Jul 27, 2009

FourSquare Is The New Something


FourSquare has been receiving much buzz as of late as the new, new thing. I’ve been using the app on and off since I discovered it as SXSW this fall, and while in it’s current state, it’s really designed for single, urban, upscale 20somethings, the premise it’s based on has some interesting potential.
At its most basic, FourSquare is a way to let your friends know where you are. You “check in” via the web or (more likely) an iPhone app, since the odds of whipping out your laptop anywhere other than work are slim. You can add a short comment about your location and you can “play the game”- gaining points by checking into more and more locations with the chance to become the mayor of a location if you are there more than other people using the app. (Hence, I am the mayor of the Millburn Town Pool, since no one else on FourSquare ever goes there.)
The app, as it currently stands, is a nice tool for social twentysomething singles in NY or LA who want to know what bars their friends are at, what restaurants they’re eating at and whatnot: as I noted two years ago in “Social Media Is Only Social If You’re Alone,” they’re at an age where social life is paramount and it really does matter which bar they go to or which restaurant is hip. For my 30 and 40something peers, most of whom are married with children, there’s not a whole lot to know. We’re home. We’re at work. We’re at Starbucks getting coffee. Not a whole lot of surprise there.
The game aspect is clever, but seems to be the sort of thing that would hold your interest for a month or two and then you’d get very bored with it.
It could, as Charlie O’Donnell notes in this blog post, be a boon for business owners, who can use the app for contests and the like, giving discounts to each month’s mayor and providing discounts for frequent guests. But that usage of course begs the question of “what’s in it for me?” – why would I care if one of my friends is the mayor of Joe’s Bar?
Discounts and coupons could provide a rationale: if I knew that I’d get some sort of steady flow of coupons for participating, I might want to play along, and the whereabouts of my various friends and acquaintances would just become background noise with benefits: if I noticed someone was at someplace I’d been curious about checking out, I could ask them about it.
Here again, though, the hassle vs. benefit ratio seems pretty high. Even a location-based version, where I could see where my friends had been recently or what they’d said about it, seems to be more hassle than it’s worth: if I want a cup of coffee or a decent turkey wrap, there are plenty of non-social services that can point me to one. And saving twenty-five cents on a cup of coffee probably isn’t worth making my companions wait as we all whip out our iPhones and check to see which Starbucks or Cosi our friends are currently the mayors of.
But back to the value of a FourSquare like application: I can see it having great value as an adjunct to Twitter or Facebook in a contest situation. There’s definitely a cohort of people who’d be willing to use their social graphs to plug a favorite store or restaurant in the hopes of winning a contest. And businesses can reward consumers who “check in” with things like exclusive content (e.g. streaming workout tracks for a gym) or discounts and coupons. The competition angle introduced by FourSquare can even come into play here as users compete for that month’s big prize.
Like all new technology, it’s the users who make these things what they are, and even that evolves over time. But location based social networking seems like it has a place in the pantheon. Where and how is what’ll be interesting.


Jul 23, 2009

Too Big To Tweet, Too Wise To Let Pass By


Right now, the cell carriers spend about $6 billion a year on advertising. Why doesn’t it occur to them that they’d attract a heck of a lot more customers by making them happy instead of miserable? By being less greedy and obnoxious? By doing what every other industry does: try to please customers instead of entrap and bilk them?

The above quote, from David Pogue in today's New York Times, neatly encapsulates everything that companies are doing wrong these days.

Funny that it's sharing the front page of the business section with articles about Zappos, a company that's generally doing everything right.

Jul 22, 2009

Cutting Corners


Not to continue to dump on the airline industry, but... Legendary comedy director Joe Sedelmaier spoke at last night's New York Festivals show in Chicago and as part of the tribute, they showed a bunch of his most famous work: "Where's The Beef," "Parts Is Parts," "The Fed Ex Fast Talker" and the spot you see above for Alaska Airlines.

His work holds up very well ("Where's The Beef?" is still funny) but what really jumped out is how low the airline industry has sunk. Watch the spot above, circa 1987 or 88, and remember that the lobster you see there was being served on a discount airline.

(Apologies for the quality of the video-- it's the only version I could find on YouTube.)

Jul 20, 2009

Chicago Panels Tomorrow


Tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, July 21st) I'll be hosting two panels in Chicago that should be very interesting no matter what your specialty is.

The first, slated to start at 2 PM, entitled "Is Craft Dead?" is going to look at what effect the democratization of content creation has had on the ad business, whether ad agencies are too concerned with finding the exact right shade of blue over finding the exact right strategy and what the future of creativity holds. Panelists include traditional advertising CDs Stefan Postaer (Euro), Diane Ruggie (DDB) and Dennis Ryan (Element 79) and digital CDs JT Andexler (Critical Mass) and David Hernandez (Tribal DDB.)

The second, slated for 3:15 PM is called "Social Media: How to Profit From It & Get Clients To Buy Into It." Panelists are John Geletka from Ratchet, Len Kendall from Edelman, Ian Sohn from Ogilvy PR, Vinny Warren from The Escape Pod and Rob Saker from MillerCoors.

If you are in Chicago, please stop by. The event, The World Premiere of the 2009 New York Festivals, is being held at the Chicago Cultural Center.

You can get tickets and more information here

Jul 19, 2009

Born Digital


Despite the claims of many millennials, the people truly “born digital” are still in pre-school or thereabouts and don’t represent an entire generation as much as the children of the upper middle class whose parents are sufficiently wired as to leave them with constant access to the internet.
This is a cohort for whom the concept of “on TV” is somewhat alien, since Dora and Diego are available for them on a multitude of screens and (due to their parents extensive use of DVRs and On Demand) watching something live is a novelty they find somewhat confusing. They’ve come to expect that whatever show they’re into comes with an online adjunct that combines video clips with games and other activities. Beyond entertainment, they’ve grown up watching Mom and Dad access the internet whenever and wherever, via smart phones and WiFi, and many of them even use videoconferencing services like Skype to stay in touch with Grandma and Grandpa.
In other words, unlike the rest of us, they don’t remember a world without any of this.
They are just the tip of the iceberg too, for as WiFi becomes more ubiquitous, TV becomes less schedule-specific and books become primarily electronic, the experience of being “born digital” will become more ubiquitous as well.
Which raises of the question of whether their sense of spacial relationships will change too.
I’ve noticed that for most anyone over the age of 10, the easiest way to deal with a large document is to print it out: managing the spatial relationships between the various pages via editing and note taking is still not something most of us are comfortable doing on the screen. Reading e-books via a Kindle is equally as disconcerting because, despite a variety of markers to show you just where you are in the book, it’s difficult to mentally picture where a certain section of the book was, the way you can do with a paper version.
That’s just one example of how the digital age is changing our perception. This article in the New York Times today about the effect of smart phones and other devices on our brains and how they create what one researcher called “acquired attention deficit disorder” is another.
Change is inevitable, how we deal with it is another matter. The way this particular change will play out and any generational conflicts it creates is definitely worth keeping an eye on.


Jul 13, 2009

It’s Not Who You Know


I’ve been noticing a spate of applications (or proposed applications) that want to take advantage of a users “social graph”—the people that they keep up with on various social networks.
Now this is a great idea for the type of people who have large and widespread groups of friends who happily do things like write restaurant and bar reviews on a fairly constant basis. And the people who propose these sorts of apps all seem to have just these sorts of networks.
But the average person doesn’t. Their social graph consists of their friends from childhood who’ve recently tracked them down on Facebook (or, if they're under 25, their entire high school senior class) a couple of neighbors and maybe some people they work with. If they’re on Twitter, it’s likely because they wanted to follow Oprah or Ashton: they’re not on there to “add value” or meet new and interesting strangers they can learn from.
Even those of us with full and vibrant social graphs may not want to tap our collective intelligence for things of a subjective nature. This was brought home to me the other day, when I was looking for a Manhattan restaurant recommendation and realized that I was far more inclined to reach out to the anonymous snarky women of YouBeMom or the foodies of Chowhound than I was to any of the non-anonymous people I connect with on Twitter. It’s not that I don’t like the people I talk to on Twitter, it’s just that I have no clue as to what their taste in restaurants might be like. Now if the question was “what's the best iPhone app for restaurant reviews?” I’d trust them wholeheartedly. Why? Because that’s their expertise. And because iPhone app preference is generally a lot less subjective.
This is not to say that relying on social graphs is, de facto, a bad idea. But before we anoint this the “new new thing” we need to think more thoroughly about the types of information people feel confident relying primarily on their social graphs for versus a relying on group of strangers who have a real passion for a particular topic.
We also need to think of whom the audience is: there will be people for whom the tastes and opinions of their social graph are very much in line with their own and who are uncomfortable with the opinions of any sort of “experts.” And then there are those for whom the exact reverse is true: people who are far more prone to trust the advice of experts, self-appointed or otherwise.
Bottom line is that even in the real world, there’s only a limited amount of trust you put into your social graph. (You may like your brother-in-law just fine, but could care less what he thinks the best new country band is.) Online too, the opinion of our socials graphs will be just one filter out of many we look to when making a decision.


Jul 9, 2009

SXSW Extended Content Video Is Up


Last February, I was on a video panel for the SXSW Extended Content section (sort of a runner-up prize to getting an actual panel.)

It's called (quel surprise) Your Brand Is Not My Friend.

Brian Morrissey Adweek's Digital Editor is the moderator and the other panelists are:
Noah Brier, Head of Strategy at the Barbarian Group
Michael Lebowitz, CEO of Big Spaceship
Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus
Cam Beck from Click Here! in Dallas provides the intro.

You can watch it here

The Toad Stool On Facebook

I finally got my Facebook Fan Page's act together.

You can become a fan here.

(You can also check out two nifty Facebook widgets in the right hand column here, about two-thirds of the way down the page.)

Jul 8, 2009

Don't Suck



United Airlines is the latest victim of the consumer empowered video. They’re a particularly easy target given most people’s disgust with the entire flying experience these days, and the video may be getting more exposure in the blogosphere than in the real world as a result of there being no particular surprise in an airline doing something evil.
The video does, however, play up one of the biggest fears most clients have about social media: what if someone says something bad about us? How can I make sure that doesn’t happen?
And the answer I always give them is: Don’t Suck.
Don’t Suck is a catchall, of course, for being a brand that people actually like.
Don't Suck means that people are legitimately surprised when and if something bad happens to your brand.
Don’t Suck means that if you do screw up, people are going to forgive you because they know it’s the exception and not the rule and because they’re rooting for you.
Don’t Suck means that when someone does say something nasty about you online, you’ve got plenty of fans who are going to respond for you and put the naysayers in their place. That’s key: having enough fans so that the voices praising you quickly outweigh the ones damning you.
Don’t Suck is surprisingly easy to achieve, though few brands manage to do it. Don’t suck means making a quality product, listening to your customers, admitting when you’ve messed up and not putting out advertising and other marketing that sounds a lot like lying.
Social media is only scary if you’ve got something to feel guilty about. And not participating is not going to save you from the backlash. But companies who have good reputations and who realize that they have to give to get (e.g. understand that Your Brand Is Not My Friend) have everything to gain from putting themselves out there.


Jul 3, 2009

I Don't Do Windows


“I don’t do windows” is the punch line of many a bad “maid” joke but it’s also an accurate description of how many brands (and their agency enablers) view social media.
They’re used to marketing being a very predictable practice: you run a certain number of spots, get a certain number of impressions, sales go up a certain percent. If they don’t, it’s clearly the fault of the creative product. Getting people to remember your ad and watch it is something you accomplish with dollars: the more you spend, the more people see it.
That’s why it’s so tough for many of them to transition to a world where consumers are calling the shots. Where getting people to watch something isn’t a matter of spending money or sending out a set number of press releases.
Particularly vexing is the notion of creating value or whuffie or whatever you want to call it. That’s where brands and agencies get their backs up, because the notion of providing people with something that doesn’t contain a sales pitch for their product just seems wrong to them. They don’t really buy the whole notion that providing value is a form of sales pitch for their brand—they just see it as an imposition and a waste of time designed by know-it-all web types who want them to give away things for free when their Facebook pages and viral videos don’t work.
It’s difficult to appreciate the degree of resistance until you have to convince an agency and client team that’s happily bought into the idea of an online game based on their TV commercial-- one that requires users to scrub the pan clean with the new and improved Acme soap pad-- that in the real world, no one will actually want to play their game. Because, damn it, they have research that shows that people did enjoy playing it. (In controlled, in-person, focus groups, anyway.)
Fortunately, marketing people like to play follow the leader. And as more mainstream brands get with the social media program, you can point to efforts from brands like Coke, Pepsi, Red Bull, Southwest, Kashi and many more, as examples of “what you should be doing.”
Sometimes that will sink in. Other times they’ll explain that while that's all well and good, they still need to run all the tweets through legal.
But hey, it’s a start.