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Focusing social platforms for community marketing August 29, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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One of the things social media marketing will need if it’s going to live up to its aggressive $5 billion spending forecast is more differentiation between marketing and collaboration platforms. Companies like Jive Software, which filed for its IPO last week; Lithium, which just hired a new CEO; Mzinga; and Telligent offer social network platforms aimed at both employees and customers. But one-size-fits-all social networking platforms may not be around for much longer, because to succeed, vendors will need to start offering tools and services concentrated specifically on community marketing, distinct from enterprise collaboration or social networks.

Vendors making tools for the space broadly defined as social CRM have arrived from various origins: buzz monitoring, fan site creation, customer service and support, and enterprise social networking. Core social networking technologies and techniques (e.g., social graph relationships and information, friend and group following, real-time information feeds) are common across those. But platforms aimed at marketing to communities will need specialization. Let’s take a look at how a new startup, Napkin Labs, is attempting to differentiate the community-marketing platform that it just took out of beta.

Napkin Labs offers a low-cost web service that companies like beta partners Intuit and Sony can use as an online focus group. The founders of Napkin Labs have brand advertising agency backgrounds, and it shows — occasionally to a fault. For example, they expose perhaps a little too much agency-insider terminology to consumers who, unless they’re avid Mad Men watchers, aren’t going to know or care what a “creative brief” is. CEO Riley Gibson is correct that encouraging and rewarding customer engagement is subtly different than doing the same for employees. So Napkin Labs uses gaming mechanics like challenges and points to encourage participation and rate user influence. Its focus on applications to test product features, advertising and packaging looks smart.

But translating the art of focus group analysis into software and social networking features will be challenging. Understanding how to use feedback from rabid fans versus mainstream customers, muting the impact of blowhard commentators and applying focus group insights to mass-market ad campaigns are more consulting services than products. Napkin Labs is attempting to educate less-savvy customers with templates and blog advice rather than hiring consultants.

But there are a host of other community-marketing features besides focus group analysis that vendors will increasingly use, such as:

  • Consumer network integration. Community-marketing platforms should enable and encourage community members to spread the message beyond the community. So any gaming or rewards systems must extend into other social media, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Member acquisition. If you’re in the fan page business — or are using social marketing tools for customer acquisition — you need to “fish where the fish are.” Most of the fish today are on Facebook. Napkin Labs has an idea that its offerings might work better as Facebook apps than as a part of a destination site; it’s probably right.
  • Community panels. Some community-marketing platform companies like House Party and CrowdTap bring along their own communities, much like traditional market research panels. There are tradeoffs to this approach — some clients want to control audience and data ownership — but those platforms enable data analysis across different customer and product types. That can lead to valuable marketing insights that might otherwise stay hidden from those clients.

Ultimately, a key role for community marketing platforms will be supporting so-called integrated marketing campaigns — that is, big, cross-media (TV, online, print) initiatives that involve things like product placement, brand sponsorships and physical-world presence. House Party and CrowdTap offer services to manage campaign logistics. That may be more like agency work and consulting than building a software platform with seductive margins and a scalable business model, but that’s what it’s going to take.

Question of the week

How else can collaboration platforms differentiate themselves from social marketing tools?

The social-media advertising ecosystem is shaping up August 8, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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A recent batch of product and funding announcements (Webtrends and Nielsen, CrowdTap and Hearsay Social, respectively) points to a real trend: The infrastructure and business ecosystem for social-media advertising is developing rapidly. That’s good news for marketers and online publishers — and even for Facebook competitors — as a robust ad infrastructure is critical for growing the market beyond the $3 billion forecast for U.S. spending in 2011. The tools and systems rolling out will help the 800-pound Facebook, of course. But they will also be valuable to smaller social-media companies and even traditional media, and they will generate revenue for tools, data and agency services.

A year ago, I wrote that the winning strategies belonged to whichever companies could help big-brand marketers reach large numbers of their target customers, integrate social marketing with traditional media and measure campaign performance. Now the social-media ecosystem is adding resources around social marketing management and advertising measurement, two pillars of those strategies. For example:

Getting “social” on company pages

Today most social-media advertising comprises boring display units on inexpensive social-network pages. It’s not particularly “social.” But marketers use it to drive audiences to company pages that feature interactive conversations, video and coupons, and that can access Facebook’s feed to build recurring use through fan-friending. Last week Foursquare added self-service tools for its own company pages, while Google is still figuring out its approach for Google+.

Facebook uses its EdgeRank algorithm to filter its feed for user relevance. That can limit the company messages delivered, fiendishly encouraging ad buying to remind fans to visit. Reportedly, Facebook may be reconsidering that strategy, but regardless, tools and services that coordinate page and ad management will be the winners. The companies I mentioned are among the early leaders, along with companies like Efficient Frontier, iCrossing and Buddy Media. And last week, Facebook announced that it was opening up its advertising API that had previously been limited to a handful of partners. That means there will soon be more management, analytics and services companies able to leverage Facebook data.

Measuring social advertising

Social advertising tools and services will need to integrate data from multiple sources for campaign analysis and optimization. Gnip, which licenses and resells Twitter’s “firehose” data, says that two-thirds of its customers are social media agencies. But to work successfully, tools also need offline consumer and enterprise information (ExperianAcxiom) and third-party online-traffic analysis from the likes of comScore and Nielsen.

As noted, those two both have new social measurement services that feature the TV-advertising concept of gross rating points, or GRPs. GRPs are arguably a simpler measurement than online metrics that track unique individuals and interactions, and advertisers use them to measure their efficiency in buying TV time. While an online GRP might seem like a step backward, it is necessary to make big brands spend more of their overall advertising budgets on social media. They need to be able to compare online-advertising efficiencies and effectiveness with traditional media. Integrating a GRP with measurement techniques that gauge audience engagement — something brand advertisers will pay a premium for — will grow overall online spending.

All of this action in social advertising is healthy: Its business ecosystem is too immature to demand much consolidation or pick winners easily. A year ago, I thought big players like Yahoo and traditional media companies could garner social ad dollars due to their advertiser relationships, multichannel experience and ad-friendly content. But they’ve done little, and the social ad ecosystem will aid Facebook and smaller social players just as much.

Question of the week

What is needed to grow social media advertising beyond $3 billion?