In The News: Chatbots & E-Commerce

I was recently asked by ClickZ for commentary about what role chatbots can play for e-commerce.

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Are Chatbots the future or fad?

 I am a believer that chatbots are a key element in the creation of conversational user experiences and will become core to the messaging experience. Chatbots will introduce new interaction models with new rules of engagement and capabilities that will flow seamlessly based on user interactions vs. installing and swapping between multiple apps.

A messenger chatbot ecosystem could rival and ultimately replace traditional app marketplaces and conversational chatbots, be it artificial intelligence or a bot augmented by humans will become the new standard for content delivery, experiences and transactions.

We view messaging apps as the new brand portal, conversational user experiences are the new interface and chatbots are the new apps. What makes this approach unique is it’s permission based, contextually relevant, immediate and native to mobile.

How can brands use chatbots to enhance their ecommerce?

Conversational commerce will be a key value proposition from messaging platforms. Our Epsilon research shows that messaging significantly impacts purchasing behaviors. Notably, consumers take photos, screenshots, and conduct video chats in real time to seek out assistance during their shopping process.

Brands can build bots with topical response decision trees that align with creating seamless paths to products and services. An example is how Sephora recently partnered with Kik to create a bot driven experience that led a customer through a personalized journey that ends with conversion directly within the conversation.

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With Facebook’s upcoming launch of 3rd party chatbot support, they are empowering chatbot developers with tools to create structured messages that include images, descriptions, call-to-action and URL’s to connect conversation to commerce.

The key for brands to understand is that for now Chatbots are domain specific vs. general intelligence. This means that there is an opportunity to capture data upfront to establish a frictionless and personalized experience for consumers.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

Mobile is the First Screen for Millennial Marketing

I was recently asked to provide commentary about social media usage growing on mobile as well as how this impacts millennial marketing. Below is a recap of the conversation.

With the rise in social media usage on mobile, what is the key takeaway for marketers, particularly in what they should be doing to reach millennial consumers?

(Tom Edwards) We understand that mobile is the first screen and that multi-screening is second nature so we look to create integrated experiences that are clear, consistent and recognizable that is designed to be authentic and relevant and always mobile first.

We also understand that for millennials we have to speak visually. Visual language is supplanting the need for text. Whether it’s photos, stickers, emoji or memes visual is a powerful way to deliver a message as well allow for greater flexibility and ownable identity.

Visual Language Meme

Final approach is to treat them as individuals there are different life stages and behaviors across the age range. It’s important to provide as much customization and personalization at the right time on the right platform.

The Temkin Group released a new Social Media Benchmark Study that examines the impact of social and mobile behaviors on 18-24 and it showed decreases in desktop and increased social consumption via mobile. Why?

(Tom) In a recent Facebook briefing, their insights team shared that 60% of 13-24 year olds would rather give up their television than their mobile phones.

Mobile is the enabler of their lives, connection with friends, family, entertainment and the world. Mobile allows them to quickly amplify their personalities.

MLB At Bat

To them, all the world is a screen and we have to adapt and treat them as individuals and personalize messaging at the right time on the right mobile platforms in an authentic and relevant way.

How do you interpret only a small increase in daily Facebook access? What are the implications for marketers?

(Tom) Facebook’s approach is to continue to diversify their positioning to reach millennial consumers. As they move towards a family of apps strategy, where each platform has a specific role, instagram = community, whatsapp = simple 1:1 chat, messenger = enhanced messaging and 1:1 commerce.

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It is not surprising to see the small increase in daily Facebook access compared to larger growth on other platforms. Facebook is focused on creating relevant avenues for consumers to connect and interact with every facet of their world through applications that meet specific use cases.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

 

Evolution of Social Media Marketing

Here is a preview of my latest take on the evolution of social media marketing.

 

The presentation starts with a trip down memory lane by reviewing the rise of social media platforms across the globe.

Evolution of Social Marketing Timelines - Tom Edwards

Next is a look at the impact social media trends have had on consumer behavior. Everything from viral videos, #selfies and the rise of YouTube celebrities.

Evolution of Social Media Trends - Tom Edwards

Then focus shifts to the evolution of social marketing globally and the role that content plays in today’s social marketing programs.

Evolution of Social Marketing Content - Tom Edwards

The journey wraps with a look at the future state of social marketing.

Evolution of Social Marketing Future - Tom Edwards

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Instagram Ads are Here

Instagram just announced upcoming support for video and image based ad support. This move was inevitable based on Facebook’s ownership of the platform. This announcement is also very timely considering Twitter’s upcoming IPO.

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Here are a few of the details from their announcement:

In the next couple months, you may begin seeing an occasional ad in your Instagram feed if you’re in the United States. Seeing photos and videos from brands you don’t follow will be new, so we’ll start slow. We’ll focus on delivering a small number of beautiful, high-quality photos and videos from a handful of brands that are already great members of the Instagram community.

Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands. After all, our team doesn’t just build Instagram, we use it each and every day. We want these ads to be enjoyable and creative in much the same way you see engaging, high-quality ads when you flip through your favorite magazine.

We’ll also make sure you have control. If you see an ad you don’t like, you’ll be able to hide it and provide feedback about what didn’t feel right. We’re relying on your input to help us continually improve the Instagram experience. As always, you own your own photos and videos. The introduction of advertising won’t change this.

With so much of Facebook’s focus on in-stream engagement and discussions tied to interactive units in stream on Facebook, it will be very interesting to see how users will respond to the new ad types. The Instagram experience is primarily delivered via Mobile, with a single image feed. By injecting units in this environment, it increases the disruption to the end user so it will be very important to see how the ads are delivered and what considerations or potential changes to the feed will be made to support the new ad types while maintaining a clean user experience.

From a brand perspective this is a welcome addition as the ability to extend a cross-platform campaign that incorporates Instagram ad support can be a key reach driver for certain types of campaigns. It is also a natural assumption that best practices from Facebook’s advertising platform will make its way into Instagram ad support as the ability to drive relevant targeting will be a key point of consideration for adoption.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Facebook News Feed Announcement

Today Facebook held an event to announce the first major change to the Facebook News Feed in six years. The theme reinforced by the Facebook team was reduction of clutter by providing more choice and control over the content and stories users will see in their feeds.

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From the beginning, our goal with News Feed was different from any other social service was trying to provide… You should be able to share any content that you want. Status updates, links, photos, etc… You should be able to share with any audience that you want, publicly, with the world, with just friends, or privately” – Mark Zuckerberg

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Here are feature highlights from today’s announcement:

The newly designed newsfeed will start rolling out in limited rollouts today with a focus on a “mobile first” design.

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The new design is heavily reliant on the ability to segment content by feed type allowing for more control:

  • All Friends will showcase everything your friends are sharing. This feed will highlight friend content and add a “facepile” type of overlay to the side of the story to show who has shared the content. Social connectivity is highlighted as the intersection of timeline & the newsfeed becomes more pervasive with the inclusion of friends “add a friend” which allows you to see more about that person directly in the news feed.

All Friends

  • Photos will provide a feed with nothing but photos from your friends and Brand Pages you like.

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  • Music a feed with posts about the music users listen to.

Music

  • Following, a feed with the latest news from the Pages you like and the people you follow, think of this as a Facebook “newspaper” feature.

Following

Within the News Feed design, photos are getting larger in the new design and attachments from links will also get more space. This will include a much larger image, a more prominent title, and a longer summary to accompany a linked story.

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This is great, but what does this mean as a brand? 

Visual Enablement: Further enabling visual storytelling and cross platform consistency are at the heart of the change. One of the forgotten elements previously is the brands cover photo. Yes, it will pop in the newsfeed when the image changes, but with the refresh the cover photo will be pulled into page “Like” stories in the news feed for both organic & paid. This will provide more context about the page, but also provides another opportunity for the brand to be relevant and engaging with their cover photo & profile photo combination. More frequent updates may be required to ensure that brands are maximizing their opportunities.

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Also note that when people and pages post photos, Facebook will try to display the caption on top of the image if the caption is legible and the image does not contain text and when the image is of sufficient size (at least 425x157px). This puts additional emphasis on either minimal or extremely engaging copy.

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Engagement: The core motivation of this revamp is focused solely on keeping users engaged by allowing more freedom and control over the platform and the information that is relevant for them. Facebook is positioning this change as a more engaging place for brand messages. The goal is to get more people spending time reading and interacting with the news feeds and this should beget more opportunities for us a marketers to reach & engage with our audience.

In my opinion it is too early to tell whether this is good or bad news for brands. The fear from a brand perspective is to lose engagement opportunities by being relegated to a lower visibility feed such as the “following” feed, which currently will not support paid at the initial rollout, but Facebook left it open for opportunities later this year.

Also, one key point to consider, the affinity & engagement of content is key in this new structure, as the more individuals engage with content, the higher the position within the feeds. Obviously this is a key attribute of EdgeRank, but engagement on a post level is still as important as ever. Facebook did confirm that as of now the change is mainly aesthetic for desktop and there will not be a change to Edgerank as it stands today, however this is something that continues to evolve and I would not be surprised if there are changes when the change is fully rolled out to the public.

Paid: The initial rollout will focus on better utilizing paid assets via incremental value adds vs. new streams tied to feeds . but Facebook did leave the door open for injected paid units into subsequent feeds such as “following”. Let’s fast forward for a moment, the new feeds will offer more opportunities to append paid for both small & large advertisers as a whole. The new model also reinforces spend on the post level to further drive visibility of content across feeds. It will be interesting to test media against feed types as units become available as the new design looks to further enhance existing units and offer more opportunities for engagement.

Example of new Page Post Ads

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Example of new Sponsored Ads
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Brand Reach & Visibility:  More real-estate should theoretically increase the throughput of branded content if it is optimized for EdgeRank. This also reinforces the importance of having a relevant content strategy that can maximize content distribution across the various feeds. The thought is that this change will net more visibility for brands moving forward. The key to increasing reach and visibility is to combine organic engagement and then amplify the content via paid that is driving engagement naturally. This Pwned Media approach will optimize paid while leveraging the best of organic engagement to propel content and further drive impactful brand reach & visibility.

The assumption on increased engagement through segmentation/multiple feeds may have an initial lag. The native user behavior of the primary newsfeed as the consumer catch-all and primary point of engagement will remain for awhile until users are reconditioned to filter feeds. One of the inherent benefits of the news feed over the last six years has been tied to the simplicity and minimal effort on behalf of the user to engage with content. It remains to be seen how much usage the secondary feed options will see in terms of interaction type.

Analytics:  From an analytics perspective, my hope is to also append feed distribution as an option to track content performance. This would then inform content decisions in addition to social interactions to further optimize content for optimal impact. As it stands today, Facebook has stated there will be no immediate impact on performance, and they will continue to monitor various performance metrics, including performance of Page posts and paid media.

Here is a link to Join the waiting list for the new News Feed.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Evolution of the Newsfeed

Today I met with one of my local Facebook team members as we were partnering on a client initiative and our conversation sparked an interesting thought about the future of newsfeed publishing and how brands should be thinking about maximizing their publishing strategies as Facebook’s platform continues to evolve.

I have recently written a number of posts on the subject of Facebook publishing from the intersection of Paid & Owned, the importance of visual storytelling and best practices for optimizing content. All of these topics are relevant to this conversation and further frame the importance of the following statement:

Everything happens in the newsfeed vs brand pages

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This was an incredibly simple statement that all of us who publish on behalf of brands sometimes take for granted. The numbers definitely back up the statement with 115 billion impressions served daily via desktop and 65 billion newsfeed impressions served daily via mobile.

Think about your own behavior when it comes to interacting with brand related content on Facebook. How often are you clicking through to a brands page to consume their content? This divide is even better visualized when it comes to users mobile interactions?

Where do you consume brand messages on the desktop?

Snickers Newsfeed

This becomes even more apparent via mobile!

Snickers mobile Newsfeed

The reality is most social interaction happens via the newsfeed. Interactions being likes, comments and shares. Most brands approach content publishing from the perspective that users come to the brands page and consume their content in a linear manner. The reality is brands need to create a publishing strategy that is optimized for Edgerank and based on deliberate content buckets that are relevant & engaging for the brands audience that can be consumed in a non-linear manner but still represent the core social persona of the brand. This requires a detailed strategy that is grounded in the core attributes of the brand that then leads to content pillars that are designed to maximize engagement.

The following graphic represents the % breakdown across interaction types.

Interactions

With so much consumption happening via the newsfeed, shouldn’t the in-stream experience/opportunities be as relevant and compelling as possible? This leads me to what I see as the next step in the evolution of brand publishing and that is going a step beyond visual storytelling and incorporating compelling interactive experiences to enhance the publishing strategy.

The recent announcement and coverage of Stipple’s Facebook support and subsequent usage by Justin Timberlake to provide interactive cover art is a glimpse into the future of newsfeed publishing.

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Interactive posting is not a new concept. I remember first seeing this executed by Vitrue’s platform back in 2011 via the Buffalo Wild Wings example below. Leveraging this type of interactive content publishing was one of the enabling factors that has driven Buffalo Wild Wings to acquire over 9 million fans. Their content strategy has led to an engagement rate of 4.8% over the last 30 days with over 477,000 interactions. Having a point of differentiation in-stream has led to positive results for the brand.

Buffalo Wild Wings

The number of vendors supporting interactive posting in-stream has grown since 2011 with shops such as Shop Igniter providing solutions that are optimized to support rich interactive in-stream campaigns to drive lead generation, giveaways, promotions, etc…

Fiat In-Stream

The real key point of differentiation now vs. then is the ability to create immersive newsfeed experiences for both desktop & mobile by leveraging responsive design. Now it becomes easier to publish across both desktop & mobile to drive in-stream & even in-app (Facebook’s app) interaction.

The example below shows an example from Shop Igniter’s platform that enables in-stream video that then drives to a mobile optimized experience based on responsive design that allows the flexibility of staying within the application, but also allows the addition of an action object in the experience that extends the reach of a users action beyond the newsfeed into the activity ticker. This is a key element to further drive distribution and discoverability of content as well as the fact that the newsfeed does not support action objects directly.

GoPro

The GoPro example is a great example of a light weight execution that does not rely on driving to an end destination to generate engagement & story creation. This in my mind is the next evolution of content publishing in-stream.

Similar to the evolution of static banners to rich media, creating compelling content that is optimized for EdgeRank, light weight in design and contains the experience within the existing stream and Facebook application across both desktop and mobile that also taps into the social graph to append actions is an ideal addition to an owned content strategy.

This also maximizes the principles of real-time paid amplification that I have discussed in the past because these are actual posts being created on Facebook’s platform that can fit seamlessly into a paid media strategy.

The other benefit to this type of publishing is the engagement data on the content level that can drive further optimization of content moving forward. By tracking impressions, engagement rate and social actions, we can directly map to our core KPI’s.

When it comes to Facebook, it is not enough to just have a content calendar. It is incredibly important to have a true strategic framework that outlines the brands publishing strategy and how the content will be optimized to drive targeted reach, but it is also important to leverage interactive assets to drive tangible results and activation where appropriate.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Stipple and Facebook Publishing

I have been following Stipple for a while now and with today’s big announcement tied to Facebook support launched the platform to the forefront of my mind to support social content & publishing strategies. What is Stipple? If you have not heard about the service, Stipple allows you to embed interactive hotspots into an image to create additional connections directly within the image. Today’s announcement is key for those who manage owned properties as now Stipple supports direct publishing support via Facebook a feature that has been missing to date.

Now it is possible to add a data driven overlay to an image that can create connections directly from the newsfeed that allow users to take action. Whether it is to drive to a branded destination such as the brands Facebook brand page or .com, create a quick path to purchase opportunity by linking the image to an e-commerce based product, embed a link to videos that relate to the image, or create additional connections as outlined below.

Tag Types

Today’s announcement is a huge addition for those of us who manage Facebook brand properties. Combine this with my recent discussions associated with visual storytelling to drive engagement and you can create a rich experience that can immediately extend the reach of a static image.

With a majority of engagement happening directly from the newsfeed, adding a rich content overlay to images can optimize associations related to the content. The combinations and support possibilities are endless. Whether it’s supporting branded content, promotion, acquisition, etc… the flexibility to tag and append content to an image is a great way to maximize story creation and connection throughout an integrated approach across channels.

Stipple Facebook Overview

In November of 2012, Stipple rolled out the ability to support Twitter publishing. From a single Tweet you can surface videos, photos, etc.. in-stream vs pushing to another destination. Adding a rich content overlay through this media is a great way to extend static images, or link to terms & conditions for a Twitter driven promotion, etc…

Stipple Twitter

I first noticed a Stipple execution by IKEA and I immediately saw the potential. The ability to claim attribution, but also create a centralized experience with various access points is something that create additional value for online retailers. I immediately started to tout the benefits to this approach, but there were limitations to social sharing until today. Now with the additional support for Facebook & Twitter, the value of this platform increases exponentially for those who drive owned asset creation & publication.

Stipple Web

It’s one thing to publish and push content out, but having the ability to measure the engagement and reach of each individual image and the interactions that Stipple creates is another advantage to leveraging this platform. As you can see below, Stipple allows the tracking of engagement and reach so image interactions can be applied into the current KPI’s associated with your publishing strategy.

Measurement

I would definitely recommend evaluating Stipple and the potential impact to your publishing strategy.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Facebook Graph Search

Recently Facebook announced one of the biggest changes to their search feature to date with the limited beta release of Graph Search. Mark Zuckerberg stated Graph Search would become the third pillar of the Facebook experience in addition to the News Feed and Timeline. This post will review the features of Graph Search while also outlining what it all means.

Here is the official announcement from Facebook

Graph Search

The creation of Graph Search is reflective of the current direction of social which is the inevitable convergence of social and search. With so much information being created and limited alignment between traditional search and the social graph, Graph Search could be a key bridge to a new type of search behavior based on relevant and timely socially curated content.

Example of Bing Facebook integration which applied social as an additive to traditional search. Graph Search takes the inverse approach of searching inside of Facebook.

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When you begin to dig into the initial information about Graph Search, it is not intended to be a true web search engine like Google or Bing, but an engine that will search out information across all of Facebook and provide personalized answers to queries about people, photos, places & interests.

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Here are various examples of the types of searches that can be conducted.

Here is an example of my friends in San Francisco, as well as recommendations of individuals with similar interests in the area.

San Francisco - personal

Here is an example that leverages Friends Check-In’s via social graph data to uncover Restaurants that may be of interest when in London

Restaurants in London

Here is an an example of the capability to search for specific types of photos either that you as a user have liked, or topical such as the recent Red Bull Stratos jump.

Photos

The Search Graph is a natural extension of the curation of social graph data. By creating deeper connections across interests and access to crowdsourced information, Facebook will now be enabling a cleaner connection to relevant content beyond simply searching for users, brands and apps.

This immediately jumps to questions of privacy from a users perspective. The current explanation is that the Graph Search will honor your privacy settings and only show information to your friends if your privacy is not set to public.

Graph Search & Privacy

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

For starters this will eventually play into the Facebook revenue model. Initially this will be an ad free feature, but make no mistake, by further aligning interests with broader behaviors beyond a profile, it will help to further enable personalization as a search and interest overlay and will become an even more accurate tool to re-target relevant ads.

Also, by adding this as a third pillar, Facebook will eventually be able to monetize against Facebook centric search in a similar manner to how Twitter can place ads via search results with their various promoted products.

Here is an example of a Disney Twitter query that immediately ties into the upcoming Hansel & Gretel movie as a paid unit.

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From a brand perspective, this will mean more avenues to differentiate via search results. If the users behaviorally adopt the new way to engage with the rich and relevant content within the social graph, then placement upon search category & interest relevance will be at a premium.

Similar to Google Adwords & promotion of Google+ accounts, brand positioning associated with search may become the new premium Facebook units if users adopt the platform.

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It will be interesting to see if the existing Facebook recommendation engine will be put into service as the vehicle that enables placement associated with the results of the search. I did recently speak directly with Facebook and confirmed that the current recommendation engine is not a brand controlable asset, meaning it is not currently part of the paid options to insert a brand, it is strictly algorithm based. But with this new development, the recommendation engine may be a critical component to differentiate from the rest and that will most likely come with a cost.

Example of the Facebook Recommendation Engine for Apps

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I am certain that this will have a significant impact on Facebook as a platform moving forward. The amount of objects being added to the social graph will continue to scale at an exponential rate as the introduction of action objects (verbs) into the social graph in addition to all of the various pieces of content that create via interactions with Facebook will now be applied to a system that will make connections beyond the individual more feasible and better align individuals and brands.

GraphActionObject

Building a system that can now quickly mine relevant information that is based on interests and likes vs. traffic is an interesting proposition, especially when applying the overlay of your social graph with real world use cases such as finding a restaurant recommendation in a new city through the platform you already check 20 times a day.

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While there was no immediate mobile support announced, previous behavior suggests that this will also further drive the move towards mobile enablement. If you are able to extend your social graph beyond 1:1 interactions to actually leveraging the data while you are on the go, this is an incredibly important addition and one that will have a significant impact on the future of Facebook’s mobile ad platform.

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It will also be interesting to see if a new algorithm, such as edgerank for the newsfeed, can be organically impacted by the amount of followers to a brand (similar to Google+ recommendations via search) or if other factors such as engagement or virality rates will impact which content types (brand content) will be served.

Example of the EdgeRank Algorithm

edgerank

Facebook initially has recommended the following:

1) The name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the “About” section should be up to date.
2) If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.

There was also an ominous tease towards other factors defining search results. Some early thoughts are possibly tied to engagement & virality rates. It will be interesting to monitor the progression of Graph Search with no immediate mobile version, no Instagram integration, API’s and English only at this stage of the beta, we will monitor the evolution of Graph Search and Facebook SEO.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Microsoft Launches So.cl

Microsoft quietly launched so.cl (Pronounced “Social”) yesterday. Developed by Microsoft’s FUSE labs, it is focused on exploring the possibilities of social search.

So.cl is a combination of social networking & search. At it’s heart is social connectivity with like minded people that is topically driven. It combines elements of Google+, Facebook & Pinterest with the underlying goal to further integrate social with search.

With So.cl you can share your searches & help others discover what they might be looking for by aggregating content into topical categories. Many social elements are taken from existing networks. Video Parties are similar to Google+ hangouts. The all too familiar activity stream drives relevant content directly to the user. So.cl also features visually driven topics similar to Pinterest, but the core differentiator is that the content is primarily driven off of a users search results.

So.cl claims that it is an experiment in open search, meaning your searches on So.cl are viewable by other So.cl users and also available to third parties, assuming for relevance & targeted topical advertising. There is the possibility though that this experiment becomes the basis of Microsoft & Facebook’s social search strategy.

Google+ took the first major step in driving connectivity via social search, with the search giant owning 83% of organic search traffic, launching a socially enabled network that also extends via search via the “+1” as well as Google+ direct connect shows how the future of social will become synonymous with search.

You cannot talk about social without referencing Facebook. Facebook’s platform is like a walled garden when it comes to relevant/topical searching outside of Facebook. The “Like” button has become ubiquitous throughout the web, but when it comes to amplifying and connecting via traditional search Facebook is lagging behind Google.

With their recent partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and so.cl built on Bing API’s, so.cl focuses heavily on discoverability associated with “open search”, this may be the next step in amplifying Facebook topical activity.

So.cl features social sign on with both Facebook & Windows Live ID, which sets the stage for deeper integration into the social graph. One interesting observation when you authenticate via Facebook is that of the 180 data points that can be mined, so.cl only wants your basic info, e-mail & group data. The groups option really peaked my interest as to how they are going to use this data.

One of the interesting options buried in the settings is the ability to set your primary search provider to So.cl to publicly share your posts. So.cl is powered by Bing’s API’s but is branded So.cl.

Similar to Pinterest’s Pin it option, So.cl also deploys a bookmarklet option, essentially providing a quick and easy option to share any web item directly into your so.cl stream.

One key difference from Pinterest is that So.cl allows users to create “Rich Posts” where users can combine interesting images and links on the web and assemble them automatically into a compelling visual montage.

What does So.cl mean for brands? At this point So.cl is still a “research project” and is not designed to take the place of full-featured search & social networking tools, but this project could lead to the future of social + search integration as it pertains to Bing & Facebook. This also provides insight into the coming convergence of search + social.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

3 Brand Benefits of Klout

Identifying topical influencers has been a key to driving awareness and activation for many socially progressive brands over the past few years. One of the measurement variables many brands have come to rely on is Klout.

Much has been written about Klout since it’s founding in 2008. Some praise & swear by the service, others question the validity of the score and ability to “game” the system. Regardless, users work each day to increase their Klout score and brands are eager to reward those indiviuduals.

At it’s core, Klout provides social media analytics to measure a user’s influence across their social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Foursquare, and many more and assigns a score to the user. This daily score is meant to reflect the influence that individual has to drive action in social networks.

Currently, Klout boasts over 100 million profiles, 2.7 billion+ pieces of content & connections analyzed daily and 5,000+ partners & developers with over 45 billion+ API calls.

From a brand perspective, there are multiple ways to leverage this data and audience to drive action. From the Klout Perks program, to leveraging Klout’s API to the upcoming Klout brand pages.

Klout Perks – The most visible brand programs associated with Klout is tied to Klout perks. Perks are exclusive products or experiences that users can earn based on their influence. Perks are distributed to select influencers based on their topics of authority, location & score.

This summer, I was associated with a perk from Disney to attend a pre-screening of Winnie the Pooh. Being a dad of 3 young children it served as a great opportunity to provide a unique experience for our entire family.

Influencers who receive Perks can choose to talk about the perk/product or not but the thought here is that by enabling the product or experience, the influencer will feel compelled to share the perk with their network as I did with the Winnie the Pooh perk.

Examples of Klout perks offered previously include:

Chilis: Gift cards to try “Lighter Choices” menu items as well as a Chili’s 2 for $20 Steak dinner
Hyundai: Integrating their Social & Gaming activation with VIP tickets to their Veloster Gaming event.
PopChips: Samples of 6 different flavors mailed to recipients
Contraband Movie: Driving Sweeps activation via Influencers

Perk programs are categorized by Entertainment, Experiences, Food & Beverages, Retail, Sports & Technology. For a brand, Perk programs can enable new product launches, sampling programs, experiential entertainment and more. Affordably priced, brand perk programs are the most direct way to activate against the 100+ million Klout profiles.

Klout API – With over 5,000+ partners and developers, Klout’s API is leveraged by brands for multiple purposes. With Klout’s API, you can glean data such as Klout Score, which is the most used API, or specific sets of data tied to topics such as “Marketing” or “Facebook” and unveil up to 5 topics tied to users.

There are some requirements to fully maximize the API, such as in order to request a Klout score for someone through the API, you have to have their Twitter ID. This is key for brands developing their Social CRM programs. A brand may want to map existing data into Klout’s API and the brand should account for capturing Twitter handles as part of their social data mining strategy.

Some brands are using Klout’s API data in innovative ways, One example is CapitalOne. They leveraged the Klout API to accelerate users in their loyalty program. They offered bonus rewards to users based on their Klout scores. This means everyone who participates with a Klout score between 10-100 gets some form of bonus rewards based on their influence.

The API presents unique and compelling data that brands can leverage to drive engagement & target key topical influencers to drive action or reward and accelerate via loyalty programs.

Klout Brand Pages – In recent conversations with Klout’s Garth Holsinger, he provided insight into the upcoming February release of Brand Pages for Klout. “Currently, a brand is treated like an individual user, which in some cases does not necessarily make the most sense as a Klout score for a brand should mean something different.”

With Klout Brand Pages, brands will have an opportunity to build influencers groups that are related to their specific industry. An example for a brand such as American Airlines would be able to associate with specific topics such as travel and interact directly with those influencers.

Brands will be able to show their content & streams and also show the most influential content about American Airlines. Elements such as Facebook comment engagement, Retweets, etc.. will aggregate into Klout brand pages and the brand will have an aggregation point of influencers to drive direct communication. Premium levels will be available for brands to subscribe to for additional outreach capabilities.

I will follow up with a deeper dive into Klout brand pages once the service launches in February.

Thanks goes to Garth Holsinger of Klout as well as Brad Alesi of The Marketing Arm for data points included in this post.

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Facebook Text to Like

Although it has been available for a while now, one of the under utilized options to drive a Like for a Facebook Brand page is as simple as texting like_____ to 32265 (FBOOK if you are in the US). In the case of our facebook page, you would text “Like BlackFin360” to 32265 without the quotes. All that is required is that your mobile device is confirmed to your Facebook account.*

This method is a great alternative to 2D barcodes to Like or printing Like Us on packaging as it is directly actionable and once the user has confirmed their mobile device it is as simple as texting Like and the brand page name. The user will then not only receive updates via their newsfeed but any brand that they like via text will also receive the latest updates from your brand page directly as text messages.

Recently, Facebook was driving activation around local markets and provided Text to Like stickers for window fronts of local retailers.

Here is an example of a Text to Like sticker

As I mentioned above, in order to capitalize on this feature a users phone needs to be confirmed with Facebook. Below is an outline of what is required to confirm your mobile device with Facebook.

Open the Facebook mobile app then to settings at the top left. Or you can go to the mobile tab of your Account Settings page to activate Mobile Texts. Click “Register for Facebook Text Messages” and complete the steps that follow.

Step 1 Select Country & Mobile Carrier

Step 2 is confirmation

Step 3 Like the Page

As I stated previously, instead of simply stating find us or Like us on Facebook, capitalize on an opportunity to drive a Like on a direct mail piece, speaking at a conference or possibly on packaging. Most people have the ability to text and this is an untapped acquisition play that is more directive & enabled by quick response vs. passively asking for a like and putting the onus on the user to find the brand page, then Like it.

*If you are in a different country, here is the list of activation codes.

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Heello

Twitpic founder Noah Everett has just launched a new microblogging social network called Heello. Heello down to it’s core is a Twitter clone. Outside of the Tweet being replaced by Ping (Which might draw the ire of Apple) what you will notice is that the 140 character limits and many of the microformats are in tact.

Because Twitter has essentially rendered Twitpic obsolete with some of the latest advancements to the service, Heello seems to be a direct response to this move by Twitter as a means to try and compete for marketshare.

Heello is currently an approved Twitter app so cross-posting between the services is possible and with Twitter’s developer ecosystem anxious due to inconsistent interactions with Twitter, there may be a place for Heello in the ever growing list of social networks.

In order for this to happen though Heello will need users and at this point there is no mobile support nor API’s which are critical to drive adoption. Also, from a brand perspective there is not yet support beyond simple content engagement.

Will Heello be the next big thing or will the advancements of Facebook & Google+ make services such as Twitter & Heello obsolete? The likelihood is high as both Google+ & Facebook offer destinations whereas Twitter & Heello are more of a sharing utility vs. destination.

Regardless, if for no other reason be sure to claim your namesake/brand/persona on Heello just in case.

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Facebook for Business

With Google+ yet to launch pages to support business, Facebook proactively launched the Facebook for Business resource center.

The center provides everything from guides for Pages, various ad products, sponsored stories and platform applications. These resources were not always available in one location and can serve as either a great refresher or provide new insight into the depth of Facebook’s platform and are written in a very straightforward manner.

As I stated in my last post, Facebook is still priority #1 for brands.

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Facebook Is Still Priority #1 for Brands

While a lot of buzz and attention has been placed on Google+ over the past few weeks it is too soon for brands to divert attention & dollars away from Facebook. While there is a lot of speculation on how Google+ will enable brands, one thing is still very clear. The #1 option for brands focused on B2C interaction & engagement is still Facebook.

Facebook is the number one seller of display advertising in the US now according to eMarketer and has surpassed both Google & Yahoo. While Google+ has gained momentum quickly, analysis still shows there is a lot of duplication across networks with a majority of new Google+ users maintaining accounts and engaging across both Facebook & Google+.

From a brand perspective no other social platform is as well equipped to support brands both domestically and internationally than Facebook. With the breadth of reach available and the lack of brand support on Google+ (For the time being) it’s important to note that Facebook is where the remainder of your 2011/2012 $$$ should be allocated.

To support this statement look at the recent rollout of Facebook’s sponsored stories and how their usage of social context drives interaction. If you have yet to use this type of ad unit you should consider it as a part of your next Facebook media buy. This ad unit presents interactions with pages into dynamic ads that are shared throughout users newsfeeds and due to the personal & social nature of the unit they grab user’s attention quickly.

The results have been impressive with 1.6x lift in brand recall, 2x lift in message awareness and 4x lift in purchase intent according to Facebook. This is a key differentiator between Facebook & Google+ at the present time. The social context that Facebook provides to brands and support with a variety of programs still makes it the primary choice to execute a Paid, Owned & Earned strategy.

I have found the following graphical representation of Facebook’s Sponsored Story types to be extremely useful.

Time will tell who eventually wins the highly coveted ad dollars. But as it stands today it is still no contest when it comes to where to spend your brands social advertising dollars.

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Google+ & Facebook

This week saw the launch of Google+ which is Googles answer to Facebook. Google has definitely had setbacks when it comes to Social solutions. Google Wave anyone? So what do they decide to do this time around? Basically mirror Facebook.

googleplus

Comic via xkcd

There is even a CSS overlay that now converts your Google+ experience to look like Facebook.

When you break down Google+ the initial functionality looks very familiar with a few subtle differences tied to the Profile & stream of news. The Stream is similar to the newsfeed and users can “+1” specific updates. The functionality is so similar to Facebook’s newsfeed that it makes me think if you can’t beat them copy them.

Beyond the profile & stream there are 5 core areas of Google+ upon launch.

Circles – The basis of circles is to allow users to segment their friends and drive updates to specific groups vs. your entire friends list. Users can follow updates from specific circles with the ability to further filter streams of information.

Circles

Hangouts – Brings live group video chat to the table. An individual can allow multiple users in various circles to initiate group video live chats. It’s sort of a mashup of Meetup & Skype’s group video chat.

Instant Upload – Instant Upload is a service that ]removes the barrier between uploading images from your mobile device to a social service. Instead of selecting which image to upload, all images are uploaded and you select which to share with your circles.

Instant Upload

Sparks – Sparks is the Google+ version of a relevancy engine. My assumption is that this serves a dual purpose of identifying and sharing interests as well as the engine to tie users interests to Google’s ad platform. It will be interesting to watch the progression and to see if Google+ takes from Facebook’s sponsored stories and other socially integrated advertising options to attract potential ad revenue.

Sparks

Huddle – Huddle brings group texting to the social network. Similar to GroupMe & Beluga recently Acquired by Facebook users circles can now carry on the conversation outside of the standard web interface. It looks like Google+ beat Facebook in getting this feature to market.

Huddle

+1 – Google’s version of the Like button, +1 is designed with the same intention as a Like and will be appearing on 3rd party sites near you. I assume Google will integrate the +1 into search results similar to Buzz. I am also assume that brands will now want to drive both Likes & +1’s in the never ending quest for earned media.

How-to-Get-Google-Like-+1-Button-for-Blogs

I am sure that the future of Google+ will be tied to deep hooks with the Android operating system, an extensive ad network based on information provided via Sparks as well as a push to drive 3rd party adoption of the +1. Also with Chrome gaining market-share and closing the gap on Firefox there will most likely be considerable integration there as well.

 

One of the core advantages of Facebook for advertisers beyond reach is that Facebook is a platform first and foremost and with a laser focus on driving social for users & brands alike. It will be interesting to see how Google+ will attract & support brands. As they have just announced “Pages” for brands is on the roadmap.

This is clearly the biggest threat to Facebook to date as it takes the best elements of Facebook and adds new functionality. But it has a long way to go to match Facebook as an advertising platform.

The things to keep in mind moving forward is that Google currently owns Search, YouTube, about to purchase Hulu, Chrome with 20% market share as well as the Android operating system and driving usage of their online office productivity suites and apps. If anyone is positioned to challenge Facebook it’s Google. But time will tell.

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Facebook Photo Tagging & Brand Pages

Today Facebook rolled out a feature that could have big implications for brand pages. Facebook users will now be able to tag brand pages in their photos.

This can represent a new avenue for brand pages as users can now associate your brand with their images thus further driving discoverability of your page and generating additional impressions.

From a brand perspective it will be interesting to see what strategic changes are made to encourage brand tagging in user photos.

It will also be interesting to watch how users respond to more images showing up in their newsfeeds.

This is however big news for brands looking to acquire new users as this is a key feature that can now be leveraged on behalf of the brand page.

NOTE: Users can tag your brand whether they have LIked it or not.

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