Can you protect your kids online?

The concept of regulation, especially when modified by the word “government,” often produces a knee jerk reaction among many who feel that if the government is involved, things can only end badly.

About this time last year, I wrote about the well-meaning but impossibly overmatched Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) passed in 1998, at a time when the internet did not even bear a passing resemblance to today’s internet.  [Click here to read that post.] The focus of that post was largely about parents and other authority figures encouraging kids to lie to get around Terms of Service agreements. Today, the FTC is attempting to strengthen COPPA in  a futile attempt to deal with data mining and behavioral targeting.

Naturally, this effort to redress the shortcomings of a law passed in the internet Stone Age is being met with opposition. I think it’s always useful to examine exactly WHO is against any kind of regulatory change as a good first step towards parsing whether that change is good or bad.

In this case, the charges of “get government off my back” are coming from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and twitter, not to mention television networks, app platforms and advertising trade groups.

I am not making any earth-shattering observation when I say that kids, especially pre-teens and teenagers, do not spend a lot of time thinking about the long-term consequences of online behavior. (Heck, neither do a lot of adults.) An innocent upload of a picture so they can see themselves on their computer screen next to a Disney character or battling robots inside of an app seems, to them, like no big deal.

Businesses survive by cultivating new customers, and with kids flocking to the internet in droves, they go to where the prospects are. I’m not convinced that any regulation, no matter how well-intentioned, can stanch the flow of data mining and behavioral targeting. The internet did not kill privacy, as fashionable as it is sometimes to take that position.

The only real alternative is to discuss internet safety and internet smarts with your kids. Many parents feel ill-equipped to do so because they themselves feel like they are unaware of how best to act online. The fact is, being online is not that much different than being out in the world, and you should govern yourself accordingly. It is neither reasonable nor feasible to opt out of the internet, just like you cannot opt our of society in general. A little common sense will always carry the day.

And keep an eye on who is for and who is against some of these things. That ought to scare you more than the possibility of your kid being served an advertisement for chocolate covered Doritos.

What do you think? Can anything really be done to protect kids from being marketed to and having their data collected? Leave a comment in the comments section.

Tablet Publishing: The Next Frontier in Social Sharing

Do you own an iPad? If you don’t, you probably know someone who does. How about a Kindle, or some other tablet? Well, according to Forrester Research, tablets are “rapidly becoming the primary device of choice for millions of people around the world.” By 2016, tablet sales are expected to hit 375 million units, meaning there would be over a quarter of a BILLION tablets in use worldwide. And one-third of those devices will be iPads.

I think this represents a gargantuan opportunity for both traditional content creators and businesses of all kinds. How?

The best way you can turn someone into a loyal, enthusiastic customer is by making sure they understand what you do and/or use your product correctly. I don’t care if that product is a power tool, an IKEA shelf or an annual trade show. I cannot think of a single type of business that would not benefit from publishing their story on a tablet.

If you’ve ever read anything on a tablet, especially an iPad, you know that the ability to embed slide shows, video, music, audio, diagrams, etc., makes the reading experience so much richer. And when that experience is richer and more immersive, not to mention SHAREABLE, it’s more likely to actually get read and, well, shared.

But do the costs of producing that content outweigh the potential return? I might think of it the other way around. Tablet readers tend to be more affluent but, more to the point, they are more predisposed to making purchases online. The opportunity to offset the costs is clearly there, but we have found that those costs can be very low to begin with. For example, do you already produce guides or manuals that never get read? How about your flat four-color marketing materials that might be improved with a little video? Can you envision these materials being published, and EASILY UPDATED, on a tablet?

A few targets that spring immediately to my mind, among countless others, include:

  • Interactive how-to guides or manuals (imagine putting up that shelf correctly the FIRST time)
  • Cookbooks with video tutorials
  • New product presentations
  • PR materials
  • Media rich brochures

The list is truly endless.
A couple of months back, I mentioned that we would be rolling out a new service that took advantage of both our video production experience and our social media savvy. I firmly believe that tablet publishing is the next frontier and unlike other forms of media creation, it doesn’t have to require enormous investments in time, infrastructure or expertise. We have already begun working with a few clients helping them turn their messages into tablet-ready, media-rich presentations that live in the iBook store. Some are giving the content away for free as a way to build awareness, and others are exploring the possibility of selling their stuff either in the iBook store or Kindle store. Either way, now is the time to think seriously about using the ubiquitous iPad, or other tablets, to connect with your audience and create new audiences. Please contact me for more information by leaving a comment, or send me an email by clicking the arrow beneath my picture at the top right of the page.

What possibilities do you see for yourself or your business?

Can online video survive?

The comparisons between traditional TV and online video never stop. Some common comparisons are:

 

Online will disrupt and eventually kill TV.

 

TV will never die because of viewer habits, the user experience and their entrenched business model.

 

Blah blah blah…on it goes. Who cares? Not the point of this post.

 

 It seems to me that a major handicap for the long term financial viability of online video is that shows cannot easily be syndicated.

 

What is syndication? In a nutshell, it is where the real money is in TV. As a general rule, when a half-hour show produces 100 episodes, roughly 5 seasons, it can then be sold into syndication and shown off-network.

 

For example, Seinfeld aired as a first run show on NBC. Now it airs off network on hundreds of local stations around the country. That’s an example of syndication. But Seinfeld was always popular and made a lot of people associated with it extremely rich. A better example of the money-making power of syndication success might be a show like Star Trek, which only aired for 3 seasons in the mid-1960s and was not all that popular at the time. Nearly 50 years later, however, we’re still following the same bold voyages of the starship Enterprise.

 

Star Trek might be the original example of the “long tail.”

 

All this occurred to me when I read about the demise of “Diggnation.” Online video is often about immediacy and is often unscripted. (I am generalizing to make a larger point.) Online video shows also seldom adhere to a strict 30-minute length. Yet at its peak in around 2006, Diggnation was arguably the most popular show online and as of this writing, they have produced over 300 episodes. (They will cease production in December 2011.)

 

So, what happens to all that inventory? Who is going to go back and watch an episode from 2007 speculating on the launch of this new device called an iPhone? From a business standpoint, these episodes have no more value than a CNN half hour about a snowstorm in Tennessee in 1987. Archival? Sure. Revenue generating? Nope.

 

When I think about the long term viability and the business model for online video, this strikes me as a major issue that needs to be sorted out. If the “real” money in television is in syndication, where will it come from in online video? I don’t have the answer, but I also don’t really hear the question being asked.

 

What do you think? Is this an insurmountable block for online video producers and other content creators?

How to make social media work

Today’s New York Times featured two articles, one in the Arts section and one in the Business section, about how word-of-mouth reliant businesses were having different results employing social media to advance their goals.

The two industries mentioned were hotels and Broadway theaters, but honestly what struck me the most was how tough it must be to edit a newspaper. The thrust of the Broadway-focused article was that social media has not resulted in an uptick in sales because only human ticket brokers were adept at “aggregating details about the 39 Broadway shows this spring and then differentiating them for longtime customers whose preferences are reflected in databases listing their past purchases.”

Meanwhile, the hotel piece talked about how successful some hotels have been using social and web-based apps because “Facebook offers analytics showing the aggregate demographic information of the people who “Like” a particular page.”

So, to recap: social media doesn’t work because it can’t aggregate details about its users, except when it does a bang up job of aggregating details about its users.

Alrighty, then!

(Assuming you have not gone over your allotment of free NY Times pieces this month, here are the links to the two articles. Broadway and Hotels)

Moving past this basic contradiction in both fact and substance, let me offer a couple of my thoughts, slightly off the topic of whether social works or not.

The Broadway article talked about how “50-year old white female tourists, the average Broadway ticket buyers” were not taking their buying cues from twitter or Facebook. Fair enough. But I am reminded of an anecdote I heard at a convention way back in 2007 during the frontier days of what we still call “new media,” particularly podcasting. The Los Angeles Opera realized that in order to continue to filling seats in its shiny new facility, it would need to reach out to a new audience to get them to sample opera. One of the ways it did this, and continues to this day, is via a regularly produced  behind-the-scenes podcast http://podcast.laopera.com/pr/laopera/default.aspx While it’s debatable whether this outreach reaches its older demographic (I have no data either way), the LA Opera wisely went to where a potential NEW stream of customers might emerge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but their audience was, quite literally, dying off.

Broadway tickets are still largely sold via group sales, repeat sales and old fashioned telephone work. Adding social to that mix not only makes sense, but might be the only way that Broadway can survive.

Of course, the travel business lives and dies by word of mouth, never more so than in this age of search marketing. As we noted in this space about the evolution of search online, trusted recommendations about where to stay and what to do has never been easier for the shopper or more critical for the destination.  David Godsman, the VP for global web services for the Starwood chain is quoted in the Times saying, “We want to be there when someone transforms the recommendations of their friends into booking a reservation. If they press the ‘Like’ button, we want to start a conversation.”

What both of these articles are saying is that social must be a part of both of these very human businesses, but it does not mean putting your business on auto pilot and letting social solve everything. Social works when you work social.

 

Social networks as focus groups- The future of live TV

A couple of months back I wrote about how social networking was making inroads  connecting people while they watched TV.

Liveprogramming, such as awards shows, were benefitting disproportionately from this type of community building with some estimates showing the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars with 14%, 35% and 14% bumps in viewership, respectively. Can it ALL be attributed to social media chatter and participation? I doubt it. But these events consciously make social media a part of their promotional campaigns by leveraging the conversations that are already taking place on twitter and facebook. (Here is what the Grammys did in 2010.)

 

During the interminable World Cup and the almost-as-boring NBA Finals, twitter said that there were over 3000 tweets per second referencing these events. Normal twitter traffic is about 750 tweets per second, evidently.

So what? Well, here’s what: TV is losing viewers, but is in no danger of disappearing. Partially because instead of fighting against social networking as a threat to their hegemony, they have decided to co-opt it to their benefit. (“They” being the faceless, nameless “them” that decides what goes on the air.) With laptops and iPads and smart phones at full throttle as people sit on the couch watching whatever, the Mystery Science Theater 3000-ization of TV is complete. Every tag for every promo on every sports channel and reality show implore us to follow them on twitter and friend them on facebook. The real time feedback from viewers coupled with the demographic information we all gladly provide as payment for joining these networks is a data gold mine for programmers, advertisers, producers and folks wanting to target a specific sector of the populace.

We’re making it easier for them to make TV that better resonates with us that we can chatter about in an endless, self-referential loop. The focus group has reached its zenith.

TV is still King, and the Internet is an enabling Prince

I have written in this space (too many times to link to) about the absurd and reductive tendency on the part of the media and others to anoint “killers” every time a new piece of technology or social media platform comes out: iPhone killers, Kindle killers, TV killers, and on it goes.

 

Despite cratering ratings of many TV shows, TV still rules the roost and social media and the Internet actually enable and help to grow audiences, rather than be the oft-predicted TV killer. The 70,000 twitter posts per hour during last week’s Oscars telecast probably had something to do with its strong ratings showing.

Just as social media can help level the playing field allowing smaller brands, retail outlets, restaurants or mom & pop stores to have a fighting chance against household names, the same holds true for TV. David Carr’s March 15 piece in the NY Times quoted the GM of Oxygen Network who credited the popularity of “Bad Girls Club” to social media. The show “is knit so tightly into the social media system that on nights it is on, its characters and plot make up 5 of the top 10 topics on Twitter.” (We will leave out any discussion of the relative quality of programming for now.) For live programming, such as the Oscars, social media can be an even bigger boon. New services such as Hot Potato offer a foursquare-style ability to “check in” to a particular live TV program (think the NCAA basketball tournament or CNN) and let friends socialize and comment in real time.

All of these trends help stanch the ratings hemorrhaging that has been afflicting TV for some time now.

Methinks the web-fearing TV exec doth protest too much.

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Tivo did not kill TV. Anyone surprised?

I am a big sports fan, but the one thing I have never been able to watch are pre-game shows. They always struck me as such a monumental waste of time in crystal ball gazing and trenchant insights such as,  “If this happens, then this will happen…but, we still need to watch out for THAT, because it will change the course of THIS, meaning everything I just said might go the other way.” Really? Well, good thing we have a panel of “experts.”

The pre-game show is the high water mark in hedging. Why? Because what makes the future the future is that no one can predict it. (I know, I know. You needed me to tell you that.) Sure, you can make  educated guesses based on experience- the Detroit Lions will probably lose this Sunday. Miami will be hot in July. The coupon for the free quart of ice cream will expire before I remember to use it.

But in most other things, predictions are way off. Here’s another great example.

When the DVR, or Tivo, hit the market, there was all sorts of hand wringing among network executives and advertisers that it was going to kill television. If you give people the chance to skip past the commercials, the thinking went, of course they will.

Well, folks, a July blizzard just hit Miami. According to Nielsen, 46% of viewers 18-49 for all four major broadcast networks are watching the commercials during playback. And that number is up a bit from 2008. Why? Because watching TV is the epitome of a passive activity. The habit ingrained in all of us since youth of plopping down on the couch and letting it wash over us is, apparently, a tough one to break.

“It’s completely counter-intuitive,” observed Alan Wurtzel, the president of research for NBC. Now THERE’S a good observation.

All I can say is, research like this puts the kibosh on all the rosy predictions of interactive TV. Viewers choosing the direction of a show from among several different endings? Nah. Clicking on the screen to buy the shirt that Oprah has on? Mmmm…not so much. We all just sit down, watch, and leave it to the programmers to tell us what we want. The other way is just too much work.

The Lions just won the Super Bowl.

Who uses social networks anyway?

Anderson Analytics has recently confirmed what many of us already knew about the most popular social networks out there, namely facebook, MySpace, twitter and LinkedIn. For marketers looking for good demographic and psychographic information about buying habits and areas of interest broken down by which social network they use, there is some good stuff here.

110 million Americans, which represents about 60% of the total online population, use social networks. That number might be low as the study only counted people who used a social network in the past month. The average social networker spends a LOT of time on them: 5 days a week, 4 times a day for at least an hour each day. 9% stay logged in all day keeping tabs on what’s new.

For brands considering a facebook page or twitter presence, 52% of users had friended or become a fan of a brand, illustrating that people are receptive to this type of engagement. Not surprisingly, 45% say they link only to family and friends, and another 18% saying they will only link to people they had met in person.

A quick breakdown by service:

facebook:

  • 77 million users
  • 40% married
  • 80% white
  • Average income $61,000
  • Average number of connections: 121

facebook showed a tremendous level of loyalty with 75% of users saying it was their favorite site and another 59% saying that had increased their use of the site in the past 6 months.

twitter:

  • Interests skew more towards news, restaurants, sports, politics, personal finance and religion.
  • More likely to use twitter to promote their blogs or their businesses
  • Average income $58,000
  • Average number of followers: 28; average number they follow: 32
  • 43% said they could live without twitter

MySpace:

  • Young, fun, but disappearing. Most said they had used the site much less in the last 6 months.
  • 67 million active uses (nothing to sneeze at)
  • Most joined for fun and are into humor, comedy and video games
  • Not big on exercising but, unexpectedly, they seek out parenting advice more than any other group.
  • Average income: $44,000
  • More likely to be black or hispanic, and 60% are single
  • 23% are students

LinkedIn:

Surprising no one, LinkedIn is all about business. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right? It’s also the only service that skews more male than female (57%-43%).

  • Average income: $89,000
  • Interests skew towards news, employment info, sports and politics
  • More likely to to be into going to the gym, spas, yoga, golf and tennis
  • They are also into gadgets, although not too much gaming. Digital cameras, High-def TVs, DVRs and Blu-ray players. (So THEY’RE the 16 people who have bought a Blu-ray!)
  • They unwind by gambling online and, wait for it…., going online for soap opera content. (OK, I have NO idea what the significance of that is.)

The full report is supposed to be out now, so check their site for more details.

iPhone 3GS and online video

Shortly after the iPhone was released a couple of years ago, in very short order it became the number one camera that people were using to upload photos to Flickr. What Apple figured out a long time ago is how to make the overall user experience a simple, intuitive and fun one.

The new iPhone 3GS now shoots and uploads video with just a couple of clicks. The result? YouTube reported that in the six days after the 3GS release, video uploads to the site increased by 400%.  But think about the potential if the phone had been widely available in Iran? What about for retailers who want to post quick updates about new shipments into their stores?

Video is still the most effective way to tell your story and the usage numbers continue to grow. We recently began the deployment of a series of videos for one of our clients and decided to use their facebook fan page as well as 6 or 7 different video sites including YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Yahoo and Blip. The lesson being you never know where people might be searching for information about your product or service, but you need to research the different methods of reaching them. YouTube is clearly the 800-pound gorilla, but it is important to reach people wherever they might be.

Technology continues to make this easier and easier.

AT&T uses twitter for customer service. Do you?

When larger companies contemplate a social media strategy, there are tons of challenges. Social media, by definition, implies a conversation and it’s easier to maintain a conversation with a few hundred or maybe even a thousand engaged partners. When you start to get up into the millions, the challenges multiply.

All of us have felt angry and powerless against a faceless cable company, appliance manufacturer, phone company or computer company. Customer service is the difference maker in closing the sale and maintaining relationships, but so many companies fall down in that area, too. We have all found ourselves speaking to a drone who was reading a script and offering vague promises that you both knew were not going to be met.

As I consult with small and medium sized companies and help them plan their social media strategy, one of the things I like to remind them is that they better hope that people are talking about them. They might be saying nice things or bad things, but you hope they’re talking. So many fear that people will say bad things about them. Here’s the reality: when people are not talking about you AT ALL, THAT’S when you have a real problem. But I digress…

The power of free social media tools like facebook and twitter or paid monitoring services like Radian6 or DNA13 is that now you have the opportunity to hear and participate in those conversations and engage and connect. You can make an enthusiast into a brand ambassador or maybe even assuage an unhappy customer. Sometimes you will lose a customer, despite your best efforts. But isn’t it better to have had the chance to at least HEAR what that unhappy customer had to say and take a shot at bringing them back to the fold?

I had a huge problem this week with AT&T and I got, frankly, what I would call despicable customer service from them. It didn’t seem to bother them that my home phone was ringing in someone else’s house and his in mine.(I wonder if he took any messages?)  No one considered the privacy implications, at least they didn’t do so overtly, and they didn’t seem too put out when they told me that 4 or 5 days might go by until they fixed it. Now, I have heard all the twitter stories about “influentials” with 10 or 20,000 followers who make a big stink online and get their way. My number of followers does not stack up, but I decided to take my case to twitter court and see if justice would be served. Within 10 minutes of my first “AT&T sucks” tweet around 4pm, I got a follow from a local AT&T media relations person. That led to two phone calls from AT&T repair folks and finally two more calls from the repair tech himself down the street from my house. By 7pm, my phone was back working again. The experience reminded me of an incident that happened very early on in my professional life that made a huge impression on me.  I started out at the (once) venerable William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills and I recall  an agent sending out a company-wide e-mail asking for help getting something (I don’t recall what it was now) for an “important client.” Within minutes, the CEO of the company did a “reply all” saying, “All our clients are important clients.”

If a huge company like AT&T can get it together to reach out to a disgruntled customer, why can’t your company?