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