The Five Faces of Social Media

Very often, I will be in a discussion with a client where they espouse the virtues of social media. They’ll suggest that social media is simply about people “liking” their brand.

I tend to bristle at the idea that social media has a single face – a single purpose. Especially when that purpose is as a relatively unproductive subscription-based profile better know as a Facebook Page, Snapchat ID or an Instagram profile.

The best way to look at social media is via the “best fit” purposes by which we might use various social media channels, of which there are five.

1. Social Media as a Subscription / Customer Service Channel

Liking / following these channels allows existing consumers to be kept up to date with the activities of a brand (although only a small percentage of people ever see the updates of said brand). This is where social channels attract the most attention – having “likes” and “follows”.

The ability for people to “like” a profile has taken on an almost supernatural power amongst novice marketers, as if the act of liking somehow guarantees reach, brand recognition and even uplift in “brand love”.
Sadly, the opposite is true.

The heaviest consumers of a brand – the people who are already buying the brand as much as they possibly can be – are the ones who are most likely the followers of your branded profile. It’s the people who are rusted on who are the ones liking, not the people who are the most important: your next, newest consumer.

Interestingly, only some of these channels – namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – tend to attract the vanity metric seeking marketers. Ask most marketers how many people subscribe to their YouTube Channel, or how many emails they have collected in their database, and the answer is often far less clearcut, an indication of how arbitrary most of these figures are.

Therefore, the way in which these channels should be used as is later in the path to purchase – as a means of upselling, reminding or as a customer service tool.

In summary: Use your Facebook / Twitter feeds as a customer service / upsell tool, not a reach builder. “Likes” are of almost no value if you want to attract new customers.

2. Social media as a content channel

Probably the best, most common use of social media is as a low cost, high quality content distribution channel.

For many years, marketers and their colleagues in the IT department argued in favour of hosting their own websites, their own video streaming services and their own empires of wires.

However, social media channels such as YouTube proved that the best tools are free or nearly free. Using social media channels as a content distribution service is by far the best way to ensure your content is seen in the highest quality, on the right device, in the right format. Internal, bespoke content systems are generally vastly inferior, as they are almost constantly out of date, of poor quality and hideously expensive. Further, most of them are not search optimised as well as social networks, so your content doesn’t have the same opportunity of being discovered by consumers.

In summary: Use social media channels such as YouTube / Vimeo / Tumblr / others as world’s best practice content hosting /distribution services.

3. Social Media as an Advertising Platform

Social media is largely monetised via advertising, and in the era of increasing ad-blockers, social media is an extremely powerful way of advertising to consumers.

Reach is more important than frequency. It’s like a leaky bucket: every brand leaks consumers, brands that grow are characterised simply by their ability to acquire quicker than they leak. Marketing is quite straight forward: keep filling the bucket quicker than it empties.

Social media advertising is one of the best and cheapest ways of working towards this – with a variety of optimised ad formats, highly targeted advertising (on the likes of Facebook and Google platforms), and rich media options such as videos and HTML5.

The only reason why social media channels aren’t totally overwhelmed with advertising dollars is that most media agencies can’t earn equivalent rebates / revenues from booking ads on many social media sites, so they prefer other media. This isn’t good for clients.

In summary: Use social media channels as a strong part of your media buying mix. Mark Zuckerberg and the like will love me promoting this perspective: Social media’s best use is as a reach tool – and advertising platform.

4. Social media as an analytics platform

Social media channels allow you a good level of analytics on a per post or per profile level. While not generally as good as web-concentrated services such as Google Analytics, many social networks as such Facebook and YouTube provide an excellent level of analytics, delving deeply into content analytics, per-post analytics and profile / page analytics. You can see what has worked and what hasn’t.

YouTube in particular has extremely powerful video analytics services, allowing realtime video tracking, drop-offs, and various other ways to understand and optimise content.

In summary: Use social media as a content-based analytics platform to examine how popular / engaging your content is.

5. Social media as a consumer data source

One of the strongest and most enduring assets that Facebook has is the quality of user data. It’s very difficult to “lie” to Facebook about our activities, in the same way it’s very easy to “lie” to most other online services, for example when we sign up to a new service and claim to live in “Afghanistan” because we couldn’t be bothered scrolling past the first country to appear in the pop-up menu.

Given that most people upload their real names, their date of birth and many other true pieces of data (let alone the copious amounts that Facebook collects about us via ambient means), the ability to harvest and analyse this data is a particularly powerful marketing tool.

Whether by uploading email / phone / contact details and generating a “Lookalike” market for further communication, or by advertising to an incredibly tiny and specific market of people, or by simply analysing social sign-on data for trends and insights about our consumers, social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin, are a wonderful and deep source of data about our consumers.

Location based gaming – is this the next game changer?

Location based games, such as Geocaching, are gaining worldwide popularity.

Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt that’s becoming a huge craze all over the world.

Geocaching is an app which uses a phones GPS to direct players to the specific co-ordinates of a hidden geocache (a container filled with a logbook and items to trade). There are over 2.5 million active geocaches worldwide and 6 million people loving every find.

How could this work in marketing?

Location based games could open up a whole new way of engaging with consumers. Creating your own branded location based game could help to draw consumers into your stores.

For example, a coffee shop chain could create a location based game in which users find virtual rewards in store to redeem for a free coffee. The users could compete on a live leaderboard for titles such as most coffee shops visited, most distance covered, and even most coffees drunk.

Providing potential customers with an entertaining, engaging, and memorable platform like a location based game, will embed your brand into their consideration set for life.

Find out more about Geocaching here.

Other location based game: Ingress

The Viral Plague – Why "viral" videos are a waste of time and money

The Virus of Viral
A new, virulent plague has afflicted communications agencies and marketing departments all over the world; one that’s based on the flimsy notion that consumers can’t wait to latch onto branded content and share it with their friends.

In fact, there seems to be a prevailing thought that some sort of “consumer sharing pipeline” exists, all of them eagerly awaiting for their weekly dose of “Old Spice”. Do people really sit around on a Friday afternoon, scouring the interwebz, looking for a corporate video to fulfil their obligations and scratch the “viral” itch for the week?

Realistically, we know it’s not true. Despite all the chat about social creativity or shareability, sharing is something people do for two reasons alone:

  1. To benefit their friends
  2. To make themselves appear smarter/funnier to their friends

Just because your company thinks it’s important, it doesn’t make it true for most consumers. YouTube is littered with the detritus of agency and client attempts to create “virals” that have gone miserably – and expensively – wrong as a result of ignoring these fundamental principles.

Sharing is good
Sharing is a core part of the human existence. Socialising and discussing information and ideas can be mutually beneficial, while improving the welfare of our friends has a strong intrinsic value, and may also have the beneficial side effect that our friends start thinking better of us. Increasing the esteem we’re held in may act as the major motivator to share for some people, but is often merely the unintended benefit of sharing.

The two criteria listed above should be used to test the appropriateness of the content created by communications agencies and marketing departments. Ultimately, if they want their message to be shared, companies must provide content that adds value. That’s important not just because they want it to be, but important because it really is genuinely “arousing”: interesting, emotional, rational, relevant and salient. Or just laugh-your-arse-off funny.

Hurdles to Sharing
In order to create content that people will actually share, it must at least be objectively brilliant, and should also satisfy all of these criteria:

  • Access – The content must be extremely simple to access
  • Consumption – It must be very easy to consume
  • Comprehension – It must be self-contained and easy to understand
  • Benefit of sharing – It must be beneficial to my friends and/or make me look better
  • Cost of sharing – weighing up the ease of sharing against the benefits of going through with it. It should be ‘worth it’.
  • Currency – It must be new – or at least carry the high likelihood that it is fresh to the receiver / future receivers
  • Perceived benefit of receiving – when the person receiving it thinks it’ll be good, they’re more likely to investigate it
  • When they benefit and/or think better of you because of it
  • When they think their friends will benefit and/or think better of them by passing it on themselves

The Long Tale
Even if it’s great, it doesn’t mean it’ll be rapidly shared. Viral is an outcome, not a strategy. There are many excellent examples of brand information and other video storytelling that aren’t “viral”. Good content that’s well executed and is always there, always on, always accessible, will always be viewed, slowly but surely. This kind of content simply makes sense. It’s an effective way of extending communications across media; less about the short term-high burn, and more about the “long tale” of storytelling over time – where a single YouTube video can achieve reach and be of benefit for years to come.

As an industry, we need to stop getting over-excited by the lure of free distribution and rapid spikes in viewers and realise that, just like any other medium, social media has costs. Only then might we be cured of this epidemic.

20 x 12 – 20 Trends for communicators in 2012

I’ve compiled a list of 20 trends for communicators for the next 12 months.  Enjoy!

1. True Digital Communications
What many people in our industry call “digital” is just online communications. Truly “Digital” operations occur across three layers: Hardware, Software and Online. Most agencies and companies have played with Online (Social , Facebook, online communications and content, ads and so on), dabbled in Software (software as a service, apps, calculators, tools and games) and have left Hardware to their staff hobbyists, if at all.

We’re going to see some truly digital operations in the marketing and communications space, led by the big integrated agencies and/or marketing companies. Large scale technology builds to augment shopper experience and facilitate awareness and sales should be part of every marketeer’s ambitions. What is more likely over the shorter term are smaller, cheaper, more nimble executions such as: merging digital displays with other media, ensuring that point of sale systems share APIs with social networks, and building low cost gadgets and tools to facilitate communications and sales (potentially starting with LittleBits, Cubelets and other low cost electronics).

2. The Internet of Things
We’re going to see a genuine value exchange – internet connected everyday household items provided cheaply (or freely) in return for advertising opportunities. With the rise of the “internet of things”, where every day household items such as fridges, alarm clocks and even toothbrushes become connected to the internet, we’ll see them become advertising and communications displays – a home full of screens. Advertising has funded the FTA TV industry in many countries; phone calls, SMS and data have subsidised mobile handsets. The freemium business model, so popular with software, will begin to expand into consumer hardware. Data, paid for by advertisers, feeding content to devices paid for by advertisers. Clocks that provide sponsored news updates, weather vanes that give you the temperature and an advertisement for clothing are just two examples of how marketeers might create new owned media channels.

3. Digital Austerity
2012 is about simplicity and austerity. The death of the campaign site has been coming for a long time, but finally, communicators are beginning to realise that in order to build distinctive, memorable brand assets, is a complete waste of time and money. Short term campaign constructs lead to efforts being made dragging people to that campaign construct such as short-term Facebook Fan page, short lived apps and other useless elements, rather than getting their brand noticed, remembered and understood through developing long term brand assets – the foundations of a brand – offline and online. The corollary of cutting down a variety of different campaigns and distraction marketing is that people will notice your brand more, rather than noticing your advertising. Branded, consistent distribution points for communications should always be increased.

4. The Last Campaign
2012 should see big changes in the way many marketing departments operate, away from the on-off “campaign mentality” that has hurt so many brands with visibility gaps and lack of reach, to more realtime marketing – always listening, always responding, always mentally available, always reaching consumers. The only way to achieve this is for many companies to move away from seasonal, quarterly and campaign budgets based on time, and move towards more modal budgeting – in order to reach, to tell stories, to create distinctive brand assets, to engage and entertain – all at the same time, over time, all the time.

5. Sentiment ain’t what it used to be
While social media monitoring, conversation analysis are essential elements to learning and developing qualitative communications insights, one of the most useless elements to it, sentiment analysis, will hopefully die a quick and sudden death. There is not a digital marketing practitioner worth his salt that believes sentiment analysis is anything more than gimmickry. So much more can be gained through analysis of issues at a qualitative level, keyword analysis and a spread of sites and conversations. Conversation monitoring firms should stop peddling this snake oil and actually provide better value by being able to monitor sites where truly insightful conversations occur – primarily Facebook and online forums / discussion boards.

6. Data and Analytics
Big Data is the new oil, the new plastics, the new “social media”. Forget retweets, likes and other soft metrics – Big Data analysis allows for any organisation to understand their huge data sets in a way that will fundamentally change the way they manage their businesses. From working out how to predict when insurance claims will be made, to the likelihood of hospital visits based on previous visits to a local doctor, to the correlation between temperature and beer consumption, companies like Kaggle are making high quality big data analysis cheaper and easier. Google Correlate helps banks understand the most likely timing and location of mortgage enquiries just as it has helped the US Center for Disease Control understand the timing and location of virus outbreaks. And on a small data analysis scale, companies like Betaworks, with their stable of brands such as Bitly and Chartbeat, and ISP based sources such as Experian Hitwise and eCommerce analytics tools are essential tools that have suffered from less visibility because they’re not the new, new thing, but they are incredibly important, and 2012 will see them recognised as such once again.

7. The Game Layer
2012 is the year that game dynamics or “gamification” crossover into the every day. Gamification is, in simple terms, a series of emotional mechanics communicators and marketeers can use to encourage purchase or incite reaction. A traditional example of gamification is happy hours in pubs. If you attend a pub (location) at a specific hour (time) you receive half price beers (discount reward). Airline rewards points are similar: purchase a flight (transaction), and you’ll get points (artificial reward points). The more you purchase, the more points you earn, therefore you increase your status (level-up) for greater benefits (point reward status). This is no different to addictive games, where the more you play, the more experience you earn (XP), the better your weapons / players / options. Humans are irrational, emotional beings. The key for communicators and marketers isn’t to change the way they communicate, but to change the way they get noticed and increase relevant associations with their communications, building a “game layer” over their existing communications and marketing.

8. One Hundred Seconds of Solitude
Solitude and silence will make a considerable comeback in 2012. Shutting down notifications, turning off phones, removing oneself from data access will become more and more valued. Out of office replies and voicemail is diminishing, with the expectation that we’re always connected, always plugged into the network. As a result, we’ve seen a consumer backlash in the form of email bankruptcy (deleting one’s entire inbox and writing an out of office alerting people that anything they’ve sent over that period has been lost/deleted) and overall attention deficit, not a disorder, but the deliberate lack of attention. Now we’re seeing apps such as MacFreedom that allow you to block the internet for up to 8 hours – and as the name suggests, earn “freedom” from notification. International holidays have an unintended benefit in that the prohibitively high mobile data costs stop people from checking in on the road, allowing a respite from notification fatigue (which for some is an asphyxiating disconnection).

9. Attention Shifting
From Instapaper to uTopic to Pinterest to YouTube’s “Watch This Later” to Safari’s “Reading List” – we’ve moved from appointment based media such as traditional TV and radio to time-shifting media such as podcasts and video recording to now “attention shifting”. We see it now, we can access it now, but we’re not ready to actually consume it and think about it now. These tools are in essence “Wishlists” for free content – despite it being free (cost-wise), we’re not free (time-wise). We’re going to see a lot more of these tools, “Attention shifting shopping carts”.

10. Advocacy Fatigue
Why listen to loyalists? They’re buying already. As for their reach, it’s limited, despite the protestations of many a social media “guru”. The excellent Ehrenberg-Bass Institute recently found that less than 1% of existing Facebook Fans were actively engaged in their Fan Pages, and existing fans didn’t buy any more of the products compared to non-fans. The social media industry needs to focus on reach, rather than niche; the industry needs to use social conversations as a means to understand what people are thinking, the questions they are asking, and what they’re searching for and visiting, rather than defining success on the actions of the very few “likes” and “fans”. What is more important is to speak to the many people who aren’t buying, talking, sharing, liking and blogging about your brand – the everyday consumer, non-existent or light buyers of your brand. Many social media campaigns ignore this very obvious paradox: the very people who are the lightest consumers (who are the source of sales growth) are the very ones who aren’t engaged, who aren’t participating, who aren’t fans – and who have little or no interest in the brand. Further, with the exception of high involvement purchases, current fans are unlikely to advocate to these others on your behalf.
Provide better communications to get noticed by the uninformed and disinterested – yes, involve the key opinion leaders, involve the niche if you have the luxury – but effective storytelling has to happen across media, for the many, not just the few.

11. Social Signon
Here’s a puzzle: If you consider the entire Hotmail user base, where are the largest number of users based? If you answered China, you’re wrong. Japan? No. India? Indonesia? Brazil? United States? Germany? United Kingdom? All incorrect. the answer is AFGHANISTAN. Before you wrack your brain considering the reasons why, the simple answer is that Afghanistan is the first country that comes up in the login / signup page, therefore people click Afghanistan rather than scrolling down and accurately filling in information. People are sick of signing up and logging in, but this isn’t new – 88% of people claimed to have provided incorrect information when joining services in 2011, up from 76% in 2010, according to a recent survey for Janrain. Facebook Connect – using Facebook to automatically fill in signup documents and login isn’t new either – however 2012 is the year when “Social signon” will move towards universal adoption. By the end of 2012, sites that do not offer social signon (whether via Facebook, Google Account or Twitter), and true connections to the social graph, will suffer drastic declines in visitation, interaction and most importantly, the ability to deliver customised content and advertising to users.

12. The Tyranny of Popularity
Facebook is making it easy – too easy – to automatically share our activities. We read an article on the Guardian or Washington Post Website, and it automatically adds it to our Facebook feed. We don’t even have to like it – simply participate, and it shares automatically, “frictionless sharing”.
There is a problem with this – there’s so much info out there. Facebook is breaking with its past of “Top Stories” and moving the other way – overwhelming us with more information than we need – or like. While sharing is always important to the sharer, too much sharing is a burden on the consumer. That’s the key problem with Twitter – it’s a torrent, not a stream. In the era of information overload, and attention bankruptcy, we now have too much from Facebook. Most people aren’t good at working out what’s interesting to others and what isn’t, so we require filters to identify the best stories and content – some filters are professional people such as editors, while other filters use aggregate measures such as clicks and “likes” and serve us the most popular. If something becomes popular, it moves to the top of social rankings, which begets popularity, whether the content is “good” or not. The only way to ensure that the most popular content changes on many sites is to introduce decay rates to content that ensure even popular content falls off the perch quickly enough that people won’t get bored by it. Google overcame this issue, what was known as the “Google effect“, when it used to promote the most clicked link higher up the search order. Since then, they’ve improved their algorithms to ensure that it’s not just the most popular (ie: social), but the most relevant and most authoritative link that gets promoted, but this will change in 2012 with increased social search results.

13. The Payment Layer
Digital has lead to an explosion of channels across so many industries – from music to social to content to platforms. However, one of the holy grails of the internet – reliable, universally acceptable and rigorous payment systems are rare. After PayPal, there is daylight. WePay, MoneyBookers, Amazon Payments and Bitcoin (despite it’s recent troubles) are potential challengers, while Square’s growth has been slow and steady.
Google Wallet is slowly growing, while Near Field Communications will be integrated into everything from digital panels to vending machines to supermarket checkouts – allowing us to pay by waving our mobile phone over a payment terminal. Once payment systems become more sophisticated and allow us to pay in increments of hundredths of a cent, then we may see an improvement in the way copyright is adequately remunerated outside of specific distribution channels, from text to images to video to audio.

14. The Rise of APIs
APIs, Application Programming Interfaces, are ways in which software programs communicate with each other. Simply, it’s how you’re able to get the weather on your iPhone app – the weather bureaux (or source of content) creates an API that your mobile weather app accesses in order to find out what your local weather forecast is. APIs aren’t just used for weather, but by organisations of all different types to open up their systems and allow people to build apps, software, games and solutions using that information. A perfect example of that is the NYSE, who opened up all of their data in the form of APIs, so that people would create software that analyses, tracks and provides solutions related to any part of the NYSE. Another example is auto manufacturer – General Motors has recently created a number of APIs in their cars, allowing people to control elements of the car’s operation using their mobile app – whether starting the car remotely, or setting off a map based alarm to warn the person that they should stop as they approach a petrol station. APIs aren’t just about access, but about building an ecology around products and services for the betterment of the consumer. American Express and FourSquare trialled a system whereby offers and specials through Foursquare were automatically redeemed if a person used their American Express card – without staff or consumer having to wave a coupon or delay the transaction. All of this powered by their respective APIs. 2012 will see a boom in APIs as organisations see the benefit of opening up their APIs and allowing customers, suppliers and consumers to mash up the benefits and reap the respective rewards.

15. The Internet is Leaking
As much as we love our flash in the pan status updates, tweets and other digital ephemera, people are looking for a reversion to the tangible, the tactile, the real. It’s been happening for a while, but there are a distinct lack of providers in this space. Berg has just launched Little Printer, a prototype for a “social printer”, a means to deliver up to the second status updates, weather reports, photos, coupons and other ephemera in printed form. Apple have recently added a very useful “Cards” app, that allows iPhone users to send greeting cards direct from their mobile phone using photos they’ve just taken. From the to Postagram to Printstagram, tactile options are on the rise. As wonderful as digital is, it’s not great at giving us texture, despite the proliferation of Instagram and Hipstamatic film grain packs. 2012 will provide us with many more examples of where the Internet has leaked into our rooms.

16, Mesa Checkins
Forget checking into a venue – what are you eating there? What is the event you’re attending? 2012 will see an explosion in the detail checkin – not the generic venue, but the specific product, service or event. If I want the best spaghetti bolognese within 1km, a check-in service such as Oink will help me find it (despite it recently being purchased and shut down by Google). I might not be a fan of a sports stadium, but I’m a fan of the team who are playing there that day. Mesa checkins – “mesa” coming from the Greek “inside”, tend to be more active – I’m “watching” / “eating”, rather than the passive “I’m at”. Mesa checkins are also rapidly extending into traditional media, with an increasing number of media-synching apps that allow us to check-in to songs (Shazam, SoundHound) and TV shows (Miso, GetGlue, Into_Now, Meta Mirror, Flingo, Media Sync and GOAB) while we’re watching them.

17. Life Telemetry
Formula One cars are at the bleeding edge of electronic innovation, particularly their telemetry systems that monitor hundreds of variables on a car and instantly send the information back to base, in order to provide the teams with the ability to modify the performance of the car, thus improving performance. With mobile phones in every pocket, with accelerometer, compass, microphone, camera and other sensory inputs, why not track every element of your life and thereby improve your performance? Whether it be tracking your sleeping patterns with sleep apps such as Sleep Cycle, monitoring your calorie intake with LoseIt! or your jogging distances with Nike+Fuelband, the mobile device as sensor and quality infographics as output should increasingly allow us to monitor our life telemetry – from calorie intake to productivity to moods.

18. Smarter Search
As good as Google is, it only supplies us with a list of links where it believes the information lies, rather than the information itself. The greatest online success stories are platforms for sorting and filtering information – Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Amazon – they are in essence elaborate curators / editors – with either ads or a retail store attached to monetise them. We require better search, “plain English” search, and actual answers, not results. From Google Squared (recently shut down) to Wolfram Alpha to Siri to Google+, we are in a new era of search wars, based on providing us with real answers and solutions with a social, local, intent / historical context.

19. Second Screen Culture
We’re all accustomed to text search. For many of us, Shazam was the first app we installed on our smartphone – with its wonderful ability to ID any song we might hear out and about. We may even be in the vast minority who scan QR codes to access product information. Increasingly, 2012 will see visual search increase dramatically, especially when shopping – note eBay’s recent introduction of visual search. Second screens such as mobiles and tablets will give every single element of a brand the ability to be multi-dimensional in its communications. Where visual and audio search will play an increasingly important role is using the mobile as a media enabler – where people want to know more about a product at point of sale, or while watching an advertisements, they’ll simply be able to point their mobile phone at the device and allow the product packaging to “speak”. 68% of Americans watch TV with their smartphone, tablet or laptop in hand. How many marketers are providing complementary content for this second screen?

20. Vertical Social Networks
In the “good old days” of the internet, people would gather around interests and hobbies. News groups, with names such as were large planets that we would orbit around. We gravitated around interests, not people. These communities evolved into online forums – on topics as varied as fashion to football to cars to politics to music. These online forums are still the primary and most popular way in which people converse online – bringing together total strangers, generally identified by pseudonyms, around one common interest. Social networking sites such as Facebook are different – they make the person the “planet” – self-focussed, with a person’s life being the major topic that others gravitate towards. Vertical social networks bring together people who aren’t necessarily friends, but gather around an interest, just like online forums. The difference being they link the best of forums with the best of social networking; around specific topics. LinkedIn is a good example – people brought together around careers and business networking. Sermo is another – a social network for medical professionals and doctors to discuss medical issues. Myspace went from a social network, to trying to become a vertical social network around music, looking for focus and a specific interest to provide a hook for users. 2012 will see more and more of these vertical social networks arise, with the key being that they are mobile enabled – localised and using the cameras and microphones on phones to bring content “from the street” to the network instantly. PearlTrees, FoodSpotting and GetGlue are three examples; by the end of the year, there’ll be many, many more.

Me + Campaign Asia + Social Gaming

I have been quoted in a new piece in Campaign Asia Magazine on Social Gaming.  Here’s a link to the piece: Campaign Asia April 11 Social Gaming

My full response for Campaign Asia:

Q: What has been the impact of social gaming on the general gaming landscape?

Gaming was always seen by people as anti-social, but social gaming has destroyed that myth. Social gaming – whether games specifically based on social networking sites (Such as FarmVille and CityVille), Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (such as World of Warcraft or Everquest) or Console Networking games (such as Call of duty: Black Ops or FIFA 11) have opened up gaming in a number of ways; it has increased the number of gamers (with a strong growth in older females), it has increased the number of gaming sessions (as people are encouraged to play with their friends, and it has also increased the duration of gaming sessions (as the previous limitations of computer based intelligence are now superceded by the ability to play against real people).

In short, it has provided a new dimension to gaming, a new relevance and greater consumer touchpoints – it’s not just about the old PC vs console battle, but the ability to play games in browser, in social network, on mobile and other touchpoints.

Q: What is the chief revenue driver for social game developers? How important is ad-based revenue?

In the old days, games were either freeware/shareware or paid products. Now, we have a broad mix of revenue opportunities: paid (buy the game for $x), subscription (per month $), paid updates (buy the new levels for $x), advertising based (in game displays or sponsorship), and increasingly in-game purchase (virtual goods such as clothes, weapons, and other virtual goods that make for a better in game experience). Mostly, gaming developers should be looking at a mix of these opportunities. Ad based revenue is at it’s best when incorporated into the game in an engaging way – rather than just using the game as a billboard for display ads.

Q: Does the advent of gaming via SNS mean that marketers need to rethink how they strategise their in-game advertising? How then should brands be engaging with social gamers? What are the challenges involved?

Yes – just as marketing communications need to be engaging and relevant, so does their integration into games – particularly how they will work in a highly social environment. The key is to recognise that you are not building a platform or a tool, but a community – and every decision should be made to encourage the satisfaction, enjoyment and interaction of that community. While many marketers are fearful of social media because they “lose control” of conversation, social gaming allows the marketer to create the world and set the expectations and actions of the participants. It’s a relatively more controlled environment.

Q: To what extent are game developers and brands partnering to build games that satisfy both consumers and brands?

One of the earliest examples of this was the Playstation game “Boxster Challenge” which was developed by Porsche to coincide with the launch of the original Boxster way back in 1997. It was more or less a completely immersive, highly engaging virtual test drive experience for the Porsche Boxster.

One other great advantage of gaming for marketers is that unlike movies or music, gaming sequels tend to get better, therefore it’s easier to predict and partner with successful gaming franchises. More recently, we’ve seen changes in the way marketers use existing gaming franchises to promote their products: H&M used The Sims to promote and sell their clothing in game and McDonalds in FarmVille. Snoop Dogg has sold over $USD700,000 in branded virtual goods.

The bottom line is – games are incredibly popular – marketers aren’t doing enough to partner with game developers.

Beautiful Information / Data Visualisation

We’ve said a few times that 2010 is the year of data visualisation; ways in which ordinary information can be visualised in a way that is practical and informative at a glance. In the old days, we were limited to visualising only small amounts of information, due to the cost of the materials. Time is money, so only thing we’d pay for, the only thing we could practically use to track and visualise is a diary – a way in which we could visualise our time in blocks over a day, week, month, year.

Now, technology is allowing us to track and visualise almost anything. This is now leading to an explosion of data visualisation (or visualization if you’re American) tools, and now merging art with data.

Here are a few ways people have made data visualisation beautiful:

David McCandless is a guru in this area. He’s a London-based author, writer and designer who “loves pie, hates pie charts”.

Information Aesthetics is designed and maintained by Andrew Vande Moere, a Senior Lecturer at the Design Lab at the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning of the University of Sydney:

Here’s a collection of photos of the Boston Commons and a colour wheel based on the distribution of particular colours. User generated art.

Turn your music listening into a chart

A site that finds tweets based on particular words / terms (I hate, I love, I think) and displays them on the screen in realtime

Monopoly’s Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMMOG)

How adland is cutting Big Media out of the future: a great piece from Wired on the Tribal DDB / Monopoly City Streets Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), and the changes for the future of brands and products.

It’s a whopper of a case study that speaks to the heart of all digital initiatives. Ultimately, the digital industry does (should) do one or more of three things:

  • Help / Augment
  • Engage
  • Entertain / Educate

Whatever the digital initiative, if it does only one of these things, it’s not enough. If it does two of these things, it’s got a good chance at succeeding. If it does three of these things, it’s likely to work very well. Reach people, get them engaged, help them, entertain them. Get them to remember you.

How this Monopoly game ticks all three boxes?

  • It helps / augments the experience of playing Monopoly by making it a global game with potentially millions of competitors.
  • It engages through it being a great game, a great product and scalable across millions of people.
  • It entertains. It is Monopoly after all.

Who needs a TV network when you've got UStream

Ustream is a live streaming service, where anyone can stream footage, video, audio and archival footage live on the web to potentially millions of people. All for free.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It Red Carpet streamed live on Ustream and drew over 1.8 million viewers.

It provides one of the easiest and cheapest tools for anyone or any company to become a media company. Live speeches from political candidates, presentations at company AGMs, live streaming of a wedding for friends and family around the world, you name it.

BTW, “This is It” is a completely brilliant film / concert. You must experience it.

Google Squared – Definitely Not for Nerds

Google has released a fantastic new search option called Google Squared – it structures unstructured data, puts it in a table, and makes compiling lists and information MUCH easier.

This a great evolution of search engines, making it simple to find relevant info at a glance. Instead of search engines providing a list links where the content might eventually be – they will evolve into a place where they curate and collect multiple reliable structured data sources and give us the ANSWER. We may well look back on the pages and pages of unstructured lists that make up search engines today and think – “how uncivilised”. Google Squared acts to structure this content, and provide some commonalities between the types of content.

How it is prioritiseed will be an interesting question – will Google prioritise based on typical search engine optimisation rankings of popularity of quality data, or will it now begin to prioritise based on the spread of quality data – for example a coffee shop that lists not only the description, address, business hours and cuisine – but also payment methods, disabled access, coffee bean menu, and other, more imaginative things like whether it has a YouTube identity by which it provides video barista classes? Alternatively, will Google provide sorting options – based on user criteria?

Whatever the case, it’s a stronger incentive for organisations of all types to ensure they build a quality, structured, informative presence across all content platforms.

The social media space has come down with swine flu

Swine flu is dominating Google search. For the past two days (in the US at least), discussions around “swine flu”, “pig flu” and other such iterations have at least 10 references in the top 100 US searches, according to Google Trends. While not in the top five searches, people aren’t simply searching for “swine flu”, they’re searching for “swine flu deaths in California” and other such specific references – breaking up the overall search.

It was the idea that people search for things related to illness that was the basis of Google’s Flu Trends – a service they set up in 2007-2008. Their thinking is that when people get sick, they’ll type in symptoms or descriptions of the illness into Google in an attempt to learn more about the disease – and cure. Google discovered that if there was an outbreak or a pandemic, that they would be able to predict it up to two weeks faster than the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). This is the power of Google – in terms of being a “database of intent”, it knows what people are doing & thinking because it knows what people are searching for, on a mass global scale.

The bottom line of search and online activity is – people want to know whether it is near them, and whether swine flu will kill them. So how has the social media space reacted?

The Wikipedia listing for Swine Flu refers to a mortality rate of around 10% (the Wikipedia page has been viewed 114,687 times so far in April vs 237 times in March – and edited over 100 times in the past day). Google Maps has a live map, listing every outbreak of swine flu – as it happens! The subject “swine flu” is the number 1 trending topic on Twitter. Nielsen Blogpulse is showing the topic making up over 1.75% of all blog posts today.