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.

London & Intel

intelWhat do London and Intel have in common? Well I find myself in London during one of the largest announcements that Telligent has ever made.

Today we officially announced that Intel Capital, Intel’s global investment organization, has made a $20 million dollar investment in Telligent. You can read the full press release here.

This is significant as Rob points out in his recent post as it will allow us to quickly scale our sales & marketing divisions as well as fund additional product development moving forward.

I am very excited by this obviously as I am responsible for both Sales & Marketing within Telligent. So the strategic plans that we have been devising for the past few months are now coming to fruition through strategic growth both domestically with a greater field presence as well as internationally.

I had recently hired our International Sales Director in London and he has been a phenomenal addition to the team. Our International sales headquarters has been based in London for the past few months now and while I am here we are finalizing our office space in central London and looking to aggressively grow our presence in EU and beyond.
AdTech London
Also, if you happen to be in the area, I will be speaking at AdTech London 2008 this Thursday at 3:10. Or just come by and see me at the Telligent booth we are in space #110.

This is a very exciting time to be a part of the Telligent team and I look forward to the next few years as we execute against our strategic plan and aggressively grow the business while maintaining the unique culture that is Telligent.

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

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.

Community Server 2008

On April 15th Telligent released Community Server 2008. Community Server is the platform that powers communities for the likes of Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Dell and the MySpace.com forums and is the platform of choice for thousands of community implementations.

In addition to the new release a new site now accompanies the release. The base URL has shifted from communityserver.org now to communityserver.com.

Community Server 2008 features some significant additions to an already robust platform.

Some of the new features include:

  • Groups/Social circles (Think micro-communities)
  • Enterprise Reporting & Analytics with the new Harvest Reporting Server
  • SharePoint integration (This is big!!!)
  • A full Web Services stack
  • Social Streams (Activity Feeds)
  • Media Galleries that can easily share content published within the community or external sources
  • Enterprise File Storage
  • Widgets, widgets and more widgets
  • OpenID support
  • As well as enhancements to the blogs and forums applications as well as a revamp of the control panel

Community Server 2008 is the best integrated social networking/community platform available. Not only from a feature and technology standpoint, but also based on Telligent’s investment in reporting and analytics.

As I have mentioned before one of the biggest barriers to implementing a social networking solution is the lack of consistent metrics. With Harvest Reporting Server we have taken a major step in providing a model to assist in the calculation of ROI around community.

Definitely give it a go. You can download the free express edition here.

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!

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

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!

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

How Much??? Really?!?

How much do we spend in the US on advertising? Well in 2007 we spent 283 billion dollars. Yes 283 billion. 

That may sound like a lot but this level of growth 0.7% versus 2006 puts advertising’s share of the 2007 GDP (2%) at it’s lowest level since the recession year of 1982. 

Even with an uncertain market advertising spend is projecting a 3% growth in 2008 fueled by the Summer Olympics and the Presidential Elections. Being interested in online spending I am very interested in the 2008 projections.

Below is breakdown of the 2008 projections. The data was based on a December 2007 report from Universal McCann’s Robert J. Coen as presented in the December 31st issue of Advertising Age.

  1. Direct Mail – $63B
  2. Broadcast TV – $48B
  3. Newspaper – $42B
  4. Cable TV Networks – $21B
  5. Radio – $18B
  6. Yellow Pages – $14B
  7. Consumer Magazine – $14B
  8. Internet – $12B
  9. All Other – $58B 

What may be surprising is the fact that online spending ranks 8th. Being in the industry our natural assumption is that online spending is in the top 3. With that said though this segment over the past few years has had double digit growth and is projected at a 16.5% increase from 2007. The next closest in terms of growth will be spend on Cable TV at a 6% increase.

The flip side is the reduction in spend on traditional mediums such as newspaper which is actually seeing a decrease of -1.8% of spend as compared to 2007 and Radio which is only seeing a 0.2% increase.

With the recent trends in online spending continuing to increase. The success of Google’s AdWords system and now with Microsoft commiting to a marketing focus now is the time to focus attention on the medium. 

This translates to very good news for online solutions and providers as well. Especially around social media based solutions. The need for social interaction with customers and users has now fully proliferated traditional business and the marketing dollars are now being fully allocated to deploying collaborative solutions as part of their integrated marketing strategy. I see this trend continuing into the near future.

CSDC Live Blogging

This weekend was the first annual Community Server Developer Conference. With around 100 attendees from all over the world discussing development on the Community Server platform as well as sneak previews of upcoming Telligent products it comes as no surprise that there are live updates from the event. 

Kevin Harder was keeping everyone not attending in person up-to-date via his blog. Here are the posts from Saturday morning session and afternoon and here is the post covering Sunday’s sessions. There was a lot of really good information around Community Server including dynamic skinning and theming, and many sessions highlighting items from the upcoming Community Server 2008 release including groups, widgets and the newly created CS web services stack. Other sessions highlighted our upcoming CMS Graffiti, and one of the items I am very excited about, Enterprise Reporting.

The sessions were recorded and will be available very soon.

csdc

MySpace & Community Server

Over the past year we have been working with the MySpace.com team to position Community Server as the engine to the MySpace.com forums. Recently the MySpace.com team launched the Community Server powered forums.

From a scalability perspective this posed some unique usage scenarios as MySpace features 70 MILLION users. So when potential clients ask about scalability of the platform we can point to MySpace.com as the example.

The MySpace.com solution went through heavy optimization and is deployed across MySpace.com’s vast server farm to support that level of load. For our more traditional high load sites the CS product team is working to fork the Community Server codebase to introduce new best practices associated with high load communities that will add a lot of value moving forward. Look for this release to coincide with the Community Server 2008 release. 

In the following video our resident film maker Adonis Bitar has published the latest Tellicast discussing our recent partnership with GoDaddy’s “Metropolis” initiative and I talk about how MySpace.com is leveraging Community Server as well as some tips on which Community Server license makes the most sense based on your community size.

MySpace

Software + Services

There has been a lot of hype around Software as a Service of late. A number of people in the know say this is the future of business. If we have learned anything over the past few years it is customers want a choice.

You will always have the innovators and early adopters setting the pace for technology adoption. But when you hit the early majority you will have to understand that the latest and greatest is not always what is needed or wanted. Therefore as a solution provider in order to gain a true competitive advantage you need to have a blended offering.

From a software perspective that means in order to maximize your potential you need to offer products that meet the needs of both sides of the spectrum. From an on-premise implementation that allows enterprise level players to have the ultimate control and integration that they desire to the mid-size organization that does not want the responsibility of maintaining the infrastructure associated with the offering.

We at Telligent are very aware of this and one of our biggest advantages is our ability to tailor our solutions to adhere to both scenarios. We are as hand’s on as our clients need us to be. We can provide a fully managed solution including customization of the Community Server platform, professional services and creative, or we can offer just licensing, software assurance and support. This has enabled us to be on the forefront of online collaborative solutions and work with some of the biggest names and brands across multiple verticals.

Community ROI

Changes have been in the works over the past few years, dramatic changes and challenges are beginning to have an effect on traditional business. You look at software as a service (SaaS), service oriented architecture, and especially Web 2.0 and how organizations are trying to define new strategies. From my perspective, I focus a lot of time around discussing Web 2.0 and the value to traditional business. 

Some of the common questions that are raised are: how do I calculate ROI around community? What are the contributing factors? How do I know that it is truly beneficial for me to have a community vs. not having one? The most common mistake when calculating ROI around community is to focus solely on the activity of the community. Things like unique visitors, page views, session time, community click throughs, read-to-post ratios, are all very useful in defining the health of a community, but they alone do not translate into a tangible business value that you can hang your hat on. When reviewing ROI you have to look at economic indicators such as the incremental value of the community and conversion rates.

Incremental Value is the difference between the value created by a business with an online community and the estimated value that the business would generate in the absence of community. There are a few guidelines that serve as baseline factors when calculating ROI. Research shows that Community members make up only 5% of the overall customer base, but this group accounts for 30% of the purchases and average transaction size is twice as large for community members as for non-community members. One of the biggest factors in calculating Incremental value is the referral factor. Community members are twice as likely to refer others to the site and the retention rates are 50% longer for community members than for non-community members.

With that in mind I began the process of creating a formula that took into consideration variables such as Advertising Dollars, Potential Market, Current Market Over Time and Direct and Indirect Growth to both Community and Non-community Members as well as accounting for retention and Word of Mouth. The end result is the following:

(A+(Nt/M) (b)) (M-Nt) = Community Member
(A’+(Nt‘/M’) (b’)) (M’-Nt‘) = Non-Community Member

Here are the variables
A= Advertising Dollars
M=Potential Market
Nt=Current Market over time
b= Direct Growth + Indirect Growth (CMs)
b’= Direct Growth + Indirect Growth (NCM)
r = Retention = 10% or .1
w= Word of Mouth Referral = 5% or .05
c= Content = 5% or .05

b = referral + 2(.005) = r + 0.0115
b’ = referral + (.005) = r + 0.01/2

So with this in mind you can look at this practical example:

Nt/M (M-Nt)

Nt= 10,000
M= 1,000,000

10,000/1,000,000 (b) (1,000,000 – 10,000)
b/10 (990,000)                                           

b=.1 + 2(.05) + .05 = .25                             b= r + 2w + c
b’= .1/2 + .05 = .1                                       b’ = r/2 + w

CM (10K, 1,000K) = (.25)(99,000) + 10,000 = 34,750
NCM (10K, 1,000K) = .1(99,000) + 10,000 = 19,900

Thus based on the criteria referenced above, having a community will yield a 74% increase over time as compared to not having a community based on the sample size.

In future posts I will look at another example of ROI calculation based on the average value of a Non-Community Member compared to the value of a Community Member. This will focus on monetizing the community and assumes a product based community. This requires an understanding of the average transaction per customer, total customers (projected or actual), potential market and the current conversion rates of the product. I will also review how Subject Matter Experts and Word of Mouth is calculated to come up with the 5% referenced above.

 

 

Viral Marketing & SMO

Viral Marketing is now one of the most powerful ways to market online. The key to viral success comes down to interruption vs. invitation. Traditional media such as television has the potential to reach hundreds of millions but the message may not resonate or be clearly discerned by the prospective target audience due to the “noise” and passive positioning associated with this type of delivery. The beauty of viral messaging is that it has a much better chance to get the users attention as the message is either coming from a trusted source, a recommendation, or meets the search criteria defined by the user.  Also, this type of message is available on-demand which gives the user ultimate control over when and where consumption occurs.

One viral aspect that is getting a lot of attention is online video. If you are reading this you have more than likely viewed a user created video on YouTube or some other site and you are not alone.  Online video is beginning to garner more attention from average viewers with 4% of people over the age of 18 watching videos daily and another 14% watching at least once a week. Research shows more organizations will be shifting marketing dollars to producing and positioning online videos. The reason for the shift is that video ads show a propensity to generate higher ad interaction and longer ad viewing (2/3 of the way through on average) this in turn leads to higher click-through rates.

So as an organization you may be thinking about focusing on online video or maybe you are looking to tie into user generated content and incorporate your advertising. If so, you need to focus on a few key factors. As with any type of marketing activity consistency is the key. Ensure that you are intrinsically linked to your brand, your video should require online interactivity and it needs to have synergy with offline marketing material. The other key factor revolves around the concept of Social Media Optimization or SMO.

SMO is the process of optimizing your online media presence by becoming more visible through searches within online communities and community web sites. The concept of SMO is to increase the chances of your video being distributed more widely through community search engines. This is very important as this is the key driver for this type of viral strategy.

As you consider your viral strategy it may become clear that you need a solid community presence associated with your brand. This is where branded community offerings can be applicable. Integrated platform (Blogs, Forums, File, Photo Galleries, Video & Podcast support, RSS) that streamline the positioning of an online community. Let me know if we can assist you with your community or viral marketing needs. We would be more than happy to assist. Feel free to contact me with questions at tedwards@blackfin360.com