[Editor’s Note: I posted this over at the Percolate blog and thought it was worth posting here as well. Hope you enjoy.]
Andy Weissman wrote an interesting post about what he calls the “golden age of internet marketing.” Essentially his vision, which I mostly agree with, is that a few large platforms are going to create native monetization models that better align the interests of brands, consumers and platforms than display advertising ever did. Google and Facebook are the two clear winners in this world so far, as both have found ways to serve brand needs while creating a better experience for users (at least with paid likes in the case of Facebook).
There are a few additional thoughts I have on this whole conversation, though. First, what are the ramifications of a web that is controlled by a few successful platforms? Andy gives the example of Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram and Soundcloud amongst a few others. All of these platforms have managed to generate a ton of user engagement and some are already at the user scale needed to support native brand interactions. However, this number will always be very small (in terms of total platforms, not total consumers). I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I’m also not sure it’s a good thing. I believe deeply that the relationship people have with sites is different than the one they have with platforms, and there will always be value there. The problem is, essentially, to be successful with an advertising buy on a website these days you need to do something native for their platform (the site), which will never have the scale that a Facebook, Google or Twitter does.
Second, I think a lot of Andy’s article places the onus to get this figured out on the brand, but I’d argue an even bigger responsibility lies on the shoulders of the platform to understand how brands actually work. A few weeks ago I wrote about some comments from Jack Dorsey at Twitter about their model. Dorsey talked about capturing intent, which has been a big buzzword around marketing Google’s search advertising was coined as an intent miner. As I wrote then:
Twitter’s value is not about intent, in the classic funnel definition, it’s much more about awareness and interest: About exposing you to new products and services you didn’t know you were interested in. If Twitter can actually deliver this it has a truly differentiated ad product, but I worry they’re following the Google model too much and thinking too low in the funnel.
This may seem like a semantic difference, but I don’t think it is. I think generally Silicon Valley has not done a good enough job understanding what brands are all about and what they’re trying to accomplish with their spend. I actually think there are a lot of startups that think brands are stupid, which seems crazy to me considering most of them are ad funded. What I’m trying to say is that building a native marketing unit requires respecting your customer (the brand) as well as your users (the consumer). At the end of the day what truly separates Google’s search ads from other marketing units is that it’s respectful: It believes the user is smart and the brand knows what it wants.
Last, but not least, I think these platforms are going to need to be careful not to overextend themselves. When Facebook reads an article like the one from Emily Steel at the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago about some of the top brands spending a bunch of money buying likes and then shifting the spend to content to keep those likers engaged, they’ve got to pause for a minute to think about how they can capture more of that value. A native marketing unit can’t capture the entire chain of value and it shouldn’t. Google doesn’t keep you in Google when you click an ad and (hopefully) it never will. But when platforms like Facebook look at the numbers will they be able to not get greedy and try to capture a bigger slice of the pie? Or will they try to become more and more of a walled garden: Controlling as many pieces as possible and causing that beautiful alignment of interests between the platform, user and brand to get out of alignment.
I’ve been taking some time over the Thanksgiving break to catch up on my Instapaper queue, so I’ll probably be posting links to some older articles over the next few days. The first comes from a SocialFlow blog post about how the Osama Bin Laden death news spread across Twitter. While the particulars are interesting, I especially liked the points they made about how impossible it would have been to predict the players actually responsible for spreading the message. The post explain, “Before May 1st, not even the smartest of machine learning algorithms could have predicted Keith Urbahn’s online relevancy score, or his potential to spark an incredibly viral information flow.”
They then conclude with a deeper message for how we think about social influence that I completely agree with:
As we build out digital social spaces, we must not get derailed by metrics of status affordances that have taken center stage. Just because we have easily accessible data at our fingertips doesn’t mean that we have the capacity to model and place a value tag on human behavior. Followers, friends or likes represent an aspect of our digital status, but are only a partial representation of our general propensity to be influential. Keith Urbahn wasn’t the first to speculate Bin Laden’s death, but he was the one who gained the most trust from the network. And with that, the perfect situation unfolded, where timing, the right social-professional networked audience, along with a critically relevant piece of information led to an explosion of public affirmation of his trustworthiness.
I got sucked in the by the title of this article (“Can ‘Serendipity’ Be a Business Model? Consider Twitter“), but I’m not sure it lives up. About a year ago I was doing a lot of research into serendipity, and most interestingly (to me at least) was that the definition is “the ability to find things you didn’t know you were looking for.” I do think Twitter is a pretty genius solution to this. By essentially allowing you to overhear conversations it exposes you to a kind of ambient data that is otherwise hard to come by. When it comes to their ad model, this will clearly be a big part of the value. But I think the way they’re positioning it (in this article at least) as being about intent is totally wrong. Twitter’s value is not about intent, in the classic funnel definition, it’s much more about awareness and interest: About exposing you to new products and services you didn’t know you were interested in. If Twitter can actually deliver this it has a truly differentiated ad product, but I worry they’re following the Google model too much and thinking too low in the funnel.
I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen:
In a Tuesday ruling, a federal judge in San Francisco refused to dismiss news site PhoneDog’s complaint which argued that a Twitter password and the identity of followers was a trade secret. PhoneDog claims that its former journalist, Noah Kravitz, failed to surrender the password to a Twitter account that was originally tied to the handle @phonedog_noah. Instead, says PhoneDog, he simply changed the name of the account to @noahkravitz and kept sending messages to the thousands of followers he had acquired while employed at the site.
I suspect we will see more and more of these disputes moving forward as we all deal with the rather blurry lines between our working and non-working selves. I’ve spoken to some folks at media companies who are becoming increasingly picky about how employees use social media and the connections there to their professional persona. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.
The gist of the argument here is that asking your users to do a bunch of organizing is a bad idea (see: Twitter Lists and Google+). I completely agree when it comes to G+ and completely disagree when it comes to Twitter Lists. Let’s start with the latter: For most people lists have no use. But that’s okay, Twitter doesn’t ask you to make them and doesn’t seem to be bothered if you never even know what a list is (which I assume is the camp most users are in). For a very small group of power users, lists are incredibly important (I’m not one) and in return Twitter gets enough data to organize millions of users into useful categories. Power users products have value to those users (and in this case the company). On the G+ side, building an entire product around making users work to put people into lists seems silly (and I agree is shit work). I still contend that G+ is a perfect strategy and a terrible product. Everyone has said at some point that social networks should behave more like their “real-world” equivalents, allowing you to sort and filter friends. But then you quickly realize that people do all that sorting without thinking and if they had to spend a bunch of time thinking about it they probably just wouldn’t bother. It’s a perfectly logical thesis except that it ignores the real way humans behave. Then again, maybe I don’t know anything … They seem to have a lot of users.