Friday, 9 October 2009

Practice what you Digitally Teach (a rant!)

Yesterday I was at a very invigorating digital conference. Lots of food for thought. During the day one of the presenters demonstrated how to create and place an ad on Facebook. Good stuff. Everyone was engaged and paying close attention.

Then I started to wonder: how many digital practioners actually know first hand how to use the digital technology that we preach so avidly about to our clients? And what about our offline cousins? Do they play in the digital space, just for fun.

We all have Facebook accounts, sure, but have we created a Fan page. We may go to Tripadvisor to research a hotel or destination, but how many actually write a review after their trip? And what about the sexier stuff, like video mash-ups and podcasts; or ceating a widget.  Are we contributing to the digital ecosystem in way we should? Can we really demo from first hand experience or is it text-book talk.
Then I thought about my contributions. I admit I was a bit reluctant at first. I only joined Facebook so I could suss how it worked and see what all the fuss was about. Two years later though, and  I've lost about 120 hours of my life in the FB abyss. To the point I decided to started a digital scrapbook called coolshitucandoonfacebook.
It was the same with my ipod touch. I just wanted to see how the apps worked, have a play, download some podcasts and a few episodes of Grey's Anatomy. Now of course, I'm surgically attached to thing and have palpitations if I can't find it.
Now forgive me if you do all this already,(good for you honey!). But are you sharing your skills and knowledge with you offline counterparts: the traditional planners or the client-facing teams. Particularly those who are a little shy of the digital sphere. Or better still are you an offline person who is being dragged into the digital media age kicking and screaming. As soon as you see an email with the word "digital" in the subject heading, do you forward to the first "digital" person who springs to mind with a line that says "can you get back to me on this asap. See below".
If this is the case, it's time to take matters into your hands. Open a Bebo account, see what the young generation are really upto; design a t-shirt or two and start a cullt following on myspace; download that killer app and get intimate with it. Then when your client asks "so how does that *blank* actually work?" you can talk with real authority, look smart and switched on and impress their socks off. It's makes for a compelling story.
Use training as a stepping stone across the digital mindfield, then spend a couple of hours dodgy live rounds creating a spoof for YouTube. Your clients will love you for it and so will your digital billings and you will actually be practicing what you.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Measure for Measure

In the past, advertisers have followed the gold standard of campaign measurement: impressions, clicks and click through rates. This has been a perfectly acceptable approach as it gives us an indication of immediate response rates, (i.e. clicks) and where they originated from . Ideal for DR campaigns.

The question is: is that enough? The answer is no! Not when we’re in a time where users are online for an average of 16 hours a week, have a multitude of channels to tune into, be it social networking, shopping, banking, travel planning, TV on Demand, gaming etc, and the number of page impressions has increased 5 fold in the last 5 years. This means that users are exposed to a higher number of advertiser messages; consequently more messages to ignore, giving way to the ever feared ‘decline of the click’.

This year it became a little clearer as to the real story behind the declining click rate. Both Eyeblaster and DoubleClick’s recent studies show that although the click through rate on standard ads has indeed slowed, conversion rates via rich media assets has increased. This means that although most advertisers raison detre is to drive traffic to their brand site, most users are happy to provide details, watch videos, download content etc, directly from the banner ad unit. This way they don’t have to leave the site they are currently on to engage with the brand. They can happily multi-task – which is a win-win solution for all concerned.

I know I keep banging on about it, but the main drivers of change in the way we measure, lay not only in improvements in technology, but in the ever evolving social media spaces. The need comes from advertisers trying to keep up engagement with self publishing users in social networking sites; or creators and spectators of viral activity from video footage and online ad funded programmes; TVonDemand, application downloads; user reviews, comments, syndication and communities.

So it stands to reason that we need to embrace new methods of measuring campaign success and combine this with more sophisticated approaches to tracking a users activity on the brand site. We will then build up a 360’ picture of all levels of engagement, response and actions both on and off the site.

New metrics would include level of brand sentiment; number of video plays; number of downloads; data-capture names; viral spread rate; overall brand interaction rate; referrals from content; content driven conversations etc; as well as clicks and CTR; cost per engagement; cost per lead, cost per brand interaction minute; number of site actions; drop-off point; dwell time etc. This means that way we look at ROI now has to change the way we approach our buying models. Why just buy on a CPM basis when cost per conversation (for example) is more appropriate (another topic for different post me thinks!).

Moving from click only based measurement to 360’ measures will dramatically improve the quality of the results and the subsequent planning and dialogue with consumers.

However I recognise that this is not an overnight transfer. It will take a month or 24, to make this kind of step change across global brand sites and a multitude of simultaneous campaigns. But we should bear the change in mind and deem it necessary if we mean to keep up with the evolving digital media space and the consumers who dictate the pace of change.

What’s occurring in the search scene?

Search fuels traffic, but content fuels search. Consider the rise and rise of social media and all the user generated content out there. With advertisers trying to impress an increasingly hard to please digital audience, they too have had to start creating content that is not only engaging or funny, but transient.

As a result search engines are working overtime to redirect curious users to branded, unbranded, co-created, spoofed, mashed, tagged and presumably deleted content that lives all over the social web space. So instead of users being directed to a ‘destination page’ that has been carefully crafted by one proud advertiser; search is now sending them off in all different directions to find a much talked about content jaw-dropper (or food for thought document, or coupon, or competition…need we go on).

By providing new traffic driving opportunities, eg to Facebook fan pages, popular Diggs or embedded widget banners, we need to be cognisant of the need to spread the branded word in areas outside of our destination site. It takes time and effort and of course great content (get a copy of my Digital Thought Report on ‘Content is King’, for deeper thinking on that subject), but it can do wonders for our natural search appearances. The positive knock on effect is to open the brand up to a wider more in-tune audience, who may not be ready for/aware of the product or service yet, but will start to shift their perception of the brand if the content, placement, sentiment and tonality are right up their street.

And here’s the fun bit: if the audience like you and your clever content, then they will talk about you. This is the biggest change to the internet landscape - the emergence of 'The Conversation.' Web 1.0 was a one way street. The Social Web (or Sweb!) is a virtual spagehetti junction.

That means if conversations are happening people will be looking for more of the same via their search engines. Or free advertising to you and me. So why not capitalise on it. A good digital marketer will sync their social SEO with their onsite SEO and PPC efforts. This is done easily enough buy investing in a good social listening tool and tapping into the postive and negative keyword clouds. Et volia! You have a collection of terms that you can plug into your sites editorial optimisation routine, and start putting your destination site among the list of natural search results that you would otherwise miss.

Viral and WOM - the fraternal twins

The buzz terms "viral" and "WOM" have been doing the digital circuit for quite some time now. However in the past six months or so the personality of these fraternal twins has started to develop giving a clearer distinction between the two: Viral is a content driven free spirit, while it’s high maintenance sister WOM is a more controlled, product testing creature. So while they both aim to get people talking they tend to go about it in different ways.

Viral is a show off. The viral works best with engaging content, be it an edgy original video; a useful or jaw-dropping email or a cheeky microsite. The content is then dropped on sites that are synonymous with entertainment. The users then act as spread agents, forwarding to friends, posting on social networking pages and the like.

However for the viral effect to work the content has to be compelling enough for people to want to pass it own. Bearing in mind that the user has an ulterior motive too: s/he wants to build kudos with their peers: if the content will damage their online reputation in anyway then they may not want to be associated to it.

From an advertisers point of view, there are some laws of engagement to be observed to help protect, not just your reputation, but your audience’ too. Firstly, be transparent: let everyone know that it’s you behind this brilliant piece of content. Then let go: try content that is slightly outside of your comfort zone; or resonates in some way with your audience (Nike do this really well). And as imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, be prepared for the audience to play around with your creation. You’re in their space and they will feel the need, nay right, to tweak it, mash it, or spoof it. Finally remember with a viral, once it’s out there, there is not much you can do to stop it. Free spirit will out. However you can track it’s spread, which is the ROI part.

A good viral will travel the internet at just under the speed of light. So it’s important to know where you seeded it, how long it was there among the other equally engaging content before anyone picked it up; and how many eyeballs (approximately) have seen it, how long they played it for, forwarded on or shared on a social page. Vivkai’s partnership with GoViral means our clients can embark on a viral campaign with seeding, tracking and measurement taken care of, while enjoying our preferred partner rates and quality service level agreements.

As with Viral, the WOM campaigns requires the advertiser to put something in the hands of the users to spark conversation. In contrast to Viral, WOM campaigns rely on users to create that ‘something’. It’s a more rigorous approach, that involves identifying influential online users, recruiting them to test a product or service and giving them the platform to then write recommendations for or against their experience, using video, photos or blogs. The advertiser can moderate content and in some cases can intercept the flow of conversations, but does have to maintain a realistic distance from the blogger so reviews keep their credibility and don’t come across as paid for advertorials.

The upside of the product being tested by prolific and respected users, is that their comments will be spread by friends, with up to three degrees of separation, in their social virtual worlds. This will then increase their appearance on search results, which in turn increase the bloggers popularity. Readers can then tag the articles, post to social syndication sites like reddit, stumble upon, digg or del.ic.ious, and forward to friends.

Depending on the weight of the initial recommendation readers will either pass on positive or negative comments during offline/one-to-one conversations. Typically offline WOM spurs online review searches. And so the cycle continues. Although there is no real measure for offline WOM, online can be measured by tracking the volume of conversations taking place across the net. ROI is then determined by cost per conversation and of course any uplifts in sales.

As with it’s sibling, WOM has a number of similar rules about advertiser netiquette that should be observed. So much so that the US Federal Trading Commission has put some official laws in place for WOM campaigns, that brands and product reviewers have to follow. Although there are no equivalent laws in Europe at the moment, (it will only be a matter of time before other regions catch up), the FTC have offered some guidelines that are actually worth bearing in mind, from a best practice stance:

1. Readers should know that the blogger has been recruited to test the product and write the review.

MY POV: It will make a difference to how the reader will judge the article, but it doesn’t automatically mean that they won’t take the review seriously. After all they are buying into the reputation of the blogger, not the brand they are writing about.

2. Make sure your product tester doesn’t make any unsubstantiated or false claims. The FTC provides an example of a beauty lotion that the tester has been offered to try. The blogger gives it a good recommendation and says that it helped cure their acne. However if the product isn’t specifically designed to do that, and hasn’t been scientifically tested to cure acne, then the advertiser has an obligation to ensure that the kind of information is not included in the testers review.

MY POV: As the brands reputation is at stake when unsubstantiated claims are made, it is good practice to ensure that blogs are sense checked before being released into the ether. As a reader looking for an independent review we may be more susceptible to ‘added benefits’ type comments as it will be seen as the extra piece of information that you would not have gained from a magazine journalist or through the brands website. The question is: by removing any incidental information from a review, are we removing the authenticity of the users overall experience with the product/brand?

To include WOM as part of your digital media solution, Vivkai have media partners like Trnd and Buzz that specialise in WOM campaigns, and will manage the recruitment, distribution of products for testing, hosting of specific user blog sites and search engine optimisation. They will also monitor conversation threads and report on the level of positive vs. negative comments.

Overall the twins are still growing and coming into their own. They have chosen quite distinct paths, which will cross from time to time. Their journey to the user can be hastned with some subtle on and offlline PR along the way. However they do serve difference purposes and if used correctly, as part of the overall digital strategy, can add favourable weight to brand consideration, as well as giving something back to the coveted content junky audience.

the online content kingdom. first thought...

So, you’ve heard the one about the chicken and the egg? Well then you’ll know no one’s been able to crack it. Which is true for a number of brands trying to tap into the online content scene. So what does come first? The compelling engaging content hoping to draw numbers of adoring viewers? Or the huge number of viewers hoping to be engaged by their adored brand? Actually it can work both ways, but what you’ll find is even the most loved brands have to produce an outstanding piece of content to impress their viewers. Go out with the wrong message in the wrong format or environment and the brand can lose credibility faster than you say “egg on your face”.

The big considerations with content is much the same as any media. Audience. Format. Distribution. Advertisers also need to think about the value to them for producing and distributing content and how to measure the success of their content piece. The burning questions will be, what ROI has it delivered or has as it opened up new opportunities for us?

If you’re going to embark on a content lead campaign you need to know what material, tone of voice, visual stimulus and primary message your want your content to hold. Be mindful of who will be viewing your content and manage their expectations in regards to a ‘quick fling’ contact, or a long lasting relationship. The approach you choose will determine other factors, like are you, your website and source of material, geared up for the long haul. Or if you just want a short and sweet encounter with the audience, how do you communicate this up front? What is your exit strategy (and that applies to both long and short term content exposure).
As long as we abide by the laws of his land, then we’ll all be in for a long and fruitful life in the Content Kingdom. Long live the King!