Jun 28, 2010

Maybe It's Me

Just read another article with yet more gushing about people "sharing" things that I'm not so sure I want to share.

This time it's books and how people will soon be sharing their favorite passages and notes and cutting and pasting the good parts and all that.

Not so fast.

If I'm reading a good book, particularly fiction, part of what makes it good is that I'm inside the world of that novel. It's what the late John Gardner (with whom I had the honor of studying in college) called "a vivid and continuous dream."

So why would I want to pull out of the vivid and continuous dream I get while reading an incredible novel by stopping to check which paragraphs John Szalewski from Toledo, Ohio (Handle: JohnnySzal345)  thought was awesome? Particularly if I don't know John. (Or even if I did.)

No matter what the medium is: video, audio, print, or digital, a story well told is not something anyone wants interrupted. . You may want to discuss it afterward, but if it's that good, you won't have time or inclination during.

Now there are many instances when we do want to interact and share. When we're watching the Super Bowl, for instance, or the Oscars: two events with numerous pauses and opportunities for discussion. Ditto reference books or certain types of non-fiction. What all those events have in common is a disjointed narrative, where a certain number of interruptions and pauses are expected and considered to be part of the experience.

Confusing the two is wrong and incorrectly assumes that we experience all types of stories the same way. But Gardner's vivid and continuous dream lives on, despite the world of interruptions at our fingertips, precisely because a really well-told story is just that good.

It doesn't mean we won't share it: literary criticism predates the internet, as do highlighters and notes scribbled in the margins of library books. But there's a big difference between "during" and "after."

(Stepping down from the soapbox.)

Jun 24, 2010

The Benefits of Real Time Search

I've admittedly always been a skeptic as to the value of real time search, e.g. including Twitter and (public) Facebook updates in Google and Bing results. My thought was always that if I wanted to search out what was happening in regards to a major news event, I'd do a full-on Twitter search from Twitter.com, rather than relying on a handful of results on Google.

But a recent event made me rethink that.

I had started to download the new iPhone OS4 to my 3G iPhone. As the hour-long back-up was starting, I had a vague recollection of reading that not all the new features would be available for 3G phones and decided to Google it to see what the story was.

Good thing I did.

The search results page showed a number of people retweeting an Engadget story warning of problems with the iOS4 upgrade on the 3G, along with an @ message from someone agreeing with their friend that their 3G phone now ran much slower.

Thus alerted, I did a full Twitter search, found that problems seemed to be the rule rather than the exception and aborted the upgrade (for now), thus saving me a considerable amount of hassle.

And proving the value of real-time search.

Jun 22, 2010

What You've Been Missing

A few weeks back I spoke at KickApps SME2010 in San Francisco. You can see the video and SlideShare above. (In case you've ever wondered what I sound like in person.)

This was one of the best seminars I've been part of and KickApps managed to capture everything on video. (Big hat tip to Stan Adams, who coordinated the whole thing.)

Go to http://kickapps.com/engage to see the other speakers: KickApps CEO Alex Blum, Dell's Heather Burnett, IBM's Errol Denger and author and Altimeter founder Charlene Li

UPDATE, JULY 6: The slideshare has almost 4,000 views thanks to a number of key people posting and tweeting about it, most notably, Faris Yakob of MDC Partners.

Jun 20, 2010

In Defense of Experts

The other day, I read an article from a well-known tech blogger who was positively gushing over the notion that he’d soon be able to use location-based services to narrow down travel reviewers to those who’d say, been to Sonoma six times, and who, he felt, would be the best source of reviews on Sonoma restaurants and wineries.

And it made sense for a minute or two until I thought of all those people who’ve been to New York City a dozen or more times who’l tell you that Carmines is the best Italian restaurant in town and how it’s so convenient to have a Friday’s right there in Times Square.

Which is why the wisdom of experts is sometimes preferable to the wisdom of crowds.

More often than not, I want to hear from people who know more than I do, who present well thought out reasons for their opinions and who’ve managed to put out reviews I agree with more often than not.

The larger my social graph is, the less likely I am to trust it. I know what kind of food my very close friends like and I’m pretty up on their tastes in books, music and travel. But that’s maybe a half dozen people. The hundreds of others I know via Twitter and Facebook may have some smart things to say about marketing, but I have zero knowledge if their taste in film matches mine. Which is why I’m more prone to trust a reviewer I know than a few hundred of my closest Twitter followers.

To be fair, there is one place that crowdsourced reviewing has proved enormously useful: range. Before sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (or even Zagat, which was pre-internet) there was slim likelihood you’d find any sort of reviews or info about local diners or pizza places or out of the way hotels and resorts. In that way, the wisdom of crowds has been a valuable tool and helps us to feel more in control of our choices: even if we’re not 100% sure we trust the review, at least we’ve got something to go on rather than absolute silence.

But that’s about as far as it goes for me: if all I wanted to read were NY Times Best Sellers, if all I wanted to see at the movies were that week’s top-grossing pictures then I’d be happy relying on crowds. But I want book reviewers who feel their job is to ferret out the rare gems. Restaurant reviewers who aren’t fooled by the trend-of-the-month. And movie reviewers who aren’t put off by subtitles.

I’m not getting that from my social graph. Except maybe as a retweet.

Jun 16, 2010

OMMA Social Panel: Using Paid Media to Drive Earned Media

I'll be hosting a panel at OMMA Social tomorrow (Thursday, 6.17) called Using Paid Media to Drive Earned Media: The Latest Tips, Tricks and Tools

Here's the description from the OMMA website:

It’s now commonly accepted that in order to be successful at earned media – giving people the kinds of brand experiences that they willingly share – marketers need to invest in paid media too. As the social media world keeps evolving, though, the strategies for investing in the right paid media have to evolve as well. Is it still wise to buy portals, or does buying inventory on an ad exchange at niche targets provide better ROI? How has the practice of seeding changed with the explosion in new platforms, from Twitter to mobile? A look at how to convert dollars into social media-generated distribution.
Panelists are:
Richard Jalichandra, President & CEO, Technorati, Inc.
Kristine Shine, VP, PopSugar Media
Tom Troja, Founder, Social Symphony
Josh Warner, President, Feed Company

If the pre-panel discussion is any indication, things should get pretty lively- it's a fascinating topic and I suspect five people with strong opinions could talk about it for hours.

Any input or suggestions from the peanut gallery is warmly welcome - shoot me a tweet, an email or just leave a comment down below.

We're on at 9:45 AM at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, 145 W. 44th, in the heart of Times Square.

Bonin Bough from Pepsi is the keynote and other familiar faces on stage include Cathy Taylor, David Berkowitz, Ian Schafer, Max Kalehoff and Mike Germano.

Jun 4, 2010

Cool Doesn't Work Anymore

It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s convinced that they’re much cooler than you are.

But that’s exactly what I see far too many brands attempting to do on a daily basis.

Call it Award Show fever, NASCAR Blindness, or just plain hubris, but too many brands are speaking to their consumers in a voice that drips of upscale, urban, 30something hipster rather than the voice of the brand’s decidedly less hip consumers themselves.

And that Nike World Cup video (above) is not going to help.

With its millions of viral views, brand managers and creative directors worldwide are going to be viewing it as the gold standard.

Which is a huge mistake.

You see Nike is a Prom King brand. A brand people like because Nike’s discovered the secret sauce that makes people view them as “cool.” So they’ll want to pass around a Nike video because they get some sort of cool points for doing so.

Add the World Cup to that equation. Another Prom King brand, and, for anyone who remotely likes soccer, another source of cool. Factor in too the fact that the young male demo likes to share video, particularly video from brands that have a strong cool factor and you’ve got the perfect storm.

Which is not to take anything away from the actual video, which was exceedingly well done, but reality check: even a really bad Nike World Cup video would have gotten millions of hits. Having a really well done one probably doubled or even tripled what was destined to be a very large number.

The bigger problem, as I stated earlier, is that brands are going to start wanting “something like that Nike World Cup video... you know, the one with Homer Simpson in it.... it got 90 million viral hits.”

It’s the same speech an earlier generation of marketing and ad people got about the Apple 1984 spot.

But if you’re advertising corn chips or diapers or a cellphone service, you’re never going to get a Nike World Cup video. You’re just not cool enough. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The people who’ll pass along a Nike video are probably not as engaged or loyal as the people who’ll pass along a diaper video. Ditto joining a diaper brand Facebook page or or Twitter feed. Not that it’s hard, mind you; it’s just requires a little more courage than signing on with the World Cup and Nike

Now the easiest way to get someone feeling brave enough to pass on a diaper video or join a corn chip Facebook group is to speak to them in their own language, and show them the sorts of things they find amusing or clever.

While that should be glaringly obvious, it always amazes me how often it’s not: charged with coming up with “the next Nike World Cup” video, both agencies and marketers will roll out content that has the same sensibility and vibe as a video that successfully targeted young men and sports fans. Even if their target is old ladies who love gardening. (It doesn’t hurt that award shows tend to favor anything with this hipster sensibility.)

But that’s where the social web is different. Because unlike traditional push media, no one has to watch a video, let alone share it or post it to their Facebook wall. They have to want to do so and brands have to see it as a way to initiate a conversation. Not a literal “hi, how are you?” conversation (people get hung up on that) but a “you liked our funny video, maybe you’d like to vote on what our next flavor corn chip should be” conversation.

If you’ve been talking to the consumer in a voice that sounds like your brand, there’s a good chance they’ll say “why yes, thank you.” But if you’ve been talking to them in a voice that sounds like Nike World Cup soccer, they’re not sticking around long enough to even hear the question.

Jun 3, 2010

Getting The Right Hands On The Spigot

One of the biggest challenges of the next few years is going to be finding a way to take all the data we are collecting on people-- both wittingly and unwittingly-- and do something with it that won’t make us feel like we’ve walked onto the set of a latter-day 1984. (The Orwell novel, not the Apple ad.)

Many of the scenarios I’ve seen laid out are sort of creepy and user-unfriendly. Stores that text us to ask how we liked those jeans we bought a few months back the second we walk into the store. Restaurants we've eaten at that try and lure us in with lunchtime discounts sent via text message just because it’s 12:30 and we happen to be nearby.

What’s scary isn’t so much that these scenarios are being put out there; it’s that they’re more than likely, given the overzealous nature of many marketers and their strong desire to push a controlled, pre-scripted message to consumers (albeit in the guise of a conversation.)

The push-pull here (both literally and figuratively) is going to be who is in control of when and why the information gets delivered. If it’s lunchtime and I am looking for a place to eat or if I’d like to see which of my favorite restaurants has a deal for me, then I want to be able to push the “lunch deals” app on my phone and see what’s available. (I’d even be open to an exchange where, say,  I posted a message to one of my social networks in exchange for a 10% discount. Particularly if I really liked the restaurant.)

What I do not want are random assaults.  I don’t mind seeing advertising messages when I am actively looking for something. But often as not, I know exactly what I am in the mood for at lunchtime. And I’ll gladly pay the extra fifty cents that undiscounted slice of pizza will cost me and have zero interest in receiving a stream of ads all touting their amazing discounts shouting at me like some digital carnival barkers.

Same way when I walk into the Gap, I’m either there for a reason or I’m killing time. If I’m looking for suggestions or directions, I’ll ask. But a database is never going to feel like a person. A person can usually read my body language and know that I am not in the mood to chat or receive follow-up questions or upsell attempts. But the hypothetical database John Battelle suggested in a recent post is a regular Chatty Cathy, bugging me to buy a sweater for my kids, pointing out items on sale and otherwise making a nuisance of itself.

The key to success on the semantic web is going to be finding a way to be unobtrusive. To let customers call the shots and tell you just how much input they want-- to let them have their hand on the virtual spigot so they can increase or decrease the flow of information from brands-- even brands they like-- because people rarely want an unimpeded flow of commercial messaging.

Or, to put it more succinctly: we want to hear from brands when we want to hear from them. Not whenever they feel like chatting.

Sort of the same reason there’s caller ID.