Social TV: Twitter and NBC Curate the Olympic Spirit

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Twitter has officially  announced a new partnership with US television network NBC   to curate millions of Olympic Tweets from athletes, their families and fans.  It’s the latest in the growing wave of Social TV activities brands and television networks are warming up to.

While much of the attention for marrying television programming and social networks is heating up, the potential has been there from the beginning.  In 2009, I sat in a conference room with Twitter’s Biz Stone and a few AT&T colleagues.  We were on a tour of San Francisco start-ups to find a way to connect the technologies of these new companies with the platform and reach of a global brand.  As we sat in the room brainstorming ways the two brands could work together, I mentioned how social media was making it harder for me to time-shift my television viewing.  I no longer wanted to record programs like the Grammy’s or sporting events to skip the commercials because the online (on Twitter) discussion I could have with my social graph made enduring the commercials more practical.

As a major sponsor of the upcoming college basketball tournament at the time, we saw the potential for that television event, which took place throughout the month of March, to curate the online fan conversation.  We knew fans would be out in numbers on Twitter sharing their support for their teams.  With development help from one of Twitter’s partners, we sketched out the user interface, identified the keywords to pull into the feed and launched the curation platform in time for the tournament.

While visits to the site were strong for the time, they would likely not stand up to the numbers on Twitter today. There have been more than a few changes in that platform and the use of social media since we launched what was Twitter’s first entrance into a sponsored Social TV experiment and one of its first paid efforts.  The volume of people on Twitter and in social channels as a whole has reached critical mass.  Familiarity with social media queues – like hashtags displayed during programming denoting an action that takes place online but ties to the content viewed on television. And, brand and network willingness to push into these new places where consumers are congregating and dialing into the connected conversation that’s happening online.

While our Social TV experiment with Twitter in 2009 was just an experiment, it’s an example of the need for brands to push beyond what’s popular today and into new areas of innovation.  There’s an overwhelming need for brands to have proof of concept and understand all of the variables before they experiment.  With the speed at which social adoption is taking place, there’s a need to push beyond the mediocrity that’s growing in the fundamental social and digital space and look at new ways to innovate in a way that might take brands outside of their comfort zone.  It’s in that zone that deeper connections can be made and true innovation happens.

(Post originally appeared July 25, 2012 on the Never.no blog.)

(Photo credit: by dhammza used under Creative Commons.)

Twitter Catching Facebook in Total Actively Engaged Audience, and Other Observations

The nice people at DigitalSurgeons.com put out an infographic back in October showing a comparison of Twitter and Facebook use (and it was just called to my attention).  With the holidays upon us and the number of people helping their friends and cousins sign up for Facebook, I wanted to focus on some of these numbers as they stand today, or as they were at the beginning of this quarter.  The graphic shows some interesting things about use of these platforms.

The fact is, while these two platforms are the dominant players when we look at social media, they are still relatively new, and the way people use them, how they use them, why they use them and where they use them continues to evolve.  Here are a few of my take-aways:

1)    I swear I saw a stat over the past year or so that said 80 percent of people update their Twitter accounts via mobile.  So, generally, the mobile numbers, while still significant, seem a little low to me.  And, with the continued climb in smart phone adoption, we’re likely to see these numbers climb.

2)   
In the “Brand followers will purchase that specific brand” category.  I wonder if there isn’t an element of “have purchased that specific brand” and what are the motivations for following that brand on Facebook.  It would be interesting to see a break-out on the percentages.  I wonder if part of that category (although small) is a result of people turning to social media for customer service questions.  As more companies integrate customer service into these channels, those numbers will likely climb.

3)  And, most interesting to me, when you look at the “Update their status every day” category, while Facebook has more users, there are almost as many people who are active on Twitter everyday as there are on Facebook. (55 MM for Twitter, 60 MM for Facebook) This is balanced, however with the “Login everyday” category where Facebook as 205 MM daily logins vs Twitter’s 29 MM.  The argument to all of this is that people use the platforms differently.  But, do the numbers mean that Twitter is a more active channel and Facebook is a more passive one?  If so, does that impact your marketing approach?

Now that we’re all gathering for the holidays, we’ll start to see these numbers climb again.  Anything else pop out at you in the numbers? Anything I missed?

Disclaimer: I’m not a statistician. And, I wasn’t a math major, so feel free to check my numbers.



What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate

I recently spoke at the Location-based Marketing Summit.  If there’s one area where everyone is polishing their crystal balls, it’s in the future of location.  And, inevitably, the discussion turned to monetization.  As you can imagine, the first source for monetization that began to echo through the conference was advertising.  As I pointed out when I spoke, I like a paycheck as much as the next guy, but I wish there was a little more delay before we start to see an advertising discussion start around new platforms.  A little more time to let the concept breathe, and more thought put into how to use the platform for true, rather than artificial engagement. What I’m seeing, whether it’s at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, or at the Location-based Marketing Summit is a conversation that is starting to be dominated with an advertising voice – whether that’s from ad networks, technology providers or agencies and brands themselves.  It’s becoming predictable that, before the conversation begins about how people will actually use the new medium, how the platform will grow a community and what role the technology means in the greater context, someone in the back of the room stands up  and asks about the ad creative dimensions. I was reminded of this by the news/rumor that Twitter will begin to push ads into a users Twitter stream.  Twitter has a couple of years on the location platforms, but it’s still at a critical point in its evolution.  Is it that pushing ads into the experience is the only way to help get to its monetization goals, or is it a lack of creativity – on Twitter’s part or the part of the brand and their agencies – that other alternatives haven’t been explored?  Like anything, if you try to force it into the experience, the community will react negatively.  But, the last two offerings I’ve seen from Twitter that point to a monetization effort have been (paid) promoted Tweets and now potentially ads in the Twitter stream.  I think there needs to be more innovation on the part of the platform to find new and interesting ways to build an experience, rather than defaulting to advertising as a go-to strategy.  Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to give Twitter too much of a hard time for this.  I’m not the one sitting across the table having to justify my existence with investors, and they now face a similar challenge as Facebook with a platform that’s interwoven into the fabric of the social media experience.  I just hope that more opportunities for innovation and experimentation can lead the conversation and be given as much credence as monetization through advertising.

(There are any number of holes in this, so if you feel like weighing in, make sure to let me have it in the comments.)

UPDATE: In the spirit of fairness, here is an account from AdAge of Twitter in-stream ads as told by a user who has them.

The State of Location-based Services and Marketing

Location-based services (LBS), or geolocation applications, or “the creepy tech that lets everyone know where you are” is so new that there’s still little fighting over acronyms or adjectives to describe the category.

In reality, a fraction of people who have technologies that enable LBS even know they have it, and an even smaller fraction of those actually use it, and an even smaller fraction of that set use it actively.  So, for the three of you who are actively using these technologies (and I know where you are), you don’t have to read any further.  You get it.  You understand, or like the rest of us trying to understand, the implications that LBS will have on the social dynamic. With this post, I’ll try to put a stake in the ground and mark where we are in the adoption, proliferation and understanding of LBS and its potential.  Because, it’s early.  Really early.  But, it’s one that will continue to grow and change many of the tenants of social interaction and online/offline integration.

Location: A Brief History & Technology
Here’s my best attempt at a brief history of location and its technology that you’ll have to fact-check me on …. Location became relevant approximately 10 billion years ago when the earth was created and there became a locale to attach location.  Fast forward about 9.999 billion years (give or take a 9) and people are roaming the earth in search other people and places.  Discovering new continents, finding lost cities, creating beer trips in college towns.  The point is that location has always been relevant – whether you’re searching for the new world, or the closest World Market, location is important.  And, the technologies used to map and define location have become and continue to become more accurate and integrated into the other technologies we use every day.  Just as the use of these technologies will continue to evolve, so will the applications that sit on top of it.  Until recently, the technologies that power location weren’t refined, and the networks that they ran over weren’t dialed in enough to make the experience a good one.  So, to understand the proliferation of LBS, and anything that’s built on technology, you have to understand where we are in the evolution of the underlying technology.  While there are still pieces to fall into place (WiFi, other broadband technologies, etc.), the technology foundation LBS rides across and gives the consumer a good experience is now in place, and improving – which will facilitate broader adoption.

Availability Doesn’t Mean Adoption
With a strong technology foundation and a good user experience, LBS is ready to take off.  Wrong.  Just because the technologies are available, doesn’t mean people will begin to use them.  With this category, I’d say there’s almost an inverse correlation between availability and adoption.  LBS hit at the core of many of the fears people have about the Internet, generally, and cell phones specifically.  There will exist for a while a creep factor when it comes to letting people know where you are at any given time.  The fact that our phones can share that information is cause for concern for many.  But, the one thing that LBS has going for it is the great equalizer, Facebook.  Or, as I call it “the gateway drug to social media.”  With the addition of Facebook Places, that platform alone will accelerate the adoption of location-based features.  The more your friends share their location with you, the more you’re aware of and likely to share your location with them.  Pretty soon (in about 18 – 24 mos) we’ll see not only a proliferation of brands using even more location-based applications, but more consumers sharing their location.  And, it’s all going according to plan.  Technology — Availability — Propagation Across Social Set — Adoption

Location: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
Or at least, location is only part of it.  It’s what location enables, and to paraphrase Gowalla’s Josh Williams, “It’s what happens AFTER people check in that’s going to be interesting.”  As we’ve seen with Twitter and now Facebook, location is quickly becoming a commodity.  For all the talk of “checking in,” it’s equal parts location and experience.  This is where the real value of location becomes apparent.  Whether checking in is a trigger for your friends to find you, or it’s an opportunity for the restaurant to enhance your experience, what happens because you’ve identified your location is the future of these technologies and where marketers have an opportunity.

Enter: Marketer – Stage Right
I’ve often said that location is the third dimension of social media, and that it’s one of the few platforms that get better when marketers are involved.  When done right, brands and marketers can bring greater relevance to not only LBS, but also to the locations themselves.  Part of the draw of these platforms is the element of surprise that’s possible through them.  Getting a benefit for being a loyal customer just got a lot more real.  At least, the opportunity for it to become more real and personal just got easier.  The challenge for marketers is to use these platforms in a way that’s not intrusive and to bring a real value to them.  I have a hard time when I see some brands trying to offer the same benefit they push through the Sunday circular in their location-based programs.  Ten percent off a car wash after your third check in doesn’t hit the mark for me.  Initially people may be intrigued by the function of checking in and seeing something, anything, from the business, but as we’ve see with other social channels, expectations advance faster than marketers can adapt to those expectations.  It’s best to try to stay ahead of that dilemma by starting from a place of value.  And follow the hallmarks of successful location-based programs – compelling, convenient, easy.

Exit: Marketer – Stage Left
As important as it is to be part of the location-based discussion about your location, it’s equally important to understand that these channels are best directed by the consumers who use them, not the brand.  As with any new technology that gets a brand closer to its consumers, there’s a delicate balance between helpful and relevant and forced and annoying.  The non-benefit I mentioned earlier is one example.  If you’re not able to offer something of value through your location-based program, look for other ways to be present.  Actively manage your location, engage with the people who frequent the location (engage, not harass with offers), find ways to show that you’re in tune with, value and understand these new channels.  In addition, find ways to incorporate other platforms and emerging technologies together to create a unique experience.  But, above all, be a human and bring value to the relationship.  If you’re not delivering value, wait until you can, but don’t wait too long.

Where we Are; Where We’re Going
We’ve established the relevance of location and that it’s inherent to our lives as human beings.  We’ve set the expectation that there’s a technology foundation from which to build, and building we are. We’ve established that, while location is important, it’s only part of the puzzle.  And, as location becomes a commodity, it’s the experience that’s enabled through location that matters.  We’ve also unraveled the adoption mystery and how that plays into our long-term strategy.  And, finally, we have a better understanding of the role of the brand in these channels and how to add value.  So, what’s next.  Since I’ve taken far too much room to lay this all out, I’ll save that for the next post, where I’ll draw insight from the Location-based Marketing Summit and the discussions I’ll have at that event.  I’ll meet with some of the platform providers themselves as well as some of the brands and marketers who are exploring and using these new tools.  I’ll package all of that up and offer a view of where the group thinks LBS is going.  I’ll finish with this.

I’m speaking at the Location-based Marketing Summit about a category of technologies that haven’t even hatched yet and with the experience of about a year actually developing these types of programs.  But, I view LBS like I did Twitter and similar platforms early in their development and adoption.  And, I encourage clients in the same way – experiment now to find the relevance for you as a consumer and for your brand’s consumers.  Because these tools are so new, as a brand, there’s no reason why you should have already explored the options that LBS holds for you and the connections they’ll enable with your consumers.  You have time to justify it and make good decisions based on how consumers engage with your brand.  But, as an individual, there’s no reason why you can’t create a trip on Gowalla, download SVNGR and complete some tasks or begin to attach location to your Tweets to understand how the technologies work, what’s possible and what’s worth exploring more.  Discover, learn and activate.  Now is the time.

(Previously published on Mobilisms.com on 9/28/10)