Archive for October, 2009

A fly on the wall in the world of advertising

October 30th, 2009

Ask any web publisher what they think about the world of advertising and you’ll usually here the same thing: There is no money in it, especially in today’s economy. Even the big players in the world of media are struggling to figure out how to pay to keep the lights on when online advertising doesn’t pay well enough.

So how is a publisher supposed to support his or her editorial team, tech people, sales people et al. when the entire site make pennies, or dollars a day? If you came here expecting answers to that question, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you want a laugh and a unique idea in the world of advertising, I can deliver.

The answer to the problem of how do you get attention in the world of advertising: Flies.

Implications massive for integration of Twitter, Facebook updates in search results

October 21st, 2009

Updated: Google has also now announced it inked a deal with Twitter to integrate Tweets into search results

At the Web 2.0 conference today, Microsoft’s Qi Lu confirmed his company has signed a strategic partnership with both Twitter and Facebook to include real-time updates into search results. The implications for both news and search are enormous.

Real-time data and information is the name of the game if you’re in the world of search and news. It’s not about what happened yesterday, or earlier today, or even an hour ago. The Web has created an insatiable desire for us to know what is happening now and social networks like Twitter and Facebook are the kings of the real-time world.

On Twitter and Facebook, people all over the world publish updates, links and information about what’s happening around them. Anyone following those individuals gets an opportunity to have a real-time view of those updates. The power of real-time is powerful because, as anyone who is a member of Twitter or Facebook will tell you, they often already heard about something by the time the mainstream news picks it up.

To tap into that power, Microsoft announced it has inked a deal with both Facebook and Twitter to include real-time feeds from both sites in Microsoft Bing’s search results. The deal was announced at the Web 2.0 conference today in San Francisco. The President of Microsoft’s Online Services Group, Qi Lu, said the first step includes a partnership with Twitter which is live at Bing.com/twitter and Facebook will follow.

The new strategic deals are part of what Lu called “Bing Wave 2.”

So what’s the big deal? Including Facebook updates in search means you’ll now be able to find out what you’re friend from college had for lunch via Bing, right? Perhaps. But more importantly than the eating habits of long-lost friends are the implications for the media.

Done right, a search engine that includes real-time updates from Facebook and Twitter has the potential to become the single most powerful news outlet in the world.

The partnership with Twitter has been floating for some time now. The addition of Facebook into this real-time mix makes it all the more interesting.

After Microsoft’s announcement today, Google also said it struck a deal with Twitter to include Tweets in search results. No word yet on Facebook status updates being integrated into Google search results.

“We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months,” said Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, in a blog post.

While no financial details were released in either deal, Kara Swisher of the All Things Digital blog speculates the deal likely includes payments of several millions of dollars for Facebook and Twitter and possible revenue-sharing deals for search as well.

So what’s the big deal for search engines? Outside of menu updates, baby pictures and diatribes on what new gadget has infuriated someone because they can’t get past page 3 in the manual is real information, usable information, and information that is newsworthy.

If Microsoft (and eventually Google) were to integrate Facebook and Twitter into search results properly, search engines have the potential to take market share away from news organizations already struggling to draw in audiences.

Twitter has already won wide public praise for its role in covering major news events such as protests inside Iran during that country’s election earlier this year. News organizations all over the world began quoting Tweets on national newscasts and journalists were crawling the site in order to find sources and facts from inside the country. The site demonstrated the power of real-time updates from regions in the world where media blackouts grind news coverage to a halt, and showed that user-generated content can play a vital role in news coverage.

Twitter’s audience of 54 million monthly users is smaller than Facebook’s, but it’s power and reach are vital to any discussion on the future of news coverage.

Facebook has a user base of more than 300 million people who post more than 45 million updates every day, the company claims. Furthermore, those people can post news from anywhere in the world, from any mobile phone. If those updates could be focused on news and newsworthy events, Facebook could become a vital source for both readers and journalists to find information and people.

Until now, Facebook kept user information behind a password fence and most updates have been shared only among friends. Google does index status updates from individuals who allow it in their privacy settings, but it’s not real-time data. In this partnership with Bing, Swisher’s sources say not all Facebook updates will be shared but users can use a number of new tools to opt-in and share real-time data.

With online reputations playing an increasingly important role in Web junkies’ lives, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a lot of people sharing that data. After all, many people who are totally plugged in online share most of their data and updates anyway. So if more people move to share data that eventually becomes visible through search, it presents a possible game-changer for news consumption.

As far as media goes, including real-time information could make search engines largest potential news organizations in the world because they would become the gatekeepers to all information, both archived and real-time, on the Web.

Furthermore, being able to tap-in to back-end data (if Facebook and Twitter allow it), would give search engines the power to sort search results based on real-time popularity and geo-locate updates to make them more relevant to you wherever you are in the world.

A search through Bing, Google or any other search engine that incorporates real-time data and geographical information from Twitter and Facebook could allow a user to find virtually anything: They would know what topics are popular or of growing significance in their area; they could find people around them who have been impacted by a news event; they could find more information from other parts of a city or country from related news events; and so on and so forth. All of this on top of results they are already looking for in search.

It would take some work to mine data for relevant information and get rid of the less relevant information, but it wouldn’t be hard to quickly find out what topics are getting the most attention and then geo-locate updates so they can be organized into regions.

Indeed, anyone can currently go to Twitter and search through newsworthy topics. Where this becomes powerful is in the fact you wouldn’t have to and people who are not yet a member of the powerful real-time service would be exposed only to updates relevant to their search. Adding Facebook to this mix makes it even more powerful.

Microsoft had previously experimented with integrating Tweets into search results, but a full-blown adoption of both Facebook and Twitter’s user base could be a game-changer for search and news.

And if real-time data is syndicated through news portals such as Google News or MSN’s news pages, those portals could overnight become massive real-time hubs of news from literally anywhere in the world.

As news consumption habits change, and more people go online to get coverage of what’s happening around them, real-time data makes search engines far more timely than virtually any other medium. In fact, it presents the opportunity for search engines to be more timely than news websites themselves. And overnight, Twitter and Facebook could become the largest citizen journalist organizations in the world. That is, of course, if you don’t already call them that.

Why social media relations is more important than good PR

October 19th, 2009

Companies spend a lot of money to get visible but in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s increasingly not enough to stand out. As we move to a more social Web, it’s becoming more important to replace traditional PR tactics with online conversations.

It’s a common story today: Studies show more people are turning to the Web to consume news. TV and print audiences are declining while Web media consumption continues to rise. Why? According to the study by Opinion Research Corporation (OPC):

“The increase in online news consumption was led by disproportionately larger increases among a number of key demographics, including college-educated people (20 percent), and people with household incomes over $100,000 USD a year (23.1 percent). Adults ages 18-34 also got more news from online sources, at 22.2 percent.”

ComScore data shows the same trend, with Americans streaming 41 percent more video content in August 2009 than they did during the same period in 2008.

People are turning online to get content. The question now is what are businesses doing to keep up with changing habits? There are a few cases where big corporations get it, but many businesses are heading for the deadpool if they can’t raise awareness on the Web.

Working with a media organization, I’m pitched all the time. I get messages from all over the world, from every type of business. The common thread from all of my daily dealings with PR folk is that most companies are missing the boat if they’re putting all their eggs in the PR basket. In fact, all too often I think corporations are spending way too much money for dismal results.

For those of you unfamiliar with how media organizations are pitched, let me offer a quick overview. For PR professionals reading this, let me offer a perspective on why public relations today is as predictable as traffic in bad weather.

First, Company X launches a product so its PR firm sets up a press conference or product briefing and then sends a mass email to media contacts to encourage them to cover it. They also publish a press release online.

Next: The journalist or media organization gets the email and then decides if it’s relevant for their audience. Out of the hundreds I receive every week, they’re often irrelevant to our readership — it’s a product or service that is nothing special; it’s not a big enough announcement to justify editorial or video coverage; or it’s a product or service that is too complicated to understand at a glance. The press release gets trashed.

In many cases, the press release may also be missed entirely. After all, we are only human and when your inbox fills up like an eavestrough in a hurricane you don’t always see every raindrop.

Good PR companies will do follow-ups by phone in attempt to help an email stand out in the avalanche and answer any questions, but very few PR companies bother to spend the time doing this.Fewer than about 10 percent bother to pick up the phone and call me anymore. Email has made people lazy.

So what are companies paying for? They’re paying to send press releases to media, and in many cases their product or service won’t get covered. And as email inboxes fill up like landfills, that problem is compounded by the fact that many media organizations even lack the resources to cover the stories they find interesting or relevant.

So is it worth the expensive monthly retainer to secure a PR company just to educate the media about products when most of them don’t cover it anyway? Much to the chagrin of my friends and acquaintances who work in PR, the simple fact is many public relations companies today are akin to the newspaper industry trying to exist in the Age of the Web; the model is outdated and highly ineffective.

So what’s the solution? While there is always a need for good PR at some level, companies who incorporate “social media relations” into the mix will see better results. Forward-thinking companies should have conversations with their audience and customers rather than talking at them.

Social media relations is more effective than traditional PR simply because conversation and feedback can be channeled and encouraged. Social media relations is having conversations within a crowd, whereas public relations is akin to throwing paper airplanes into an audience and hoping someone catches a glimpse of it as it whizzes by.

Understanding social media is key because the Web has changed media consumption from a world of advertising to clients into a social conversation. Pushing an ad out to a million eyeballs can be an effective way to bring people in, but what do you do with them once their on your site? What about the people who still have questions? What about those who have bad experiences? If a company cannot answer those questions it means there is lost opportunity and it’s something public relations can’t solve. The answer is social media relations.

Social media lets companies be their own concierge

If you can’t find something in a library, you ask the reference desk. If you want to know where to eat or what show to see while travelling, you ask the hotel concierge. The same goes for social media relations in today’s Web world: If you want to know something, you ask.

A smart company sets up a space for conversation to happen, and then takes part in it. Twitter and Facebook may come across as time-wasting websites to you, but to a smart business they are highly effective mediums through which a company can attract an audience. If a customer has a question about a product or service, he or she can then go to those places to engage. If they want to air grievances or frustrations about the way something works, they get the ear of the company directly rather than shouting aimlessly into cyberspace.

Having the venue in which conversation can flow gives each company the opportunity to respond to questions and direct people to the right sources, just as a concierge would do for any hotel guest.

And if you think this is just a trend, think again: twentysomethings are being recruited en masse to act as “Community Managers” or social media experts. According to CP, they’re paid $40,000 to $50,000 per year just to generate conversation and help a company reach out to people talking about them.

Social media allows companies to respond quickly to negative experiences

You used a product that broke. You paid for a service that underperformed. We’ve all been there, and increasingly people turn to the Web to talk about it.

On Twitter, for example, a company can get instant, real-time input on their brand and make the necessary steps to engage on those conversations or help make negative experiences more positive. That type of customer interaction did not exist even a few years ago, and companies who recognize the importance of talking with customers online almost always walk away with a better relationship with their clients.

Companies such as Rogers Communications in Canada are using the service to engage in conversations with customers. In Rogers’ case, they put Keith McArthur in charge of responding to people’s questions via the microblogging service and has a chance to reach out to help people who express frustration or have questions. In the U.S., Dell is probably one of the best examples of a company that sets up shop in social media to have conversations with customers.

Without a  social media presence, companies do not have the opportunity to reach out directly to customers. A negative experience cannot be addressed and problems can’t be solved. That sour customer walks away as a brand assassin, capable of influencing very large groups of people because they have hundreds of friends on Facebook or thousands of followers on Twitter. In one fell swoop, they can post a message that cuts the legs off your company in mid stride.

Whether you choose to engage with your customer base or not, conversations about your brand, product or service will happen anyway.

Social media experts communicate more effectively than PR people

When I speak with PR people, they often talk in dry boilerplate language. After all, they’re paid to simply deliver the facts, and have to go to great lengths to protect a brand. It’s not their fault, as they’re doing what they’re told to do. However, it’s not a real conversation, and thus it’s less effective in communicating a message.

When you browse the social media space, companies are increasingly admitting to mistakes online and talking in short 140-character messages to customers. They sound less like salespeople and more like your buddy. The resulting conversation is one that feels far more real.

Using Rogers as an example, how often would you see a message saying “I was wrong” posted publicly via traditional PR? Rogers did it, and it seems to be working because McArthur has more than 1,000 people following him on Twitter. And according to this CNN report, even bad reviews can boost sales.

Social media experts are real people having authentic conversations. They aren’t trying to push products in their messages. We all know they work for the shareholders, but the communication feels more real and thus is more effective.

Social media is more influential than PR

Social media is as much about the venue as it is about the message. When you have conversations on Twitter or Facebook, you reach a much wider audience made up of people who trust you or enjoy hearing what you have to say. When your brand or product ends up in front of these people as a referral from a friend, a person is far more likely to notice it.

Also, companies that include social media tools (such as buttons to publish to Facebook or Twitter) are more likely to have their message spread.

In our case at DigitalJournal.com, we get traffic coming to read news from all over the world, from multiple sources. After incorporating in the ability to re-publish a link on Facebook from our site, we saw a huge boom in the number of people who were discovering our news outlet. In fact, Facebook is now the third highest referring service for DigitalJournal.com. Building in social media tools has been far more effective in raising awareness than any press release or traditional PR we have ever attempted.

Facebook  has 300 million monthly users who boast an average of 130 friends each, and 50 percent of the site’s active users log on each day. Facebook says more than 2 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared each week on the site. What other medium can offer your business the reach of talking to that audience?

Furthermore, engaging in the social media spaces is more influential than traditional advertising and public relations because people are  more likely to check out something recommended by a friend over an ad they saw in a newspaper or on TV.

According to this promo video for a book called “Socialnomics” by Erik Qualman, the Global Vice President of Online Marketing for EF Education:

• 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content
• 78% of people trust peer recommendations, while only 14% trust advertising
• We no longer search for the news, the news finds us through social networks. This is already starting to extend to searches on products and services, as people hear about them through social media rather than searching for info about them.

Want more evidence of the shift to a more social Web? Watch the video:

The future is social

Social media also offers one distinct advantage over all traditional public relations or sales techniques, and it will be the saving grace for the growing trend: You stand out no matter how many voices there are in the crowd.

For example, no matter how many websites come online or how many companies start competing on the Web, social media gives a company direct access into people’s lives. As more search engines become cluttered with billions of resources, people will be forced to turn to their own social networks to make sense of the noise.

The only way to get noticed is to ensure your company, brand, product or service is part of that discussion.

Survey: 36% of young people check social media after sex

October 13th, 2009

A man browses through his Twitter feed on the Apple iPhone

How often do you check your Facebook? What about Twitter? Are you on Friendfeed more times in a day than you talk to your colleagues at work? You’re not alone. According to a new study, people under the age of 35 are highly addicted to social media.

According to a “Gadgetology study” done by consumer electronics shopping site Retrevo.com, people under 35 are highly addicted to social media. If video games and television were yesterday’s time-wasting treat, social media is today’s drug of choice.

So what were some of the alarming stats? According to Retrevo’s study, 27 percent of respondents under 35 admitted to checking Facebook more than 10 times per day. A whopping 56 percent said they check it anywhere from one to 10 times per day. That is a total of 83 percent of young people logging onto Facebook as many as 10 times per day.

“What surprised us most was the fact that many respondents never seemed to take time off from social media,” Jennifer Jacobson, Public Relations Director for Retrevo.com, said in an email interview. “They do it on vacation, at work, [and even] after intimate moments. Social media is a big part of their lives.”

So much so around 36 percent of respondents admitted to checking out social media sites after sex. What happened to cigarettes?

The survey revealed an interesting set of distinctions between people younger than 35 compared to people older than 35. According to the report, people under the age of 35 tweet, text or check Facebook almost everywhere they are:

• 36% do it after sex
• 40% do it while driving
• 64% do it at work
• 65% do it on vacation

“We believe these findings are an indicator of significant changes in the way people communicate, and that they are not likely to die down until another method of communication overtakes it,” said Jacobson. “The adoption of social media takes time. Social media has become approachable for the masses. You don’t need to know a programing language or complicated Web authoring tools to have a home online where your friends and followers can connect with you. That accessibility is attractive to a lot of people.”

So what or who is to blame for young people’s social media addiction? According to the survey, the rise in popularity of the smart phone is the main culprit:

In the Gadgetology study only 19 percent of the older set (35+) use a phone as the preferred device for social media services with 81 percent preferring instead a desktop or laptop computer. Over on the other side of the generation gap we found 46 percent of those younger than 35 indicating their preference for a mobile device for all things social media.

When it comes to indulging in social media after sex, you can blame men and the iPhone — the survey reports that men are twice as likely to exhibit this behaviour, and iPhone users are three times more likely than Blackberry owners to log on to these sites.

“Young people seem to adapt quickly to new technology, and social media can be a positive force for traditional media,” said Jacobson. “While some media companies may be scratching their heads, wondering how to connect with the ‘digital generation,’ those who figure out how to do it will be better positioned for success.”

And for those of you out there shaking your fists at Facebook for its impact on today’s youth, you may want to shift the blame to Twitter. The survey shows 39 percent of Twitter users admit to checking the service more than 10 times per day (compared to 27 percent who check Facebook just as often).

Retrevo, a shopping site for consumer electronics, says it conducted the survey because it is interested in how and why people interact with technology.

“Because social media is accessible by gadgets like cellphones, laptops, and notebooks, and because it seemed to represent a growing shift in communication, we thought it deserved to be studied,” said Jacobson.

Retrevo says its report was conducted by an independent panel and the sample size was 771 “distributed across gender, age, income and location in the United States.” The responses have a confidence interval of 2.8 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

Digital Journal presents the ‘Future of Media’

October 9th, 2009

DigitalJournal.com recently held an intimate and interactive panel discussion on the future of media. Speakers from five media outlets gathered in Toronto to discuss citizen journalism, business models and changes in mainstream media.

Digital Journal’s “Future of Media” panel took place Sept. 24 at the Drake Hotel in Toronto (see photos from the event here).

Speakers included Rachel Nixon, director of digital media at CBC News and former editor at NowPublic; Richard Mcilveen, producer of the local late-night CTV News and the tech trends segment Webmania; Keith McArthur, senior director of social media and digital communications for Rogers Communications; Tim Shore, founder of Toronto news site blogTO; and Chris Hogg, CEO of citizen journalism news network DigitalJournal.com (full speaker bios here).

The standing room-only event was moderated by DigitalJournal.com Managing Editor, David Silverberg. Discussion lasted for nearly two hours, including questions and answers submitted via Twitter and Facebook, as well as those posed by the audience.

More than a dozen attendees also walked away with some incredible door prizes from sponsors of the event, including:

• 5 Flip Video MinoHD camcorders fitted with a custom Digital Journal logo
• 3 GPS devices pre-loaded with special “Points of Interest” from POIfriend.com
• 2 HP Mini 110 netbooks with embedded mobile broadband technology from Rogers
• 3 LaCinema Rugged 320GB portable multimedia hard drives from LaCie
• 1 Toshiba Satellite U500 notebook

Based on the success of DigitalJournal.com’s inaugural panel discussion, the free event is scheduled to take place on a regular basis, twice a year.

The following are video segments from the evening. Rather than embedding the entire two-hour discussion in one video, we’ve broken up each video into topics below:


Part 1: How digital content is different than other media; Why relying on advertising revenue is not enough.


Part 2: How do news organizations produce more content with fewer resources? What are the strengths & weaknesses of the Web?


Part 3: Is news becoming more collaborative and involving the audience?


Part 4: Can user-generated content and citizen journalism be trusted? How do you get more people to engage on a website?


Part 5: What is the business model likely to emerge for user-generated news organizations? Does content that works online, work offline as well?


Part 6: What can newsrooms learn from the BBC? What do hyperlocal blogs do better than mainstream media? How should brands engage with people through social media?


Part 7: The impact of TV becoming more interactive; Reader loyalty in the era of the Internet; Citizen journalists’ role in a large-scale news event.


Part 8: Podcasting and the future of radio; Separating editorial and advertising; How citizen journalism can be verified


Part 9: Investigative journalism; Providing resources to citizen journalists; Protecting citizen journalists; Ethnic diversity in citizen journalism


Part 10: Social media’s impact on journalism; Does citizen journalism produce too much noise?