dumb Roll Please.

If you play or work in or about the online advertising community you know what pre-roll is. It’s a commercial that appears before a video. There is also post-roll — a commercial that appears after the video. Now there is mid-roll. Mid-roll began when TV channels replayed their episodes online, separating viewing segments by :30 spots, as on TV.


Today, YouTube and Google announced a mid-roll unit that begins 15 seconds into a video, and appears silently on the bottom 20% or so of the screen as an overlay.  It is a quiet, see-through video banner ad that clicks through to a longer form selling story. Yahoo and Google have both tested the unit and predict it clicks through at rates 5-10 times higher than banner ads.    


To quote Zack de la Rocha “Oh sh*t I got a head rush.” This is a Pandora’s Box that is about to make serious waves in the business of social computing. It seems like an elegant solution, e.g., silent, small, short in duration, but I’m betting there will be user backlash if this approach becomes too ubiquitous — and it’s not going to be pretty for Google. Google, don’t forget from whence you came. 

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It took me a number of years in the business to figure out advertising. After reading all the books, years of practice, and lots of scar tissue from practitioners good and bad, I realized one simple rule: there’s showing and there’s telling. Showing works best.
If you look at advertising that is demonstrating a value proposition rather than explaining a value proposition you are more likely to buy.
Along came the Web and Web 2.0 which have added another component to selling: doing.  You can’t always “do” on the Internet, certainly not in terms of ingesting consumables or trying on clothes, but smart web marketers are finding ways to get customers and prospects to do something with their products. I can’t get you to try on a new style of sunglasses, but I can get you to play with them, put them on an avatar, change the colors. Do, in other words.
In my business, social computing, it’s even easier to get people to do. Of course, I can tell them, Zude is the “fastest, easiest away to build and manage a website,” and I can show them the same in a flash demo, but until I let them put their hands on the controls and do (in consumer marketing this is called sampling) they aren’t really sold.
Prior to the Web, “doing” was always the domain of promotion not advertising. Not anymore. 

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Who Yahoo!?

Here’s what Yahoo should do. It needs to become the biggest portal on the Internet. Oh that’s right, it already is. Yahoo has lost its lead in search and it has lost its lead as a communications platform. It’s second, third or fourth in a number of other competitive areas: IM, picture sharing, start pages, video, advertising, etc. As social computing grows and all large competitors move towards the center (toward each other), there is still room for a portal. AOL used to own the portal but it’s up for grabs now. Yahoo can and should strengthen its hold here.
How? First Yahoo must start to find, display, and link to the most exciting things on the Web. That will take brilliant content editors. The Elizabeth Spiers of the world. It must bring into the fold, some exciting original content: first run movies, concerts, comedy acts and Broadway shows. It must become not only a television station on the Internet, but a library, a concert hall, a movie theater, magazine, blog and newspaper. It should start buying up the best blogs on the net and paying the writers and creators dearly: the Robert Scobles, PostSecrets, the BoingBoings.  
The web is, and always will be, about the content. User generated stuff is wonderful(ish), but who is culling it for the really great art? Rather than trying to out-Goggle Google, or out-MySpace MySpace, Yahoo should try to out-Yahoo Yahoo. It should become the Web’s biggest and best online content provider.   

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There are two primary types of people involved in social computing today: posters and pasters. 
Posters generate original content for the Web. Many are bloggers. They write about themselves, their experiences, opinions and values. Posters may create and edit videos. Posters are also artists. They share their photography, paintings, music and other musings. (One of my favorite posters is Brooklyn’s Marie Lorenz of the Tide and Current Taxi  Posters are responsible for the surge in consumer generated content found all over the Web and are the lifeblood of social computing.
Pasters, on the other hand, are the people who search the Web for interesting stuff so they can share it. The first people who sent jokes and video around the Web were pasters. Today’s pasters are Web filters and repurposers — finding, cutting, pasting and mashing up content. They have websites, social networking spaces and are voracious communicators.  Pasters may also be bloggers; they just aggregate and post content others have written. Think of them as reporters. Pasters may not be the lifeblood of social networking, but they are certainly the body. Pasters are the mass in the massively growing social computing phenomenon.

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Social computing has grown in many directions: social networks, social media, personal homes pages, start pages, just to name a few. There seems to be a crazy gravitational force developing, though, that is pulling everyone toward the middle. Those who have stuck to their core technology and/or mission have reaped the biggest revenue benefit. eBay is still tight. Google is tight. Flickr is tight. YouTube and MySpace are tight. But even these companies are beginning to look beyond their missions. They want more pie and they are greedily pursuing it.
The more they target competitor’s customers and develop competitive functionality, the more they lose focus and differentiation. They are all moving toward the middle. What will we call the middle? How will consumers describe the middle? 

Will every main social computing company have so much pie on their face that they become unsightly? Will all those cherries and blueberries and peaches and custards and apples turn into one brown sticky mess?

Billy Bob Thornton’s “Uhhh huhh” comes to mind.   

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