the culture and values of social media

social media, advertising, and why Donna Bogatin needs a clue

Posted: August 23rd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, business, social networking | 4 Comments »

I just delicious’d this NYT article about MS partnering with Facebook to sell ads. This struck me:

“It’s basically a consolation prize,’’ [e.g. not MySpace] Phil Leigh, president of Inside Digital Media, a market research firm specializing in digital media, said of the deal.But Facebook is also a legitimate test bed, a place where Microsoft can test new technology in a commercial context,’’ he said.

“What we’ll see is Microsoft attempt to do some fairly leading-edge type of things, involving banner ads, animation and interactivity,’’ he added. “Whatever technology they develop and use effectively in Facebook, they’ll be able to use it elsewhere.’’

I kind of actually like this idea, although it reminds me of some hearsay about TagWorld, a crappy MySpace clone stuffed full of low-budget Flash applets (sorry if you luv TagWorld 4-eva, I’m not a fan). According to my source, the SNS stuff on TagWorld is just a red herring. Really, they’re developing B2B apps that they test out using their large (1 mil or so), engaged user audience. They let the teens slam on the apps for a while, get feedback, etc., and then repackage them and sell them to enterprise customers.

What both of these deals show is that what users actually do on social networking sites is totally, totally, totally irrelevant to social networking companies. Facebook could care less what its users are actually doing, as long as they’re on the site (eyeballs) and staying on the site (sticky time). I’m sure there are plenty of great UI, dev, and product planners at all these companies working on cool features that they actually think will do some good (or something). But it’s just like television shows. The content is totally irrelevant– it could be Six Feet Under or it could be Are You Hot?– as long as an audience can be delivered to an advertiser.

Social media like YouTube and MySpace are great for advertisers because they’re cheap ad buys and give them the ability to experiment with wacky things and see what sticks. Stuff like the Suzanne Vega concert in Second Life maybe reaches 200 people directly, but it gets tons of PR and gives Vega a relevance to a younger audience she hasn’t had since the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner”. Making a viral video or some stupid wallpaper generator costs nothing compared to physical, RW creative (a bus ad, a magazine buy) and allows for a lot more edge and sass than can be shown on, say, VH1.

Oh, and my least favorite ZDNet writer, Donna Bogatin, uses this news as an opportunity to write another squawky column about why Web 2.0 sites should handle all their own advertising. I find this really curious. Does she think that Coca-Cola or Ford should do all their advertising in-house? Facebook isn’t an advertising company. MySpace isn’t a search company. Why shouldn’t they outsource stuff outside their core competency?! This seems like basic business sense to me.

But this is the same writer who thinks Web 2.0 users (who, again, are providing content AND personal information to for-profit companies for free) are greedy and selfish. Her reasoning is that by prioritizing user experience over plastering advertising on every surface of every site, Web 2.0 sites are indulging their users too much. I can’t emphasize enough how much I disagree with this statement.

1. If you plaster your site with advertising and fuck up the UE, you will lose your users to another site unless your content is so compelling that they can’t find it elsewhere. Right now, there are very few sites that are that compelling.

2. The ONLY REASON Web2.0 sites EXIST is because users give them content FOR FREE.

3. The only reason Web 2.0 sites CAN sell advertising is because users give them personal information that they can use to generate demographic profiles for ad buys.

4. The only reasons sites get traction from day one is because they have a good user experience. Turning around and changing that as soon as you get a user base is sleazy and shows how little you care about your customers.

Like it or not, we are in an era where users expect a greater degree of interaction with companies. I could write an entire book about this, but suffice to say that the companies that will survive the shakedown are those with positive relationships with their users (or cable/cellphone companies with monopolies). If you treat your users like disposable cattle, they will disappear (hello, FRIENDSTER). Although a user base of dippy edge case technocrat fans isn’t enough to sustain an entire company, it’s much much much much better than an angry, organized mob of former users who aim to take your company down (exhibit two: TextAmerica), which often happens when you prioritize a quick cash grab over sustaining a user base over time.

In summary: Donna Bogatin needs to chill out, calm down, and stop blaming the users for poor business model decisions by companies that she doesn’t even work at (although as I said, I don’t think this Facebook/MS deal is a bad move). She could definitely use an HCI or CMC class as well. But what do you expect from a former investment banker?

I apologize for misspelling her name in the first draft of this article.

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Widgety Tidbits

Posted: August 8th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, social networking, software | 3 Comments »

1. Talked to the Slide guys last night at the WWDC Bloggers party and yes, the new MySpace slideshow is definitely a Slide.com product. Which I’m in full support of, as it’s a cool piece of software.

2. All summer I’ve been posting about MySpace’s secondary markets and widgets. There are tons of new widgets coming out daily, and the best way to keep up with them is to read the widget blogs like Widgetoko and Flying Seeds. I’m not so interested in individual widgets (although I like Meebo’s embedded IM widget a lot, to the point where I might install it on this blog)– what’s fascinating to me is the number of widgets that attempt to monetize user-to-user interaction.

For example, here’s Favorite Thingz (please forgive me):

Basically, the user goes through a process where they create a badge by picking bands, movies, brands, services (websites), stores and teams until they have about ten. Each one of these “thingz” gets rotated through one’s badge (widget) and apparently the user earns some sort of kickback if they get clickthroughs. There is no explanation of this process on the site. Do referrals need to purchase something? Where do they purchase it? How do the users collect their commissions?

I have no idea how they picked the “thingz”: I believe they’re probably placeholders, unless Chanel has decided that user-to-user microtargeted advertising via MySpace profiles is their new publicity push. It is slightly shady that users can pick from liquor and condom brands– and what teen is going to want to broadcast their love of Carefree or Tampax to the world?

Mashable sez: “A really neat product“. Well, maybe. But it still remains to be seen whether the users actually get anything, and whether the products being offered are actually co-sponsored or not. I’m betting they aren’t. Kids are putting Chanel, BMW, Hummer, Coach, Louis Vuitton all over their MySpace pages already, so this model is an interesting way to kick back to what is essentially free advertising; but how much does it lessen the Chanel brand for it to be splashed all over the profile of a 16 year old girl from Florida who loves Rhianna and Hollister?

The same company made MyPickList, which attempts to monetize user-contributed reviews.

As usual, I’m ambivalent on this stuff. Academics would moan about the commercialization of everyday life, etc. etc. and to a large extent, I’m suspicious of that stuff too. But this isn’t the same as whisper marketing; it’s really more like wearing a Nike t-shirt or carrying a Coach knock-off bag. Yes, there are plenty of kids who are going to plaster their profiles with these types of self-created advertisements in an attempt to generate revenue, but it’s not like they would be pristine and beautiful in the first place. They’d be covered with YouTube videos of ghost ridin’ the whip and Diet Coke and Mentos rockets. So I guess given that, and given that we obviously live in a world where people express themselves through the consuming and flaunting of brands, the kids may as well get some revenue pocket money back from all this brand association.

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creamaid

Posted: July 31st, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, business | 3 Comments »

I’ve been out of town a lot, hence my lack of blogging.

Today I got email from the folks at plugaid about their new site creamaid. This is all set up to be mysterious, but it’s basically a commercial version of their flagship product (a tool for blog-based persistent conversations). In other words, it allows people to blog for $. Say the Nike/iPod shoe launches today. Nike/iPod could offer $2 to any blogger who wrote about it on a certain day. Creamaid is a way of tracking this.

Here’s how it works:
1. Participating site (nike.com, for example) posts a Creamaid box on their site
2. Blogger clicks “participate”
3. Blogger enters his or her email address
4. Blogger cut-n-pastes tracking code which she/he includes in his/her entry about the product/thing/topic, thus pasting the Creamaid box on their entry as well
5. Creamaid emails blogger with $X through PayPal once he/she has blogged.

There are a number of things that are really interesting about this. Monetizing blogging isn’t new at all, and we’re only seeing more of a movement toward monetizing user-contributed content (partly perhaps because people are starting to wise up to the fact that many Web2.0 companies are getting “rich” off their users’ content contributions). But this is a very centralized way to track this process.

I’m also curious if the blogger can blog *anything* about the product – like what if I said “the new Nike/iPod thing totally sucks, and both companies use sweatshop labor!!” Would I still get my two dollars?

Finally, anyone who does post about the topic also gets the Creamaid box on their blog post. People might like this. Plugaid allows for very centralized blog-to-blog conversations, using a persistant comment box that is common across blogs (which is very neat), but I’m not sure whether people will respond positively to Creamaid as it could be used for fairly intrusive and annoying embedded advertising.

So my verdict is that the service is kind of cool, but, as with any technology, we will have to see how it’s used. I am NOT one of those people who thinks that blogging should be some sort of purist activity in which nobody makes money. Nor do I think that money should be every blogger’s motivation (my motivation in blogging is to promote my academic career, and I’m not very shy about that). It’s up to the individual blogger whether to add AdWords or anything else, and it’s also up to them to feel comfortable with the amount of corporate shilling they do as part of the blog. It’s also up to them how they want to respond to critiques, and people who choose to participate in monetizing activities should be prepared for criticism at this point in the evolution of blogging.

Honestly, all this is so silly since “blog” is just another word for “personal homepage” or “journal”, all of which have been around for 10+ years. This site alone has been going in its current incarnation for seven years (I’ve been “homepaging” since 1995), and I don’t think the current blog is that much different from all my old hand-coded homepages. People have been selling their thoughts online since the days of Canter and Siegel. People who get all huffy about the blogosphere, in my experience, are people without long-term internet experience.

It’ll be interesting to see if Creamaid catches on. If nothing else, it seems to have a clear and obvious business model, which is a refreshing change in Web 2.0 world. But is anyone really using Plugaid yet?

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MySpace is Too Scary to Advertise On

Posted: July 12th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, social networking | 11 Comments »

My assertion yesterday that advertisers aren’t going to keep flocking to MySpace is born out by this editorial by strategic consultant Mark Naples on iMedia:

Look for different kinds of branding campaigns than we’ve seen before to proliferate on MySpace. The kind of edgier video that makes its way virally around the web will increasingly be distributed, if not spawned on MySpace. If you’re an advertiser doing something very different than what is accepted on most sites, and you want to increase the buzz among those under 30, looking at MySpace may make some sense. But, for those of us who have been waiting for and advocating for larger and more established brands to spend their money online, the last thing we want to do is drag them to a suburban house party filled with teens and college kids, behaving in ways that they would only behave there– that is, until MySpace.

Again we see the disapproving voice of the parent, scandalized by what teens are doing online. Ho hum. But it is precisely this prudence (or prudery) that will prevent “established brands” from flocking to the site, which is probably a good thing. All the kids I’ve talked to who want microtargeted advertising want it because they don’t like seeing ads that aren’t relevant to them. They would way rather see something from Panic! At the Disco (a band that basically broke on MySpace) or the Scion (or, if the Facebook’s Pulse section is to believed, Coldplay or Jack Johnson.. snore) than something from Verizon or 1-800-PETMEDS (which is the current banner on my MySpace page). Honestly, MySpace’s current advertising is low-budget and of the “Get 1000 Smileys FREE!” variety, so they have a long way to go before advertisers really need to start worrying about whether or not to buy space on the site.

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user-created advertising content

Posted: July 5th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, business, participatory culture | No Comments »

The Diva Marketing Blog has an interesting post on online marketing campaigns that encourage users to create their own advertisements. This has been happening on YouTube and Google Idol for a while now with record companies and music videos, but I haven’t seen much in the way of traditional advertisements yet.

The Oreo Cookie Jingle contest is pretty much the exact same premise as Google Idol, except the participants seem to have actual musical talent (no offense to Google Idol’s enthusiastic lipsynchers).

Obvs her blog is targeted towards businesses, but I think people studying marketing culture and social software can learn a lot from looking at edge case marketing. Given that brands are part of our every day life, and that people are more than happy to make amateur video about brands (those brands including, like, Fall Out Boy and SNL), it’s important that academics recognize that user-created content is often going to be commercial in nature and not particularly “resistive”. Setting up a dichotomy between user-created content (good!) and corporate-created content (bad!) isn’t productive or accurate. By sponsoring contests like this, corporations aren’t sullying some type of untouched, perfect user-created content. Also, let’s not forget that corporate-sponsored creativity is as old as the hills, even if you only go as far back as jingle contests from the 1920′s-40′s.