A Quick Snapshot of Old vs. New Media

In late October, I got a first hand glimpse into how the web is taking on traditional newspapers.  While in Dallas for Forrester’s Consumer Forum, I was grateful to be invited to drop in at the offices of the Dallas Morning News to talk about how retailers are using Facebook.

A Somber Scene

At first glance, the floor where most of the reporters sit is very much like the stereotypical movie sets.  I expected Perry White (Jackie Cooper, in my head, anyways) to come screaming out of his office at any moment.  The major differences:  PCs everywhere instead of typewriters, and most of the desks were empty.  I visited them on a Monday – the prior Friday they had been through a series of layoffs, and the mood was somber.  As the paper takes on challenges brought on by Web 2.0 and the shift of advertising online, ironically a blog solely for former employeers of the paper cropped up and has some very passionate people engaged. 

Challenges for Traditional Newspapers

Three major challenges for the paper are apparent.  First, the cost of advertising.  Simply put, ads cost a lot less and are far more measurable online.  This directly competes with ad revenue for the paper, and was a deciding factor in the recent Chapter 11 filing at the holding company that owns the Chicago Tribune and LA Times.

The second challenge is the proliferation of other media sources.  I heard the phrases “reading blogs” and “did you see the blog post” several times.  The lines between traditional media and new media are blurring and anyone who can publish a story could conceivably trump a reporter at a paper.  Clearly reporters are paying attention.  The lines are blurring between official reporters and passionate folks who like to write.

A third challenge for newspapers is really understanding the digital channel.  I’ve seen recent discussion on Twitter with Bryan Person and Aaron Strout around how newspapers don’t understand search engine optimization (SEO).  Both have pointed out examples of articles in Boston papers where the authors failed to include links in the online version of the story to either personal blogs or corporate web sites.  “Sharing the link love” is a key piece of making the digital channel successful and accessible through search. 

Understanding a Slice of New Media

The main purpose of my visit was to discuss my agency’s recent study on retailers using Facebook.  Several big name retailers, including J.C. Penney, are in the Dallas area, and the retail reporter for DMN was trying to get a better understanding of Facebook and other tools.  I spent a couple of hours with her explaining how Facebook works and gave her a demo of Twitter (thanks to many connections there for helping out).  It was clearly an eye opening experience for her, and we reviewed what several local-based retailers were doing with Facebook fan pages.  The net result, including much of her hard work looking at viral marketing, interviewing a variety of sources and adding insight to what the companies are doing, is this well-written piece published Tuesday called, “Retailers find Facebook friends in hopes of finding sales.”  No doubt the folks who are reporters are talented in their research and writing – she did an excellent job tying in the recent viral successes of J.C. Penney and Victoria Secret’s Pink brand to our discussion on retailers using Facebook pages.

Clearly the Dallas Morning News is getting the digital channel – the page where my article lives had (as of my last view) advertisements for Ford, Cars.com and Netflix.  The article also had the ability to share via social bookmarking sites and allowed comments.  Unfortunately the article had no link here or to our agency’s site, Rosetta.com.  But 2 out of 3 ain’t bad right?

In the end this was a real world microcosm example of how the old media industry needs to adapt in order to thrive.  Thanks again DMN for including me in the article and I hope we both continue to learn from the experience.

Photo via IMDB.com

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Redefining Social Commerce


Folks shy away from the term “social commerce.”  Why?  I asked the question on Twitter, “What’s the first thing that pops in your mind when you hear the term ‘social commerce?'” and I received quite a number of cynical (and humorous) responses:

  • @k_seas: “Pyramid Scheme : – ) kidding”
  • @illig: “Social commerce: Prostitution, human trafficking and ice cream socials. In that order. But I’m not normal. : ) “
  • @heatherrast: ” (1)selling out your friends (like personal info?) (2) the cost of selling out your friends (3) revenue from adsense ads”
  • Taken out of context, my question also sparked a little debate about what social commerce is and caused friend Aaron Strout to weigh in with some great dialog happening in the comments. 

Here’s the danger: People want conversation in social networks to be genuine and to avoid overt marketers hawking their wares.  Social networks bring people to connect, not to shop.  But as technology evolves and people look to leverage their networks as information sources, invariably those networks will turn to helping each other make purchases.  I, for one, take a friend’s recommendation as an important information source before buying – and I have to admit consumer ratings and reviews are helpful and important to me.

Back to the Future

As far as I could dig up, one of the first posts defining social commerce was back on December 23, 2005.  Steve Rubel wrote an intriguing post on 2006 Trends to Watch.  Steve started to predict the trend of advertising and commerce shifting to blogs:

Social commerce, however, is an area that I think holds a tremendous amount of promise as a way for bloggers to make money. It’s a win-win for the bloggers, product marketers and existing e-commerce sites.”

His post went on to show examples of how e-commerce sites had extended functionality to allow bloggers to take advantage of the Long Tail and bring the ability to conduct commerce on their blogs, beyond the innovation of Google ads.  At the time, Yahoo!’s Shoposphere was the highlight, where users could collaborate on shopping lists.  More posts went on about preparing for social commerce as the next big wave of innovation that would push the continuing trend of online shopping growth (combined with broadband adoption at home and at work along with the continual adoption of Web 2.0 technologies like Flash).  But the term “social commerce” seemed vaguely defined to include innovation in customer experience on commerce sites, and overall the term remained nebulous. 

The Year of Social Commerce?

Jay Deragon predicted 2008 would be the Year of Social Commerce.  On January 1, 2008, he wrote:

While social networks continue to grow exponentially the next growth curve will be driven by the “holy grail of economics“, social commerce. Social commerce may actually become the dominant development in 2008 and subsequently turn business models upside down and inside out.

Jay is on to something here.  While the last year brought the challenges of Facebook’s Beacon product, and there continues to be large debates about ways to monetize social networks, big ticket retailers are starting to get involved by adding functionality on their own e-commerce platforms.  Already we have seen reviews, stories from other customers and ratings start to really permeate the online retail space – where retailers that don’t have them are becoming the exception. (Bazaarvoice is a business partner of my agency, Rosetta, and one of a few vendors who provide user ratings and reviews as a service to be integrated into a web commerce user experience.)  In addition to sites adding this functionality – and receiving a bump in conversion % of visitors – here are some other examples of what vendors are doing:

  • Facebook Connect and platforms like Open I/D  allow corporations to authenticate social graphs on their own sites.
  • IBM did a recent case study integrating the capabilities of Lotus Connections with Websphere Commerce.  
  • Companies like LiveWorld have launched products to integrate social interactions directly on websites, like their recently launched LiveBar product.

Based on watching what vendors out there are doing, I’d argue that beyond the initial premise of bringing commerce to social media tools and networks, it appears the next wave is bringing the social networks back to commerce sites.  Some companies like eBay and Amazon do this well, but I think more merchants will be trying to figure this out.  Bringing customers together to help on purchase decisions can be a good thing if it’s handled properly and e-commerce companies engage their customers the right way, beyond just user ratings and reviews.  What do you think?

Photo credit: racineur via flickr


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10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Engage in Social Media Right Now

In the last year I’ve immersed myself in social media, Chris Brogan has been a continual source of inspiration and guidance. His blog, chrisbrogan.com, is a virtual treasure trove of nuggets for social media junkies and new folks alike. Chris recently published an eBook called: Fishing Where The Fish Are: Mapping Social Media to the Buying Cycle. Today I was in a discussion with some colleagues about a client who is interested in “getting into social media.” While reading Chris’s eBook, I was inspired to jot down some very quick tactical tips and suggestions. I spun this toward retailers since it’s the space I work in but it really could apply to any company or industry. Thanks to Chris for the inspiration, who likely has written a similar list already for getting folks “plugged in.”  

10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Start Engaging in Social Media Right Now

1. Do a Google Blog search on your company’s brand, category and industry. Start doing this on a regular basis and read through the content. Start to get a pulse, subscribe to some Google Alerts on the topics.

2. Do the same search using search.twitter.com. There are lots of resources and guides on using Twitter and other microblogging platforms – but creating an account and getting acclimated is a longer term investment of time. I would start with looking for mentions and understanding what is being talked about. For that matter, Marc Meyer has a great post on many ways to listen to many sources in social media.

3. Join Facebook. Connect with friends, colleagues, get to know and understand how it works. Look for colleagues from your company and see how they are representing themselves. Are there Facebook groups mentioning your company? Does your company have a page? What about your competitors?

4. Join LinkedIn and set up your profile. Also connect with friends and colleagues. Get to know how the social network works. Understanding social networking will be important – as will the ability for customers and business partners to know you exist.  Learn about who you should connect to and who you should avoid on each network.  Here’s my view of how I scrutinize connections, but many people use social networks differently.

5. Ask around your company and find out who blogs, who is on Facebook, who is on Twitter or who is using other social media tools. You can learn a lot about social media by observing what they see and do in this space. I think you’d be surprised at how many folks in the organization already have a blog, even if it’s a personal one.

6. Start using a RSS reader like Google Reader. Search for reviews of your products or services. Find 5 sites where people are talking about them, in forums/discussions, blogs, or other sites. Subscribe to feeds from those sites to start listening.

7. Start using a bookmarking site like Delicious or StumbleUpon. Create a category or tag for blog and press mentions, and start to save/accumulate links about your company and industry.  Connect to colleagues with similar interests and see what they find.

8. Find 5 blogs in a related industry by searching in Technorati, Delicious or another bookmarking service. Read through posts, and comment on them. Be sure to disclose which company you are with if you are promoting or voicing an opinion on a product or service, including a competitor’s.

9. Go talk to Legal. Is there a corporate policy on social media? Does your industry have specific concerns about participating representing the company? Understand the guidelines and policies if they exist.  Scott Monty has talked about how this step was crucial when he joined the team at Ford as to lead their social media effort.

10. Go talk to PR. Chances are they are wrestling with understanding blogs and the importance of reacting timely to concerns. Let them know you are interested to and willing to share a voice.

a bonus tip:

11. Understand this is a journey, not a flash in the pan. Social media requires commitment and a lot of listening well before you will be in a position to come up with a case study in the space.  Just executing against this list will require some time investment.

What did I miss?  Was this helpful?  What has helped you ramp up in social media?

Photo credit: StephanGeyer via Flickr

Study: 59% of Top Retailers Now on Facebook

Opportunity Knocks

In May of this year, Rosetta, the agency I am working for, published a study showing that 30% of 100 of the top online retailers had a Facebook page set up.  In the last five months since the original survey, there has been a substantial uptick to 59% – including pages added by Best Buy, Kohl’s and Toys ‘R Us.  This should not be a surprise and should continue to serve as a wake-up call.  Facebook has reached over 150 million users world wide, and Facebook fan pages are quite frankly, an easy way to set up a presence on the platform.

Use Caution, Plan Carefully

I have to caution retailers who just jump in by setting up a page.  Facebook is only one sliver of the overall social media space, and it’s very important to have an online strategy that embraces social media as another marketing channel. Here’s a quote from yours truly in our release on the study:

“It’s important that retailers don’t just slap up a page because everyone is talking about Facebook. An effective presence requires that you carefully consider what your customers are looking for, what you would like to communicate, and what role a fan page should play in your overall online strategy.”

I had an opportunity to talk further about this with Albert Maruggi on his Marketing Edge podcast yesterday going into further examples on how retailers can be using the Facebook page as a way to “start small” in social media and adjust to grow.  Here is the podcast – take a listen and let us know what you think.  Thanks Albert – you make this type of work a lot of fun.

Hot Topic

Facebook is a hot topic to cover right now.  Here are some other examples of where our study has been picked up – I’ll try to keep this post up to date with helpful links.  If you are interested in a direct copy of the study please don’t hesitate to contact me via the channels on my blog or comment.

Press and blog coverage for the Rosetta October 2008 Facebook Study – thanks to all for including our study:

Facebook pages are just one indicator of retailers looking to embrace social media to engage customers.  Do you think they will be successful?  Have a favorite fan page to highlight?  If your company has a page on Facebook I’d love to hear your story – I’d also love suggestions on how to improve the study for the next round.

Study: Only 30% of Top Retailers on Facebook

Opportunity Brulant, my employer, recently completed a study of 100 of the top online retailers to see which ones have a “fan page,” a feature that Facebook launched in November 2007.  Only 30% of the retailers surveyed had a page out there.  Yep, only 30%, despite lots of hype about the platform.  That’s it?  I believe retailers are missing out.  According to the study, some of the leading brands currently leveraging fan pages on Facebook include Bath & Body Works, Linens-N-Things and Victoria’s Secret. Among those that do not have a fan page presence are Bed Bath & Beyond, Circuit City, and J. Crew. 

Let’s take a step back for a minute.  I have been using Facebook for several months.  Like many, I went through the Facebook cycle of addiction:

  1. Shock (from my younger-recent-college-grad-cousins finding me online),
  2. Elation (reconnecting with summer camp, high school and college friends),
  3. Saturation (deluge of work and professional colleagues’ connection requests) and
  4. Annoyance (no, I don’t want to be “bitten,” “poked,” or compared to a celebrity, but thanks for asking repeatedly).

During this time I have learned much about viral marketing, useful and useless applications, and even met with a Facebook rep to learn about the advertising platform (see Top 10 Things You May Not Know About Facebook…For Marketers).  Facebook is a marketer’s dream – the platform has an average of 200 data points on each user.  As more compelling applications are developed, and Facebook explores new ways to achieve better usability, the potential for “stickiness” is improving.  People are spending more time on Facebook (despite recent declines in unique user growth), the company is expanding it’s presence globally, and users have more and more platforms to express what they like and dislike.  Online retailers should be looking at this as unchartered opportunity.  So why are so many retailers holding out? 

A ‘fan page’ is a free profile that a company can set up and maintain, allowing users to declare they like a brand.  If consumers like a brand, they can “fan” the page.  If they don’t like the brand, they simply ignore the page.  Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester wrote a thoughful post about “fansumers” explaining the implications to Facebook, in November 2007.  The Facebook Page is a surefire way to connect with passionate fans of a brand.  There is no requirement to buy advertising on Facebook (although once a company has a page it’s easy to do).  The “Facebook Pages Insider’s Guide,” available to anyone who sets up a fan page, describes the opportunity:

Facebook Pages give business the opportunity to build a consumer base, sell products, run  promotions, schedule appointments or reservations, share information, and interact with customers…Pages enable customers to interact, learn, purchase, and spread the word about your business to their friends. [emphasis added]

Retailers that are not at least considering whether their customers are on Facebook are missing out on an opportunity.  With little to no investment, minimal PR risk, and big upside potential, a page can be set up and become a natural extension of their online presence.  There is no need to “push” your page – if a company already has a loyal consumer base the word of mouth proposition will be a good start.  With some experimentation and a willingness to interact with “fans” retailers can improve their customer engagement, build brand awareness and take advantage of word of mouth marketing.  What is holding these companies back?

Please reach out to me, on Facebook if you like, if you would be interested in a copy of the survey or would like to talk more about Facebook Pages.

UPDATE: Day after this was posted, TechCrunch published metrics on Facebook overtaking MySpace as the #1 social network.  Opportunity knocks…


Photo credit:  Iain Alexander via Flickr

Indiana Jones and the Lost Marketing Plan

Ij "How odd that it should end this way for us after so many stimulating encounters. I almost regret it. Where shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?" – Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

Raiders is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time.  I've been less enamored with the rest of the series so far and have not seen the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yet.  I won't dispute that Indiana Jones is a cultural icon.  Lately the promotion for the new film has been all over the place – from selling Indy's Fedora hat as a Facebook "gift" to Major League Baseball trying everything but on the field advertising to the NBA shameless opening segments during the playoffs.  Some of the placements are harmless.  Others are causing a stir – Not-The-Real-Ronald-McDonald is one of many folks blogging about the negative Burger King promotion for the film, targeting kids and fast food.   But what about the whole premise of targeting kids in general?

I have 3 boys (all under 8) and I can't wait to watch Raiders with them one day.  No way I would let them see the series now.  Yet the marketing team is promoting Burger King, a massive Lego genre (no way AFOLs would sustain the product alone), and a ton of other products.  "Indiana Jones Role Play Whip" for ages 6-10?  "Playskool Mr. Potato Head: Taters of the Lost Ark Idaho Jones Spud" for ages 2-7?  The spark for this post was seeing Indiana Jones Madlibs in an airport bookstore.  Even tongue in cheek these types of toys are a bit over the top targeting the wrong age group, for films that are based on the original R-rated film (all the others were PG or PG-13).

Let's review.  In the first film, in the opening scene, a former Indy assistant gets skewered in a jungle cave.  Aside from the obvious snakes scene, a German officer getting run over by a truck and the bald soldier getting chopped up by an airplane propeller, there's always the 2 Germans and 1 French archaeologist melting into a bloody pool at the end of the movie.   In the second flick, a shaman pulls a pumping heart out of a guy before dropping him in magma.  In the third, I think the worst is when a pile of guys' heads get chopped off as they neglect to heed "Only the penitent man shall pass."  

These are not scenes I want my boys re-enacting around the house, sorry.  (I can't wait to watch the movies with them one day though.)  There are so many other ways to market this film, I think the extra targeting of young kids just doesn't sit right.

Photo credit: Despotes via flickr, titled "For your toddler, a Jewish religious artifact and a killer ghost!" (note "Ages 3+" on the package). 

Don’t Let the Packaging Fool You: Tropicana and Poland Spring

Paint Water and orange juice are two of my favorite drinks.  My family just bought a Poland Springs water cooler to put in my kitchen.  I love fresh squeezed OJ with a great Sunday morning breakfast while reading the Boston Globe. My kids hate the pulp so we buy Tropicana OJ, which to me is remarkably consistent and tastes great.  Recently I noticed both of these brands try to pull a fast one, or at least it appears so to me.

Each company has been recently hyping up changed packaging while the customer pays more for the product.  I’m all for fancy retail packaging, but when you change the container and reduce the amount of product for the same price then I think customers should be warned. 

Img00084First, Tropicana.  Tropicana is playing a lot in interactive marketing with the launch of their Tropicana Pure product line.  This link, to a site trying to tie sight and sound online to drinking expensive juice in real life, has been going around Twitter with a title of "OJ porn" (no, not that OJ): http://www.tropicanapure.com/.  Perhaps Tropicana is just trying to change their image to a more premium juice, who knows.  Admittedly I don’t have all my facts together here, but I have been buying the juice in large plastic (recyclable) containers for quite some time.  The old package had 96 oz and used to cost around $5 when not on sale.  It was heavy and had a large circular pouring spout.  The new "improved" pouring technology, including a kinder, gentler handle and an oval instead of round spout, costs $4.99 as you can see here in this photo I took today at the market (yes, I drove there to make a point).  How much juice fits in this new-supposed-to-improve-my-drinking-experience container?  89 oz.  That’s seven ounces less.  I noticed the market quickly phased out the old 96 oz container.  So now Tropicana is making a few more margin points on juice, and I’m starting to question whether it’s worth it.

PolandspringsSecond, and perhaps more noticeable, Poland Spring.  Before we bought the 3-gallon-jugs-piling-up-in-my-garage delivery service, we would buy single gallons.  You know, those typical containers that milk comes in, which invariably cause 4-year-olds to spill half the container on the kitchen table when they try to pour on their own.  $1.29 for one, can’t beat that (unless you have figured out that tap water is just fine).  Poland Spring recently launched a clear container that is ergonomic (although I would say arguably harder to pour when full) and stackable.  If you are in the habit of buying large amounts of single gallon containers, are short on storage space and hate foggy plastic – these containers are for you!  Except they will cost you more per gallon.  Sure, they are also $1.29 each, but they contain less water.  They are sold side by side in Stop & Shop.  It costs $1.63 per gallon (unit price) for the same water, new fancy container.

Don’t be duped – fancy packaging doesn’t always mean a better product, and the same price doesn’t always mean the same amount of the product.  In this case, it means we are just going to pay more if we buy it.  Do you buy it?  What other packaging dupes are out there?  Is anyone from either of these companies listening?

(photo credit: dreamsjung via flickr)