Have you linked your American Express Card to your Facebook page yet? Apparently thousands of people have in the hopes that Amex will find them truly relevant deals and bargains based on their likes and their friends’ likes.
It was just about a week ago when I included examples like the above – turning the stream into usable content – in a post on the newest social media trends and obviously this is an attempt to do just that. Though in my Amex case it’s an utter failure. At least so far. While I am a loyal and long-term (35 years) American Express customer (they have the credit card industry’s best customer service), their latest experiment needs a little more work.
For example, it offered me a discount on a cruise (a team of Clydesdales couldn’t drag me onto a cruise ship); savings at Lord and Taylor (I don’t shop there); and an exclusive opportunity to attend Glee in 3D (not a fan and don’t even really like 3D.) The problem of course is that American Express thinks that my friends’ likes might actually coincide with my likes. Wrong. In fact given the too many people I have as friends on Facebook I can’t even say with certainty that I like my “friends,” never mind my friends’ likes.
But there is something interesting in this, both for users and for marketers. If we get to a point where we can harness the stream in such a way that it becomes valuable as searchable content long after the moment of a post, we can use it as individuals to make better decisions and find stuff that we do want. And as marketers we can finally leverage those likes, using them to influence new or prospective customers.
There’s a great post in Business Insider by Jeff Janer, CEO and co-founder of Springpad (note that I’m on the board), which is among the first companies starting to harness the potential of likes and deferred intent.
While the social web has been highly effective in giving us ways to express our “likes” of things we’ve already done, it has yet to address the other side of the interest graph: the trusted referrals and recommendations we receive from our friends, as well as the things we discover on our own, and want to buy, read, visit, or listen to later. In other words: our “wants.”
The rest of the post goes into greater detail about how to make this work.
The problem with American Express’s service, if I’m using it correctly, is that I can’t filter my friends based on what I know to be their qualifications to make recommendations. For example, friends who have good taste; or travel to exotic places; or share my taste in restaurants; or have valid opinions about literature; or know their electronics. If that were possible, perhaps Amex would deliver me far more relevant offers.
Hey wait a minute? Sounds a little like Circles. Maybe all of this is starting to come together. Presuming we don’t mind Facebook, Google and American Express knowing even more about us than they already do.
I’m a pretty big fan of Made by Many. As the London based company of renegades likes to say, they “make new things out of the Internet.” That alone is reason to like them.
Note that MxM is not an ad agency. Nor are they a digital shop in the vein of an R/GA or Big Spaceship. They’re somewhere in between a software company, an IDEO-like design shop and a marketing firm.
If you believe as I do that a big part of our (the advertising industry) future will also be about making new things, there’s much you can learn from this small, but growing company: everything from their space (totally open with people sitting at benches to foster collaboration); to the kinds of people they hire (developers); to their willingness to share so much of what they know (read their blog); to their commitment to learning (they once took 30-plus employees – 95 percent of the company — to SxSW for a week).
They also embrace a very different approach to making what they make than a typical agency would practice. Instead of employing a linear process that sees a project migrate from research to strategy to creative to approval to production to media buy, they apply lean start-up techniques — testing, learning and iterating their way to a solution that they know will work by the time it’s ready for prime time.
Consider their relatively recent Skype in the Classroom project, which just won a mention at the Core 77 design awards. (Open IDEO won.) We all know what a typical ad agency would do if challenged by Skype to get more teachers to use its video conferencing service. They’d create an ad campaign espousing the virtues of the service and run it in trades targeted at educators.
But if you’re a software company (or a design thinker) it never dawns on you to create an ad campaign. Instead you focus on building something worthy of being advertised. Which is exactly what Made by Many did. Sure they started with the premise that more teachers need to learn about Skype and how or why to use it. But they quickly discovered, through lots of interviews with teachers, that familiarity wasn’t the problem at all. Teachers already knew and loved the service. They simply needed more people to Skype with. So what did Made by Many make? A directory that invited teachers to post the subjects, topics or projects around which they wanted to connect with other teachers or experts.
Skype in the classroom brings together a community of people and information to save teachers time and help them make the most of Skype and the international teaching community.
Teachers could post what they were working on or looking for. Then from anywhere and everywhere around the world other teachers with similar projects or useful expertise could identify opportunities for sharing and collaborating. Taking advantage of the network effect – the more users use it the more people are attracted and excited to join – the project quickly grew to over 14,000 teachers and nearly 700 projects.
It’s innovation, crowdsourcing and the power of social media all rolled into one very cool idea that spread quickly with little more than word of mouth and some well deserved press coverage.
To me, projects like this are what we should all want to create. When you think about the potential of Skype in the Classroom – connecting teachers and students in the U.S. with their counterparts in the Middle East for example, or teaching kids about each other’s respective cultures – it has huge implications for learning and even international relations.
We might also want to learn how to make conceive and execute ideas like this. Many of us get our inspiration from the same places over and over again – other ad agencies, recent campaigns, award shows. But expand the list of places you go for inspiration and take the time to learn some of the new ways of creating, and who knows, maybe you’ll be competing against IDEO for design awards. And impressing the hell out of your clients in the process.
Jaron Lanier must be rolling his eyes. Google + has been out all of two weeks and we have already seen paid seminars on how to use it; thousands, if not millions, of blog posts espousing its virtues and condemning its shortcomings; gushing praise for circles and the ability to organize our friends and acquaintances; and now, after less than a month, when most of us haven’t even figured out how to use our circles efficiently comes the latest assessment – circle fatigue. Really? To call circles “the dark side of Google +” does seem a little over the top. (Read the comments.)
Maybe we should all take a breath, restrain our need to decide/conclude/declare in realtime, before we actually know anything, and see where this all goes. Ever think that maybe it’s still too soon to tell?
We have no idea whether Google’s momentum – 10 million users in practically no time – will continue. No way of knowing how long, if ever, it will take to reach Facebook’s volume.
Will Sparks turn out to be as useful a filtering device as we can imagine – feeding us new content based on what we’ve clicked on, liked or interacted with from previous results that it’s added to our stream? If so, will it become one of our favorite features of G+?
In early questions I posed to heavy social users, many were ready to make Google + their de facto platform, but others had no intention of bailing on Twitter. Is it an either or? Or might we, over time, find that certain networks play different roles in our desire to connect, share, discover content and organize news and entertainment via the influence and recommendations of our own carefully curated communities. Leading to the question of what role will Google + play?
And all of that’s before we even consider brands and companies. Right now Google has asked companies to stay off until they get the experience right and can select some subset of the 36,000 companies who applied to get on. That will inevitably raise more questions.
Will brands use circles intelligently, organizing small groups of advocates and loyalists in one circle, coupon cutters in another, prospects in a third?
Will Google + afford marketers better interaction and listening than Facebook does, even if the number of +’s are fewer?
What about early reports that the men to women ratio of G+ users was 90:10? Apparently that was a false assessment, but Google’s new site still weighs more in favor of the less influential consumer. Will that change?
Regarding brand interaction, there’s user behavior to consider. With the ability to isolate brands into circles we can easily organize brands by category, by coupons, or by other preferences and have far easier control over a brand’s stream than they might have elsewhere. Need a new sweater? Click on the circle of all your favorite online retailers to see who’s sending you discounts.
Finally, there’s a lot of talk about SEO results. Presumably now that Google has put an end to real time search, Google + content will have an advantage. But we still don’t know, and may never know, how that works. Right now a link that gets shared publicy has a URL (back to the Google+ post), so presumably it can be searched and found. But what about a link shared with a limited number of circles that’s not public? Does that link even count toward the page rank of the article being shared? And does it matter how influential the person who shared it?
Maybe you know the answers to all of these questions. I don’t. But I do think that for anything to work for us we have to work at it. Which recalls a whole other argument – Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed. Having everything laid out for us might be convenient. But control and choice might be better thing. I’m giving it time.
“It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen. “
Remember when we talked about social media and mainstream media as two different things? Not anymore. Today, social media is the mainstream media.
True, on Google + we may be talking about the novelty of Google +. And there may only be a few of us puttering around on Percolate or scrolling up and down on Shuush. But despite the never-ending introduction of new social platforms, social media in one form or another has pretty much become everyone’s primary source of content and interaction.
So what does it mean now that we’ve all joined the conversation, mastered the art of engagement and embraced the concept of transparency? Your guess is as good as mine. But one place to start thinking about it might be the following trends.
Influence gets more influential
Initially I thought that Klout was a superficial measurement of influence. And while it still has a way to go – it needs to add Google +, Instagram and others for a start – it represents the next wave in social media marketing: learning to identify and leverage influencers. Already Klout can pinpont influencers by category (sneakers, beer, social media) and geography and help brands connect with them.
Perhaps more telling is the slew of new tools to measure, promote and identify influence. We’ve always had Hubspot, but just this week Edelman launched Blog Level and will no doubt be encouraging clients to use it.
As marketers begin seeking out such influencers it’s only inevitable that more individuals strive to become one. And why not? It’s easier than ever to share expertise, whether blogging, tweeting or answering questions on Quora. And as marketers covet your connections, you’ll benefit further from the validation.
If you’re a marketer you should be developing relationships with all the influencers who can use your product and invite them to play a role in marketing it. If you’re an individual with any specific area of knowledge, share it, engage, build a following and raise your score. It could help with everything from making a few bucks to getting a job.
Individuals are the new filters
We, as individuals, organize the people we follow into columns on Tweetdeck. We place them into specific circles on Google +. We use them to filter the content that comes into our lives. We create our own magazines with Flipboard and Pulse. And eventually (see below on the stream beyond real time) we’ll search, using our categories of friends, for recommendations from their past likes, shares and posts. The challenge of course is how any brand or marketer maintains some degree of control over what it stands for as it passes through those individual filters. We all remember what happens in the first grade exercise where a message gets whispered from one end of the room to another. It comes out as something entirely different than when it started.
For brands and marketers, it’s more important than ever not only to stand for something clear and simple (Zappos and happiness; Jet Blue and service) but to assure it gets passed on and represented accurately (if that’s even possible) by consumers. Clarity will become more essential, along with behavior and tools that mirror what you claim to stand for.
Content generation and sharing gets even easier
Percolate makes it easier to blog by giving users content based on their interests. Instagram has enabled anyone, including the vocabulary-impaired, to fill the stream and attract attention with quickly generated and easily doctored images. Pinterest, a visual bookmarking service has a social component to it that makes it a little like Tumblr, the latter now more popular than WordPress.
What this means, of course, is that more people will generate more content than ever. As they do the stream will rapidly become a waterfall of never ending, rarely memorable digital bits, making it even harder to stand out, get remembered or inspire enagement. I recently saw someone tweeting about how they had abandoned their nightly hour of television to scroll through their Instagram feed instead. He found the images and imagined stories behind them more interesting than network programming.
For those of us in the business of attention and engagement, we’ll find it harder to be noticed. We might get on the radar for a moment or two, but the real trick will be mastering the network effect and getting more people to generate content for us. Quantity as well as quality may be our friend. Burberry has 55,000 followers on Instagram, but if 25 percent of them also generated content and used a hashtag calling attention to the brand it would be even more valuable.
The stream moves beyond the moment
I don’t know about you, but I miss 90 percent of what flows through my social networks. Going back and filtering or discovering stuff that might be genuinely meaningful is hard right now. I can save a tweet, or throw a link into Trunkly, but what if next month I want to search what the 10 top creative directors have shared as links over the past month? What if I want to know what new books have been liked more times by my trusted Facebook or Google + friends?
These capabilities are coming. New platforms like Postpo.st, while still buggy, could make Twitter a far more valuable resource. I know one company in particular that will soon turn Facebook likes into real social currency. When that happens, we will all have more reasons to encourage social response to our products and content.
Wondering what the value of a “Like” is now? Imagine what happens when it becomes a searchable source of recommendations. Don’t think it matters what someone says about you on Twitter a day or two later? Think again. For marketers it means sharpening your engagement and content strategy with an understanding of the long term value of a Like or a +1 along with learning to earn rather than buy them, ideally from people whose influence is meaningful.
C2C rivals B2C as Mesh-type businesses proliferate
We have too narrow a definition of crowdsourcing if we think it’s about soliciting cheap content. Its real value comes from the new platforms that encourage sharing. Sharing tools, apartments, cars and more. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb, (or read Lisa Gansky’s bookz The Mesh) do so. Sure you can find the exotic igloo in Greenland, but there’s a room with your name on it in just about any city.
Fueled by environmental concerns, economic realities and the possibilities of the web this trend is just starting to take off. It will inevitably grow and affect lots of businesses, from car companies to hotels, bicycle manufacturers and toolmakers. And if my familiarity with Gen Y is any indication, there will be an entire generation more open to this way of living and sharing than either Gen X or Boomers.
Brands should create their own versions of these networks. It may be too late for a credit card company to invent Groupon or for a camera maker to think up Instagram. But if you’re a business paying attention to what social media is doing (care to share your breast milk?) then you’re thinking about how to create new business models yourself.
There’s a consistency across all of these thoughts. And it’s this. The individual –content generator, media force, smartphone toter, uber-connector – is driving the bus. She is influencing, searching, producing, accessing, connecting and deciding with more control than ever before. Time to move beyond the basics of social media and learn to be even more creative in the new spaces.
Thoughts? Other trends – personal data, images, visualization – you think are as or more important? Please share.
We all want immediate gratification. It doesn’t matter whether we’re individuals or companies, we crave instant results right out of the gate, either in the form of traffic, visibility, revenue or at least venture capital. But it just might be possible that if we make those our only measures of success then we miss out on what Stephen Johnson calls The Slow Hunch.
I’m hoping the slow hunch materializes in the case of TNGG. A year and a half ago a few of us speculated that it might be a good idea to start a crowdsourced blog by and about Gen Y. It struck us that marketers would be interested in the next generation’s perspective and that young writers would rather express their own points of view directly rather than have some third party researchers speak on their behalf. It also seemed a good way for an ad agency to play around with consumer generated content and get a little better at social media.
Well I’m here to report that our trajectory hasn’t quite been that of the Huffington Post. We’re not flush with VC money. Nor have we received any offers from Murdoch. (We’d probably decline anyway.)
But we have accomplished something by being patient and by plodding along. This week TNGG will publish its 1500th article. Not bad for one paid employee and a community of volunteer contributors. Today seven talented and committed editors inspire and curate content from nearly 200 writers (some active, some less so) who generate 30-plus articles a week. Editor Alex Pearlman has become a sought after voice in advocating for Gen Y and community manager Christine Peterson has been singled out as a future leader by MITX.
Of course while all of that is nice, it doesn’t make for much of a business model. But that doesn’t mean the two ambitious 20- somethings who run TNGG aren’t working on it. In fact they’re about to close their first distribution deal as they slowly develop a model that will create new outlets for their content, generate more traffic, collect fees from media properties and provide pay for the contributors.
If we’d demanded that such goals be achieved in the first month, quarter or even year TNGG would be long gone. Instead this little experiment has yielded numerous lessons, gathered a valuable community, jump-started a good number of careers – at least 30 of the student writers who’ve come and gone attribute their first jobs in part to their bylined articles — and kept the possibility of that Huffington Post dream alive. It’s a slow hunch. But you never know, it may turn out to be a good one.
Working on something that’s long and slow but you hope might turn into something? Please share.