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How social media and web 2.0 allow real choice

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In Russia, there is a generation of people known locally as Generatsiia P (Generation P). These is the generation who grew up during a period of increasing openness to the West, when products like American soft drinks were available in shops. But there was still no choice - if you wanted a cola drink you could only buy Pepsi, not Coca-Cola. Your choice was restricted to what somebody else had decided for you. Whilst you could choose a cola based drink (and an imported one at that) over another type, your ability to choose stopped there.

I was thinking of this analogy early this week when we were talking at FreshNetworks about the benefits that social media and web 2.0 technologies bring to the way brands interact with customers. Whether for marketing, to engage them or for research, social media tools like online communities give the consumer real choice about what they interact with and when. They are in control.

With last.fm for instance, I can listen to music when I want and where, I don’t have to rely on the choice of a dj at a national station to predict what I listen to. I also don’t have to limit myself to music I personally own. I have much greater control of what I listen to, rather than relying on people to push out music at a time that suits them, I pull on this music when I want to. I have more control.

So it is also in online communities. In our communities we see people take part at a time that suits them. Some people may never use the forums but always read and comment on blog entries. Others may do neither of these things but will upload media and comment on that. When you are developing your strategy you need to recognise this and make sure you cater for the people you want to be in the community, and cater for the things they choose to do in it.

Of course this choice on the part of the community member can also be used as a benefit. In our online research communities, for example, this freedom to choose is a significant advantage over other research methods. When you expect people to answer a survey or be insightful when you call them or at the time you run a focus group, it may not be at a time that they have the insight you want. They may need time to reflect, their first answer may not be their fullest, they may work better if they get to read other responses then spend time thinking about this. Traditional research works by recognising and dealing with this. Online research communities can really capitalise upon the choice you give the respondent over when they say. They are very much in control of their responses as they can come back at any time and add to them or change them as they see fit.

This kind of choice is empowering. I can contribute to discussions when I want to. I can watch videos at a time that suits me. I can listen to the music I want, when I want to. I can chat to my friends when we’re both online. Social media allows me real choice and as such I think you get a better quality of interaction with people. By giving us the choice to take part when we want, and the means to take part how we want to, you give me all the tools I need to engage with you. You don’t decide how or why I take part, I do. You don’t just offer me Pepsi, you give me a choice of soft drinks and I choose the one I want when I want it.

Your own branded online community vs advertising on Facebook

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Advertising Age has today reported on an interview with Mike Murphy, VP-media sales at Facebook. Mike is talking about their newest mechanism for brands to connect to Facebook users.

An aside:
Some people have a go at Facebook for trying so many different ad models. I certainly don’t hold this against them. Right now, they:

  1. have advertisers reporting poor returns when using current Facebook ad services
  2. are burning cash at a rate of around $150M this year to keep the party going
  3. are in a social networking marketplace which is changing very quickly, for which no one has yet figured out the best way to sell users or their eyeballs to advertisers

As a result they need to innovate FAST. Throwing mud at the wall is not the most elegant solution (and as seen with Beacon, it can be dangerous) but it’s a perfectly credible strategy in Web2.0 world where users and advertisers are prepared to try out new things.

Now back to Mike Murphy. So apparently he’s said Facebook is attempting to solve the demand-creation side (i.e. “this is HOT, get one”) of the online advertising equation as opposed to the demand-fulfilment side (i.e. search ads and text links). So that means Facebook hopes to be great at getting you to want a Nike track top because your friend just bought one, commented on one or became a “friend of Nike”. I can totally see how Facebook is well suited to this and why it can work. It’s ironic that a company leading an online revolution is reverting to old-style PUSH advertising: “getting people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have” but he makes a good point, saying: “the web as a whole hasn’t done a good job creating value on the demand-generation side,”

Facebook has no choice but to veer in this direction because it is a pure social network. Users visit to chat with friends and extend their off-line social lives. Users do not spend time on Facebook when they are tying to decide what car to buy or which hotel to stay at. And that’s exactly why Facebook adverts tend to get poor response and clickthroughs.

It’s a great shame for Facebook and marketeers alike that the site is not a good platform for supporting demand-fulfilment. But that’s because people are simply in a different mindset when looking for something they know they want vs chatting to friends about who they hooked up with last night. Jeremiah Owyang makes this point here using some research from Forester.

This debate goes to the heart of why we, at FreshNetworks, often advocate branded online communities over Facebook advertising campaigns. An online community is not the same as a social network and people do visit online communities when in the demand-fulfilment mind-set. For example they visit Amazon to read book reviews, Tripadvisor to read hotel reviews and thousands of other communities where comments have been posted on every product from nail clippers to luxury yachts.

Demand-creation is very important for growing any business. I do hope that Facebook’s new propositions successfully help marketeers achieve it. I am sure they will. However FriendFeed and Open Social will in time provide a replication of the benefits of this new Facebook model across a broader audience. As a result, it is far better for brands to focus on an online community that can provide the basis for both demand-fulfilment and demand-creation activities. For me that’s why a branded online community beats a Facebook advertising campaign in the majority of cases.

  • Facebook Proposes ‘Engagement Ads,’ Educates Marketers
  • What Facebook’s New ‘Engagement Advertising’ Means to Brands
  • Do Privacy and Advertising Mesh?
  • FriendFeed Adds Widgets; Its Path to Mainstream?

Required reading - An anthropological introduction to YouTube

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You may remember a post where I highlighted a video that demonstrated what Web 2.0 was in a very visual form (see here). Well, I came across another great video from the guys at Kansas State University. Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and head of the Digital Ethnography Working Group, presents a view of YouTube from an anthropological perspective.

From exploring the fact that more content has been added to YouTube in the past six months than in a lifetime of network TV in the US, through a catagorisation of YouTube videos, this is a really informative video. It’s long (just shy of an hour) but I think time spent watching this is time well spent. Michael is a captivating speaker and manages to express things we think we know in different ways. From social media to online communities and social networks; you’ll learn something new and understand better why people are motivated to take part and contribute online.

  • Web 2.0 …The Machine is Us/ing Us
  • Serious about Social Media: Are We Losing the of Context of Our Lives?
  • YouTube through an anthropologist’s eyes
  • Wesch on YouTube
  • Michael Wesch and the Future of Education

Product seeding and word of mouth - Faber on Facebook

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I own quite a few books. They’re on bookcases as you walk into my flat, on a table in the corner of the living room, and some are still in boxes waiting to be unpacked. Today I got a new book and this one was free.

A few weeks ago, I accepted an invite on Facebook for I wouldn’t say no to a free book from Faber. The premise is that each month they will give away a few copies of a book (or books) to the first people to email them after they put up the details on Facebook. One evening I was working late, saw a Facebook update and emailed them. I wasn’t expecting anything until I was told today that I was getting a copy of Churchill’s Wizards sent to me this week. Great stuff.

Of course what Faber are doing here is using Facebook to spread word of mouth for their new releases, and using free product to seed discussions. I’m contributing to it here and in fact doing exactly what they want me to do by writing about it. I may even write about the book itself when it arrives and I read it - not sure it’s exactly my thing but I tend to read anything I have so looking forward to finding out something new and, with luck, being impressed.

A look at the product page shows them seeding conversations about other products - telling us about the new Paul Auster novel and giving us an extract. The page is succeeding in building a group of fans, possibly drawn by the free book offers, and then seeding them with content and ideas to take elsewhere.

A nice tactic in Facebook and a good way of starting and seeding product-based word of mouth. Of course Faber can still only use this as a medium through which to push their messging and alert people to new content and new product. It’s difficult to really engage people in Facebook, they rely on people like me to get the book and then, hopefully blog about it or spread the word through our other online and offline networks. They don’t know anything about me nor are they able to gather profiling data to market to me. They don’t provide means for me to talk with the other people who got the book and share ideas - possibly in an online reading group.

This is because, great as Facebook is, it really isn’t designed for this kind of engagement and interaction. For that you really need to build an online community or add community elements into your site, rather than capitalising upon the reach of social networks. You need to provide a space for these kind of conversations, amplifying the word of mouth and building ongoing advocacy, rather than achieving the valuable but potentially limited word of mouth buzz that you can achieve in a social network.

Of course, I’m chuffed that I’m getting a free book, so no complaints from me!

  • Communities = more than the sum of their social media parts
  • Review: Man in the Dark by Paul Auster
  • Guidelines For Brands Using Twitter
  • Eight Considerations to Help Branded Communities Succeed

The co-creation spectrum

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Over the past few days we have posted five types of co-creation. From those which involve only the customer and their own product to those which don’t involve the brand at all. These types can be seen as on a spectrum of co-creation with the following characteristics and variables:

  1. Who controls the process - brand or customer?
  2. Who is involved - only customers or a range of external stakeholders?
  3. Who benefits - does the co-creation impact upon the customer’s personal experience or the broader experience of all customers?
  4. What is the legacy - does the co-creation impact upon the customer’s version of the product alone or does it change the ultimate design?

This allows us to understand the five main types of co-creation highlighted in the series:

This is a typology we will be working on at FreshNetworks, but is one we use to analyse and understand innovation and co-creation in the social media and online community sites we see and work on.

A full list of the case studies for the five types we have show are below:

  • Co-creation and Innovation - the ‘We’ Experience