Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

A low-cost plan to elevate your brand

May 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/19129.asp

As the economy weakens and your competitors cut budgets, you can get the leg up with a thought-out digital marketing strategy.

As the economy grows more uncertain, a common reaction is to cut marketing budgets. Before following the crowd you may want to look for the silver lining. It is likely that your competitors will cut their marketing budgets thereby reducing their media presence. With a few adjustments in your marketing plan, you have an opportunity to eclipse the competition while remaining mindful of budget restrictions.

Now is the time to engage the full range of interactive media to create a powerful, targeted marketing mix. The following presents effective ways to move forward.

Use your data
More than likely your company has been collecting data from numerous channels — website, call center, direct mail, etc.­– but if you are like many companies this may be as far as it goes. Now is the perfect time to analyze your data.

A thorough analysis may uncover a trend that can be acted upon in a significant way, such as repositioning your website. As major overhauls are time-consuming and expensive, it may be easier, less costly and potentially more beneficial to create a targeted micro-site focused on a particular product, service or niche. With the intelligence gathered, this site should be optimized to yield meaningful results from major search engines. A micro-site is a good way to test the accuracy of your analysis and it can be the basis for a website overhaul later.

You may also consider creating several SEO (Search Engine Optimized) landing pages to target different audiences, which is one of the most effective ways to get powerful results from Google. Here, users arrive at a welcoming page that speaks directly to their search, and are guided to relevant sections of your site. This can bring them closer to a purchase decision or connect them with the information they want. Now analytics equals results.

Digital deals and opportunities
Traditional media buys typically have long leads before their effectiveness can be measured, providing little opportunity to tweak campaigns. By the time measurable results arrive, your budget is depleted. While traditional advertising can be expensive, digital media offers a wide range of affordable advertising options. With the ability to build highly customized campaigns that can be tracked up to the minute and down to the individual user, search engine marketing should be part of almost any advertising campaign. But effective digital marketing does not need to stop there.

Here are a few effective approaches:

Blogs and beyond
Advertising on a community site whose audience is inclined toward your product or service can build strong brand association. By getting involved as an active contributor with valuable content, you become part of a community and are able to monitor what is going on in your industry’s corner of the blogosphere. This can gain you invaluable market insight.

To take it a step further, consider micro-blogging through services such as Twitter or Pownce. Here you can keep a group informed of your every move on a moment-to-moment basis and learn what they are up to as well. This can be an even deeper way of involving yourself in the lives of a core group.

Podcasts
Often overlooked as an advertising vehicle, podcasts can also reach a core demographic. For example, if you’re looking to reach a tech-savvy audience, consider TWIT (This Week in Tech’s podcast.) Or create your own custom podcasts to get your message out. Startup costs are minimal, and if you offer valuable information, you can create a meaningful relationship with your listeners. (See “The Perks of podcast advertising.”)

Niche and community websites
The internet has no shortage of websites with unique audiences. MySpace and Facebook are the two communities that come to mind, but there are many others that are even more geared toward specialized interests. Check Ning.com for examples of easy-to-create niche social networks.

If you build it (right), they will come
Besides web-based advertising, consider fostering relationships with customers by creating a destination worth visiting or a useful widget to download. These interactive platforms can be custom built to effectively reach your audience.

Some possibilities follow, with a few examples of what has worked from my company’s clients:

The micro-site
Micro-sites provide a great way to promote a product or service at lower cost than a corporate site and can provide greater flexibility. Additionally, these sites are often more fun to visit as they can be built around a single creative concept. The Oprah, Dove and the Girl Scouts of America site, which we based upon Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, is an example of an effective micro-site. This provided an engaging environment built around user-generated content.

Landing pages
Landing pages are a powerful way to stretch one’s website development investment. A landing page designed around a specific search query, such as “hammer,” can send a prospect to the home page of a hardware store, where he will have to navigate through that site to track down the product. Alternatively, if the search engine had directed the consumer to a landing page for that same hardware store where a variety of hammers, nails and tool belts were featured, you not only have a result that brings you closer to making a purchase, but that also offers cross-selling options. This is where valuable online customer relationships can begin.

Mobile
Mobile communications as a means of marketing is one of the fastest growing options and enables users to connect with people in unique ways. For example, SiiTE Interactive worked with PayPal to create a mobile shopping environment that brought mobility to ecommerce. The way this works is the following: If a user spots a product in a store front window, in a magazine, on a billboard or almost any place, and she sees a PayPal ID, she simply texts the ID code from her mobile phone and the product is purchased and shipped directly to her mailing address.

Widgets
Widgets are distributed components used to present data through a user interface. They break into three major types. The first is the desktop widget, which lives within the highly coveted real-estate of your computer’s desktop or as an add-on to the operating system. The second is the embedded widget, which is typically placed into blogs, web pages and personal pages such as Facebook. The third type is the mobile widget developed for smart phones.

Widgets are powerful because they are trackable, easily distributed, and if the content is compelling, they will show up everywhere. Creating a custom widget can be a great broadcast medium for advertising or sponsorships. (See “The art of widgetry: a primer.”)

SiiTE has developed numerous widgets including branded shopping widgets that serve up favorite items for avid shoppers on a daily basis. This widget has a calendar-based system on the back-end that allows an administrator to serve new products on any date and for any duration.

Viral content
The current rage is creating content that is so compelling, humorous, or off-the-wall that people are driven to pass it along to friends. Well-known examples include the JibJab spoofs, the Cadbury drum-playing gorilla, and of course, Diet Coke-Mentos’ eruption videos. One favorite is Will it Blend, a website with 3.5 million viewings of the infamous iPhone in a blender video. More importantly, Blendtec quadrupled blender sales after the video hit.

This can be a great marketing tool on a small budget. It is even possible to create live streaming content from your mobile phone with services such as qik.com. However, purposefully creating content in the hopes of it going viral is a long shot. Have fun and get your content out there but don’t expect it to explode unless you’ve really got something unique or you have content that serves some positive social value. (See “5 consumer touchpoints for viral viability.”)

SiiTE Interactive worked with a major pharmaceutical company to help create personalized video messages directed toward caregivers of specific medical conditions. These campaigns generate tremendous pass-along appeal because of their personalized nature. Once customized by a friend or family member, a collection of video clips are automatically edited and sent to the recipient. The final video presentation speaks directly to the caregiver, even going as far as having the video spokesperson refer to family members by their first name.

Measuring success
Measuring the effectiveness of traditional media is often subject to a significant amount of interpretation. Digital media metrics, while not perfect themselves, are often more precise and more targeted. Digital media metrics can more easily track niche groups or even individuals right through to a sales conversion. This said, when money is tight, it may be comforting to see where one’s budget is actually going.

With the lower cost of entry that digital media offers, it becomes affordable to experiment. You can test various targeted buys that yield results within days or even hours, or build precisely crafted micro-sites. The bottom line — now is a fantastic time to explore the possibilities of digital media.

Your key demographic speaks its mind

April 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

By Jodi Harris

Want to know how to reach Gen Y consumers on their terms? In iMedia’s first survey with Peanut Labs, see what media they can’t live without, what makes a website trustworthy, their thoughts on ad-subsidized console games and more.

The questions plague every marketer at some point in his or her career. What do consumers really want? How do we earn their trust and loyalty? How do we know when we are strategically moving in the right direction in our campaigns, media buys and new product or service launches?

On a fundamental level, the answers should be easy. We are all, after all, consumers in our own rights, so shouldn’t we have some level of natural insight as to what motivates people to connect, click, engage and purchase one product vs. another?

Of course the answer to that is yes. And no.

Digital media’s ability to personalize messages has complicated the right-message-at-the-right-time equation, and generational differences in consumption habits has added dimensions that media buyers never dreamed of before. Furthermore, certain demographics are particularly tricky when it comes to delivering messages to them. In particular, those comprising Generation Y — who currently are enjoying their teens and twenties — have been distinguished from their generational predecessors by their reported reluctance to be marketed to. It’s not that they don’t want to use digital media to learn about new products — they just want to be part of the marketing dialogue and to select where, when and how they are pitched to.

Helping to build this dialogue is a company called Peanut Labs. Through survey applications integrated with the social networks that these segments live and breathe for, Peanut Labs provides direct access into the minds of Generation X, Generation Y, Boomers and other highly targeted custom consumer segments.

With this consumer mind-reading tool available, I decided to ask some industry experts what they wanted to know about media consumption habits of the under-30 set, and then get a sample of how these targets view media’s role in their lives.

Essential media
John Durham, managing general partner at Catalyst asked what one key media platform could this demographic not live without. It turns out that while both television and mobile phones have a tight grasp on young consumers, it’s the internet that is indispensable to 56 percent of the 309 survey respondents.

Media multitasking
Greg Smith, COO of document.write(‘Neo@Ogilvy’);Neo@Ogilvy , asked about activities that Gen Y engages in while watching TV. Reading, taking and making phone calls, and hanging out with friends all made the list. But, fortunately for the digital industry, the overwhelming majority — 57 percent — reported that they use the internet while watching TV.

Trust and time shifting
Doug Weaver of the Upstream Group inquired about what it takes to get viewers to watch a TV show at the exact day and time that it is broadcast, rather than time shifting their viewership with DVRs and online viewing. And it seems that good, old-fashioned quality content still triumphs in the digital age. Fifty-five percent of respondents reported that being an enthusiastic fan of a show is the biggest reason why they would watch it when it airs. Another good reason to watch on time: event viewing, such as the Oscars, the Super Bowl and other live sporting events.

Weaver also expressed an interest in the most important factor in Gen Y’s decisions on whether or not to trust a particular website and the information it gives. Surprisingly, the site’s association with a trusted media outlet or other trusted source trumped the recommendations of friends and family among survey respondents (44 percent vs. 21 percent).

Highly networked, yet disconnected by phone
Gen Yers have been cited as consumers who are always connected to their online lives through any and every means possible. But when Adam Broitman, director of emerging and creative strategy at Morpheus Media, asked how often they view content on a mobile device, the majority of responses indicated that mobile has not yet reached its tipping point as a web delivery platform.

While mobile content isn’t quite ready for primetime, social networking has certainly achieved mass penetration. Most respondents said they spend up to 30 percent of their average day on Facebook and other social networking sites; and 5 percent reported that networking takes up more than half their day.

Your site, your choice
Broitman also inquired about research that depicts Generation Y as a “pragmatic and future-oriented generation that expects its ideas to be heard and acknowledged.” Although the people in this group certainly do want to play a part in content providers’ decision processes, the majority of respondents (58 percent) prefer that a site retain its authority when incorporating users’ suggestions into its content.

Ads get game
Tom Hespos, president of Underscore Marketing was curious about consumers’ acceptance of advertising on one of the hottest new platforms: console gaming. According to respondents, 58 percent would be more likely to buy a console game if advertising could keep the price under $30, while only 10 percent would be less likely to buy.

It’s obvious that this target market has a lot to say, and loves to be asked for input. Now let’s just hope marketers are willing to really hear them.

Study: Kids Are Master Multitaskers On TV, Web, Mobile

April 2, 2008

Media Post Publications

 by Tanya Irwin, Monday, Mar 10, 2008 8:00 AM ET

TELEVISION IS NO LONGER GETTING the undivided attention of kids, according to a study released today on social networking by Grunwald Associates LLC, an independent research firm that specializes in new media market intelligence.

 

 

 

 

About 64% of kids go online while watching television, and nearly half of U.S. teens (49%) report that they do so frequently–anywhere from three times a week to several times a day. Multitasking on the Internet, cell phones and MP3 players suggests that companies must respond with much more creative, multimedia marketing campaigns for their messages to penetrate.

The study reveals that 73% of TV-online multitasking kids are engaged in “active multitasking,” defined by Bethesda, Md.-based Grunwald Associates as content in one medium influencing concurrent behavior in another. This trend represents a 33% increase in active multitasking since 2002. While kids are using more media, their attention primarily and overwhelmingly is focused on their online activities.

According to the study:

  • 50% of 9- to-17-year-olds visit Web sites they see on TV even as they continue to watch,
  • 45% of teens have sent instant messages or e-mail to others they knew were watching the same TV show,
  • 33% of 9- to-17-year-olds say they have participated in online polls, entered contests, played online games or other online activities that television programs have directed them to while they are watching.

At the same time, it is clear that online activities are the primary focus of TV-online multitaskers, and an increasing determinant of what they choose to watch:

  • 47% of kids say they focus their attention primarily online while multitasking between TV and the Internet,
  • 42% of kids say they focus on TV and online activities equally,
  • Only 11% of kids say that TV holds their primary attention while multitasking, and
  • 17% say they have chosen what to watch on TV based on what they are doing online–up from 10 percent in 2002.

“Active multitasking and social networking present a tremendous opportunity to inform, engage and empower kids more deeply than ever before,” said Peter Grunwald, Grunwald Associates’ founder and president, in a statement. “At the same time, it’s important for commercial efforts to be credible and respect kids’ intelligence–and the content they produce. Kids are using social networking tools to create personal content and share their opinions with great speed, passion and influence.”

The study also examines how kids are using online and handheld social networking tools. Kids are more than passive consumers of media. About 27% of all 9- to-17-year-old kids are practiced online producers–maintaining blogs, pages or other online spaces of their own and uploading content such as articles, audio, video, polls, quizzes and site ideas that they have created to publicly available Web sites, at least three times a week.

About 27% of kids surveyed are heavy users of social networking sites and services. These heavy users are not just shaping Internet content, but also influencing the online activities of their peers. Of these heavy users:

  • 66% recruit their peers to visit their favorite sites,
  • 48% promote new sites and features online to their peers, and
  • 37% recommend products to their peers and keep up with the latest brands.

The Kids’ Social Networking Study is comprised of three parallel surveys conducted in the United States: an online survey of 1,277 9- to-17-year-olds, an online survey of 1,039 parents, and telephone interviews with 250 school district leaders who make decisions on Internet policy.

 

 

The Brand Fan Marketplace

March 20, 2008

Meet Jules (not her real name). Jules runs a site that should make every marketer sit up and take notice. Ikeahacker is one of the most amazing things on the Web.

One reason it’s amazing is the content. Another reason is the fact it exists in the first place.

The content is simple: Ikeahacker is a blog featuring projects people have engineered using Ikea products. Someone used a Sniglar baby changing table as the base for a wicked cool Blue Man Group style musical instrument, for example. There are tons of projects like this on the site. It’s the perfect resource for the DIY crowd. Each starts with a product you can buy off the shelf and includes step-by-step instructions to turn it into something completely new.

And these projects aren’t all created by Jules. She’s the moderator. Most of the projects are created and submitted by the community. Jules just posts the best ones.

Clearly, Jules is a fan of the Ikea brand. According to her “about” page, she has no affiliation with Ikea and isn’t getting any money directly from the company. The site is its own reward for her. As she jokes on her site, “Finally, I am of service to mankind (heh).”

Really, Jules has built an amazing asset for Ikea. It’s a classic case of a consumer creating new value for a brand. The good news is at least one Ikea employee has noticed and posted some words of encouragement in the comments. But there are a few other things on Ikeahacker that hint we’re on the verge of a wide-open market for fan sites to grow and prosper.

Let Brand Fans Profit

Online brand fans have, for the last few years, represented an important strategic opportunity for many companies. Marketers now understand the power not only of CGM (define) but also of product reviews from peers and the incredible distributive and persuasive power of a YouTube video.

Most brand fans see content creation as its own reward. This is certainly great and amazing, but we must be honest: this drive can only last so long in a person. There are piles and piles of dead sites, blogs, and forums out there, and many are dedicated to a particular brand. OK, someone created a fan site for your brand back in 2003 but hasn’t updated it since then. A potential buyer stumbling across it from a Web search will likely be underwhelmed.

But that needn’t be the case. In fact, a key plank in your strategic platform ought to be to make sure brand fans’ content remains fresh. You need to ensure brand fans’ content is as dynamic and motivating as that on your own site.

There are three things you must do to ensure brand fans’ work stays strong and consistent.

Find Them

This seems obvious, but make sure you consistently scan the CGM space to find any and all mentions of your brand. Technorati is good for this, as is Google Blog Search, BlogPulse, and a score of other services. Use the tools available on social networks like MySpace.com and Facebook as well to help find people who talk positively about you. If someone mentions you once, keep a note. If someone mentions you consistently, reach out to her.

Open the Info Spigot

Treat all brand fans like the media. Don’t lose sleep over philosophical debates about whether a blogger and a reporter are the same. If you have something to say, say it to the brand fans as early and deeply as you can. Give them FTP access to your marketing assets server. Let them listen in on conference calls. Whatever you can do to get them behind the curtain, do it.

Help Them Profit

This is the single most important aspect of the brand fan strategy in terms of keeping their sites alive and the information flowing. There are a lot of options for small publishers to generate revenue from their sites. Contextual ad networks like AdSense are ridiculously easy to set up, and there’s a whole new crop of widgets that can be installed directly from the Movable Type blogging interface. No publisher need be without a revenue source, unless they choose to be.

Of course, you need to have a solid line drawn. Don’t pay them for their content. Instead, make sure they’re able to get paid. I’ve consulted with a few organizations about hiring a person to actually work with brand fans to help them get their sites working for them. This person doesn’t build the site and certainly doesn’t post. But she does help them get ad networks installed, works with them to understand affiliate marketing, and consults with them on using free tracking tools.

A Positive Brand Fan Environment

Right now is an amazing time to be a brand fan. The ease of publishing, the nature of collaboration, and the availability of revenue is unprecedented. The only thing that’s really in short supply is motivation. Smart brands will focus on this, working like mad to make sure motivation stays as high as possible.

Social Media and Web 2.0

March 20, 2008

Last week, I opened my inbox to find a newsletter in my inbox with a scary subject line: “93 percent of Websites to Add Web 2.0 Functionality in 2008.”It was based on a recent survey. Reading on, it said “More than half of online businesses plan to add Web 2.0 capabilities to their sites in the next six months to enhance their sites’ user experiences. And over 93 percent plan to do the same in the next 12 months.”

Why is this so alarming? Because more corporate sites are looking to “create communities” and “leverage Web 2.0 technologies” in ways that make no sense for their audience. They’re caught up in the buzz. Companies are creating community types of content people are interested in with no long-term consideration.

Even the headline of that study may be a little overstated. Features listed as “Web 2.0” include stuff like alternate and 360-degree views, personalized messaging, and rollover views. So the article illustrates once again the meaninglessness of the term “Web 2.0.” For this reason, a friend of mine calls it “Web 2.0ver.”

Other numbers we can point to indicate a much more interesting change is happening, and there’s a meaningful way we can talk about Web 2.0. For me, it’s summed up in a word: “participation.” The technology is fundamentally the same, which isn’t to say it hasn’t evolved. But there’s been a real shift in the expectations of Internet users — a shift that’s accelerated dramatically in the past two years.

What does this really mean? I asked Ryan Turner, a colleague, social media expert, and blogger, for his take on where all of this is going, and what companies may be risking in their effort to jump on the bandwagon.

“The real change businesses are facing is moving from a broadcast model for the Web to a participatory, relational model, where the Web is a true business channel,” Turner said. “And the shift has huge business impacts that require a rethinking of Web channel strategy, planning, and management. It requires new skill sets (like online community moderation), and new contributions from roles traditionally focused on other channels (like technical support and customer service).”

Turner shared some of the common pitfalls companies experience when shifting the way in which they communicate with customers and prospects:

  • A tool-centric approach. It’s just so tempting to want to “build community around the brand” using one of the suite of over-hyped tools available today. Ratings, reviews, comment threads, wikis, discussion, chat, RSS, SMS, IM, blogs, vlogs, moblogs, podcasts, video podcasts, collective intelligence, affinity recommendations, prediction markets, and on and on. None of these is really community. The social Web is comprised of people, relationships among people, and the things people create and share. Marketers must think strategically about their offerings, not be swayed by the purveyors of technology “solutions.”
  • Failure to plan for ongoing engagement. Too often people don’t think about what this is going to look like or demand down the road.
  • Doing it for the sake of doing it. Companies need to ask if it really makes sense for their clients and prospects. Will people truly want to engage?
  • Failing to measure. There’s always the need to accurately define what success looks like and determine the best way to measure that success. And a corollary to that: misunderstanding how to measure.

Most importantly, Web 2.0 sites must add value to a business’ core offering. What Microsoft did with The Art of Office contest was brilliant because they added a library of reusable user-generated documents to their Office for Mac offering. That’s the kind of alignment marketers should strive for. There’s also some value in simple transparency and accessibility. Open communication channels with customers and see what happens.

Take the time to think before plunging in head first to build community and leverage Web 2.0 concepts. You must ask yourself if it truly make sense for you and your audience, or if you’re simply getting caught up in the hype?

JC Penny feels the marketing power of link love

March 19, 2008

Adweek

Search equity is all about link love. JC Penny is now making itself into an aggregate of blogger sites who content relates to the retailer’s brands. This is not only making the site content rich but is increasing its search ranking as well.

Let the Web Entertain You

October 2, 2006

People are using the Internet as much to be amused as to stay informed; why haven’t advertisers caught on?

Meet Andy Oglesby. He’s a 40-year-old graphic designer who lives in San
Francisco and spends most of his waking hours online. It begins at
work, where each morning he hits a tab on his browser that opens some
20 sites and blogs. He’ll read, browse, and sift through them, on and
off, pretty much all day–

if ly about one-quarter of the sites are
strictly work-related. And the non–work-related surfing continues well
into the evening, when he’s at home. There, he and his longtime,
live-in girlfriend spend many weeknights together on the couch, TiVo
on, notebooks on laps, surfing the Net. They’ve even been known to
instant-message each other things like, “What’s for dinner?”

Oglesby
is one of a growing number of people spending long stretches on the
Net, searching for amusement, often with no destination in mind. Indeed
the tendency to use the Web more for play than work—to find
entertainment and not just information—is surging. According to the Pew
Internet Life Survey, on any given day, 40 million Americans go to the
Web for no particular reason, just to pass the time. The total almost
doubled from 2004 and experienced “striking growth” in the last year,
Pew says.

NOT JUST FOR KIDS. Infact, Pew has found that more people are entertaining themselves via the Web than buying things, despite the successes of eBay (EBAY), Amazon (AMZN), and other e-commerce players. If the Internet was already a virtual
post office or library, it’s now a virtual “destination resort,” Pew says.

And as Oglesby demonstrates, the trend isn’t just for
youth. The quest for online amusement cuts across all races and income
and education levels. Make no mistake—the younger the user, the more
time they’re likely to spend entertaining themselves online. But 20% of
all Internet users over 65 go to the Web every day just to amuse
themselves, according to Pew.

Even sites typically associated with teens are playing to a wider audience. Who knew that 10% of MySpace (NWS) users are older than 55—and that the proportion of MySpace users in the 12 to 17 range has dropped to 17% from 22% in the year through May?
More than one-third of Facebook users are older than 35, and more than
half of YouTube’s faithful are between 35 and 64, according to a study
by eMarketer.

REVOLUTION NOW. That the Web has become a hub of entertainment is no shocker, of course. What’s been more of a surprise is just how quickly and extensively the
Internet is replacing traditional content over consumer electronics
devices like TVs and PCs outfitted with media-compatible software and
hardware. Computer makers like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and software giants like Microsoft (MSFT) long hoped they’d play a bigger role with so-called media center PCs.

But the Internet entertainment revolution has largely taken a different
path. More consumers are getting amused straight from the Web, right on
the PC. In part, that’s thanks to the proliferation of faster Internet
connections and technologies like wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, that
provide all-over access. With a robust, always-on connection,
downloading even the fattest files is less of a chore.

It doesn’t hurt that just about anyone can create their own content and
spread it around the Web like wildfire (see BusinessWeek, 9/26/05, “It’s A Whole New Web”).
YouTube is serving up 100 million videos a day, much of it original
skits, lip-synched numbers, and Web “soap operas” filmed by amateurs at
home. Even getting news and information online has taken on elements of
social networking and entertainment. Consider the success of blogs such
as Gawker, citizen journalism news sites like Digg, and digital
directories like Yelp, where thousands of everyday people write
frequently creative and funny reviews on everything from their
accountants to hot new clubs.

BIG MEDIA MOVES.
Now, big media is responding fast, whether it’s Warner Bros. striking
deals to deliver content via BitTorrent and YouTube or decisions by
Disney’s (DIS) ABC and other providers to post shows online, sell them via Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes, or even make them available early through Netflix (NFLX).
Everywhere you look, new entertainment options are swirling around Web
surfers. Getting online for fun is the most popular activity on the
Web, after sending and receiving e-mail and conducting searches through
engines, according to Pew.

As popular as online entertainment
has become, advertisers have yet to get with the program. eMarketer
will report the week of Sept. 25 that U.S. Internet advertising will
grow more than 33% in 2006 from a year earlier, the fastest pace this
decade. But even with more than $16 billion now spent advertising
online, companies will spend a mere $280 million on social networking
and user-generated content sites. Meanwhile, nearly half of the
spending goes to search-related advertising.

MARKETING LAG.
If advertisers seem too risk-adverse, remember it took nearly a decade
for them to get comfortable with easy, relatively cheap, and measurable
paid-search ads. And only in the last few years have more traditional
banner and display ads, which have more a fuzzy aim, like promoting a
brand, come back into vogue.

Advertising on sites that
specialize in social media and user-generated content is trickier. On
sites such as MySpace, where companies post profiles of fictional
characters or cars, they’re generally tricking or bribing kids to spend
some of their social time getting pitched (see BusinessWeek.com,
9/11/06, “Marketing to Kids Where They Live”).
And success isn’t just getting your name in front of them, it’s getting
the online community buzzing about your product or promotion, turning
them into marketers. Try too hard, and risk getting called out by these
sites’ vocal and sometimes cynical communities. Post a fake profile of
an attractive girl who loves, say, the new Ford (F) Taurus at your own risk, Corporate America.

That’s
a risk that many companies aren’t yet willing to take. Big advertisers
don’t fully appreciate the breadth and depth of the Internet-as-hangout
trend, says David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer. “With all
kinds of Internet advertising, there’s a real lag between the reality
of who the audience is and who companies think it is,” he says. “More
often they lean toward thinking the audience is younger.” So far, the
biggest advertisers to experiment with social media and user-generated
content sites are Hollywood studios and carmakers.

HOW TO ADVERTISE.
Still, ad spending on sites that specialize in social networking and
related activity is set to grow, as such sites attract larger
audiences. eMarketer expects, in the next four years, nearly $2 billion
will be spent on these sites, in an effort to get all those people
hanging out online buzzing about new shows, products, or services.
Boutique agencies are even popping up to specialize in marketing via
the new social media. Ian Schafer was vice-president of new media at
Miramax Films a few years ago and was increasingly looking for ways to
promote new movies via the Web. None of the interactive agencies he
interviewed really got the social networking, user-generated content
phenomenon. So he started his own firm, Deep Focus, to specialize in
using these kinds of sites to build buzz.

He says the keys are
being transparent that a profile page for, say, a TV show is being put
up by that TV show with a vested interest. But, other than that, there
are few rules. One recent campaign for HBO’s series Entourage
had kids on MySpace creating profiles of their own “entourages” and
vying to see who could rack up the most friends. HBO gave the winning
team cars and flew them to Los Angeles to live the life of the show’s
stars for a week.

Another example was a MySpace campaign for the movie Clerks 2. The first 10,000 people to add Clerks 2
as a friend got their names in the film’s credits. Over six hours, more
than 180,000 people befriended the film, and many of them saw it in
theaters just to see their names on the big screen. “To influence them,
we need to understand their behavior online,” Schafer says. “This is
just an extension of social interaction that’s been going on; now it’s
nonstop; and as advertisers and marketers, we need to take advantage of
that.”

The sites themselves are leery of awaking a vocal
uprising if ads are too obnoxious or intrusive. It’s an issue sites
such as Facebook, Digg, and YouTube are still trying to figure out.
They have a potent model in Google (GOOG).
For a long time, the Web search giant had mass users, but lacked a
business model. Then the world caught on to the potential of ads
related to search. Just wait till it grasps what most folks are doing
online now

Six Apart’s Booming Blogosphere

October 2, 2006

When Mena Trott turned 23, she says she was forced to face an unfortunate truth: she wasn’t destined for the kind of stardom that lands young women on the cover of entertainment and fashion magazines. The truly famous actresses and pop starlets were tabloid cover girls by their mid-20s, she reasoned. But Mena was anonymously toiling away at a small Web design studio. Who gets famous for Web design?It was the spring of 2001 and Trott needed to vent. She logged on to Blogger.com, then a small site where Internet users published online journals known as Web logs, or “blogs,” and began typing up humorous anecdotes of her life—the movies and TV shows she was watching, how her husband didn’t want her to buy a banjo—the mundane but mildly interesting episodes that would nevertheless be picked over by US Weekly were she a star.”I felt I had reached a turning point,” Trott says. “I said, ‘I’ve missed my chance to be famous.’ And if I couldn’t be really famous, then I could at least be famous online.”MILLIONS AND MILLIONS. Those musings, compiled in a blog she called Dollarshort, would eventually lead to Six Apart, a package of tools that gives computer users a virtual soapbox from which to share opinions and stories with the Internet’s vast audience. The largest independent Web log service, Six Apart is aiming to bring blogging further into the mainstream. Its history mirrors the development of blogging as a phenomenon—and its struggles reflect the challenges facing blogging’s future.More than 75,000 blogs are created every day, according to Technorati. By some estimates there are more than 100 million blogs in the world today. Six Apart hosts or supplies the technology for more than 15 million of them. It owns four services, starting with Movable Type, a publishing tool primarily for developers and businesses that have their own servers and want help designing sites. TypePad is a paid subscription tool for users who want to include pictures, videos, and other content but don’t need multiple business accounts.Two of Six Apart’s tools are supported by ads. LiveJournal is a blogging and social-networking community primarily for the under-30 set, offering free, subscription, and advertiser-supported blog services. It alone boasts 11 million users. A recent addition, Vox, is similar to LiveJournal but has more privacy controls and is focused on a more mainstream audience. Since opening a test version in June, Vox has been completely advertiser-supported.HOBBYIST TURNED PRO. Six Apart has come a long way since the early days, when all Trott wanted was a way to include more comments, designs, and categories in her blog. At the time she was working at a design firm alongside her husband, programmer Ben Trott. When the firm closed, the couple decided to spend their newly found free time developing the needed application. “It was just a hobby,” Trott says. “We figured we would do it for a couple months and then look for real jobs.”The pair launched Movable Type on Oct. 8, 2001. Within the first hour, 100 people had downloaded the service. Trott says part of the enthusiasm was a reaction to the terror attacks a few weeks earlier, on September 11. Many Americans were left with an intense desire to reach out to strangers and share their feelings, Trott says. “People wanted a voice.”Six Apart isn’t alone in helping to provide one. The team at Blogger, begun in 1999, witnessed a similar reaction to the tragedy. The company, acquired by search giant Google (GOOG) in February, 2003, saw the largest number of new registrations in its history on Sept. 12. “People really just wanted to get their stories out there,” says Jason Shellen, an early member of Blogger’s team and now a manager of new business development at Google.HOW IT BLOSSOMED. As it turns out, Trott and her husband never did get around to finding “real” jobs. The number of users grew to the thousands, and Movable Type swiftly became a full-time occupation. Nine months after the release, Mena and Ben realized they had a viable company. They named it Six Apart after the number of days between their birthdays, and transformed the guest bedroom of their San Francisco apartment into a home office. Besides supporting existing clients, they began working on free upgrades, pay-to-license versions for corporate clients, and a brand-new application, TypePad, which would provide software and hosting.The blogosphere was booming, and by 2002, several Silicon Valley startups were aggressively building better blog tools in hopes of eventually making money from subscription versions of the software or monetizing free subscribers. Blogger, the company developed by three friends in 1999, had narrowly survived the dot-com bust and was able to relaunch in 2000 with a new look and more capabilities. By 2002, it had lured hundreds of thousands of users, largely through word of mouth. “If you used Blogger you needed to include a little button on your site that said ‘powered by Blogger’ that lead back to Blogger,” says Shellen.LiveJournal, then an independent site, was doing even better, having gathered more than a million users since its launch in 1999 by Brad Fitzpatrick, then a university student. A recent entrant is WordPress, a free service that was downloaded almost a million times in 2005. WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg started blogging on Six Apart’s Movable Type software. In the summer of 2002, before taking off for college, Mullenweg decided to design his own open-source, free-blogging platform and slowly began transforming the site into a hosted blog business. “We are definitely built on the shoulders of giants,” says Mullenweg.MONEY COMES KNOCKING. Blogging’s potential wasn’t lost on venture capital firms and other would-be investors. By July, 2002, Six Apart began getting inquiries from Joi Ito, a Japanese entrepreneur who used the service and wanted to bring it to Japan. The Trotts were initially reluctant to accept investment fearing funders might take the company in an unwelcome direction.The pair eventually changed their tune, after meeting Ito and Barak Berkowitz, then serving as the U.S. representative for Ito’s company, Neoteny. In the next year and a half, Six Apart expanded to 50 employees, from two. It opened offices in Japan and Europe to help maintain and tap the quickly developing European market. In October, 2004, Six Apart sought additional investment. Venture Capital firm August Capital supplied about $10 million. Mena and Ben used some of the recent cash to acquire Danga Interactive, the parent company of LiveJournal. The acquisition added 5.5 million users to Six Apart’s roughly million subscribers.Big tech firms also were enamored of the prospect of bigger audiences and the associated ad revenue. Hence, Google’s purchase of Blogger. Technorati estimates that more than 50,000 new posts are added to blogs each hour, reflecting a level of engagement advertisers can’t resist.In all, Six Apart has raised more than $23 million in funding, and the Internet is abuzz with rumors the company will go public before long. Executives say that’s always been a possibility, though it’s not imminent.FREEDOM OF SPEECH. For Six Apart, the LiveJournal acquisition provided not only new users and technology, but also a host of new challenges. The site’s predominantly young user base had formed a vibrant community that wrote about a wide range of subjects, from music to misbehaving. Some blogs discussed drug and alcohol abuse, and in others, students gossiped about fellow classmates. There were even blogs advocating potentially deadly behavior, such as remaining anorexic and adopting an eating disorder as a way of life.Some parents and health-care advocates said the blogs endangered the health and well-being of minors. Annie Hayashi, director of communications for the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders, says her group asked LiveJournal to take down its “pro-ed” and “pro-ana” blogs. Six Apart refused. “To a certain degree, they believe it’s a First Amendment issue,” says Hayashi, referencing letters she has received from Six Apart explaining LiveJournal’s position. “It’s an interesting philosophy, but from our standpoint it is very dangerous and destructive.”Trott sees it differently. Despite its public nature, blogging is essentially online journal writing, she says. People fill their journals with very personal experiences and opinions that others can find offensive. But that doesn’t mean that they should be edited by strangers. “We don’t police, we don’t censor,” Trott says, adding that people can choose not to read a blog or visit it. “We err on the side of our users. We err on the side of their privacy and protecting their identity.”That position has won Six Apart respect from bloggers. Identity and content protection has become increasingly important for bloggers as more corporations have awakened to blogging’s widespread use and the damage that popular blogs can do to a brand. Google, Delta Airlines (DALRQ), and Microsoft (MSFT) have all let go of employees allegedly because of things written in blogs. In fact, getting fired for blog entries has become so common that it even has its own term—dooced (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/28/06, “Big Brother is Reading Your Blog”).CHOOSIER ABOUT AUDIENCES. Protecting bloggers’ privacy will only become more central. For starters, it’s a way to block so-called comment spam, where people post multiple advertisements in the comment sections of blogs and other Web content. Private posts avoid unsolicited comments because search engines cannot crawl them.As blogging becomes more mainstream, it’s involving users who want to share stories, photos, and videos with family members and friends, not the public. “In 2001 or 1999, there were very few people consciously writing blogs,” Trott says. “If I had 20 people visit my blog that was fun. Now with Google you have people who stumble on your post and comment, and sometimes they are nasty.”To that end, Six Apart’s Vox marries social networking with blogging. The site lets bloggers specify which groups can see particular posts. Some posts can be marked as general, while others can be made available only to family members, friends, or other groups a user designates as in his neighborhood. A test version of Vox was released in June.GOING REAL-TIME. Social networking and blogging is not unprecedented. News Corp’s (NWS) MySpace offers users blogs with limited privacy controls. Similarly, Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces has a social-networking component to its blogs. Trott says Six Apart’s new offering is focused not on early-adopting college kids but people who may have aged out of MySpace or LiveJournal’s target audience and don’t wants blogs to include random comments from teenagers.Blogs will also become increasingly wireless, says Andrew Anker, Six Apart’s executive vice-president for corporate development. In March, Six Apart bought Splash Data, a maker of software that lets pictures and video captured with wireless devices be sent straight to blogs. Anker says he regularly updates his blog from on the road. He believes that such wireless updating will become the norm. In fact, Anker sees a future where people can share their lives with friends and family members in real time, sending pictures of the kids to grandma as the family is visiting the zoo, for example. “Yes, blogging will change your business,” says Anker. “But it will also change the way you talk to your kids.”It even might change who gets to be famous.

Six Apart’s Booming Blogosphere