Augmented Reality a Reality for Brands

What do you think of when you hear the term Augmented Reality? Do you flash back to Tom Cruise in Minority Report? Or more recently Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 manipulating 3D objects? The prevailing thought until recently has been more style over substance. Some brand teams consider it is a nice gimmick to garner press but not a core element of an integrated strategy. But as you will see, A/R is becoming a key driver for brands that are looking to drive acquisition & engagement.

Minority Report

Iron Man 2

Augmented Reality can be a great addition to an integrated strategy as either an acquisition tool or engagement vehicle that enhances a consumers experience with the brand. With the rapid acceleration of smartphone capabilities the ability to provide relevance to a consumer and enhance their interaction with your brand across multiple channels is now reality. A/R will also be how we will interact digital information in the future.

Now the how…. Augmented Reality is simply when the real world is “augmented” by computer data.

A simple example happens on Sundays in the NFL. The Yellow line that we have now come to depend on when looking at yards to go for a first down is a great execution of AR. Simply applying a digital overaly with the real action.

Digital Line

What do I need? How and where does it work? Who is using it?

Depending on the type of execution there are a variety of ways to execute a program. The executions that most are familiar with were tied to A/R markers called glyphs.

marker

But A/R does not depend as much on the cryptic markers as it once did. The trend is moving towards markerless executions where everyday objects such as a dollar bill can initiate an immersive experience that further enhances a users experience with the brand.

AR BK

The other trend as I referenced above is tied to digital overlays that essentially enhance the environment around you. More and more executions are leveraging mobile devices as the viewer of digitized content.

Layar AR

There are multiple executions on the how. From mobile, online, point of purchase, print, TV and out of home.  Here are a few examples by medium.

Mobile: The biggest leap in recent years has been around mobile executions of A/R. With 50 million smart phone users in the US and the number quickly rising, the hardware can now support robust A/R executions. Your phone essentially becomes the lens by which you digitally enhance the world around you. With the recent executions by Yelp with Monocle & Wimbeltons use of Layar brands are looking to digitally tag the world around them and offer a new perspective on the world around them.

Yelp

Online: The initial executions were highly driven by markers. Now with markerless executions everyday objects such as a can of pringles can create a compelling reason to engage with a brand beyond the clutter.

A compelling acquisition execution was created by Pringles via an A/R advergame that was tied to the recent World Cup. Users used the Pringles can as a controller to interact with the game.

pringles

The next example by the United States Postal Service shows an execution that provides actual utility for users. The Virtual Box execution allows the USPS to create an engaging experience that provides value by digitally representing “will it fit?”

virtual-box-simulator-1

Olympus provides a great example of incorporating A/R via multiple channels that tie to an online experience. Markers in the shape of a new product were placed in targeted print locations. The user then had the option to get a virtual hands on tour of the new product. Again another example of an engaging experience that ties back to tangible value for the brand.

Olympus

Point of Purchase: One of the most innovative usages of A/R in store is the LEGO digital box. If you happen to live near a LEGO store you can use the kiosk to digitally see what your LEGO will look like when fully assembled. This is driven by markers on the package and combined with heavily branded kiosk to create a satisfying retail experience.

Lego

Television: XBOX – One example of A/R providing relevance in the home is with Microsofts upcoming release of the KINECT. The ability to interact directly with gestures to control digital data such as navigation, initiation of content as well as digitizing yourself will prove to be a gateway to mainstream application of digital interaction on a recurring basis.

Kinect

As we continue the trend of advancing hardware and further incorporating digital elements into our lives for everyday activities it will be interesting to see how campaigns are redefined to take advantage of the next great frontier in advertising.

Digital World

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5 Steps to Branded Social Relevance

The 60’s were known as the creative age in terms of advertising. Since the mid 90’s we are now in the digital age and it shows no signs of slowing down. Working in digital over the past decade means the one constant has been change. Technologies advance, new tactics are defined, the next shiny object that transforms how we communicate is introduced.  Yet during this explosion into a digital society certain behavioral elements remain the same. People have an inherent desire to share, look to others for recommendations on products & services and have a desire to consume products and services that are relevant to them.

robot

Fast forward to today and the latest iteration of digital is social media. It’s on the minds of senior level executives to the most jr. brand manager. All looking for the right combination to amplify the reach of the brand, drive acquisition, strengthen brand relevance, activate influencers both domestically and internationally, integrating with CRM & e-commerce solutions, encouraging engagement and ultimately hoping to influence purchase.

socialmedialandscape

Creating a truly engaging experience is not a given. For the sake of this conversation assume a solid awareness campaign is planned to drive acquisition. As I have discussed in previous posts the “build it” and they will come only works if you are Apple nowadays. For most brands it is imperative to leverage multiple vehicles to drive awareness as well as rock solid consumer insights.

iphonegens

5 Steps to social relevance

The Big IdeaOne of the THE most talented creative director I have ever worked with recently boiled the big idea down to being able to explain it with one sentence. Then the supporting tactics immediately begin to surface. This is also one of the key points to consider when evaluating the fragmented landscape of where the ideas come from?

social stuff

Should the idea come from our PR firm? Social agency? Traditional Agency? Digital Agency? In my experience the idea should support the overarching brand objectives & the medium.

It is one thing to develop an elegant strategy that maximizes appropriate vehicles based on insight but until you are able to overlay a compelling idea that meets brand objectives while providing both utility and relevance for your audience you are rolling out tactics that may not ever reach their full potential.

the big idea

It is important to spend the time developing creative concepts that are supported by a digital framework that maximizes each strategic brand pillar. With social now residing in multiple parts of an organization, having an underlying theme tying all of the tactics together into a cohesive package that drives relevance and engagement is the most difficult element of social relevance.

Utility – To put it simply the big idea needs to support enabling a basic need. We as consumers all have needs. A need to connect, a need to uncover information, a need to help me accomplish a goal. In order for us to interact with your brand an inherent benefit needs to be provided to the user.

An ideal example is the simple utility associated with the Hallmark Social Calendar Facebook application. For those of you not familiar with the application it recently gained 4 million users over the course of a week by meeting and enhancing individuals desires to stay connected with their friends.
hallmark1

With a combination of basic utility and offline reminders, users are constantly driven to engage with the application. Sometimes the simplest tasks like aggregating your friends birthdays and events can lead to quick adoption.

Relevance – Take just a moment and think about your own behavior. What are the apps you use the most? Of everything installed on your iPhone, Android, BlackBerry…. What do you actually use? Most of you would say some combination of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Banking App, News, etc…

The common thread to each of these is personal relevance. “I” want to connect with my networks, “I” want to be able to find the latest headlines or search for directions to the restaurant I will be at later in the day. The point is apps that provide relevant content or opportunities to engage are ultimately rewarded with adoption.

relevance

Looking at Hallmark once again the basis of the application is tied directly to users desire to stay current with events and it provides relevance to the user and that translates into engagement.

Incentive – Attention all brand marketers… Attention… People Like Free Stuff. Yes I know it is hard to believe but in order to entice users to engage it is always helpful to offer a tangible reward for engagement.

fb creds

My preference is to incent users with rewards that are digital yet have application beyond my branded experience. One of the best examples is Hallmark’s recent usage of Facebook credits. This was one of the first applications that was a non-gaming app that adopted the soon to be default Facebook currency (Zynga fully on board) to entice users to engage with branded properties

Integration – Integration is key to driving relevance. Consider how to incorporate cross-platform vehicles to provide further points of integration that impact the user while offline. Whether it is tied to offline SMS messaging, mobile application, e-mail campaign, etc… the key is to think beyond the application and how other channels can further enhance engagement.

Social networking and internet concept crossword

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The Need for Social Audience Segmentation

When evaluating & auditing companies usage of social channels I notice certain recurring themes in terms of the combination of branded social media vs. consumer social (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Namely there is rarely a clearly defined approach based on audience segmentation and how the brand positions social media.

Segmentation + Social? Doesn’t that go against the nature of social? Don’t we just want to have a list of social chicklets and assume everyone knows where they need to go?

My immediate response would be “NO”. When defining a social strategy I spend a lot of time looking at the brand objectives, essence, brand pyramid, etc… then it’s on to the consumer insights and audience segmentation and behavioral assessments. Why is this important? Yes there are 500 million people on Facebook but that does not mean that certain audience segments will be open to your message.

The key is structuring a users interaction with a brands social ecosystem by leveraging audience insights for primary and secondary audiences. What you will most likely uncover is that the audiences engage and behave differently. The primary audience may gravitate towards Facebook & Twitter while the other group primarily interacts with blogs & YouTube.

In certain instances, especially those executing acquisition strategies, a social hub may be in order. Isn’t Facebook a Social Hub? Possibly if you are truly integrating all channels and leveraging custom tabs to segment and drive user interaction towards a key objective.

Wait… What did you just say? To state it simply a social hub is basically a portal thats primary purpose is to drive your audience through the appropriate path to engage with content that is relevant to them while closely mapping to the brands objectives (acquisition, engagement, etc…).

The ideal brand experience that reflects this approach based on segmentation is Turbo Tax. Turbo Tax has structured a social hub that enables users to clearly choose the path that best meets their ideal criteria to interact with Turbo Tax’s social media channels. Social Media Examiner has a good case study taking a deeper look at Turbo Tax’s usage of social media.

When I was the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of INgage networks and we were rebranding & revamping the companies digital presence we created a solution that clearly segmented the audience to provide a relevant consumer experience as quickly as possible. The results associated with targeted lead generation surpassed anything that had been done over the course of the 10 year history of the company.

So when considering just adding social chicklets to your branded home page or investigating how to further segment your audience, take a moment to consider whether creating a social hub based on how your audience interacts with the appropriate channels may be the ideal addition to your current strategy.

If you are interested in engaging with me feel free to contact me. We can audit your brands current position in the marketplace that is then scored against our Digital Value Index. Or we can work with your brand team to define an integrated strategic digital framework that supports your brand initiatives.

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Largest Social Network on TV

I write a lot about social media, digital strategy & emerging technology. One of my favorite past times is console gaming via my Xbox 360.

With the recent release of Halo Reach and personally surpassing 100,000 gamerscore on Xbox Live, I wanted to write about how digital marketers can leverage the largest social network on TV to further enhance digital engagement.

TheBlackFin

With over 23 million users and an average of 4 million engaged daily Xbox Live is an incredible platform to execute digital strategies and tactics.

From branded avatar collections, product tie-in’s, promotions and sponsorships there are many opportunities for brands to leverage the sticky experience that Xbox Live provides.

This also goes beyond typical in-game advertising.  Having a truly engaged, socially connected fanbase that also associates closely with brands is a key factor when evaluating the platform.

This is one of the only times I apply my personal insight into a platform. When I am on Xbox Live I pay attention to brand promotions here moreso than any other medium. The reason being is that upon start up of the console I am presented with compelling content blocks that I choose how I interact.

I have found that I enter most if not all of the branded sweepstakes and I pay attention to when new branded avatar items are presented. And with more traffic than ESPN.com this is an ideal way to drive brand engagement.

Being a fan of the platform and a daily user, You don’t get to 100,000 gamerscore by not engaging almost daily, I have experienced the benefits and opportunities first hand.

So the next time you are looking for an ideal channel beyond traditional media and digital outlets don’t forget about the largest social network on TV.

If you are a brand manager interested in leveraging Xbox Live please contact me as I have a long standing relationship with various Xbox Live teams.
From branded avatar collections, promotions, advertising etc…

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The Pass Back Effect

For marketers working with child centric brands or simply have children of your own, it is important to understand certain trends that are quickly developing in how both parents and children’s behaviors are changing based on the rapid evolution of mobile devices. One of the side benefits is that technology is being passed down at an accelerated rate.

If you are one of the 50+ million Americans with a smartphone and you happen to have small children then you have most likely passed it to them to appease their little hands and minds in certain situations.

This phenomenon is now known as the pass-back effect. By passing your mobile device to your child you are actually participating in a new trend of further enhancing the learning and development of your child… or in real parenting terms you are providing an electronic play grenade that will entertain them for 15 minutes while you are waiting to be seated at a very busy restaurant.

childiphone

Whether it is giving your two year old your iPhone during big brother’s basketball practice (try the Cars inspired matching game). Or your daughter is playing the latest dress-up or Cookie/Cake decorating game between appointments, the pass-back effect is very real. As many of you are keenly aware as nearly half (47%) of the top 100 apps sold are targeting Pre-school & elementary aged children.

app-targets

There are many apps that are ideal for passing time when you need it. In 2010 alone app sales are estimated to clear 1.2 billion (insert Dr. Evil pinky reference here) dollars. There are matching, dress up, puzzle games, and A, B, Cs. Big $$ are being spent and made to ensure that our kids have a multitude of options to keep them entertained .

From a brand marketers perspective it is important to consider defining an application strategy that maps to a larger integrated digital strategy while also recognizing the opportunity to drive awareness and brand relevance through targeted mobile applications that provide benefit to parents while engaging and entertaining children.

Quick question, how many iPods do you currently have in your home? For that matter how many iPhones do you currently own? What are you going to do with your iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 or Android by next fall when you inevitably upgrade to the next version?

iphonegens

Instead of trying your luck on eBay consider keeping the device for your kids. You may or may not know this but a non-activated iPhone functions as an iPod touch when not directly configured as a phone. Meaning your apps, web browsing via wi-fi, etc… are all possible.

As digital marketers we cannot ignore opportunities due to the accelerated adoption of technology.

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Social Foundation

A good portion of my day job is defining social/digital strategies and programs to assist major retail brands maximize their WOM opportunities to drive multiple business objectives. Be it acquisition, engagement, advocacy, etc… Before I begin a new client engagement I like to establish a framework of which there are critical building blocks that I refer to as the Social Foundation. Like a foundation to a house there are key elements that are essential to understand prior to launching straight into strategic discussions.

1) Define Social Strategy: It is absolutely critical to define the GTM social strategy to ensure that all elements are aligning with goals & objectives and are measurable with the appropriate KPIís.

2) Content Creation: The key to driving WOM is to ensure that enough content is created (UGC/Brand) to form a foundation that helps to funnel users through our ideal brand centric social experience. While also maximizing our SEO positioning. Social & SEO are very closely aligned.

3) Discoverability of Content: It is highly important for content to be created in a way that maximizes portability of the content. RSS, tagging and leveraging the latest in terms of highly optimized publishing systems as well as sharing widgets are critical to ensuring that your branded content is being maximized to its fullest reach potential.

4) Highly Engaged Community Management: Social more-so than any other channel requires that the brand fully engages in discussions across multiple channels. This includes going beyond simple content publishing to actually following and commenting on trending topics and reaching out beyond the brand conversation. This is where I see a significant gap in terms of brands that are truly benefiting from social programs to those that are simply executing against a publishing calender.

5) Incent creation of UGC content: 30-60% of product centric search results are actually from UGC, primarily blogs and reviews. It is absolutely critical to get new products that integrate with mobile reviewed as this is a key driver for awareness. Do not focus on a single vehicle for content creation, it is critical to leverage multiple types of media to maximize opportunity. Text, Video, Photos, etc…

6) Unique content sources as a KPI: One form of social measurement that I commonly incorporate is to compare unique content sources to competitors. This is a key metric as the more content that is created from unique sources the higher the likelihood of being shared and viewed by more individuals.


7) Integration of Social Channels: It is critical to ensure that each social channel that is represented is integrated to the fullest with the goal of driving traffic/awareness through to the ideal social destination, be it an engaging application or promotion there has to be a specific intent for the user and the brand. Raise awareness through multiple channels but ultimately drive through to your ideal destination

8) Extend Digital into Retail: Maximizing the reach of both online Rich Media, Social, Augmented Reality and offline communication vehicles such as location based services, QR codes that direct to app downloads or videos, SMS campaigns & mobile loyalty all tie into a brands ability to fully maximize digital vehicles towards retail/offline engagement.

9) Leverage Partners: Corporate partnerships are key to reaching targeted users and to maximize cross-promotion. When selecting the ideal brand partners it is key to review their social strategy and how they are maximizing their channels to ensure there is a cultural fit. You do not want to execute a highly socially driven strategy with a partner who is at the beginning of the social continuum.


10) Incent in-store purchase: Finally incent users via proximity solutions that tie back to providing immediate value while also potentially driving engagement back to online or mobile properties.

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Mobilizing Your Social Strategy

Today I was the host of the weekly Hashtagsocialmedia tweet chat. Our topic was integrating mobile with your social strategy with a focus on strategy, best practices and tactics.

Mobile is a hot topic and according to comscore with 234 million americans aged 13 & older using mobile devices in the US that trend is not changing anytime soon. Of that 234 million 49.1 million in the US now own smart phones. With the continued adoption of smart phones we are on the cusp of changing how mobile can impact a brand.

In today’s chat we discussed the following topics:

1) How would you integrate mobile with your social strategy

2) How do you maximize the mobile web?

3) What tactics & why? (Proximity, Geo-location, Augmented Reality, QR Codes, SMS)

All with the mindset of integrating and extending digital & social via mobile.

Here is the archive/transcript of today’s tweet chat

hashtag1

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First Your Profile Then the World

Big changes are brewing with Facebook as today many subtle changes were rolled out across the popular social network. Becoming a fan has given way to simply “Like”. This is an interesting trend and one that has longer reach than initial appearance.

Fans converted to “Like” so if a user was a fan of a brand or product that did not change. The addition of “Like” is an attempt by Facebook to expand beyond it’s platform and influence more of our behavior beyond the Facebook domain. Instead of becoming a fan of a page it is less of a commitment to simply like a page or brand and show a higher level affinity.

History has shown first with Friendster then MySpace that viability as a destination is short lived and users can be a very fickle bunch. Facebook is now focused on becoming the platform that business relies upon as well as expanding the Facebook experience first by incorporating your web history with ads it serves you but also to drive push the “Like” concept across the web via a toolbar.

Facebook Connect was a first step in the plan that furthered the reach by allowing 3rd party integration and additional dependency on Facebook. With 400 million users as a marketer why wouldn’t I want to drive interaction through this channel. The next step in the process was to launch a toolbar that focuses on distributing “Like” so that any interaction that you have outside of Facebook can connect back to your profile and further drive the value of the network. This then allows interaction wherever I may browse and the ability to share with my network.

This ties into another big rollout… Facebook Community Pages. These are not pages that map to a specific profile and don’t impact status updates. Instead they are public content from users status messages. Now updates can be friend specific or you can have access to the general Facebook population. This is an interesting play from a privacy perspective as initial research shows you can opt into sharing with the community feeds.

Another issue that shows Facebook is serious about dominating expansion was the announcement today around XAuth. xAuth is a proposed authentication standard that will limit the number of share this buttons and will automatically remember what networks you are a part of and only display those options. In theory that sounds great but two of the larger players are not on board. Facebook and Twitter are notably absent from the group that already has the support of Google, Yahoo, MySpace, and Disqus.

Facebooks noticeable absence from Google Buzz is yet another reminder that when it comes to expansion they want to be the primary. This and of course Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft. It will also be very interesting to see how Facebooks geo-location services will impact the Foursquares & Gowallas of the world. With a 400 million user base it could crush the 600,000 Foursquare users.

It will be interesting to watch how the changes in the platform, the desire to follow you wherever you may browse and add in the ability to serve contextual ads based on browsing history will impact user behavior. I see potential tied to some of the changes from a marketing perspective but time will tell if Facebook can go where few have gone before.

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6 Benefits of Foursquare

One of the areas that I monitor closely is the progression/adoption of geo-location services such as foursquare, gowalla, yelp, loopt, buzz and dream walk mobile. Geo-location services have been around for the past 4 years but are now gaining critical mass fueled by smart phone adoption and media attention around events such as SXSW 2010.

For this post I will focus primarily on the service based game foursquare and will follow up soon with a Gowalla post. For those of you who are not addicted to checking in to every location you frequent here is the 101 version of the foursquare service and why marketers & businesses alike should pay attention.

The opportunity tied to geo-location based services such as foursquare from both an agency/marketing perspective as well as a local business perspective are enormous. Local business can gain access to customer insights tied to geotagging, local search & location based analytics which can drive adoption on the local level well beyond that of the standard digital campaign.

The service can become an extension of activities that you are already engaged with as part of your everyday routine. This presents a new opportunity to interact with consumers wherever they may roam.

Foursquare as a service is available anywhere in the world. Meaning both domestic and international campaigns can be supported. To get the full experience (Friend interaction, leaderboards, etc…) foursquare requires an iPhone, Blackberry, Android, or Palm Pre.

For those whose immediate response is to point to smart phone adoption rates note that other options to engage exist including a mobile web option as well as an SMS check in option if you text to 50500 (e.g. @Red Urban ! typing a blog post). SMS checkins are only available in the US.

Example of Text check in

Geo-location services are driven by the concept of geotagging and takes advantage of the GPS technology that resides in your device. This in turn provides a means to digitally “tag” and interact with a physical location you just visited.

E.g. Pull into your local Starbucks, pull out your iPhone/android phone, initiate the app, select/create the location and click “check in”. Once checked in you can then interact with the location by writing a review (tips in foursquare) or you may be presented with a special offer.

Example of Special Offer notification as well as sample offer


With foursquare the primary premise is around rewarding users with three different merit systems. Mayors, Badges and Points.

1) Mayor – A mayor is a user who is in 1st place on the location leader board first place defined as most check-ins
2) Badges – Badges are awarded for achieving various milestones tied to either the number of check in’s at a given location or the amount of check in’s throughout the day or other criteria. As with Xbox Live achievement points recognition can be a key driver in influencing behavior
3) Points – Points are awarded at varying increments based on multiple factors such as a new venue may yield a higher point allocation

Example of Starbucks Foursquare Badge

From a brick & mortar business perspective this is a great service to be mindful of as you can begin to gain insight and influence behavior as well as monitor customer service. Instead of a local ad buy or in addition to it why not promote offers within a radius of your location or serve them directly to your customers as they enter your location.

6 reasons to care about Foursquare as a business

1) Customer insight and word of mouth – You can gain invaluable insight into the behavior patterns of your customers. You can analyze visit trends as well as gain insight into their views of your brand

2) Customer service – With the ability to get near real time feedback as users interact you can gauge the sentiment of your users

3) Customer retention/ Loyalty Program – Forget about punch cards, track loyalty via check-in’s and reward those who frequent establishments with special offers and recognition

4) Viral Effect – With the auto post of updates to Twitter & Facebook with badge unlocks and options to post your check-in’s the viral impact of check-in’s is amplified with this service moreso than other geo-services to date

5) Big Brands are taking note – Starbucks (See image above) & Dominos have already started campaigns with Foursquare and with various media partnerships this trend will quickly continue to rise

6) Measurement – One of the powerful elements of the service is the analytics option that is currently being rolled out. As a business owner it is possible to track: Total checkins, unique visitors, when and if users shared their updates (twitter, facebook) as well as analysis of demographic breakdown and ability to track usage over time

Example of foursquare business analytics screen

One additional service of benefit to businesses and users of foursquare is snacksquare. Snacksquare which is powered by foursquare and is a location-based advertising provider that facilitates local businesses automatically delivering SMS text messages to potential customers that check in near a venue (proximity service). The site also allows end consumers to find the best deals ahead of time vs. just being notified via check in. This framework + the business analytics begins to form a more complete package for marketers & businesses alike. For more information on Snacksquare here is a recent Mashable article.

With additional focus being paid to geo-location by the big players such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc… It is natural evolution that foursquare is focused on extending APIs and integration as their valuation (recently 100 million) continues to sky-rocket.

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5 React

One interesting campaign that I have come across recently is the 5 React experience. 5 React is a new Wrigley’s flavor of it’s 5 Gum line. 5 took an interesting approach to engaging trial of its product (sampling) and the result is a fun experience that provides a complete loop… viral –> digital –> direct mail –> back to digital –> Viral. (All of this to sample a pack of gum) Imagine what your brand/product could do to create an immersive experience such as this.

I first heard about “getting your black envelope” through status updates (viral) and it definitely got my attention. Upon initial entry to the 5 React site you are presented with a visually appealing home page that has a “Matrix” style option of selecting two doors. Once you decide to begin the initial experience you connect via Facebook Connect.

This is key in that Facebook Connect allows for micro-sites outside of Facebook to pull in relevant profile information that ultimately links back into your Facebook profile to enable further spread of the message through your Facebook network. E.g. login, Facebook profile information be it photos, text from your information, etc… can be pulled into an external experience that is then shared back via Facebook Status updates to drive an engaging experience.

One of the other benefits from a brand perspective is to eliminate yet another login from a user experience perspective. Facebook connect,  OPEN ID, etc… are a great way to lower the barrier of entry for an external micro-site and to give a feel of integration with consumer networks vs. proprietary authentication methods. Another great example of Facebook Connect is with the Prototype Experience.

Once connected via Facebook the engagement begins as images from your Facebook Profile are then displayed on multiple screens to provide a feeling of connection and the wow factor of your images being incorporated in this manner. The next step is the actual fulfillment form to request your black envelope to get your code to open the second door and to get your free pack of gum.

My black envelope (more like a small black box) arrived a week later and it contained the 5 React gum sample as well as my unique access code & a pair of 3D glasses.

Now it was time to input my code and experience the 3D elements of the campaign.

Upon entering your code you are greeted by 3D enabled geometric shapes, then you are prompted to interact with your keyboard. Your keyboard interaction then drives the experience of taking photos from your facebook profile and morphing them based on your keystroke interaction that can then be submitted into a larger gallery and shared to your networks. Once submitted you can then experience what other random 5 react users experienced as well.

My immediate takeaway was a very positive and engaging experience all tied to a gum sample. This is great example of how to create an engaging experience that lives outside of Facebook but provides the benefits of the network, drives sampling in an innovative way, leverages viral channels RE: the black envelope and creates a 2D/3D experience that is engaging, fun and memorable.

By the way if you are interested in creating an engaging digital experience similar to this please reach out to me and allow us to create a compelling digital campaign.

5React was a collaboration of Firstborn (3D Modeling & Left Door Experience) and Evolution Bureau. EVB designed the package and built the 3D glasses experience & gallery.

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iAd

With the iPhone OS 4.0 Keynote today the announcement of iAd caught our attention in the office. Moreso than multi-tasking & the thousands of API’s iAd offers the chance for a true revolution in mobile advertising.

The ability to provide Rich Media advertising within the application is key for marketers, brands & developers alike. There were some great quotes from Steve Jobs today:

“On a desktop, its about search. On mobile, search hasn’t happened. People aren’t searching on their phones. People are spending their time in apps. The average user spends over 30 minutes using apps on their phone. If we said we wanted to put an ad up every 3 minutes, that’d be 10 ads per device per day – about the same as a TV show. We’re going to soon have 100m devices. That’s a billion ad opportunities per day!”

For now Apple will sell and host the ads with a revenue split (60/40 with devs getting the 60) and ads are done in HTML5 (Sorry Adobe). The apps will be fully interactive like their rich media web counterparts and the fact that ads have access to location to tie into geo-location is another win.

If I were a dev/marketer/agency I would get the SDK yesterday!!!

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iPad Launch Day – Review

Part of my job is tied to staying on top of emerging technology and the latest entry launched today in the form of the Apple iPad. After being in and out of my local Apple store in 10 min it was on to the setup. I found updating to iTunes 9 to be an issue as I continued to run into service issues. Once those were resolved I decided to go with a fresh install vs. importing settings from my iPhone. The iPhone app experience on the iPad is not ideal. The apps work but are optimized for a certain size. I actually removed any iPhone apps that made it through the setup and was on the iPad app store to see what was available.

So far I have been impressed with the device. I have enjoyed the smooth web browsing and e-mail interface. I was really surprised by how seamless the Netflix integration was upon execution of the app. After logging in I was able to instantly stream within seconds. I was also surprised by the number of apps that were available at launch. With 400+ games (I stopped counting after page 34) there is plenty to review.

Also, being a current Kindle owner I was very curious to see how iBooks compares. And at this point there really is no comparison. With the additional functionality mentioned above as well as a color/touch interface the iPad will officially become my default e-reader. With that said the Kindle App for iPad/iPhone is usable and the experience is adequate. I still have access to all of my Kindle purchases and the app has been updated from the iPhone version to be optimized for the iPad. So for now it will be a combination of Kindle App/iBooks but either way from a hardware perspective I will be quickly auctioning off my Kindle.

Is the iPad an essential device? Not yet. It is an amazing casual browsing and entertainment device and I see the value in it even beyond a netbook which surprised me. The real appeal for me is being able to pick it up like my phone, check my e-mail, status updates and browse relevant articles quickly and with optimal portability.

I see the potential moving forward as the iPad evolves and hope to see Flash enabled as well as the ability to manage multiple apps at the same time and a solution for an integrated webcam but for now I am happy with the device for what it is. Also, the battery life has been holding up as well.

Today I also did a guest blog post for Playground Dad. If you are not familiar Playground Dad is targeted to the thirty something dads that are interested in staying connected with their kids and ideas to maintain work life balance. The post provides recommendations on how the iPad can bring you and your kiddos together in a variety of ways.

iPad Kids

Here is Grant watching Veggietales via Netflix instant stream. The iPad Case serves as a great way to position the iPad for optimal viewing.

grantipad

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

Red Urban

RedUrbanIt seems that for the past 10+ years all roads have pointed in this direction. I have been involved with agencies since the onset of my interactive career.

From my initial entry during the original dot com boom with Fullmoon Interactive (full service interactive agency) to then moving on to become a co-founder of Smooth Fusion. SF provided the technical heavy lifting to enable campaigns for agencies in the Omnicom, WPP & Interpublic networks. The main constants were always digital + agencies.

For the last five years I have been on the forefront of the enterprise social media explosion thanks in part to my involvement initially with Telligent Systems (Community & Social Analytics driven platforms) then as the Chief Marketing Officer of INgage networks (Cloud computing based enterprise & gov 2.0 integrated social solutions).

During this time I had the privilege to partner and be a part of cutting edge usage of social media by a number of Fortune 1000 companies (Dell, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Starbucks, P&G, American Express to name a few) and now I look forward to enabling brands via my experience with social strategy definition (KPI’s, ROI) implementation (Community, Crowdsourcing, Mobile, Consumer Networks, Social CRM) and measurement & analysis (Online buzz monitoring, Social Analytics) officially from the agency side!

I recently joined an extremely talented team at Red Urban (Dallas, TX). Red Urban is an OMNICOM group agency that provides comprehensive digital solutions for our end-clients and agencies throughout the Omnicom network. Our primary focus is world class creative & digital (Rich Media, Web, Social) strategy with an emphasis and expertise in integrating social channels and best practices into a brands digital strategy.

My role as the SVP, Digital Strategy will enable me to call upon every element of my experience in defining digital/social solutions while also keeping an eye to the future via emerging technology.

I definitely look forward to collaborating with our team and partners to deliver compelling digital campaigns that truly leverage the power of social as part of an overall digital strategy.

What’s the price of a Facebook Fan? It’s 5 dollars

Recently Babies R Us ran a Facebook campaign that caught my attention. There were a number of campaign elements that were executed well and the result was a positive network effect. There were also areas that could have been capitalized upon to drive further value.

The premise of the campaign was driven by the promise of a $5 digital e-card for becoming a Facebook fan. The catch was it was a 1 day campaign.

7 things I liked about the experience:

1) A one day promotion provides a sense of urgency to take action with a truly valuable and tangible benefit.

2) Simple, audience specific image with a very clear call to action. Sometimes simple is better.

3) Ability to immediately blast all friends increases potential viral distribution. This increases by additional adoption as visibility into friends recent activity amplify the impact and potential drive to action.

Babiesrus3-Blog1

4) Low barrier to initiate the action as all that was required was to click “Become a fan” which leads directly to a very brief profiling exercise with clear rules & terms and does not present form or information overload.

5) I really liked the SMS opt-in being handled within the profile experience as mobile is a natural extension beyond a Facebook driven channel interaction.

Babiesrus3-Blog2

6) Delivery of the e-card occurred within 2 days with the added benefit of use online & in-store highly increasing my probability of actually using it.

7) Network proliferation (at least through my wifes/target network) was immediate and visible as a significantly high percentage of her network participated in the campaign.

7 Areas of focus that could have further enhanced results beyond the standard campaign:

1) Further amplify & drive awareness prior to and after the event. Drive 5-10 day interaction strategy through multiple social channels to further hype the event. This includes targeting key niche (e.g. Ovusoft, Playground Dad) communities and driving influencer build-up to the event to further amplify the promotion.

2) This also accounts for influencial “mommy” bloggers and “super” dads. One key point is that Blog actually stands for B. Better L. Listing. O. On G. Google. As within product category segments 30-60% of top search results are blog driven. Outreach to same group to write about the campaign and the positive impact and build anticipation for a possible future event.

3) Capitalize immediately on the opportunity to cross promote to the target market segment. Specifically on the “Thank You” page would have been a great opportunity to drive through to a branded interaction or to a select group of targeted products.

4) Immediate recognition of SMS opt-in by sending a confirmation message offering additional incentive for accepting the opt-in.

5) Take this as an opportunity to leverage a proximity based service with devices in store locations to continue to amplify cost savings by leveraging the existing opt-in.

6) As with any strategy where profiling occurs the ability to now directly tie these individuals into an actionable marketing queue is invaluable. Capitalizing on more than just capturing the data is one of the keys to truly driving the value from social channels.

7) The follow-up e-mail was very thorough with categories, calls to action to both Babies R Us and Toys R Us. The format was pure HTML. There needs to be a plain text option as well to cover all bases.

Conclusions & Measurement:

Overall I liked the premise and execution of the campaign. I will be interested in measuring the Key performance indicators (KPI’s) if they become available such as the delta between number of friends prior and after the promotion, retention of new “fans”, number of profile opt-ins, number of mobile opt-ins, etc.

*Credit for discovery of the promotion goes to my wife. Thanks Cherlyn!!!

How to Create Profitable Social Strategies

Authored this article published on CMO.com today: http://bit.ly/8K3B5W

Just like people, no two organizations are exactly alike. Every enterprise has its own unique personality. When it comes to social strategy, there is no universal formula for driving ROI. Enterprise social media is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The most successful social media initiatives occur when the strategy is aligned with the DNA of the brand itself. We don’t ask a wallflower to be the life of the party, nor do we expect a social butterfly to thrive without wings. No matter which of the following four personality types describes your brand, here’s how to start driving value from your social strategies.

1. Social Butterfly

You like to be where the action is, darting from one trendy application to the next. On the cutting edge, you were probably an early adopter of blogs and Twitter. Outwardly, you’ve created an impressive following and have led your organization through uncharted territories. But when the conversation turns to ROI, your attention is quickly diverted to a new tactic.

 — The Risks: Every marketer understands the thrill of winning customer attention. But what comes next? One million fans are only important if you can effectively leverage those connections toward your goals as a business. Consumer networks come and go. Banking enterprise strategy on shaky ground, or scratching the surface of what should be deeper, does not promote sustainable value and results. Without focused commitment, you may disappoint your networks while failing to receive future executive support.

 The Opportunity: Activity is taking place on consumer networks, and it is essential to be where the interaction is happening. Consider ways to bridge your social interests with your enterprise. Open Authentication, for example, can inspire your fans to leverage existing credentials they have from Facebook or Twitter to join your community. And you’ll gain momentum if you keep those fans engaged from one campaign to the next.

Anchoring social media initiatives in an enterprise wide strategy will help you strengthen and deepen your connections. As trendy consumer networks disappear, your brand presence will remain. This engagement can benefit all aspects of your enterprise—sales, customer service…even product development.

2. Thrill-Seeker

Known for your crazy antics, those around you never know what to expect next. You’re the life of the party! You take risks, stir things up, and keep your name top-of-mind—at any cost. But you’re not in it for the long haul. When the excitement dwindles, you’re already off in pursuit of your next adventure.

The Risks: You’re behind some of those social media initiatives that have the industry talking: social takeovers, controversial ad campaigns, contrarian blog posts, and viral videos. But when all is said and done, what have you ultimately accomplished?

Hiring and firing agencies, employee turnover, customer churn, and damage control all weigh heavily on the bottom line. One-off campaigns can be fun, but unless they are part of
a bigger strategy, they cannot help build the momentum that is needed to drive sustainable ROI.

The Opportunity: You have what every marketer wants: the attention of a crowd. And you have followers waiting with bated breath for your next move. Extending your allure, capitalizing on the attention, and offering your networks something of more substance will further elevate your success.

Sure, you have no trouble filling an auditorium. But when you can provide ongoing value, meaningful relationships, and reciprocity—in addition to a good time—you’ll not only fill the auditorium…you’ll keep your audience members in their seats!

3. Wallflower

You embrace social media passively, remaining at the periphery of the action. You’re on a “listen mission,” monitoring discussions around your brand through various social
networks. You have yet to realize the full potential of social media.

 The Risks: Instead of fueling conversations, you’re merely eavesdropping on them. Consumers don’t hear a lot about you, nor do they hear from you. While
you’re playing it safe, your competitors are playing to win.

Without proactively developing relationships with consumers, you risk losing them—and the resulting revenue—to your competitors. It is proved that engaged customers not only spend more, but they can become your greatest advocates. If you aren’t engaging your customers, then who is?

 The Opportunity: Social media doesn’t change your business goals, just how you achieve them. Whatever your objectives—increased productivity, improved retention, reduced costs, or more sales—social media can effectively fuel them all, but not without your taking a proactive role by influencing the conversations around you.

Going social does not require a corporate180. At Neighborhood America, connecting our workforce through internal networks launched us into social strategies. Within 12 months, we experienced financial returns of $10,000 per employee. As we gained confidence, we expanded our reach beyond our walls.

4. Strong, Silent Type

You watch. You learn. Then you do it better. You are successful, but not boastful, letting your accomplishments speak for themselves. You welcome calculated risks that are approached strategically. You’ve witnessed social media transform your business, and seek to continue applying these strategies throughout your enterprise.

The Risks: Whether you’re using Twitter for customer service or an online community for crowdsourcing ideas, social media is at the core of many of your
operations. But bringing it all together has proved overwhelming, if not impossible.

You run the risk of spreading too thin, unable to dedicate the resources needed to manage both content and data. You are ahead of the curve and need to proceed with caution.
Choosing the wrong provider(s) will only magnify this risk—avoid partnering with a vendor that will pull you back.

 The Opportunities: As more social initiatives are deployed, they must be consistently managed across the entire organization. Consolidation is critical to data aggregation and cross-functional teamwork.

The opportunity to launch a comprehensive social go-to-market strategy brings the ability to capitalize on the following:

  • Power of consumer networks
  • Flexibility of an SaaS-branded platform
  • Value of the data created
  • Increased value of existing systems when integrated with social (i.e., Social + CRM)

 Aim for the ability to push and pull content from varying consumer networks using your own community solutions, and leverage them as one complete, integrated platform.

10 Benefits of Social Crowdsourcing

As your social strategy evolves from driving awareness via consumer/liquid networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) and basic community elements you may be asking what’s next? How can I continue to drive engagement and provide enough utility to keep the attention on your brand. What can I do to influence advocacy. What about ideation? How can I continue to formalize feedback channels and how do I continue to provide a structured form of support that ultimately leads to cost deflection savings and other benefits beyond simple engagement?

My recommendation would be a branded crowdsourcing solution. Okay… so what does that mean and how is it different? Social Crowdsourcing solutions provide a structured approach to accomplishing multiple goals by leveraging individuals engaged with your brand where ultimately the best ideas and content prevail. In essence it enables a structured 360 degree feedback loop. When executed as part of a cohesive social strategy crowdsourcing solutions can provide value beyond simple engagement.

10 Benefits of Social CrowdSourcing:

1 ) Advocacy & Brand Loyalty – How better to influence behavior than by empowering an individual to directly impact a product, improve the overall customer experience, or deliver feedback within an organization on how to improve an internal process. When an individual truly feels as though they are making a difference there is a stronger connection with the brand or organization. An example is with Starbucks MyStarBucksIdea implementation. Users have the ability to directly influence product as well as the customer experience. Ask for a splash stick the next time you are in Starbucks. That nifty green stick with the decorative end is a direct result of crowdsourcing.

2 ) Structured Feedback (Recommendations/Reviews) – Going beyond a Forum… Social Crowdsourcing is a structured feedback channel. You have the ability to quickly identify feedback that is relevant to your audience and also has a direct influence on your products and services. A good example is with Dell’s Idea Storm. Dell leverages Idea Storm for the purpose of collecting feedback as well as point #5 below which is support.

3 ) Ideation – The old adage 2 heads are better than 1 comes to mind on this point. How about 2,000 vs. 20. By leveraging the power of the social crowd you gain an economy of scale in terms of your brainstorming output. This is applicable in almost every business setting from an agency that is looking to find the best idea for a campaign pitch to a Fortune 500 company looking for new ideas to innovate and maintain relevance. Social Crowdsourcing solutions enable the collaboration to occur. An example is Best Buy’s IdeaX.

4 ) UGC (Content/Contests) – User Generated Contests have been a staple of social strategy. With Social Crowdsourcing solutions you have the ability to facilitate this type of interaction. If you select the right platform (Not all Social Crowdsourcing platforms are created equally. I will be following up with a post on criteria to consider when selecting a Social Crowdsourcing solution) you should select a platform that is flexible enough to support multiple types of initiatives and campaigns while providing centralized access to the data. Both Men’s Health with their Belly Off promotion and HGTV with Rate my Space leveraged Social Crowdsourcing solutions

5 ) Support – When it comes to support we outlined the Dell example above. Other points to consider are decreased e-mail & phone support costs, faster response rates and resolution of issues, decreased escalation, increased satisfaction and decreased customer complaints. This is where tangible value can be gained for an organization beyond simple engagement. In a similar manner to how call deflection is a goal to gain efficiency social crowdsourcing can enable a similar benefit.

6 ) Reducing Product Quality Defects – What company does not want to decrease quality defects. You can leverage social crowdsourcing solutions to quickly identify issues and have a direct channel to address product corrections.

7 ) Decreasing R&D Expense – Leverage the power of social production to decrease your own R&D expense. Again leverage the combined knowledge and loyalty of your customers to help shorten the product development lifecycle.

8 ) Decreasing Time to Market – You can decrease time to market by launching targeted social crowdsourcing campaigns that serve as focus groups and ultimately drive product improvement and expand your reach in terms of testers.

9 ) Customer Service – In a similar manner of leveraging Twitter for brand monitoring it is important to understand the potential of using the structure of social crowdsourcing to directly engage with end users to drive resolution of issues and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.

10 ) Social + CRM – With structured interaction comes the ability to align user interaction and product feedback to your CRM strategy. The ability to create social profiles, create campaigns specific to feedback or rounds of ideation and ultimately gauge social interaction with actual customers is critical to driving value back to the business. A great example comes to us via Microsoft & Neighborhood America. Microsoft Public Sector On Demand this implementation leverages the power of a robust Social Crowdsourcing platform while showcasing integration with Microsoft Dynamics.

In my next post we will discuss points to consider when selecting a Social Crowdsourcing Solution.

Social Commitment

In order to truly capitalize on B2C social strategy it is important to understand that social is a channel to facilitate collaboration and is a part of the overall organizational marketing strategy. However it is not the only element of your overall marketing strategy. But this channel probably moreso than any other marketing exercise requires a longer term investment to truly recognize the value of the approach.

Obviously social solutions can be leveraged for short term spikes, take-overs and quick blips on the brand awareness radar. But to truly maximize the value of social organizations need to advance on the social continuum towards cohesive social strategies and have a solid understanding of the goals associated with the interaction. Brand Awareness, monitoring, customer support, transactions, etc…

This sounds simple enough but there are many factors and behavioral elements that will need to be put to the test to properly execute. Depending on the level of social commitment from the organization a number of factors need to be considered and questions asked. What is the purpose of our usage of consumer networks (Twitter, Facebook). If you think about it for a moment is it to drive awareness? Drive some type of direct response? or some other objective. You should not have a Facebook fan page for the sake of having one. You need to be where your prospective targets are and I am a strong advocate of the usage of consumer networks but not as the primary hub of the strategy.

So you say not to make consumer networks your primary but “I have tried my own community but we did not get the traffic lift we thought we would get”. My first response to this is to review the marketing strategy tied to growing membership. A common mistake I see is the “If we build it they will come”. The expectation that members will magically appear and participate in your branded communities is reserved for a very small group of brands. For everyone else it takes a committed effort to drive fresh, relevant content, dedicated resources, reaching into existing target users and ultimately traditional marketing to drive interaction. You can have the best technology in the world but if you do not have a true plan for driving interaction the branded effort is destined to fail.

Once the plan has been defined, resources assigned and marketing underway it is important that the brand ultimately own some semblance of a branded experience. Be it a portal aggregating relevant content, community or crowdsourcing. The reason for this is that consumer networks rise and fall in popularity and there will always be the next big thing but your brand will remain.

A natural opposition to the longer term value is how marketing is portrayed and executed on a daily basis. When you think about the nature of traditional marketing it is very campaign based driving one buzz push to the next with constant reinvention along the way. With Social it is almost the opposite. The goal is to build momentum and attain critical mass to drive towards creating a sustainable interaction. This in turn enables a solid foundation of social data that maps back to organzational goals to drive the next steps of gaining value.

Regardless of how you leverage social it is important to fully recognize the importance of defining goals and creating a comprehensive strategy. As I stated in my last post the true value from social comes from the information that is created and how you are then able to capitalize on it. But in order to reach this point of organizational enlightenment you must have a commitment to social. It is not a campaign it is a long term channel of direct interaction.

How to Drive Brand Value from Social Media

One of the more common questions that I receive is how do I truly drive value from social interaction? While there is no “magic bullet” to drive hard ROI consistently across all organization types each organization can show solid social value and results if they consider the following when planning their B2C social GTM strategy.

1 ) Goals, Goals & Did I mention Goals – Before the first Twitter alias is created or Facebook fan page is posted the first step is to define the goals of the strategy and how it will be measured. But it does not stop here. Where I see gaps in strategy across the board is then taking the next step which is consolidating and truly integrating consumer network interaction with branded solutions. The reason is the data. With consumer networks they may come and go and the availability of data to analyze is hit & miss but with the right mix of branded solutions it is possible to capture social data that can then map back to organizational KPI’s.

2 ) Resources & Champions – One of the consistent issues I see is that there is an expectation that the technology will deliver results. Moreso in social than any other type of marketing initiative it takes dedicated resources to truly drive success. This can be for a period of time until the community can self manage itself but the key to interaction is not the technology but the content that is created. Either leveraging 3rd parties or internal resources to drive fresh and relevant “sticky” content is a key success factor in building the audience that will generate the data needed to map to your KPI’s.

3 ) Consumer Networks – What I consistently see and hear is that a number of organizations are leveraging popular consumer networks such as Twitter and Facebook. An organization can have multiple “campaigns” going at any given point in time. This is a natural response as this is where consumer activity is taking place. It is absolutely essential to position your brand where interaction is happening, but there has to be a plan around the purpose of the interaction. Is it tied to Brand Awareness? Leveraging Twitter to monitor your brand for a more personal customer service touch? Either way I view Consumer Networks as a starting point to branded social interaction as again the value is in the data.

4 ) OPEN Authentication – The key to bridging the gap between Consumer Network & Branded Solutions is to leverage a platform that enables OPEN Authentication. OPEN authentication allows for consumers to leverage existing credentials they may already have via Facebook, Windows LIVE, Google, etc… And as Jim Haughwout, CIO of Neighborhood America stated in a recent blog post “Don’t ask your members to join “Y-A-N” Yet another network“. This is critical for branded interaction as you want to eliminate the barriers of entry to your branded solutions.

5 ) Head in the Clouds – Another important factor to consider is the type of delivery method for your branded solutions that integrate with consumer networks. What I have found over the past few years is that the TCO associated with Software as a Service or (SaaS) solutions are ideal when it comes to provisioning multiple instances of social solutions for community, crowdsourcing and even mobile interaction. The speed to market, flexibility and scalability are all positives when selecting your social platform.

6 ) Branded Platform – I do reference platform vs. mashing up multiple instances of social, blogging here, wiki there. What I recommend to my clients is a consolidated approach to social so you have the ability to capitalize on the data across multiple sources as again the value in social resides in the data created by social production. When selecting a platform I look for the following criteria:

Flexibility, Scalability, API’s, Ability to integrate with legacy systems, All solutions and data can reside in a dimensional data warehouse so that I have the ability to create data marts with other 3rd party data sets. Also there are platforms that exist that can provide Community, Crowd Sourcing, Feedback & Mobile solutions in a single platform.

But if you are already down the path with your social strategy it is possible to enhance your social strategy and incrementally migrate elements to a platform approach.

7 ) Data is Everything – So the common message throughout thus far has been tied to the data. Why do I care about the data? Data created from social interaction is real and tangible when it comes to understanding consumer behavior and especially directly tying their thoughts or inputs directly back to your brand. The ability to create social profiles and then leverage that data for targeted marketing or to identify key influencers is critical to truly maximize your reach and marketing spend to drive through to results be it transactions or increased subscribers.

8 ) If Data is Everything what do I do with it? – The next step is to analyze data that is collected. I have talked in the past about social analytics and the benefits of understanding performance, health, member interaction, etc… This is where we map back to step one of defining the goals. The data that is collected can be sliced in many ways and the more data collected the more accurately you can drive to conclusion. My recommendation is to leverage a platform that ties all aspects of data into a single dimensional data warehouse. Why? with a dimensional data warehouse you can compare multiple campaign initiatives either testing performance of campaigns directly or by having the ability to conduct cohort analysis.

9 ) Don’t Guess – There is a lot of talk around sentiment tied to social analytics. Be wary of this approach as it is simply an inference based on an algorithm that may or may not account for certain factors. I prefer and recommend analytics packages that mirror the Rasmussen Report which is based on opinion analysis and actual user interaction vs. an inference.

10 ) Social + CRM really? – There has been a lot of buzz around Social CRM and how it can drive value for organizations. The key here is not to dump all social data into CRM. The key is to leverage a publish subscribe type of model to only create social profiles that map back to organizational goals. Leveraging a social front-end such as a crowdsourcing solution that ties directly into your existing CRM system is a key driver and the second pillar of how you can drive value out of social. The first being social analysis the second is identification down to the user level of how individuals interact with your campaign. This step is critical in ultimately forming the full picture and this combined with social analytics leads to driving value back to social.

11 ) Consolidation is King – The consistent theme throughout is consolidation. I recommend that you craft a comprehensive social GTM strategy that allows you to leverage the power of the consumer networks. Then leverage the flexibility of a SaaS platform to service multiple segments or campaign initiatives within an organization all while driving through to value via the data created. This is the framework that can lead brands with large brand inventories to truly maximize their social media strategy and drive real and immediate value.

12 ) Now What? –  If you are running multiple campaigns for an organization today then I recommend reviewing your current goals and strategy against the consolidated model and see where incremental improvements can be made. Question your vendors about data consolidation and ability to provide a central repository of all social data. Ensure that your consumer networks can interact with your branded solutions. Showing a feed is not true integration I recommend the ability to push and pull content from consumer networks so that you can leverage them as a platform.

Ultimately the goal is to drive value from social. Again the steps outlined above can create a model that will enable value definition for your clients or your key decision makers.

What’s Next for Social Computing & Business

The past month and a half has been a whirlwind of change and excitement. As most of you know by now I decided after 3 years it was time to explore options away from Telligent. I have nothing but respect for the remaining team and I truly wish them all well.

I was presented with an opportunity to join the Neighborhood America now INgage Networks team out of sunny Naples, Florida. Neighborhood America (INgage Networks) is a social media SaaS provider and I was very intrigued by their offerings. They address enterprise level challenges by offering SaaS based business services that are designed to meet needs across various scenarios B2B, B2C, B2E all while integrating and deploying off of a world-class SaaS architecture.  Just as social networking was compelling to me 3 years ago the move to the “cloud” was a natural progression.

Over the past decade I have been an active part of the Interactive space. I was a part of the bubble, the scramble to monetize online via advertising & e-commerce, the rise of the digital powers (eBay, Google, Amazon.com). Then on to portals then the SEO craze and now the rise of social computing. As technology comes and goes certain truths around business remain constant. Increasing efficiency, growing revenue, Managing assets, etc…. technology truly is an enabler to meet these needs hence the billions of dollars spent each year with more dollars than ever being allocated to Social Computing initiatives.

A number of traditional organizations have made investments in social media applications and platforms. Many decisions were made… behind the firewall vs. SaaS, build vs. buy. As the dollars begin to proliferate more “experts” also came to the fore-front with the latest strategy, Interactive agencies redefined methodologies and measures for success and an entire ecosystem was created. Throughout all of this the needs of business remained constant.  It is important to ensure that however a strategy is executed there are clearly defined business objectives that map back to success criteria that are ultimately measurable.

As the community toolkit market becomes commoditized over the coming year the ability to differentiate will go to those who embrace the following:  Lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) while showing business value (ROI) leveraging social analytics & comparative analysis based on true data warehousing for cohort comparison as well as embracing the evolution of Social CRM led by companies like Neighborhood America. These factors will determine the next round of market leaders in the social space.

I look forward to the coming evolution of the social market for business. You are seeing signs towards the shift already underway. Social CRM is real and those that understand how to leverage social data while not overloading CRM systems will be key for marketers and businesses alike. I am very happy to continue to ride the wave of innovation. I look forward to the next 10 years… It will be a fun ride!!!!

Blogging vs. Twitter

Over the past month I have found that my online behavior has shifted ever so slightly. Normally when I would review an article or something of interest I would think about it in terms of a blog post. Diving deeper into the issues and applying them towards some value proposition. Now I find myself thinking about condensing what I have to say into a 140 character nugget of information thanks to Twitter.

I have been a Twitter user since April 2007. Working for a social computing company it is par for the course. But I had not fully embraced Twitter as I have over the past few months. For Industry specific news I have found that it is a great source of on-demand information from a variety of sources that I may miss with my feed reader. With the Search Functionality I can follow different topics of discussion through the Twitterverse for real-time updates.

There seems to have been a tipping point recently where Twitter is now officially main stream. Twitter has grown to over 8 million U.S. Users in a fairly short amount of time. But it is the 33% growth over the past month that is the real key to Twitter adoption. Maybe it was the initial tweets of the US Airways crash into the Hudson or the mentions on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, or the Twitter 101 piece on Nightline. Or maybe it is the fact that media organizations like Fox News and CNN added a tweet stream to their tickers and “Live” responses to a piece that just ran. Whatever the reason Twitter is now the “it” tool of the moment.

Now the mad scramble has begun. How do I monetize Twitter? What is the business value of Twitter for my brand? How do I leverage Twitter as a channel?

There are groups popping up on LinkedIn that discuss Twitter Innovation and a number of companies, led by Dell, that are leveraging Twitter to monitor their brands and focus on the discussions that may impact a transaction or turn a detractor into an influencer.

I actually experienced the power of social media & Twitter specifically first hand. A prospective partner of my company was having difficulty connecting with his rep. He tweeted about the lack of response time. Within minutes his comment came across one of the tags that I follow and I saw it and responded via Twitter DM (Direct Message), LinkedIn InMail and based on his Twitter profile I was able to get his name and company and called the Main Line to leave a VM. Within an hour he re-tweeted about his appreciation of my efforts and the power of social media.

However you leverage Twitter either as a way to pass the time or adding value to your business/campaign/Brand it has definitely changed the way that I approach sharing and consuming information. Mainly into 140 chunks of informational goodness.

Follow me for updates RE: Social Computing, Marketing, Gaming and other random updates throughout the day @BlackFin360

Tag Marketing

While recently attending the 2009 Microsoft High Tech Summit I was introduced to the Microsoft Tag system. It works very much like a barcode system with your mobile serving as the scanning mechanism.  The interesting play here is the interactivity and opportunity that it provides to extend a traditional campaign.

I am beginning to see the Microsoft tag showing up in more places. While waiting to take-off on a flight to Seattle I was catching up with the latest Official Xbox Magazine and on the first 2 pages was an ad for the upcoming Halo Wars title. I have a moderate interest in the upcoming title but I have seen the ad with a number of Spartans looking to blow things up before. I was about to turn the page when I noticed something interesting.

At the bottom right of the page was the Microsoft Tag with the ability to immediately view a trailer of the game and redirect me to the Halo Wars marketing site on Xbox.com via my iPhone. For the novelty of it and the fact that I can’t resist a good interactive campaign I pulled up the Microsoft Tag Reader app that I had recently installed on my iPhone and took a quick shot of the tag and I was off viewing a great cinematic trailer for the upcoming game and of course the marketing collateral tied to it. If I was on the fence for the title this form of immediate gratification may have pushed me over the edge to purchase.

Where this gets really interesting is the ability to extend print in a more direct manner. Traditional ads reference a URL that leads to a product page or micro-site that is dependent on a number of factors to be executed by the end-user. With the tag system I get the immediate satisfaction of accessing information of interest in real-time from my mobile which makes the likelihood of me taking action on the ad much more likely as the barrier of sitting down, trying to remember the URL, etc… is eliminated.

From an ROI perspective I assume that the tag tracking to the destination URL is easy to reconcile and the ability to show ROI based on the “Tag Through” (I think I just coined that) then on to potential transaction should be an easy model to follow.

From a social computing perspective the ability to quickly introduce an interested party to key influencers with minimal barriers is also a possibility. The user-flow could be scan the tag, 20 second trailer and direct the user to key Community Server blog, forum or wiki topics that enhance the core message and leads to validation by peers and additional WOM.

The Microsoft tag system may not become the standard…Although if I were Microsoft I would OEM this on net-new Windows phones and allow for recognition of a tag that automatically initiates the app… but I like the direction from a consumer marketing perspective. I am a firm believer in reducing barriers for end-users. Minimize the steps necesssary to the desired result and the likelihood of action significantly increases.

Sample Tag:

microsoft-tag-792594

EA Skate 2 & Skate Reel

Of all of the projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years Electronic Arts O.G. Skate Reel initiative was by far one of my favorites. It was our first really large initiative with EA and it was very ambitious.

From the start there were a number of different variables that came into play. In-game video then sprayed to the web that enabled community members to rate each others creations across gaming platforms.

With a lot of teamwork between EA (Strategy & Content), our team and Blast Radius (Creative & UI) Skate Reel hit the web prior to the release of Skate.

As with all great things you knew a sequel was coming. Skate 2 hit stores on the 21st (Be sure to pick up your copy!!!!) but the new & improved Skate Reel for Skate 2 was pushed out early this morning.

This time around the UI has been tweaked, the transitions even smoother and I am once again blown away by the work of our team.

Here is the Skate 2 Team… Left to Right (w/ gamertags except for John Balod & MJ) … Deryl “Moonboy Dallas” DorsettJohn “I need a 360” Balod, Jon “BROOMdoom” Broom, Elijah “Prairie Racer” Hardin and me Tom “TheBlackFin” Edwards. Not pictured are Rich “RichMercer” Mercer and Mike “MJ” Johnson.

Skate2---Telligent-Blog

As for Skate Reel…. The site speaks for itself.

skate2-web

Major Nelson ROI

I have known Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb for a few years now. Larry is the Director of Programming for Xbox Live. He has become the Face of the Xbox 360 and his blog is the first stop for avid gamers looking for the latest info on upcoming titles, Xbox Live updates and of course Larry’s blog cast’s. Larry has held this position since 2004 and the growth that both the Xbox Live network and Larry’s blog has seen over the past few years is impressive to say the least.

When Larry was evaluating platforms he was looking for a scalable blogging platform that would provide him with a direct line of communication with the consumer and put a face to the Xbox brand.  The explosive growth with Xbox Live has coincided with the traffic loads tied to Larry’s blog. He is now the de-facto reference for gamers looking for the latest information and the amount of traffic and comments that Larry receives is staggering for a single blog. No other gaming publisher or hardware manufacturer has the visibility or reach via a single employee that Microsoft and the Xbox Live Brand has with Larry.

One of the key ROI takeaways from Larry’s blog is that it is a powerful tool for optimizing SEO of user-generated content. According to eMarketer, annual spending on search advertising in the US is expected to decrease YOY until 2012 (when compared to 2007). The built-in SEO functionality of Larry’s platform helped grow visitors and members (17 million as of last week) by both direct and referred search. The other takeaway is the cost savings that are available to an organization or a brand by significantly decreasing the amount of spend on search advertising.

Social Network Analysis & Visualization

This was a great post by Lawrence Liu of Telligent. Lawrence is the Director of Platform Strategy and discusses how he leveraged NodeXL to provide analysis and visualization of some data sets of interest but more importantly the correlation between the benefit of visualizing data that exists within social networks.

Read the full post

This was the analysis that Lawrence provided on my coverage within our internal social network.

tom_nodexl

Social Media & Your Campaign

One of the golden rules of marketing is having the ability to show your business or clients the value of the campaign that you are running on their behalf. With traditional web campaigns you could methodically calculate ROI based on Click-through rate and project your results. With the introduction of social media traditional models of analytics do not apply and the true value proposition is clouded in the minds of business decision makers. With the economy in it’s current state campaign dollars are less readily available and you better be able to deliver tangible results.

How can I show value? Is this the right investment? I know I need to connect with end users but what is the real value?

The key is social analytics that focus on campaign elements specifically around sentiment, tonality, social fingerprints and a model for calculating the incremental value of community.

If you are working on a viral brand awareness campaign how are you going to gauge the discussions that are occurring and the content that is generated within a social network and make sense of it? You need to have a mechanism to take all of the unstructured data and make sense of it all in order to show value.

With social analytics you can combine campaign specific keywords with system driven keywords. The net result is gaining a clear understanding of how users interact with the brand and the campaign by analyzing the tonality of the conversations that are occurring. Be it positive or negative, understanding how users are interacting with your campaign allows for quick responses to negative associations or additional investment in areas that create positive responses.

Also with any campaign the user profile is key. Understanding not only how users interact with content but how they interact as a whole is a key step in delivering the right message at the right time. With a social analytic system you should leverage one that provides a fingerprint for how a user interacts.

Finally when it comes to launching micro-campaigns within an existing community or social network you can leverage the group functionality to create a micro-community. With the right social analytic package you can then analyze just the data that is relevant to that group. The same sentiment analysis and other functionality is relevant even on the group level.

Organizational efficiency, social ROI, and social analytics are the key to unlocking the full potential tied to your unstructured data. Again what is the value of user generated content if you cannot quickly analyze it and make it meaningful.

Social Analytics

I interact with a number of clients on a daily basis and at some point in our conversations the discussion ultimately leads to calculating return on investment (ROI) around social media.

With the hyper-growth being experienced in the social collaboration space it is imperative now more than ever that organizational decision makers ultimately understand the value of the solutions that they are associating with their digital marketing campaigns as well as across their organizations.

One of the key trends that has emerged is the need to track social analytics vs. traditional web analytics. The days of tracking and calculating value through CTR, etc… has changed. It is still important to understand where your traffic is coming from but now more than ever it is imperative to understand how users are interacting with each other, your content and your brand.

With the right social analytics package you then have the framework to understand the patterns, behaviors and trends that can help an organization better understand how to interact with their customers and each other by providing insight into the sentiment and tonality of the community, forecasting future behavior based on current trends and understanding how users interact via social fingerprints.

Sentiment analysis is a very important piece of understanding social analytics trends. Understanding the tonality of users be it positive or negative tied to your products, offerings and your brand is very valuable as you can make practical business decisions based on the interaction of your customers.

With social collaboration solutions becoming the norm with how organizations will interact with end-users, partners and employees it is imperative that all of the unstructured data that is collected is then aggregated in a usable format that immediately provides the key insight necessary to drive business forward in the most efficient manner.

Dark Marketing

One of my hobbies is reviewing emerging trends around marketing and social media (Doesn’t that sound like fun?!?)  One such trend is Dark Marketing. No, this is not Darth Vader marketing his favorite life-support system or vacation spot… Hoth anyone??? This approach caught my attention as it is fascinating to me the lengths that certain brands will go to gain traction with potential influencers.

Dark Marketing (Defined in Wired recently) is discreetly sponsored online and real world entertainment intended to reach hipster audiences that would ordinarily shun corporate shilling.

This style of marketing is more “covert” in its approach. And with current and pending regulation around how products such as tobacco, alcohol and even fast food is presented to target markets this style of marketing is being deployed with more regularity than ever before.

The ultimate end goal is to reach an influencing audience without necessarily directly engaging the brand with the prospective targets. Instead the brands are almost non-existent but they are funding events through creating a sense of elite “insider” or “personal” events. During the events brand team representatives would engage with crowds by loudly ordering the products and then casually engaging in conversation about the products. Or a softer approach of casually conversing about a product or using a product that leads to a pitch in a very casual social setting.

Companies like Sony, Ford and McDonalds are actively deploying Dark Marketing campaigns. Sony recently executed operation “fake tourist” where they planted users of one of their camera products in a prime location and asked them to engage with people to take their picture which would lead to a pseudo-pitch around the product.

McDonalds is not a company that you would normally associate with a Dark Marketing campaign. Normally it is here is our food, here are the toys for your kids and by the way we have a great dollar menu… (great, now I am hungry)… is now sponsoring an alternate-reality game called The Lost Ring and it is nearly devoid of golden arches. This is an interesting approach as this ties McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics into a hip virtual-reality crossover between Lost and The Blair Witch project in an attempt to reach global youth in a very viral manner.

One thing remains very clear. The time of shotgun marketing has passed and the user is king when it comes to messaging. But one inherent truth still remains that people are social beings and their will almost always be someone who will have influence within a group. The only thing that has changed is that their defenses have gotten better and marketers have to adapt with innovative strategies that the end user ultimately wants to hear.

 

Spore Creature Creator

SporeI recently took a trip to London for business to discuss social media strategy with members of the Eidos Interactive team as well as our friends at Electronic Arts (Europe) at their new offices in Guildford. Aside from getting a sneak peek at some of the great upcoming titles one in particular was very interesting!

I have mentioned Spore before but as the launch of the game gets closer more is revealed. To recap the games premise, you nurture and guide your creature through five stages of evolution: Cell, Creature, Tribe, Civilization, and Space. One of the most amazing elements of the game is the creature creator which allows for endless customization options that can then be uploaded into the game.

While onsite at EA this was the tool that we were able to spend some time with. You have 228 drag-and-drop components to choose from that allow for a variety of unique creations. You have the ability to customize their look and feel from skeletal structure through eyes, legs, tails, colors etc… Then you can take them to the edit area to control the background, add babies, rotate them 360 degrees, preview animations and movements and take pictures of your creations.You manage a majority of your creations through the Sporepedia and have the option to upload your characters for others to see (My Spore User Name is TheBlackFin).

Now the creature creator has been released I highly recommend either playing with the trial or purchasing the creature creator to get a feel for the game. Also your creations can then be uploaded into the game upon release. From everything that I have seen so far this looks like it is going to be a great game. I am not a big PC gamer but Spore will definitely be on my list to pick up when it is released later this year.

Here is one of my original creations from our visit:

TheBlackFin - Creature onsite copy

Here is one of my first creature creations from the trial:

TheBlackFin_Spore Creatures

The Art of War

artofwarWhile recently traveling to LA I picked up a copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Translation by Thomas Cleary… Shambhala Dragon Editions). This has always been one of my favorite strategy/business books as it is amazing to me how applicable 6th century BC teachings outlining success in battle are to current day business and corporate culture.

What I really admire is that success even then was defined by more than winning. Winning is key in today’s corporate culture but many people differ on their thoughts and approaches to achieving victory.

It was very interesting to revisit the importance of the human element specifically the human psyche and how vital “fullness” is to success on the battlefield and the boardroom.

Some of the other interesting concepts are as follows:

One of the principles outlined was the importance of “fullness”. Fullness is when leadership and subordinates are of like mind and operate together. Emptiness is the presence of rifts and dissatisfaction within the team. If this exists it is difficult to achieve the overall objective. It is important to empower your team so that “fullness” may be realized.

Regarding leadership “Leaders plan in the beginning when they do things” and “Leaders consider problems and prevent them”. This speaks to the importance of planning and having a clear understanding of more than just what is directly in front of you.

In terms of defining leadership Sun Tzu stated that Leadership is a matter of intelligence (plan and know) , trustworthiness , humaneness (Compassion), courage (Seize opportunities to make certain of victory), and sternness (establish discipline).

Make yourself invincible, and then watch for vulnerability in their opponents. This really speaks to the importance of knowing yourself, strengths and weaknesses. Thus recognize areas where you are weak and make them strong.

The success of military operations was dependent on the harmony of the people. This is directly applicable to business today as those in harmony will contribute naturally, without being exhorted to do so.

And finally it is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached individual who wins. Not those seeking vengeance or ambitious seekers of fortune.

“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.”

If you have not read it I would recommend it. It is a quick read and it is interesting to see how little has actually changed in terms of what is required to be successful in any competitive situation.

Skate 2 & Skate It

skateIt is now official to discuss that Electronic Arts Skate franchise will release 2 new titles.

Skate It for the Wii leveraging the Wii fitboard will arrive late in 2008 and the highly anticipated Skate 2 for the 360 will hit stores in 2009.

In mid April I was in Vancouver meeting with various EA teams at their Blackbox Studio including members of the Skate team. I had the opportunity to play an early build of Skate 2 on the 360 and it was phenomenal. More details to come once made public by EA.

Otherwise, Vancouver was great. In fact some of the best coffee that I have had in a long time was at Caffe Artigiano.

Proximity Marketing

apple-iphoneI recently attended a customer brand loyalty summit and saw some interesting things & met some very interesting people. One of the topics discussed during a networking session was the next progression associated with marketing and mobile devices.

A lot of us are glued to our phones (Or iPhones) as I have talked about before. With more and more consolidation of devices it is not a leap that the next progression will extend from the device being the primary focus of reach to incorporate other services around the device.

Soon your mobile device will go from being your portable music player/phone/organizer to housing digital coupons, boarding passes for flights and credit cards (bye bye wallet). This is already prevalant in tech-centric societies such as Japan, but with the mobile adoption rates at the highest they have ever been here domestically combined with an increase in the level of sophistication and comfort from end-users, more and more emphasis will be put on mobile devices.

From a marketing perspective this can become very interesting. We have seen the shift from mass marketing to individual marketing where the user is now king (or queen) in controlling the messages that they want to see. The next step in proximity marketing is to have users opt in to their likes and allow for the location or an event to market to the user when they reach a certain proximity to a location.

For example. I drink a lot of Starbucks. I can opt in that I like Starbucks. The next time I am driving/walking close to a Starbucks I might receive a ringback reminding me that I am close to Starbucks and a Grande Green Tea Latte might be good at this point in time.

This will not work for all organizations but it is the next step in how marketers and brands will reach beyond traditional methods and delivery and further incorporate technology while respecting the end-users ability to choose the messages that allow in.

OMMA & Social Networking

I recently attended the OMMA Global marketing conference in Hollywood, California. Some of the top talent from the marketing industry was there recently to discuss the current state of online marketing, media and advertising. The Event featured a number of session tracks that each followed a specific category (e.g. media, advertising, etc..) as well as an expo that featured a wide array of organizations from social networking providers to Perez Hilton.

The focus of this two day event was to discuss the latest trends and technology that can enable marketers to excel in the ever-changing media landscape. Hot topics were how to apply social networking solutions into campaigns as well as a strong emphasis on monetization of widgets.

Some very interesting data was shared during the sessions such as in 2008 the rate of consumer adoption of social networking to internet users has reached 43.5%. Meaning 43.5% of users are involved with some type of social network. The issue for marketers though is that only 5.7% of marketing spend is being applied to reach these consumers through their social networks. With consumer adoption continuing to rise it is only a matter of time before the marketing spend around social networking solutions will begin to close the gap.

The #1 reason for the difference in % is an inherent lack of standard metric consistency. The old guard of methodology based on CTR (Click-Through-Rate) is not working for defining value around Social solutions. Focus on Social Analytics means that a big step has been taken in providing consistency by focusing not on CTR but on the actual commuinty data by providing in-depth analysis of the latest trends that lead to successfully defining ROI on a given campaign initiative.

Another interesting topic that was discussed was that there is a lot of channel confusion. Meaning a number of marketers do not fully understand how to deploy social media solutions. There are a number of options. White label & SaaS Social Networking platforms, User generated content specific applications, etc… my recommendation is to find a solution that provides an integrated platform with a flexible UI that allows for flexibility to deploy the applications that are relevant for your clients needs but one that also has a strong reporting engine as consistent metrics are the key to defining a successful campaign. Also, depending on your client you may want to position a solution that scales to meet the potential demand.

Finally, one of the other hot topics of discussion around marketing and social networking was the concern around communication control. There is uncertainty about how to manage brand messages when deploying social media solutions. As Rob Howard has stated before, conversations matter. Your customers are going to talk about you whether you have a social networking presence or not. There are ways to control communication such as positioning moderated blogs instead of more collaborative applications where the organization is controlling more of the publishing and the user has less control over the brand. But ultimately we have found that transparency can be a very good thing for businesses as it can reveal a face to the brand that might otherwise miss the crucial connection with end users who are in even more control of the messages that they receive.

It appears that social networking applied to business is about to truly enter the mainstream in terms of marketing budget allocations as the consumers have spoken and shown that they are interested in this style of collaboration. The challenge for the marketers is to develop engaging campaigns that compliment the daily activities of users. One thing is for certain though it is going to be a fun ride!

Community Server 2008 Logo Unveiled

One of the fun parts of my job is that I work closely with our Creative and
Marketing teams in defining the direction of the various brands for our
products. After a number of cycles the team has unveiled the new Community
Server
2008 logo.

Community Server 2008

I am very excited about the progression of the brand over the past few years. I
feel like this iteration is a good representation of what Community Server is
all about.

Great work guys!

Interview with Major Nelson

During GDC 2008 I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox Live team. Larry is the Director of Xbox Live Programming and is the author of one of the most popular gaming blogs on the web. Between posts, blogcasts and twitter Major keeps everyone up to date on the latest information on all things Xbox.

The focus of the interview was to get Larry’s thoughts on the keys to his success as well as his thoughts around social media and the future.

TheBlackFin: You have one of the highest trafficked blogs on the web today. What has been the key to your success?

Major Nelson: Since the beginning this has been about being a part of the conversation. With any blogging the ability to connect with the audience with relevant content is the key to success.

TheBlackFin: Describe some of the interesting trends that you have seen with your blog from the time you originally published it through today.

Major Nelson: The integration of the gamertag has been key since the beginning . The ability for gamers to publish their gamertag and tie in to the Xbox achievement system and publically display their gamerscore has been one of the most important elements to building community around Xbox gaming.

TheBlackFin: How do you think your blog has enhanced the Xbox Live brand?

Major Nelson: The blog has allowed us to have a conversation.  As one of the highest trafficked gaming blogs doing podcasts and blogging it has enabled real time communication. As you know this audience is rabid about information and they want to consume it in almost real time.

TheBlackFin: In your opinion… What impact has social networking and community in general had on the gaming industry?

Major Nelson: Social Networking has had a phenomenal impact on the industry. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Xbox Live is a premier social network. Everyday hundreds of thousands of users log on to play with their friends, compare gamer scores and connect with other gamers. With the integration between the consoles and Xbox.com it extends the experience beyond the console.  Also a lot of external applications are now picking up gaming data… you see different applications on MySpace and Facebook.

TheBlackFin: What publisher and game title has been successful in deploying a good social networking gaming experience?

Major Nelson: Without a doubt it would be Bungie and Halo. Online and offline what bungie has done to include the community has just been amazing.

TheBlackFin: What are your predictions around social networking trends and gaming in the next few years?

Major Nelson: I think we are going to see more of the game/web interaction like Bungie has done with Halo and Electronic Arts with Skate. Look at how they take in game data and spray it back to the web and allow users to collaborate with it. What Bungie has done is the tip of the iceberg. More and more publishers are recognizing the value of having a seamless experience between the game and the web.

Me with “the Major” @ GDC 2008
Tom Edwards with Major Nelson

GDC 2008 – Expo Day 1

GDC2008The 2008 Game Developer Conference has been a great conference so far. Most of the major industry players are here. Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, Disney, Ubisoft, Activison and a host others. After the first few days of the conference focused on a number of sessions and events today marked the beginning of the Expo portion of the conference.

The technology that was on display was cutting edge and amazing. From motion capture demonstrations to the latest in animation technology including demonstrations by Natural Motion of their Dynamic Motion Synthesis Euphoria product which will be big role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto IV. To a host of demonstrations from organizations that are looking to take gaming to the next level. From brain wave centric gaming to you as the controller the evolution of gaming is close at hand.

G4 and the X-Play team are here broadcasting as well as Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb. This has been a very informative event thus far and I look forward to tomorrows sessions, hitting the expo floor again and meeting with the EA team.

There will be more photos posted in the photo gallery soon.

Me with a Big Daddy from Bioshock
Tom Edwards with Big Daddy from Bioshock - Blog

GDC 2008

GDC2008I am in transit to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference 2008.

I look forward to the numerous sessions and networking as well as all of the latest and greatest gaming demonstrations during the expo portion of the conference.

On Wednesday I will begin my blog coverage of GDC 2008 as that is when the Expo gets underway.

On deck is an interview with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb discussing his thoughts about the impact of Social Networking and gaming as well as insight into the keys to success of his blog.

Nike Super Bowl Event

Tonight was the Nike Super Bowl Event and it was the highlight of the trip thus far. A special thanks to BK for the invite and introduction to AD that made the trip for me. Basically any athlete that is associated with Nike Football or will be associated with Nike Football was at this particular event along with Nike corporate as well as a few of our friends from Microsoft.

The list was impressive: Adrian Peterson, Ben Roethlisberger, Jim Kelly, Warrick Dunn, Desmond Howard, and T.J. Houshmanzada to name a few. Others in attendance, Alice Cooper and Cowboy Troy.

When not focusing on business I spent time talking to Sooner Alumni and current Chicago Bear JD Runnels and current OU TE Joe John Finley and of course with Adrian Peterson. For those that don’t know me I bleed crimson and cream and the opportunity to meet one of the greatest Sooner running backs of all time was worth the trip.

Tom Edwards with Adrian Peterson - 640

Golf with The Gridiron Greats

Besides Madden Bowl XIV yesterday it was day two of assisting the Gridiron Greats cause. The morning brought a very moving press conference with 50 Gridiron Greats, 35 of which are Hall of Fame players. They gave moving testimony as Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, and Michael Irvin all spoke about why this means so much to so many former players.

Later in the day brought the Gridiron Greats Golf event where the grand prize was a pair of Super Bowl XLII tickets. During the awards ceremony I had the priviledge to speak with Mike Ditka, Jim Marshall, and Jan Stenerud about their thoughts around the current situation facing those players left to fend for themselves.

This has been a great experience in that the passion that these men feel for this issue really comes through in their words. There are times when tears begin to gather and emotions start running high. These men, especially the older players paved the way and made the game what it is today. They gave their bodies and did not receive the generous salaries of today’s players. It is amazing how much this organization has accomplished in just one short year. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Mike Ditka
Ditka 2 - 640

Jan Stenerud
Jan Stenerud - 640

Madden Bowl XIV

Madden Bowl - XIVTonight was the invite only Madden Bowl XIV put on by the Electronic Arts Tiburon team. It was a great event. A number of NFL stars squared off to see who would be the Madden Bowl XIV champ. Kellen Winslow Jr., Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch, Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, Jason Whitten and others all virtually took the field to see who would win the coveted Madden Bowl trophy.

After a few rounds the finals came down to Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch. McGahee took home the coveted Madden Trophy 43-7.

The event was being blogged live by Will “Raczilla” Kinsler, Madden community manager.

Will Kinsler - 640

Also, It was great to hang out with Mike “MJ” Johnson (Below) and Reg Hamlett of EA Sports and all of their associates during the event.

Tom Edwards - MJ

Super Bowl XLII

gridironIt has been confirmed that I will be going to Arizona for a week of events for Super Bowl XLII.

I will be supporting the Gridiron Greats assistance fund. The fund was created by Mike Ditka, Willie Davis, Harry Carson, Gale Sayers and others. The fund benefits retired players in need.

The Super Bowl XLII events will bring together the largest gathering of NFL legends and Hall of Famers to date. Some of the attendees will include the likes of Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Marshall Faulk, Gale Sayers and over 50 others. This is a great cause and we wanted to provide support by offering our products and services.

The week will be filled with events which will include Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats dinner of champions, Gridiron Greats Golf Event, Celebrity Poker Event and a Gridiron Greats Super Jam and I will bring you blog coverage from the various events as present and past NFL players blog about the events on our platform.

In addition to the Gridiron Greats there will be the NFL Experience theme events,  an invite to a Nike Event and an invite to EA’s Madden Bowl (Thanks MJ) that will also be on the agenda.

It should be a great week!

GDC 2008

GDC2008I confirmed today that I will be attending the 2008 Game Developer Conference February 18-22 in San Francisco.

I am very excited about attending as outside of the networking and expo portion the key areas that I am interested in are the business and management topics of “Make the Community Part of Halo” and advertising and games.

The “Make the Community Part of Halo” discussions are very key as it talks about the bungie.net experience and how they worked to make community an integral part of the game itself.

I have worked with Microsoft Game Studios, Ensemble Studios and of course Electronic Arts on the Skate and NFS ProStreet titles fall along the same lines. So if you are attending the event let me know and we will schedule some time to sync during the conference.

Mike Ditka’s Dinner of Champions

Today kicked off a series of events here in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am here to support the Gridiron Greats throughout the week for various events. Tonight kicked off with Mike Ditka’s Dinner of Champions. With over 50 NFL legends in attendance this was one of the largest gatherings of NFL HOF players all to support a very worthy cause.

During the event I served as the blogging admin for http://blog.gridirongreats.org and assisted various NFL legends including Gale Sayers, Mel Renfro, and Tim Harris as well as other NFL players such as Daryl “Moose” Johnston, Andre Reed, and Kyle Turley discuss their thoughts about the current issues facing retired NFL players today.

Mike Ditka
Tom Edwards - Mike Ditka - 640

Gale Sayers
Tom Edwards - Gale Sayers - 640

Daryl “Moose” Johnston
Tom Edwards - Daryl Moose Johnston - 640

CES 2008 In Closing

It is great to be back in Dallas! CES 2008 was a great event. From the Bill Gates hilarious “last day video” to all of the robots, gadgets and celebrities. CES is a definite must attend event for any tech/gadget lover.

Being the avid gamer that I am I was disappointed that there was not a larger presence from the gaming industry on hand for the event. The show was dominated by Home and Audio products. There was a “gaming showcase” area but it was mainly filled with resellers and start-ups. There was not a lot to be seen. Granted CES occurs after E3 but it would have been nice to have more of a presence. The only major studio that I saw was Activision and they had a very small presence at the event.

One of the most impressive sites of the show was a “life size” version of the Autobot Bumblebee on the showroom floor. The level of detail and the scale of the piece definitely made you take notice.

Tom Edwards with Bumblebee

The only issue if you can call it one is that you definitely notice that there are 130,000 people in a confined space. There are times when you are pretty packed into a small space all vying for a glimpse of the latest and greatest but you have time to see all that you want to see.

Until Next year… Viva Las Vegas… Thank you… Thank you very much!!!

Tom Edwards with Elvis

CES Day 3

Coming to you live from Las Vegas at CES 2008. Today was another good day. After some early meetings with the Microsoft Vista team and the High Tech team it was on to the convention floor for additional networking.

There were 35 football fields worth of booths and exhibits. There was a very large focus on Audio and Home Theater with some of the best booth experiences coming from Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Sharp. Others went for sheer size…. Sony, Microsoft, Intel and HP all had significant space dedicated to them. There were some truly amazing products and innovations. LG had the thinnest flat screen television that I have ever seen and the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD was being waged on the showroom floor. I will be posting a number of photos from the event in the photo gallery soon.

There was a lot to see as business was conducted on the show floor. I also had the opportunity to meet up with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb today as well as we discussed next steps regarding his blog. It is always great to talk to Larry. Be sure to check out his blog and podcast. He is the insider for all things Xbox.

Tomorrow will be my last day at the event and it will be the final push through the crowds of people and booths. It has been a great event so far and I look forward to talking to my targeted list of booths to close out the event.

Me with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb at CES 2008
Tom Edwards with MajorNelson

CES Day 2

Hello from Las Vegas. Today was another eventful day in Las Vegas. For most of the day I met again with the Microsoft High Tech Sales teams. Later in the day we did hit the expo floor here in the Venetian. The Panasonic “life wall” presentation was the most impressive of the day.

About 10% of the expo resides in the venetian but it was still as large of an expo as most standard conferences. There were all types of devices from Robots to data storage to replica Halo 3 plasma rifles. It was good to network and to see all of the great items. I have to say though there has been a serious lack of swag thus far. Of course with 130,000 attendees the goodies are few and far between.

Tomorrow we will hit the main expo hall. I will meet with Major Nelson as well as some other pre-arranged meetings. It should be a great day!!!

CES Day 1

Coming to you live from the Palazzo in Las Vegas… Day one is now in the books. Registration, networking and Rock Band were the orders of the day.

The focus of today was to meet with all of the Microsoft Sales reps that service the High Tech industry (~125 in attendance). After watching Bill Gates final keynote speech it was on to the Rock Band rock off. For those of you that don’t know Rock Band think Guitar Hero with drums and karaoke. We were to recruit members from the Microsoft to join our band and me and 3 Microsoftees made it to the finals. We put up the highest score of the night in the final during our set but ultimately lost the title (and the custom Zune prizes) to a team of seasoned Rock Band veterans. It was still a lot of fun though!

Tomorrow will be more networking with the Microsoft teams and then on to the CES expo hall as well as a meeting with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox team.

So far the conference has gotten off to a good start. Below is a pic of our “band” that’s me with the glasses on lead guitar :P.

Tom Edwards - CES 2008 Rock Band Battle - 1